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
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:
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
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
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.