AT 2016: Shakedown Day 3, Hawk Mountain to Gooch Mountain

I see the bad moon a-rising

Leaving Hawk Mountain

The two adult leaders I'm hiking with this week, Dave and Andy, are former military. Dave served in the Marine Corps and retired with the rank of lieutenant colonel. Andy served in the Army and completed his career as a captain. They both saw action in the battlefield, and I cannot imagine two finer men to defend the freedom we cherish in our country.

DateMonday, June 20, 2016
WeatherHigh temperatures in mid-80s
Trail ConditionsDusty and dry
Today's Miles8.1
Trip Miles24.3

That said, it was hard at times to be around them. The two traded so many war stories I felt as if I was spending a week at the Old Soldiers Home, not on the AT.

When I told Andy and Dave that they took it in the good natured spirit I intended.

They never did run out of stories, though.

The start to our day today was only a little slower than yesterday, but we were going by 8:45.

Hightower Road

From Hawk Mountain the trail descends to Hightower Road.

As we arrived at the road an Army truck pulling a large water trailer called a water buffalo roared by. It was a clue we were near Camp Merrill, a U.S. Army facility used for evaluating and training officer candidates. Hearing weapons being fired and helicopters flying nearby were other clues.

Andy had trained at Camp Merrill during his time in the Army and told us some stories about training exercises in these same mountains.

Ascending from Hightower Gap

After Hightower Gap the trail makes steep climbs over a couple of mountains, Sassafras and Justus. When we reached near the top of our first climb I was able to get wireless reception, so I sent Kim a quick message to let her know all was good.

Trail magic, courtesy of the U.S. Army

Between Sassafras and Justus is Horse Gap. We stopped here for a snack and filled our water bottles with government-issued water. Trail magic, courtesy of the U.S. Army!

Descending Justus Mountain

After the climb up Justus Mountain the trail suddenly turned into the best imaginable footpath. It was mostly wide, smooth and nearly flat. The forest around it was dense, so little sunlight penetrated to the forest floor.

Gradually the trail dropped to Justus Creek. We stopped here to eat lunch beside the clear stream.

I made note of this location because it is 14.4 miles from Springer Mountain. It's tempting to think about this as the place to stop for my first night on the trail next year. Add nearly another mile for the walk from the parking lot to the summit and the two big climbs just before reaching this spot, though, and it would be a full day of hiking.

It was about 1:40 p.m. by the time we shouldered our packs for the last leg of today's hike.

Justus Creek

The trail continued past a campsite called Devils Kitchen and then made a couple easy creek crossings.

As we prepared to leave our lunch stop I mentioned we only had 1.4 miles to our destination for the night, but I don't think it registered with anyone. When we arrived at the junction of the side trail leading to Gooch Mountain Shelter no one wanted to believe it.

The disbelief was partly because the trail leading to the trail junction was very easy, so we arrived faster than anyone expected.

Adding to the confusion was a National Geographic map the scouts were using. It showed Gooch Mountain Shelter farther up the mountain. That information was incorrect, though. The shelter was up the mountain at one time, but was relocated in 2002.

Bear scat

A bear had left its calling card near the shelter, just below the cables provided for hanging food.

Because we arrived before 3 p.m. we had some time to relax before dinner. I set up my gear on one of the tent pads, which were located near the shelter and arranged on the side of the mountain similar the Hawk Mountain Campsite.

At around dinner time Andy mentioned that Dave had planted an idea with the boys, suggesting it would be fun to get up at 3 a.m. and hike at night.

Yes, 3 a.m.

The boys readily agreed. Andy told me if I wanted to sleep in and solo hike when I wanted to it would be okay with him.

Call it pride or comradeship, or perhaps stupidity, but I told Andy I would join them so long as he woke me up in time.

Besides, it was going to be a full moon. What could go wrong?

I see a bad moon a-rising
I see trouble on the way
I see earthquakes and lightnin'
I see bad times today

Don't go around tonight
Well it's bound to take your life
There's a bad moon on the rise


"Nothing to tell now. Let the words be yours, I'm done with mine."ref.