Starting on Sunday, June 20, 2010, I, along with my friend Joe, started a trek along the Appalachian Trail starting at Springer Mountain, GA. The morning began well. Of course, there were tons of butterflies in our stomachs. I knew I had to eat something, but eating was the last thing on my mind. I managed to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and keep it down. We gathered all our gear and we piled into the Santa Fe. Off and runnin’!
When looking at the National Geographic map of the area, it had designations for improved and unimproved roads. Growing up on a dirt road, I knew very well what the differences in the two were. Obviously, in the North Georgia mountains, those two meanings aren’t very different. Picture a winding dirt road with some rather sharp turns and then picture one the same way…only the second one looks as though it hasn’t been bladed/graded in quite some time. There’s your differences! I’m glad we have the Santa Fe now instead of the PT Cruiser. It would have been a sad sight to see that beautiful blue car go through those roads. They weren’t as bad as I was expecting. I was expecting tree limbs and all that junk to try and block our way. The roads do go through lands used by Army rangers that I will be getting to in a later post. After driving for 10 miles (16.09 km), we were finally at the parking lot of Springer Mtn.
We piled out of the vehicle, stretching and breathing in the fresh mountain air. It felt so great to be in the mountains. South Alabama has hills, but it doesn’t allow you to get this wonderful feeling. I strangely felt right at home where I was standing. We opened the back of the vehicle and started going through our inventory of equipment and putting on our packs. “Wes, where are your trekking poles?” Are you freaking kidding me? After going through all the stuff the day before, I had left my trekking poles lying on the table. Oh well! It’s not like we could turn around and go get them. I was at the starting point and had to make the most of what I had. After spraying ourselves down with bug spray, adjusting straps, and kissing the partner goodbye, we entered the trail with open minds, jittery stomachs, and beating hearts.
It felt good walking through the trail. It began pretty narrow…probably about 2 feet (.61 meters) wide. We hiked single file for about a mile or so before the trail widened. The scenery was to die for…awe inspiring and truly breathtaking. A plant, whose name I do not know, that blooms in the mountains created an aroma totally inescapable. It wasn’t bad and it didn’t make my sinuses go crazy. It simply seemed weird smelling it the entire time we were in the woods. I’ve mentioned in a previous post my love for bridges. We crossed a few bridges, like the one pictured, allowing people to cross over smaller creeks and streams. I failed to get a picture of it, but when we reached Three Forks, there was a camping area next to a nice size creek where we refreshed our water supply. The bridge traversing the creek was well designed to be the size it was. Guard railings and nice flooring made it my favorite of the entire hike. The water flowing underneath was ice cold! Even in the heat of summer, this creek was full of clear, cold , delicious mountain water. That is, after it went through a filter and was treated with UV light to kill micro organisms! We spent some time near the creek, and noticing that we were doing really well on time, we hoisted our bags into place and crossed the forestry service road (read “dirt road”) and continued on our journey.
After hiking nearly a mile, we knew we should be coming up on a fantastic waterfall called Long Falls. We saw a creek below where we were standing and we could hear water falling. We thought we had made it. Venturing off the trail, we went down to the water and were greatly disappointed in what we saw. If this was Long Falls, someone wasn’t thinking clearly while they named it. Someone must not have wanted it to feel bad about itself! We walked through the woods, getting a look at more of the area. Nothing changed. We stood by our packs for a minute, boggled from what we had seen. I looked in my data guide and reviewed the picture. A white, foamy wall of water was falling from a cliff into a pool at its base. Obviously, this was not where we needed to be. Something just didn’t sound right in our gauging of distances. We climbed back onto the trail and carried on. We hiked for maybe a tenth of a mile and there was the sign for Long Falls. A sign…yes! Look for signs to show you where you should go. I felt kind of stupid at that point and we headed down the trail to find this great waterfall.
You can imagine how glad we were to see the real waterfall and the amazingly cold water falling into a rather deep pool at the base of the cliff. There were people sitting on rocks around the falls, enjoying a Sunday snack. Two southern ladies were sitting around, smoking their cigarettes and talking about life’s issues. When we walked up, they were welcoming and in that GA mountain voice said, “Hi y’all doin’? It’s purty hot out here, ain’t it?” I just couldn’t help myself from being overjoyed and down right giddy! They asked how far we were hiking. I told them our goal was Hogpin Gap. They shook their head in agreement, as though I had asked them a question. Joe and I took some pictures of the falls before we sat down on the rock made vacant by the ladies after leaving. While sitting there, a father and his son joined us at the falls and before long, a family stopped by with sandwiches and drinks. I started a conversation with them…me being the person who doesn’t often meet a stranger…and found they were from the metro Atlanta area. They said they visit fairly often to spend some quality family time together. How nice is that, I thought. Drive at least 50 miles or more to spend time with the kids on a cool rock by a waterfall. After refreshing the water supply and washing the dishes, we went back to the trail to complete our first day of hiking.
We arrived at a location known as Hawk Mountain. In some way or another, this was my first real ascent up a country mountain. Stone Mountain, located in southern Gwinnett/northern DeKalb counties in the Atlanta area, is the only other mountain I have had the opportunity to climb. With its open landscape, Stone Mtn can be seen as pretty easy to climb, even to those who have never thought of climbing a gigantic piece of rock. Hawk Mtn, covered in trees and other vegetation, proved to be a bit challenging while carrying my pack of nearly 30 pounds (13.61 kg). Now was the time I wish I had my trekking poles. My back was screaming loud obscenities in the direction of my tired brain. We eventually reached the ridge, taking small water and breathing stops on the way up. Sounds of thankfulness escaped our mouths as spouts from our camel packs entered. That was a climb, but if only we knew what awaited us at Sassafras Mtn.
As I’ve said before, the thing I liked about going hiking on the Appalachian Trail is that it provides shelters for overnight camping. These shelters are spaced at a day’s hike distance away from each other. The Hawk Mtn Shelter was a nice looking hut, raised off the ground a foot or two and with a loft for those who wanted to sleep higher. We reached the shelter in plenty of time to sit around and talk before the sun went down. The father and son team were already there and had set up their tent sight. We sat down and talked as we rested and thought about fixin’ some supper. Mmmm! Can everyone say Ramon noodles? Not long after, a guy from Chattanouga, TN joined us. He was alone and, like me, wanted to be able to say he accomplished the hike. Good for him, although, he needed some prier knowledge of his camp stove. He caught the table top on fire! Great going! Joe and I put our tents up a few yards from the shelter. After hearing some scurrying inside the hut, I knew for certain I would not be giving critters the chance to chew on me, much less my tent. Many others must have had the same thoughts as me since after we got our tents in place, a group of ten to fifteen people joined us for the night. So much for a secluded hiking experience, but the more people hiking on a trail that’s 2,175 miles in total length, having others to talk to and have nearby for safety is never a bad thing.
At night fall, we chose our bear cables and lifted our packs into the air. I, for one, wanted to be as much a part of nature as possibe. When I entered my tent for the evening, I was naked and without a sleeping bag. It was hot and I didn’t want to be uncomfortable and sweaty all night. Oh, dear! At around 1 am, I awoke to freezing temperatures. I was shaking and there was nothing to put on besides the clothes I wore that day. I put on my shorts and walked over to Joe, lying in his hammock. I woke him up and we pulled down my pack to retrieve the sleeping bag. It turns out that the hammock was not the best option for cold sleeping and so Joe joined me in the tent for the rest of the night. If one person can’t make the tent somewhat warm, the heat of two bodies should suffice till the morning. It was worth a shot.