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.

Hiking the Knobstone: Day 2

Little did we know when we began planning this trip at the end of August, that Indiana would be hit with an unseasonably warm spell at the end of September. As it turns out, the weekend we decided to hit the trail. We spent our time on this iconic Indiana trail alone due to the high heat and humidity. Temps were in the 90s and humidity was nearly as high.


Even being a hammock camper where you’re usually afforded the luxury of a gentle breeze throughout the night. Our first and what would turn out to be our only night on the Knobstone Trail was devoid of any breeze, while the temps never dipped below 78 and the humidity made for a very sticky attempt at sleep.

When morning came we broke camp with first light, I know I slept about 2 hours in total because I absolutely could not stop sweating the entire night, and I had somehow become covered with black ants during the time I set up camp. I don’t think Dad slept much more than I did. After breaking down camp and eating a quick breakfast I downed close to a liter of water  because I could already feel the dehydration setting in.


Once we started out in the trail it was immediately evident that I had no idea what I was getting into when I stepped foot on this trail.  The Knobstone is a relentless rollercoaster of steep climbs and fast descents. During the first hour and a half on the trail we progressed about 2 miles and finished nearly all of the remaining water we had on us while having to constantly swat down large spiderwebs that were strewn across the path as it seemed that we had been the only hikers on this portion of the trail in a few days. Luckily, a local trail club had anticipated a few hapless adventures taking on the trail in the current conditions and had stashed a few gallons of water at nearly every road crossing we came upon. 

We gladly refilled our water every chance we got  and continued on at a breathtakingly slow pace (my pace), taking every opportunity we had to drink water and attempt to cool down. Eventually stopping at a creek that I promptly dove into after stripping down to compression shorts. The temps were already into the high 80s and the humidity was stifling by a quarter after 10 and after slowly making our way another 2 miles we came to a road crossing that was stocked with more water gifted by trail angels. It was at this point, with sweat soaked through all of my clothing and my pack, having downed nearly 2 gallons of water in 8 miles on the trail and still feeling the effects of severe dehydration. Sitting on a log on the side of the road with my dad, I decided to end my trip on the Knobstone. At least this time around.

After getting a ride from a local thru hiker and retiree, getting some food and more water in our bellies and catching up on sleep that I’d missed in the sweatiest night that I’ve ever hammocked through. I saw the full scale of what happens when you sweat through your bug spray in prime chigger weather in Indiana.


All in all my first experience on the Knobstone was nothing close to what I was expecting it to be. But I had a good time hiking with my father and made some more memories that we can add to our future campfire stories. The Knobstone beat me down this time and left me with the worst case of chiggers that I’ve ever seen. But I’m not deterred, next time we set out to tackle this trail I’ll be better prepared for the hills, hopefully it won’t be this hot, I’ll overapply my bug spray and we’ll complete the whole thing.

We did get some cool pictures while we were out that I’ll post below.

If you’re interested in hiking the Knobstone trail, further information is available below.  https://www.in.gov/dnr/forestry/4275.htm

Happy Trails!

Hiking the Knobstone: Day 1

Well, more like day 1/4. After a morning of prep (and work for my Dad) and an hour and a half drive from Peru, Indiana to Bloomington, Indiana to meet up with Dad before rushing another hour down to Corydon to cache water and start our hike. We FINALLY hit the trail at a little after 6pm. We managed to make it a little past the 5 mike mark after hiking by headlamp for the greater part of an hour.


The first 4 miles of the trail are gently rolling hills, not too much of a bother. But once you get past the 4 mike marker the trail starts going up, and doesn’t stop for what seems like an eternity to an out of shape hiker that’s gotten used to the flat trails in Texas. So we have 1 “hill” down and so much more to go. Elevation profile added for dramatic effect.


Looking at the 40+ miles to go, and knowing what lays in store definitely gives me one of those “what the hell did I get myself into” frames of mind. But I’m determined to finish this hike while I’m back. I don’t know the next time I’ll get to hike with my father, and I want this trip to go successfully in the record books. We just happened to pick the hottest, most humid weekend of the year to accomplish it. But I guess the unforeseen challenges are what make it that much more memorable.
Anyway, after managing to set our hammocks up  by headlamp (kudos to Atlas Straps and aluminum carabiners) and sitting around a small fire to dry off and get the bugs off of us. We’re both ready to snooze in our hammocks. I know tomorrow will be challenging, but I hope I have the fortitude to overcome.

If you’re interested in hiking the Knobstone trail, further information is available below.  https://www.in.gov/dnr/forestry/4275.htm

Happy Trails!

The Appalachian National Scenic Trail

What is it?

The Appalachian National Scenic Trail, commonly referred to as simply the Appalachian Trail or “the AT” for short, is probably the most well-known hiking trail in the United States. As such it inspires a few thousand prospective thru-hikers and (estimates say) close to 3 million visitors (day hikers, section hikers) to the nearly 2,200 mile footpath each year. Though less than half of the prospective thru hikers actually go on to complete the trek.

AppalachianTrail-Map

Appalachian Trail Map (http://swling.com/blog/tag/best-radio-for-appalachian-trail/)

How do you thru hike it?

The AT is most commonly hiked from its southern terminus at Springer Mountain in Georgia through North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire before travelers reach the northern terminus at Mt. Katahdin in Maine. Although many of those starting later in the year choose to hike southbound from Maine to Georgia to avoid seasonal closure in Baxter State Park that would otherwise prevent northbound hikers from actually reaching the summit of Katahdin if they run behind.

ATinGA-ApproachArch32

Approach Trail (http://cnyhiking.com/ATinGA-SpringerMountain.htm)

Mt Katahdin

Mt. Katahdin (http://www.summitpost.org/katahdin/150219)

What’s the draw?

The Appalachian Trail is iconic and has been the focus of several books, documentaries and a mainstream movie. But what makes people want to start an undertaking of this magnitude? The answer to that question is very specific to the person that is answering. Many people want to say that they thru hiked the grandfather long trail, some want to prove to themselves that they have what it takes to survive in the woods for months at a time. Others are just looking for an escape or change of pace. But one thing remains the same, everyone that starts the trail finds the same rocky path, lined by seasonal flowers, rhododendron tunnels, mixed forest filled with fresh mountain streams and spring water sources, breathtaking mountain views and comradery that most never expect to find in the middle of nowhere.

How long does it take?

The average hiker takes between 4-5 months, or 165 days on average, to finish the thru hike. But it can be done in less time by those determined to skip zero days (a day that you hike 0 miles), and can take longer for those wishing to really experience everything there is to experience on the trail. Many of the trail towns hold festivals. Damascus, VA hold an annual festival dubbed “Trail Days” and offers an opportunity for vendors and past and present thru hikers to come together and celebrate the trail.

How much does it cost?

An AT thru hike costs an average of $4500-$6000 depending on the amount of time the hiker decides to stay in trail towns or in hostels along the trail. The biggest expense along the trail is food, as the average hiker needs to consume nearly 5,500 calories a day to maintain their weight while thru hiking the AT. This constant need for calories has also spawned dozens of traditional eating contests in trail towns along the way. From eating a half gallon of ice cream in one sitting to hotdogs and pancake eating competitions. Thru hikers know how to load up on calories whenever the opportunity is presented to them.

In addition to actual hike costs, prospective thru hikers will spend between $500 and $2,500 on gear before setting out on their epic quest, cost mostly depending on the brand of gear that is purchased. While it is possible to spend less upfront, outfitters like REI stand by the items that they sell and will send thru hiker’s replacement gear while they are on the trail if anything happens to fail.

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Additional Links:

http://blog.rei.com/hike/21-appalachian-trail-statistics-that-will-surprise-entertain -and-inform-you/

http://www.projecttimeoff.com/blog/things-do/more-walk-woods-what-you-need-know-about-appalachian-trail

What is a Thru-Hike?

What is a thru-hike?

This is a question that a lot of new hikers find themselves asking or googling after hearing the term in conversation. But there isn’t always a straight answer, especially depending on what company you’re with at the time. Oftentimes people will refer to themselves as bona-fide thru hikers after completing one of America’s “Big Three” long trails, in one setting. Of course I’m referring to the iconic Appalachian Trail (2,200 miles), the scenic Pacific Crest Trail (2,659 miles) and the mystifying Continental Divide Trail (3,100 miles). If you ask someone who has hiked one of these trails what it takes to become a thru hiker, they will likely tell you that you have to hike the mileage of the trail that they hiked to earn the title, and rightly so.

But there are others in the sport that argue that completing any “long trail” in the United States will earn you the title. The truth is that it really depends on how you feel about it. Hike your own hike, if you complete a 100 mile trail in one setting and you want to call yourself a thru hiker, call yourself a thru hiker. As long as you feel comfortable with your accomplishments, that’s what the sport is all about. Getting to be one with nature, learning survival skills and bonding with new and old friends. You might not be a thru hiker to someone who has hikes one of the big three, but others who have hiked the trail you hiked might agree that you should call yourself a thru hiker. At the end of the day, it comes down to what you feel you are. If you feel like a section hiker, be a section hiker. If you feel like a thru hiker, be a thru hiker. Don’t base how you label yourself or your adventures on anyone’s views but your own. When it all comes to a close, you are the only person that lived your life and the only one who will remember how your adventures felt to you.

So whether you’re a day hiker, a section hiker, or a thru hiker. Enjoy the adventure and don’t stress over titles. Once you’ve gotten your trail name, you can revel in the fact that you’ve made it into a very prestigious group of people who care more for experiences than outward appearances and that is a very good place to be indeed.  Whatever you do, remember to hike your own hike (HYOH).

Happy Trails,

Aaron

*HYOH is a term also used to tell a fellow hiker that is offering unwanted advice to mind their own damn business*

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