Friday, November 15, 2013

The Georgia Loop Trail

Total Miles 66.1                                                            Outcast Total Miles: 1526.28

The Georgia Loop Trail is the "toughest" trail in Georgia according to the Benton MacKaye website.  It is also called the "toughest" trail this side of the Mississippi.  After hiking it I would say CAUTION, THIS IS NOT A BEGINNERS HIKE!  I would suggest this hike after the leaves have fallen off the trees, just for the views.  After hiking in a foot and a half of leaves, I figure that you would not have many views with the leaves on.

The Georgia Loop Trail is made up of 23.5 miles of the Appalachian Trail, 19 miles of the Duncan Ridge Trail, and 14.6 miles of the Benton MacKaye trail for a total of 57.1 miles.  Being the Outcasts that we are, we decided to add a few miles and start and end at Springer Mountain for a total of 66.1 miles.  The toughness of this trail is figured on the elevation change.  Troy figured our total elevation change was going to be 30,000 feet.  We used "Dances with Mice" dated 05-05-2005, 07:46 trail description which is very accurate.

After work Marco and I headed to Georgia.  We dropped off the truck in Chattanooga and took the Subaru the rest of the way.  I knew from experience that Springer Mountain road is often just for four wheel drive vehicles.

We arrived at Springer about 12:30 pm to find a parking lot full of vehicles.  They were even parked down the side of the road.  We found a spot in the lot and noticed that two of the vehicles here had windows broken out of them.  Not a comforting site at all. The parking lot is a mile from the top of Springer Mountain.  We decided to do that section at the end of our hike because we wanted to get as far as we could the first day.  We did not know how many days it would take so we planned and packed for eight days on the trail.

Day One: 8.5 miles
AT Springer Mt Parking to just before Horse Gap

This part of the AT is pretty easy going for the day.  We passed many hikers and backpackers heading out.  Of course we were going in on a Sunday of a Holiday weekend.  I asked one of the backpackers about the shelter being full and he said that it was packed last night.  Marco set the pace for our hike and you could tell that he had been getting in shape for this trail.  I backpacked 139.9 miles this fall to get ready myself.

At one Gap we came across an army water trailer and another Gap we came across another military vehicle parked.  They have been doing some training in the area.

We were figuring how much daylight we had and stopped at Hawk Mountain shelter to fill up our water.  We carried an extra four liters to camp without water and made it to just before Horse Gap.  I knew the road was at the gap and we were not wanting to do Sassafrass Mountain today for sure.  I have done this section of the AT before and I know all about Sassafrass Mountain.

The wind was blowing quite hard, so we left the trail to the down wind side of the mountain to make camp.  We got our fire going and sat down to cook dinner.  With the wind blowing, we made sure that all the leaves were moved far away from our campfire.  Our campfire was warm enough that we sat with our backs to it to eat.  Marco yelled "watch out" to me and I turned to find that our sitting log was engulfed with flames.  I jumped up and did as all professional firefighters would do......I panicked.  The first thought is always what the headlines would say followed by the second thought about the harassment from our coworkers FOREVER!  Our third thought was grab a stick and start rubbing the fire out.  We have been trained to adapt and overcome, so after we got the flames out, we peed on the log since we didn't have enough water to do the job.  Then as any professional would do, we finished our dinner.

We got to enjoy the stars and owls as we sat around the fire.  We had to hang two bear bags since we had around 16 pounds of food.

Day Two: 13.5 miles
Sassafrass to Lance Creek

As we always like to do we start out uphill after each meal.  Sassafrass is one of those mountains that you remember.  It starts out with some sweet switchbacks and then goes straight up.  Of course you go straight down on the other side so Justis Mountain can do the same thing to you.  This was our warm up for the Duncan trail to follow.  Marco made me proud as he climbed these mountains like a pro.

We stopped at our first water source which was Justis Creek.  We visited with a couple of backpackers here.  After that we stopped at the last water source at Gooch Gap to top off our water and eat lunch.

We picked up some great views from Woody Gap, Lunsford Gap, and Big Cedar Mountain.  At Woody Gap we met Brooks and his dog Carter who would be joining us tonight at Lance Creek.

At Lance Creek the campground has been moved and the old area roped off for regrowth.  We set up camp and got our fire going.  We had a great visit with Brooks as his dog Carter snored by the campfire.  They are from Florida and not used to our weather at all.  Carter was plum wore out!

Day Three:  13.3 miles
Lance Creek to DRT Buckeye Gap

Marco made sure we got up at sunrise every day so we could make miles.  We woke Brooks up as the campfire was a few feet from his tent.  Carter is the first dog I have ever known that can sleep through people getting up.  He got up after we had eaten breakfast.

We had 4.5 miles to Duncan Ridge trail.  Surprisingly it was uphill.  The Woods Hole shelter had a note on the sign saying no water at spring.  There was water at the Slaughter Creek spring.  We had to do some studying on the map as my AT map did not show the Duncan Ridge trail.  I was thinking I knew where it was but found my idea signed as the Slaughter Creek trail.  After studying our National Geographic map we continued up Blood Mountain to find the intersection.  This is where we saw our last backpacker as we had the DRT and BMT all to ourselves.

As soon as we started the Duncan Ridge trail we saw some wild turkeys.  Marco got to hike in his first cloud as the front was moving in.  The wind started picking up.  We found that they have made some attempts at switchbacks over the years, but they really don't grasp the idea.  You start around the mountain and then turn straight up.. This is not better!

On the first long ridge we stopped for lunch.  From here it was up, down, up, down and an occasional around the side for some kind of switchback.  The trail spit around one rock so I went one way and Marco the other.  Pretty soon Marco comes sliding down the hill on his butt and ended up on his stomach in front of me on the trail.  After the picture, I helped him up of course.

As the wind picked up to a gentle gale force wind, we had to do the steady clothes changing exercise.  On one of the parts where we were going along the side of the mountain and the hurricane force winds were blowing us off the trail, Marco headed for the edge.  Luckily he ran into a tree which kept him on the trail or it would have been a long way down to get him.

We filled up our water and carried extra at White Oak Stomp.  It was still early, but we didn't think we would make the next water supply.

We stopped at Buckeye Gap for the night and had to cross the old road to get out of the wind for a camping spot.  We had a small fire as once again we were scared with the wind and still having flashbacks.  As I was screwing my stove on the fuel canister I found out that the threads on my stove were stripped.  Not good as this took my stove out of service.  This is why I usually use alcohol stoves.  You cannot mess up an alcohol stove.  There are no parts!  So here on out we shared a stove for our meals.

Day Four: 10.1 miles
Buckeye Gap to Licklog Gap on BMT

It got down to 15 degrees last night.  Our water bladder hoses were frozen and until the sun came up good we could not keep them from freezing up.  In one Gap we saw deer, turkeys, and a hawk.  The trail was flagged in this area for the Georgia Death Race they are supposed to run next weekend.

We stopped on Clements Mountain for lunch and aired our gear out.  Marco entertained me fighting his tarp in the wind trying to get it rolled back up.  I had my first eggcicle.  My hard boiled egg had ice between the shell and the egg.  The rest of the egg was frozen solid.  Not as good as a regular egg.

There was a lot of hog damage to the trail all through this area.  After Fish Gap we learned about the Duncan Trail.  Hightop, Akin, and Payne are killers.  Straight up and then straight down.  There was one switchback halfway up that just plain made me mad.  It of course went over twenty feet and then turned back straight up.  It's like, why bother?

We were sure glad to see the Benton Mackaye trail when we got there.  Marco had already run out of water and I had very little left when we got to Licklog Gap for the night.  We didn't have any problems sleeping that night.

Day Five:  10.2 miles
Licklog Gap to Bryson Gap

Today was more hog damage, ups, and downs.  We got some really pretty views again.  We stopped at Skeenah Creek for an early lunch and a bath.  When we were getting ready to leave we heard some gunshots nearby and as we crossed GA60 we saw a faded red Ford Ranger leaving a store just down from the trail.  We got across in a hurry just in case he did something bad.  Then the climb was on....again!

The next crossing was over the suspension bridge at Taccoa River.  This is a very pretty area and there is a cool spring just on the other side with a trough built out of a log running out.  From there the climb was on...again!

We made it to Bryson Gap and made camp.  We got the fire going and sat down for dinner.  Marco realized that he had lost his spoon.  Being the concerned dear friend, I carved him one out of a stick of pine.  Of course when I gave it to him his comment was "You could have made it out of a hard wood".

After dinner I went back up to my hammock and the one tree that I tied to had a hole in the bottom.  Well in that hole was a mouse smiling back at me.  I thought "Great"!  So I peed in his hole.  The mouse ran off and I never saw him again.  We hung our packs that night just in case he wanted to get even with me.

Day Six: 10.5 miles
Bryson Gap to Springer Mountain and back to parking lot.

Marco was excited this morning.  He got me up before sunrise.  Right after breakfast it started sprinkling.  We packed up in a hurry and hiked in the soft rain all day.

A little bit down the trail, we passed a tent that had at least one dog and one man in it.  The dog barked and the man told it to shut up.

There is a very pretty and well used area along a creek that leads into Long Creek before the AT.  We followed the first loop of the BMT after we joined the AT and ate lunch on the ridge.  When we joined the AT for a second time, we stayed on it to the parking area which was packed again.  There were backpackers and the trail maintenance team which was picking up trash.  They told us that the truck had been broken into about three months ago.

We dropped our packs and hiked up to the top of Springer Mountain.  No views because of the low clouds, but we got pictures of the monument.  We headed back to the car and called it a great hike.