On Monday morning, the camp was abuzz with people getting ready for their new day in the wild. Even though I was up and ready to get the day started, my stomach and my head were not having it. The day before had been so wonderful. I didn’t understand why I felt light headed and nauseous. I’d come this far into the woods, I wasn’t about to quit. I ate some breakfast and we took down the camp. The packs were lifted and we were on our way to Gooch Mountain Shelter.
From Hawk Mountain Shelter, it was a down hill start for us hikers. We eventually arrived at a dirt road clearing where we saw the father and son team speaking to a guy at his truck. We walked on over and started to talk to the group. The guy had moments before walked out from the woods. He had on a pair of waders and snake protection. I spoke with him for a while and, once again, I was thrilled. He was from the town of Elijay in the north GA mountains. If you look up the town, you will most likely see something about the huge apple festival they have each year. We’ve wanted to go for the years, but haven’t yet had the chance to go. He was such a nice guy and I couldn’t help but stand there and talk to him for a while. Southern accent…I thought I had one! This guy made mine seem like I had just learned to talk. He was talking about looking for “jin-sang. You know ’bout tat jin-sang?” I stood for a moment and then slapped my leg. “Oh, ginseng! Yes, sir! I know ’bout it. Does ya good.” I felt so comfortable talking to this man…even with pistol hanging from a belt around his waist. We then started talking about the gun. “Oh, this thing. I’ve had this for years. I take it with me in case I see a snake. Cain’t be too careful, ya know?” No shit, dude! I had been looking for snakes ever since we first stepped onto the trail. He said he needed to “git goin” and so we shook hands and he got into his truck and left.
I sat down with John to get a breather and try to eat a little something. I had started to feel more light headed while standing there talking. This group came down from the opposite direction and stopped near us to drink water. While sitting there, this beige colored truck pulls up and stops on the road. About six men in army fatigues jump out and walk around. I had heard there was an Army ranger base in the mountains, but I had not expected to see any of them. I guess we had picked a service weekend to go hiking. After a few moments, this man…oh what a man he was…walked down to where the group was gathered. He said, “Just to let you know that within the next hour, about 100 rangers will be pouring into this spot. So you have about an hour to rest and head on.” Oh my! “Yes, SIR!” was all that I could utter. I was struck down by this guy so badly that he could have picked me off the ground and thrown me where he wanted me. Even on the nearest bed or hammock! His shoulders must have been almost 2.5 feet (76.2 cm) wide and his chest was a good foot (30.5 meters) deep. He was at least 6’2″ (1.88 m), tanned, bluish eyes, and a buzz cut that looked like had had no hair at all. It was scalped that close! If nothing else would give me the momentum to carry on, that one site alone would get it done.
We stood up from our break and looked ahead. This is no joke! It almost looked like a wall in front of us. This was the foot of Sassafras Mountain. It turned out to be the hardest climb of the entire trip. To climb parts of it, you had to lean forward enough to keep your balance. Remember that I had no trekking poles. John had found me a stick the night before that I could use for balance. That stick was like my mountain savior! I looked like Gandalf with my mystical stick and John was Frodo! LMAO! Since we were going up a steep mountain, we couldn’t go straight up its side. The trail reminded me of Lombard Street in San Francisco…go left..no, go right…no left! I felt like a horse trying to pull a carriage up a hill. Just a little piece of history…that’s exactly why Lombard Street is made as curvy as it is. It followed the original road used so that horses could get up the hill with less stress. But, on with the trip.
I can’t count how many times we stopped for air and water. Some stops were at large rocks. Others were just to grab hold of a small tree and breath. We finally reached the top of the mountain and the guy from Chattanooga stopped for a rest. He had joined us on the way up. He said he did not sleep much the night before. We said good-bye and didn’t see him again. He may have turned around and went back. If so, at least he made it to the top of that mountain. We took a break ourselves and snapped a few pictures. The photo above is one view from atop Sassafras Mountain. We were sitting on a large boulder with a spectacular view over some neighboring ridges. You can see in the distance some showers and possibly thunderstorms. We could hear thunder in the area and it sounded awesome, echoing off the mountains. At least it wasn’t raining on us! LOL.
We started down the other side of the mountain and, after reading my data book, found that the trail had been moved. How long ago this had been accomplished, I don’t know. The trail did have a bit of gravel on it. We saw a cave…more a piece of mountain sticking out and lots of room underneath. There was evidence of either overnight campers or just someone stopping by for something to eat. Sadly, not everyone understands the “leave no trace” mentality of hiking and camping. One should never leave behind any trash where they’ve camped. It’s bad for the environment, for animals in the wild, and takes away the natural beauty for others who come along afterward.
After walking a bit longer, the woods took on a beautiful dark green. We of course, had been walking downhill for some time, at least a quarter of a mile. We could hear water close by, becoming louder and louder. We reached a crafted set of steps down to a beautiful flowing stream. It was almost too pretty to get into to get water. The air was cool, much needed, and the water was freezing cold. We spent a while at the stream to cool down. We filled up all our water supply and headed to the shelter.
We must have been really tired because it seemed to take forever to arrive at the shelter. We walked and drank. Walked and drank. Finally, we saw the sign pointing us to our camp. Gooch Mountain Shelter was quite nice. It was better than Hawk Mountain in the way it felt more thought out and built better. One reason was because the shelter was in memory of someone by his family. It had a loft and a table in the front under a nice covering. The table was elevated as was the shelter itself. We chose the camp farthest in the back. The stream nearby was not as great as the one at Hawk Mtn. but it was running. I was able to wash up a bit. We filled our water bottles and before long, we turned in for the night. The tent was the only thing up since we found the hammock to be of no use. Sleep was easier to obtain on Monday night…until around four in the morning.
I’m taking it that since the rangers were in the mountain, they were having their service weekend. Well, you know how big, tough boys are when they have guns at their disposal. Everyone in the camp was woke up when a shot echoed through the mountains, sounding as if fired from a cannon. I was wide awake and freezing. Dang, there is something about being in the mountains at night during the summer. If you’re always hot, you definitely need to try it. Anyway, just a few minutes later, there was another explosion and again, I was awake. We should have started the day early, but we didn’t. We went back to sleep to get ready for Tuesday’s journey.