Victor’s AT Hike: First five days

Day 1: Amicalola Falls – Springer Mountain

Flower photo of the day:
Flame Azalea, Rhododendron calendulaceum,
Heath Family (Ericaceae)
What an outrageous orange to greet us on the first day of hiking! Though the common name is a bit of a misnomer, you can find this beautiful azalea in dry upland forests up to PA. Recent research shows that this species is pollinated by butterfly wings rather than bees or other insects.

Miles hiked today: 7.1
Total AT miles hiked: 0.2
AT miles to go: 2,194.0

Wow! We finally made it to the AT Approach Trail in Amicalola State Park! Jody and Kinder (trail name) met us at the Atlanta airport just yesterday.  We stayed at their place in Blairsville just a couple of miles from the AT.  This was a long-arranged reunion (Peace Corps Paraguay for three of us) that we had in between sorting food bags for resupply points, and packing and repacking our backpacks.  We’re really grateful to Jody and Kinder’s hospitality, and willingness to resupply us along about 150 miles of the trail. Kinder recently completed section hiking the AT, belongs to several local hiking groups, and seems to have a photographic knowledge of AT shelters and the people she met along the way. She was our trail archangel!

I registered my thru hike at the Amicalola visitor annex, the main visitor center was closed due major reconstruction. I got a bright red AT tag with number 3226. After obligatory photos under the arch over the beginning of the Approach Trail, Kinder drove us up to the Amicalola Lodge to get started. This way we wouldn’t have to climb the dreaded 600-plus steps next to the falls.

It was still almost a seven-mile climb to the top of Springer Mountain, the southern end of the AT. It was a beautiful clear warm day and we didn’t mind the effort.

There were ten or so tents already set up in designated spots around the unremarkable Springer Mountain Shelter just down from the summit. Crowded! We picked spot no. 15, well away from others. Then two good omens visited our campsite. A scarlet tanager perched right above for a long while, then a wood thrush sung until it grew dark. We were off to a good start.

View of the Day: Sunset over Springer

Day 2: Springer Mountain Shelter – Somewhere near Justus Creek

Miles hiked today: 13.1
Total AT miles hiked: 13.3
AT miles to go: 2,180.5

Flower photo of the day:
Pink Lady’s Slipper, Cypripedium acaule,
Orchid Family (Orchidaceae)
We found a couple of dozen of these beauties by a campsite near Long Creek Falls. Sometimes referred to as moccasin orchid or Venus’ slipper, this orchid can be found throughout eastern North America, and is the state flower of NH. According to a University of Maine fact sheet, this orchid is associated with a specific fungus that provides it with nutrients.

We had planned to hike to Black Gap Shelter, about six miles for our first full day of AT hiking, but we got there early in the afternoon and decided to press on, in part to get ahead of Friday’s rain forecast.

We passed Long Creek Falls and met someone there who hiked from Alabama in the Pinhoti Trail, and planned to go south to Springer to start hiking north on the AT. Beautiful pink lady slipper orchids near a campsite. We also managed to get good looks at a hooded warbler and a blue-headed warbler and matched their distinctive songs to the each. The 10×25 Zeiss monocular that I has brought along at the last minute for bird watching proved to be nearly useless. The field of view was too small, and by the time I located the branch that the bird was perched on, it was long gone. We didn’t see any good camping spots so we pressed on to Cooper Gap, where there were flat areas for camping, but they were all in view of the Forest Service road. We pressed on in search of a flat spot, when Brooke was surprised and delighted to see a small bear digging in the side of the trail a ways a head. It darted down the hill when it heard her, and moved even faster when she tooted her bear whistle. We finally found a tent spot just before Justus Creek. We completed 13.1 miles and my dogs were barking!

View of the day: Twinkletoes on Sassafras Mountain

Day 3: Somewhere near Justus Creek – Woody Gap

Total miles hiked today: 7.2
Total AT miles hiked: 20.5
AT miles to go: 2,173.6

Flower photo of the day:
Yellow Lady’s Slipper, Cypripedium pubescens, Orchid Family (Orchidaceae)
We hit the jackpot! Not only pink, but yellow lady’s slippers, which are rarer. And indeed, protected, so please don’t pick or disturb them if you find them. These orchids “trick” their bee or other insect pollinators into thinking the have nectar with a double row of maroon dots on the inside of the “slipper,” but instead they get swatted on the rear by the flower’s anther, and leave with pollen when they exit. Read about this fascinating process at:

We got off to a relatively early start at 8:45., But it started raining by 9:30. Then there was a deluge at 10:00! But o ur Gossamer Gear backpack umbrellas worked well. But we got a chance to dry out at Gooch Mountain shelter which came along just in time. I wore my rain jacket anyway, which was like wearing both a belt and suspenders. Later, I sent the rain jacket home. No views today. But we found a small clump of gorgeous yellow lady’s slipper orchids. Then our trail archangel, Kinder, picked us up and took us back to her place for the evening.

View of the day: After the rain near Ramrock Mountain

Day 4: Neel Gap – Woody Gap

Miles hiked: 10.8
Total AT miles: 31.3
AT miles left to go: 2162.9

Flower photo of the day:
Large-flowered Trillium, Trillium grandiflorum, Lilly Family (Lilliaceae)
We walked large swaths of these large-flowered trilliums, which first bloom white and then fade to pink. They are a key to making the spring flush of wildflowers in eastern forests so beautiful.

This was a mini southbound flip-flop day! Neel Gap (2163’ elev.) is only a couple miles from our Trail Angel’s place, so it was convenient to go SoBo here. It was also a chance to try out “slack packing,” which meant that we could hike the day with only our daypacks since Kinder would pick us up again at the end of the day. What a luxury!

It was a cool, cloudy morning. After a quick look through Mountain Crossings, the complete outfitter at Neel Gap, we hiked 2.4 mi up to the top of Blood Mountain (4459’ elev.). The CCC built Blood Mountain Shelter in 1934 right at the top of the mountain. The shelter is made of stone, but its  fireplace had been walled up, so it was a bit dank and dreary inside. There were no views as we ate our lunch of flat bread, reconstituted humus, peanut butter, apples and gorp. By then it had started to drizzle, but I was surprised to see a horse chestnut tree just starting to bloom behind the shelter. It was a long downhill hike to Lance Creek, passing Duncan Ridge Trail, Slaughter Creek Trail, Woods Hole shelter, and other way points. Some of the forest along the way had many huge tulip trees – an indication that this was once all farm land long ago. From Lance Creek we climbed back up in elevation to Big Cedar Mountain and Preaching Rock before reaching Woody Gap again. Hikers that had tented near Woody Gap the night before reported that it was like a sleeping in a wind tunnel.

The AT passes right through the woodshed of the outfitter building at Neel Gap

View of the day: Looking south from Preaching Rock

Day 5: Neel Gap – Hog Pen Gap

Miles hiked: 6.9
Total AT miles: 38.2
AT miles left to go: 2162.9


Flower photo of the day:
Toadshade Trillium, Trillium sessile, Lilly Family (Lilliaceae)
I love the name of this trillium with variegated leaves. It is especially found in deep woods and you won’t find it up north.

This was another slack pack day and a short hike, only 6.9 miles, thanks to our Trail Angel. It turned into a nice day, especially when we hiked through clumps of white, pink, and red trilliums. We did pass through some ferocious fields of poison ivy, though – making us want to stay exactly right on the trail. We had a short, but tough climb up Wildcat Mountain (3675’ elev.) then a downhill drop to Hogpen Gap where we were glad to see Kinder once again waiting for us. Our first five days, including the Approach Trail, completed about 45 miles total. That’s an average of 9 miles per day. Not bad for getting our trails into shape.

View of the day:
From Cowrock Mountain

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Comments 3

  • Paul : May 17th

    Photos and comments work just as well as long winded paragraphs…Hike yer own hike! Best to you on your adventure…

  • Lynne Jones : May 29th

    Loving every word and photo and looking forward to the next installment! Way to go!

  • Susan Fifer Canby : Jun 2nd

    Feel like you are taking this adventure for us all. Love your flower photos and descriptions. Proud to know you Victor. Hugs.


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