Amicola Falls to Horse Gap
Dead Giveaway Returns Camp to Thunder Drum Tent Camp
AT miles: 10.5 + 8.2 Approach Trail
Total miles: 18.7
Elevation change: 5082ft gain, 4052ft loss
A flight, a sandwich, another flight. I was glad to have my good friend from the CDT, Rooster, in Hotlanta to make me feel welcome and less disoriented on the other side. Wrenching guts subsided when I dropped my bags next to the familiar couch, leaving them for long enough to eat my three burritos from Taco Bell. Subway and Taco Bell, thru-hike staples.
The next morning, after a final gear rearrangement and lounging session on the porch, we loaded Rooster’s Subaru and hit the road. Our destination, north. A few hours later and after scooping up another CDT friend, Crunchberry, we rolled into Amicola Falls State Park, just in time for me to register my thru-hike. Sheila, the park employee, handed me my pink AT hangtag and gave me my number, 252.
We parked in the long-term lot (read: dirt road), then schlepped out packs a hundred yards to the first of many shelters. It was all ours and we bid adieu to the sun with hummus, chips, and Crunch’s SoCo. I added a bag salad and cold can of chili for good measure. We settled onto the plywood platforms and farted ourselves to sleep. Dead Giveaway echoed in my brain. Just like the good ol’ days.
The alarm rescued me from a deep sleep of fitful dreams. I didn’t care that it was still the middle of the night in my California-calibrated timezone. I was ready to hike, to leave the weird pre-trip nervous vibes behind. We packed up, then returned to the flush toilets one last time, happy to observe that the forecasted rain had yet to arrive. One final punch to my frameless back panel, then through the stone arch (the defacto southern terminus for those hiking the approach trail) for the last time. Next stop, Springer Mountain.
The first mile was brutal. A zillion stairs brought us up and around the spectacular Amicola Falls, their metal grate surface rendering my trekking poles frustratingly worthless. A light mist wetted out my wind jacket, but I was warm and feeling fine. We were the only people around, though the large parking lot hinted at the magnitude of the summer masses.
With the falls behind us, the trail mellowed out while maintaining an ever-present upward trajectory. Mist turned to light rain and swirling fog that limited visibility through the bare trees. A thick layer of brown leaves glistened all around. In the murk, I was disoriented, not knowing north from south, and followed the trail dutifully up and up, mile after mile. Dead Giveaway filled in the gaps between Crunchberry and Rooster’s accounts of their own AT thru-hikes, 14 years ago. I think they felt old.
About a mile earlier than I expected, we topped out on Springer Mountain. Almost two years ago to the day, SpiceRack and I stood in front of the same metal plate, speculating about when our time would come. My time was here. There was snow on the ground and better views then, but everything else was the same. We snapped some pictures, then headed off in search of the shelter for lunch.
Two hikers were just leaving the spooky structure when we turned up. Though I, perhaps naiively, hold a condescending view of the AT shelters, I was happy to have this one for shelter from the storm. Even with it blocking the wind, I became progressively colder as I watched Crunchberry eat half a block of cheese while sampling a trail snack shmorgus board from my own food bag. I made use of the privy, filtered some water, then we were off. Finally on the AT after the 8-mile approach. Finally on the AT after a two-year hiatus from thru-hiking.
No profound feelings or emotions bubbled up during the gradual descent from the summit. Not that I expected any, but their absence was noted. Maybe they would come after Rooster and Crunch left me to return to their normal lives.
So much water, so much greenery. For about an hour my comfort peaked to maximum and I enjoyed the feeling of being perfectly layered, warm against the cold. The feeling is rare, even during nice weather. It was sublime. In the green tunnel, long rhododendron leaves quaked in the breeze like dragonfly wings flapping in slow motion.
The conversation inevitably drifted to the CDT and we relived some of the hilarious, and hilariously brutal, parts of that trail. As if on queue, the rain picked up, so I pulled out my umbrella and tucked one pole under my arm. I was feeling worn down and beat when we stumbled through the muck to Hawk Mountain Shelter, hoping to discuss our camping options. We found it filled with other hikers, already settled in for the evening, so quickly decided to keep moving.
Filling our bottles at the next creek, I finally decided that I was soaked enough to put on my rain jacket. A couple miles further we reached Horse Gap, within striking distance of Woody Gap where we needed to get Crunch by noon tomorrow. We found camping down an abandoned dirt mud road and pitched our shelters in the gathering gloom and the rising rain.
I piled in and sat for a few minutes, dumbstruck and ground down. Although I was soaked and exhausted, the day was undoubtedly enjoyable. Lots of laughs and natural beauty.
My cold beans didn’t stand a chance. Neither did my Oreos, peanut butter, or BBQ Lays. I lay back, dozing while the rain thundered outside, so loud I couldn’t hear myself think, a stinging white-noise of wind-driven drops interspersed with the violent smacking of fat tree-drops. The wind roared like a nearby freight train. Rain somehow splashed my face, perhaps ricocheting off the ground under my tent canopy.
I was proud of the day. We hiked strong despite the challenging weather and our city legs. Not ready to be social with strangers, yet not ready to be alone, I was grateful for Rooster and Crunchberry’s company. The hole left by SpiceRack’s absence was still apparent, however. When would it feel normal to hike without her again, I wondered. How long until I feel settled out here? Maybe I only need to wait until tomorrow.