What: 14.5 miles on the AT & BMT
Where: Springer Mountain to Long Creek Falls (and back)
Who: Braden & Jason
Today was a special day. I got to share a special place with Braden: Springer Mountain. Braden has been within about a half a mile of Springer while on the Benton MacKaye trail geocaching, but never stepped foot on the sacred ground of the summit. Today was the day.
Scouts has kept us incredibly busy this fall, so we haven’t had a chance to get out and do some serious hiking; just the two of us. We needed to make it happen, but didn’t have time for an overnight, so we decided to hit the AT for a day of fun.
We drove up to Ellijay and made our way to the parking on FS42. With packs on, we started the 9/10 mile hike south to the summit of Springer Mountain. We passed the Benton MacKaye trail and the side trail to the Springer shelter. We’d be back for those, but first we were on a mission to let Braden experience the summit of Springer Mountain.
Soon we were at the plaque and the first AT blaze. We were fogged in, so there wasn’t a view, but that didn’t matter. Braden ran around exploring, climbing on trees, running down the approach trail and even took a few minutes to read the trail register (a couple of southbounders had just finished) and sign his name.
We headed north and stopped by so Braden could check out the Springer Mountain Shelter. He explored the loft, then went to check out the spring which is the water supply for the shelter. It’s nothing more than a PVC pipe sticking out the ground, but it was flowing nicely today.
We spent more than an hour on Springer Mountain before turning northeast on the Benton MacKaye Trail. The BMT is so close to the AT, yet so different. The AT is usually crowded, and muddy from so many people while the BMT has grass growing on it and you can usually hike all day without seeing another person.
Just up the BMT from Springer is a Benton MacKaye memorial plaque.
The forecast was for 20% chance of rain today. That 20% turned into 100% as it rained on us all day. Most of the day, it wasn’t raining hard enough for us to stop to put on rain gear. We knew we’d sweat anyway, so we might as well enjoy a nice shower. The rain made the woods quiet. Animals were out in force today, so we saw quite the variety. We watched the usual subjects such as squirrels, birds and rabbits, but were also treated to something quite unique. We watched as a fox chased three deer. I don’t know what the fox was thinking or what it would have done if it had caught up with the deer, but it was fun to watch.
Between Springer and FS42 on the BMT is a very nice overlook. There’s a side trail simply marked with an old rotten piece of wood with the word “View” carved in it. The side trail is only about 50 feet over a small hill, then drops down to a cliff which overlooks a valley and two distant mountain ridges. I believe the Etowah river starts in one of these valleys.
We continued on until the BMT intersected the AT north of FS42. We hadn’t seen anyone on the BMT. We turned north on the AT to find a geocache and within 3/10 of a mile we passed 12 people! The AT seemed so crowded after being alone for so long on the BMT.
After finding the geocache, we turned south and headed back to the truck where we ate lunch and then drove to Three Forks. The plan was to let Braden see the creeks at Three Forks, then hike up to Long Creek Falls. Little did I know that we’d do my plan, then Braden has plans of his own.
We made quick work of the hike up to Long Creek Falls. We weren’t in any hurry, so Braden explored the area thoroughly. I showed him the carvings on a nearby rock. The carving apparently shows a Native American throwing a helmeted head (helmet much like that of the men with DeSoto) over the falls. The story goes that this was done as a sacrifice.
After exploring the falls, we hiked north on the AT to find two more geocaches. Near one cache, we noticed a pair of boots hanging in a tree. On the ground under the boots was trash from an MRE. Nearby is an Army camp that is the home of the mountain phase of the U.S. Army Ranger School. The rangers use these mountains as their training ground. I’d love to know the story of why the boots are still hanging there. Were they on a training mission and got ambushed and had to leave in a hurry? Was the soldier a POW in a training exercise? The possibilities are endless, but I guess I’ll never know what happened.
After finding the two geocaches near Long Creek Falls, we made our way south on the AT back to the truck at Three Forks. Along the way, Braden started talking about section-hiking the Georgia section of the AT. He realized we had skipped the section from just north of FS42 to Three Forks, so he asked if we could hike south and then back to the truck to make up that section. We had just finished 8.5 miles for the day and Braden was wanting to do 6 more miles!
If he was up for it, I was too! We headed south as we watched the woods getting darker and darker. We passed Stover Creek Shelter and made the final big climb before descending back to where the AT & BMT intersects just north of FS42. At our turn-around point, we sat for a few minutes and ate snacks and got some much needed energy from GU packets. That stuff is a lifesaver.
We had been fogged in all day, but for just a few minutes the sun broke through. It was just over the nearby mountain and falling fast. We knew we had a 3 mile hike back to the truck and darkness was coming soon, so it was time to get moving. As we passed back by Stover Creek Shelter, we made the short detour to let Braden see the Shelter. There was a Boy Scout troop that we had seen several times today camping there. We didn’t have much time to waste, but were enjoying talking to them and ended up spending about 25 minutes at Stover Creek Shelter as the woods got darker and darker.
We finally dragged ourselves away from the conversations with the Boy Scouts and made the final push north back to Three Forks. The headlamps came out along the way, but we elected to not use them. We were able to see the trail enough to hike without headlamps. That was quite the fun experience to share with Braden. Soon we were back at the truck and exhausted after a 14.5 mile day. Whew!
Chick-Fil-A in Ellijay sure did taste nice tonight. It was just what we needed for the ride home.
Our 8.5 mile day turned into a 14.5 mile day with a little bit of night hiking. Braden has seen my “80 miler” patch for hiking all of the AT in GA and now he has his sights on getting one himself. I’m looking forward to many more 14.5 mile days and weekend backpacking trips helping him reach his goal. I’m sure he’ll hike this section many times in the future, but today was the day he got to experience Springer Mountain for the first time and mark off Springer to Long Creek Falls in his attempt to hike all of the AT in GA. What a great day!