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Tag Archives: Springer Mountain

Springer Mountain to Hawk Mountain

Sunday, April 26, 2009
Start: Springer Mountain, GA
Finish: Hawk Mountain Shelter, Georgia AT

I fully expected to meet people. In case it’s not obvious, I’m writing this after the fact, as I was not interested in creating lengthy entries and observations while hiking. I did however, make notes about the people and notable events that took place.

As DT and I walked off of Springer Mountain on Sunday morning I was wondering to myself who we might see.

The first official day on the trail starts with a four mile downhill walk, much welcome after the previous day’s uphill struggle. The trail is rocky at first and it is difficult to make quick time. I kept looking to my left at the expansive valley that opened up.

I turned to DT, “I’d love to get this in a photograph.”

“Then why don’t you?”

I looked at the magnificent forest below and the line of trees that lined the trail, “I can’t get a good shot of the forest because there’s too many trees.”

Uh-huh.

I’ve heard about Trail Angels, people who leave drinks, supplies or goodies at places along the trail for hikers to partake in. As we reached Highway 42 a mile from the start of the hike, I saw a box of Little Debbies on a large rock which sat at the corner of the parking lot there. I puzzled over it briefly until it dawned on me, these must be placed by some unknown Trail Angel. I pointed it out to DT who was removing his pack. Apparently DT had decided he had too much food and was no longer interested in carrying some of the lunch items he had in his pack. I can’t blame him, pack weight was a struggle from the outset. Instead of eating the Trail Angel goodies, DT merely added to them with no-longer-wanted food.

A man and a woman came by carrying full packs and walking at a brisk rate. I spoke a few friendly greetings which they returned then they were gone, moving rapidly up the trail.

The Stover Creek Shelter

The Stover Creek Shelter

Me and DT

Me and DT

About half way down the hill is the Stover Creek Shelter.When we arrived it was empty. Each shelter has a notebook inside a large zip lock bag. Hikers leave notes and comments which are occasionally interesting to read. DT isn’t feeling too well. I’m encouraging him to eat, I don’t think he’s had enough fuel to energize the trip.

I check out the privy. It’s a hi-tech privy with special microbes to help break everything down quickly. After use, one is supposed to throw in a handful of wood chips from the bucket in the corner to help the process along. In the trail ledger someone glibly noted that it appeared a grand game of Jenga was being played in the privy. Enough said about that.

After a break we’re ready to go again. The trip to Three Forks was uneventful. At Three Forks I craftily observed that two rapidly running streams were forming a third, hence the name Three Forks. It never ceases to amuse me when I’m able to figure out the reason for local names. Though I must confess, I’m still working on the name Woody Gap.

With packs off, we had lunch and spoke to three southbound hikers before continuing uphill toward Hawk Mountain. The next three miles posed an 800 foot climb. By the time we reached the Hawk Mountain Shelter, the day was through for hiking. DT had been fighting not feeling well all day and it was pointless to go on.

The Hawk Mountain Shelter

The Hawk Mountain Shelter

DT and I walked up to the shelter, lowered our packs, and sat on the shelter floor, legs hanging over the side. The couple we had seen at route 42 in the morning was there, and as far as I could tell had been there for hours. We made introductions.

They were a married couple who had done hundreds of miles on the trail in previous years. He was from Alabama and she from Missouri. They spoke at length about the trail and never lacked for giving advice. We began to refer to them as the hardcore couple. Hardcore as in hardcore hikers. One thing is for sure; they motored by us earlier in the day without any perceivable effort.

A young man arrived and wordlessly took off his pack and sat in the corner of the shelter, keeping to himself, reading his trail guide. I thought of him as Shy-Guy. Mike eventually arrived. Mike had been at the Springer Mountain Shelter the night before and covered the same distance a little later in the day than we had. His plan was to through-hike, though he had no particular schedule. He was easy-going and soft-spoken.

HC Couple pointed out an empty laptop computer case resting against a tree, “Some guy up ahead has a laptop. I guess he got tired of carrying the case.”

“A laptop? You gotta be kidding?” And yet, there it was.

As evening approached, another hiker arrived and introduced himself as David. David was from North Carolina and was on the trail for a week attempting to get to North Carolina, the same goal we have. David spoke briefly about his wife and children, both of whom were in college. He explained that he was given mandatory time off so it seemed like a good idea to use some of it on the trail.

HC Couple added to the mandatory time off group, stating that they both worked for H & R Block and were on a mandatory eight week vacation. Well, it’s late April and tax season is over, I guess it’s the time.

Shy Guy never said much of anything. His personality was suggestive of a dog who had been given a few good beatings. I always wonder about the quiet types.

After a brief meal I explored the trail that went back to some low crests behind the camp, away from the Hawk Mountain peaks. It was warm, clear and good to be alive. There was a fresh water stream with a tapped spring flowing, providing good water. Unlike yesterday when water seemed scarce, today’s hike provided ample streams and springs.

We covered almost eight miles for the day. My original plan was to cover 12 to 14 today and make this the biggest day of the week under the assumption that we would be our freshest. It didn’t quite work out that way, but tomorrow is another day, we’ll see what happens then.

People: HC Couple from Ala and MO, Mike, David, Shy guy

 
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Posted by on May 17, 2009 in Appalachian Trail, Georgia, Hiking

 

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Atop Springer Mountain

Standing over the famed terminus plaque

Standing over the famed terminus plaque


Saturday, April 25

The view is magnificent. I’ve already forgotten about all the huffing and puffing to get here. The first order of business is to find that plaque that I’ve seen so many pictures of. Where is that thing? Well, it’s obvious, actually. Right there embedded in the rocks where one hundred million hikers have taken the same obligatory photo.

Panoramic view atop Springer Mountain

Panoramic view atop Springer Mountain


The Pose atop Springer

The Pose atop Springer

The top of the mountain has a nice grassy area perfect for setting up a little camp. And it has a wonderfully nice sign on plasticized 8.5×11 paper asking people to please not camp on the wonderfully grassy area atop the mountain which is perfect for camping. After all, if everyone camps there, how will it remain wonderfully grassy and perfect for camping. Instead, please walk down the trail a couple of hundred yards where the Georgia AT Trail Conservancy has prepared a place of dusty, hard-packed camp sites around a rustic, though mouse-infested, wooden shelter.

DT and I hike to the shelter where I am compelled to take more obligatory photos. After all, it’s doubtful I will ever be here again, in this famous spot of great notoriety. And why would I return? If I need more time on the trail, there’s still 2200 hundred miles left to choose from.

Late afternoon light sets the Springer Mountain Shelter aglow

Late afternoon light sets the Springer Mountain Shelter aglow

After the tent is set up and I have something to eat, darkness arrives and some wonderful soul has built a fire in the fire ring in front of the shelter. Fires will be few and far between on the trail, so we enjoy this one. The fellow who has crafted the fire is doing a weekend hike, having walked from some obscure point a ways further in Georgia, bucking the traffic moving south. His trip is almost over since tomorrow he needs only to travel downhill toward the falls. I wonder if he’s laughing to himself, knowing what we greenhorns have in store for us as we proceed in earnest tomorrow?

On the way into the Springer Mountain camp area we meet Roger. Roger is hired by the Georgia AT folks and spends 10 days on and five days off, greeting all who make it to this summit. His gray-white beard goes to mid-chest and he has, no doubt, been selected from central casting for the role. I think I should be having a lengthy, awestruck conversation with him, probing him for his vast knowledge of the trail, but darned if I can think of one single thing to ask him. Perhaps if he wants to make a little more money he can seek Bic Razors as a sponsor? On second thought, that probably won’t work.

I have been made aware that the Georgia AT folks have another person in their employ, someone called The Ridgerunner, who is constantly hiking the trails and greeting the folks along the way. It seems the Georgia folks are down-right hospitable and I genuinely appreciate the efforts they make to make me feel welcome.

For the vast number of people who attempt to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, most start here and move north with the spring. I’m told that some staggering number, like nine out of ten, quit in the next forty miles. That would make this Georgia section of the trail possibly the most-hiked section of the entire trail, trampled by greenhorns and veterans alike.

After a fitful night’s sleep on a thin foam mat, I wake and pack. The first order of business is to find water. Amazingly, there is a spring right here on top of the mountain. (Suspiciously, I wonder if that’s why this is called Springer Mountain? I’m no rube, I’m able to put pieces of random facts together and come up with feasible postulations like that. Or was the mountain named for old-man Springer who just wanted to get away from everyone?) Coincidence or not, it’s great to fill from a fresh spring. I’m not a water connoisseur, but I find amusement in drinking pure filtered mountain spring water. No, not the kind you buy in the store that probably came from the city tap, but the real deal. It tastes absolutely great, I guess. I mean, if water ever tasted great, I’m sure this tastes great. Well, let’s face it, water is the most boring drink ever created, but it soothes me knowing I’m drinking the finest water that can found on the globe. I guess.

Packed and ready to go, I intend to get a picture of the aforementioned Roger. I neglected to get a snapshot yesterday, and I’m kicking myself for shyly missing the opportunity. But alas, as we walk out of the camp area, Roger is bedded down inside his tent. He’s no fool, sleep in and enjoy the mountain spring water, why go walking when everything is right here? I tip my cap in the direction of his tent and we’re off, finally on the official trail and walking. What a feeling!

 
 

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From Amicalola Falls to Springer Mountain

Saturday, April 25, 2009
Start: Douglasville, GA
Finish: Springer Mountain, GA

The day is here. After years of dreaming and months of planning, the day has arrived. Waving farewell to my sister’s southern hospitality, DT and I head toward Amicalola Falls, the starting point of the approach trail that we will hike today.

The official start of the approach trail to Springer Mountain

The official start of the approach trail to Springer Mountain

DT and I have been on several trips before. Two backpacking warm-up trips, and several overnight kayaking trips on Florida waters. I can’t say it has become a routine, but at the very least the next event was usual and predictable. While making our way from Douglasville, just west of Atlanta, we stopped at the first Waffle House we saw. I mean after all, you never know when you’ll get another hot-cooked meal served to your waiting appetite?

As always, the service is down-home friendly and the eggs and sausage hit the spot. I’m wondering if it’s enough to sustain me for another 8 days?

With the Waffle House disappearing in the rearview mirror, we head north.

We follow our pre-printed Google directions and arrive at the Falls. It is, like many state parks around the country, a predicatable place. All the buildings have a park-like appearance. Somewhere in America there is an architectural firm who designs the park style and is getting rich on the patented look.

We pay our $3 entrance fee and find a parking place close to the headquarters and camp store. How many park tee-shirts does one need?

The woman at the counter is helpful. She shows us where long-term parking is and gives us a tag to hang on the back of the car mirror which advertises to all that we are a couple of green-horns heading into the backcountry without a clue. I scratch my head and wonder if they sold clues in the park office? At least then I would have one.

Amicalola Falls

Amicalola Falls

Amicalola Falls is the starting point of the approach trail to Springer Mountain. Springer Mountain is the official starting point of the A.T, so technically, we aren’t going to be on the A.T. today. But it still feels genuine. Today we shoulder our packs and head into the hills.

In our two previous shakedown trips we’ve been able to keep our packs under 30 pounds, and that 30 pounds included such frivolous necessities as wine in a bottle. But today there are no frivolous necessities in our packs, just the bare essentials plus enough food to power us through 8 days of walking. Even at that, our packs come in at a whopping 35 pounds each. I swore it wouldn’t happen to me. I swore to myself I’d be frugal with the weight and wouldn’t indulge the temptation to bring everything I own. I can’t figure out how I managed to pack so much.

But the essentials in my pack came in at a scant 22 pounds. “Not too bad,” I thought. I neglected to calculate that I would have 9 pounds of food and that I’d be adding 4 pounds of water on top of that. I’m not happy about the weight. But I shoulder the pack anyway and at least it’s comfortable.

The approach trail to Springer Mountain starts at the park office and winds its way up 600 steps to the top of the falls for which the park is named. On the way are a myriad of park visitors whose only intention is to walk to the top of the falls and back and call it a day. We, of course, have our big, sturdy, heavy-laden-with-food-and-essentials packs on our back and we wear them as a badge of honor. We are no mere day-hikers. We’re the real deal, highly-lauded A.T. hikers. Never mind that we haven’t taken a single step on the trail yet. We have packs and intent and that makes us special!

A bridge on the steps leading to the falls

A bridge on the steps leading to the falls

Wheezing, we make it up the first 175 steps. This is going to get easier, isn’t it? It can’t possibly be uphill all the way in both directions? My careful calculations have shown that there is almost as much downhill walking as there is uphill walking. That mitigates the difficulty, doesn’t it? 425 steps and many, many rests later, we are at the top of the falls and have afforded ourselves a grand view. We aren’t even out of the highly-visited area of the park yet and we are drenched in perspiration and sitting on a bench recovering. But the next stage will surely be better! We’ve reached the end of the heavily-traveled section of the park and we now head into the back country on the way to Spring Mountain.

The day is clear and warm and we pass a couple of hikers with backpacks. We continue upward. There are scarce few downhills and the trail is constant work. But there is good news. You know that 4 pounds of water I packed, well, now it’s only 2 pounds!

By the standards of the rest of the week, once at the top of the falls the next three miles is relatively tame. But we haven’t hiked the rest of the week yet. And the next 3 miles feels anything but tame. We climb about 250 feet in elevation to a point where the trail parallels a forest service road at a place called High Shoals Road. DT announces he’s out of water.

“You’re what?” I ask calmly while wondering if he’s been taking a shower.

“Maybe I should have filled my water supply all the way.” He questions himself out loud.

Hmmm. Maybe.

I offer some of my precious remaining water when we hear the sound of 4-wheelers, turning loops through the woods just a handful of yards away.

“Sounds like they’re driving through water,” DT observes.

Driving through water, here, on top of the mountain? No way.

“Maybe they have some extra water,” he says as he’s bushwhacking through the thin forest toward the cars.

Breaking into the clear I observe 3 4-wheel drive vehicles, each with a driver and an accompanying trophy girlfriend. One of the vehicles is running through a very large and not-too-deep mud hole, having a grand time. I’m incredulous that there is open water so high up on the hill, but there it is, a muddy oasis of sloshing brown muck.

I consider just how difficult it will be to filter this mud into drinkable water when DT, who is not shy, is sprinting towards the two parked vehicles.

“How you doin’? Got any spare water? We’re hiking the trail and ran out. I guess I underestimated how much I’d be drinking.”

DT has just broken the mountain man’s code of self-sufficiency. I’d have willingly spent a half of a day filtering mud before I’d admit that I was unprepared. DT has no such qualms. Practicality outweighs pride. I’ll never understand such things.

“Sure, we’ve got water, here, have a couple of bottles,” they willingly produce two half-liter bottles, smiling all the while. “Does you friend need any?”

I shake my head no, “I’m fine I think I’ve got plenty until the next water stop.”

“OK, cool.”

I have two pounds of water and five miles to go uphill with no idea whatsoever of where I might find water. But that makes no difference to me. A true mountain man never asks and is never weak and never shows fear and never unprepared and…”

“Hey GB, you coming?”

“Uh, yeh, I’m right here.”

Three point four miles to Springer

Three point four miles to Springer

We walk on and cover an uneventful uphill two miles, then descend slightly from the top of a small peak down to a place called Nimblewill Gap. A forest service road cuts through the gap and I assume it is the same road we saw earlier with the adjoining mud hole, for parked in the shade at the side of the road are the 3 4-wheelers, one with hood sticking proudly into the air, a weekend mechanic underneath attempting to fix some unknown malady.

At the gap is a sign marking the site of an aircraft accident. I read the plaque and wonder at the lousy luck of some poor pilot to fly into the side of a mountain on what I imagine was a foggy, overcast night. But my luck is much better. I still have at least a pound of water and only another two and a half miles to go.

After a steep and exhausting climb up Black Mountain, a vertical gain of 500 feet, we descend 400 feet to the first of many shelters which we will see on the trail.

Black Gap Shelter

Black Gap Shelter

At the Black Gap shelter are three women and a man. They are weekend hikers and are intending to spend the night at the shelter. They have dropped their very, very small packs and will walk the remaining mile and a half to the top of Springer Mountain before descending back to this spot for the night. We chit-chat. It is amazingly easy to chit-chat with people along the way. Everyone seems to have a story and many are quite willing to tell it.

By the time we reach the Black Gap Shelter, I manage to find a spring along the trail and now I am a happy 4 pounds heavier, having squeezed every drop out of my supply while maintaining my energetic there’s-nothing-wrong-here smile.

The last mile and a half gain 500 feet in elevation and DT and I have separated with an agreement to meet at the top. Putting my head down, I shift into full-drive and motor my way to the top. I have seen pictures of Springer Mountain before, and I have often wondered what it would be like to actually be there. Now I know. I stand at the top and marvel at the view.

People: Mike, 4 day hikers: three women and a man, Three 4-wheel mudders

 
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Posted by on May 8, 2009 in Georgia, Hiking

 

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