AT 2017: Day 5, Low Gap to Tray Mountain

I have seen where the wolf has slept by the silver stream

View from Tray Mountain

There is only one thing a hiker likes more than food, and that's free food.

Today was that kind of trail magic and it happened twice!

DateFriday, April 7, 2017
WeatherSunny and warm, with a high near 70
Trail ConditionsDry
Today's Miles15.4
Trip Miles58.3

I left Low Gap at 10 a.m., as usual later than I had hoped.

I knew that today would end with a big climb, assuming I could get that far, so I would have preferred an earlier start.

It just didn't happen.

Low Gap

The sky was bright and sunny, but the gusty winds from yesterday remained.

Former logging road

The start of the day was easy. The width of the footpath and the way some sections were shored up with stones indicated I was walking on a former logging road.

Group of hikers

For part of this section, I hiked with several other hikers, including James (no trail name yet), who I first met on day 2.

I also hiked with Chris, who was doing a section hike.

Chris told me he had only recently become aware of the trail and was starting to think about doing a thru-hike sometime in the future.

Green tunnel

Though the Appalachian Trail is often referred to as a Green Tunnel because it's usually covered over by leafy green trees, in early spring the only real tunnels consist of rhododendron and mountain laurel foliage.

Chattahoochee Gap

Eventually, the trail made a more emphatic ascent, then descended again, this time to Chattahoochee Gap.

A spring here was the northern-most source of the Chattahoochee River, which runs nearly the entire length of Georgia.

The river's name, and thus the gap's name, is said to be from the Native American word chato, meaning "rocks-marked" or "painted", and huchi, meaning "marked".

Climb up Blue Mountain

The trail climbed again, this time toward the top of Blue Mountain, which was more than a thousand feet higher than Low Gap.

I stopped before reaching the summit at a side trail to Blue Mountain Shelter and I ate some lunch.

After cresting Blue Mountain, the trail took a sharp and sometimes steep descent to Unicoi Gap.

Unicoi Gap

The name of the gap comes from the Cherokee word ᎤᏁᎦ (unega), which translates to mean "white," It describes clouds and fog that cling low to the mountains.

Trail magic

When I arrived at the gap, I found a table set out with food and soft drinks. It was trail magic, provided by members of a Baptist church.

They told me that several churches around the state organize to share in responsibility for feeding hikers, and they were part of that group.

Going up Rocky Mountain

From Unicoi Gap the trail made another big climb. I hiked part of this section with Skylarker.

We went from an elevation of 2,949 feet to 4,017 feet in about a mile before reaching the peak of Rocky Mountain.

That would be the Rocky Mountain of Towns County, and should not be confused with the other eight mountains in Georgia that share the same name, nor confused with the eight different mountains in the state called Rocky Knob.

The locals apparently lack creativity when naming their mountains.

No matter what you want to call it, it was an energy-sapping climb.

Rocks on Rocky Mountain

I should add that if you're looking for rocks on top of Rocky Mountain, you might try a different mountain by that name. The rocks here were unspectacular.

View from Rocky Mountain

The view from the top of the mountain, on the other hand, was spectacular.

Because of the amount of time it took to get up and over Rocky Mountain, I was unsure if I had the energy or daylight to get to my intended destination, Tray Mountain Shelter.

I pressed on, thinking if I needed an earlier place to stop I could camp at the Cheese Factory Site.

This is a spot on the trail with a large, flat clearing. True to its name, cheese really was made from here. In fact, dozens of cows also roamed this area in the 1800s when the factory stood here.

The factory was started by Major Edward Williams, one of the first white settlers in the area, who became one of the biggest landowners in the region. It’s thought that the location was picked because of a spring, which is still running today.

There are no longer any remnants of the factory here, but the space makes a nice spot to camp.

Trail magic sign

Just before I arrived there I discovered something unexpected. Signs were posted on trees to promote trail magic.

Cheese Factory Site

At the site were two large canvas tents and a teepee. They had been set up by another church group, which was there to enjoy the outdoors and minister to hikers.


I enjoyed a large bowl of chili, which not only helped me complete my day's hike to Tray Mountain, but was filling enough that I didn't need to prepare a dinner when I arrived.

Continuing up to Tray Mountain

Climbing up Tray Mountain from the Cheese Factory Site only took about 30 minutes, thanks largely to the extra energy from the trail magic.

 View from Tray Mountain

Just as from Rocky Mountain, the view from here was breathtaking. By now, however, the time was after 6:30 p.m., and the weather was turning cold and windy.

With wind gusts of close to 30 mph, I didn't linger long before heading to the shelter.

I arrived there by 6:50 and quickly set up my tent on the ridge line just below Tray Mountain's peak.

Charles Lanman wrote of this mountain in his 1849 book Letters from the Alleghany Mountains. He called it Trail Mountain, which he said got its name from the numerous Cherokee Indian trails leading to the top.

Lanman also said the mountain was the highest in Georgia, but we now know that distinction belongs to Brasstown Bald. He claimed Trail Mountain was 6,000 feet above sea level. Today we know Tray Mountain is just 4,430 feet in elevation.

“The grandest display was towards the north, and here it seemed to me that I count at least twenty distinct ranges, fading away to the sky,” Lanman wrote of his view from the mountaintop.

Lanman wrote poetically of hearing the howl of a wolf from this mountain. What he didn’t mention, though, was that wolves were so hated and feared that a bounty was placed on them in many parts of Northern Georgia, as well as other parts of the U.S. The bounty was paid to any hunter who could produce the scalp of a wolf. This was done to protect local livestock.

By 1900, there were no wolves left to howl from these mountains.

You might assume that we would have become enlightened more than 100 years later about trying to eradicate an entire species of animals.

Sadly, you would be wrong.

Tonight, I fell asleep not to the sound of howling wolves, only the sound of the howling wind.

I have seen where the wolf has slept by the silver stream.
I can tell by the mark he left, you were in his dream.
Ah child of countless trees, ah child of boundless seas.

What you are, and what you're meant to be
Speaks his name, though you were born to me,
Born to me, Cassidy.


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