And so we come to the end of our first week on the AT… What an introduction!
It has to be said, that whilst the West Highland Way meanders peacefully through the Highlands, winding its way between mountains, the Appalachian Trail goes up and over the summit of Every. Single. Mountain. I’ve been busy blessing Past Me for every single squat and deadlift, and for every single mile I spent on that cross trainer last year as I puff up and up each incline.
But how utterly beautiful it is. How vast and awe inspiring.
We started from the base of Amicalola Falls last Monday. At the visitor centre there you sign the register, weigh your pack and set off through the famous archway to hike the Approach Trail. This 9 mile trail takes you to the summit of Springer Mountain, where the Appalachian Trail officially starts… Because that’s what you need when starting a 2,200 mile hike, a few extra warm up miles.
And then you turn the corner, and look up at the waterfall… Amicalola Falls is the highest waterfall in Georgia, and there’s about 600 steps to climb to the top… Erk!
Actually, it wasn’t as bad as we feared, full of beans and excitement as we were. It was the climb up Springer Mountain at the end of the day after 9 miles with loaded packs (32lbs for me, 42lbs for him) that really tested our grit. But what a wonderful feeling, to summit the mountain, find our first white blaze marking out the beginning of the trail, look out over the vast vista of tree covered hills, and anticipate the months to come…
We had anticipated starting the trail in snow, but it’s been blazing sunshine every day so far. Georgia feels very tropical, there’s blazing sun, followed by a sudden downpour, then back to sunshine in minutes. And the trail passes through territory that alternates between firstly, what appears to resemble English beech forest, with the sides of the mountain stretching away below you, the ground covered in brown leaf litter and acorns (though the trees don’t look anything like English oaks), and the baby trees leafing quickly before the adult trees cast them into the shade later in the season.
And secondly, what feels like jungle, with masses of Mountain Laurel (My tree knowledge isn’t that good – I asked a Ranger) with huge leaves and twisty trunks lining the path, and the air filled with unfamiliar bird calls that sound incredibly tropical to my untutored ears. I keep expecting David Bellamy to pop up and start talking about ‘undergrowth’.
And of course, there’s the third trail option of rocks and summits. All higgledy piggledy as though some giant had thrown a load of rocks on the path. My higgle has never been so piggled, in fact.
All in all, the mountains are gruelling up, and perilous down. And we’re having the most fantastic time imaginable.
Waking up and eating breakfast with little birds hopping around us, all calling to each other in R2-D2 noises; watching hawks circling below us from the top of Big Cedar Mountain; chatting to fellow hikers around a blazing campfire; being given Trail Magic donuts and orange juice just before climbing Blue Mountain; mice dancing on the ceiling of the inside of the tent; some kind random chap showing us how to recognise poison ivy; Georgia has been amazing. We’re in town in Hiswassee for a day, to rest and replenish, and then we’ll be crossing our first state line into North Carolina in the next few days.
We hear North Carolina is more undulating and less steep… Paws crossed and we’ll let you know how we get on…
Pup and Pan