Trail Update #1: Small miles, big memories!
Philip and I have been on the trail for 4 nights and days. So far, it has been a wild ride and I am loving (almost) every moment.
My fabulous aunt and uncle hauled us to the Springer Mountain parking lot on a beautiful, sunny day. We stayed overnight in Helen, GA which is a little Bavarian town. The drive from Helen to Springer is not for the faint of heart or the weak of stomach. Dirt roads, hairpin turns, and seemingly endless miles really made the ride difficult.
A friendly ridgerunner greated us and made sure we knew LNT and had a trash bag. We took pictures with family and promptly took off the trail toward Springer. Unsolicited advice: if you can, have someone watch your pack in the parking lot and slack pack up/down Springer. You will have plenty of time with it, you won’t miss it for 1.8 miles. (Only do this if you have someone you know/trust).
The top of Springer was clear, beautiful, and busy. I signed the log, and we took back off down the mountain. Early on, we stopped at a trail magic spot with hotdogs, cupcakes, and drinks provided by some angels from Atlanta. I never expected to run into such good luck my first day.
We hiked an easy 7.4 miles to Hawk Mountain campground, found a lovely site (water was a long walk), and fell asleep by 6:00 pm. I am happy to report the two-person Big Agnes tent was plenty comfortable for the two of us.
I woke up while it was still dark, and I mean DARK. We tore down camp at at leisurely pace and headed out by 9:30 AM toward Gooch Mountain Shelter. Unlike the first day, the second day was unexpectedly hard. Sassafras Mountain followed by Justus Mountain kicked my butt. There was a lot of huffing-and-puffing, swearing, and ‘why isn’t there level ground?’
Around 3 pm, we rolled into the shelter which was very busy. The ridgerunner suggested a spot 1.5 miles down the road, but I was happy to find a cramped, uneven spot just where I was. Philip and I joined the crowd around the picnic table to make dinner. There were people of all ages and from all walks of life, and the conversation was great.
A note about privies: they don’t have doors, they are slightly stinky, and absolutely easier than digging a hole. Don’t expect much modesty/privacy.
We woke up to the cacophony of zippers and voices at 6:45 AM. Shelter areas are loud, but it is fun to see all the other people going about their routines. I ate a package of organic Raspberry pop tarts from Whole Foods topped with peanut butter (delicious, but pricey).
We hiked a short distance to Gooch Gap where we encountered trail magic from 2016 hikers Silly and Longspoon. They took our trash, let us charge up, fed us pancakes, and gave us fresh coffee. It was a miracle on a brisk morning.
The hike to Woody Gap was a breeze. After that, a ridgerunner told me that water is dry between Lance Creek and Neel’s Gap, so I hauled 3 liters with me (not happily) to Jarrard Gap.
Along the way, we found a couple whose hiking style matched ours, so we stuck together. We got to Jarrard Gap, set camp, and waited for a solo hiker we met at Gooch Shelter. Not long after us, she hobbled into camp riddled with blisters from ill-fitting shoes. We shared food between the five of us and had a feast.
It was supposed to rain, so the five of us got up at 4 AM to hike the 5 miles over Blood Mountain to Neel’s Gap. We hiked up the mountain in the wind, and it was pitch black. Hiking in the dark is nerve-wracking, especially over rocks. On the upside, we had the Blood Mountain shelter to ourselves to cook breakfast.
The hike down was quick, but sometimes poorly marked. Watch out for those slippery rocks!
We all stopped by Mountain Crossings, then moved on to Blood Mountain cabins for a nero. We took a hitch into Blairsville from a lovey gentleman who had plenty of stories. I am not going to lie, hitching is scary and I would like to avoid it. However, shuttles were quoting $50-80 for 26 miles round trip (ouch).
Philip and I went to Walmart for a full resupply. It is a ways out of Blairsville, so I would recommend Ingles instead. Also, Mountain crossings has a decent resupply, but at a steep 100-150% markup.
Getting a ride back to Blood Mountain cabins was tricky. We had a few failed attempts at hitching. When all hope was lost (taxis and shuttles are not a thing in Blairsville, apparently), a pair of angels pulled up, saw us sitting on a bench with groceries looking grubby and dejected. They asked if we were hikers. I explained our situation, and he informed me that he has a shuttle service at very reasonable rates. If you are near Blairsville, call Donald (Grateful) at 772-321-0905 for a ride. He was kind enough to take us back to our cabin, and the ride really lifted my spirits. The trail provides.
At the cabin, I took a ridiculously hot shower, did laundry, and filled my food bag (too much food). Sharing a cabin is the way to go in order to save moolah. Our group enjoyed movies and TONS of food. We watched out the window as it poured rain all day.
Along the way, we acquired a furry friend outside our cabin door. According to the owner of the cabin, this dog hiked down with someone over Blood Mountain, but now appears to be owner-less. He is now at Mountn Crossings. If this is your pup, please contact them. He is such a friendly dog, and it breaks my heart for him not to be with his family.
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