We spent an awesome weekend in the North Georgia mountains--what a treat! In the mid 90s I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine in 146 days, an adventure I still consider to be THE single best, most epiphanous experience of my life so far. Unlike most aspiring thru-hikers who begin their treks at Amicalola Falls State Park, my own hike began by doing an out 'n back to Springer Mtn., the southern terminus, sans backpack, from the nearest forest service road... and suffered much good-natured ribbing by the other thru-hikers by not taking the standard route. (Me: "It's not the AT; it's BLUE blazed!")
Now, 16 years later, I finally got the opportunity to do the AT Approach Trail! We started at the Visitors Center, oohing and aahing our way up the 600+ stairs next to the waterfalls. The tread was smooth and runnable, with spring blooms and carpets of lovely Mayapples flanking the trail.. On top of Springer we encountered the summit volunteer, an amazing 78-year-old gentleman who thru-hiked the Colorado Trail last year! We also met "Three Dollar Rob" from Minnesota just setting off on his GA-ME adventure. (He found $3 on the trail earlier in the day, so we gave him a trail name.) The route Chris and I took totalled about 19 miles, returning from Springer Mtn. via the Hike Inn, where the caretakers kindly let us take a warm & dry break next to their woodstove. Except for the first hour, it rained steadily the entire time so we were thankful for the breather.
The next morning at Woody Gap, we joined running buddy Scott, along with Liz and Phil, for the Appalachian - Benton MacKaye - Duncan Ridge loop, the so-called "toughest backpack in Georgia." All told, we did about 54 miles, climbed close to 18,000 feet, and spent just over 16 hours playing in the woods. On the 23-mile DRT alone I counted 17 individual climbs and descents, including Akin Peak and Payne Knob (ha). Unlike many southern trails, the DRT went straight up and straight down--one guidebook refers to "kamikaze descents"--with only a couple of switchbacks on the entire trail. None of the climbs was particularly long; there were just a lot of them! Except for one tiny streamlet from which we refilled bottles and bladders, there was no water on the ridge; however, there are also a few off-ridge water sources marked by "W" signs. The Appalachian and Benton MacKaye sections were much mellower with plenty of water sources. Chris generously crewed us while getting in a good number of miles himself. Thanks Chris!! :) In contrast to the day before, Sunday's weather was blissfully perfect! We had a great time--this loop ROCKS and I highly recommend running it if you get the chance.
I also learned something new after our runs this weekend: Waffle House is open 24 hours!!