We have had quite the time during our first five days of thru hiking. We’ve encountered rain, ice, snow, and thick fog. We’ve been freezing cold trying to pack up camp and sweating profusely as we hiked up mountains. We are here for it all!
It started with a misty morning at Amicalola Falls State Park, where the Approach Trail to Springer Mountain begins. After getting some pictures at the iconic stone arch, we said goodbye to Mama Grant and officially began our journey. Giddy doesn’t begin to cover how we both felt as we essentially pranced down the trail- even trudging up the infamous 600-step stairs couldn’t get us down! Yeah, they were tough and certainly got our blood pumpin’, but it was worth it for the view of the falls. Even shrouded in heavy fog and mist, they were a sight to behold.
After those crazy stairs, we still had some tough butt-kickin’ elevation to climb to get up to Springer. We’re telling ya- that Approach Trail is no joke! But it was completely worth doing for how gratifying it felt to get to the top of Springer- it really felt like we had earned that summit, like it was the right way for us to start the trail. And boy, the pure elation we felt when we saw our first white blaze and the plaque indicating we were in fact standing on top of the southern terminus of the AT… nothing like it!
We took the obligatory photos and video while on top of Springer, of course, and signed our names in the register. It was pretty cold and windy and spitting rain, though, so we started heading in the direction of the shelter where we intended to set up camp for the night.
When we got to Stover Creek, there were already a few thru hikers there. Since we were planning on not staying in the shelters anyways during our thru, we went ahead and set up our tent close by. At some point, the sun peaked out and graced us all with its presence, a nice treat while cooking dinner. Eventually, even more thru hikers would show up for the night, including a family of seven! We went to bed a little after Hiker Midnight (aka when the sun goes down), savoring the excitement of our first day being on trail.
Day 1 Mileage
Approach Trail Miles: 8.8
Appalachian Trail Miles: 2.8
Total Miles: 11.6
Our second day on the trail washed the honeymooning glisten of the first day right off of us. We knew we’re going to be seeing rain showers during the day and braced ourselves for it. We got through most of the day before the downpour really hit, but then we were really feeling it. We endured, but with how cold it was on top of the wetness, it truly was an “embrace the suck” kind of experience.
With our heads down basically just trying to make it the thirteen miles to Gooch Mountain Shelter, we were surprised when we came to a road crossing and found a white van covered in stickers with tarps rigged around it. Could this really be the infamous Fresh Ground, our wide eyes and dropped jaws seemed to be saying to each other. Sure enough, we gingerly walked on up to the van and a man jumped out of the driver’s side exclaiming “They didn’t tell me y’all were comin’! Y’all want some food? I’m gonna make y’all some food!” Literally day two of our thru hike and we’re being treated to some of the most iconic trail magic on the AT. We had heard about Fresh Ground from so many other seasoned thru hikers, and were just thrilled beyond belief that we’d run into him. We didn’t think we’d see him so early on! He cooked us up some delicious vegetable stir fry and homemade french fries before sending us on our way. That delicious warm food coupled with him telling us that he’d be at the road crossing just beyond where we’d be camping that night to cook all of us breakfast gave us the energy to rock out the last 3.5 miles to camp.
We reached the shelter to find a whole group of awesome thru hikers staying for the night. They had also experienced the incredible Fresh Ground trail magic and were equally pumped for breakfast the next morning.
That night was hard, as it was still cold and raining and beyond difficult to keep ourselves and everything we had with us even remotely dry. Frankly, it was impossible. We resigned ourselves to the fact that we were going to be damp for the night, and just did what we could to dry things in the sleeping bag with our body heat as best as possible.
Day 2 Mileage
Appalachian Trail Miles: 12.9
It rained most of the night leading into day three. The rain stopped early in the morning, but it got colder as dawn approached. When we awoke, everything was frozen, including our tent fly which was essentially a sheet of ice. Packing up was beyond difficult as we were cold beyond belief. A lot of our gear was still damp, making it hard to warm up before getting back on trail. If you’ve never had the pleasure of trying to shove your frozen feet into frozen boots with frozen hands, we highly recommend doing whatever you can to avoid such an experience altogether. Eventually, we got out of camp and started the 1.4 mile trek to the breakfast spot where we enjoyed yummy warm food and coffee and some great company with fellow thru hikers who also survived the crazy wet cold night- some much needed laughs were had before we started our journey for the day.
Hiking brought us warmth, which made us feel human again, which in turn made it possible for us to enjoy the beauty around us. Overnight, the woods had been transformed into what Micah referred to as a “Crystal Forest”- it literally felt like something out of a Dr. Seuss book! After what was an incredibly rough start to the day, we enjoyed our favorite day of hiking on the trail thus far!
We had the choice to hike further than we did that day, but decided to stop early at a campground with lots of sunshine and warmth and some of our new Hiker friends. It was still early, so we were able to lay out all of our wet stuff and dry things out. Despite the fact that we were a little further away from Blood Mountain, the peak we’d be summiting the next day, we felt good about our decision. We had such a good time getting to know some of the other hikers, relishing the good energy of the people we’re starting to sync up with. It was cold that night, but we were dry and feeling grateful for a beautiful day on the trail.
Appalachian Trail Miles: 8.3
We woke up excited for what we knew in our hearts would be another great day on the trail. For starters, it was amazing to wake up warm and DRY, unlike the morning before. Everyone we stayed with at Lance Creek was in great spirits, soaking up the beauty of a stunning sunrise and getting excited for our ascent of Blood Mountain, the highest peak in Georgia on the AT.
Though we were the last ones to leave camp that day (walking away from Lance Creek Campground at 9:15 am) we were cruising and knocked out the 4.9 miles to the top of Blood in 2 hours and 10 minutes. It was a bluebird day and the views on top were spectacular. We so enjoyed spending time up there with our new trail friends, basking in the accomplishment of knocking out one of the harder summits in Georgia. While on the summit, Micah even got his trail name! He described to our new friends how, when he was working in wilderness therapy, he would get the kids attention by saying “BAM!” whenever they’d come across a stunning view. The kids, jolted from their heads-down trudge, would look up saying “What?!?!” To which Micah would respond, “BAM! Beauty Appreciation Moment!” Micah told this story, and Sherpa immediately said “BAM! That’s your trail name!”
After a nice long break on top of Blood, we made our way down to Neel Gap. We’d already decided that we would be taking the next day off in anticipation of the thunderstorms coming through, but hearing that all our new friends would also be taking a zero the next day, we were all the more motivated to have a day to regroup. From Neels, it’s a short walk down to Blood Mountain Cabins. We arrived and found that dear old Fresh Ground would also be spending a few nights to feed our little group during our off day. We ended the day reveling at the serendipity of it all, absolutely astounded at the magic we were already experiencing on trail.
Day 4 Mileage
Appalachian Trail Miles: 7.3
We’re taking our zero day to get everything in order before we hop back on trail tomorrow. The thunderstorms came through overnight, and we felt grateful that we weren’t in the middle of it getting drenched. We know that we’re going to run into rain on the trail- what we have to watch out for is rain followed by freezing cold temps. There are times that you can be cold and wet and be miserable but safe, and there are times that you can be cold and wet and it can be dangerous. We made a judgement call based on the rain and the freezing cold to follow it and decided a zero was called for. It has also given us the opportunity to write up some blog content for you fine folks!
While we’re excited and grateful for this time to regroup and bond some more with our Hiker friends, we’re also itching to get back on the trail. We’re excited to strap on our shoes and throw our packs on our backs again tomorrow and keep heading north!
Day 5 Mileage
Zero Day at Neels Gap