Don’t do as I do. . . Appalachian Trail Hike MLK Weekend

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Once we get everyone settled into their cabins, we go out for a little adventure ourselves.  Over MLK Weekend, we decided to do an overnight hike, camping on top of Springer Mountain, the Southern Terminus of the Appalachian Trail.  Right now, we are hiking three times a week, hopefully training for an event in April that I will share with you at another time.

Going Hiking

I feel the need to give you a little background here:  Jessica and Ben asked us to go on a once in a lifetime hiking adventure in April.  Since August, we have been purchasing hiking and camping gear for myself, Christine and Tim.  We purchased a little bit each month so we would have everything we needed for the hike (hint: you get great deals on down jackets in August!)  Now that we have all of our gear (we hope), it is time to focus on conditioning and testing out our equipment.

Amicalola Falls State Park

For this hike, we decided to start our hike at Amicalola Falls State Park.  The state park is the ‘traditional’ start for most thru-hikers on the Appalachian Trail, but the AT really starting place is 8 miles away, on the top of Springer Mountain.  There are two ways to access Springer Mountain and the Southern Terminus of the Appalachian Trail, either from  Amicalola Falls State Park and its 8 mile access trail, of come in from the Blue Ridge side and park in the parking lot 0.9 miles from the top of Springer Mountain.  We have always accessed it from the Springer Mountain side, so we decided to try something new.

In theory, we were supposed to start at the welcome center for our hike and hike up some 600+ stairs which climb along Amicalola Falls.  We have done that once, and don’t ever want to do that again, so we drove to the upper falls parking lot and started our hike from there. It was a beautiful day for a hike, but clear and cool/cold.

As we started our climb, it didn’t take very long for us to start pealing off our layers of jackets and clothing.  At one point in the hike, I was down to shorts and a tshirt, the hike was strenuous, putting it mildly.  We got a lot of strange looks as we passed other people out hiking for the day,  they were bundled up in their down coats, gloves, and other winter gear, and we were stripped down for a fast hike and sweat popping out everywhere.  When we stopped for a break, we had to quickly bundle up, it took only a few minutes of not hiking to get cold again.

Springer Mountain and the Appalachian Trail

The sky was one of the bluest blue skies I have ever seen!  Apparently there was no humidity in the air and it was a beautiful day.  The air was so fresh, that I told Tim that if he pointed his face north, he could smell the North Pole! setting up the tripod on the Appalachian TrailWe made it to the top of Springer Mountain, and hiked a little further to the shelter and camp area on the top of the mountain.  The shelter area has camping spots, a 3-sided shelter that sleeps up to 12, a spring for water and a privy (a very primitive bathroom).  We unloaded our packs, and set up our mattresses and sleeping bags for the night. Springer Mountain

Finishing that, we hiked back to the Southern Terminus, and took a few pictures.  We thought about hanging around and waiting for the sunset, but it was cold, and sunset was 1 1/2 hours away.  We played around a little and walked back to the shelter to cook our dinner and start a campfire.

A Cold Night

As the sun went down, the temperatures started dropping fast.  Even with a fire going, the wind was so strong that we received little warmth from the fire.  By 6:30, the kids decided that it would be warmer in their sleeping bags, so they went to bed!  By 7:00, I called Tim and he was sound asleep!  Shortly after that, I decided they had the right idea and I climbed in for the night too. Appalachian Trail shelter

It doesn’t seem to matter what you do, you always have to get up and go to the bathroom in the middle of the night when you have been hiking and drinking a lot of water.  Tonight was no exception.  You don’t want to get up because you are warm and it’s not outside, but you gotta do what you gotta do.  We made it through the night, the wind blasting under the boards of the shelter made them very cold and actually drew warmth out of our mattresses. Springer Mountain Sunrise

With the sunrise, we jumped up and hit the trail again.  Moving was the quickest way to warm up.  Within 15 minutes of hiking, we were unzipping out layers and feeling much better.  Hiking down was a little treacherous, the ground was frozen solid, and some of the springs had coated parts of the trail in a sheet of ice.  We had to go off of the trail two times to get around the ice.

The Hike Inn

There is a side trail which loops off of the access trail which leads to Len Foote Hike Inn.  We decided to take the side trail and discover the Hike Inn.  The Hike Inn is literally that, there is no vehicular access to the inn, you have to hike into it to stay there.  The hosts showed us around, they have 3 sections: the bunkhouse, the bathhouse and the chow hall.  I think the bunkhouse is divided up into individual room, the bathhouse has private showers and changing rooms, and the chow hall has a large dining hall.  They provide their guests with dinner at 5:00, breakfast and a sack lunch if you need one.

One of the reasons that we went by the Hike Inn, we already decided that we would not do this hike again.  The terrain was much steeper than we wanted, I think that the trail was blazed on top of the ridgelines, so you walked up to the top and then down to the bottom of each mountain.  Some of the better thought out trails will go around a mountain at a level which will tie in with the next mountain without a lot of up and down for no apparent reason.  While there were some great views through the bare trees, when the leaves are out, this hike would just be a walk in the woods without a memorable event or view.

After Dinner Feast

After hiking, whatever restaurant you stop and eat at, it will be the best food you have ever tasted.  We stopped at Wendy’s and I experienced the best Wendy burger ever and so did the kids.  By the time we got out of the truck in Blue Ridge, the temperatures had climbed up into the 50’s!  It almost seemed as though the whole hike and camping experience was a dream because of the extreme differences in temperatures.

Lessons Learned

We learned what we needed to know from this hike:  our hiking and sleeping gear was good, but we needed to have better insulation for the times between stopping the hike and climbing into bed. If you decide to come up to Blue Ridge next year for the MLK weekend, please follow this advise:  stay in one of our Blue Ridge cabin rentals, go out and take a hike or two, but come back to your cabin for a warm and comfortable nights rest.

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