Tennessee - 20.2 Mile AT Section Hike

Updated: Mar 15

Appalachian Trail Section Hike - 20.2 miles

Tennessee: Iron Mtn Gap to Nolichucky River (Chestoa)

25 September to 27 September, 2020

SoBo. Eight hikers. Me, Andy, Elizabeth, Michelle, Ian, Javier, Stephane, and Chantal

This is the largest group I’ve been a part of for an AT section hike, and it was an absolute blast.

This was the first ever section hike on the AT for four of the hikers. The other four had a minimum of 60 miles on the AT, with the most experienced hiker, Andy, completing 520 miles at the conclusion of this hike. I am pleased to have hit the 210 mile mark on the AT.

For the second time in two weeks Andy and I began a section hike by camping at Uncle Johnny’s Hostel in Chestoa, TN, which is right on the Nolichucky river. Uncle Johnny passed in 2018. The hostel is now run by his surviving wife, Charlotte. She is a character and pleasure to work with.

We camped in the yard Friday evening. It rained on us just a little in the early evening, and then turned to drizzle. We had to pack up wet tents Saturday morning, but that was the extent of the rain for the weekend.

We loaded up in the van Saturday morning at 7:30 AM and Charlotte gave us a ride to Iron Mtn Gap. We stepped off on the trail, heading south, around 8:20 AM.

Ready to go at Iron Mtn Gap

Overall, the terrain for this twenty plus miles was very typical of the AT in North Carolina and Tennessee. A bit rocky at times with a few steep climbs. The creek crossings were sparse until we got closer to Chestoa. I will mention the trail maintenance workers. They are doing a great job. There were several foot bridges, which were in great condition. Brush was recently cut back, so their work was readily apparent.

The brunt of our climb for the whole section was the first 6.5 miles on day one, which is the top of Unaka Mtn. It was our goal to reach this spot by lunch. It was a tough climb, but the group stuck together and we made it by 12:30.

After lunch we hiked a few miles to Beauty Spot and enjoyed some gorgeous panoramic views.

Group photo at Beauty Spot

The campsite goal was Indian Grave Gap, but fatigue began to settle in. Luckily, just before Beauty Spot was a piped spring, listed on the Guthook App, where we decided to water up. This gave us the flexibility to stop early.

Right at 10.9 miles we found a perfect campsite for seven tents. We arrived at 4:30, which gave us time to relax before enjoying a nice dinner. Saturday was the perfect day for hiking with temperatures ranging from the fifties at Unaka Mtn, to maybe the mid sixties at lower altitudes.

it was difficult to capture all of the tents at once. The campsite was an old access or logging road.

Sunday presented us with another day of perfect weather for a hike. Each hiker began to find their own stride and we spread out a bit to enjoy hiking at our own pace. Andy or I remained in the rear to ensure everyone made it to the finish line safely. The remaining 9.3 miles was mostly downhill gentle terrain, which served as a nice reward for the efforts of the previous day.

The Fall colors were just starting
Gotta have at least one selfie!

Lessons Learned?

I like to find lessons learned from a hike, but this one simply went smooth. A large group with varying experience levels can certainly present challenges. Those were probably prevented due to the sense of teamwork and positive spirit provided by all throughout the hike.

As with any hike, each hiker probably has a few things he or she would do differently the next time. This is almost always true for me. From this hike, I will learn to stay away from outfitters when my focus should be on hiking. Charlotte had a good deal on a MSR Hubba Nx Solo. Half price!

  • I ended up with a new tent and a dent in my wallet. But it is a very nice tent, so I’ll call this a win.

It is worth mentioning the flexibility Andy, Stephane, and I allowed in our planning. As mentioned above, we had a voiced goal of making it a certain distance. But we knew it would be a good idea to fill up with water at just beyond 9 miles on the first day, just in case. Soon after, the group as a whole began to show some fatigue. As we passed 10 miles we began searching for a campsite. This flexibility prevented anyone in the group from having a fun experience turn sour due to excess fatigue.

If I can somehow plan another section with this entire group, I most certainly will. Fun hike with great camaraderie.

About The Author

My name is Jerry. In addition to running a hiking club, I also own and operate a coffee shop & bookstore. Check it out here.

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