North Georgia, Appalachian Trail miles zero through 69.6, March 3-10, 2017 — There I was, hiking the Appalachian Trail in Georgia for the third year in a row. This time it was different, very different, but we will get to that in due course.
This adventure started with an invitation to present my talk on trail hygiene at the annual ATKO – Appalachian Trail Kick Off event at Amicalola Falls State Park. The kick off targets future hikers and serves as a reunion of sorts for many others.
The premise for the talk is that hikers neither have to get sick – Noro virus or gastroenteritis – nor smell like Oscar the Grouch’s trash can on a hot summer’s day. All they have to do is make staying clean a priority. My talk tells them how.
My talk is entitled “What the Funk!” I blogged about the subject here: What the Funk! My Power Point slides are here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/zwxxfhmz96vhn42/What%20The%20Funk.2.pptx?dl=0
The ATKO is a well attended two-and-a-half day event featuring speakers, vendors and old friends like Mike Wingeart and Robin Hobbs who were representing ALDHA, the Appalachian Long Distance Hiking Association.
The ATKO featured a tent city, gear vendors and even a slew of visiting owls. This is a great horned owl. His pals included a tiny screech owl named Goliath and a barred owl which remained amazingly quiet. Trail Dames is a women’s hiking organization I try and promote as often as possible. Love those gals, most of whom I’ve met on my various trail journeys. Check out Trail Dames here: Trail Dames
Now, let’s get down to business. We’ll open with a brief confession. I did not come to the trail with “trail legs.” In other words, I was not in shape. My excuse: I injured my hip lifting weights in early October and have not run since then. Throughout the hike, my hip and cardio were fine, but my legs had all the strength and authority of limp spaghetti noodles. That’s definitely not a recipe for a fluffy soufflé in the nasty hills of Georgia. (Lovin’ mixed metaphors!)
The anointed know that launching from the Amicalola Lodge nets the upper five miles of the infamously steep “approach trail” that leads to the AT’s southern terminus on Springer Mountain. I did it three years ago when I had to spell the caretaker on Springer Mountain. That year my gazelle-like bounds magically crushed the steepest hills. This year I huffed and puffed like the little engine that barely could. I was delighted to summit, albeit about 90 minutes slower than before.
While on Springer, I took a look around. I was saddened to see that two trees I’ve been tracking for the past three years had finally been done in. The number of people on the trail continues to increase along with their relentless degradation of the environment.
A bit hard to see, but campers have moved south of the lower bear cables on Springer Mountain shelter and much closer to the water source; and have established a new fire pit.
The good news is that previous recommendations have been implemented. The increased presence on the trail has remarkably reduced trash. Vegetation recovery projects have begun. Extra campsites and privies have been added. My observations from that time are here: Georgia 2015
Old fire pit at Hawk Mountain shelter cleaned up.
Improvements since last year to the new Hawk Mountain campsite.
As always the newly minted hikers were delightful. I saw Lynne, the Trail Ambassador on the right, twice on my journey as she expanded her patrol coverage. I saw several other ambassadors too.
Ambition has never been lacking for me. Since this was my very first time to hike Georgia alone, I decided to pace myself in accordance with the legend in my own mind, versus the reality of my current physical condition. Mind over matter was a good strategy, or so I thought. That worked about as well as one might expect.
After pitching my tent the first night and on my way to fetch water, I met a young man who asked me if it was okay for his dog to be off leash. Never ask a Leave No Trace zealot that question. I convinced him that every snake, skunk, raccoon and porcupine in the woods would eat his dog for lunch, not to mention any stray bears. How ’bout them Lyme disease bearing ticks ole fido is going to bring back to your tent? Oh boy!!!
This fellow also decided to cowboy camp that night (no tent). Guess what, it rained unexpectedly. I awoke to his thrashing as he hurried to pitch is tent while dodging rain spatter. “Grasshopper, you’re going to learn a lot,” I smiled as a hiked past his tent in the morning. He was sawing zzzzzzs.
I have finally perfected pitching and striking this tent in high wind. I failed at that miserably in Maine last summer. Hint: Up-wind pegs first…
The plan for Monday was to make it about 15 miles either to the Justus Mt. campsite or on to Gooch Gap. The forecast included rain and high winds for Tuesday, so I wanted to get as far as possible.
Moving with the speed to cold flowing molasses helped me realize that I wasn’t going to make either of my targeted locations, so I parked at Cooper Gap where, this year, the Army has been leaving its 500 gallon “water buffalo” unlocked for hikers. Now I was a half day behind with a cold, heavy rain in the forecast.
Very good news: ALL water sources in Georgia were flowing with the exception of the spring at Blue Mountain shelter which is just short of Unicoi Gap.
Fortunately the heavenly watering of the Georgia hills didn’t begin until after I’d packed up. I sopped off with a dry tent at least, headed for the Woods Hole shelter half way up the infamous Blood Mountain; about another 15 miles away. Woods Hole has a covered picnic table and is located where bear proof food containers are required. The odds were good that I’d get a spot, and I’d be back on schedule given that very few people want to carry the 3 1/2 extra pounds the canisters weigh.
Along the way, sometimes you see weird stuff. Who would set the stump on fire at Gooch Mountain? Just past there, somebody used a machete to hack up a dead tree. For what? The dead tree bark is good insect habitat for birds and bears. Why ruin it? Ignorance lives.
Please pack out your trash! The fire pits and the trail in general was far cleaner than I’ve ever seen it at this time of year. Thank you ridgerunners and trail ambassadors!
I arrived at Woods Hole just prior to dusk. I ate and then crashed between these two tents.
The morning dawned cold and windy. The rain had passed. Of the three campers at Woods Hole, nobody had a bear canister. Surprise, surprise, surprise! Where’s the ranger when you need ’em.
A father and son had pitched their tent in the shelter. They were were woefully underprepared with summer sleeping bags and sported wet cotton clothes from the previous day’s rain. The other tent belonged to a new thru hiker who didn’t know better. I made it clear. If more hikers came during the night, the tents would have to come down. Fortunately, none did.
It dawned cold and clear as I waited form my coffee water to boil. Note the two hats. After breakfast I was off for Low Gap, another 15 miles or so away.
Walking over Blood Mountain has its aesthetic pleasures.
Wind at Neel’s Gap
The trail to Low Gap is a relatively easy hike with the exception of a nasty climb at Tesnatee Gap. My right hip flexor was swelling. Time for a reality check.
Dawn at Low Gap. Fortunately, from there it’s an easy 10 miles to Uniqoi Gap where I decided to bail. The noodles were still limp and the soufflé was pretty flat. Reached Unicoi about 12:30 p.m. and shuttled to the Top of Georgia Hostel.
Breakfast at Top of Georgia where Bob Gabrielsen offers the morning pep talk before the hopeful sea of humanity rides the tide northward in search of adventure and the state of Maine. Time for me to saddle up the Subaru and ride north.
It ain’t over until everything’s cleaned up.