Video, Part 1:
Video, Part 2:
A few months back, forum member louisfb put a thread up about doing three to five days on the AT. Seeing as how I've been itching to get back up to the trail since my Christmas hikes, I jumped at the chance. Shortly after that, member IHover chimed in to try and make it as well.
My original plan was to rent a car and meet louisfb after an overnight drive at the Byron Herbert Reece parking area, just north of Blood Mountain and about 1/8th of a mile from Neels Gap. We'd then shuttle back from the parking area to the Springer Mountain parking lot, hike up Springer, and start north back to the car over three days or so.
When IHover mentioned that he wanted to go, he also said he'd give me a ride. I thought, Great, I don't have to rent a car! And I didn't; despite my screwy work schedule (I get out around midnight on Saturdays), he came and picked me up after midnight on Sunday morning and we drove overnight up to the Springer parking area. We kept awake with a liter of coffee and some good conversation as we forged northbound towards dawn.
Unfortunately, though, louisfb had come down with a sinus infection and wasn't able to join us for the hike out of Springer. He mentioned he might be able to shuttle us anyway, but things were definitely still up in the air as IHover and I reached the trail.
We made our winding way up Winding Stair Gap Road (which is definitely not for the faint of heart; the potholes on that one will swallow a Geo Metro whole) and to the Springer lot by about 7:30 AM and were on trail by 8:00 AM. The hike up the north face of Springer was pretty easy, and we reached the summit by ~8:30 or so.
We spent about an half-hour puttering around up there, looking at the plaques and shelter; I managed to almost brain myself on a low-hanging branch across the trail despite IHover's warning about it. I sat down really abruptly, and it it hadn't been for the fact that you can't hurt a dishwasher by hitting him in the head, that might've been a trip-ender. Still, I came out of it okay and we soon hiked back down the mountain and headed north.
The first few miles were downhill into rhododendron and other water-loving foliage, until we reached the Long Creek Falls spur trail. We stopped for lunch in the shadow of the falls and puttered about for a bit as we gathered water and took photos of the beautiful area. Soon after, we were back on trail, headed steadily upward towards Hawk Mountain--our destination for the evening.
Heading up Hawk Mountain, I found myself in the manic stage of sleep deprivation; I'd been awake for thirty hours or so and had worked eleven hours on Saturday (that was hour twenty-three of work in forty-eight for me) and started being a bit silly as we descended into the shelter area on the down slope.
When we rolled into camp, joined by a young woman who was starting a thru-hike, there were already perhaps four or five folks there. The local ridgerunner came in shortly thereafter and warned that the shelter would fill up quite a bit that night; apparently, thirty-five people was not uncommon for that one this time of year.
Sure enough, his warning was true: by the time I turned in for the evening, there were upwards of twenty-five folks, probably closer to thirty-five or forty, in and around the shelter. Good conversation and food were shared around the picnic table there, and I noticed a minimum of five different hammockers besides IHover and myself. For folks interested in my gear, I shared what I knew and mentioned the site; hopefully, those who need information will be able to find their way here.
I turned in about an hour before dark, at approximately six-thirty. Despite the sea of faces and the noise level, I slept like a brick. I woke around midnight, looking up at the clear starry sky and wondering at the beauty that we preserve in places like the mountains. I turned back over and went back to sleep, waking just before dawn the next morning.
Two cups of "coffee" (thank you, Shug, for your video on how you pack your coffee; it helped immensely on this trip) later, I was fit for conversation with the group around the picnic table. IHover and I rolled out fairly late compared to the thru-hikers--mostly due to me being a slowpoke in the morning--around 9:30 or so.
That day, we had what the ridgerunner and everyone else described as the two worst climbs on the GA AT; Sassafras and Justus mountains. Sassafras climbs ~700 feet straight up and then another ~500 feet straight down, both in less than a mile. Then Justus is another ~400 feet straight up. Neither seemed too very difficult, but we took them in stages nonetheless, catching our breath every few hundred yards.
Soon enough, we were headed back down towards Justus Creek and the water source there. A truly beautiful area, we lingered for lunch at the Gooch Mountain shelter, about a mile up the slope from there. We decided to press on to Gooch Gap and spend the night there. A gorgeous green field, Gooch Gap has one drawback: the traffic that moves along USFS 42 through there.
I spent that evening in conversation with a young man from New England, an older gent from England who'd worked around the world as an English teacher, and an Australian couple who were taking six months off after the end of a telecommunications contract. One of the more interesting conversations I've had; it's always engaging to hear disparate points of view, shaped by disparate parts of the world.
The morning came bright and early, and both IHover and I were back on trail by 9:20, headed upwards steadily towards Big Cedar mountain. Here, IHover picked up a jacket that a pair of young men just left in camp--when yelled toward to tell them that they'd forgotten something, their response was, "You can keep it!" Meh...
We said goodbye to the Aussie couple at Woody Gap, where GA 60 runs through the mountains, and continued upward. We stopped to eat lunch at a scenic overlook most of the way up Big Cedar mountain, one that allowed hikers to see for miles and miles and miles, out into the valleys between the peaks.
Continuing on, we headed to the top of Big Cedar, to the other scenic overlook there, and enjoyed the view for a few minutes before turning back down the blue blaze to the trail once more. We followed the trail on down to the lowest point through there, where there are prepared tent pads next to a beautiful creek (don't remember the name, sorry), and began to climb back up once more towards Burnett Field mountain and Jarrard Gap.
Through here, there was a blazed tree precisely placed in the middle of a fork as one heads northbound. The next blaze was ~400 yards up the trail, around the bend at the top of the switchback...perhaps some more blazes through there would be appropriate. I dropped pack and ran up the hill to be sure we were headed in the right direction, and IHover and I backtracked to mark at the fork which way to go for AT hikers. Hopefully, that'll help someone along the way.
We reached the top of Burnett Field mountain and saw the tent that someone had set up on the summit and then headed back down slope towards Jarrard Gap. Getting water at the gap, we checked the bear can and fire restrictions and then headed back down trail for about four hundred yards to be outside the restricted area for the evening. We clambered up and over the southeastern crest next to the trail and camped on the opposite side from it, the better to see the sunrise the next morning.
After setting camp, I picked my way back over the ridge to make dinner on the trail; I had little space in camp to do so (I was encamped on a ~30* slope) and had said I'd meet a young woman who was going up to the gap in order to show her the whoopie slings on my hammock, since she'd asked about them earlier in the day. Didn't see her, but dinner was tasty, and I finally got the amount of water right for instant Velveeta shells and cheese on the trail.
A sketchy bear bag hang later, I'd changed for bed and tucked in for some reading. I nodded off around sundown--perhaps seven-forty-five or so--only to wake at about eight-thirty to a viciously blowing wind causing my tarp to flop about. I tightened things down, attached my poncho to the hammock to act as a top cover to block the wind (my IX underquilt is pretty windproof), and settled in for some reading. I finished the paperback I'd brought with me before turning in around ten-ish.
The morning at that camp qualifies as one of the nicest in my memory; the view of the sun coming up over the mountains is one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen. Totally worth the extra work to set camp there and deal with having to cook elsewhere.
We'd managed (well, IHover had managed; he has much better cell service up there than me) to get a hold of louisfb over the previous day and found out that he was not only doing a day hike up to the top of Blood Mountain, he was still willing to meet us and shuttle us back to our car at Springer. We packed up and hit trail on Wednesday by 9:30 again, and swung out and across the ridgeline walk that led to Slaughter Creek.
From Slaughter Creek, we headed up the south side of Blood Mountain, and it was not nearly as hard as I remember the north face being. We made it to the top by about 11:00 or 11:30, only to run into louisfb as he came into the shelter area there. Actually, louisfb and IHover were texting each other as they sat next to each other, since they'd not yet said hello--talk about coincidences.
The hike down Blood Mountain was about as strenuous as I remembered from my Christmas day hike there--less mud this time, though, so I only fell the once. Soon enough, we were back at the Byron Reece parking lot and piled into the car for the hour-long trip back to Springer.
At Springer, I changed clothes and packed everything into IHover's truck. As I was doing so, I noticed a tall redheaded guy getting out of a shuttle...I looked closer, and recognized Stormcrow from a couple of the videos that've been posted here. Sure enough, it was him. We said hello, and he headed up towards Springer in an hurry--he had quite a distance to go that day, and it was already pushing 3:00. Random encounters...
Everyone said their goodbyes and piled into respective vehicles for the long drive back to Florida.
This trip was beautiful, wonderful, and involved new friends that I would go hiking with again any time. Thanks to louisfb for putting everything together and IHover for driving. You guys are great!
Insulation: My poncho liner top quilt performed as usual; that is, perfectly for the temperatures encountered. My underquilt, unfortunately, has finally convinced me that IX is just not for me. I sweat too much for it to be truly comfortable, and I think that I'm going to be switching over to a Climashield underquilt some time in the near future (it won't be before Fall, though; temps from now 'till then are going to be warm enough that I won't need much under insulation). It's great at blocking wind, though.
Tarp: When I expect high winds, I need to remember to tighten down the tarp more than I have been. Or leave it rolled up in its Velcro strips. Flapping tarps will keep me up if they're loud enough.
Poncho: I used my poncho as an overcover to block wind for the first time on this trip. I was very impressed, and the addition of some small squares of regular hook Velcro to the ends of the poncho helped immensely with its holding power on the hammock's loop. OmniTape is great for holding light items, but hook and loop works better for high-strength applications.
Water Bladder/Filter: I've been using an inline filter with a Camelbak for a while now. The problem is that it requires quite a bit of suction to get water through it, making high-aerobic-demand sections (such as going uphill in the mountains) difficult. So, since the quick-release o-ring was going on my Camelbak, I spent on a Geigerrig 3L bladder. Geigerrig makes pressurized bladders; there's a little pressure bulb (similar to one on a blood pressure cuff) that pumps air into a compartment in the bladder to push water through the output line. This worked like a champ, though I did notice a bit of slowdown on the fourth day--which is fine, as I intend on stopping every five days or so to go into town for resupply anyway, making backflushing easy. This was its first real field test, and I'm very happy with the results.
Pack: I think I'm going to leave my shoulder straps and waist belt alone for now. For trips under 25 lbs (this one came in at 24.5 lbs with a paperback, my phone, 3L of water, spare clothes that I normally wouldn't carry, and 3.5 days of food), they carry just fine. I also think that I've finally figured out my ideal packing system. We'll see...
No-Net One-Bag System: Because I was going with a one-bag system and no bug net this time for the hammock, quilts, and clothing, I shoved my top quilt and all of my clothing in between the hammock body and the underquilt. This worked very well, preventing those items from falling out on the ground when I set the hammock up (normally the bug net will retain these things, but it wasn't needed for this trip).
Hiking Poles: I need to invest in some better poles; one of mine keeps shortening itself when I bear enough weight on it. Guess that's what I get for buying ~$40 poles at WallyWorld. Meh...
The plaque at the top of Springer:
The first few miles were very wet:
Long Creek Falls is worth the sidetrack:
A respite on the side of the trail:
The terrain gets steeper and rockier as you head uphill: