Appalachian Trail: Amicalola Falls to Hiawassee
Day 1 - Amicalola Falls Approach Trail to Springer Mountain shelter.
9 miles. 30,035 steps. 307 flights of stairs climbed. 3,857 calories burned.
We departed our scary Atlanta Air BnB as soon as we could, got a Marta bus to the station and then the train to North Springs. Our shuttle driver Bret met us there and took us to the unofficial start point at Amicalola Falls. Bret gave us some good advice along the way and a free gas cannister, which we'd forgotten to get in Atlanta.
As we arrived at Amicalola Falls we were ushered into a thru-hiker talk about safety and etiquette along the trail and given a demonstration of how to hang our food bags using the PCT method. The guy made it look so easy. It is not easy. We were then given our thru-hiker tags and sent on our way.
It took us all day to reach the summit of Springer Mountain. A whole day climbing, with over 600 metal steps straight away. All that just to reach the start of the trail. The summit of Springer Mountain was not even interesting. We had planned to continue on for another 4 miles to the next shelter but decided to stay at the Springer Mountain shelter which was basically on the top of the mountain and therefore not at all sheltered. It was one of the coldest nights ever spent in a tent. We wore everything we had and hoped it would warm up quickly so we don't want to quit!
Best part of the day - finding a free Clif bar on the top of Springer Mountain.
Worst part of the day - the cold.
Day 2 - Springer Mountain shelter to Hawk Mountain shelter.
7.2 miles. 28,032 steps. 106 flights of stairs climbed. 3,351 calories burnt.
The ground was frozen solid as we woke up and we could barely feel our fingers. Packing up our tent was excrutiatingly painful and very slow. We did not get changed, but kept all our layers on as we started hiking.
Despite the cold we were in high spirits and still excited to be out in the wilderness. We soon warmed up as we started moving. Icicles were hanging off the rocks along the path and the mud was frozen solid under foot. Our water bladders were frozen and we made a mental note to ditch them and stick to Nalgenes. Nalgenes make good hot water bottles and will not fully freeze.
Most of our day was spent hiking with Ricky, a Brit we had met the day before, and Michelle, a German lady. We all had different walking speeds, but aimed for the same campsite at the end of the day.
We saw some possible bear prints in the mud and some droppings, but didn't see any bears. The campsites have all had bear boxes so far, so still no need for bag hanging.
Best part of the day - crossing a couple of rivers in beautiful jungly patches. Most of the scenery has been bare trees so far, so the greenery was a lovely surprise.
Worst part - I started getting a cold and spent the day sniffling. Our bags were rubbing our shoulders too. Oww.
Day 3 - Hawk mountain shelter to Gooch Gap campsite.
9.5 miles. 30, 721 steps. 143 flights of stairs climbed. 3,705 calories burned.
More of the same until we reached Gooch Gap and found our first real trail magic. There was a Christian group camping there giving out free stuff, weighing packs for people and doing pack-downs. They also had a whole kitchen set up and cooked dinner for all of us. It was incredible. Tacos, fresh salad, fruit cobbler. We did have to say grace though, which we are not fans of, given that we are not religious.
After dinner we sat around the campfire socialising and working out itineraries. This is where we met our trail family. Ricky, Captain, Rachel & Kris, Sunshine & Little Sis, Giggles, Happy Feet, Jerry & Annie, and Anna. Captain has section hiked this part of the trail many times and helps thru-hikers every year. He offered alot of trail magic to us over the remainder of his section hike.
This was also the night that Ricky was given his trail name Yelp. It was a really stormy night and we were all in our tents before the sun set, hiding from the rain. As we were trying to sleep, a crouched figure walked past our tents through the rain and a flash of lightening lit him up. Ricky made a high pitched yelp and Chris burst out laughing. Hence he was given the name Yelp. We assume the crouched man was military as we'd heard automatic gunfire earlier on. We hope he was...
Best part of the day - free food!
Worst part - my cold got so bad that I couldn't sleep. Every time I laid down my nose blocked and my throat hurt. It felt like the longest night of my life.
Day 4 - Gooch Gap campsite to Lance Creek campsite.
7 miles. 27,619 steps. 142 flights of stairs climbed. 3,495 calories burned.
We awoke early from a terrible nights sleep. There was a thunderstorm all night and the heaviest rain I've ever experienced in a tent. Luckily our Terra Nova tent is awesome, stayed upright and stayed dry inside all night! It wasn't fun having to pack away a wet tent though. My cold had peaked at this point too and I felt terrible.
We had a relatively short day planned because we had a lot of climbing! The Christian group were handing out free breakfast and coffee as we woke up, which was great and helped increase our energy levels. We were then surprised with even more trail magic as we reached Woody Gap around lunch time. We had been hiking with Captain and talking about our love of hot dogs when we were greeted 5 minutes later by a group of ex thru-hikers cooking hotdogs!
Best part of the day - The trail magic. And the fog was pretty cool. It lasted all day and made everything look really creepy.
Worst part - Having no energy and a terrible cold. My bandana became a snot-rag so I didn't use up all our loo roll. I made a mental note to buy another bandana. They are really useful.
Day 5 - Lance Creek campsite to Neel Gap.
7.1 miles. 28,789 steps. 185 flights of stairs climbed. 4,158 calories burned.
Another fairly short day of hiking, but lots of tough climbing up to Blood Mountain. We had to climb over a few boulders and manoeuvre around tree roots. The views from the top were amazing.
That afternoon we arrived at Neels Gap, where the trail goes through a building, called Mountain Crossings. Captain, who we had been hiking with again, had paid for a cabin for the night and said we could stay for free. Sunshine and Little Sis (now named Sketti), sisters who we had hiked with too, also stayed in the cabin, as did Yelp. We had formed a trail family, which also included Fuego (formerly Kris) & Rachel, Dragon (formerly Jerry) & Annie, Happy Feet and Giggles. These guys stayed in another cabin and came over to ours for dinner, but not before some of us girls had been sent on a Walmart run with Captains friend Anna. Anna kindly drove us around for the afternoon and offered to help Chris and me bounce a box of Jimmy Joy shakes to Franklin.
The trail magic we had received was incredible. Everyone we had met so far had been extremely friendly and helpful, requesting absolutely nothing in return. Captain was only going to hike with us for another few days before he had to return home, and Anna was returning home that evening. They both gave us their contact details and said they'd love to hike with us again further up the trail.
Our dinner party was fun, but we most appreciated being able to shower and do our laundry for the first time. It doesn't take long for everything to stink, especially when climbing mountains!
Best part of the day - the shop at Neels Gap sold so much cool hiker stuff! And there's a tree outside full of hiking boots that people have thrown over it when they have either quit, or their boots have fallen apart. There is no way I'd quit this early on. It seems remarkable to me that people give up so quickly!
Worst part - I managed to get wifi in Walmart and was excited to see messages from friends and family, but my phone immediately died. So annoying!
Day 6 - Neel Gap to Low Gap shelter.
11.5 miles. 35,376 steps. 282 flights of stairs climbed. 4,030 calories burned.
We woke us as the sun rose and were feeling quite achy. Chris and I had slept on the sofa bed, which was less comfortable than our sleeping pads. At least we were warm though! Once up, we all headed to the main office, where the guys bought breakfast pizzas and we all had coffee. We sat there for about an hour using the wifi, before deciding we should start hiking again.
Today was a very long day of hiking. It was cold and I was still coughing all day. We felt fairly energetic though so hiked fast to keep warm. The morning was spent leap-frogging Captain, then we hiked with Yelp for most the afternoon. Chris had a couple of animal scares, which turned out to be nothing. First he thought he heard a rattlesnack, then he jumped because he saw a tree stump that looked like an orangutan. They don't don't even live in the US.
Best part of the day - We were greeted with more trail magic half way through the day. It was another Christian group giving out knitted hats and treats. I went for a blue and red stripey one and Chris chose a red one. I handed in my old hat, which they said they would donate to homeless charities.
Worst part - Getting fed up of still having a cold! I hate coughing in the night, especially when I know other people can hear me and are probably being woken up by me. Urgh.
Day 7 - Low Gap shelter to Blue Mountain shelter.
7.3 miles. 23,249 steps. 163 flights of stairs climbed. 2,876 calories burned.
Not alot of climbing today, but lots of slippery boulders. We walked through some beautiful green tunnels and along a mountain ridge with views of mountains through the trees. Quite a nice day.
We reached Blue Mountain mid afternoon, got our tent set up and chilled with our trail family. Yelp and Happy Feet did some yoga, which the rest of us enjoyed watching. They had padded sleeping mats which they could use outside, but we didn't want to risk popping ours so tried to stretch a bit inside our tent. It didn't work particularly well though because our tent is tiny.
Best part of the day - Watching the sunset from the mountain top. It was fairly warm in comparison to the other nights, which was nice.
Worst part - There's a guy called Ham who has been singing loudly to his music and shouting the occasional "Yehaa" as he hikes. I don't mind this, but as he came into camp shouting "Yehaa". Captain immediately shouted at him to shut up and things get very tense. They had a bit of an arguement about making noise, being rude, respecting others etc, but eventually worked out their differences. It just left the rest of us feeling awkward for a while.
Day 8 - Blue Mountain shelter to Tray Mountain shelter.
8.1 miles. 27,768 steps. 283 flights of stairs climbed. 3,195 calories burned.
Last night we had alot of mice. We could hear them trying to run up the side of the tent and we even saw one wander across the inside shell over where our feet were. It was quite cute, but the scratchy noises were annoying. Luckily they didn't chew through anything.
We hang our food in a bear bag every night, so there is nothing edible in the tent. We have been using the PCT method, which means throwing your rope over a branch at least 15 ft from the floor, looping this rope back through a karabina and tightening everything with a branch. Search for the technique on Youtube if you want a demonstration. It's a little tricky at first, but now Chris has gotten the hand of it, he makes it look easy. I struggle to throw the rope high enough and pull up the weight of the bear bag. It's heavy with two people's food in it! Rope burn is not fun either... Definitely wear gloves or use a branch to help pull on the rope.
Today's walk was easy enough. Lots more trees and jungly looking sections. More trail magic handing out sausage balls, Krispy Kreme doughnuts, soup and snacks.
We reached the camping spot late afternoon and set up our tents quickly as a thunder storm was coming in. The trail family were mostly staying in the shelter, but we thought a tent would be warmer as we'd be more sheltered from the wind. I'm glad we put up our tent. The storm was huge and terrifying! And the shelter was full of people, including an older guy with pneumonia.
Best part of the day - the views from Tray Mountain were incredible. The summit was a huge boulder in the middle of some rhodedendron bushes. It was really cool.
Worst part - The long climbs left me feeling super hot and sweaty. All my clean clothes are now stinky again.
Day 9 - Tray Mountain shelter to Dicks Creek Gap.
11.5 miles. 33,462 steps. 259 flights of stairs climbed. 3,571 calories burned.
After a heavy storm and not much sleep, we packed up our soggy tent and got walking as quickly as possible to get warm again. Neither of us were in the best mood due to lack of sleep and getting fed up of the rain/cold, but we tried to keep positive as we walked.
The scenery was much the same as usual, but someone had put a fake orange rose in the ground, which lifted my mood a little. It's nice what people do to brighten the trail. Hiking the AT has certainly helped to restore some faith in humanity. People are so friendly and nice to each other here!
Our plan for the day was to hike a little past Dicks Creek to a campsite, then Captain and Fuego would go into town to buy pizza for everyone and bring it back. When we got to Dicks Creek we found a good spot for stealth camping, so decided not to go further on but to stay put. The guys went to grab pizzas, fizzy drinks, snacks and ingredients for smores. I ate my dairy-free pasta and Oreos as I can't eat dairy products, but Chris and Yelp said the chocolate in the smores was gross. Apparently Hershey's tastes of cheese, so I didn't suffer from too much food envy.
We had a fun evening round the campfire and met a young Kiwi guy, who we gave the name Bear to. He looked like a young Bear Grylls and had a bear on his t-shirt. Chris and I had also been given trail names by this point. I had become known as Slayer for my agressive mosquito slaying a few days ago. Chris had become known as Jeans because he carried a pair of jeans to Neels Gap before deciding he didn't need the extra weight.
Best part of the day - finding the rose.
Worst part - It was a very long day and way too damp for my liking.
Day 10 - Dicks Creek Gap to Plumorchard with a nero in Hiawassee.
4.5 miles. Fitbit wasn't charged, so no data today!
This was Captain's last day on the trail and he very kindly agreed to shuttle everyone into Hiawassee for the day. Chris and I were shuttled first with Giggles. Giggles had some post to sort, so we went to McDonalds to use wifi and wait for the others. Dragon and Annie had stayed the night in Hiawassee and met us in McDonalds. Yelp also came to Mcdonalds, whilst the others went to the laundrette.
At midday, we met back up at an all-you-can-eat buffet. We ate so much fried chicken that we all felt a little sick, did our resupplies and then headed back out to the trail. Saying goodbye to Captain was sad; he'd been amazingly helpful and friendly. The rest of the afternoon was a short hike to Plumorchard shelter, where we all agreed to camp.
On arrival at the camping area we were greeted by two boisterous Alsation/Chow cross puppies, who were adorable and climbed all over us. We also met a guy called Primo, who came back once his tent was up, so he could enjoy puppy cuddles.
Best part of the day - puppies! And listening to a pack of wolves howling at the full moon last night was pretty incredible! They sounded extremely close to us!
Worst part - Being cold in the morning and waking up to the tent pressed against my face where it had collapsed a little.
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