Sunday, December 2, 2018

Tray Mountain (GA) via Indian Grave Gap November 21, 2018

Tray Mountain, Georgia (4,430') via Appalachian Trail, November 21, 2018.

Mileage:  5 miles (RT)

Elevation gain: 1300'

Trailhead: This hike intersects the Appalachian Trail at Indian Grave Gap in Sautee Nachoochee, GA. From Helen, GA, drive west on GA-17, GA-75 N/N Main St (Unicoi Turnpike) for 11 miles - a winding two-lane paved road.  Indian Grave Gap Road is a sharp right, marked only with a forest sign that reads "High Shoals 1.5."  Follow this road about 3.5 miles to a small parking area on right. Indian Grave Gap Road is unpaved and a stream crosses the road early on (there is a gate just before the stream), otherwise it's in good condition. 

Hiked with Rich.  We planned this year's trip to the Chattahoochee National Forest for November, thinking it would be warmer than last year's December trip (see 2017 reports for Springer and Blood Mountains).  From our home in Florida the southern Appalachians are less than a half-day's drive.  Just our luck, we arrived in Helen as the region was bracing for a cold front. 

The Tray-Mountain-via-Indian-Grave-Gap hike is listed on the Atlanta Trails website as a popular up and back. It's a moderate outing at best; if you're in shape and looking for a workout, consider hiking to this mountain from Unicoi Gap instead. For us it was a nice half day excursion, a chance to explore the area and play in the woods.

It was chilly (in the forties) when we headed to the trailhead. Unicoi Turnpike is windy with more than a few hairpin turns and we almost missed Indian Grave Gap Road - it's a tight turn on a lower dirt road. 

Road sign faces away from the way we entered.

Dirt road to the left.

Seconds after the turn we came upon a gate (open) and a healthy stream running across the road.  I got out to assess the depth of the water; it wasn't deep and barely got our tires wet (still felt just a little bad ass to be driving through it).  

Before the stream is a gate, most likely closes the road in high water.

From there we drove considerably "up" on a narrow windy dirt road in relatively good shape with just a few deep divots. We passed the trailhead for High Shoals about halfway.  The road itself is a bit of an adventure; we hoped we wouldn't have to deal with vehicles coming the other way (only once and we were able to get by them).  Where the AT crosses is obvious, start looking for it after 3+ miles. There's a small clearing for cars at the crossing.  As we parked a couple of hikers greeted us.  They'd started at Unicoi Gap and looked very cold (we didn't see them again and assumed they turned back).

Parking area.

We added layers, locked the car and hopped onto the Appalachian Trail heading east (northbound).  The path is cut on the hillside with plenty of rhododendron bushes arching above. 

Imagine how pretty these are in spring!

Signs mark the Gaps.

At .7 miles we reached Tray Mountain Road, crossed it and took the stairs up to continue the route.

Planks cross the outflow from the road's culvert.

The moderate pitch lingers as we press on, a pleasant walk in the woods that tops out onto a ridge.  There's a campsite on the ridge with two fire rings, available water and plenty of room for tents.  

This blue-blazed trail takes you to High Shoals creek.

One of two fire rings - great view here!

We passed another campsite where the ridge dips down, just before the trail reaches Tray Gap.  Corbin Creek Road intersects Tray Mountain Road here but there is a small clearing for parking. From there it's less than a mile to the top of Tray Mountain, which for us came quickly and uneventfully.  

Sign is on at the road, just before.

Parking area.

Blank kiosk. 

Easy going, but gets steeper....

Views are nice at the top and we hung around a bit before making our way back down.   

The summit is a rocky outcrop at the height of land.

The trip down was quick and uneventful. We especially enjoyed the drive back on that winding road.  

This is a nice, quiet hike - in some ways the ride to the trailhead was more exciting, both are beautiful experiences within the Chattahoochee forest.