Starting the AT in Georgia (April 17)

I first hiked the Appalachian Trail northbound in 2017.  That was a great experience, so good that it led to other long distance backpacking trips in years to follow.

Life out on a trail is not perfect, but it offers a lot of things that I particularly value these days: a truly intimate experience of the outdoors and the weather, day in and day out (I usually value that ha), a great sense of freedom and adventure, an opportunity to practice self-reliance and independence, a shifting of gratitude for the small things, and the opportunity to meet other backpackers who have chosen the same kind of journey for the summer.

I can never know how many of these trips are in my future, but after considering some other options for this summer, revisiting the trail where I first learned to long-distance backpack seemed the most appealing.  Back to where it all began.  I’m curious about what my experience and perceptions will be, coming back to the AT seven years older than the last time I hiked this trail.

I hold myself to no hard expectations for the trip, beyond hiking the southern half of the AT again, up to the halfway point in PA, and then deciding whether to continue further north or not.  We will see what the journey holds in store.   


April 17.  

I traveled to the Appalachian Trail approach trail at Amicalola Falls State Park via a series of steps: train to Philadelphia, flight to Atlanta, overnight stay in Atlanta, public transit to a specified meeting point in front of an outdoors store in Atlanta suburbs, then transport via shuttle driver to the trailhead at the state park.  

I was the first hiker to arrive at the outdoors store.  As I ate a breakfast bar, another hiker, “Tenacity”, walked up and started chatting.  I learned some of her story- that she’s been doing trails back to back the past few years, after a bike accident that left her wondering how much function she’d regain.  She regained quite a bit of function, and was so determined that she went on to hike the PCT, CDT and now was starting the AT.  It was nice to meet another hiker who had done multiple trails, and share stories about places we both knew along those trails.

Another hiker, “Miles”, rounded out our group.  He was quite kind- a young, gentle British hiker with a measured enthusiasm and unassuming nature.  He had just finished saying that the weather that morning was “quite nice, lovely really”, and I was thinking that he was like someone off the cast of the Great British Bake Off, when a young American hiker rolled up with loud expressions, “Yo yo y’all, what’s up?!  We’re gonna *&c@ hike this trail!!  You ready for this?!?”

It’s always interesting who you meet on that first day, especially if you meet again further down the trail and those first impressions are challenged.


Eventually the shuttle driver arrived to pick up those of us who had signed up with him.  We chatted on the drive up to Amicalola Falls.  Miles asked the driver if the Amicalola stairs were closed, “at the minute?”  Later, “Has it been quite stormy?  Is that likely to continue, do you think?”  The shuttle driver felt that it is stormy nearly every day lately, which wasn’t what we wanted to hear as we set off.

We arrived at the state park, paid the shuttle driver, and took a photo together.  I approached the famous archway, and a group of women sitting there took an initial photo for me.  They said, “Please be safe”, and cheered as I headed up the trail.  

I gradually made my way up the mountain to the steps of Amicalola Falls.  The hundreds of initial wooden steps up the falls are known among hikers as being a tough start to the hike.  They also were pretty neat- a series of steps and platforms built up right beside the falls, with a pretty view of Georgia mountains in springtime from the top. 

The first part of the afternoon hiking felt tough to me- tougher than the gently rolling start from Springer Mountain that I chose the first time I came through here.  (The official start to the AT is from Springer Mountain, but many hikers choose to start at a point approximately 8 miles further south at Amicalola Falls State Park, as it is easier to access than remote Springer Mountain.)  I felt better when I noticed that we were hiking at 3000-4000’ elevation, a bit higher than my low elevation home area.  Throughout the afternoon I took snack breaks and either passed or was passed by a few other hikers.   


The trail was a dirt path in the woods lined with violets, skunk cabbage, mayapples, maples, galax, and rhododendron.  I could have been at home hiking in a similar scene, but there’s something magical and motivating about knowing that I’m on a path that stretches all the way to Maine.

My pack felt pretty heavy.  At home, as I had packed, I’d failed to remember what it’s like out here and packed two sporks in case I lose one, and even two books for the airport, figuring I’d tough it out and carry them a while.  I’ll have to slim down my pack the next time I get to town.  It’s good to be easy- going, but extra weight starts to annoy you when you’re carrying it on your back all day.  


I caught up to Miles during a light rain.  We laughed about rain on day one, and the usual conundrum of putting on a raincoat and sweating in it, or not.  It’s always a toss up as to whether it’s worth it.  The second part of the day felt like easier hiking, more rolling.  We took a break at a shelter during the rain, set off again, hiked up Springer Mountain and took photos at the official terminus plaque, then walked into the Springer Mountain shelter and started our dinners (ramen in my case).

It was chilly with the rain for a few hours, but then the rain had subsided once we arrived at the shelter.  I ate my hot meal, and we chatted with Chelsea the Ridge Runner (a seasonal position to monitor the hikers and advocate for responsible hiking and Leave No Trace ethics). 

Chelsea was great in her position, offering helpful tips to hikers who had questions, but avoiding lecturing anyone.  She also answered my question about why we had seen an old Ford Model style vehicle decomposing in the forest near Amicalola Falls State Park.  Per Chelsea, this area has a history of profiting from moonshine, and vehicles were often adapted to outrun law enforcement on the windy mountain roads.  Incidentally, the birth of Nascar down here.

So on this night I camped at mile 0.0 at Springer Mountain Shelter.  As I lay in my tent, a barred owl called into the evening, a pretty, haunting sound.

It was a good day with good company and the satisfaction of getting started on a long hike.  I look forward to a full day out here, starting tomorrow.   

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