Neels Gap, GA, Sunday March 8, 2015 — Neels Gap is where a lot of hikers go to die, that is if they make it that far. Around a third of the erstwhile starters give up at this spot, just under 40 miles from the start point.
Hikers quit for a range of reasons. This early it’s usually because they are so out of shape that they can’t continue or they realize that they are totally unprepared for the weather conditions – either low temperatures, snow or rain. Many are carrying very heavy packs stuffed with irrelevant gear or the wrong gear.
I met a young married couple and the husband’s brother last week near Neels Gap. They seemed fit enough, but said they were postponing their thru hike until they learned more about functioning winter weather. They realized they weren’t prepared. They made an intelligent decision. They also became a statistic.
If they make it to Neels Gap, the heavies have an option. The trail actually passes through the breezeway of a building in which a conveniently located outfitter just happens to be.
The staff at Mountain Crossings are all former thru hikers who perform pack shakedowns upon request. In this way hikers can dump their frying pans, coffee pots, axes, outsized gear and the like. Of course they can replace their iron with titanium or other miracles of modern materials science, all for a price of course.
My favorite part of Mountain Crossing is the boot tree. Ill-fitting blistering boots get tossed over its branches like Halloween decorations serving as a goulish reminders of painfully dashed hopes.
The trail from White Blaze serial number 1 on Springer Mountain to Neels Gap is well maintained and rather gentle compared to the AT over all. It’s primary terrain feature is Blood Mountain. It’s a well-switch backed trail but challenging to anyone in less than top shape humping a heavy pack. Blood Mountain is aptly named. The notches on it’s gotcha stick are many.
Trail magic helps a lot of folks get over the hump. Trail Angels cook hot dogs, pancakes and coffee at various road crossings. Bless them all!