Date: Saturday 19 April 2014
Start: Amicalola Falls Visitor Center -8.8 miles Today: 7.3 miles
Finish: Black Gap Shelter -1.5 miles Total AT: n/a
After that first steep mile and all those terrible stairs, the trail flattened out and got a little easier. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it got a LOT easier, as there was still another ~750 feet of elevation gain to deal with, but at least it was spread out over the next seven and a half miles.
My original plan was to triumphantly summit Springer, watch the sunset, and spend the night at Springer Mountain Shelter.
That is not what happened. That’s not even *close* to what happened.
At 4:40pm, six hours and 50 minutes after I left the Amicalola Falls Visitor Center, I reached Black Gap Shelter. When I spotted it through the trees, any thought I had about pushing on for another 1.7 miles immediately disappeared. I was so exhausted, and my feet hurt so badly, that I sat down on the picnic table and didn’t move for over an hour.
Every five minutes I’d think, “Ok! Time to set up the tent! Let’s go!” and then immediately rationalize doing nothing for just a little bit longer.
Pop-C, one of my bunkmates from the Hiker Hostel, had already set up his bedroll inside the shelter by the time I arrived. By 6pm, when I still hadn’t moved from the picnic table, I gave up the idea of tenting and decided to join him. We ended up being the only two people inside the shelter that night. Two other groups of section hikers did join us, but they all opted to stay outside.
Pictured on the left is Jim from North Carolina with his dog, Nonny (short for Anonymous). He decided to go on a short four-day hiking trip from Amicalola to Neel Gap, but didn’t want to go alone, so he rounded up three companions: his neighbor, a Private from the Civil War re-enactment troop he Captains, and his tai chi instructor. Isn’t that just the most delightfully random group of people??
The two women on the right were just out for a quick overnight trip to test their gear. They’re planning to hike the 78.5-mile Georgia section of the AT in September. I liked them a lot because they shared their homemade cocoa/chia energy bars with me and the one in black is also named Sarah.
Yeah. Surprise! I didn’t even manage to make it one full day on the trail before meeting another Sarah. We are legion.
Pop-C ended up being an invaluable resource for me that evening. He strung up a clothesline running the length of the shelter so we could hang up our gear, impressed upon me the importance of not leaving anything chewable within reach of mice, cut my extra 50ft of cord into more manageable sections and used his lighter to melt the ends, taught me a knot to use for stringing up heavier objects like my backpack, showed me how he uses a plastic compactor bag as a tablecloth, demonstrated how that tablecloth also doubles as an emergency poncho, shared his “sweep and police” method of packing up a campsite, and advised me to shorten one hiking pole at night and keep it close to hand in case I need it to fight off a raccoon. Solid advice!
He also went off on a ten minute rant about how the patent for Aqua Mira only claims it works against algae and odors and doesn’t actually do any useful purification. I’m not entirely sold on his anti-Aqua Mira stance yet, but it freaked me out enough that I’m going to stick with my Sawyer mini-filter until I can do some additional research.
After dinner, I tackled one of the things I was most concerned about doing correctly: hanging my food bag. It was really easy. Like, unbelievably easy. I can’t believe I wasted so much time worrying about it. All the hard work has already been done! There’s a cable dangling there, and all you have to do is clip one end to your bag and clip the other end to the bracket on a tree. It could not be simpler. I finally understood why I could never find any decent descriptions of how to hang your food bag from a cable system. The instructions would literally be something like, “Hang your food bag from the cable system. Walk away. Seriously, that’s it. You’re done.”
Mind you, I was still worried about how I was going to manage hanging my food bag from a tree without assistance, but at least I could stop worrying about not being able to figure out the cable system.
By 8:45pm it was completely dark. I tried to use my headlamp to read my Kindle, but quickly tired of the insects dive-bombing my face. I now deeply regret not upgrading to a Paperwhite with a built-in light.
Pop-C wanted to get an early start, and I was absolutely committed to following him like a duckling in order to learn more camping tips, so I volunteered to set my iPhone alarm for 5am so we could get in some pre-dawn hiking and make it to Springer for the sunrise. It was lights out by 10pm.