About the Author: Hi there! My name is Katelyn Barok, but in the hiking world people call me “Rogue.” I am born and raised in New Jersey. I am a Special Education Teacher by trade with a passion for hiking, which explains the name “teacher gone Rogue.” My current goal is to section hike the entire Appalachian Trail on extended weekends, Winter/ Spring Breaks, and my summer break! Follow my adventures in their entirety on roguehikesthetrail.com. Instagram: @katie_barok.

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Day 2, January 4

As I was laying down, a bright light like headlights was shining into the shelter. I reached for my phone and checked the time, which was sometime around 5AM. I sat up wondering what was going on. Alex and Ben were pulling things out of their tent and placing them in the bottom portion of the shelter. With relief realizing I wouldn’t be the only one experiencing the noises of the bear, I proceeded to ask them if they had heard what I did…

Throughout the night, I never heard bear-like noises except for the gnawing and clawing on the bear box, but the guys heard otherwise. Ben said he had heard grunting and something moving around. They reassured me whatever it was would keep its distance as they were up and moving. Ben seemed to have more experience with Georgia bears and repeatedly had said they weren’t out to harm anyone but simply just curious and looking for food.

Still hanging out in my sleeping bag, the boys began to attempt to dry out their gear and made breakfast, which smelled amazing. I believe they used a Mountain House meal like a Breakfast Scrambler. They had talked about leaving camp soon after daybreak, which was around 7:45AM

At one point it still being dark out, they decided to go get water from the creek nearby. I was still sitting up in the loft and thought they had probably left all their food out of the bear box down below. I immediately sat up and shined my headlamp to watch fearfully hoping the bear wouldn’t turn back up. Luckily, the guys came back shortly after and I had asked if they had their food out and of course they did. Ben even mentioned he thought he heard grunting noises down by the creek. I mean, animals need to drink water, too.
I began to pack up my stuff. Soon to discover a hole in my sleeping bag near my feet a sleeping bag that I purchased two days prior. I pressed down on the sleeping bag and two puffs of down came out. I asked the guys if they had any duct tape (a hiker staple for repairing almost anything) and remembered I had some on my trekking pole and repaired the hole caused by the mouse. If I didn’t repair it when I went to compress my bag in the stuff sack, more down would have come out losing the temperature support of my bag. There were some rat droppings on the outside of my backpack and it looked like it chewed some of my toilet paper, but all was fine.
Once I had everything back in my pack, I began to climb down the ladder to sit and wait for daylight. We were in a valley hence the limited service and anticipated the sun greeting us late as well. I grabbed my food from the bear box and began to eat my highly popular hiker breakfast of Pop Tarts and a packet of Justin’s almond butter. The sugar made my stomach hurt. I also mixed up a caffeinated protein powder in my water bottle that proved to be difficult to go in the bottle resulting in sweet-smelling protein powder on the ground.
Ben, Alex, and I anxiously waited for daylight to check for tracks around the bear box and hoped the rain hadn’t washed them out. At the sign of first light, Ben inspected the box and couldn’t see any tracks. Alex took a look around and noticed the leaves behind the box were disturbed and a rock had moved that was nearby. Upon my examination, I looked for where the bear was gnawing and concluded it was on the back hinge. After grabbing their tent, Ben noticed a log that was used to help start their fire had been moved up against the tent. Therefore, there was enough evidence to conclude there had been a bear for sure.
We all started out together hiking at first, but the guys had mentioned they preferred to leisurely hike. I soon left knowing our plan to meet up at lunch. It had stopped raining and I was walking alongside a creek. At one point, I thought I heard wild hogs snorting across the creek but never ended up seeing any. I started the day off in my rain gear but took off my jacket as I felt like I was overheating.
A bit later and at higher elevation the fog rolled in and it began to rain. I had to put my rain gear back on, knowing I’d get hot again I took off my shirt and kept my sports bra underneath my jacket on. I hiked on alone and decided to take a 170-step side trail to see the Long Creek Falls. No, I didn’t actually count my steps. It was reported on the sign.
Hiking on, I knew I was close to a cemetery that had a shed to retreat to in bad weather. My shuttle driver had mentioned it to me. By no means was it bad weather, but I still hadn’t spoken to my mom or dad and had hoped there might be service there and I could escape the misty rain. I hiked the additional mileage and with no such luck, I didn’t get service. I did find a privy, a bathroom, that was separated into men and woman. However, it was foggy and being alone in a cemetery, I quickly moved on.  I climbed up an unnamed mountain with no view – not that I would have seen anything anyway with all the fog, but figured if I was to get service anywhere it would be up there. I was right. I called my dad and spoke to him for about 15 minutes until I began to feel cold. I still saw no signs of the guys.
Starting to get cold, I bolted down the side of the mountain for lower elevation. It seemed like it was taking forever to reach the shelter. Upon walking up to Hawk Mountain Shelter, I saw some people were already there. Richard and Jim were two older guys, who started their thru-hike a couple of days earlier at the falls. They had decided to zero there. Both of them shared, they wanted to start earlier because it would take them a while and for the isolation the trail provided at this time of year. Richard had attempted to hike the trail last year doing a SOBO hike and was taken off the trail from a knee injury. He had a wife at home and a daughter. We had talked about how the reward at Katahdin was such a better pay off than Springer Mountain. This was the exact reason he wanted to hike a SOBO hike because he wanted to enjoy the journey and not the reward. Jim was a 53 year old from West Virginia. They had informed me they were going to start a fire soon. I told them I was waiting for my friends and didn’t plan on staying long.
I had gotten there a little before noon, gobbled up my ProBar meal bar, and put on extra layers as I began to shiver from not hiking. I knew the guys were taking a long time and given the weather, they weren’t going to hike on. I started to look over mileage to see whether or not if I stayed if I could still make my deadline. I told myself I’d give the guys till 12:30 to show up or I’d have to leave. They showed up at 12:29…
Alex’s heel of his boot basically fell apart. Ben’s sleeping bag kept falling off the bottom of his pack. It didn’t appear to be an enjoyable trip. They both decided they were going to stay up in the loft. Unwilling to hike in fear of no one else being at the Gooch shelter, I decided to stay. I immediately began planning out the mileage. My new itinerary:
-Friday (today) spend the night at Hawk Mountain

-Saturday- Hike 7.6 miles to Gooch Mountain Shelter

-Sunday- hike 15.4 miles to Mountain Crossings Hostel (nearly doubling the past 3 days)

-Monday- Hike 11.5 miles to Low Gap Shelter

-Tuesday- Hike 15.4 miles to Tray Mountain Shelter

-Wednesday- Hike 11.5 miles to the Top of Georiga Hostel

-Thursday- Richard picks me up at 9AM for the airport

Trail Richard, not shuttle driver Richard, said my planned attempt for hiking 15.4 miles was a little ambitious and nearly impossible because I was hiking up and over Blood Mountain, the highest mountain in Georgia 4,459′. Despite his words, I decided to keep my plans.

We decided to rename Alex “Bootflap” because of what happened to his shoe and renamed Ben “Big Guy” because for the duration of knowing him he called his friend Big Guy about 50 times. When Ben said it, the “guy” of Big Guy would be more high pitched than the rest, which made it funny. Every time he said it I would mimic it. All three of us set up our bags in the loft, Richard and Jim were going to sleep down below.

Richard and Jim soon got to work on a fire. They had a tarp over the firepit to attempt to keep it dry. Richard took his knife and created wood shavings to start the fire. Jim had a special gift for finding dead trees and would shake the tops down. Once the fire was started, we all talked about the usual, what brought us on the trail, where we were from, what we did for a living, gear, etc. They also mentioned another thru-hiker, Wrong Way,  giving them trail magic (leaving food at road crossings) that was killing time by hiking out and back to shelters and then sleeping in his truck.
A little while after a hiker walked up commenting he could smell the fire out on the trail. He dropped his pack and went to find his two friends, who were a little out of shape. Their names were George (retired vet), who had metal in his back and his doctor prescribed him to go hike on the trail, Brian, who worked for REI, and their other friend (I forgot his name). They decided to tent even knowing it was going to rain.
The rest of the night the weather was wild. One minute it would downpour. The next minute all the fog completely lifted and you could see the surrounding mountains. The sun came out and then there were blue skies. Just as quickly as it appeared, it disappeared to gray, cloudy skies and more rain. The breaks in between the rain were spent warming up by the fire and drying out some gear.
Since Richard and Jim had spent the night prior at the shelter, they didn’t put their food in the bear box because there was a dead mouse in it causing a bunch of ants. They didn’t plan on putting their food in there tonight. I felt uneasy but just went with it. If I put my food in the bear box, it would have made no difference and I was sleeping in the loft so if anything the bear would come to them first. Ha!
I settled into my sleeping bag and began to attempt to read my Kindle, but Big Guy and Boot Flap were talking to me.  I soon put it away and joked that we could have pillow talk. Big Guy fell asleep so easily. Boot Flap and I talked for a little while until he too fell asleep. What the heck! As I was laying there, I started to hear a woman’s voice, which was odd because I was with all guys. I heard another guy’s voice: “the shelter’s got people in it.” I assumed they were latecomers who had hiked in and would set up camp close by. Soon their voices faded and I fell asleep.