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You were at the Hangover? Me too!

So, the Hangover was a very busy place this last weekend :)
Tipi, Patman, Hoppin John, The Southern Highlanders, and a passel of other folks made their way to this spectacular spot in the Nantahala National Forest.

I had planned to meet Tipi there this weekend, and invited one of my brother, Noah, to come along, and he decided to bring his friend. I  had planned to hike in from Big Fat Gap, as I have note hiked from that trailhead before. Due to a number of unfortunate events, we were not able to make it to get on the trail until a few minutes before sundown.


This was Zach's first backpacking trip, and I should have asked Noah more thorough questions about his friend's preparedness and physical ability. It may have been better to have deferred his involvement in a strenuous hike until he had gained more experience and strength, but that's how the chips fell this time.

The colors beckoned us up the trail, so off we went.


The Hangover Lead Trail climbs south and very steeply from the gap towards the high crest that was our destination. The route follows the spine of the Lead most of the way, and the views in the failing light were wonderful.


The Hangover Lead trail is defined by a series of terrifically steep ascents, punctuated in between short flatter sections. Here is the trail as it crosses one of those gentle spots.


The trek up the mountain in the waning sunlight, then under the moon and stars, was very enjoyable for Noah and Me, though considerably less so for Zach. He had a very difficult time, and it took us close about 5.5 hrs to get him up the 2.8 miles to the top. When we had about 2/3 of a mile to go I went on ahead to scout a place to set up our tents where we would not be an imposition to the Southern Highlanders. This was the weekend of their annual pilgrimage to the Hangover, and I wanted to respect their gathering. I scouted a location, set up my tent and hung our food. At this point Noah and Zach had not arrived, and I decided I must go back for them. 

I found them about a half mile back down the trail in a rhododendron heath where Zach had needed to stop to rest. The wind was blowing strong and unflagging from the north west the whole way, and he had become chilled.  Noah had bundled him up and he was napping on the rocky trail when I arrived. I was quite concerned he was hypothermic, but once woken he was lucid and showed no signs.

To give you an idea of how difficult the poor fellow found the hike, it had only taken me ten minutes or less to jog back and find them, yet it took us nearly an hour to help him on up. Noah learned a lot that night, and now understands how important it is to know the abilities of those you take with you. I am quite proud of him, as he really rose to the occasion and helped his friend. He is on his way towards being an excellent outdoorsman.

We made Zach each some fruit, carbs, gorp, and a cliff bar, then put him to bed in our warmest sleeping bag. At this point it is about 1:30am, and neither Noah or I have eaten anything other than a few bites of gorp since lunch. So we head up the lead to the Highlander's fire, where they graciously let us fix dinner before going to bed.

After such a night, my thermarest and primaloft bag were quite welcoming!


The next morning dawned much too soon, but was so beautiful I had to get to watch the sunrise. I figured Noah wanted to enjoy it as well, so I strolled over to their tent and he stumbled out.


These photos pale in comparison how moving the light and colors were.


The walk out to the point of the hangover is about 1/6 mile, and the whole way is like this!


Here is the Southern Highlanders camp.


A we approach the point we see that others have risen to witness the dawn.


Noah finds his spot to survey the expanse.



I would go through far worse than the preceding night's toil to enjoy this.





In this next shot you can get a very small idea of how dramatic and grand this place is, thrust out into the air above these hills.


We head back to camp in the golden glow of highland beech leaves.


My tent, just the poles and canopy on this trip:



After grabbing all our water bottles, we fall off the west side of the mountain to get water for breakfast and our hike out.


I can't say how profoundly these mountains and places effect and move me.


Just soaking it in...


We make our way back to camp, where we rouse Zach from his slumber. Noah starts tearing down tents and packing up while I cook breakfast. Eggs, Bacon, and fresh baked muffins taste pretty darn good in the backcountry. Here's Zach eagerly awaiting it to be served.


He was not as enthusiastic about the hike out ;)


Yeah, the it's kinda pretty up here


From the grand vista to delicate jewels, there are moments of wonder everywhere


A mile left to go


Strike a pose bro!


This enchanting location was on the last section of the trail, just in between two really steep sections. I love combination of the beech, ferns, and rhododendron.


We arrive at trail's end and our car, and I am sad it was such a short trip, and that I didn't  get to meet up with Tipi or Patman. But it was very enjoyable none the less, and I got the time in these mountains that I needed.

It would have been even better had Zach's car not died just as we started to head down the gravel road. But that is a whole 'nother story, LOL!

I grabbed one last shot before we got to the car. The trees opened up one more time to give us a fairwell vista.



I love the pics. Well capured my friend. Thank you for sharing.


Well done! Your “wordsmithery” is far beyond mine…hmm I need you to ghost write my reports from here forward. .)

I think you expressed very well how fantastic that forest is.

Also well done with Zachs first trip. Regardless of fitness level, anyone could get hurt in the backcountry or suffer misfortune, but the odds of having a good time go way down for everyone in the group when someone just isn’t ready for the level of exertion required to hump a pack up a mountain. But hey, there were two of you to help and that certainly mitigates the risk. I’m just a little gun-shy about it now.

Again, I’m very sorry to have missed ya’ll; it would have been quite the little “Trailspace gathering” huh?

Thanks guys,

it was a good time. After the fact and all has worked out, I am often kinda' glad when didn't go quite right, and must be overcome. It tests my mettle and ability. Working past such challenges, and even thriving through them, is quite uplifting and rewarding.

The most difficult part was trying to help him learn how to choose good foot placement, body positioning, and effective use of the trekking poles (which I provided). I am afraid I got a little short in my tone a few times when our advice was not being heeded; the poor guy was making it far more difficult on himself that it had to be. 

We also met a cool grandmotherly lady named Alice, and her dog, Oliver. They were out for a week by themselves in the mountains. How awesome is that! 

Seems tha Tennesee area is a hot bed of activity and great reports. Hope you go North Gonzan and hike with The Rambler in Febuary. Would be nice...Great report...

Very very good stuff. Looks like you got exactly what we got when I took my daughter up to those parts a few weeks ago. One of the best sunrises you'll ever see.

Citico/Joyce Kilmer is probably my favorite place to hike in Tennessee. Even more than the Smokies. There's less crowds, no designated camp sites and many times just as good things to see, if not better.

August 8, 2020
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