About the Author: Aspin is a young writer, who grew up in Michigan. She enjoys hiking, camping, photography, and spending time outdoors with her boyfriend and dog. She has dreams of long distance hiking, with plans to complete a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail in 2019. You can find her on Instagram (@brokeroaming), Facebook (facebook.com/brokeroaming), or her website (brokeroaming.com).
The morning of day 5 we all got up early and tried to mentally prepare ourselves for the trek up Blood Mountain. We had repeatedly been warned about how difficult Blood Mountain would be, so all of us were a little quiet packing up. The other reality we were facing was that about 20% of people drop off the trail at Neels Gap, which was on the other side of Blood Mountain. None of us wanted to lose any of those around us, but statistics said we wouldn’t all be leaving Neels Gap together.
Approaching Blood Mountain I was feeling pretty good, pretty prepared. Other than the blisters on my feet my body was feeling good. I ran across two men near Woods Hole Shelter who told me they loved coming to the area on the weekends to hike the mountain and talk to the thru-hikers, and with what felt like the most generous hearts they offered me a small pack of M&Ms to get me up the mountain.
The summit of Blood Mountain
Stocked with M&Ms I made the trek up the mountain. Once at the top all of us thru-hikers agreed that we had completely gotten all in our heads! Going up hadn’t been harder than anything else we had done so far. The view around us was amazing and many of us couldn’t stop standing as high up as possible and looking at the scenery around us.
Once we made it down to Neels Gap we all agreed… how come no one warned us about coming down the mountain?! We realized how so many people ended up hurting themselves coming into Neels Gap at only mile 32, the descent off the mountain was steep, long and covered in rocks. Nearly all of us got lost at one point or another coming down (I’ve never been so thankful for day hikers, you knew you were going the right way when you saw one).
Once we made it to Neels Gap I walked right into Mountain Crossings and bought some new shoes, Altra Lone Peaks. While the shoes are expensive it was worth it to ease my feet. We then got a ride into Blairsville, GA to take a much needed zero day.
Tree at Neels Gap where people throw their shoes when they have quit their hike at mile 32
Day 6 was an easy, laid back zero day. Two of us had been having a lot of foot pain, so we spent most of the day in the hotel room giving our feet a rest. While my feet appeared to heal right up, Mocha’s feet got worse by the hour, swelling and becoming more and more painful to walk on. By the end of the day a 5 minute walk to a nearby restaurant was too much for her.
Me and the 3 other girls I was rooming with decided to make the night as memorable as possible. None of us got along very well with other girls and had never really done the sleepover thing, so we stayed up late, joking and laughing and talking about our lives. We knew Mocha wouldn’t be hiking out with us in the morning so we made the night count.
Where the trail actually passes through Mountain Crossings
Neels to Low Gap
The morning after our zero in Blairsville we shuttled back out to Neels Gap. After a quick pit stop at Mountain Crossings we headed out back on the trail. I made my way the 11.5 miles to Low Gap shelter with my feet feeling great. At two of the gaps along the way there was trail magic to encourage us to keep going. Food, water, electricity and hats! It’s hard to want much more than that on a foggy day on trail. The last 2.5 miles of my trek were pouring rain I got completely soaked through. I was wet from my rain gear to my underwear!
That night I set up in the rain at Low Gap Shelter, changed into my dry clothes, crawled under my quilt, and spent a night warm in my tent.
The next morning was windy and cold. The rain had stopped but the campsite was muddy as can be. We all spent the morning drying out what we could and sitting around a little fire taking in the warmth. After what was probably a little too late of a morning I started out, my shirt and socks from the night before hanging on my pack trying to dry out.
The hike out of Low Gap wasn’t a hard one terrain wise, but my feet were getting worse with each step. My blisters started to form again in the same spot, and since the previous blisters were still tender my feet started to be pure pain. I could tell I was stepping funny on my feet to keep pressure off my blisters, but it was hard to stop. The longer I tried to keep the pressure off the balls of my feet my heels started to hurt more and more as well.
I made it the 9.8 miles to Unicoi Gap, and got a ride into Hiawassee, GA. Once in my room at the hotel I laid out all of my still wet gear to dry, showered, and crawled into bed. Staying off my feet as much as possible and hoping the morning would bring some relief.