How NOT to plan a dayhike

How NOT to plan a day-hike


Saturday night. (The Garrett house)

Dana: “Think we can do a day-hike next weekend?”

David: “Definitely. Really jones’in to get in the woods.”

Ma Fred: “Ohhh, I wanna go. Lemme talk to Chester.”


Tuesday (E-mail conversation from work)


Dana: “Thought any more about where we can go this weekend?”

David: “Let’s watch the weather and see how it goes.”


Wednesday (E-mail again)

Dana: “Have you heard anything about the weather?”

David: “Been slammed at work. Haven’t had time to breathe.”

Dana: “Me too. It’s crazy.


Thursday (Longley house)

Dana: “Know anything about this weekend, yet?”

David: “Called the ranger station. Looks like all the access roads for Jones Gap

and Caesar’s Head are shut down due to ice and snow. Not to mention,

I’ve already missed a couple of days this week and my deadline hasn’t

moved. I may have to work this weekend.”

In unison: “Uuuuggghhh.”

Friday around lunch (e-mail conversation from work)


David: “I hate it but the roads are still impassable. If it’s this bad here, I can’t imagine

what it’s like in North Carolina or Georgia. Maybe next weekend, huh?”

Dana: “Yeah.”

Friday around 2pm (e-mail again)


Dana: “I found a hike. There’s AT access near Hiawassee at place called

Dick’s Creek Gap.”

After a flurry of research, e-mails and phone calls I confirm that, somehow, the roads to this access are indeed clear. We can drive 2 1/2 hours south and get to a trail but we can’t get to one just up the road from our house. Go figure.

Friday around 3:30pm (telephonic communication)


David: “Fred, Dana found a day-hike. You guys in?”

Fred: “Where? What about the roads? Lemme talk to Chester.”


Friday evening on the drive home around 5pm (telephonic…)

Chester:Hey, yo….ho…hey, who is this?

(just something you have to go through with Chester)

David: “Chester…you called me.”

Chester: “What?! Uh, yeah. What ‘chu doing, Da-vid”

David: “Chester, are you guys in or what?”

Chester: “Whuh? Where? What time?”

Dana: “Tell them they don’t need to know anything. Just say yes or no.”

I give the details to Chester. He says he’ll call me back. He calls me back. They’re in.

We rush home and start to throw our gear together. It’s just a day-hike so Dana pulls some stuff out of her bag to lighten her load. Hours later she’s packed and re-packed several times. I try to leave my bag packed and ready to go. It’s just simpler that way. If I’ve brought something I don’t need…big deal, it’s just a day-hike; what’s a little extra weight? At some point I post our plans on facebook, just in case someone’s interested in a last minute hike. Anticipating tomorrows adventure, neither of us get much sleep.

We rise early, pick up Fred and Chester and point the Montero toward Georgia. We grab a biscuit in a drive-thru and become so lost in the near chaotic level of banter we missed our turn-off twice. (Okay, I missed the turn-offs! But I was distracted.) Somehow, in the midst of this insanity Dana manages to work into the conversation, “The shelters are supposed to be really, really nice.” Within minutes the ridiculous and corporate decision was made to spend the night in the shelter. I surmised while this was taking place that “really, nice shelter” looked completely different in the girls minds than it did in mine. I was thinking “not filthy, less than 50 years old, and maybe not infested with rats…maybe.” I’m pretty sure they were thinking, “fully-enclosed, well-insulated, with a fireplace and dare to dream…a hot-tub.” (maybe that last one wasn’t fair but I was on a roll) Due to my in-attentiveness we actually ended up driving to Franklin, NC. Since we were in town we decided to pay a visit to Three Eagles Outfitters where Dana and Fred loaded up on Yaktraxx, socks, mole-skin and various and sundry other items necessary for our expedition. A trip to Ingles for grits, bacon and a bottle of wine and we were on our way.

Once on the right road, true to our intel, the access point for the Dick’s Creek Gap trailhead was easy to find. We parked, scarfed down a roasted chicken I’d picked up at Ingles and a little over an hour later we were on our way.

We crossed 76 and stepped immediately into 4 or 5 inches of snow. Within a hundred feet or so, the trail began to gradually climb. The higher it climbed, the deeper the snow.

About 45 minutes into our ascent Dana had to stop and care for her feet. Despite having spent an obscene amount of money on blister prevention…she already had a blister. This in addition to (and possibly, in part, because of) a pair of new Asolo’s we’d bought at the REI Garage Sale just weeks before. Will we ever figure out her feet? A hiker’s single most important asset and her greatest and most troublesome Achilles’ heel.

One of my favorite things about winter hiking is tracking. The snow-blanketed ground is like wet clay: the perfect medium for critter-prints. All that’s required is to slow down and pay attention. Within the first mile we saw: rabbit, deer, some sort of wild-cat, raccoon and wounded dog prints. Before you get too concerned, a little CSI AT-style and we discovered the source of the bloody paw-prints. At some point the curious hound had set his foot down on a holly bush and spent the rest of his hike spreading his DNA all over the trail. Creepy and a little painful I’m sure, but I think he’ll live.

As we wound our way slowly out of the gap, we watched through tangles of rhododendron tunnels as the sun began it’s descent. The twisted web of shadows played across the pristine, sparkling white. It was beautiful. One of the other benefits of winter hiking are the views afforded by the lack of foliage. It was a crisp, clear day and you could see for miles…maybe tens of miles. Who knows? I really need to work on my map and compass skills. I see peaks on the horizon and have no idea what they are. I’d love to be able to point out a particular mountain or even be able to identify this range or that valley. This inability to navigate can bring an element of anxiety into a hike. Depending on terrain the average person walks at 2-3 miles per hour. This bit of knowledge can be extremely helpful in determining just how far you’ve traveled. However, hiking with a full pack, uphill through snow (Sounds like my Mom’s childhood trips to school…but I’d have to add “barefoot, both ways!”) has a tendency to change that. So it becomes tricky to determine just how far one has gone…or has yet to go. . Case in point: this hike. As the sun began to set I found myself second-guessing as to whether we’d even gone the right direction on the trail. Since trails rarely travel in a straight line but instead meander, snake around, and often double-back in the opposite direction it’s not nearly so simple as checking a compass. At any given moment you can find yourself traveling south on a north-bound trail, or west or east…well, you get the point. The AT is actually marked fairly well and regularly by 2″ x 6″ white rectangles called blazes. Even so, knowing you’re on the AT doesn’t tell you where on the AT you might happen to be. This topic of discussion has the unpleasant habit of rearing it’s ugly head on nearly every hike. I am of the camp that feels the onus falls upon the walker to hone his ability to read map and compass. My beautiful bride, on the other hand, has set up firmly in the other camp…the camp of those that believe something should be done by the trail maintainers to make it easier to get ones bearings: more signs, or perhaps some sort of mile-marker within the blazes. ‘Tis a “camp divided.” Needless to say this often leads to, shall we say, heated discussions. On this particular trip, as my quads began to burn from tramping uphill through what was now 8-10″ deep snow drifts, and I had no idea if we were even near the shelter, I’m not proud to say, I was edging toward the other camp.

We finally reached the summit of Powell Mountain and stared down a long, snowy descent. I ran…in long, loping strides. Dana sort of “ski-ed”. I think Fred and Chester shuffled and finally, finally we reached a sign pointing toward the shelter. I trudged down the trail and 1/4 mile later finally reached the 3-sided structure, pulled off my pack and collapsed on the gapped, wooden planks. No hot tub. Certainly wouldn’t have minded being wrong on that one. After resting for a few minutes I headed back to meet Dana and carry her pack to the shelter. “I’ve got it, ” she said with a smile. Wow. Cool. Unfortunately, once she arrived and sat down her body temperature began to drop and she quickly became chilled. She feared it was mild hypothermia. Fred layered sleeping bags on her and made her a steaming mug of hot tea. That seemed to do the trick. Since Dana hadn’t brought her hammock we surrendered the lower level to Fred and Chester where they were able to hang theirs. We took the loft. I spread my emergency blanket over the frigid wooden planks in hopes of blocking some of the nor’easter that was blowing up through the cracks. I draped an abandoned sleeping bag over the railing in an attempt to provide an additional wind barrier. We made our bed and prepared to sleep in it. It was around this time that I heard some of the most wonderful words I’d ever heard. It was Fred. She said, “Pass this up to David.” I was clueless until Dana placed in my freezing, trembling, bright red fingers…fresh from the pot, a steaming, hot dog, nestled in a soft, warm bun. I didn’t even realize they had bought them but I devoured two in less than a minute. I could’ve eaten an entire pack. We eventually settled down to a shivering, uncomfortable, restless night.

In the morning we made breakfast, visited the privy, packed our gear and stepped once more into the snow for the “back” portion of our “up and back.” A short stop at an icy, trickling spring refreshed our water supply for our return trip down the mountain. While the climb up had been 75-25 ascent to descent, the opposite was thankfully true for the descent. It made for a much easier and much more pleasurable hike. Nonetheless, by the time we’d arrived back at the car we were ready for a hot meal, prepared by someone else and with more than two ingredients! After asking some locals in Clayton where we could find a steakhouse with a salad bar we learned we’d have to settle instead for a “Mom and Pop meat and three” that offered a Sunday buffet. As is usually the case after a hike, all bets are off and I cast off restraint, quickly surrendering to the baser urges of my monstrous appetite. Fried chicken and macaroni and cheese it is! Chester witnessed in abject horror (and maybe a little respect) the ugly scene of me tearing through two huge plates of Southern ecstasy before his sandwich even arrived. It might not have been pretty but it was oh so good.

As I drug the napkin across my grease covered face and settled back in my seat with a satisfied groan, Dana said, “I thought for sure you’d have broken out the field recorder.” “Awwwwww, man!” I had completely forgotten! So I retrieved it from my pocket, gingerly balanced it on the table and we enjoyed a “lively” discussion about our trip. Stay tuned for an upcoming podcast for that conversation.

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