The Appalachian Trail (AT) is one of 3 long distance works in North America going from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin, Maine and has been on my mind since I found my adventurous spirit 3 years ago. Whilst it isn't possible to walk the whole trail currently, I still wondered what it would be like. So it was time to tick off another entry on the bucket list, well at least a bit of it.
Whilst on a trip with friends in Yosemite and also other friends in Denmark the plan was hatched and a visit happened. I turned up in Atlanta, Georgia, met some friends from previous trips and discovered REI had messed up my order and addressed the order incorrectly. I had no food except a box of Snickers for the trip. Some hikers may say that is all you need, but I needed a bit more. So I graciously accepted some ramen noodles and jerky and the trip was on.
Day 1 - Amicalola Falls to Springer Mountain
We drove to Amicalola Falls, Georgia, the iconic start of the Approach Trail to the AT, parked up and went into the Visitors Centre. We purchased our usual nick nacks of fridge magnets, a team member bought a coat to replace the one she forgot (doh) and I got some snacks just in case I got bored of Snickers (if that is possible).
The climb to the top of the falls is a steep set of stairs, but due to an injury in the group we decided to take the longer, easier route up to the falls by trail. The view from the top is still amazing.
The terrain was tough going but eventually 10 miles later we reached the official start of the AT. It isn't anything special, just a small plaque on a rock at the top of Springer Mountain but the view is pretty good. Unfortunately we missed the registration book hidden behind the rock.
We pitched our tents at the campsite at Springer summit and hunkered down for a cold night, the wind had picked up making a cold night even worse.
The shelter was empty but we decided to stick with the tents so we could pitch a little away from the others.
The night was cold, as low as 18F, I was toasty and warm but my friends had a rough night, with the temperatures so low their clothing and bags just weren't up to it and 2 members complained they couldn't sleep due to the constant rustling of a space blanket, presumably a last ditch attempt by someone to keep warm. (You know who you are!). So it was decided at breakfast that they would cut their losses and return to the car at Amicalola Falls and I would continue on alone. I know they questioned leaving me alone but they did the right thing, being in the wilderness without the right gear for the conditions is not fun.
Day 2 - Springer Mountain to Hawk Mountain
The goal was to get to Hawk Mountain shelter about 8 miles away, although the watch said 9 when I arrived. I filtered and treated some water from the stream at Springer and set off. The terrain was reasonably easy, had a lunch stop at Stover Creek and continued on to Hawk Mountain.
The shelter had a scout troop moving in so I pitched off to the side and settled down for the evening. It is always suprprising people ask what do you do in the evenings, but if you are walking all day, pitch at 7pm, by the time you have changed into your camp gear, cooked dinner and reflected on the day it is 9pm and time for bed.
Day 3 - Hawk Mountain to Woodys Gap
The goal was 12 miles for the day. When I started it became obvious the day was going to be tough. Literally 10 minutes after starting the rain started and it carried on all day. Cold and windy I trudged on but got soaked. Even with expensive hard shells you still get soaked from the inside with all the sweat as you are climbing mountains. I had to stop in Gooch Gap shelter to have a brew (several) and try and dry off a little.
After 2 hours and 3 cups of tea it was obvious the rain wasn't going to stop so I headed off into the by now misty forest. After several more hours of raining and slogging up and down mountains the skies finally cleared and I arrived at Woodys Gap.
The view was pretty good now the weather had cleared, but I was exhausted, the watch said 14.5 miles with 3200ft of elevation gain and 3100ft of loss and the legs certainly felt it. I buried the tent in some trees on the edge of the car park area, got out of wet clothes and got the Mountain House Chilli Mac with Beef heating up (thanks Ashley). It was just after 9pm but again no need to find anything to do, just straight to sleep.
Day 4 - Woodys Gap to Neels Gap
I woke early about 7am as I had a long, hard day ahead. Looking at the mountains, day 4 was to be the day with the most views, with Big Cedar Mountain, Turkey Stamp Mountain and the big one Blood Mountain to summit. The weather was good but hazy, but the view from Preaching Rock on the way up Big Cedar Mountain was still stunning below. I stopped and took a nice arty shot.
After a brief rest at the summit I carried on going up and down mountains until I reached Blood Mountain, this was 4458ft and the highest mountain of the 4 day trip. With some considerable effort, 3 water stops, 3 snickers and a hernia later I reached the top.
There are several outlook points at the top of Blood Mountain near the shelter and if the skys are clear it is spectacular. With just 3 miles to go to the end point and it all down hill I set off on the last stretch to Neels Gap.
I emerged from the forest to reach the Mountain Crossings store. This store is the first point on the AT hikers can perform a shakedown of their gear and swap out all those heavy items they thought they wanted but then don't really need for lighter stuff. The only thing I was looking forward to was a cold Coke Zero. As I queued at the till I heard someone shout "pizza ready". OMG they had frozen pizzas and cooked them for hikers coming through. I couldn't believe it, after eating freeze dried food, snickers, beef jerky and nuts for 4 days I thought I was in heaven. So I ordered my pizza, phoned my friends to pick me up and just enjoyed the feeling of completing the first 4 days of the AT.
Whilst stuffing my face with pepperoni pizza I sat and reflected on another hike. It was a shame Mark and Maria were not able to make it, but due to the hurricane in Florida it just wasn't possible. It was a strange hike, originally planned with 2 groups of friends, but just down to circumstances they couldn't come or complete the hike and I ended up doing 3 days on my own. It unusual for me, I am normally either with friends or my dog, rarely solo, but there was a sense of achievement being alone in the mountains.
Maybe one day I will thru hike the AT if circumstances allow, who knows.