Trip Report: Appalachian Trail Approach Trail (Springer Mountain) May 2014
Appalachian Trail Approach Trail–Springer Mountain
May 27-28, 2014
We arrived at our car campsite in Amicalola Falls State Park around midnight after 4 days of traveling from my home in Ohio to Louisiana for a 2-day dog show, then Mississippi to visit friends (including a crawfish boil!) before getting back on the road. By the time I got registered, watered, set up, dogs fed, etc. It was 1:30 am (shout out to the overnight staff at the lodge who were super friendly at midnight or so). I plugged my phone and Anker in to charge while I slept for an hour. When my alarm went off I shut everything off so I wouldn’t further run down the battery on my cranky old van.
When I woke up (a full hour after I planned to get on the trail), I fed dogs, crated them, then went to shower. While I was in there I could hear Halo start to sing, which in turn made Ranger sing.
I finally got everything set up where it belonged in our packs. When I started the van it had difficulty cranking. This is just another in the laundry list of reasons I need to retire the van. Within an hour I’d hear the transmission whine out going uphill and smell the brakes burning on the downhills (complete with red warning light which prompted me to add brake fluid–a situation that’s becoming more common for me).
When I finally got on the trail I quickly realized how out of shape I am. I hope I don’t end up with a bad case of Hiker Hobble. We have all day to find out.
Another issue is my boots. They are La Sportiva Eco 3.1 boots–virtually identical to my favorite (and nearly worn out) La Sportiva Eco 3.0 boots. These definitely don’t fit as well. I don’t know what I’m going to do to address that. My pack weighed a little much for an overnight, but it could just as easily be that I’m not as fit as I used to be.
Halo recently started barking at people instead of sitting politely for a greeting. This is bad enough in town or at home, but way worse on the trail. She is not being a good ambassador for her species. At least she’s cute. She has that going for her.
Outside of meeting other hikers briefly, nothing spectacular happened on our way up (though we may have startled a bear, but I’m not sure). We stopped for lunch and snacks a few times, with me constantly forgetting that while sitting on rocks is awesome, we’re now in an area where I need to check for venomous snakes before sitting down. During one of my snack stops Halo decided she liked the almonds I had in my pocket.
We also passed this marker placed in memory of Richard Fowler Shoolbred, Sr. from Spartanburg, SC, who was killed in a nearby plane crash along with three others in 1968 at age 33. The wreckage of the plane wasn’t removed until 1996.
The trail was rocky and steep–as if it was going up a mountain or something.
We made it to the top of Springer at 4:15 pm having left at 10 am. This is well withing the 6 hour estimated hike time shown on the signs.
While at the top I was able to get enough signal to check in with friends and family using a Google maps pin plus capture a portal (this type of portal is exactly what “Let’s Move” intended in the geo-location game, Ingress, that I play with my boyfriend, brother, and many of our friends). My friend Nora, who hiked the AT in 2012, suggested I keep going north.
While I was relaxing at the summit with the dogs, three college-aged people made it to the top. They ate their lunches (the guy in the group had a tuna sandwich, which I could smell 20 feet away–exactly the wrong thing to carry in bear country), complained that their phones were out of juice, then asked if I knew where the camping was because they had here there was camping at the top of the mountain. I tried to explain the shelter, but they didn’t seem to understand. One of the two girls asked where the trail ended. I decided to not mess with them by saying “Maine.” One of the girls took my picture with my dogs when I asked, then the trio left the summit when it started to thunder.
I also passed a father/son pair starting a 100-mile trip. I hope they had a good time.
About an hour later I stopped at the Black Mountain Gap shelter on the Approach Trail and met with John, one of the hikers I passed head on as I neared the summit. I relayed the story of the kids (who asked if they could crash with me if they got stranded before mentioning being in a survival experience like Bear Grylls). John said he passed them on his way down/their way up and saw them pass by on their way back down the mountain. John referred to them as “Those kids who were woefully under dressed for this time of night.” It was getting dark and rain had just moved through. All three were wearing trail runners and shorts, while the girls wore sports bra and the guy wore a t-shirt.
John gave my dogs some turkey jerky in the hope that it would settle Halo down (it didn’t). He let me know where water and the privy were, as well as telling me the privy was overflowing. Cat hole time!
John and I discussed trails we’re doing, friends and family who’ve section hiked, pros and cons of our favorite water filters and shelters. He later offered me some water that he collected but wasn’t likely to filter. It truly felt as if I had a host at the shelter. This friendly atmosphere makes up for the lack of solitude on a busy trail like this.
Other things that make up for the crowds is little stuff like this graffiti, which gave me a reminder of home on this trip.
John is hammocking–I wish I could do that with my dogs, but Ranger doesn’t like to be without cover (or blankies) and I feel badly leaving them exposed to insects, arachnids, and snakes. John is older–mid-50s I think–with gray in his beard and ponytail. His daughter thru-hiked in 2013.
My Fitbit says I’ve walked 26,647 steps and 11.83 miles. While I know the distance is wrong, the steps seem correct (Ed. this is the last time my Fitbit will work–there is some defect in it that will not allow it to sync with my phone or laptop. It also eats batteries at the rate of one per day. After a drawn out bout of troubleshooting with customer support Fitbit decides to replace my device, but not until after I complete my various hikes on this trip, so none of that data is captured, much to my dismay).
I ate well and hung my food on pulley cables. This is my first time using pulley cables and am pleased I don’t have to mess with canisters or finding the perfect tree for bear bagging.
In all I’m happy with my dogs, even though Ranger pulled a lot and Halo barked even more. They found a rawhide at the shelter and took turns chewing on it and bickering. When I got them in the tent they tried to roughhouse, but I stopped that before they could do any damage to my new tent. They finally settled down before it was even dark.
I made the summit of Springer at 4:15 pm, camp at 5:30 pm, and finally got to bed at 8:00 pm. It’s still light, but I’m ready for sleep.
Earlier I felt like heat stroke, but thankfully the rain knocked down the heat about 10 F and reduced the humidity. At night I have terrible heartburn, likely due to the physical activity. My thighs are chafed–I’m not used to hiking in shorts–but Gold Bond helped a bit. My feet are sore and knees are likely to be sore in the morning. I have sleep deprivation and am not likely to stay up much longer.
Despite the soreness, chafing, heat, bugs, heartburn, and sleep dep I feel great. The stress of my real life is far away. I know it will return when I get back to the real world, but for now the simplicity of things out here is exactly what I need.
Packed up after a night fighting ticks on all of us (EFFING TICKS!) and being slightly chilled. My bag is rated for 55F and I think the lows were in the 50s. Ranger was the worst. At one point he got under my mattress for cover. I know I yelled at him when he flipped me off the mattress and I hope I didn’t disturb John who was hanging about 100 feet away. Halo rolled off their blue pad and curled into a sad, tiny ball. She didn’t seem the worse for wear.
I pottied dogs near the privy as I figured no one would mind it there. John gave me 2 L of water to filter and took our picture for his own journal before he headed back out. I didn’t think to ask him to use my camera as well, or for a shot of him. The water he gave me got me back to my van without stopping to collect water. I may stop and get a bigger “dirty” reservoir on my way to Table Rock on Thursday night.
Breakfast was pretty much the same thing as what I had for dinner–pepperoni, slim bread, and water. It wasn’t fancy, but it tasted good and got me off the mountain. The dogs had their standard kibble. I have “high octane” dog food for the upcoming 77-mile trip, plus snacks, but I’m still concerned they’ll lose too much weight, even though we could all stand to lose a little.
The way down was uneventful, passing a few uphill hikers and overcoming one pair. As slow as I am that made me feel good. I’ve been slacking on my overall fitness lately and I’m already feeling it. Note to self for the next trip: cardio, weights, and maybe some yoga or something for dexterity and balance.
When we got back to the van I watered dogs and came to the sad realization that we started from the lodge, as it said in the guide I used to plan this trip, not the visitor center, where the approach trail starts, so I went ahead and covered some of that–the most important part. We descended and ascended the 604 stairs at the falls without our packs–now I fully understand the draw of slackpacking. The dogs weren’t too sure about the metal stairs, but they got the hang of it. Up was physically more difficult, but easier navigation for the dogs.
I got pictures of the dogs and of the three of us at the visitor center. I also bought patches for all three of us. I got a hat for myself. Because patches and hats.
We went on to Dawsonville to snag a few souvenirs from the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame–a patch for myself and a patch and some pins for my Dad. Dad’s favorite driver is Bill Elliot–Awesome Bill from Dawsonville.
From there we stopped at Tomato House, a roadside stand that sells fresh veggies, jars of goodies, fresh roasted nuts, and boiled peanuts. I had a late lunch of boiled peanuts while driving (probably not the safest thing in hindsight). I also grabbed two packets of dip mixes that were packaged to look like shotgun shells. My boyfriend target shoots, which earned him the nickname “GunGuy” from a friend. By extension the same friend refers to me as “GunGal” and our house as the “GunShack.” I have to remember to use these at the next get-together with that friend.
From there we went to Unicoi State Park to grab some swag for Nora (trailname UnicoiZoom). The visitor center was closed, so I grabbed her a map that is surprisingly good for a freebie (it’s the thought that counts and she likes maps). I considered another night camping, but a motel was only about $10 more, so I went that route.
I stayed at a motel in Commerce, GA, about 30 miles from Currahee Mountain. I’ll climb that one tomorrow after stopping at the Toccoa visitor center and Currahee Military Museum.
The dogs were happy to sleep in a bed. I had no access to laundry, so I stopped at a local super center to grab a clean shirt and a second pair of shorts for the long trip. I reeked (as noted by the woman signing in ASL to her daughter behind me in line–I don’t know much ASL, but I knew enough to catch that), but dealt with it long enough to check out and get back to the hotel for a shower. I also got pizza–can’t go wrong with a pizza and a motel after a day on the trail.
In all, I’m happy with my trip on Springer. The main issue was my boots. The trail was well marked and there were many good views. I even got a good experience of staying at an AT shelter.
I’d like to come back and do this again at some point. When Nora hiked in 2013 she didn’t hike this section. She said it’s one that she’d like to do in order to complete her route. I think if we’re both in good shape we could peak bag it. Who knows. It’s a good goal to shoot for.