October 4, 2016
Hikers: Julie, Lyndy and Michelle
We packed up before daylight and headed up to Neels Gap to meet our shuttle. Wes Wilson was our shuttle driver; a friendly, older gentleman who has been doing shuttles for 28 years. His Jeep Cherokee was a little rough but I guess that is to be expected after 300,000 miles! After leaving our vehicle at the Byron Reece Memorial Parking area, Wes drove us to Big Stamp Gap. The ride was about an hour and Wes filled us in on things to expect. He asked about water, which was the huge concern for everyone hiking this stretch. A long drought had dried up almost all available water sources. Fortunately, we had spent the prior day making water drops in anticipation of the water shortage. Big Stamp Gap put us about a mile north of the summit of Springer Mountain.
Because there is no direct access to Springer Mountain, we had to hike a mile south before starting our northward journey to Neels Gap. We took Wes’s advice and left our packs a little way into the hike to the summit. Wes assured us that everyone does it that way and he had never heard of anyone having their packs taken. Still made me a bit nervous knowing that everything we needed for our hike was in our packs! Our hike up went quickly without the packs. We passed the spur trail to the Springer Mountain Shelter but did not stop to check it out.
Hiking the Appalachian Trail has been a life-long dream of mine. I had hiked bits and pieces of it here and there but it was so exciting to finally be “officially” section hiking the trail! I have no idea how far I’ll get but my plan is to keep adding a section each year. How far will probably depend on how my knees and health hold up over the next 15-20 years.
We quickly came to the summit of Springer Mountain. Woohoo! The southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail! We met a large group of young people that turned out to be an ROTC group who had just hiked up the Approach Trail. We took our obligatory Springer Mountain pictures and set out back down the mountain.
Heading north from the summit, we had a long downhill stretch. We retrieved our packs and made good time down the rhododendron lined trail.
As were we trucking down the trail, we were puzzled by a seemingly random rock cairn in the middle of the trail. Closer inspection revealed it to be a warning for ground hornets. We saw the hornets buzzing around the hole and steered very clear of them!
Stover Creek Shelter provided a perfect lunch stop. It felt good to slip the packs off and have a picnic table for enjoying our lunch. As we were leaving the shelter, we ran into Jenny from Jacksonville, Florida. We had met her at Amicalola Falls Campground the prior morning as she was heading out for a solo hike to Neels Gap. Even though she had left a day earlier, she was doing the Approach Trail so we were not surprised to see her again. She had met up with a couple of women who were originally from the Kalamazoo, Michigan area. Jenny had grown up in Benton Harbor, Michigan and with us being northern Indiana folks, we had a commonality that made for lots of conversation about “home”.
Our group of 3 became a group of 6 as we continued the downhill trek to Three Forks, the lowest point on our section hike at 2,536 feet.
Three Forks was beautiful with large open areas right along the creek that would make great campsites. We had a loose itinerary in mind but had lots of options built in depending on how our journey progressed. Three Forks was a camp consideration but since we sailed in a little before 2:00 pm, we thought it made sense to press on. We did take time to filter water since we would not be making it to one of our water drops this day. The other 3 opted to continue on without filtering so we bid them farewell and well wishes for a successful hike.
As we were leaving Three Forks, we came across a local couple who encouraged us to take the short side trail to Long Creek Falls. Since we were making such good progress, we took their advice. We were very glad we did! It was a beautiful falls and great place to slip off my boots and cool my feet. I actually hoped to wade over and put my head in the waterfall but the water was deeper than it first appeared.
After leaving Three Forks, it was steadily uphill as we headed for the summit of Hawk Mountain. Our goal for the night was Hawk Mountain Campground which the map showed as down a short spur trail about a 1/2 mile before the Hawk Mountain Shelter. Both the campground and shelter were on the north side of the summit which meant we had to go up and over the mountain before stopping for the night. We started to head down the spur trail to the campground but discovered it to be a very steep trail, which which we weren’t too keen on coming back up in the morning. The campground was about 1/2 mile down the spur trail, the Hawk Mountain Shelter was about 1/2 mile down the AT. The decision was easy to continue the direction we needed to go and head on to Hawk Mountain Shelter. The shelter was busy but we easily found nice places to set up our tents. This turned out to be my favorite campsite of our trip.
After setting up our tents, we headed up to the shelter to the communal fire and cooking area. We ran into the women from earlier and were surprised to discover that the female hikers far outnumbered the men! We cooked up our tacos for dinner. Yum! We had extra which we shared with the men who were very appreciative. They returned the favor by showing us how to hang our bags on the bear cables. It was a great hiking day and we were very happy to be ahead of schedule. We enjoyed the camaraderie at the shelter and spent a pleasant evening before turning in for the night. We were at the 7.8 mile mark but had actually hiked 8.8 miles due to the backtracking at Springer Mountain.