Or, as my Dad said he would call it: “The Last Mile Always Lies.”
Several months ago, my parents approached Jessica and I to see if we would want to hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail with them in June. While we knew it would be a busy month, we committed to join them. In the end, we ended up essentially throwing everything we would need in our backpack the week before, hoping we had everything, and flying out to Georgia on June 2nd. We were going to get on the trail on the 3rd and hike for the next eight days to drive back to Atlanta on the 10th for a flight out on the 11th. We really had no idea what to expect, since my Dad had been so kind as to plan it all, so we shouldered our packs (mine weighed in at 46 pounds at the start) and headed out on a great adventure.
Day One (6/3):
We dropped my parent’s car where we were planning to exit the trail (Indian Grave Gap) and were shuttled to near Springer Mountain (the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail). We then hiked one mile back to Springer Mountain then returned to where we started. From there, we hiked toward the Hawk Mountain Shelter. On the way, we stopped at two waterfalls, one of which was Long Creek Falls.
Our first day ended up one of our longest at nine miles total. All of us settled into our packs that day with bruising all around. At Hawk Mountain Shelter, we met many people who we would end up keeping pace with for the next few days. Since we were close to the terminus, there were a good number of people there. I would estimate about 10/12 groups for about 25 people overall. Also, this first night was when we discovered the limits of our water pump and began using iodine tablets.
Day Two (6/4):
We slept to mid-morning to recover from our lengthy first day. This ended up in a late morning departure from camp (we were second-to-last group to leave) toward Gooch Mountain. This was perhaps the most difficult day, as the terrain was steep and our muscles had not yet settled in to the demands we were making of them. While it was only eight miles, the last two were particularly difficult and I remember arriving to Gooch Mountain Shelter that night completely exhausted.
Our water pump took some time to filter a liter, and, between the four of us, we had over 10 liters of water. To help with the time demands, I would often use the iodine to speed the process up. Even so, it would mean that often we would be quite low on water as we approached our camp for the night as we did not want to take the time along the trail to fill up before we required it.
Day Three (6/5):
This morning we woke up early to hike five miles to Woody Gap. We had prearranged a shuttle pick-up for my mom at the Gap. She would take a ride on to Neel Gap (and around Blood Mountain) and spend the night at some cabins where we would meet her the next day. Afterward, my Dad, Jessica, and I continued on to Lance Creek (three more miles). This was our first smaller campsite (only three/four other groups) and our first one with a good fire. I would also say this was our first back-country campsite as it had no shelter or privy.
Day Four (6/6):
After a night of light rain, and a visit from a mouse, we got up to hike the seven miles up and over Blood Mountain (the highest peak on the A.T. in Georgia) and down to Neel Gap. On the way, the weather afforded some amazing pictures of the forest in fog.
Unfortunately, the top of the mountain was also foggy, so the views were intermittent. However, on the way down, the fog did lift for some great views and pictures (like the header image). We hiked down to Neel Gap and met my mom. At the Gap there was an outfitter, and we were able to resupply (Jessica and I were very low on lunches and snacks). Afterward, we walked with my mom to join her for a night at the cabin. A shower and clean running water have rarely (if ever) felt so good. At the outfitters, my parents bought new filter: bless them. We got to sleep in a real bed (is this cheating?) and it rained all night.
Day Five (6/7):
And most of the morning too. After sleeping in, we leave late morning (a pattern is developing) and begin hiking in pretty steady rainfall, though the canopy keeps it from being terrible. This day we had scheduled a 4.5 mile hike to Baggs Creek Gap. However, with the hefty rest and the mostly level terrain, we end up hiking on for another several miles for a 8.5 mile day. From this day on to the end, fellow hikers on the trail were rather sparse. Some days we would see only one other group. While the trail never felt crowded (other than the descent from Blood Mountain), it was nice to have the additional space and solitude.
When we do stop, we pull off the trail at a true back-country campsite that has nothing: not even a water source. We had planned ahead, however, and filled up at a spring a couple miles back so we were good for the night. This campsite was full of annoying flies (I dubbed it “midge camp”). Here, a nice fire offered reprieve from the damp and bugs. Not long after, yellow fog (and a storm) rolled in to send us to our tents for a sopping night.
The new filter proved wonderfully efficient, but dry springs and springs that are barely more than a trickle meant that we still had to be vigilant about when our water got low.
Day Six (6/8):
No late morning this day, as the flies and wet camp meant we had little reason to wait to start the day. We broke camp in probably record time (for us). We hiked on to Low Gap Shelter for a good lunch, drying out our fly, and water. This was one of the nicest shelters that we saw. It probably helped that we saw only one other person down there, and the spring was nice and the surrounding woods were beautiful. This was definitely the nicest lunch break we had on the trail.
After Low Gap, we hiked on to Chattahoochee Gap, which we thought would have a good water source (our guidebook told us that the spring there provided drinking water for Atlanta). The spring was hardly usable, however, and we had to hike further to refill our water. Once again, and for the fourth or fifth time on the trail, I found myself with about mile left and only most of a Nalgene remaining.
After Chattahoochee Gap, we continued on to Spaniards’ Knob to camp alone again. This ended up being another nine mile day. (It was hard to know for certain as we never quite figured out where on the map we spent the previous night). At this camp, we built another good fire and dried out our gear some more.
Day Seven (6/9):
One final leisurely morning on the trail, though we did not know it at the time. The plan was to spend this night as well on the trail, even though we were ahead of schedule and six miles away from the car. That day we hiked down to Unicoi Gap, up Rocky Mountain, and down to Indian Grave Gap (where we left the car). While we had tossed around some plans to continue up the next mountain (called Tray), the rain, fog, and clouds encouraged us to call our journey complete one whole day early. We had hiked 55 miles on the Appalachian Trail, and with all of our walking to water springs, my Dad figured we must have clocked at least 60 miles over all; I agree.
We piled our dirty, hungry selves into my parent’s car for a short ride into Helen, GA for a stay at a hotel, a burger dinner, and more showers.
Extra Day (6/10):
With our extra day we decided to spend some time back in Helen before going to Anna Ruby Falls. This was a short hike (and without our packs it was even easier) up to a very impressive waterfall. The paved path and crowds made it very different from the rest of our time on the trail, but we capped off our adventure with one more dehydrated meal before driving back to Atlanta to fly out the next day.