After a slow start getting out of the Amicalola Lodge with my parents, we made our way down to the visitor center to get me registered. I officially became hiker #541 with a bag weight of 26.2 lbs. Seeing the arch in person for the first time was exciting and nerve wracking, and after taking the requisite pictures, my dad and I started up the approach trail.
The difficulty of the stairs up the falls had been hyped to me by a few different people, but after only 30 quick minutes we were at the top of the falls looking down at the amazing view.
The view of Amicalola falls from the bottom
Up the approach trail we went, mostly quiet, which gave me a lot of thinking time. I tried to not focus on the magnitude of the hike before me, just thinking about the first few days and getting to Neels Gap. The trail was very quiet with only a few small birds besides the sounds of the hikers that we would pass. Soon enough we reached the top of Springer where my mom met up with us, more pictures were taken, and then we headed down the other side of Springer in a light sprinkle. The last mile to the parking lot went quickly and we hopped in the car to drive back to the lodge for one more shower and night of sleep in a bed.
The plaque at the top of Springer
We woke up pretty late again and after packing and eating breakfast, didn’t get out of the lodge until around 11 am. The drive to the Springer mountain parking lot felt a lot longer today most likely due to the increasing nerves I was feeling, and it wasn’t until almost noon that we got back to the parking lot, said our goodbyes, and I started off alone. This late start turned out to be lucky because it had rained pretty steadily all the previous night and most of the morning, but by the time I got on trail all that was left was a thick fog and occasional light mist. Those first miles are gorgeous; mountainous creeks surrounded by rhododendron, mountain laurel, and hemlock glades.
A very pretty creek in the misty afternoon
There were a lot of other thru hikers out, even though it was still February. When I got to Hawk Mountain shelter for lunch around 2 pm the shelter was full and there were already 5 tents set up, and this isn’t even the hiker bubble! After leaving Hawk Mountain shelter I was definitely feeling a bit tired, and coming down a hill I took my first (but definitely not last) fall of the hike, but made it another 2.5 miles to Horse Gap. I started the big climb after Horse Gap but stopped just a few steps up, knowing that I was done for the day, and instead found a spot to set up my tent. It was only 4:30 which felt pretty early, but my legs were worn out.
My first night of sleep out on the trail was predictably rough. I definitely need a little more practice with my quilt and pad straps because I kept getting cold spots, would fumble around with all the cords and clips, and I woke up with a bad crick in my neck. I got going and slowly tackled the first climb I had been too tired to do the previous night, and soon enough I was cruising along.
One of the many lovely views of the day
The woods were very quiet but sunny and warm and I was the only person I saw for a long time. I got my first trail magic when walking through a gap and crossing a parking area. A woman who was car camping while her son thru hiked offered me some fresh water from a jug she had, which I gladly accepted. I stopped for an early lunch at the large Gooch Gap Shelter and then continued on. Even though it was only my second day without a shower, I can definitely understand why people say deodorant is useless out here, and I was definitely starting to smell ~funky~ . After crossing the Woody Gap parking lot and entering the Blood Mountain Wilderness I started looking for a big mountain that I could identify as Blood Mountain, which I would be climbing tomorrow, but although I saw some pretty big hills I didn’t spot it. I felt surprisingly fresh during the afternoon and made it to the Lance Creek Campground around 3:45, finishing my 13.4 mile day. I still felt fresh enough to keep going, but this is the last official campsite before the start of the required bear canister carry section, so I had no choice but to stop. I soaked my feet in the cold creek by the campsite, made Mac n cheese for dinner, and fell asleep listening to the sound of the nearby creek.
I slept way better the second night than I had the first, and woke up ready to go. My legs on the other hand took a while to get warmed up, and I felt like a sloth trudging up the first few hills. There are only 7 miles between Lance Creek camp site and Neel’s Gap, but they’re pretty daunting. The trail goes almost completely up until reaching the top of Blood Mountain, before heading steeply down to Neel’s Gap. But with a shower, sandwich, and laundry waiting at Mountain Crossings it was full speed ahead. Finally about a mile before Jarrard Hap I rounded a hill and saw what was definitely Blood Mountain, it was tall and imposing! But nothing to do but keep trucking. And honestly… it wasn’t that bad. Maybe I’d let the elevation charts and past blog posts about the climb intimidate me, but it didn’t feel any steeper or longer than any of the climbs in the past couple days. The view was awesome, and there was a large group of hikers milling around the top and exploring the old stone building.
The building at the top of Blood Mountain
The hike down felt steeper than the hike up, but after a little while I started seeing the road and made my way to Mountain Crossings to resupply. The resupply felt harried, with planning how many meals I would need, remembering to grab more toilet paper, taking a shower, and doing laundry, but it all got done. My pack felt twice as heavy heading out of Neel’s Gap, but I hauled it another few miles to a nice campsite along a ridge. Seven other hikers ended up camping in the same area, and I finally started meeting some of my fellow hikers. A nice campfire kept us warm while we cooked dinner and talked until the sun set.
I woke up pretty early and after packing up quickly was off for what was going to be my biggest day yet, 14.2 to the Blue Mountain Shelter. The first couple miles were pretty rough, but soon the trail leveled out and I was feeling pretty good. Around mid morning I was walking along a pretty flat section when something large skittered out from almost right under my feet. I let out a little yell and looked at what at first glance looked like a big lizard. But after getting my head together, I realized it was an American Woodcock, so well camouflaged I could barely make it out even after it had moved.
Don’t worry it’s not a big lizard, it’s a woodcock
I stopped for lunch about 7 miles in at Low Gap Shelter, and most of the hikers I’d camped with last night and a bunch of new faces were also stopped there for lunch. I had a tortilla with peanut butter and honey and a couple meat sticks for lunch and then hit the trail again pretty quickly. As the afternoon wore on the trail got rougher, with large rocky patches and some steeper climbs. The last couple miles felt rough, and I slowly made my way to the water source before the shelter to refill my bottles. I’d seen a lot of people during the second half of the day, and once I got to the shelter I was disappointed to see that the shelter was full and there were about 10 tents already set up with little space left for mine. After wandering the tent sites for a bit I made the snap decision to keep going down to Unicoi Gap and possibly find a stealth site to camp for the night. Unicoi gap was another 2.4 miles, but mostly downhill, and once I started going I caught my second (or third, maybe fourth) wind of the day and headed down in less than an hour. Unfortunately I didn’t see any good tent sites along the route down, but I did start talking with another hiker who said he had a hotel room reserved in Haiwassee for the night. I hadn’t planned on going into town so early, but with no good places to tent at the end of my longest day (16.8 miles at that point), it seemed like that’s what I was doing. I was still feeling positive despite all of the changes in my plans, and I felt even better upon getting here down to Unicoi Gap and receiving more trail magic, a can of soda, from some former thru hikers. I positioned myself along the road next to the guy I had hiked down with and started trying to hitch a ride into town, which worked after just a couple minutes. My first hitch on trail came from an awesome lady who paraglides in her free time, and she was super cool to talk to during the ride. Soon enough we pulled into the holiday inn, and I was able to shower, close the black out curtains, and hit the niiiiiice soooooft bed.
Even though I was sleeping in a comfy bed, I still woke up early, around 6 am. I lazed around a bit then went out and filled up a plate from the hotel breakfast buffet. I took care of some small chores like doing laundry in the sink and cleaning off my tent footprint before packing everything up and heading out. It only took a couple minutes to get a hitch back out to Unicoi Gap, and by 9:30 I was starting the steep climb up Rocky Mountain and then the even steeper Tray Mountain. I’d meant for today to be a slightly easier day after going so far yesterday, but between these two big climbs it didn’t feel much easier. By mid afternoon I was feeling pretty tired, and the warm weather (in the high 60’s) wasn’t helping. My goal was the Addis Gap camp site, but after looking at FarOut I realized that the water source was almost a half mile down a side trail. Someone had commented in the app that there was nice camping down by the water, so I continued down the trail with my pack. The campsite was nice, with a fire pit already set up with wood next to it, and a creek close by. I soaked my sore feet in the creek for a while and then got the fire going while cooking my dinner. As the sun went down the coyotes started to howl, adding a spooky sound to the other nature background noises.
The sunrise from my solo camp site
I woke up nice and early after a pretty good night of sleep, and quickly got underway. Before my earlier change in plans caused me to stay in the hotel, I had reserved to spend the night at the Hostel Around the Bend tonight, which was only 6 miles away from where I was starting. Even though I was just in a hotel I certainly wasn’t complaining about getting more showers than I expected. With only a few miles to go my plan was to take my time more than I had been so far. I hiked a side trail out to see the Powell Mountain vista, and then paused again at a little bench next to where a creek tumbles down some rocks labeled Carnes Cascade.
Even so, I was down to the hostel by 11:30 and able to claim a bunk, shower, laundry, and resupply during the rest of the day.
Tomorrow I’ll be hitting the trail again and headed out of Georgia and into North Carolina.
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