Expectations Meet Reality: My First Leg on Trail
And so my journey begins…
I have completed my first leg of the trail! Here’s how I plan to update throughout each posting. I’ll break it down by day number, from where to where, describe day and night events to include dinner since that’s my one hot meal each day, and mileage milestones. With all that said, LFG!!!
Day One Base of Falls to Springer Mtn Shelter (10.3mi)
Day: Approach Trail to Springer mountain. Started stairs after a quick picture at 715am. Missed a blaze and wound up at the Hike Inn which added another 2mi to my initial day. Approach Trail was challenging with some good climbs up to Springer. I only saw a handful of people on the trail at various points. I made it to Springer Mtn Shelter before 1200pm. 4x other people showed up and we all decided to use the shelter due to bad storms rolling through. Chicken Gumbo for the first dinner.
Night: Good thing we stayed in the shelter because it was a biblical downpour. We all stayed dry and my gear was perfect. Nemo Tensor pad, EE Revelation quilt and down booties from ZPacks are on point! Temp was 43. Woke up to a cold, fog and cloud covered morning with a ton of standing water, but I was dry and warm. The small stream near the campsite became a raging creek due to the amount of rain. Departed Springer Mtn shelter around 0900. Met Ridge Runners Tom and Moxy. Both had great info. Pick their brains!
Mileage milestones: 1,5,10
Day Two: Springer Mtn Shelter to Hawk Mtn Shelter (8.2mi)
Day: The trail down the mountain is extremely rocky with lots of roots and had become a stream with all the rain. No use in trying to keep your feet dry as it was still drizzling as well. The weather remained cold and drizzly with cloud cover/fog for the majority of the morning. After descending almost to 1200ish ft, you start the climb up Hawk Mtn. It was mixed with straight steep ascents, few switchbacks and runs along a ridge. Once exposed near the top, the winds really picked up and it started to sleet/snow. You pass the Hawk campsite first prior to the actual shelter. I made it to the shelter around 1200pm. There was a group of boy scouts on an overnight trip and trail names Unicorn and Really Not That Ultra Lighweight (RNTUL). Both have completed other thru-hikes and RNTUL has his own Youtube channel, Happiest Known Time. Give him a follow! They were eating lunch getting ready to depart to Gooch Shelter. I set up my tent, relaxed and waited for the others who were at Springer the night prior to arrive. For dinner I had Good to Go pasta marinara and mixed in a smoked salmon packet. It was so cold and windy everyone went to their tent after eating.
Night: Cold, windy night. Bitter cold. Wind sounded like a loud constant jet engine in the background. When it got louder from a specific direction, a bad gust would sweep across the campsite. Heard branches breaking in and around camp. Temp was low of 23 “felt like” 15. I stayed warm all night. Slept in my sleep clothes with Zpack booties and no socks. Kept these items with me under the quilt: my socks from that day (to dry them out), electronics (iPhone, solar charger) and my filter (to keep it from freezing). Once again, EE Revelation quilt, Nemo Tensor pad, and Zpack booties-ON POINT. Met Ridge runner trail name Studmuffin. Cool dude and great to chat with!
Mileage Milestone: 15
Day Three: Hawk Mtn Shelter to Gooch Mtn Shelter (7.6mi)
Day: I woke up to frost on my quilts footbox from the cold. Sassafras Mtn was a little challenging. The majority of climbs are steep ascents almost straight up the mountain. I filled up with a full bottle of water prior to leaving Hawk and ran out going up Sassafras. There is almost no water points between the two. Descents are always tricky. Lots of roots, loose rocks, and two foot or bigger drops sometimes. We crossed a few major roads today and I have started to see a lot more people on trail. Even some locals and military. I reached the shelter around 1230pm, met a triple crowner (trail name G-bird) and Lumberjack who has completed the CDT and a bunch of other long trails out west. This is G-birds second time on the AT and she’s going to Harpers Ferry with Lumberjack. They both gave great advice: Change out inserts if your insteps start to hurt, look at different nutrition options, if there’s something in your pack you haven’t touched in 5x days-dump it, if you’re thinking of quitting take a 3x zero day and regain focus.
Several more people showed up throughout the afternoon and at dinner we received our first trail magic! Oso and Big Sky (2020 AT alumni) brought us Gatorade and sodas. They reminisced telling their highs and lows of the trail as we asked questions and advice. It’s amazing to see trail magic this early and we were all sincerely grateful. For dinner I went full on Gordon Ramsey. Good to Go Mushroom Risotto, and I chopped up beef, bison, and venison jerky bars and added them in. Little salt and pepper-it was truly chefs kiss. Today was a good day.
Night: As I was journaling for the day, I heard the strangest animal sounds moving through camp. Found out it was a flock of barn owls. They were LOUD and felt like they were right at or above my tent. I was not venturing out to investigate and eventually they trailed off into the distance.
Mileage Milestones: 20,25
Day Four: Gooch Mountain Shelter to Woods Hole Shelter (12.3mi)
Day: Started off with Waffle House and tons of other trail magic at Gooch Gap. Was also able to dump all my food trash. For some reason that felt so good. Grabbed a Yuengling for summit of Blood Mtn tomorrow. I decided I’ll drink a beer on each highest point of each state along the AT. Hit more trail magic at Woody Gap! Twice in one day. Paul trail name Rainman had a huge setup. Ate some pickle spears and a plate of BBQ pork then headed on. I saw a SOBO who was finishing! Trail name Stitches and his dog trail name Little Bear. He had some great stories about hiking the Whites in the winter. Made it to Woods Hole Shelter in the early afternoon. Halfway up Blood Mtn was the last climb of the day and it’s a good one. Hikers beware-Woods Hole shelter is .5mi off trail and the only water source is in the middle (.25mi from camp). Good to go Smoked Three Bean Chili for dinner and I added in two packets of bison jerky along with three salt packets to help replace what I lost today. Today was 12.3mi and my body felt great.
Night: Smaller group tonight as most from Gooch yesterday were pushing to Neels Gap or Blood Mtn Cabins. We chatted around dinner and swapped adventure stories learning more about each other. Neels Gap is so close you can hear vehicles in the distance. That’s the first time I’ve heard vehicles since I started and I noted how strange it was to hear them. Today was another great day.
Mileage Milestones: 30, 35
All in all a great first few days. Really happy with my gear choices. Body feels good and still keeping my mileage low. My next post will recap my summit day and zero day. Thanks for following along and happy hiking!
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I love the daily grind of camping, you’re writing makes me feel like I’m out in the woods ?. Subscribed and following!
Great synopsis of the early trail days! Have a great trek!
Absolutely killing it out there! Thanks for the updates.
Great write-up. Feels like I’m on the trail with you, looking forward to May.
Thank you for your service, Steven, from a fellow Army veteran. I’m looking forward to reading your blogs, as I am considering a SOBO section hike this fall. I’m sure you’ve been told, and more than likely read, that Franklin, NC is a fantastic trail town, and they have a very good outfitters store there. It also has its own bar, which is a nice gathering place, although I’m not sure if it will be open when you get there. By that, I mean I’m not sure if it’s more of a seasonal spot. But the town is great, and worth the stop. Good luck!
trash dump = under appreciated miracle
I’ve hiked the GA section of the AT twice and loved it. You might want to visit “The Hollow.” It’s a half-mile downhill to the right when you reach Addis Gap (base of Kelly Knob). Private, peaceful little camp spot with water. (Tell the critters “Omoo” sent you.) Kelly is steep & long, & best to hit in early morn.
(I remember Ridgerunner “Moxy.” She took my photo at Springer, start of my 2021-22 thru.)
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