Today was the first day that I actually remembered something and had it turned out the same way as I remembered it. One of the most memorable aspects of my 1989 hike was getting hypoglycemia hiking up Blood Mountain and having to run down the mountain in the rain to make it to the hostel before they closed. As it would turn out I arrived at Blood Mountain at the same exact time as I did then, left Blood Mountain at the exact same time as I did then, and arrived at Neil’s Gap at the exact same time as I did then.
I purposely got up a little bit later than normal again today to not push too hard. Since I had camped at the top of the mountain the beginning of the hike was all downhill and quite pleasant. It was cool but not cold and the sun had not come up yet. I was able to get some good pictures of the sunrise from a rocky outcropping that gave pretty good views towards the east.
When I arrived at the first road crossing in Woody Gap I met another hiker who had just been let off by a shuttle. It turns out that he is also a Florida grad (grew up in Winter Haven or Winter garden or one of the Florida winners) but has been living in Cleveland most of his life. He is just out for a few days but he was keeping up with my pace pretty well. It turns out he is also an Eagle Scout and also went to Philmont so we talked quite a bit about that. We are 10 years apart in age so it was interesting talking about how scouting was a little bit different between our two experiences. He told me a lot about his family and his daughter who is an outdoor guide. It sounds like she is the one fueling his interest in hiking again. He is thinking about someday trying to do a thru-hike. He just recently retired and so I think he’s testing the waters right now.
We parted ways at the base of Blood Mountain before the big climb up. He needed to rest up and get some water so we talked a little bit about strategy. I wanted to summit and get into Neels Gap so I could resupply for my next hundred miles. I knew the store closed at 5:00 p.m. so I couldn’t wait around too much longer.
I remember my trip up Blood Mountain in ’89 very vividly because a lot of things went wrong. It was just above freezing, I had rain gear but no fleece, and because it had been raining all day I didn’t stop to eat and I was low on energy. The last mile up to the summit of Blood Mountain is pretty steep and I remember the vegetation changing to rhododendron as I neared the top. As I hiked it today it did indeed change to rhododendron as I neared the top.
The main thing that made the 1989 hike up Blood Mountain most memorable was because it was cold. I was low on energy because I wasn’t eating enough food and I experienced the physical phenomenon that I had never experienced before. The last 300 or 400 ft going up to the summit I remember the periphery of my vision beginning to sway around and eventually turning to gray. I kept on hiking and eventually I realized I was getting tunnel vision and could only see a cone of about 10° directly in front of my face. By that time my hands were really numb. I could hardly use them. There’s no way I could have tied my shoes or signed my name but I kept pushing up the mountain because I knew there was a stone shelter up top where I thought I could at least get out of the rain and maybe get warm.
I remember very distinctly in 1989 that I reached the shelter at 3:00 p.m. in total exhaustion and I immediately laid on the floor and just sat there for about 10 minutes without moving. There was an older gentleman already in the shelter and he was trying to start a fire with wet wood. All he really said to me was “Hey, there’s a hostile down the mountain that will give you food if you get there in time”. He didn’t say anything like “Gee, you look bad. Do you need any help?” No, he just wanted me to leave. I ate something simple, probably a granola bar, drank a little, and then I distinctly remembered getting up and leaving at 3:30 because it was 2 and 1/2 miles down the mountain and if you didn’t make it to the office by 5:00 p.m. when they close you were out of luck for the whole day. And I was definitely in need of a shower, laundry, and a spaghetti dinner that night. So I took off in the rain as quickly as I could down a really steep and rocky trail. I made it down to the store at a quarter till 5:00 and they had a good selection of outdoor gear so immediately after signing up for the hostel and the dinner I bought a few items to eat and then bought a fleece. It was a brand I had never heard of before and it was very expensive but I bought it because I knew that I had not packed enough warm clothes for the cold weather that I was experiencing in the mountains. It was a kokoda fleece and I still have it today even though Karen wears it more than I do. It’s one of the best pieces of gear I’ve ever purchased in my life. It’s one piece of gear that may have actually saved my life as well.
So on this trip everything pretty much played out exactly the same except for the weather was nice – probably in the upper 70s, breezy and sunny – so I could see a long distance and I was barely tired when I got to the top. I arrived at exactly 3:00, had a snack and a drink, and left at exactly 3:30. I had the same intentions of making it down to the store by 5:00 p.m. but I was not rushing this time. I took my normal time because I knew that there was also another camp store about a half a mile down the road in case I didn’t make it to this one on time. But as luck would have it it took me exactly the same amount of time. I got there at a quarter to 5:00. The store was still open. The hostel is closed because of COVID but I was able to get laundry and a shower and all the food I needed to get me to Wesser.
It took close to 2 hours to finish laundry so I headed up the mountain not knowing how far I would go tonight. It looks like that answer is about 3 mi so I’m comfortably in front of where I really needed to be today and that feels good. I could have made it a little farther today but I did enjoy the morning walking with the other hiker. I hope he decided to stay on the top of Blood Mountain tonight and we’ll make a more leisurely climb down Blood Mountain because it is very steep and I know he was tired. Hopefully the rest of his trip will go well enough that he will decide one day to also thru-hike.