Sunday, June 8, 2014

Riding out the storm on the Appalachian Trail

It was almost two years ago to the day that my mother and I set out on an overnight hike on the Appalachian Trail. Our hike would take us to the summit of Springer Mountain and back. I had previously completed this same hike on the approach trail in a single day; hopefully I can locate those photos to share them with you, because that experience was life-changing.

On this particular hike, we were able to take our time and enjoy the early summer scenery. The approach trail -- which is the first 8.5 'unofficial' miles of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail -- can be rough and altogether unforgiving; it's as much an exercise in mind as it is in body. Its natural beauty makes up for it, however.

Here is Amicalola Falls, sitting pretty at 729 feet tall; it's the tallest waterfall in Georgia. Amicalola is a Cherokee word meaning, "tumbling waters," and it is an apt name, indeed. The falls bounds over huge boulders and courses through a series of natural stone "steps" to the forest floor below.

We made it to the top of Springer Mountain between 2:00 and 3:00 PM. After a celebratory photo next to the southern terminus plaque, we took a short walk to the nearby hiker shelter to inspect the guest log and poke around. In the end, we decided to camp on the summit instead.

I picked out a good place to camp on the summit that appeared free of potential falling branches. My mother set up her tent and I put up my beloved hammock, and then we made and ate our dinner.

At around 5pm, some clouds wandered past us, dark and brooding. They eventually cleared away, leaving us with this absolutely gorgeous sunset:

We watched the as the colors went from that painterly peach-and-purple haze to a dusky indigo, hung our food bag, and then turned in to sleep for the night.

We were woken in the middle of the night by one hell of a storm! Lightning, thunder, the wrath of the gods was upon us on that summit. My hammock was literally bouncing in the wind, though I was safely ensconced under my trusty tarp and wrapped up like a burrito in my sleeping bag. It was a strangely lulling sensation, almost like being rocked to sleep.

My mother was not as comfortable, apparently; she was rather panicked, and kept calling my name. At one point, she hilariously and irrationally started blowing her whistle to "keep the bears away from our food." I will never get over that. I laugh to the point of tears whenever I think of it.

When we woke the next morning, we were greeted by cool weather and a flooded mountaintop. I had chosen our campsite well: our site was clear of debris, but all the surrounding tent spots were littered with large, fallen branches. We were lucky.

We broke camp and made our way back down the mountain. The forest was chilled and foggy; it was a peaceful descent. 

We stopped at one point and filled our Nalgene water bottles at one of the water sources on the trail. It was there that we encountered a fellow hiker who gave off a homeless-but-hiding-it vibe; there are actually quite a few homeless people who wander between the shelters on the Appalachian Trail.

I would love to explore more of the Appalachian Trail; my goal hikes are through the Roan Highlands, the 100-mile Wilderness, and the White Mountains. I'll be sure to update here when I complete them. :)

Have any of you hiked the Appalachian Trail?

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