Appalachian Trail 43M Backpack, Georgia
April 3-5, 2015 

A late afternoon start to my spring hike from Amicalola Falls had me high stepping
to ascend up the trail over three thousand feet to find the first water before
darkness set upon me.  While my ambition was to cover 15 miles the first day, I
had but five hours to do it in.  With a forty-pound backpack I would be beginning
my hike on the most challenging section in temperatures approaching 80 degrees.
After six hours of driving to get there I hit the approach trail to the southern
terminus of the Appalachian Trail at the Visitor Center of the falls like I was on a


It doesn't take long with a load on your back to start wondering what you could 
have left behind.  Right from the beginning I was mentally going through my
inventory figuring what I could do without the next time.  Since it was Good
Friday there were a lot of sightseers hiking on the trails and up and down the
stairs that parallel the falls.  You get the usual curious looks from tourists; some
seemed to acknowledge the challenge I was undertaking; most seemed wrapped up
in their own version of reality which apparently included less exercise than I get
and considerably more eating.  It didn't matter... I was totally immersed in my own
version of what is real and important, without cynicism or judgement of others.

The falls are always magnficient to see up close.  Only three weeks previously I
had trod up these same switchbacks of stairs to climb along the falls in the Georgia
Death Race.  Reaching the top I made for single track trails "ex post hasto" to get
beyond the tourist trappings and begin to enjoy a wonderful afternoon on the trails.
Even after hitting the trail it continued to climb, climb, climb without much relief.
I was going from the valley bottom at 1790' to the top of Springer Mountain at
3782' with a thousand or more feet of additional undulation in a direct fashion.  

It was a rocky 8.1 miles to the summit on the approach trail, causing my feet to
feel sore from the get-go.  Hiking without a shirt in the unseasonably warm
tempertures made me a target for newly emerged mosquitoes who were no doubt
testing their wings and probosci for the first time.  While it seemed I was pushing
the pace I was not moving much faster than two miles per hour.  I would not go the
15 miles as I had hoped for, but I would be able to reach water before dark.

It was exciting to reach the placard for the southern terminus of the AT.  So many 
stories had begun here.  So many people's dreams set off from this starting point.
While I was not, and never will be a through hiker, just being here on sacred
ground, I paused for a selfie before quickly continuing down the other side to
beat the shadows.  Many bear warning signs were posted here and other places
to remind hikers to exercise caution.  Bears were the least of my worries.


Crossing a stream within a couple miles beyond Springer Mountain I refilled my
empty bottles with 2.5 liters of sparkling fresh mountain water before finding a
ridgeline campsite by nearly eight o'clock to quickly set up a camp and eat a 
couple burritos I had brought along.  I was famished and exhausted.  The food
and rest would do me good.  The next day would give me a fresh start at sun up
to make up ground on my itinerary.

Checking the weather forecast before leaving, there was a 0% chance of precip,
so the gathering cloud cover toward evening surprised me.  By ten o'clock the
heavens lit up with quite a raucous thunderstorm and the rain poured heavy for
nearly half the night.  I was high and dry on the ridge so stayed quite comfortable
in my tent, but was not able to sleep well with the thunder, hard rain, and wind
gusts of twenty-miles-per-hour and perhaps more.  A shot of some Vitamin W
helped soothe my sore feet and tired body and I apparently got enough sleep to
rise before the sun, wrap up my wet tent, and hit the trail once again under dry


I didn't feel too bad actually.  I taped a couple hot spots on my feet and had full
leg strength to continue on much smoother trails that were mildly down hill for 
quite a few miles in the morning.  There were a lot of people using the AT on this
holiday weekend, as evidenced by the countless number of tents at campsites
along the way.  Most people seemed to just be camping out for the weekend, but
there were some obvious through hikers with light outfits that were just beginning
their two-thousand-mile summer oddysey to walk to Mount Katadhin in Maine.

Only the through hikers were moving this early in the morning.  I struck up a bit of
conversation with a few of them along the way.  All seemed to share a mix of
enthusiasm and trepedation for the huge undertaking they were beginning.  I, for
one, was glad my objectives did not extend beyond the weekend.  Hiking the
entire Appalachian Trail is well beyond my patience and ambitions.  It was just nice
to experience spring in the mountains of Georgia, knowing I would be back to a
shower and comfortable environs soon enough.


While hiking with a Philadelphian named Andrew we came upon some trail angels
who set up a tent and tables to serve treats to through hikers on this brisk
morning.  Mixing it up with them for a bit, I helped myself to six homemade 
cookies, collected a couple hugs, and captured the picture above.  What a delightful
surprise to encounter in the middle of the morning.

There must have been 50 or 60 hikers that I encountered.  Most of them I walked
past, even though I was still only averaging two miles per hour.  Some moved
at a quicker tempo and moved past me, always with the exchange of pleasantries.
Nearly everyone had decided to begin eating their elephant in small bites, hiking
between 8 and 13 miles each day to start, before setting up camp and resting 
before the next day.  Of everyone I spoke with, I was the only one doing more
than twenty miles per day - despite the fact that my pack, for the most part, was
heavier.  Maybe it is habit after forty years of doing this, but I like to rise at dawn
and hike until dusk, taking breaks whenever I choose.  Twenty miles at two miles
per hour has always seemed reasonable - even thirty or more - going all the way
back to when I was carrying sixty pounds.  My perception is that hikers, generally,
are softer than I was (and still am).  Many have big bellies under their lastest and
greatest and lightest camping gear. I could only wish them good luck and continue
to do it my way. 


Despite every intention of doing 24 to 26 miles on Saturday under cooler, but
very pleasant weather, I stopped at 21 miles to catch up on sleeping and eating.
I deliberately saved extra time at the end of the day to set up my cook stove and
cook a decent meal.  Finding level ground halfway down some mountain, out of 
the wind I enjoyed a leisurely evening and got doctored up for the next day's

I slept well under calm skies and a little help from John Barleycorn.  The morning
found my feet and legs not too bad, ready to rumble and go for another twenty-
some miles.  Easter morning sunrise happened about a half hour after I pulled
together my outfit and hit the trail.  It was purely invigorating to be out there doing
this.  I was in my element.  Water from springs was abundant and tired muscles
were getting accustomed to the demands of the effort.  I had not been hiking very
long when a woman dressed in a light green pant and pink top approached, hiking
toward me.  She had rabbit ears and an Easter basket filled with chocolate candy.
Another trail angel - I was so amused and delighted with this encounter.  No, it 
was not an illusion - not this early in the morning.  The chocolate egg was yummy.
I've seen these angels at many places on the PCT and AT before.  Their spirit and
generosity is so refreshing for so many weary souls on the trail.


The highlight of the day was a long climb up Blood Mountain where I found this
cool shelter (above) and many people congregated after the ascent.  At 4450'
this would be the highest point of my weekend hike.  I haven't seen too many 
slabby summits like this outside of New England.  It got me excited about some
of my upcoming adventures in that part of the country in a couple months.  I
lingered for awhile, comparing notes with others and generally enjoying society,
before a two-mile drop to Neels Gap and a loss of 1300'.  My toes were jamming
in my boots, making me wish I had my approach shoes instead.  Neels Gaps is
the first real oasis along the trail with complete hiker services, including a post 
office for hikers to mail home the "extra" stuff they came to realize they really
didn't need to be carrying over these mountains.  There was a monster pile of 
hiking boots and shoes that hikers from who knows how long have abandoned 
after the reality check of their first thirty miles. I didn't hang out there for long,
but was surprised at the number of hikers that were hanging around, eating
pizza, and trying to forget about the next 2100 miles for the time being.


I continued north for two-and-a-half miles at mid-day until I went over Levelland
Mountain.  I could see clouds amassing to the south and a pressure change was
quite apparent.  A few hikers had commented about a storm moving in with cooler
temps and an all-day rain on Monday.  While my original intention was to hike
through Monday, I lost my enthusiasm in the face of the ensuing weather change.
Calling to Atlanta I summoned a rescue so that I could disembark from my 
mountain endeavor and join the rest of the family for Easter dinner.  So I reversed
my hike back to Neels Gap and awaited the cavalry, comfortable that I had 
exercised reasonable discretion in the face of unnecessary adversity.  Hiking 43
miles in less than two days was good enough for me.  It answered many questions
I had about my new backpack and my conditioning after three years away from
carrying a pack.  I will make adjustments and be better prepared to enjoy the next
endeavor in the Smokies in a couple months.  All-in-all, it was a great time and
leaves me with a smile on my face.
0       Amicalola Falls SP Visitor Center     1790'
1.4    Crosses Little Amicalola Creek, ascends thru Chattahoochee NF
1.9    Crest     2490'
2.4    Gap
3.3    Climbs to High Shoals Road to Flat Knob 
4.0    Western flank of Frosty Mountain
4.6    Frosty Mounty peak at 3382'
5.0    Crosses FS46, level, then over double humps of Woody Knob at 3390'
5.9    Steep downhill to Nimblewill Gap     3049'
7.1    Rises around west side of mountain before down to Black Gap     3190'
7.1    Black Gap LT to left
8.1    Springer Mountain summit 3782'

Section 1:      
0.2    Springer Mountain Shelter - then AT left, BM right 
2.5    Stover Creek Shelter left 60 yards
3.6    Bridge over Stover Creek
4.3    Three Forks  C  W
6.3    Climb to top of a knob
6.9    Drop to a gap   3220'
7.6    Hawk Mountain Shelter  3200' 
8.1    Drop to a Hightower Gap    2847'
9.7    Rollercoaster to Horse Gap    2673'
10.6  Switchback up to overlook of Conner Mountain to the south
11.0  Crest of Sassafras Mountain    3336'
11.6  Cooper Gap 2820'
12.2  Justus Mountain 3222'
12.5  Brookshire Gap    2940'
13.5  Bridge over Justus Creek  C W
14.3  Crosses Blackwell Creek
15.0  Horseshoe Ridge    3004'
16.1  Bridge over rivulet, blue blaze spur to Gooch Gap Shelter 2784'
17.9  Lisa Gap    3020'
19.0  Tritt Gap    3060' after two brief climbs over 3200' - Ramrock Mtn. 3260'
20.0  Woody Gap    3160' - GA 60 W

Section 2:    
22.4  Dan Gap 3300' after going over Big Cedar Mountain    3720'
23.0  Miller Gap 3005'
25.7  Jarrad Gap  3250'  C  W
27.5  Slaughter Creek 3800'  C W
28.3  Blood Mountain and Shelter 4450'
29.7  Flatrock Gap 3450'  W
30.7  Neels Gap 3125' - US 19

Section 3:     
31.8  Bull Gap 3690'  C W 
32.2  Levelland Mtn. 3942'
32.8  Swaim Gap 3470'