Sonic Boom and Big Sleeping Bag Girl-The Shenanigans Have Begun!
Before leaving for Amicalola Falls State Park I tripled checked everything. My sisters backpack, daughter and husbands packs and my own. Talking to myself like a crazy lady…
Fire starters… CHECK!
Food bags… CHECK!
Wait, where is the toilet paper. Oh, here… CHECK!
Later, no one was happy to find out despite all these checks…I had forgotten the fire starters and toilet paper somehow!
We got everything packed into the Subaru and were on our way to Georgia. We arrived to the state park cabins around 11:00 pm. We were all really excited, anxious and restless that night. I had some business related things to wrap up and ended up not getting to bed until after 2am. Honestly, if I could rewind I would have planned this differently. But live and learn. My advice would be to get a good nights rest before you begin the approach trail. Before we hit the trail, we weighed our packs out front of the visitor center. Mine came in at 36 lbs with 7 days worth of food and 2.5 liters of water. My sisters came in at 33 lbs with 7 days worth of food and 2 liters of water. I was pretty pleased with these starting pack weights. It was a busy morning here. Lots of hikers buzzing around and we got to chat with an older fellow who had been doing sections of the appalachian trail for years now with the end goal of completing it. He was an older man, 65 ish I would say, with a military type pack that weighed in at 55 lbs. He chuckled at his pack weight and turned to chat it up with me. He showed me his guide book which was highlighted with the many sections he has conquered of the trail and asked us our intentions. When he heard I was attempting a thru-hike he generously offered up advice from his many hours logged on the trail. I graciously listened to him and thanked him. We wished him well and made our way into the visitor center for some coffee and to register myself for the thru-hike thinking, holy shit is this real life?!
I waited anxiously in line behind 6 or so other thru-hikers who were also signing the registration log book. First and last name, “trail name”, address, starting point and end point, and beginning pack weight. Then my sister and I whipped out our AT passports and got them stamped. My sisters first stamp in her passport and her first time backpacking, ever! So exciting for her. I had a few stamps in mine from doing sections this summer but was excited to add this stamp and many more to come! After that, we exited the back doors and took some photos alongside the infamous arch to the starting point of the A.T. approach trail.
This technically is not apart of the A.T., it’s a blue blazed trail that is the apart of the Amicalola State Park. Some skip this 8.8 approach trail all together and just begin at the “official” start of the A.T., Springer Mountain. You will see all sorts of debates from hikers online. Some will argue it’s a “right of passage” and not to be skipped. Others say skip it and save your energy for the actual trail. To each there own but I think it should be made the official start of the AT. As challenging as this approach trail was, I am ecstatic I was able to complete it with my daughter, husband and sister. The 600 plus steps are enough to wear you out for the day. But the falls are a beautiful sight to see and a good distraction while hiking up them. After that, we pushed on with the end goal of staying the night at the Black Gap Shelter. I know most people will say that the falls are there personal favorite part of the approach trail, minus the steps. Mine was actually “Frosty Mountain.”
We were pretty tired making our way up these steep switchbacks, but at least it was sunny and fairly warm out. My husband, looking ahead, noticed what he thought was a cloud swallowing the mountain ahead, possibly bringing rain. Shortly after that, we stopped to let two older gentlemen pass by. I am assuming they were father and son. We exchanged hellos and they both mentioned that we were in for some beautiful views shortly. My sister turned to me as they passed and said, “Did you see that guy?! He was like 75 years old!” She was so impressed he was hiking on such a strenuous trail at his age. His face clearly aged with defined wrinkles, he wore a huge smile while he took his time passing by us. We kept moving forward and quickly realized those were not clouds. The peak was entirely iced over and from afar it looked like they were rain clouds. We all kind of looked around at each other and realized these were the views the two older gentlemen had mentioned. My husband blurted out, “and this is why we backpack!” as he quickly moved up the steep incline. My sister has only really done day hikes so I could tell she was impressed with what we had just walked into. It was like walking into Narnia, it was one of those sights you never really forget. As simple as it was, those ice covered branches were beautiful, and most definitely a much rewarded sight after a steep hike up. The sun kept coming in and out and hitting the ice covered trees making them glisten. We all stopped and dropped our packs to enjoy the views and grab a quick snack to refuel. We only stopped for about 15 minutes and once our bodies cooled down, the very cold temperature change on this side of the mountain hit us. It had to be 20 degrees colder, hence the mountains name, frosty mountain. After one last view to take it all in, we excitedly carried on our journey.
My sister and I joked that we felt like we were entering menopause backpacking this time of year. Cold, no hot, no cold, hot. It’s just constant back and forth. We finally rolled into Black Gap Shelter around 4 pm after 600 plus steps and 7.3 miles or so under our feet of steep inclines, switchbacks and menopausal weather. We approached the shelter and saw some packs scattered around the inside but no hikers. I figured they were at the water source refilling. We dropped our packs and we all could not wait to get off our feet for a few minutes. Shortly after, we saw two gentlemen appear from the far side where we passed the water source sign. We greeted each other and asked them about the water source. We were less then thrilled to find out it was far and on the bottom of a steep hill. We picked ourselves back up and I collected our empty bottles with my sister. We made our way to gather water while my husband and daughter decided to setup the tent, we knew it would be dropping into the 20’s tonight.
After camp was setup and water was collected, we started cooking dinner. There was a total of 4 other hikers that night with us at the shelter. We chatted a bit with one of the hikers who told us this was his second attempt at a thru-hike. He attempted it in 2012 and a few months into his journey he ended up getting off due to giving himself kidney stones! Crazy! He informed us that due to his daily diet of tums and ramen, the combination of calcium and sodium actually created the kidney stones. Now he was better prepared and confident that he would be completing the trail this year. He was extremely knowledgeable and provided us with a ton of really great tips. He laughed about the hunger pains and cravings we would soon be getting, mentioned tips to drop ounces, and the different types of people we would come across on this journey. After eating and chatting, the sun was quickly setting and the temperatures dropped. We decided it was best if the four of us pile into the two person tent my husband and daughter were carrying to keep warm.
We laughed and shuffled around, pushing the sleeping pads together to create a big “mattress” we could all share. As we hugged close, keeping each other warm, our ears perked as howls echoed around the camp site. We whispered excitedly that maybe it was a pack of wolves, my husband stated it was most likely a pack of coyotes. I know coyotes are present here and have read trappers mention they have trapped what they are positive was a wolf/coyote hybrid within the mountains here. Before leaving for this trip we had busted my sisters chops that her sleeping bag was gigantic and that her new trail name would be, “huge sleeping bag girl!” On the car ride to GA we also joked that my daughter, Jade, would be named “sonic boom” as she’s extremely loud like myself and sister. Let’s just say none of us were laughing at “huge sleeping bag girl” that night as she was the only one who complained of being hot as it dipped into the 20’s.
After a chilly night, we awoke and debated not moving from our sleeping bags until it warmed up. Slowly but surely, we packed up and made it to the official starting point of the most southern end of the appalachian trail, Spring Mountain. This was it, the start of it all. We were greeted by a few others and an extremely friendly ridge runner named, Tom. He asked who was a registered thru-hiker and gave us all some friendly tips about bear canisters, the shelters and mostly encouraged us to have fun!
At this point my husband and daughter were still with us. We were informed that .9 miles into the trail there was a parking lot off of the forest service road where they could most likely hitch a ride back down the mountain to our car instead of back tracking the approach trail. Fortunately, everyone was right and they were able to hitch a ride back down with a mother who was dropping off her daughter and friend from Texas to start there thru-hike. The lot was packed with a good amount of thru-hikers getting dropped off. After a lot of hugs and kisses for my husband and daughter, my sister and I grabbed our packs and waved goodbye as we got back onto the trail. We did it. We conquered the approach trail which we all debated doing, we survived our first freezing cold night, and were officially on the appalachian trail. My first breakdown, footwear malfunctions, my sisters blister feet and much more to come in the next updates.
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Cool, That was quit an adventure before the trail. Hope you all make it thru. would be pretty cool to hike it all. Don’t forget to stop and enjoy the views, fresh air, and quiet.
FUN!!!! Keep us updated Following along 🙂
I’m the old guy at the BIG RED BARN that gave ya’ll a ride back to Carvers Gap. Hope you guys have a GREAT Adventure and will be on the trail myself next month! Woot!!!