I spent 8 days backpacking the Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail, a 76.4 miles stretch that goes from Springer Mountain to the North Carolina border. My backpacking friend and I started earlier this year, but a knee injury coming down off a steep mountain led to a premature exit. We made a commitment to pick up at that exact spot and complete the Georgia section in less than a year, so in late September we resumed from Gooch Gap.
The Appalachian Trail in northern Georgia is an amazingly beautiful and interesting trail. The Army Rangers complete the mountain portion of their training in the area near Dahlonega. The field they use for rapelling out of helicopters is next to the AT and you can hear them firing off rifles at all hours of the day. You won’t see them, but they are known to stalk hikers on the trail for practice.
The trail itself is beautiful and has amazing vistas from peaks frequently between 4,000 and 5,000 feet. I know this because I had seen portions of it earlier, not because there was any visibility. Unfortunately, during my September trek Hurricane Joaquin parked off the coast of the Atlantic and drenched the area in rain for the entire 8 days. We walked in clouds, fog and pouring rain the entire time. Progress on the trail was slowed down as every rock scramble became a slippery risk. Downhills became even more treacherous, as the drenched soil let rocks and mud give way under boots. Socks were constantly drenched, and within a few days in a unique and not pleasant mildewy trail aroma had formed in our tent at night.
The upside of hiking in this weather is it decreased the “Walk in the Woods,” crowd. Much like how unseasoned hikers took to the PCT after seeing Reese Witherspoon in “Wild,” our trail shuttle driver Ron told us of several parties watching Robert Redford and Bill Bryson’s “Walk in the Woods,” and deciding to make an immediate go of the AT. Those backpackers burdened by freshly purchased heavy packs quickly gave up after 2-3 days of constant rainfall, leaving the trail to amazing personalities. We made friends with Bunchberry and Miami at Low Gap Shelter during an overnight. Bunchberry was hiking the second half of a flip flop, having completed Katadhin to the southern end of Shenandoah National Park, and now was hiking northbound. She had a 14 lbs. pack with frequent drop boxes and was made for speed. Miami was on the trail to figure out things, and at a 50 lbs. pack was clearly not built for speed. We sat in Low Gap Shelter commiserating, and later watching torrential rain come down into the valley. All along the trail we ran into terrific people, all experiencing the shared suffering of hiking big mountains and long distance and further challenged by the drenching rain.
We came across the Blood Mountain shelter here on day 2. Built in 1934 by the CCA, it’s a beautiful old stone structure that has secured thousands of hikers against the weather and wildlife. Black bear especially active in this area and have learned how to deal with bear cables. The hike down from Blood Mountain shelter to Neels Gap is strenuous, but we quickly moved as the reward of restocking and pizza lay at the end.
We made it to 6 miles from our goal overall before seeing NWS warnings of severe flash floods and mudslides in the area. We practice safety first. And besides, it gives us another reason to go back to the trail.