Saturday, May 15, 2010

Appalachian Trail - GA: Amicalola Falls to Woody Gap

Day 1
7.7 miles
Amicalola Falls Lodge to Springer Mountain Shelter

The previous day we dropped one car off at Neels Gap, where we initially had intended to finish our hike. We woke up early in Helen and set out to Amicalola Falls State Park, making a quick stop in Dahlonega for some last minute items. We started out on the Approach Trail at about 9:30 AM with our 35lb packs. Not too far into the hike we realized it was going to be a rough day.

Going up Springer Mountain was definitely a challenge. The total elevation gain was ~1,200ft. With every step, ever closer to the peak, the more painful and seemingly terrible the day seemed. At first, we were psyched to start out our AT adventure with the Approach Trail ‘warm up,’ but our high spirits slowly started to seep out of our pores while we sweated up the mountain. During our trek towards the top, Auz’s hip tendinitis came out of the darkness and almost took her out of the race. It was an incredibly painful and spirit crushing experience, practically dragging her right leg up the mountain face. Stair case after staircase, and steep switchbacks, we pushed on for 7.5 hours, until we reached the summit of Springer. Finally at the peak, the incredible amount of pain that you schlepped up “Penitentiary Mountain” is lifted off your sore shoulders as you drop your pack on the ground, turn around and take in the breathtaking views.

Admiring the plaque signifying your official start of the AT, to the right, nestled in the rock, there is a slot with a metal door where you can sign the hiker log and read about others’ experiences and revelations, once they’ve finally reached the end of the Approach Trail and the beginning of a journey.

Springer Mountain Shelter was a large compound with a variety of different tent sites, numerous bear cables, a mouldering privy, and a nice stream for water. We decided to set up our tents near the shelter itself. While filtering our water for the evening, we came across a fellow hiker, 'Dream Girl,' who shared her insight and kind words with us. That evening after feasting on delicious Indian food (Tasty Bites), rice and red wine, we enjoyed a campfire with 2 young, relatively inexperienced guys from Ohio who were carrying a month's worth of food, along with a bottle of Maker's Mark Whiskey, and an eccentric guy from Germany who has hiked in almost every country in the UK, and had 3 months to kill on US trails, carrying a 60 lb pack.

Day 1 Food:
Breakfast: Quaker Oatmeal
Lunch: Hard Salami, Aged Gouda, mustard and Pita bread
Dinner: Tasty Bites, Minute Rice, garlic Naan, red wine
Snacks: Homemade beef jerky, Chipotle Lime Cashews, Crystal Light Lemonade, Honeycomb Crisp Chocolate Bar

Day 2
7.6 miles
Springer Mountain Shelter to Hawk Mountain Shelter

After a relatively restless night's sleep, the next morning was filled with doubt and apprehension on whether or not Auz was going to continue the trail or go back down Springer Mountain and sulk in her deflated pride. Luckily, after packing up camp and eating a hearty breakfast, we decided that turning around would be harder than pressing on. Plus, we wouldn't have much to write about!

4.7 miles after leaving the shelter, there is a 0.1 mile side trail to Long Creek Falls, which is well worth it! It is a gorgeous waterfall which offers a swimming hole on hot days. After about another mile, the trail will pass an old corn/wheat field on the right side before reaching an unmarked dirt road. Hanging a left onto the road will lead you to Hickory Flatts Cemetery about 1/4 mile up. There is a privy, campfire ring, and a pavilion with a sign welcoming hikers. Many of the gravestones date back to the early 1900s and some have no writing left on them at all. Definitely worth the short walk!

Upon our arrival at Hawk Mountain shelter, the same 2 guys from Ohio had already been there since lunch. We went down to the water source, down a path to the LEFT of the shelter, since the trail was somewhat ambiguous and not clearly marked. We took a short and cold shower, filtered water and limped back up the trail to the camp, where we set up our tents and prepared dinner. While we were making our delicious pasta feast, an older gentleman, ‘Doc,’ arrived at the shelter. He was doing a charity hike and constantly repeated the phrase, “Hike your own hike.”

We ate dinner, shared stories, read the shelter log and soon went to sleep. Sadly, our slumber was rudely interrupted by nature, who doesn’t ask for permission, with rain pouring down on our camp in the middle of the night. Because of Megan’s quick reaction, the majority of our gear didn’t get totally soaked through, however, we did have clothes on a line “drying” at the time, which ended up as causalities of the poor weather.

Day 2 Food:
Breakfast: Oatmeal
Lunch: Hard Salami, Aged Gouda, mustard, Pita bread
Dinner: Thru Hiker Spaghetti, Pita Bread, Don Sergio Anejo Tequila
Snacks: Homemade beef jerky, Chipotle Lime Cashews, Crystal light lemonade, Bacon Chocolate Bar

Day 3
7.3 miles
Hawk Mountain Shelter to Gooch Mountain Shelter

The following morning, Auz had her watch set for 5:30am, still raining. 5:45am came around, still raining. 6:45am, guess what? Still raining, but we had to get out of Hawk Mountain shelter and get back to the trail. Collectively, we begrudgingly folded up our wet and muddy tents, ate breakfast and hopped back on the trail. Soon after the sun came out and dried our dampened spirits off, we continued on an incredibly beautiful and relatively easy trail towards Gooch Mountain Shelter.

Sassafras Mountain. What not to say about Sassafras Mountain? Okay, I'll be fair and say that it was absolutely beautiful, but that being said, the amount of beauty matched the amount of muscle it took to make it up that mountain. Steep switchbacks, seemingly endless staircases, sheer rock cliffs, heavenly views and the feeling of accomplishment you when you've reached the top, was unmatched by any other section of the trail.

Gooch Mountain was the prettiest of the 3 shelters we stayed at on this trip. The side trails were well marked and the tent sites were all gorgeous. Having nice company also doesn't hurt! We ended up being surrounded by 4 lawyers. Three of them were friends from college, one apparently was reformed, and had stopped practicing to write a book. The 4th was an environmental lawyer and worked for Levy County, FL. Not only did he have a mini dachshund (Lollipop! Megan's puppy dog), but it was his first time on the trail after open heart surgery in January. His friend and neighbor had an annual hiking trip that they hadn't missed in over 35 years. They both had sons, who were best friends, and were extremely outgoing and friendly. The company was kind, comforting and entertaining, to say the least.

Day 3 Food:
Breakfast: Quaker Oatmeal
Lunch: Hard Salami with Truffle, Aged Gouda, mustard, Pita bread
Dinner: Lost Cowboy Chili, Minute Rice, Don Sergio Anejo Tequila, Dehydrated hummus mix
Snacks: Chipotle Chocolate

Day 4
5 miles
Gooch Mountain Shelter to Woody Gap

For once, Auz left Megan in the dust. Knowing that by the end of the trail, she would be drinking cold German beers in the Old Bavaria Inn Lounge during their Happy Hour, she literally ran parts of the trail. Adelae was glad that someone could finally keep up with her. The 5 miles seemed to fly by under our swift feet, as the end of the trail leveled out and opened up to the beautiful Woody Gap. Originally, we were going to continue to Woods Hole shelter, and continue on to Neel’s Gap the next day, which would have been 15.5 miles total. The plans changed for the betterment of Auz’s leg, and the weather after we got off the trail started to deteriorate. The next 2 days were filled with rain, and the sky was overcast with thick, wet fog which settled close to the ground.

Day 4 Food:
Breakfast: Justin's Organic Peanut Butter (Honey and Chocolate), Pita bread
Lunch: Hard Salami with Truffles, Aged Gouda, mustard, Pita bread
Snacks: Toblerone, Chipotle Lime Cashews, Homemade beef jerky

27.6 Total Miles Hiked

After 2 days of rest, we attempted to finish our Woody Gap to Neel’s Gap segment, but again, the weather didn’t cooperate. We investigated the store at the Walasi-Yi center, where there is a full hostel and gear store. Driving up to the store, we were relieved that we were no longer on the trail, due to the freezing, wet fog that had settled on top of the mountain.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Book Review: Lipsmackin' Backpackin' by Tim and Christine Conners

I purchased this book as well as the vegetarian sequel recently off of Amazon for our upcoming AT trip. There are some pretty good recipes in here, most of which require a dehydrator. Last week I made one of the vegetarian recipes in which you take a jar of spaghetti sauce and mix it with 1 lb. of frozen veggies, a bell pepper, and some spices. You then puree the sauce and dehydrate it. Just to make sure it would taste as good re-hydrated, I tested it out and it was great and full of vitamins! 2 days ago I tried making one of the vegetarian chili recipes. I used the book's basic recipe but added a lot of my own spices. Sadly, because whole pieces are left in it while it dehydrates, it took too long and the moisture + the heat created mold. I was disappointed since a hot bowl of chili on the trail would be amazing. This wasn't the book's fault however, as I have a very old food dehydrator which doesn't take moisture out as well.

Friday, April 9, 2010

GSI Outdoor Pinnacle Dualist

 My shipment from arrived earlier this evening! One piece of gear that I have been really excited about purchasing is the GSI Outdoor Pinnacle Dualist. When I first pulled out the box I was confused because it was so small! I opened it and pulled out the case with everything inside. I was still baffled by the size so I checked the box to make sure I hadn't ordered the Soloist. After confirming that I was holding the Dualist in my hands, I started to take it apart. Inside the bag (which double as a sink!) was the pot, two color coded bowls, which separate into mugs, two sporks, and a stove pouch.

I immediately ran to my kitchen and grabbed a box of macaroni. I poured the entire box into the pot just to see how much it could hold. Unfortunately, it took up half of the pot's volume. I decided to test it out by cooking just 1/2 of a box of pasta. It was hard to estimate how much water would be needed in such a tiny pot. The water boiled within 5 minutes as the package had promised. I poured the macaroni in, but the water ended up spilling over 3 different times even after pouring some out. The macaroni was done by the time I was ready to give up. One thing I will say is that the lid has a feature that allows you to pour water out without it spilling everywhere and it works great. I almost feel that you would have to cook pasta in small amounts, which would be a waste of fuel. I am going to keep playing with it and will update in the near future.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Dog Gear Reviews

And now...a guest post from my best friend Auz about her dog's backpacking gear:

In this post, I'll be reviewing Adelae's backpack, boots, collar/leash set, food, travel bowls, and other things that pertain to our backpacking experiences with a dog.

Ruff Wear Quencher Bowl

This was a really good investment for traveling, but maybe not the best for backpacking. It holds a TON of water, which is good, because after a long hike, I can just fill it up and forget about it. The only downside is that it doesn't dry quickly and if you need to fold it up and stow it while on the trail, it can stay damp on the inside, which is a good place for mold to grow. After our stint on the AT in GA, the moisture did become an issue for me. I didn't see any mold, but I think that was because every night at camp, I would turn it inside out and try and let it dry as much as possible before we turned in for the night. I wouldn't suggest bringing this on the trail, it may be best to find other options. One that I will hopefully will be exploring soon is a product from Tazlab, "Aqua-fur."

I also purchased the same bowl in the cinch top. The same complaints as before, including the fact that it was really small for Adelae's head. It's not that she's a big dog, it's the fact that the opening to the bowl is so small, she blindly pushes the bowl around to try and get the food out of the fabric folds inside the bowl. It's hard to clean on the trail, because of the excess fabric on the inside, and I have really no use for the cinch top, because I carry her individual days in plastic baggies. Again, I wouldn't suggest bringing this on your trip, you might as well just use your water bowl as a food bowl double. Save weight and you can just rinse it and add water after your dog as eaten and be done with it.

Wolf Packs Banzai Dog Pack

This is the best investment I have ever made for backpacking with Adelae. Not only has this company been HAND making packs for decades, they really know what they're doing. The chest strap reaches across your dog's chest, not too high and not too low, creating very little room for shifting that would create friction or "rubbed" spots. The rear strap goes right behind your dog's ribcage, unlike other packs which lay by your dog's armpits. This set-up allows the weight to be properly distributed across the shoulders, and keep it there with little movement.

This high quality pack is made with Ballistic nylon bush guards that protect the side pockets, Cordura Plus nylon fabric for the body of the pack, and 3M Reflective Trim on the sides, to ensure visibility. Wolf Packs put a brilliant lashing option on the top of the pack, where you can put lightweight rolled blankets, mats or anything else you can think of. It works very well with stabilizing the saddle bags, especially if it is fully loaded. The Banzai is available in red, forest green, royal blue, purple, and orange. I have personally chosen the orange, because it's such a highly visible color in the wilderness.

Even if you're not the avid trail adventurer, a pack for your dog is still a great idea. Honestly, dogs love it! Especially dogs that have excess energy or need more stimulation, like a "job". Even on a 20 minute walk with a pack on, your dog is using significantly more energy than it would without the pack. Good for you and good for your dog!

How to get your dog familiar with a pack:

Maybe you're asking yourself, "What if I do get a pack for my dog, how much weight would I be able to comfortably put in the pack without causing injury or discomfort?" The rule of thumb is the pack should weigh at most 1/4 of your dog's body weight, evenly distributed across both side pockets and the back of the pack. If your dog is larger, or has been conditioned to carry heavy loads, you can go to 1/3 of your dog's body weight.

Conditioning your dog to comfortably wear the pack is important for your dog's health. First, put the empty pack on, and adjust it to make sure the pack will be properly positioned on their shoulders and that there is enough room for two of your fingers to be slipped under each strap. When your dog feels comfortable with the pack on, slowly add evenly distributed weight. Start light. Your dog isn't used to having anything on their back. After a few walks or trips around the house with that weight, you can start to slowly condition your dog for a fully loaded pack. Remember to take it in small increments, dogs have the tendency not to show pain or discomfort, so even if they're sore, they will still jump for joy when they see the pack coming out for a walk or hike!

Keep in mind that the pack, when partially or fully loaded, my sit differently on your dog, so be sure to re-check the straps once you have added or removed items in it.

For more information, ordering or to read their testimonies, check out their website at Wolf Packs

Lupine Trail Mix Adjustable Dog Collar & Leash Set

Ok, I'm totally in love with this design. I have the matching leash and key fob that go with the collar. So far, I haven't had any problems with fraying, it's easy to clean and I've gotten many compliments while on the trail. It's very appropriate for the outdoor savvy dog in your family. Not only does Lupine offer a lifetime guarantee on the collar, they have an excellent selection of products for you to choose from, depending on your mood or time of year; they have something for everyone. You seriously can't beat the free replacements for chewed items!

Bark'n Boots Grip Trex by Ruff Wear

Before I get into the review for these boots, which I do love, you have to consider conditioning your dog to be comfortable with wearing them. Not all dogs will let you introduce them to boots and be okay with them right away. It's the same as with the pack, you may have to take it slow and make it a positive experience. This can be stressful and overwhelming if your dog isn't used to things on their feet or are particularly sensitive with their feet. With that being said, let's review!

I really have nothing but positive things to say about these boots. They have saved Adelae's feet from ice and mulch. She doesn't wear them constantly on the trail since it's not really necessary. We only use them if there's ice on the ground or in the snow, since it can harbor icy spears in the dirt that only the soft inside of her feet can feel. Mulch is also a culprit for splinters and injuries, especially with a heavy pack going downhill. They stay on relatively well (as well as boots on a dog can stay on) and it was pretty rare that I had to stop and adjust a boot.

Considering the sizing; I did measure her feet to see what size she should have been and I'm glad that I didn't order them online before a trip and be disappointed and unsure of the correct fit. Measured, Adelae's size would have been between a Medium and Large, but when I went into REI and grabbed a Medium, they were WAY too big for her feet. So a Small was the appropriate size for her (after making multiple trips outside the store to see if they fit her, while Adelae waited patiently in the shade). Because of that, I would suggest fitting your dog well in advance to a trip (as well as getting your dog used to the boots)to avoid any returns or discomfort for your dog due to mis-sized boots.

Friday, March 12, 2010

North Georgia Spring Break

Greetings from Northern Georgia!

Auz, Adelae, and I have had a wonderful week of hiking up here. We arrived last Saturday afternoon and are staying at my future in-laws cabin near Helen. Below is a brief summary of the trails we hiked while on our trip.


Today we drove over and hiked the Tallulah Gorge Rim Trails (3 mi). The North and South Rim Trails were beautiful and allow visitors to view 4 different falls from 10 scenic overlooks from all around the top of the gorge. We were not able to hike the Hurricane Falls Loop Trail down into the gorge as pets are not allowed. That trail has many warning signs since it is a strenuous climb of 1,100 steps.

Tallulah Gorge

We then drove about 10 miles through a beautiful neighborhood of houses on the shores of Lake Rabun to reach the Angel Falls Trailhead. Because Rabun Beach Camp Area was closed this time of year (open April - October), we had to park alongside the road outside the gates. This 1.8 mile trail follows Joe Creek up to Panther and Angel Falls.

Panther Falls

Sunday Night - Old Bavaria Lounge


This was such an excellent find for us. After a relatively long day of trails & exploring downtown Helen, Megan & I were wandering down an alleyway and came across a sign for Happy Hour at the local German Lounge. Being 2 girls that love trying new beer, we took up the offer and headed up a flight of stairs in that alley. We found ourselves in a smoky, German themed bar. We were quickly informed by our wonderful bartender that there was a free appetizer in the rear of the bar (shrimp cocktail, which was actually pretty good). Our bartender was dressed in typical German attire and was incredibly friendly and extremely knowledgeable about her imported German beers. There was nothing on tap, but all of the imports cost about $2.50 because of Happy Hour, how can you not love that? She suggested we try King Ludwig Weissbier (Megan’s favorite), Franziskaner Hefe Weisse (Auz’s favorite) and Erdinger, all of which we enjoyed thoroughly

After a couple of beers, we ordered the potato pancakes, which were perfectly cooked and a good compliment to the beer. After talking to our bartender for about an hour, we found out that she has been to the same Oktoberfest in Lantana, FL that I had been to. Small world! The only downside was that people were allowed to smoke in the bar. Everything else was entertaining, filled with tasty beer and good times.

Helen, GA

Beer Menu at Old Bavaria Lounge


We started off our morning on the Raven Cliff Falls Trail (5 mi). Dodd Creek follows this gorgeous trail for the majority of the time. Parts of the trail were slightly muddy due to the melting snow. Even in the off season, this trail was fairly busy with other hikers and 2 large groups of campers. We saw quite a few gorgeous camping areas along the trail. When we neared Raven Cliff Falls, the trail turned into loose gravel on a steep incline and finding our footing became difficult.

Auz at Raven Cliff Falls

We then drove down the road to the Dukes Creek Falls Trailhead. This 2 mile trail is very popular and quite easy. It follows fairly flat switchbacks down to Duke's Creek Falls where hikers have an option of viewing the spectacular falls from 3 platforms.

Part of Dukes Creek Falls

Our last stop of the day was at Anna Ruby Falls in Unicoi State Park. This 1/2 mile trail runs parallel to the creek and is paved the entire way up as it is a popular tourist attraction. There are 2 viewing platforms under the falls. This is a pet friendly trail and there is a $2/person fee. This trail also connects to Smith Creek Trail (4.8 mi one-way) which we did not have time to do.

Anna Ruby Falls


We had planned on doing a 5-mile portion of the Appalachian Trail today but were unsuccessful in finding the correct road to reach it. We abandoned this idea and headed back over to Unicoi State Park. We hiked the 2.2 mile Bottoms Loop Trail, which was not the most scenic trail we hiked. There was an extraordinary amount of downed trees and just not much to see in general. This trail connects with Helen Trail (3 mi. one-way) which takes you into the town of Helen.

Auz and Adelae on the Bottoms Loop Trail

We then headed over and hiked the flat 2.5 mile Lake Trail. It winds around the 53-acre Unicoi Lake. This hike would be beautiful in the Fall when the leaves are changing color. Adelae was also able to enjoy a quick swim in the lake at the beach.

Unicoi Lake

Megan and a giant tree on the trail

That evening, Auz, Eric (my fiance), and I ate at the Old Bavaria Inn, an authentic German restaurant, in downtown Helen. Auz decided to purchase a 1-Liter boot filled with Warsteiner Beer! The food was delicious but our server was annoyingly eccentric. We were the first patrons in the restaurant and were ecstatic when other people came in to eat so she could bother them instead.

Auz and her boot


Due to the forecast of rain, Auz and I decided to visit a few wineries. We first stopped at Habersham Winery in Helen. Our uninterested server begrudgingly poured us 4 samples each. The wines were okay but not worth purchasing. Our next stop was at Blackstock Winery in Dahlonega. The knowledgeable sommelier told us about his midlife crisis which included quitting his job, hiking 1/2 of the Appalachian Trail and then accepting a position at Lakeridge Winery in Central Florida, which we were both familiar with. He poured us each 8 samples for $10. The wines were dry, but they offered uncommon varieties. Our favorites included the ACE Family Reserve (a red blend), the Cabernet, and the Viognier Reserve. We purchased a bottle of the latter two.

Blackstock Winery

Thursday & Friday

Rain, rain, go away!!! Thursday morning began with rain, which continued until late afternoon. When it finally let up, we took a quick 1 hour walk around the community. This morning we hiked in a light drizzle up to Grimes Nose, one of the tallest mountains in the community. We walked along the road the majority of the way. The trail was covered with slick leaves which made hiking difficult.

Trail up to Grimes Nose

One our way back to the house, the rain picked up and we got back just in time for the afternoon thunderstorms. We are now lounging in the living room with the heat on, writing our very first blog post. Stay tuned for more adventures...

Recommended reading:
50 Hikes In the North Georgia Mountains by Johnny Molloy

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Welcome to our new blog!  You can read a little bit about us and our gear on the left side of the blog!  Basically we are 2 girls and a dog who will periodically be doing backpacking, canoeing, kayaking, and other camping trips as well as reviewing gear.  Before each post we will put the name of whoever is typing so  there is less guesswork on your part.  Happy hiking!