Frosty Mountain to Gooch Gap Shelter
I didn’t pick the names.
I woke up at 5:30 Monday morning after a full eight hours of sleep. Surprisingly, I felt no soreness from the previous day’s five-mile uphill jaunt. I lay in my sleeping bag until 8, packed up my gear, and made quick work of the 3.5 miles to the top of Springer Mountain. During a brief rest, I met a former Marine, Marvin, who informed me that he was the 200th thru-hiker to sign in back at the Amicalola Falls Visitor Center. According to thru-hikers I met the following day, 2020 is shaping up to be another record year. Bill Bryson is solely to blame.
After departing the summit at 11, it took an hour to cover the distance to Hawk Mountain Shelter. I spent a good three hours talking to a number of hikers about their paths to attempting a thru-hike. Most were recently retired, another had lost his wife, and most interesting was a father-son duo who had been planning their trip for a few years but were held up until the latter graduated from high school.
After contemplating sticking around for the night, five miles seemed far too light of a day. I walked out at 3 and rolled into Stover Creek Shelter, eight miles up the trail, just as light was fading. The shelter full, I set up my tarp 100 yards away just as rain started to fall.
Had I packed my bivy, it would have been a miserable night, but the Hexamid did its job, as advertised, and kept me dry. Though dry, I didn’t get much sleep. Back home, my evening routine involves downing 150mg of diphenhydramine about an hour before bed. Without it, my mind will wander until I’m either bored to sleep or the 4:30 alarm goes off. I figured that walking a half-marathon through the mountains would offset the need for drugs, but I seem to have figured wrong.
At 11 a.m. the next day, rain still falling, I gathered my things into my pack and set out for Gooch Mountain Shelter, nine miles farther. Two miles into the hike I found myself at Horse Gap. I’d remembered this place well. It’s the starting point of an 800-foot ascent up Sassafras Mountain. On a clear day there’s a fairly nice view, but on a rainy day, it’s little more than, in hiker parlance, a pointless up and down. On the descent from Sassafras sits Cooper Gap. Aside from the AT, the two gaps also just happen to be connected by a fairly level Forest Service road. I’m normally a hiking purist—I never cut switchbacks, and with rare exception do I take shortcuts. Today was a rare exception.
When I returned to the trail at Cooper Gap, I ran into an ultralight hiker heading south. Trashalope, who thru-hiked the PCT in 2019 and the AT in 2018, was now on a 60-mile route known as the Georgia Loop. He’s covering those 60 miles in just two days. It’s a warmup for a couple of hikes he’s undertaking this year, the Arizona and Colorado trails, before attempting the Continental Divide Trail (CDT).
The CDT, along with the AT and PCT, are collectively known as the Triple Crown of hiking. They stretch a combined 8,000 miles. A few people have managed to hike (or run) all three in a single calendar year.
After five minutes comparing notes on future hikes, we exchanged contact info and continued on in opposite directions.
The thru-hiking community is still relatively small. If you’ve spent a significant amount of time on a handful of the nation’s scenic trails, it’s not uncommon to have one or two degrees of separation from everyone else in the community. The pool gets significantly smaller when you account for those who have thru-hiked two or more long-distance trails. Notably, a smaller portion of these hikers have recently transitioned into the crazy world of ultramarathons. These hikers are now dominating 50- and 100-mile races.
Although I got a late start, bypassing Sassafras allowed me to cover the eight miles in under three hours. Resting in the rain isn’t a whole lot of fun. I arrived at Gooch Gap Shelter around 2 and opted to roll out my sleeping bag for the night.
I finished off my fourth box of Girl Scout cookies, took an uncomfortable, yet satisfying, cold dip in a nearby stream to wash off two days worth of salt and stench, and crawled into my bag very, very early. I’ve missed this lifestyle dearly.
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