Thursday, July 12, 2012

Walking along the AT #1: Springer Mountain (UPDATED)

Though we haven't yet taken the big walk from Georgia to Maine, we've been fortunate to have had several opportunities to walk portions of the trail. All in all, I've walked six seven segments ranging from about one mile to two and a half miles, and Erin has walked three of them.* The sections we've walked range from effectively flat to an 1800 foot gain in elevation (counting the walk up from the parking lot near Blood Mountain).

Over the next six seven weeks or so, I'll be sharing my memories of each section**. Although there was plenty of sweat and struggling, every one was enjoyable because I was on the AT. Hopefully within the next couple years, we'll be adding much much more about our experiences on the trail, but I certainly anticipate adding more posts to this feature. As I'll be going through this in chronological order, I'll start with my first experience of the trail. Interestingly enough, that would be Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.

Date: February 20, 2011
Direction: SOBO Up, NOBO down
Distance: 0.9 miles one way, 1.8 round trip
Start (SOBO): USFS 42 Parking Lot
End (SOBO): Springer Mountain Summit and the last white blaze.

Of the six walks I've taken on the trail, this one is the most memorable for three reasons. For one, it was the first time I had walked the trail for any appreciable distance. Also, it was Springer Mountain, where the trail begins for those going north, and ends for those going south. This wasn't exactly some indeterminate section in the middle of nowhere. Finally, it was special because I walked it with my parents.

Honestly, I hadn't thought about going up there when they first came to visit that weekend. However, as we were at dinner, we were discussing what to do. I suggested we go visit Amicalola Falls. As we talked about that, I remembered the fact that there is a parking lot for hikers less than a mile from the Springer summit. Although it would be six miles up a rough USFS road, we had my parents SUV, so it wouldn't be too bad. With their assent, we decided to get up the next morning and make the drive from Chattanooga to Springer Mountain.

After a breakfast at Cracker Barrel in Dalton, and the drive through the mountains from Chatsworth to Ellijay, we found ourselves on the road to both of our destinations. For several miles we were on the main Georgia highway, but well before Amicalola we made a left turn, and were on a less traveled, but still paved road. After about thirteen miles or so of this, we made a right turn onto a rocky road. This was the road that would take us to the parking lot and our trail head.

The road was only six miles or so, but it felt like twenty. It was bumpy, it was steep, and it was rarely straight. Finally we arrived at the pass where the parking lot was, and found a spot. As it was a nice day, there were several cars there, but the lot wasn't full. Some people were preparing their own hikes, either up to Springer or along the trail to the north. While we were unloading from the SUV and getting prepped for the hike, some cars approached from the opposite direction on the road from where we came. As that is the way to the lot from Dahlonega (and ultimately Atlanta), I would guess this is the more popular route to the lot.

Finally we had packed a few snacks and our bottles of water, and crossed the road. Almost immediately we were walking uphill. For the first part of the hike, the trail was dirt and not too steep. As we went along, though, it became rockier and a bit steeper. All in all it wasn't too bad, and nowhere as tough as going SOBO up Blood Mountain (my second AT adventure). Due to a stretch where I had stayed disciplined in my exercising, I was in the best shape in years at the time. Oddly enough that put me in a position where I was having to ease off a bit so I wouldn't get too far ahead of my parents. That being said, I did plenty of huffing and puffing going up that trail.

Despite being February, the weather was pleasant if a bit crisp. The leaves had yet to start budding, so we had views out to the terrain around us. Although not exactly stunning, it was still great to see mountains, and interesting to get a better idea of how the land actually was contoured.

Gradually the ridgeline to our left kept getting closer and closer. Finally, we came up to a fork in the trail where a short blue blazed section went off to the shelter, privy, spring and campsites adjacent to the summit. By now I knew we were close to our goal. The trail had leveled off, and we walked through the trees out to a rocky clearing. We had arrived at the top of Springer Mountain.

Naturally we took the obligatory pictures, including the one of the plaque and first blaze seen above. We stood there for a while admiring the view, and chatted with a couple of hikers who had walked the approach trail from Amicalola. There were a few people around who looked like thru hikers, although I never did verify this (I'm not one to just approach and talk to someone I don't know). I'm sure at least a couple were thru hikers, although it was still a few weeks before the peak start season would begin. I can't say about my parents, but it was tough for me to not just start walking north beyond the parking lot, all the way to Maine if I could. I fought that urge as I ate a snack cake and drank some water, looking out over the mountains of northern Georgia.

Finally we had to start back the other way, as we wanted to also visit Amicalola before it got dark. On the way out we took the blue blazed side trail to the shelter, so we could see the first shelter along the actual trail. We also took a look at the bear bag wires and the water source, a spring bubbling pleasantly just a short walk from the shelter.

A quick bathroom break later, we were heading back down the trail. The good thing was that it was all downhill, so there was less huffing and puffing. The bad thing was that it was all downhill, so I was being extra cautious around the rocks and roots. Still, we made it down at a fair clip, passing several people, some with dogs and little kids, heading up the hillside. Before long we were back down to the parking lot, and it took a bit of effort to keep me from being a damn fool and continue on up that trail on the other side of the parking lot. Instead we got back in the SUV, and headed back down that bumpy road.

All in all it was a fun hike, made all the better because I shared it with family. I think my parents enjoyed the trip, and were glad they did it. I know for a fact I did. Here's hoping that either March 2013 or March 2014 I will be heading back up there, this time for a much longer walk.

Next Up: Andrew and Erin hike to the top of Blood Mountain.

***UPDATED*** 07/14/2012: Somehow I forgot completely about my short hike up to Round Bald near Roan Mountain, which was along the AT. I'm not sure why I forgot it, as it was one of my favorite places I've ever walked. I've edited the references from six to seven to account for this.

*This doesn't count the 1/4 mile I walked NOBO at Newfound Gap in the Smokies, a 200 ft section we walked NOBO in Shenandoah this past June, or a small section I walked up to Wayah Bald. I mean, the path was paved, and it was less than 1/4 mile from the parking lot. We also walked the beginning of the approach trail NOBO from the Amicalola Falls State Park Visitors Center to the top of the falls. Yep, all 625 steps in one walk. We've got shirts to prove it and everything!

**If we're really luck, and all cheer in unison, Erin might even emerge and share some of her recollections as well. With me, everyone: YOU CAN DO IT ERIN! YOU CAN DO IT ERIN! YOU CAN DO IT ERIN!

No comments :

Post a Comment