Appalachian Trail Thru Hike: Unicoi Gap to Winding Stair Gap

Unicoi Gap to Franklin, NC

In the morning we left Hiawassee and drove back to Unicoi Gap. I felt better since I started taking medication for my bronchitis and was eager to get back on trail. As we pulled up, 8Track and his lovely wife Kathy arrived in their RV, “promptly” pulling down the awning, and handing out a three course serving of Trail Magic. Pancakes, sausage, eggs and bacon, washed down with cider and maybe something a little stonger, it was truly magical. Our stomachs full, we started up Rocky Mountain.

Darwin and 8Track helping HopScotch pull down the awning

Rocky Mountain is a steep climb, and due to the low clouds, we hiked through a dense mist, sweeping in and out of the trees. We took our time on the tough climb down due to our knees begging for mercy. But, as is the way of the AT we soon started back up, now on Tray Mountain. Down again, and 5 miles later, we found ourselves at Sassafras Gap. We’d share this camp with no one but the rain. We managed to set up our tent and rain fly with minimal rain inside of our tent but by the time we were all settled into our tent early in the afternoon, our packs were soaked. Fortunately, everything that needed to stay dry did and we listened to an audiobook for a few hours before the rain lulled us to sleep.

The next morning, the sun was shining after a full night of rain so we let our tent and rain fly dry while we ate breakfast. I had a hot bowl of ramen to warm me up and a pop tart. The hike out of Sassafras Gap was bearable, not too steep and the sun stayed out to dry our packs. It was a great hiking day to Dick’s Creek and Darwin and I felt lighter than air, passing every hiker. The last couple miles were rough as we descended downward and could see the road for miles before actually getting there. We finished our audiobook just as we made it to Dick’s Creek and waited for a hitch back to Hiawassee.

Luckily, we didn’t have to wait long for a ride into town. Another thru hiker’s mom was dropping him off and offered to give us a ride. She dropped us off at Asiano, a Chinese restaurant a little outside of town. Darwin helped himself to the buffet while I stuck with some beef and broccoli. We stayed at the Budget Inn once again in the same room as before and saw Logan (fantastic movie, highly recommend seeing) with Good Life and ran into Sunshine, Dream Liner, and Bun.


A cute little spider sunbathing along the trail

 The next morning we shuttled back to Dick’s Creek Gap with Sunshine and Dreamliner to start hiking. We received hot dogs and candy from a trail angel named Greeter and met back up with Goodwitch, Tailgate, Good Life, Thread and some section hikers. It was bit of a tough climb out of Dick’s Creek but then settled down as we passed by the Georgia//North Carolina border at Bly Gap. Getting out of Bly Gap the “welcome to NC” climb had steep, long climbs and was one of the hotter days on trail. You can never complain about a good glute shocker, though. When we got to Muskrat Creek Shelter there were only 4 or 5 people but later that night there were close to 30 hikers staying in the shelter and campsites. A new face, Samwise lightly strummed his ukelele by a fire and multiple people appreciated its warmth . Darwin and I stayed up for a bit before hanging our food on a bear line and getting into our cozy tent.

A few hours later a huge thunder storm let loose and brightened the sky. The ground shook and everyone woke up. We could hear small murmurs, moans, and stirs as the storm roared on and woke people up. As cool as it was, I barely slept from the commotion, not to mention a loud hiker snored the entire night as well, making the next day a little difficult.

Our stuff stayed dry but our tent was pretty muddy from the rain splatter. Darwin and I ate breakfast and filled up our waters. Another round of pop tarts and a granola bar.

The hike out of Muskrat was beautiful with cold winds and a warm sun. Standing Indian Mountain was a gradual uphill compared to the rest of the hike this far, in my humble opinion. Darwin and I descended solo from one another so I listened to Jekyll and Hyde on my audiobooks. We stopped at Carter Gap to have a snack consisting of beef jerky and fruit snacks then refilled my water before meeting back up with Darwin and moving on another 4 miles.

On top of Standing Indian Mountain

We camped next to Betty Creek, about 100 feet off trail. The Creek was crystal clear, and ice cold. We set up our tent under some Rodedendren trees and ate a pasta dinner with fried pepperoni and bacon, and a snickers for dessert. A fellow thru hiker, The Royal Scarecrow (hitherto known as Scarecrow) camped near us that night. He generously offered us to share a room he booked the next two nights at the Budget Inn, Franklin.

Pro Tip: Sometimes things can be bland on trail. Packing out things like olive oil, garlic powder, and chili powder can spice things up a bit and make you feel a little extra gourmet.

Darwin and I took our time packing up camp and eating breakfast then headed out towards Winding Stair Gap. I was pretty tired and my Legs were sore, so it was a slow day with a little snow and cold winds. Within the first 3 miles or so we hit Albert Mountain, a steep climb up with a fire tower that marks the first 100 miles, offering open views of mountains and some farms.


Albert Mountain fire tower

After a little over 11 miles we arrived at Winding Stair Gap. Within minutes the shuttle arrived to take us into Franklin. Laundry, hot showers, a Chinese buffet for $11, Walmart and a bed waited for us upon arrival and Legs was very happy.

Happy Legs & Darwin on the 100 mile mark!  

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