Wet walking in woods

On trail at last! We are two days in, and so far so good – in spite of some terrible weather!

When our train arrived in Atlanta on Saturday morning, we were picked up by trail angel Stephanie (trail angels are kind-hearted folk who help out hikers on long trails), and whisked off to Amicalola Falls Lodge for the “AT Gateways” event – like a mini trade fair for hikers, with stalls selling gear and lots of interesting talks. Amicalola Falls is also the start point for the approach trail to the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. For most of the day the Lodge was sunk in dense fog, but then it lifted, the sun came out and we got our first view of the Appalachians – very exciting!

At Amicalola Falls Lodge

That night we camped in “Tent City” with the other hikers. After a foggy start, Sunday was sunny and warm, and we hung out in the sun, taking a walk to the falls and chatting to hikers while Stephanie took another hiker to an alternative (easier) start point for the trail.

We then went to stay with Stephanie at her home  in Canton, and the next day and a half were a whirlwind of shopping and organising, with Stephanie providing us with a ton of information about the trail, and her husband Scott giving us lots of food for thought with his extremely lightweight approach to hiking. We were pretty pleased when we weighed our fully loaded packs (minus food and drink) and found them to be 8 kg – Scott’s face was a picture, his pack is usually half that weight!

Early Tuesday morning, Stephanie drove us back to Amicalola Falls to start our hike. We registered our hikes and received our bright yellow swing tags that show we are attempting a thru-hike of the AT. We are numbers 751 and 752 for 2024 – so much for beating the rush by starting early! Then it was time for a final weighing of our fully loaded packs – 11.4kg including food and drink – then photos at the ceremonial archway, excited goodbyes, then we were off!

With Stephanie at the arch

The first 8.8 miles of hiking were on an approach trail. The AT actually starts at the top of Springer Mountain, at 3780 feet. So from the archway at 1700 feet it was a long ascent. At first it was just cool and grey, then got darker as we neared cloud level. By the time we got to the top of Springer Mountain, we were in thick fog, with no views to be seen. We took the obligatory photos of the plaque marking the start of the trail, the first white blaze – the entire 2195 miles of trail is marked with white blazes on trees and rocks – then we set off down the trail.

Springer Mountain
First white blaze at Springer Mountain

The woods were quiet and wintry, with just a few dead leaves left hanging on branches. Rhododendron bushes and spindly little pines provided some greenery, while the oak leaves on the ground were a dull brown. The bare trees reached up into the fog, their tops hidden.

Just 2.8 miles into the official trail, we came to Stover Creek shelter, where we planned to spend the night. These back country shelters are a feature of the AT, consisting of a wooden platform, 3 walls and a roof, which can sleep around 6 to 15 hikers. Some shelters have an upper deck; some have a table and benches under the roof. Most have a privy nearby, a pit toilet in a little wooden building, which honks to high heaven but helps reduce the impact of the concentration of hikers in one small area. And, very importantly, the shelters in Georgia have lockers or cable hanging systems for protecting your food from bears. Without these options you have to find a suitable tree to hang your food 12 feet up, 6 feet below the branch and 6 feet out from the trunk – not easy!

Stover Creek shelter was packed full of hikers by the time we arrived, so we put up our tent in one of the designated camping spots nearby. We cooked dinner, of CupaSoup and cheesy mashed potato with chorizo, at the table in front of the shelter, then as it started to rain we put our food in the bear locker and retired to our tent at 6pm.

What a night it was! The rain got heavier and heavier, and from about 10pm it hammered it down all night. I woke up every couple of hours to check on things – the rain and drips from the trees were hitting the ground so hard it was bouncing mud under the flysheet, up onto our packs and shoes and the tent inner. I’d re-sealed the seams on the tent flysheet just a few weeks earlier, but still the rain managed to force its way through onto the inner tent, with spits and spots getting through to my sleeping bag and my face (Neil was on the more sheltered side and escaped this). As water puddled up below us, it seeped through the groundsheet – our inflatable mats kept us just about clear. But there was nothing we could do about any of it other than try to sleep and hope for the best.

This morning the heavy rain had slackened off to drizzle. All our gear was gritty and damp, but we felt very lucky in comparison to a couple of other hikers who had camped – their tent had totally failed, and all their gear was soaked. When we left the shelter, they had lit a smoky campfire and were trying to dry their gear in the steady drizzle.

Joe from Florida and Neil, at Stover Creek

We didn’t have many miles to go to the next shelter – we planned to stay at Gooch Mountain shelter, along with everyone else it seemed! So the day turned into a bit of a race, with only space for 14 hikers in the shelter and nobody keen to camp in such wet weather. But in spite of our best efforts, the shelter was full by the time we arrived. No matter, we put up our tent, mopped it out as best we could and after a good meal of Knorr Rice Sides (like Savoury Rice) settled to sleep. It may be very wet, but at least it’s not cold. The woods are still in winter, but they won’t be this way forever. The trail is busy, but hopefully it will start to thin out as we head north. Sometime we might even get to stay in a shelter!

5 Responses

  1. Richard Timms
    | Reply

    Great realistic write up. Just finished our ‘ short’ hut tour in Norway. 7 days of about 6-8 hours a day. Doesn’t sound like you are eating much. We carried about same weight which seems well done for keeping your kit down. Like the honesty of the tent, rain thing. Enjoying my granite gear rucksack thanks for the tip on that.

  2. Roz Savage
    | Reply

    Couldn’t they have splashed out on a 4th wall for the shelters?!

    Sounds like grim weather, but glad your kit bore up better than others. Glad to see you’ve had some sunshine now.

  3. Carol Makin
    | Reply

    Things can only get better..
    Sing along…

  4. Andy Hall
    | Reply

    Sounds like a tough start. Hope weather improves soon

  5. Stephanie
    | Reply

    Oh yuck! What a rainy start to your hike! I can’t wait to follow the rest!!

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