Unicoi Gap to Chattahoochee Gap 5-27-18
So who wakes up on a Sunday morning and decides to hike 9.5 miles? This girl! Actually that's not quite how it happened. James made it pretty clear he didn't want to go hiking but I still wanted to go because the weather forecast was "ok" and I felt the need to get some miles in. Plus, I had done a bunch of household chores on Saturday and felt like I deserved a day to myself. Typically, though, I try to do fun, interesting, water filled hikes with James and reserve hard, mundane, or maintenance hikes for myself. For reference, we love stunning mountain views and waterfalls. That equals fun and interesting. So I decided to revisit a hike I tried to do last fall- Unicoi Gap to Blue Mountain. The previous trip was unsuccessful due to massive storm damage, but I wanted to do it because Blue Mountain is a 4000+ peak and I have been tremendously slow at meeting my goal of hiking all the 4000+ peaks in Georgia. So off I went.
The trail heads at Unicoi Gap are very accessible due to being right along Highway 75. It's a very popular spot along the Appalachian Trail. I've hiked from here to Tray Mountain previously, which is another fantastic hike. From the parking area, the hike to Blue Mountain begins on the other side of the highway, so please be cautious when crossing. People drive like maniacs around those mountain curves sometimes! The Appalachian Trail picks back up and almost immediately begins climbing in elevation. Honestly this is the most challenging part of the hike, in my opinion. Once I get my climbing momentum going, I am good. But that first part is a doozy. The trail reaches Blue Mountain after about 1.5 miles, however, unless you are looking at a GPS tracker, you may miss it! It's not the most stunning summit and views are limited this time of year due to foliage, but be sure to stop and admire the fact that you just reached a 4000+ peak.
To be completely transparent, once I got to the summit of Blue Mountain, I felt quite underwhelmed. It took me about half an hour to reach the summit and I did not drive over an hour just to hike for half an hour. So I decided to continue down the trail. The thing is, the next "major" milestone along this section of the AT is the headwaters of the Chattahoochee and that is about 3 more miles down the trail. I tend to bite off more than I can chew in most areas of my life, so I decided to hike all the way down to the headwaters.
The scenery between Blue Mountain and Chattahoochee Gap is quite nice. There are plenty of wildflowers and rock formations. The elevation rolls a little but a large stretch is a ridge line and I would like to come back here in winter to try to see some mountain views. Of course, don't forget you are descending Blue Mountain and what goes down must come back up! I mean, any good hike forms a massive "M" shape, right? The hike passes the Blue Mountain shelter, which is off trail and quite hard to see through the trees. There are also side trails leading to other campsites and water sources along the way, so this is totally doable as an overnight hike as well.
Once you reach Chattahoochee Gap there is a sign post notating "water" and this side trail leads down to the little ol' Chattahoochee River. It's a pretty steep trail but not very long. And just like that, you're in front of a spring coming straight out of a mountain. I would like to say I drank from the source of the Chattahoochee, but regretfully I did not bring my water filter on this hike. It's so crazy to think this tiny stream, which is only about a foot and a half wide, becomes the roaring Chattahoochee River. I spent a few minutes admiring the source of my "happy place", drank some pre-filtered water, ate a snack, and the began my trek back to the car. At this point, the reality that I just hiked over 4.5 miles hit me but I was feeling pretty good.
On the way back, it started raining pretty hard at 2 different points. I was near the AT shelter when it first started and I contemplated stopping there for a bit and waiting, but there wasn't any thunder or lightning so I continued on. I am one of the weird people who uses an umbrella while hiking in the rain (if no lightning). I have a very small, compact umbrella and I just find it easier than fooling around with a backpack cover or rain jacket. So for day hikes and light to moderate rain, I use an umbrella. If I was truly worried about gear (tent, etc) for an overnight hike getting wet, I would use a rain cover.
Anyways, the rain let up after about 15 minutes and I thought I was home free. I reached the summit of Blue Mountain again and figured I could "run" down the mountain since it's all descent at that point. Not really run, but move quickly. Buuut, then it started raining again pretty hard and steady. The trail got very muddy very quickly. There are also a lot of rocks along this section and they became slick. It took me an hour to descend Blue Mountain back to the parking lot. But that's ok because I was really happy with my overall pacing for this hike.
So at the beginning of this post, I said I reserve "hard and boring" hikes to do by myself. Was this hike hard? Yeah. Was it boring? Heck no. Despite not having any clear mountain views or beautiful waterfalls, I thoroughly enjoyed it. And did I bite off more than I could chew? Apparently not because I did a 9.5 mile hike in 3 hours and 45 minutes, in the rain, by myself, climbed a 4000 foot mountain twice, and a day later, I am not really even sore! This isn't me trying to brag. I honestly did not think I could accomplish something like this, but I did. So if you have doubts, go ahead and hike that hike. Climb that mountain. Be prepared but just do it!