October 2018 AT Section Hike from Carver’s Gap to Beauty Spot Gap (Part 1)

Preparations

I’ve always been intrigued from a distance by the Appalachian Trail. It was not something I knew all that much about, but I knew enough to believe it was something I would like to experience. Occasionally I would encounter someone who had spent some time wandering around on it, and I would get the opportunity to ask them about it, but it never progressed any further than that—not until this past October at least.

About a year earlier, sometime in the fall of 2017, I began thinking seriously about joining a friend (trail name “Big Old Mustard”) on a multi-day section hike in the Roan Mountain area of North Carolina and Tennessee. He had several AT trips under his belt and was bringing along another friend who had hiked with him on most of these trips. This seemed like an excellent opportunity for me to test the waters with a couple of guys with some experience, so after getting a nod of approval from my wife, I committed myself to join them.

I immediately began making preparations—which for me means a lot of research. The original plan was to go in spring 2018, which put some pressure on me to quickly figure out what sort of gear I was going to need and get it purchased. Ultimately we had to change our plans to fall 2018, which was probably for the best for someone who was basically starting from scratch with regard to hiking and backpacking paraphernalia. Fortunately, I had two guys to lean on, as well as the Internet. But, as you know, there is a lot to learn, a lot of conflicting (and even incorrect) information, and a WHOLE lot to buy.

While I didn’t know anything about them, I knew there were a lot of folks on the trail using hammocks instead of tents and was leaning in that direction from the beginning. Initially, I believed it would be a simpler (not true), lighter (also not true), and more comfortable (definitely true) system for sleeping. I was happy to find out from Big Old Mustard that his friend Nemo (trail name not the fish) was a hammock camper himself. Knowing I wouldn’t be the only guy on our hike with a hammock made it easier for me to take the plunge for myself.

So armed with a bit of confidence, I began looking for a “good deal” on a hammock. I found one (I guess), but in hindsight, I should have started off with something like the Dutchware Chameleon I ended up with. The truth is, by the time you add a bug net and some other accessories onto one of those “good deal” hammocks, you could have gotten a high-quality hammock from someone like Dutch, to begin with. Good lesson learned.

But, not all my bargain shopping turned out bad. The tarp I originally purchased for less than $50 from Serac Hammocks worked great for me on the trail. And the same was true for the 40º OneTigris under quilt that I picked up from Amazon for $57. (There was a night where it dipped down below 30º on the trail, and I found the lower limit of my gear, but more on that later.) So I would say that on my first hike I had a mixture of bargain gear and more expensive gear. My pack was too big and too heavy, but I got it for cheap. Because I had a big pack, I brought too much stuff, but I think I did better in this area than most first-timers. Overall, though, I was pretty happy with my gear and only feel the need to make a few changes before my next section hike.

So, here is what my gear list looked like on this particular trip:

Packing
1 × 2T’s Hammock Chair
1 × Dutchware Bear Bag Throw Line with PCT Toggle
1 × Kelty Coyote 80
1 × Ursack Minor Critter Bag

Shelter
1 × Beetle Buckle Complete Suspension
1 × Chameleon Hammock
1 × Chameleon Symmetrical Bugnet
4 × Dutchware Aluminum Y Stakes
1 × Ridgeline Organizer
1 × Serac Overhang Rain Fly
1 × Stingerz Tarp Suspension
1 × Tarp Sleeves

Sleeping
1 × Cabela’s 30-Degree Sleeping Bag
1 × OneTigris Hammock Underquilt
1 × Sea to Summit Aeros Pillow Premium

Clothing
1 × Adidas Tastigo 17 Shorts
1 × BCG Turbo Short Sleeve T-Shirt
1 × Buff Headwear
2 × Columbia Silver Ridge Convertible Pants
1 × Columbia Silver Ridge Lite Long-Sleeve Shirt
1 × Columbia Silver Ridge Lite Short-Sleeve Shirt
3 × Ex Officio Sport Mesh Boxer Brief
1 × Frogg Toggs UltraLite2 Rain Jacket
1 × Frogg Toggs UltraLite2 Rain Pants
1 × Military Liner Gloves
1 × REI Co-op Lightweight Base Layer Long Sleeve
1 × REI Co-op Lightweight Base Layer Short Sleeve
1 × REI Lightweight Base Layer Bottoms
1 × The North Face Bones Beanie
1 × The North Face Stretch ThermoBall Insulated Jacket

Footwear
1 × Darn Tough ATC Micro Crew Cushion
1 × Darn Tough Hiker Micro Crew Cushion
1 × Darn Tough Light Hiker Micro Crew Light Cushion
1 × Men’s Swiftwater Deck Clog
1 × Salomon Quest 4D 2 GTX Hiking Boots

Cooking
1 × Jetboil Flash
1 × Jetboil Fuel
1 × Sea-To-Summit Spork

Hydration
1 × CNOC Vecto 2L Water Container
2 × Gatorade Bottles (20 oz)
1 × Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter
1 × Source WLPS Low Profile 3L Hydration System

Illumination
1 × Headlamp
1 × MPOWERD Luci Outdoor 2.0

Hygiene

1 × Burt’s Beeswax Lip Balm
1 × Campsuds 2 Ounce Bottle
1 × Deuce Trowel
1 × Dude Shower Wipes (8)
1 × Dude Wipes (48)
1 × Gold Bond (Travel Size)
1 × Microfiber Cloth
2 × Purell Hand Sanitizer 1 Ounce Bottle
1 × Travel Toothbrush
1 × Travel Toothpaste

Tools
1 × Bic Lighter
1 × Kershaw 1660 Ken Onion Leek Folding Knife
1 × Mountainsmith Pinnacle Trekking Poles
1 × Swiss Safe Fire Starter

Miscellaneous
1 × Glasses Case
1 × Therm-a-Rest® Z Seat
1 × Zeiss Lens Spray 2 Ounce Bottle
14 × Zeiss Lens Wipes
1 × Adventure Medical .7 First Aid Kit

Day 1 – Monday

From Huntsville, AL to Carver’s Gap (Mile 1.5)

After driving for several hours from our home in Huntsville, AL, we arrived at Uncle Johnny’s in Erwin, TN to park our cars and shuttle to the trailhead at Carver’s Gap. Uncle Johnny’s is a really cool place that sits right on the Nolichucky River in Erwin, TN. There is a hostel and a small outfitter’s shop located right on the premises. Parking was very cheap, and the people were helpful and friendly. If you haven’t visited before, you should.

In the weeks leading up to the hike, our group had grown from three to four. This meant that two of the four of us were brand new to the trail and no matter how much we had prepared, we were not all that sure what to expect. The other two had hiked a good bit in and around the section we were going to be traveling this week and had done their best to set our expectations. But, you never really know whether you are going to enjoy something like this or hate it—not until you experience it for yourself.

So, after several months of acquiring gear and testing it in the backyard, this would be my first hike on the AT—and, as I said earlier, my first experience of this sort ever. I’d done my share of day trips including several longer hikes in preparation for this adventure. I’d spent plenty of time in the woods throughout my 42 years doing a variety of different things. I’d even “camped” out a handful of times, but no multi-day trips like this one. Needless to say, I was excited (and a little anxious) when we arrived at the Carver’s Gap parking area to begin our journey.

 

To be continued…

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