Scottish Highlands 2020 Day 1

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Munros: Broad Cairn, Cairn Bannoch, Càrn a' Choire Bhòidheach, Càrn an t-Sagairt Mòr, Lochnagar
Date walked: 22/08/2020
Views: 83

More Western stuff

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Wainwrights: Crag Fell, Grike, Lank Rigg
Date walked: 16/08/2020
Distance: 14.57km
Views: 81

Western stuff

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Wainwrights: Caw Fell, Haycock, Pillar, Red Pike (Wasdale), Scoat Fell, Steeple
Hewitts: Haycock, Pillar, Pillar - Black Crag, Red Pike (Wasdale), Scoat Fell
Date walked: 15/08/2020
Distance: 29.48km
Views: 85

Loadpot group

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Wainwrights: Arthur's Pike, Bonscale Pike, Loadpot Hill, Wether Hill
Hewitts: Loadpot Hill
Date walked: 14/08/2020
Distance: 21.82km
Views: 68

Blencathra and pals

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Wainwrights: Bannerdale Crags, Blencathra, Bowscale Fell, Mungrisdale Common, Souther Fell
Hewitts: Bannerdale Crags, Blencathra, Bowscale Fell
Date walked: 13/08/2020
Distance: 27.7km
Views: 80

Red Screes group

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Wainwrights: High Hartsop Dodd, Little Hart Crag, Middle Dodd, Red Screes
Hewitts: Little Hart Crag, Red Screes
Date walked: 12/08/2020
Distance: 15.88km
Views: 87

Far East: Long Walk

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Wainwrights: Gray Crag, Grey Crag, Harter Fell (Far Eastern Fells), High Raise (Far Eastern Fells), High Street, Kidsty Pike, Mardale Ill Bell, Rampsgill Head, Tarn Crag (Far Eastern Fells), The Knott, The Nab
Hewitts: Grey Crag, Harter Fell (Far Eastern Fells), High Raise (Far Eastern Fells), High Street, Rampsgill Head, Tarn Crag
Date walked: 11/08/2020
Distance: 51.57km
Views: 79

Insomnia vs COVID-19 on the Appalachian Trail

Date walked: 09/03/2020

Time taken: 9.5 days

Distance: 282.1km

Ascent: 14361m

Everything starts with a dream.

And that was me. Way back in 2016 or 2017 when I first heard of the Appalachian Trail, or the AT as it is colloquially known.

The AT is a 2,193 mile (the exact amount varies) hike from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mount Katahdin, Maine, ultimately crossing through 14 different American states. Full of history. Full of life experiences. Full of challenges. That could be me doing it. After all, I've already completed the Wainwrights, over half the Munros (including the Skye Cuillin) and several UK trails. So what more could I want to do than something bigger... something perhaps more grandiose?

So, I put steps in place, sorting things with my landlord, my manager at work... all the various places that I needed to agree things in order to get out to the USA for a hike that takes an average completer 5.5 months to traverse... and which apparently only 20-25% of people succeed in doing. Would I succeed? Would I be just a statistic of shattered dreams? Only time would tell...

And so with a successful Visa sorted with the US Embassy in London, I set off to try my hand (and my legs) at the challenge ahead.

Getting Started

They say (perhaps in jest,) the biggest challenge of the AT is getting to the start point, to which there are no practical public transport links. I was aided in this endeavour by Don and Mary from
The Further Appalachian Shuttle who picked me up from Hartfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (I'd gone via Dublin and Boston to get there, banking a few air miles in the process!) Mary took me to Amicalola Falls Visitor Center, further North in Georgia. COVID-19 was already a matter of discussion at this point, although at the time it was discussed without the knowledge of the global situation it would ultimately grow into. At this time, there were just 716 cases in the USA and 26 deaths.

The 3am pickup left me in the cold at the Visitor Center a bit after 4am where I waited to register and head off on my adventure, constantly pacing back and forth to stay warm at the start point. I was excited. A lady named Andrea eventually arrived to register me and I signed in as hiker #871 to start in 2020. I also sat through a short induction tutorial run by an AT guy named Master Splinter (almost everyone is known by their "trail name" - will mention a few more throughout this report.) He reminded those of us starting that morning of the "Leave No Trace" rules, advised us to use shelters rather than tents where possible, not to shake hands with anyone (fist-bumps are preferred,) to use latrines where they existed (even though he had to clear them out) rather than pooping in the wild, and also ensured I knew how to do a "PCT Bear Hang" - the preferred method of keeping your food out of the reach of bears on the Pacific Crest Trail (another long-distance USA trail.) The PCT Hang is especially important where no other bear-avoidance food systems like bear-boxes or bear-cables exist. Whilst I'd done my research and knew this stuff, Master Splinter was a helpful guy. Also, whilst attending a tutorial like this is completely optional, if anyone reading this decides to embark on the same adventure I would encourage you all to sit through this. There may be questions you want to ask.

The starting arches of the AT whilst waiting for registration to open.

At the beginning after sunlight and induction. Picture taken by Master Splinter himself!

Day 1: And So It Begins

From the Visitor Center, the hike to Springer Mountain is 8.8 miles with about 2,700 feet ascent. (The USA uses imperial measurements so I'll use them throughout this walk report even though the distance and ascent I listed for the report is metric.) But the Approach Trail isn't an official part of the AT. It just gets you to the start point from where you register. But if you're intending to walk 2,193 miles, what is an extra 8.8? Not much, right?

It's true of course; it's a negligible amount. But it is steep, heading up a mountainous staircase labelled as "strenuous" just to reach the top of the Amicalola Falls waterfall. When I got to the top, I encountered 3 section-hikers that were aiming to do (just) 500 miles from there. I passed by them and shortly after saw a sign saying that the next 7 miles takes an average hiker 6 hours to complete. Tough terrain? Or maybe the sign-writer expected someone with less hiking experience than myself, under their belt?

About 5 miles into this I met the first hiker that I caught the name of, Zachary, who had holed up in a shelter a bit before Springer Mountain the night before, feeling somewhat tired. We walked together to the top of Springer Mountain (3780ft,) getting there a bit after midday and helped a few people get photos at the top before continuing to hike another 8 miles beyond it.

Not long after Springer we experienced our first bit of "Trail Magic." A lady by the name of Buttercup (another example of a trail name) was giving out hot drinks including hot cider (yum!) at the intersection of the Benton MacKaye Trail. People that give out drinks and food to hikers are a welcome thing on long-distance US trails and are known as "Trail Angels" for the effort they put in. Getting some of this magic as early as Day 1 was a wonderfully satisfying experience.

But that magic wasn't limited to there. By the time we reached the shelter on Hawk Mountain, where I pitched my tent for the first night, I encountered a former thru-hiker named Fire Plug, who had carried up a 24-pack of beer to give out to hikers who made it up there. I only had 1 myself, but I could have had more, I'm sure. I was tired though; no sleep before a 17-mile hike had taken it out of me (53,000+ steps according to FitBit) and I enjoyed a peaceful night's sleep at 3,145ft altitude.

The Approach Trail begins!


Summit marker, Springer Mountain

View early on Day 2

Trekking on...

Stream crossing

Day 2: More Trail Magic

I woke the next day ready to hike on. I packed up my tent and as Zachary wasn't ready to go I wished him well and headed on. This isn't as callous as it might at first sound. There is a saying on the trail that is well understood by all: "Hike your own hike!" and I was determined to hike at my own pace rather than any slower or faster than I needed to. I had a mission to succeed at, after all.

Day 2 saw me heading 15.8 miles towards Lance Creek Restoration Area, a campsite at 2,869ft. They had a bear-hang pulley system there, a bit more effort than the bear box I stored my food in at Hawk Mountain Shelter. Still easy enough once I figured out the system though. Along the way, I crossed Ramrock Mountain (3,175ft) and encountered Buttercup again for more hot cider, as well as Underdog, who was cooking up pure American chilli-dogs. Wonderful. I was advised that Lance Creek would be full but decided to go there anyway, as I could always "stealth-camp" (i.e.: camp slightly out of an official site) if I needed to. I also encountered a hiker there named Pops, who if he completed the trail would become the oldest person to do so at the age of 89! He was actually doing his 2nd thru-hike, which he had started solo before encountering a 70-year-old fellow hiker, Phoenix, who proceeded to help him out. Discussion about COVID-19 was running rampant at the trail magic site, with suggestions that it wasn't inconceivable that state borders could be shut along the route, making it difficult to progress further.

I got to Lance Creek in the end and whilst it was fairly full I managed to squeeze in my tent for the night and slept, ready for day 3.

Leaving camp on the Tuesday morning

The trail continues...

More trail - one foot in front of the next!

A misty view

Hanging my food bag on the bear-pulley system

Day 3: Insomnia Is Born!

The hike continued on the next morning. I had set off early, as soon as I woke up, packing my tent into my pack with only my headtorch for assistance. In fact, I got a bit confused working out the route from Lance Creek back onto the trail in that darkness and had to back-track a bit. But I got moving again on the right path eventually. The first part of the day was a 10-11 mile zone where you aren't allowed to camp overnight without a hard bear can, so I'd made sure to plan my camping before it.

Within this zone is Blood Mountain, which at 4,458ft is the highest point of the Appalachian Trail in the state of Georgia. It was around here I got chatting to another thru-hiker, who having heard I had made it this far in a little over 2 days and with no sleep to boost, suggested a trail name for me.... "Insomnia." I thought about it for a few hours and chose to adopt it. It made me chuckle after all!

At the 31.3 mile mark of the official trail, I reached Neel Gap (3,100ft) a mountain crossing with an outfitters selling equipment to the presumably many people that forget something en-route. There is also a "hiker box" there with food donations from other hikers and I even bumped into Buttercup there for the 3rd day running! Perhaps the reason for the plentiful bounty to be found in the Neel Gap hiker box is that this is the point where a large number of people (estimated at 20%) quit their hike, early on, realising they don't quite have the legs for the hiking still to come. There's even a tree there where disenchanted hikers throw their boots up onto the branches, abandoning the trail early on. I marched onwards from Neel Gap with some bonus peanut butter and porridge from the hiker box.

After another 11.5 miles I had crossed over Levelland Mountain (3,833ft,) Wolf Laurel Top (3,763ft,) Cowrock Mountain (3,809ft,) Poor Mountain (3,621ft,) Sheep Rock Top (3,561ft) reached Low Gap Shelter (2,966ft) and camped there, even encountering Matt and Sarah, the first 2 Brits I saw on the trail. Matt was from Ipswich although he didn't spot I was hiking the trail wearing an Ipswich Town F.C. top. Meanwhile Sarah had gone to the same university as me. It's a small world.

Early morning sunrise

Blood Mountain Shelter

The hiker box at Neel Gap

The surrounding views, beyond the trees

Day 4: A First Mini-Milestone

This day took me to the 50 mile marker on the way up to the summit of Blue Mountain (4,010ft.) The trail went on further, over Unicoi Gap, instersecting with the Rocky Mountain Trail before crossing Rocky Mountain itself (3,992ft) and the rather ominous-sounding Indian Grave Gap. Around here I met a ridge-runner named Captain Planet, who advised me that there was potentially a thunderstorm coming in and to avoid sleeping in the shelter on Tray Mountain (4,371ft.) I'd already planned to go beyond there before nightfall so it wasn't too much of a problem but I heeded her advice anyway: "Tray Mountain is a beautiful place to stay in good weather. Tonight, I don't recommend it!"

Captain Planet also spoke of her concerns about COVID-19. At this stage the number of cases had reached 1,645, with 41 deaths (a 129% and 58% increase respectively in just 3 days.)

Ultimately I went over Tray as well as Kelly Knob (4,144ft) before dropping down to Deep Gap Shelter (3,454ft) to camp for the night. There I heard of another hiker who was attempting to walk the entire trail barefoot, which was also his trail name.

Continuing through the "Green Corridor"

Trees may often get in the way of a good view, but I learnt to "imagine" what the view was without them.

Day 5: Taking Stock

Waking up on the 5th morning I thought about what I'd done so far. At this point I had hiked 65.6 miles of the AT (not including the extra 8.8 miles on the Approach Trail) and everything was holding together well. I understood bear and snake avoidance as well as I could and still had plenty of food to keep me going. My water-filtration skills were working well for me and both mind and body were aligned well. It was time to keep marching on.

I passed by a couple of amusing signs that day too. One advised that hang-gliders are not permitted in the wilderness and another pointed out a route to the wonderfully-named "Chunky Gal Trail!"

I crossed over the amusingly-named As Knob (3,427ft) before hitting the Georgia/North Carolina state boundary (3,835ft) at the 78.1 mile mark, where I stopped there and recorded a quick video for my family and friends to mark the event for prosperity. Shortly after that I crossed over Sharp Top (4,260ft) before going the remaining 7+ miles to Standing Indian Shelter (relatively high up at 4,752ft) to camp for the night, where I did a PCT bear hang before stopping for a quick chat about the football with an American in the next tent to me. Yes, they call it soccer there. (I still won't.)

A strange tree-arch across the trail

Another view through the trees

The trail continues

A low branch zone

Yet more trail

A view between the trees

Hang-gliders... really?

Maybe they follow the cake-crumbs...

My PCT bear hang at Standing Indian Shelter

Day 6: An Unexpected Detour

The day began by climbing Standing Indian Mountain (5,478ft) - about 1.5 miles from the previous night's shelter. But the real slog came over 10 miles after that, climbing the scrambly Southern slopes of Albert Mountain (5,213ft) - a task not made easier when carrying a fully-loaden multi-day backpack. A tower structure exists at the top of this peak, allowing good views through 360 degrees and on the North side descent I found the path to be far less arduous than on the South.

Less than a mile after the summit of Albert Mountain is the 100-mile marker, marked in the ground with a series of rocks and twigs (I found one marker made of each.) Another milestone passed.

Somewhat undaunted I trekked on, dropping down to Rock Gap Shelter (3,797ft) about 6 miles later. With a plan in mind to head to a campsite about 5 miles beyond, I was happy to encounter some more trail magic at the road crossing at Rock Gap (3,735ft) from Blue (apparently spelled Bl:D with a smiley-face) and Gelsey, who gladly offered me cookies and beer. They even said if I didn't want to lose time I was welcome to take what I wanted and walk on, but I took a seat on a camp-chair and sat with them, shooting the breeze for a while.

A little later, a hostel-owner from nearby Franklin, North Carolina came past on the road and offered me a bed for the night if I wanted one. Having slogged my way up Albert Mountain and passed the 100-mile marker, as well as needing to resupply either then or within a couple of days, I accepted the offer. After all, I hadn't been able to have a proper wash since I was in Dublin, nearly a week before. The hostel-owner, Zen from Gooder Grove, took me past a diner where I got a couple of chilli-dogs and a complementary milkshake for being on a thru-hike attempt.

Zen had the safety of hikers in mind, encouraging everyone to wash their hands in the growing Coronavirus pandemic. By then the number of cases had grown 293% in my time in the States, up to 2,816 and the number of deaths by 131% to 60. Zen made a point of asking hikers to leave their boots and trekking poles inside and ensured everyone washed their hands thoroughly before touching any communal items. He was looking out for everyone's interests in the process. Zen's helper Merple did my laundry for me (only $2) which would ultimately make a refreshing change to the hiker-stench I was undoubtedly building up and I wound up sitting outside chatting on the porch with Zen, Merple and another thru-hiker (Atlas) that evening; and I eventually enjoyed a peaceful night's sleep in a bed rather than a tent. Also, in true hiker hostel fashion, they labelled my bed with my new-found trail-name: "Insomnia!"

Back walking in the bright 'n early

View from Albert Mountain (1)

View from Albert Mountain (2)

View from Albert Mountain (3)

View from Albert Mountain - from up on the tower

More views

A 100-mile marker

Another 100-mile marker

Similar to at Neel Gap, there's another "Quitting Tree" by Zen's hostel at Gooder Grove

(...continued in next post due to attachment limit...)

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Lake 2019 Day 5

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Wainwrights: Carrock Fell, High Pike (Northern Fells)
Hewitts: Carrock Fell, High Pike
Date walked: 10/05/2019
Views: 102

Lake 2019 Day 4

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Wainwrights: Blake Fell, Burnbank Fell, Gavel Fell, Great Borne, Hen Comb, Mellbreak, Starling Dodd
Hewitts: Great Borne, Starling Dodd
Date walked: 09/05/2019
Views: 111


User avatar
Location: Bristol
Occupation: IT Geek
Activity: Mountain Walker
Mountain: Dow Crag
Member: British Mountaineering Council, SYHA

Munros: 168
Corbetts: 9
Donalds: 1
Wainwrights: 214
Hewitts: 191
Islands: 3
Long Distance routes: Arran Coastal Way   

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Trips: 8
Distance: 443.12 km
Ascent: 14361m
Munros: 5
Hewitts: 1
Wainwrights 33


Trips: 8
Hewitts: 1
Wainwrights 38


Trips: 26
Distance: 523.65 km
Ascent: 20465m
Munros: 19
Corbetts: 6
Hewitts: 1
Wainwrights 12


Trips: 16
Distance: 250.73 km
Ascent: 16993m
Munros: 19
Hewitts: 8
Wainwrights 17


Trips: 33
Distance: 646.9 km
Ascent: 33600m
Munros: 22
Donalds: 1
Hewitts: 24
Wainwrights 26


Trips: 37
Distance: 631.59 km
Ascent: 36750m
Munros: 43
Corbetts: 1
Hewitts: 14
Wainwrights 13


Trips: 33
Distance: 581.4 km
Ascent: 32980m
Munros: 30
Hewitts: 50
Wainwrights 48


Trips: 39
Distance: 716.1 km
Ascent: 32725m
Munros: 21
Corbetts: 2
Hewitts: 54
Wainwrights 59


Trips: 33
Distance: 597.75 km
Ascent: 25890m
Hewitts: 55
Wainwrights 99


Trips: 16
Distance: 250.1 km
Ascent: 15162m
Munros: 1
Hewitts: 26
Wainwrights 52

Joined: Jul 16, 2011
Last visited: May 13, 2021
Total posts: 510 | Search posts