After six days on-trail and five on the AT, I’ve finally gotten off-trail for the first time since last Wednesday, when I flew into Atlanta. Today I reached Dick’s Creek Gap outside of Hiawassee, GA — AT mile 69.3 — where I walked a half-mile to the Top of Georgia Hostel. For $30, I get a bed to sleep in tonight, a hot shower (which was incredible), and also get all my clothes washed — a price I didn’t even think half a second about paying.
The last six days have been pretty incredible, to say the least, an experience unlike anything I’ve ever had before. I don’t think I’ve been out here long enough to claim that my life has been changed or I’ve had any life-altering experiences, but learning how to live in the woods with everything you own on your back has been humbling and rewarding for sure. I’ve also met a ton of cool people, walked up and down some cool mountains, and seen some cool stretches of trail.
Day 1: Amicalola Falls SP to Black Gap Shelter (7.3 miles)
This day was one of the most intense travel days I’ve ever had. Alyssa and I woke up at 3:30 and she generously drove me an hour into Boston to catch my 6:25am flight to Atlanta. I landed in Georgia around 9:30, collected my gear, then hopped on a train 45 minutes north to where I would meet my shuttle to the trail. After a 1.5-hour ride with Survivor Dave (awesome dude) and a fellow hiker from Texas, we reached Amicalola Falls at 2pm. I registered my hike, took a quick picture, then headed off on the 8.8-mile “Approach Trail” which winds its way through the park and to the top of Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the trail. I made it to the Black Gap shelter by 4:30, 1.5 miles shy of Springer, but called it a day because there were rumors of the Springer Mtn. shelter being full that night (it was). Met a ton of cool people at Black Gap — none of whom I’ve seen since Springer, unfortunately — and got my sleeping space set up before the rain came in that night.
Day 2: Black Gap Shelter to Justus Creek (1.5 + 14.4 miles)
Got out of camp at Black Gap around 9am, and made the final 1.5 miles up to Springer mountain in no time. Past Springer, the trail was super easy, and I cruised the next 10 miles or so in no time. The Georgia woods is strangely nice this time of year, and most of the trees are still bare from the fall, allowing you to see out into the distance through the trees as well as see a lot of the space around you as you hike. The first thing it reminded me of was hunting shed antlers in Connecticut in the spring with my dad and uncle as a kid. The day ended with a few climbs up Sassafras and Justus mountains, then a long smooth descent to Justus creek where I tented out for the night. Along the way I met up with a hiker named “Baloo” (like from the Jungle Book) who said he was going to call me “St. Joe” because of my alma mater — I declined, as I am no Saint — then settled on the name “Monk” after I told him our mascot. So, my trail name is now “Monk”.
Day 3: Justus Creek to Lance Creek (9.8 miles)
After two days of hiking hard (in new shoes, too… not wise), my feet felt pretty beat-up on Friday morning, so I decided that a short day was in order. I took my time making the walk from Justus Creek to Lance Creek, even getting a few views along the way. Conveniently, the next three campsite after Lance Creek required bear canisters to stay at, so it was the perfect place to stop and take a short day.
Day 4: Lance Creek to Whitley Gap Shelter (13.9 miles)
This morning I climbed the highest mountain on Georgia’s AT, Blood Mountain, and found the walk up to be easier than anticipated — surely, soaking my feet in the cold stream at Lance Creek the night before helped — but I also found the views to be lacking (spoiled by the White Mountains, I think). After Blood, I came down into Neel Gap, when the famous “Mountain Crossings” outfitters sits right on-trail. I had been sleeping pretty poorly on my foam pad for the first few nights, so I trashed that and picked up an inflatable pad (which has been a nice upgrade over the last few nights). After Neel Gap, there wasn’t much, but the day ended well as I made the very-worth-it 1.2-mile blue-blaze walk to Whitley Gap shelter and spent the night with a bunch of cool guys – Teach, Quest, Pub, and our unnamed Swedish friend.
Day 5: Whitley Gap Shelter to Tray Mountain Shelter (20.2 miles)
This day was pretty gnarly. Started out easy in the morning, then got tougher as it went. The climbs up Blue, Rocky and Tray mountains were all long and rocky, with deep gaps in-between to climb down into. I planned on stopping multiple times before Tray Mountain, but the weather was so nice and every mile I chewed up today meant one less I had to do tomorrow. Tray Mountain was the nicest of the day, with a cool lookout up top and nice green bushes lining the trail to the summit. Nearly 22 miles underfoot when counting the blue-blaze from the shelter had me just about exhausted when I got to camp, but it was worth it to shorten today’s hike and met some cool folks at the shelter — R2-D2, Crockett, Stoney, Sardines.
Day 6: Tray Mountain Shelter to Dick’s Creek Gap (11.0 miles)
Today was the first bad-weather morning I’ve had on-trail, as I woke up to light rain and fog that slowly faded away as the morning hike went on. After yesterday’s marathon (well, almost), today’s miles felt harder than usual, especially the climb up Kelly Knob, the last 4,000-footer on the GA section of trail. Despite it feeling quite difficult, I made the 11.0 miles to Dick’s Creek Gap in just under 4 hours, then wasted no time humping it down the road to the hostel, checking in, and taking the most magical shower. Getting my clothes laundered is a plus too, as after 6 hard days even my wool was starting to smell.
Overall, I feel pretty good, aside from a few blisters on my feet that are more annoying than truly painfully. My legs and back feel great, which I attribute to the amount of time I spent in the gym preparing for this walk. No matter how nice your gear is, walking 2,200 miles is certainly a physical undertaking, and it seems that most people underestimate that aspect in favor of spending so much time researching gear, food plans, and what else. Thankfully for now, my body is holding up, and I hope that I only get stronger moving on from here.
Tomorrow’s forecast calls for rain, so it looks like a short hike into Plumorchard Gap Shelter 4.5 miles away might be in the cards. However, if the rain isn’t too bad, there’s a chance I could push an extra 4.5 miles to Bly Gap, which would officially put me in North Carolina and have me out of Georgia in just under 7 days. Either way, I’m excited to make it to a new state in the next few days, and I’ll be sure to send another update next time I’m off-trail.
Thanks for reading and happy hiking.