Carvers Gap and Who Lost Shemeah?

Carvers Gap and Who Lost Shemeah?

It was about time for a good adventure and the weekend didn’t fail us. Leslie, Still Waters, April and myself rolled on down the highway at high noon on Friday, heading toward the big town of Erwin, Tennessee. The plan was to spend the night and get up early to meet at the trailhead Saturday. I have to say the drive was absolutely a blast. We all talked nearly non-stop and laughed equally as much. At some point the words “fried fish” came out of someone’s mouth and a quest to find a littleElsies...Eternal lunch.... café with fried anything began. It ended at Elsie’s Steak and Seafood,home of “All You Can Eat Fried Catfish” and the local Optimist club. Obviously we all had been on some kind of fried food fast because everything that landed on the table had seen Crisco and was not long for this world. Stuffed and satisfied, we over tipped Elsie and headed toward the great town of Erwin and the Holiday Inn Express.
A friendly check-in, settling into our clean room, a quick trip to the local Wal-Mart, (Always interesting,)dinner at Clarence’s Drive In and we turned in early. There was little movement and no snoring as we all dreamed of the trail ahead.
After a fascinating breakfast at the Holiday Inn, (Who knew there was an automatic conveyer belt pancake maker?!!!) we packed up at sunrise and headed toward the Hostel to meet our group.

The Mountain Harbor Hostel /Bed and Breakfast was delightful!IMG_2857IMG_2886

For $15.00 a night, hikers can stay in a clean bed, have access to a shower, stocked frig and small kitchen. There was a small General Store that operates on the honor system and for $9.00 a full breakfast at the main house can be had. A member new to our group had stayed the night and greeted us with enthusiasm. Patty aka Dream Believer would prove to be a tireless hiker and cheerleader sharing her wisdom and love of nature.
Soon we were joined by Hemlock, Cindy, and Sweet Pea and were IMG_2891shuttled up a bumpy, curvy route to the trailhead atCarvers Gap.The hike began on a beautiful, blue sky, 80 degree treasure of a day, and slipping through the gate we began our hike. Almost immediately we were embraced by a Balsam Fir forest that can only grow at 5000 feet.( I looked around for Ewoks, but saw none…..) Delighted, we wandered along and soon began our ascent up Round Bald, picking our way past a mile long bucket brigade of young people restoring the trail with rocks. (One of the girls commented as we went by, that we were the pretty hikers!) highres_50264351
The climb continued up, as we topped Round Bald passing masses of Rhododendron bushes with the wind whipping around us. We stop periodically to spin 365 degrees and burst into the Sound of Music ,which will be our theme song for most of the trip! On we go over and up Jane Bald surrounded by magnificent mountains and valleys, numerous plants and flowers and goats grazing beside the trail, guarded by a ferocious “goat”dog.
Jane Bald proves to be the perfect lunch spot to languish in the warm sun and chat with other hikers as they pass through this intersection. Nourished, hydrated and rested we head down the AT back into the forest. Our hard work rewarded by an amazing sea of wildflowers blooming all around us. Much of the trail barely wide enough for our feet, it is like we are walking through a carpet of colors. The surprising and pleasing display included Yarrow, Daisy’s, Bee Balm, Echinacea, Dodder, Turtlehead, Phlox, Gentian, yellow and purple touch me nots, Beech Drop, Queen Anne Lace and Angelica. I can hear Joan swooning in the distance……

We pass the Stan Murray shelter, do a quick Keen Hiking boot commercial….IMG_2977and follow the rolling trail down to the Overmountain Shelter, a two story red barn structure housing several college students. This proves to be a good place to regroup and watch the clouds rolling over the valley like waves in the ocean…We made the decision not to camp here, but to press on UP and over Little Hump Bald.
and this……is where we lost Shemeah……….
Almost everyone needed to replenish their water and this was IMG_2933the last source before we would camp. Still Waters and Hemlock had filled up while the rest of us were airing out our toes at the barn. Hemlock waited with April while the water bearers loaded up and Still Waters decided to head on to scout out a site.

The mighty climb up Little Hump began…..Hemlock, with her long legs and natural gait soon became a distant pinhead as I followed, Fabs and Leslie not far behind and April and Patty bringing up the rear. To an overhead observer, I think we might have looked like one of those slinky caterpillar toys, starting and stopping, getting closer together and stretching back out, as we made our way, our breathing heavy and labored up, up and more up.

The views are breathtaking as we go, making the pain worthwhile, majestic mountains with tufts of white clouds rising out of them, waving grasses along the trail, rocky outcrops and the sun breaking the clouds providing us with “God Rays” and more layers of blue mountain ridges.
Catching up with a waiting Joan, Leslie, Fabs and myself reach the top and go up and over trying to outrun a rain cloud with April and Patty being pursued by a rolling fog beneath us. Confident that Shemeah is ahead of us, we laugh that she has already started a fire….. Just as we hit the shelter of the scrubby trees, it starts to rain and we quickly cover out packs and put on our jackets, all the while looking along the narrow grown up trail for a place to hang four hammocks and place three tents.

Not far into the woods, I manage to once again step in a yellow jackets home and feel stinging on the back of my leg. Tearing down the trail with Leslie right on my heels feels all too familiar! Sprays and cream is applied and Joan and Fabs meet up with us after waiting for the nest to die down and suddenly we spy the perfect campsite!!! The heavens openmusic plays and we are practically delirious with joy……until we realize…..there is no Shemeah……….

Warbonnet VillageWe are joined by April and Patty and begin the work of setting up camp before darkness falls, all the while worrying about our hiking partner. A cell call is placed with a single bar and a message is left. There is discussion about sending Hemlock out to look for her but it is decided that we will all stay put, that Still Waters is a competent hiker and will be fine. We speculate that she might be eating Spam with the Boy Scouts when suddenly we hear her entering camp with a shout!
IMG_2869She receives a heroes welcome and we are all relieved that our group is once again complete. Apparently, she hiked an additional 4 miles, while exploring a new trail and making a wrong turn headed back toward the Stan Murray shelter . She did indeed meet up with the Boy Scouts, but they did not have Spam. ….
Relieved, our dinners are prepared, bear bags hung, business is done and we all retire early, exhausted from the days adventures. Thankfully, I sink into my hammock, cocooned by my borrowed Yeti, (thank you KP) andfaithful Ethel, slipping off to sleep to the night chorus of critters and campmates….
to be cont.

Rainy Day in Georgia

This is a guest post from Georgia Dame, Sandi Adams……

Rainy Day in Georgia…

 So, I ask myself, “Have you lost your  mind!?” as I crawl out of my nice warm bed at 5:00 am on a Saturday. Rain drumming against my bedroom window and my sweet husband softly snoring make it even more of a question. I quietly dress and add my trail lunch to my pack, slipping out the door to begin my journey.

The DamesI am hermetically sealed in rain pants, rain jacket over two layers of breathable clothing, a gore-tex hat, and am carrying a pack covered with its own little rain jacket. I meet fellow Trail Dame, Denise and off we go higher and higher into the North Georgia mountains, slowly disappearing into the fog.
We arrive off Ga 60 at Woody Gap and meet Joan, Monica, Kellye and Melissa aka SHOE. Visibility is at 0 percent and it is blowing rain in every direction.
No one flinches when the decision is made for SHOE to shuttle us down forest service road 42 to Cooper Gap where we will then travel by foot to Gooch Gap 4.7 miles and then continue on to Woody Gap another 3.8.
After several miles down a muddy bumpy road, we  make adjustments to our rain gear and take off up the mountain laughing, talking and trying to catch our breath as we find our trail rhythm.
Our first wonder of nature is pointed out by Joan, aka Hemlock. TREE FOAM…. Tree Foam? Also known as ”stem flow” when rain water drips down the trunks of trees and forms bubble bath looking foam at the base. This makes her very happy. (Later she also spots a patch of false puffball in aspic which nearly sends us all over the edge…)
We squish and slide along the rugged path of the AT enjoying the sounds of the day, the cool rain,  the eery mist and each others company. A quick stop at the Gooch Gap AT shelter for a brief respite from a downpour, finds three through hikers, barely beginning their journey. I wondered how I would feel if I was starting out a hike measuring 2,181 miles in such weather. After hurriedly eating a snack, we left them in various states of preparation and head off to Woody Gap.
There were a few water crossings made even more exciting by the rising water, wonderful rocky outcroppings with views to nowhere and one of the fastest lunch breaks ever under a dripping hemlock tree with a cold wind whipping around us.
Not once during this day did anyone complain or whine. In fact the mood of these crazy women was upbeat and positive, punctuated by lively conversation and laughter.

It was a day designed to stay inside, to hibernate in comfort but we were rewarded by a unique way to experience God’s beautiful creation of nature.

Wagon Train Trail

This weekend, I went with the Trail Dames to see the leaves changing at Brasstown Bald, the tallest peak in Georgia (4784 feet).  We hiked the Wagon Train Trail, which follows a ridge north from Brasstown Bald all the way to Young Harris, a college town.  This hike is all about the journey, rather than the destination– especially the views along the ridge and watching the trees change as we drop elevation and go through different forest types.

Down the Wagon Train Trail.

Eleven Dames met at the large parking area early in the morning.  We had a wonderful mix of women- it was one woman’s second hike ever, while others had been hiking for years.  We started down the wide, relatively flat path, and reached a viewpoint after an hour.  We stopped for a break and marveled how far we’d come.  The tower at Brasstown Bald, near where we began our hike, looked so small in the distance and it was hard to imagine we’d so easily traveled all this way already.

The tower on Brasstown Bald appears tiny.

After a very long and hot summer, the crisp fall air was quite a relief.  The leaves were spectacular red, orange, and yellow, contrasting against deep blue sky.  As the sun shone through the red leaves, it gave everything a rosy hue.  Leaves crunched beneath our feet.  Though most of the time we were walking through forest ablaze with red leaves, we passed through one part of the trail was all golden yellow.

The Dames that went with me on the Blood Mountain hike recognized the turtleheads clustered around small springs.  We also saw quite a few striped gentians.


After getting back to the trailhead, some of the Dames still had enough energy to climb the remaining 6/10 mile up to the observation tower and visitor’s center at the summit.  Stepping off the Wagon Train trail, where we’d seen very few other hikers, was quite a culture shock, because the summit area was crowded with tourists.   At first, I felt annoyed that this summit had been “ruined” by all the development.  But then, we met a woman in a wheelchair that was 95 years old!  She had visited this mountain many years ago, and was excited to make this return trip, even though she couldn’t walk anymore herself and had to take the shuttle bus to the top.  Of course this made me instantly appreciate that this mountain was accessible to everyone, and I smiled looking around at all the different people, up there, enjoying the fall day.

Same Trail, A Year and a Half Later

Same trail, a year and a half later

Milkweed along the AT (May 2009)
Another wonderful guest post from our wonderful hike leader, Hemlock.  For more of her writing, check out her blog at
This weekend, I went on an overnight backpacking trip from Hogpen to Unicoi on the Appalachian Trail.  A year and a half ago, in May of 2009, I backpacked this section as a new Trail Dame and a beginner backpacker.  I recall struggling up the hills.  Thankfully it was spring and there were plenty of flowers in bloom to examine while I caught my breath.   I remember asking our trip leader a million questions about her gear, taking notes on everything she said.  She was one of the first people I’d met that was a solo hiker (how brave!) and had hiked long distances on the AT (how cool!).

Now, I scouted the trip as a trip co-leader, in preparation for taking a group out there next week.  Walking this same path, it struck me how much has changed– not just the change of season with the wildflowers all gone to seed– but how now the hills seem like a breeze, and I’m the one answering questions from the first-time backpackers as they email me about what to expect on this trip.  I sometimes feel like a fraud– I’m still learning myself– until I realize that I can help since I remember vividly what it was like to be a beginner myself.

Milkweed pod and seeds in fall
What hasn’t change is how much I plan for the hike (and, I’ll admit, how I still get butterflies the night before a big trip).  But now, I try to figure out how to provide directions and explain the features of the trail and think through what to do in case of emergency.  I wonder how I can be as welcoming, respectful, and supportive to them as everyone was to me a year and a half ago.

As I walked along, I thought about what makes the Trail Dames a unique group.  Like I said before, I’ve hiked with dozens of other hiking clubs, so I know there’s something special about the Dames.  Is it the caring nature of the group that brings everyone together?  How does this happen?  How can such a diverse group of women get along?  How can we laugh so much?  When I hike with the Dames, I try to keep my ears open to catch incredible conversations– inspirational stories of challenges faced with courage.  And there is something about being outdoors that allows the conversations to just flow.   I take in this wisdom, and make mental notes about how I want to live my life.

I watch the way everyone looks out for one another- not condescending at all– and how folks are understanding if someone is having trouble, because everyone else has struggled at one time or another, so we all know what it’s like.  (One Dame describes it this way– “There’s No Shame With the Trail Dames!”)  I really appreciate this because I’ve hiked with other groups that are competitive, and I’ve noticed that this attitude prevents people from coming together as a team, and connecting with one another.   I see these things, but all of these parts don’t fully explain to me the incredible things that happen on the trail with the Dames.

Backpacking With The Dames

This is a cross post from Hemlock’s wonderful Blog….. for more of her writing, check out

Same trail, a week later

Winter wonderland.  Photo by S. Adams.

The story this week was how a group of Nine Warrior Women braved 14 miles of slippery trail as we hiked on the Appalachian Trail from Hogpen to Unicoi.  We faced a night of bone-chilling, finger-numbing, frigid temperatures (18 degrees!), and I will never forget how the Brave Dames on this trip came together as a team and had a total blast.

It’s hard to comprehend how the same trail that I scouted just one week ago could be so completely different than it was this weekend, magically transformed as it was by a layer of snow and ice.  At first, I was nervous because I’d never backpacked in the snow before, though I’d done plenty of hiking in worse conditions.  But my fears drifted away as we gazed in amazement at the trees cloaked in snow, breathing in the crisp air, listening to the crunch of frozen leaves underfoot.  Eventually, the sun broke through the fog and clouds, making the forest sparkle and ice shimmer against the deep blue sky.  I felt grateful to be out enjoying my first winter weather of the year, while nearly everyone else in Georgia was down in the valley having a regular fall day.

When we stopped at the Low Gap shelter for lunch, we listened to a group of young guys describe their miserable night in the snow.  I hoped that we wouldn’t look as wrenched as they did the following day.

We hiked on and the trail joined an old road.  Icicles were forming along the rocky outcrops.  As we descended in elevation, pockets of snow became more scarce.  Finally, we reached our campsite which was thankfully free of much snow, due to its sunny exposure.  Everyone pitched in to help with making camp, helping set up tents, gather firewood, and hang the rope to keep our food away from bears.  Still Waters had a fire blazing before the rest of us returned from fetching water.  We huddled around, telling stories and laughing, recalling the high and low points of the day.

                   Draped in my under-quilt, huddled around the campfire.  Photo by S. Adams.

We turned in for the night at 7:45, since we were all getting cold as the air temperature plumited.  At first I lay shivering in my hammock, wondering if I would freeze to death during the night.  Finally, I slipped my pack beneath my feet, and shifted the sleeping pad and underquilt around.   Miraculously, I warmed up enough to finally drift off to sleep.  Whenever I woke during the night, I heard a chorus of soft snores around me.  How could everyone else be sleeping so well?!  In the morning, we’d all discover that EVERYONE had this thought during the night– we must have all taken turns lying awake shivering and sleeping and snoring.

The trail the next day had some serious climbs, and was treacherous with icy leaves over slippery rocks.  We only took brief rest stops because we got too cold when we weren’t moving.  Last week, I’d sailed up these hills, but this time, they left me sore and tired just like they had on my first backpacking trip with the Dames a year and a half ago.   Funny how just when I think I’ve got everything figured out and am feeling strong and confident (as I was last week), the trail will continue to provide new challenges.

Things I learned:

– Who you’re with can make all the difference.  I am so grateful to all the Dames who continue to teach me the meaning of friendship, strength, perseverance, and bravery.

– I need to figure out how to keep my hands from freezing.  I’ve always struggled keeping my hands warm, and I loose all dexterity when my hands get cold and also I have a lot of trouble thinking coherently when I loose feeling in my fingers.  I’ve tried various gloves and handwarmers, which work OK during hiking, but my fingers freeze when I take off my gloves to do stuff around camp.  Maybe I need to develop a cold weather camp routine that doesn’t require the use of my fingers or thumbs.  Any suggestions on how to cook and get water without either getting my gloves drenched or having my fingers go numb?

– One of the first signs of hypothermia is mental confusion.  Next time we are standing around discussing how we are all having sluggish thoughts, take that as a sign to warm up!  Also, Still Waters kept telling me to take off my wet gloves and put my hands near the fire to thaw out, and I just stared at her blankly.  This was sort of like the tendency hypothermic people have to take off their warm clothes when they are freezing to death.

– My camera is NOT an item I should leave behind just to save pack weight.  What was I thinking!?!?

– Even at the lowest point of the trip when I was nearly in tears because I was so freezing cold, I still wanted to be on the trail more than anything else– I don’t want to be at home.  Even when I’m scared and uncomfortable, I still feel like I belong on the trail.