Gooch Gap to Neels Gap

During the long holiday weekends, I try to go a little further out to complete section hikes. Last year I hiked from Springer Mountain to Gooch Gap. This year I hiked from Gooch Gap to Neels Gap.

I headed out on Friday morning, driving out I-40 toward the mountains. I got stuck in a traffic jam just before Asheville, which stopped traffic for over a 1/2 hour. Once this was cleared, it was good driving all the way to Woody Gap. The weather was partly cloudy, but there were a number of short showers as I passed through the Nantahalas.

When I reached Woody Gap, it was up in the clouds and you could not see more than a few hundred feet. As I got my day pack ready for the day’s hike, It cleared away and was a very nice afternoon. The first part of the hike would be an out an back from Woody Gap to Gooch Gap. I had planned to hike this last year but turned back due to weather. The trail was very nice, fairly level on a good path for the first mile. Then the trail went over a couple small knobs with nice views before descending to Gooch Gap. The trip back to Woody Gap was quick. I covered the 7+ miles in just about 3 hours.

Upon return to Woody Gap, I stopped to prep dinner and get my backpack ready for the trip to come. There were a number of people at the picnic area sightseeing, getting ready to meet shuttles or head out on the trail. I got my things together and headed northbound on the trail. The beginning of the trail was smooth and level, going around Jacobs Knob. After about a 1/2 mile the trail started the ascent to Big Cedar Mountain. The ascent was very steep and had many rock outcroppings with good views to the south. I quickly reached “Preacher’s Rock” and decided to camp out for the night. There were great views to the south and east from here.

Sunset was very nice and I settled in for the evening. Well after midnight the clouds came in and I was in the fog. Only a couple raindrops and managed to keep everything dry. The next morning I started out for Neels Gap. I did not realize that I hadn’t reached the summit of Big Cedar the night before. There was a short climb to the top and then a steady descent down. I took a blue blaze side trail to the east which led to a very nice outcrop with great views.

The trail continued down going through a huge grove of flame azaleas and mountain laurels. There were many interesting rock formations along side of the trail as it descended. The trail continued down – passing through Dan Gap, over Granny Top and into Miller Gap. Passed by the Dockery Lake Trail and over a very nice area near Lance Creek. This area was marked off to prevent damage to the stream and was being allowed to recover from overuse.

The trail then started its ascent to Blood Mountain. The trail would climb over 1500 feet from Lance Creek. There were 4 knobs to pass over in 2.6 miles before reaching Jarrard Gap. Then passed over Gaddis Mountain and Turkey Stamp before reaching Bird Gap and the final ascent of Blood Mountain. I stopped at Bird Gap for lunch and then continued on. I stopped at the source of Slaughter Creek to top off on water before the final climb.

The trail up Blood Mountain had many stone steps and was well graded. There were a number of places that the trail passed over large rock slabs. There were many birds in the trees all along the climb. At the top of Blood Mountain was the only place that I saw rhododendrons along the trail. Luckily they were in full bloom this weekend. This must be because of the more southern location of Blood Mountain. They do not reach peak for a few more weeks up in NC.

There were large boulders to climb and great views at the summit of Blood Mountain. Of interest is the 1930s era stone shelter built by the CCC at the summit. I decided to head down and there were many great views. The trail was marked over large rock slabs as it headed down. The trail was marked well but it would have been confusing in bad weather. Luckily it was sunny and easy to follow. There was one spot where the trail took a 90 degree turn on a slab that could have been very easily missed. There were a lot of boulders and stone steps to negotiate on the way down. I had to take my time to make sure I made it down safely.

The trail eventually reached Flatrock Gap where the side trail to the parking lot and the Freeman Trail that bypassed Blood Mountain met the AT. There was a nice stone boulder there to sit and take a rest on. After taking a short break I continued onto Neels Gap. I passed by an interesting balanced rock just a bit down the trail. I saw a huge salamander on the trail but he was unfortunately dead. The trail was covered with green leaves the remainder of the way. There had been a huge storm with hail and wind that caused the damage. The trail finally reached Neels Gap.

The Mountain Crossings center was like a hiker’s nirvana. There is a great outfitter / gift shop with everything a hiker could ask for. Plenty of food and ice cream! I decided to buy a pair of gaiters to see if I could keep some of the stones and twigs out of my boots. I checked into the Hostel, took a shower and cooked some supper. As the evening progressed, more hikers arrived and the place was about 1/2 full when everyone settled in for the night. Met Pirate and Lumpy, who take care of the hostel. They were very friendly and do a great job taking care of hikers.

The next morning Pirate had the coffee going and took pictures of everyone who stayed the night. They keep a photo album of all the hikers who pass through. I made a spot of breakfast and got set to go. I had originally planned to continue on to Hogpen Gap, but a blister on my left foot prompted me to turn back to Woody Gap.

The 3rd day’s hike would take me over the ground I had covered the day before, but I decided to take the Freeman Trail to bypass Blood Mountain. This was a bypass but by no means easy trail. There were numerous boulder fields to negotiate, but overall was a nice side trail and a nice change. I made quick work of the descent from Bird Gap, making it to the Dockery Lake Trail by noon. I stopped for lunch and started the ascent to Big Cedar Mountain. It was a long climb but pretty easy. Met a group of bird watchers where I had camped 2 nights before. The descent from Big Cedar was steep but pretty quick and I made it back to Woody before 2. Another great adventure in GA. I can’t wait to make it back.

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