AT 2017: Day 8, Bly Gap to Beech Gap

Fire, fire on the mountain

Fire damage on Standing Indian Mountain

The ability to create and control fire is one of the few things that distinguishes us humans from all of the other creatures of the planet.

Sadly, there are times we do not use it wisely.

Today as I hiked up and over Standing Indian Mountain, I saw the damage fire can cause when someone decides to strike a match and burn a forest.

DateTuesday, April 11, 2017
WeatherSunny and warm, with highs in the low 70s
Trail ConditionsDry
Today's Miles12.1
Trip Miles90.4

I began the day in warm and comfortable weather. Cold, almost winter-like weather had passed through this area just a few days ago, so I was glad to have missed it.

I wasn't the last to leave the campsite at Bly Gap, but I wasn't the first.

Unusual tree

As I left I took a picture of a tree almost every hiker photographs. It's unusual, to be sure.

Climb from Bly Gap

The climb out of Bly Gap was steep and long, as I expected and the reason I had decided to stay there for the night instead of continuing on to Muskrat Creek Shelter.

Green tunnel

It was a warm day, but occasional green tunnels of rhododendron and mountain laurel provided some cooling relief.

Collecting water

Near Muskrat Creek Shelter there was a spring. Someone had already anchored a rhododendron leaf with a rock in the spring's flow, which made a convenient spout to collect water.

Muskrat Creek Shelter

As I walked toward Muskrat Creek Shelter, where I intended to stop for a snack, I noticed a hiker was inside. It was obvious to me he was writing something on the shelter wall.

Though I try not to be everybody's nagging dad, I had to say something to him, so I said, "You know, it's not cool to write on shelter walls."

He muttered something about "well, everybody does it," and then left.


At least he had the good sense to stop without finishing his missive to the world.

Chunky Gal Trail

It’s easy to make inappropriate jokes about the Chunky Gal Trail and the mountain it traverses, but researchers say the name probably isn’t about a girl at all.

The name is most likely derived in the same way as so many place names in this part of the country. It is a poor attempt to anglicize a Cherokee word.


During most of this section I hiked with Bluestem. I first met him on day 3 when we were holed up at Blood Mountain Cabins during the storm.

Hiking with Bluestem

We chatted as we hiked, and found that we had a lot of things in common. This and the easy trail made the hiking go quickly.

Standing Indian Mountain

Before long, we saw Standing Indian Mountain rise from the other side of Deep Gap. We stopped at the gap for a brief break

Fire damage

As soon as the trail began to ascend the mountain we began to see fire damage. I knew this area had been one of the areas hit by the wildfires of last fall, but I didn't know the damage was so extensive. I soon realized the entire mountain had been burned.

Ascending Standing Indian

The trail provided an easy, gradual climb up the mountain. From Deep Gap the trail went up more than 1100 feet in 2.5 miles.

Bear sanctuary sign

Small signs were posed on some trees by the state wildlife agency, noting the area is designated as a bear sanctuary. Sadly, I doubt many bears currently live here. There has been so much fire damage bears aren't likely to find much food to survive. I'm sure they've moved on to other areas.

Patch of snow

Near the top of the mountain I noticed a small patch of snow. This was the last remnant of what fell a few days ago. It had only accumulated at higher elevations like this.

View from Standing Indian

The AT didn't go directly over the mountain, but there was a short side trail that lead to the top. This was the third time I've been to the top of this mountain, so I knew the view would be worth a few extra steps.

The name of this mountain is from the Cherokee name, Yûñ'wï-tsulenûñ'yï, “Where the man stood” (or Yû'ñwï-dïkatâgûñ'yï, “Where the man stands”).

According to legend, a warrior had been sent to the top of the mountain to guard against a winged monster that was terrorizing the tribe and stealing children. The warrior fled in fear, but the Great Spirit destroyed the monster with thunder and lightning. The Great Spirit then turned the warrior into stone because of his cowardice.

Smoke seen in the distance

From the top, I noticed smoke rising from a distant ridge. After all this area went through just a few months ago, was someone trying to start another disaster? I had no way of knowing for sure, but that's what I feared.

Leaving the summit, the trail dropped gradually to a long ridge, with the next mile or so nearly flat.

Fire damage, scorched sign

The damage on this side of the mountain was just as devastating. I noticed another one of those bear sanctuary signs nailed to a tree, but all of the paint on the sign had blistered off when the tree burned.

From Standing Indian it was another 2.8 miles, all easy and mostly downhill, to Beech Gap. I had camped there before, so I knew it would be a good place to stop. There are several flat spots here to pitch a tent and a good water source nearby.

I was glad to find when I arrived that the fire damage was not nearly as bad here as it was on the mountain.

El Fuego (later to go by the trail name Uncle Puck), his nephew Joe, Bluestem and Two Chairz were already there, as were several hikers I had not met before.

After dinner we hung out by a fire built by El Fuego. Even if you only know a little bit of Spanish that will make sense to you.

Long distance runner, what you standing there for?
Get up, get off, get out of the door
You're playing cold music on the bar room floor
Drowned in your laughter and dead to the core
There's a dragon with matches that's loose on the town
Take a whole pail of water just to cool him down

Fire, fire on the mountain
Fire, fire on the mountain
Fire, fire on the mountain
Fire, fire on the mountain


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