The Appalachian Trail: Georgia

Back in March I celebrated my 30th birthday with a 7 day, 70 mile hike through the Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail. I’d said for years before this trip that if I wasn’t where I wanted to be in my career by the time I hit 30 I would quit my job and spend the first 6 months of my third decade on earth realizing my dream of one day calling myself a thru hiker. Fortunately-unfortunately I’d achieved several of my career goals over the past few years, and I’m now planning to stay in my current role for the foreseeable future. So that means spreading the hike out over the next handful of years by knocking out week long sections when I can. Our group of 4 included Greenlight (my Dad), Storyteller (Dad’s friend from Indiana), Traveler (Me), and Burning Man (my younger brother Steven) who got get his trail name near the end of day 2. There was debate in the weeks leading up to the hike whether we would start at the arch in the state park and complete the approach trail, or optimize our time on trail and start at Springer Mountain. I was adamantly against “wasting time” on the approach trail in our debates back and forth. But I’d been outvoted a week or so prior to the start of the hike so I went along quietly.

I’ll break the trip down into the first 3 days, and the last 4 days and give a quick recap of our experience before I share my favorite pictures below. I’m a firm believer in living your own adventure, so I don’t want to detail every minute of my experience, I’d rather share the best memories and maybe inspire someone to get out and see it for themselves.

Days 1-3: We took it slow during the first 3 days on trail, this was my little brothers first real hike and it absolutely wrecked his feet. By the end of day 1 we all had a serious respect for the approach trail (hundreds of stairs followed by a 9ish mile trail), and a new perspective on Springer Mountain. We got to experience rain, wind, hail, and dense fog on these days as well, really rounding out our weather experiences for the week. Burning Man, so named because of his fair skin and lack of sunscreen, was really hurting during the first 3. We took a slow pace and stopped frequently to let him rest. Rain on day 2 turned into hail at the end of day 2, then fog on the morning of day 3, followed by more rain. In those 3 days we covered 24.5 miles over a handful of smaller mountains. To our surprise, we’d kept pace with a bubble of thru-hikers and actually out-hiked a handful. Our experience at the shelters at the end of each day really made the trip special. The scenery and shared struggle on the trail really brings people together, but the shared stories and laughs you experience around the shelters are what make the misery so enjoyable. Even though the weather was against us, we thoroughly enjoyed our time with the hikers we met during the first 3 days on trail.

Days 4-7: Some time shortly after we broke camp and got back on trail on day 4 Burning Man decided that his time on the trail was coming to an end. He’d experienced the worst weather that we would see during our trip and walked over 24 miles in “terrible shoes”. He was tired, smelly and sore. My Dad, Greenlight, told Storyteller and I go on ahead. He was going to get my brother to an intersection so he could make plans to get him back to the D.C. area where they live. We parted ways and he promised he’d catch up to our planned stopping point by the end of the day. So Storyteller and I ripped down the trail. We’d been talking about the first “real” climb of the trip since day 1, and it was within our grasp; Blood Mountain. After consulting our trail guides we made set our lofty goal, 18 miles over Blood Mountain and ending our day at Mountain Crossings Hostel. We knew this would be a challenge, but we had spent the first 3 days suppressing the desire to run down the trail and knock out as many miles as we could. Now that we were keeping our own pace, we tore down trail. Partially driven by the desire to finally conquer Blood Mountain, and partially by the prospect of hot pizza and a resupply waiting at Mountain Crossings. Before we knew it we were encountering the long uphill that is the southern ascent of Blood Mountain. It wasn’t the beast we’d been anticipating, and while it was the largest elevation change we’d encountered to that point on the hike, it was drawn out over a few miles and really didn’t hurt as bad as what we were anticipating. The view from the top when we finally crested the summit (after checking out the iconic Blood Mountain Shelter) was incredible, and absolutely worth all of the miles we had put in up to that point. But even more memorable was the descent down the northern approach. While the path we’d taken to the top was long and full of switchbacks, the Northern approach was steep, rocky, icy and technical. It made for a memorable descent and made me glad we still had plenty of daylight left to get to the bottom.

By the time we got to Mountain crossings, my dad and brother had been there for several hours. The store was closed for the day, but the hostel still had room for 2. So we claimed our bunks and hitched a ride from a local trail angel that ferries people back and forth from the hostel to the gas station at the bottom on the mountain that makes “personal” pizzas that hikers consume in their entirety. Once we got back to the hostel, got our bunks made and took turns washing off 3 days of dirt and sweat in the communal shower, it was off to bed to rest up. Day 5 was challenging because Storyteller and I were still pretty tired from our 18 mile jaunt the day before, but Greenlight was fresh and ready to conquer some more mountains. We kept a reserved pace for most of the day. Greenlight would hike ahead full throttle then stop and wait for us to catch up to him. There are a lot of ups and downs in the Georgia section of the AT. Most of them have cool names, but there are only a few that are truly daunting. We ended Day 5 after 10 miles over a few of those lesser climbs. Day 6 we decided to let loose again and we tore through another 15 miles, over a handful of medium climbs. By the last 5 miles we were all exhausted. Green light was talking about calling it a day, but Storyteller and I wanted to get to the top of Tray Mountain and camp by the shelter. Tray is one of the bigger climbs and was pretty intimidating after the 10 or so miles we’d already put in. We finally convinced him to push through, he thanked us when we made it to the campsite before dark. Since we’d put in such a long day on day 6, day 7 was a short 10 mile walk back to our staged car at Dicks Creek Gap. The last miles seemed to stretch on forever, I’d felt great for the entire trip and kept a positive attitude even in the face of the hardest physical challenge of my life. But the last 5 miles really got into my head. But we made it in good time and after a short drive into town we threw ourselves into a quiet corner of a local Mexican restaurant and celebrated our success with beer and hot food. The actual Georgia border that we’d been aiming for is in the middle of nowhere, so even though we say we hiked the Georgia portion of the trail on this trip, we were actually about 7 miles short. Yet, at the end of a trip like this it’s really hard to be upset about something so small. During this week we hiked 70 miles and through 3 different hiker bubbles, making friends in the moment that we’ll probably never see again. The experience was genuine and wholesome, it changed my perspective of the trail and the crazy people that love it like I do.

If you made it this far, thank you. Our plan now is to pick up at Dicks Creek Gap in October and hike 96 miles to Fontana Dam over 7 days. That trip is coming up in a couple of weeks, and I hope to get a ton a great pictures. I’ll have a recap post like this in the weeks following the trip.   

Here’s the breakdown of our 7 days on trail starting from Amicalola:

Day 1 – Ended at Springer Mountain Shelter – 9 Miles

Day 2 – Ended at Hawk Mountain Shelter – 8 Miles

Day 3 – Ended at Gooch Mountain Shelter – 7.5 Miles

Day 4 – Ended at Mountain Crossings Hostel – 18 Miles

Day 5 – Ended at Low Gap Shelter – 11 Miles

Day 6 – Ended at Tray Mountain Shelter – 15 Miles

Day 7 – Ended at Dicks Creek Gap – 10 Miles

Traveler, Storyteller, Greenlight and Burning Man.
Amicalola Falls and the infamous stairs.
Goofing around on bridges.
Dry hammock views are the best views.
Trail conditions.
Hiking in the fog on Day 3.
One of our many rest breaks.
Hail at the end of Day 2.
Blood Mountain Shelter.
Mountain Crossings – many prospective thru-hikers call it quits here. About 35 AT miles in.
The view from the summit of Blood Mountain.
The Bunkroom at Mountain Crossing Hostel.
A sign perhaps?
Greenlight standing in front of the only portion of the AT that passes through a building.
Burning Man saying his goodbyes
On the way to Low Gap
One of the bubbles we hiked through.
Camping in a bubble.
The simple things mean the most out here.
One of my favorite pictures from the trip. Relaxing after the 15 miles day ending at the top of Tray Mountain.

Blog Updates

Life is a journey, we’ve all heard the saying and for the most part we understand the logic behind it. But really, life is several journeys that we undertake concurrently. Our educational journey and the inherent human drive to continuously gain knowledge. Our fitness journey, where many of us are struggling to find true health in a westernized culture that’s intelligently designed to make and keep us fat (obesity rates have continued to skyrocket since the 1950s despite all the “interventions” peddled by American culture and the organizations developed to get us healthy). Our wellness journey, where we try to balance a fast paced life and competing priorities with finite time restrictions and deteriorating mental health. Finally our drive for adventure, discovering the new and exciting or rediscovering the old and forgotten. The same drive that keeps us looking at the stars and exploring the deepest parts of the ocean. These journeys are progressing daily, whether we consciously recognize it or not. I hope to use this forum to share my journey with anyone who shares a passion for better understanding these journeys, and ultimately finding happiness and REAL wellness in a world that frequently seems like it’s designed to keep us unhappy and unwell. In the past this blog has been an outlet for me to share some of my outdoor adventures with the community, but like many people I find it difficult to balance life with those constant adventures. So I want to expand the content a little bit so that I can engage with the community more frequently, as well as making the content more personal so that you can better relate to it as a human who is going through something similar (or not). There will be some cosmetic and functional changes to the blog over the next few days, followed by more frequent content relating to those life journeys that we all travel. I encourage you to share information that you find useful and engage in the comments if you feel inspired to.

Sincerely,

Traveler   

Downed Bridges and Trail Names

At the end of 2018, my father and I made plans to hike the GA portion of the Appalachian Trail to celebrate my 30th Birthday (March 2019). Since I now live in central Tennessee, I thought I’d use one of the closer rugged trails as a training opportunity before the epic birthday hike.

I picked a clear, cool Friday evening in the beginning of March to try my hand at the Lower Loop Trail at Fall Creek Falls in Spencer, TN. I’d been on the Upper Loop within the last year, but had been told that the Lower Loop had much more difficult terrain. I left work and noon and got on the road, in a few short hours I was on the trail and heading for my camp site that was just past the half way point.

The trail was rugged in places. with a descent just over 500 feet over the course of about a quarter mile. But the weather was mild and the sky was blue, so I enjoyed taking it all in. But, to my disappointment as I was nearing the midway point around dusk (about 7 miles into the trail), I found the bridge washed out. Usually this wouldn’t have been a problem, since the bridge only crosses a creek. But we’d had several inches of rain fall during the week and the water was now between 3 and 5 feet deep and fast moving in the center. After spending the next 40 minutes walking up and down the bank looking for a safe spot to cross, I turned back and headed back towards the nearest campsite. Even though it was still early spring and the weather was cool enough to keep most people off the trail overnight, this still bothered me for a few reasons. The first and biggest was that no where at the start of the trail, or anywhere along the 7 miles leading to the bridge, was there anything posted to let people know that the bridge was out, when it had very clearly been down for some time. The second feeds off of the first, the campsites in the backwoods area are reservation only, and I was now 7 miles into a trail at dusk only to find out that my campsite was now 14 trail miles away. To add insult to injury, all of the beautiful views that the Lower Loop is known for, and they are some spectacular waterfall vistas, are located on the western rim while I was now confined to the eastern rim.

The silver lining to this unfortunate trip was twofold. Once I got back to the nearest campsite, there were 3 open spots and the only other occupants were a father/son duo who were out testing their hammocks before an upcoming scouting trip. The second which was unbeknownst to me at this point, was that I was about to be handed my trail name. As I approached my chosen camp site, I started a polite conversation with the Father and Son to let them know that the bridge was washed out, and that they’d have to head back out the way they came in the morning. After a short conversation about the recent weather the father politely asked my favorite question “where are you from?”. Earlier this year I recounted with my wife that we’ve moved 8 times in the last 9 years, and moved between states on 4 of those occasions; Indiana to Alaska, back to Indiana, to Texas, and now to Tennessee. So I usually just answer with “all over the place”, but this time I explained our transient tendencies, the kid laughed and the father said something along the lines of “well, you’re quite the traveler”. The last word struck a chord and stuck. I’d been thinking for the last year about what possible trail names I might end up with, but nothing ever sounded as good to me as “Traveler”. So after a few more minutes of conversation I retired to my hammock with a smile, and a new name.

Paw Paw Trail at Fall Creek Falls

The Paw Paw Trail is a 3 mile moderately trafficked loop trail at Fall Creek Falls State Park near Pikeville, TN that features an incredible waterfall view and a scenic overlook that is breathtaking in its own respect. This is a great day hike, but access to the falls is via a very strenuous cable trail that is a mix between hand over fist rock climbing and rappelling (not really that intense but it seems like it) in some areas.

However, if you’re looking for a great weekend trip that can be completed in an afternoon, this is the trail for you.

As always, I’ve added some of my favorite pictures from the trip (and a couple videos) below.

Cane Creek Overlook

Cane creek Falls

Happy Trails!

Savage Gulf Day Loop

The Savage Gulf Day loop is a moderately trafficked loop trail located in the Savage Gulf Natural Area near Palmer, Tennessee. It offers a scenic overlook and 3 to 4 waterfall views depending on how adventurous you want to be. The track that we took was about 5.5 miles when all was said and done, but this trail begs for off the main trail excursions. The trail was well maintained and mostly flat, so even in the August heat starting in the middle of the day it was still tolerable and well worth it for the views. There is a scenic waterfall overlook to the east of the access to the falls, but during the summer it’s so overgrown that it’s really not worth the quarter mile side trail to get to the overlook.

This trail also offers 8 primitive camping locations within walking distance of the falls, but they are first come first serve and must be paid for in advance. All in all this is a very cool day trip that is accessible for anyone that doesn’t have a difficult time walking up small hills and over flat ground. I highly recommend this trail to anyone looking for a little weekend adventure in Southeastern Tennessee.

Directions and further information are available in the link below.  https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/tennessee/savage-day-loop

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Bakers Grove Trail at Long Hunter State Park

Bakers Grove is a moderately trafficked 4 mile loop trail in Long Hunter State Park just outside of Nashville, TN. Walking at a leisurely pace and stopping to take in all of the great views of the lake we still finished in under two hours. But if you stay on trail and keep an average walking pace, this could easily be done in around an hour.

The trail is very flat and spends a good amount of time tracing the eastern bank of the J. Percy Priest Lake, but it offers a few hills and rock fields along the dirt path that make for some good pictures. All in all this is a great trail if you’re looking for a quick workout with access to water that is close to Nashville.

Since relocating to Tennessee in April I’ve been extraordinarily busy with travel and getting settled in a new place. But this will be the first of many trails that I’ll be exploring in the coming months, now that things are slowing down again. As always, I’m posting some of my favorite pictures from the trip below.

Directions and further details are provided in the link below. https://www.alltrails.com/explore/trail/us/tennessee/bakers-grove-trail

Happy Trails!

 

Dante’s Loop at Purgatory Creek

Purgatory Creek is a lengthy set of out and back trails located in San Marcos, Texas that is easily accessible and offers a variety of trail types depending on what you’re looking for. Dante’s Loop is a 7.9 mile trail within the 463-acre Purgatory Creek Natural Area that, as my wife and I found out the hard way, is prone to being washed out during the rainy season in Texas Hill Country.

This trail was rocky, but offered great views of the surrounding preserve and its wildlife and I highly recommend paying it a visit if you’re ever in the area. With that being said, we got a little more adventure than we were looking for on our trip. Being located in South Texas the temp was in the high 90s and as we closed in on the “loop” potion of the trail, which is really just a detour around part of the forest that is prone to flooding in other parts of the year. As we approached the loop we noticed a well-worn trail leading off straight and looked like it would connect us to the far side of the loop and take out about a mile of the “loop”. So my shortcut senses started tingling and I convinced my wife to take the trail with me…

Shortcut

(Circled portion is my now infamous “shortcut”)

20 minutes of walking later we find that this trail leads to a retention wall and that the trail we need to get to is on the other side. Not wanting to admit defeat I convince my loving wife that if we just continue moving forward we’ll somehow find our way around the retention wall and on the right side of retention wall, as I can see from the GPS on my phone and a trusty alltrails.com map that we’re only about a quarter mile from the part of the trail we’re trying to get to. However, the hillside that we needed to walk through in that direction had been washed out recently and was strewn with forest debris. Nevertheless we continued in my predetermined direction… for about 500 feet, at which point a large hawthorn branch that my wife stepped on decided to get better acquainted with her leg and proceeded do so by introducing a large thorn about an inch into the side of her calf while simultaneously scratching the absolute hell out of the rest of her leg. Que the “I love my husband so much” dialogue, or something like that.

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At this point I fearlessly decide that the only way we’re going to safely get to where we’re trying to go is by getting ourselves up and over this retention wall as quickly as we can. And so we start our way up, climbing boulder by boulder up roughly 80 to 100 feet of elevation. Once we made it to the top we find that we’re in the middle of a gated area that reads “restricted area, do not enter” on the opposite side of the fence from where we are. Oh how I love my GPS. After a quick survey of the surrounding area we see a small gap in the fencing on the opposite side of the retention wall where a drainage culvert passes through. So down we go once again over the boulders that make up the retention wall. We make it to the culvert and through the fence as my wife continues the “I love my husband so much” dialogue that is very well deserved at this point and finally make it back to the trail, completing my “shortcut” and quickly making our way back up the trail to the parking lot so that we can doctor her leg up and get her out of her now blood-soaked sock.

So the moral of that short story is, Purgatory Creek has some awesome trails but men are terrible with shortcuts, so just stay on the path.

Below are some of my favorite pictures from the trail.

Directions and further information is available in the link below. https://www.alltrails.com/explore/trail/us/texas/purgatory-creek-natural-area

Happy Trails!

P.S. “I love my husband so much” may actually sound like every curse word in the English language when on a “shortcut”, sometimes you just have to read between the lines.

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Panther Canyon Nature Trail

Panther Canyon is a short 1.7 mile out and back trail located in New Braunfels, Tx and is accessible via Landa Park. The trail offers a few water features in the park that are flowing year round and a seasonal creek that flows next to the trail, the trail is flat and serves as a nice afternoon getaway for even the most casual hikers/ backpackers. While this is a short hike it is very rocky and can be rough on the feet if you don’t wear appropriate footwear. Additionally, the end of the trail borders on private property and while we were out on this occasion there were unsupervised children throwing rocks at people on the trail (us included). But don’t let that deter you from getting out and enjoying this amazing slice of Texas nature.

Directions and further information are available in the link below.

https://www.alltrails.com/explore/trail/us/texas/panther-canyon-trail

Here are some of my favorite snapshots from this hike.

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Topo Gee Go!

Screen Shot 2017-10-21 at 10.02.35 AMLook at any list of essential hiking gear, and you’ll always find the standard fallback “map and compass.” Yeah, I know. I have my nifty GPS gadget and half a dozen apps on my mobile device that can get me to the nearest town or road crossing. What if there’s a solar storm? What if your beloved iPhone takes a drink in the creek? What if you’re left to your own devices without your devices, in a trackless forest you’ve never hiked before?

That map and compass could save your life or limb. “But it’s a pain in the behind to find good topographical maps!” you say. Not anymore. Fist bumps to Nat Geo for placing their entire U.S. library of topos here:

http://www.natgeomaps.com/trail-maps/pdf-quads

What is your excuse now, Lewis? How about you, Clark? As an emergency manager and sometimes event planner, I know the value of a good adventure action plan. Not only should you print your grids out and slide them into your pack, now it is super easy to leave a copy with your adventure point of contact, too. Just so that you are both, as they say, on the same sheet of grid squares.

Now get out there and hike something! Happy trails.