Friday morning we made our way to Amicalola Falls State Park, about 2 hours north of Atlanta, with the help of my grandfather. Amicalola Falls is the tallest cascading waterfall in the Southeast at 729 feet. We checked in to the visitor’s center after weighing our packs outside (Kory’s: 27 lbs including four days of food and 2 liters of water, Nicole’s: 30 lbs). We made our way to the archway behind the visitor’s center. At the approach trail entrance, we took some pictures and said our goodbyes and began the journey, making our way up the 425 steps to the waterfall. The ascent was pretty strenuous and after just a few hundred steps I actually started to form a blister (which was later remedied by some new shoes). We headed north, 8.8 miles, to Springer Mountain. Our legs felt pretty strong as we made our first ascents. My breathing was pretty heavy but the scenery was beautiful. After about 6 hours of hiking, we arrived at Springer Mountain only to find signs warning of bear activity so we decided to push on to Stover Creek Shelter. There we set up camp, chatted with a few of the hikers there (Andrew from Charleston, Gator, Cowboy, and Jim) and made dinner. We had a little bit of a rough night in the tent due to a rainstorm and an incorrect tent setup (which has been resolved as well so we are dry as can be).
We hiked some pretty hard mountains including Sassafras (3,342 Elevation) and Justus Mountain (3,226 Elevation). Our plan was to camp at Woody Gap but when we got there we realized the “camping” area was right next to the road. We walked on to Preaching Rock where we set up our tent and called it an early night after dinner and a beautiful sunset.
We woke up to a breathtaking view of the mountains and had breakfast on Preaching Rock. On the trail, we ran into a fellow thru-hiker, Lifesaver. We chatted with him for a bit while we collected water from a small spring on the trail and hiked to Blood Mountain (4,4461 Elevation). We continued on with him to the outfitters, Mountain Crossings, in Neels Gap and camped behind the store with him so that we could wake up and resupply in the morning. We had a somewhat uncomfortable night of sleep due to the small and slanted camping area we had to work with. In the morning we made our way to the outfitter where we purchased some gear we needed, food, and new shoes. We wanted to wait for Lifesaver but he was getting a “shakedown” where a fellow thru-hiker goes through all your gear and tells you what you need and don’t need in order to lighten your load. Kory threw his old pair of shoes up into the tree in front of the store (it’s a tradition) and we walked on!
We decided to stay in Helen, GA for an evening to get some laundry done and dry out our gear. We had a successful first hitchhiking experience from a local guy who was dropping off some fellow thru-hikers when we made it down to Unicoi Gap. We washed clothes in the tub in our room and then walked over to Bigg Daddy’s next door for dinner and a beer. In the morning we found the laundromat to dry our clothes and then walked to Betty’s Country Store so we could grab some food. On our way out of town, we snagged a ride from another local who owned a business in Helen with his wife! We had planned on doing a little night hiking to get to the Deep Gap Shelter. We were about 3 miles from the shelter when it started to rain! The rain was pretty chilly and the wind was blowing but we got into the shelter a little after 10 and set up camp!
In the morning we made our way to the GA/NC border. We ran across our first bear of the trip who decided to book it down the side of the mountain as soon as he heard us! We hiked 13.1 miles to the border where we celebrated the first state down with a shot of whiskey! We set up our tent at Bly Gap on top of the ridge where we had another beautiful sunset (pictures didn’t do it any justice). We wanted to make it into Franklin to take a “zero” day (a day of no hiking). We hiked two longer days (15.3 and 16.9 miles).
We made it to Winding Stair Gap outside of Franklin and hitched into town with the help of a section hiker from Connecticut who had just done a portion of the trail herself. She dropped us off at the Budget Inn where we picked up our bounce box. We decided to stay at the Microtel instead so we started heading that way. Anette, another trail angle, picked us up and drove us the rest of the way. She was a big help to us, she shuttled us around Franklin to the outfitters at Outdoor 76, post office, and then back to the trail. The second day she brought her dog, Pansy, so I was cuddling with her in the backseat the entire drive back to the trail. We got back on the trail and headed 11 miles to Wayah Bald Shelter. We ran into a few more hikers along the way including Missing Person and John, both section hikers. The next day we had planned on walking to Wesser Bald Shelter but the camping conditions were not ideal and we didn’t feel like sleeping with the mice so we continued on to A. Rufus Morgan Shelter, just a quick 20 minute hike from the NOC (Nantahala Outdoor Center) where we are currently having breakfast with Joker and Missing Person before we continue to Locust Cove Gap.