AT Approach Trail Part 1

Scooby is a lot of things. Poser is not one of them. I mean that in the most literal sense of the word. While Dana tried her artistic best to get a usable shot he squirmed and shifted, stood up, laid down, rolled over and pulled at the purple leash whose other end was firmly clinched in my grubby. We were trying to grab a pre-hike pic before the two of us (Scooby and I) started our adventure. At 10:17 am, Friday morning we both kissed Dana goodbye (not sure who had the sloppier kiss) and walked thru the stone archway at Amicalola Falls State Park, GA which led into the woods and up the trail toward Springer Mountain. Not officially the Appalachian Trail but a footpath hiked by most who would attempt the journey of 5 millions steps to Maine. At the end of this 8.8 mile hike is the official trailhead of the AT marked by two brass placards and a breath-snatching vista to boot. Our plan was to hike to the top of Springer, dream of the day when we’d begin our five month journey to Maine, and then hike the mile and a half back down the mountain to spend the night at Black Gap Shelter, returning Saturday to AFSP to meet Dana in time for lunch. So we were off.
We headed across a wooden footbridge so long most would call it a boardwalk, crossed the street and back into the woods again. After a surprisingly short walk we popped back out of the woods into a paved area with a “reflection pool.” Apparently the reflection pool doubled as a well-stocked trout pond as evidenced by the busy lines and full stringers of the anglers practicing their art. After a few moments of confusion (We couldn’t find the light blue blaze that marked the trail. Don’t blame Scoob. He’s color-blind.) we realized that the trail was joined for a while by the trail to the falls. We discovered that this first leg of our journey required the ascent of a staircase, 604 steps. The lion’s share of these steps were a steel grid which is effective at helping humans make the ascent; not so much tender-footed canines. Scooby didn’t complain but I could tell he wasn’t a happy hiker-pup. After reaching the top of the falls we crossed even more pavement and finally were able to bid a glad farewell to this last vestige of modernity as we crossed another road and ascended a few timber steps into the wild…or so we thought.
A little over a mile into our journey we reached a juncture in the trail where it was intersected by the bright green blazed trail leading to Len Foot Hike Inn, accessible only by foot, hence the clever name. We stopped at the juncture for a quick snack (home-made chunky monkey style trail mix…mmmmm.) then plowed ahead across a footbridge, yet another road and up Frosty Mountain…and yes, another road crossing. (You just can’t get away from those things). The path led us through several old-growth, hardwood forests where the trees were spaced like 20 foot apart, their combined canopy shutting out most of the sunlight but their leaves illuminated by that light. Soft mountain ferns lined the path. The air was moist, cool and virtually silent. I cannot describe to you the overwhelming feeling of wonder that gripped me while walking through the heart of this almost magical gift from Abba, the Creator God. I choked back the emotion and whispered inept words of gratitude.
Six miles and about 1700 feet of ascent in and the path emptied us into a clearing marked by another placard commemorating the passing of a husband and father who died in a small plane crash on that very spot 30 something years ago. After a whispered prayer for the family left behind we stepped back onto the trail into Nimblewill Gap (Gotta be a story behind that one). As we were carefully picking our way down the slope we encountered a couple of sobos (south bound’ ers). They were a husband and wife, Butterfly and Sight-hound. Butterfly had previously thru-hiked the AT and today they were training for an upcoming long-hike in Europe. Very cool people. Seemed to hit it off with Scoob as well. A mile later we started our climb up Black Mountain, rising to 3605 feet above sea level.
A short aside: I have to mention this. I was carrying about 35 pounds of gear, water and food on my back. I encountered several people on the trail who had no gear and many who had no water. The strangest of these was a young, pretty, petite girl in a white sundress and heels…(HEELS!) who was happily, delicately and deftly plodding along with nary a bead of sweat on her perfect brow. What?! Talk about your minimalist hikers. I felt a little ridiculous. It was more than a little surreal.
When we arrived at Black Gap Shelter we followed the sign that pointed toward the water source. Already tired, aching legs led us steeply down about 400 paces to a puddle where we filtered enough water to refill our supply. Legs screamed (Mine. Scoob seemed to be fine) as I drove myself back up the ascent to finish the day’s miles to the top of Springer, scrambling over small boulders at times. When we reached the summit we were surprised to find it overtaken by a large group of hikers from Georgia State. Among those we quickly got to know were Gardner (The Librarian. Think Georgian Ducky from NCIS), Lynn (who tried to explain azimuths, bearings and the sort to me), Ken (I think) who was a middle school science teacher, and like 5 other really cool people whose names I promptly forgot. (Really wish I hadn’t. No kidding, way cool people.) Scoob and I soaked in the view for a few moments, enjoying our relative solitude. We lost ourselves in the reverie of one day starting our hike here. After our short break we made our way back down the mountain to Black Gap Shelter., racing against nightfall. The Georgia State crew had already set up camp in the spot I had been eye-balling so I snuck deeper into the woods and hung my hammock. After setting up house, I broke out my camp-stove and made Scoob and I a dinner of Lipton noodles: Alfredo Broccoli for me and chicken for him. Just as I was breaking out the magnesium and dryer lint to start a campfire I got a proverbial knock on my proverbial door. Ducky came over to extend an invitation from the GS crew to join them around their campfire. So I made myself a cup of tea and sauntered over while their dog was doing their dishes. A couple of hours and a whole lot of laughter later I said my goodnights and made my way back to camp. I got a little reading in while the other campers talked late into the night. My hammock is way comfortable; not very soundproof.


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