Hawk Mountain, Georgia on the Appalachian Trail @ Chattahoochee National Forest

Kicking off a third day of hiking in Georgia, my friend and I were coming down Springer Mountain heading toward our destination of Hawk Mountain on the A.T. The first mile on the trail was a soft downward descent. Clearing the mountain, we had encountered a few different creek crossings until reaching another wooden shelter. This shelter was open faced with two floors, a picnic table and two wood window doors opening on the second level in the rear. It had appeared the last occupants left in a rush. They had left a tarp, toilet paper, a t-shirt and few other pieces of trash. Needing to take “nature’s break,” the outhouse was thankfully not too far away. While at the outhouse, I had read a posting on the wall regarding the methodology regarding composting of human waste. Apparently, the process had included a two year breakdown with some general upkeep.

After our interlude, we had continued our trek coming to a medium sized bridge going over a creek appearing more like a river. From the horizon, the water had rolled through the greenery at a slight incline with the vestiges of snow fall on the ground. The rumble of water passing underneath had provided a serenity similar to listening to the cadence of waves on a beach. After collecting filtered water, we had moved back onto the trail. Walking only a few hundred feet, in the corner of my eye, I had got a glimpse of a small open air campsite down the slope. As curiosity took over, I had decided to scale down to take a closer look. Appearing in my vision, a series of rocks had wrapped around some cold grey ash. Just past the ash was a downed log where a person could easily sit gazing into this water way. I had wanted to stay longer but, our goal lay further up the mountain ridge. Rejoining my friend, we had proceeded up the side of mountain for a mile or so until bumping into another set of hikers making their way toward Springer Mountain. We had swapped information about the Hawk Mountain shelter and details of building a fire atop Springer. At this point in the day, the sun had raised the temperature a considerable amount. My buddy and I had shed most of our upper layers of clothing to avoid overheating. The bright sunny day was a welcome contrast to the gusty cold overcast previous one. During the last two miles of the trail toward Hawk Mountain, we had seen a few military helicopters conducting maneuvers. At first, I had thought maybe a rescue operation but, according to my friend’s guidebook, standard training fare.

Arriving mid-afternoon at the Hawk Mountain shelter, we had run into another group of travelers from earlier in the morning. While getting settled, we had snacked and refilled our water. Later in the afternoon, we were joined by an older gentleman. He had inquired about the general direction of the water. After some instruction, he had hiked on. Returning later, he had managed to go five miles over the next ridge top looking for water versus just down an opposing slope. After some casual conversation, one of our fellow shelter guests had started collecting wood to build a fire. This day, I had opted to cough up my bag of Doritos as kindling. I had seen YouTube video demonstrating their flammability. After trying the wet wood, the dry Doritos had proved the means to start the fire. Though, one of the other travelers had mocked the idea of carrying the Doritos, saying “Why pay for something, when you can get something for free.”

With the onset of dusk, I had opted to sequester myself socially allowing my buddy the autonomy to talk it up with our visitors. I was looking forward to get good night’s rest after the previous evening on Springer Mountain. With the evening in full swing, the sound of military helicopters had filled the night air a few times. This sound was a bit of a buzz-kill wanting to get away from “civilization.” Laying on my back, I had listened to the fire and fellow hikers for a bit slipping into unconsciousness. It was the best rest on the trip up to that point just for the dreaming. These unconsciousness dreams I had not remembered. For dreams becoming a reality, my dreams, I had believed that’s a different thought altogether.

20140101-194655.jpg20140101-194705.jpg20140101-194716.jpg20140101-194723.jpg20140101-194737.jpg20140101-194804.jpg20140101-194907.jpg20140101-194822.jpg20140101-194845.jpg 20140101-194834.jpg20140101-194856.jpg20140101-194949.jpg20140101-195026.jpg20140101-195012.jpg20140101-195058.jpg20140101-195038.jpg20140101-195125.jpg20140101-195112.jpg20140101-195141.jpg20140101-195134.jpg20140101-195156.jpg


Sponsored by Seminole Scuba


shrimptall

Get to know Paul Shepherd and his competent team at Seminole Scuba in Lake Mary, Florida, whether getting certified or making a once in a lifetime trip like AFRICA 2014.

More Information:
website: www.seminolescuba.com
phone:  407-333-8856

Springer Mountain, Georgia on the Appalachian Trail @ Chattahoochee National Forest

Measuring life in metrics, getting to the top of Springer Mountain was 8.3 miles from starting at Amicalola Falls State Park for travelers unfamiliar with the journeying to the Appalachian Trail; however, I had traveled so much further beyond maps or miles. I had carved out a mental image from films, a friend’s listing of favorite books, and a mutual wanderlust. The objective of the day was reaching the southern terminus, aka tip, of the Appalachian Trail (AT) on this mountain top.

At the start of this Sunday, the view atop Amicolola Falls had gave way to the Blue Ridge mountain range below a clear baby blue sky. The mind’s eye aside, climbing Amicalola Falls’ steps a second day in a row had become a welcome break from hiking in the cold damp darkness of the night before. After soaking in this gaze for a few moments, we had quickly retraced about two miles of progress from the previous evening. We had reflected on the decision to turn back momentarily being the “right choice” and “smart choice.”  With that in mind, the next revelation of the day had come in the discovery of a clearing for an open air camping area. It was just past the previous night’s turnaround point. Any second guessing our decision had quickly washed away with daylight illuminating a clear sight of stout mountains and leaf less trees. The day’s hike had continued from there in a rhythmic manner; ”up”, “then down,” “up,” and “up again.”

During our first major mountain ascent, this pattern was interrupted by a descending party of about ten people. Out of common courtesy and easy passage, we had pulled to the side of the trail. While eating a snack of pop tarts, a little blonde girl stepping down the path had wished us a Merry Christmas. This innocent act had colored our physical activity in a different range of emotions. A common bond of community had asserted itself beyond our solitary activity. Before starting up again, an elderly gentlemen had asked about the trail below. In his response, my travel companion had described the steep decline and his preference for stark inclines instead. The gentleman’s response was, “You’re going to get plenty of that shortly.” So we had begun our hiking rhythm again. Until late afternoon, we had marched taking impromptu breaks for water, food, bathroom, and of course photographic evidence!

Approaching the final three miles of our trek, we had started to experience cold gusts and snow flurries. At first, I had thought the snow some form of fungus or tree decay. Not seeing snowflakes since the age of 18, it had provided a degree of personal wonderment and euphoria. In contrast, the brooding grey clouds had sparked some personal concerns. Having lived in tropical zones most of my life from Florida, the Bahamas and Singapore, I had wanted to limit my exposure to the elements with the onset of dusk. The elevation and chill were one set of tenable question marks. I had thought, “What of water in its various forms; sleet, rain, snow?” Water had offered the greatest potential for transforming this rocky landscape into something seductively dangerous. Regardless of the answer, I had not wanted to find out in the dark of night.

Fortunately, we were close to reaching one of two trail shelters and our final destination. The first landmark denoting our proximity to this first shelter was a wooden blue sign pointing down to water. Navigating down the slope to a tiny creek, my friend had graciously volunteered for water extraction duty. At the creek, he had used a manual filter pump for collecting water. While waiting for his return, my mind had drifted into mischief. Up to this point, I was channeling a certain degree of seriousness, unwieldy for such an adventure. The idea of mooning him from a downed log had popped in my brain; however, the biting cold wind gusts had wiped that idea clear into oblivion.

With my buddy topside, we had walked about another half mile to signs pointing to the first wooden shelter. Scouting out the shelter for a few minutes, another pair of hikers had converged on our location. We had exchanged information relating to portions of the trail. After deciding to press forward, my friend had leveraged this opportunity for maxing out our water supply near this shelter. With the three of us remaining, we had stopped any physical activity while chatting. The immediate impact, we had all begun getting painfully cold in our hands and feet. During my wait, I had started moving about in circle compensating for walking on the trail. With my friend’s return, we had headed out on the last two miles of journey.

After picking up our walking tempo, we had arrived in short order at the demarcation for the southern terminus of the AT. In this clearing, two metal plaques had adorned rock along with a log book and statue. The only disappointment were the clouds obstructing the mountain top overlook. After breaking from photo ops, we had pushed on to the final destination for the day, a mountain top shelter. At this multi-level wooden shelter, we had encountered several other travelers. They had placed a tarp over the front opening to reduce the wind gusts. They had also attempted building a fire; however, the cold wet wood  had kept the fire from being viable. As far as sleeping for the night, the other travelers had conceded the elevated loft area for my friend and me. After eating some food, we had prepped our sleeping bags and clothes for slumber. During the night, I had focused on trying to keep my fingers and toes warm. I was bit paranoid with the rating on my Coleman sleeping bag. Before sundown, the temperature was around 30 degree F. What I hadn’t known, according to someone else’s gauge, the temperature dipping into the 20s.

Eventually, daylight had returned to the mountain top with warmer temperatures. Also returning, was our desire to move on from Springer Mountain. Our next destination, Hawk Mountain, was already brewing an image in our mind’s eye. Measuring life in moments, this was a start to another great day of wanderlust on the AT.

Read More:
Springer Mountain (Wikipedia)
Springer Mountain (GeorgiaTrails.com)
Review: Appalachian Impressions (GarzaFX)
Review: National Geographics’s America’s Wild Spaces: Appalachian Trail (2009) (GarzaFX)

20131227-224725.jpg

20131227-224809.jpg

20131227-224753.jpg

20131227-224844.jpg20131227-224940.jpg

20131227-224859.jpg

20131227-225009.jpg

20131227-225020.jpg20131227-225038.jpg

 

Sponsored by Seminole Scuba

shrimptall

Get to know Paul Shepherd and his competent team at Seminole Scuba in Lake Mary, Florida, whether getting certified or making a once in a lifetime trip like AFRICA 2014.

More Information:
website: www.seminolescuba.com
phone:  407-333-8856

Amicalola Falls State Park @ Dawsonville, Georgia

On the morning of Saturday, December 14th 2013, I had embarked on 8 hour plus drive to Amicalola Falls State Park in Dawsonville, Georgia. What had made this destination so alluring after a prolonged business trip? An unrepentant desire had filled my head with a need for physical adventure serving as counterpoint to the mundane nature of work in IT. Why now? For some of the road trips earlier in the year, sometimes the amount of “time off” hadn’t allowed the proper conclusion for random excursions. This go around, I had requested a whole week off. Earlier in the year, I had visited Vogel State Park, Georgia and some of the surrounding hiking trails. It was one of the best times outdoors ever because of precarious descent of up-tempo mountain side hiking despite, tempting fate with one wrong slip at dusk. Yet, beyond the scope of that hike was the untapped desire for convergence onto the Appalachian Trail by way of Blood Mountain. This idea had sat dormant after the last road trip into Georgia. As with any good master plan, the seed for a return was planted long ago in my friend’s mind. All that was required, a response to the question,”Wanna do anything this weekend?” Of course, I had formed the answer to the question well in advance. Free will was a beautiful thing. Now, the specific details for this hiking trip, I hadn’t mastered at all but, enter my buddy’s advance preparation. Even without that consideration, I had probably signed up in my current mental state for anything outdoors sans nuclear war.

After a supply stop in a Cumming’s Georgia Walmart, we had pushed for the final portion of our drive. Arriving in the state park off-hours, we had registered with park’s log book for hiking the A.T. Around 8 PM Eastern, we had headed out to the park trail going toward Amicalola Falls. With light from my friend’s head lamp, we had forged toward the sound of falling water. At the base of ascent, we had seen a sign cautioning strenuous activity of 175 steps. I had figured,”Not too bad.” Though, in my haste to get moving, I had left the top portion of hiking bag chest strap undone. This oversight had doubled the amount of effort on the ascent. At the beginning, I had enjoyed the exertion on my body; however, at the end of the night, it had caused some cramping in my right calf. In contrast, it had still beat sitting in car or airplane for hours on end. After clearing the 175 steps, we had both worked up good amount of perspiration. Completing the 175 steps and a walk across a wooden bridge, we had seen another sign for strenuous activity a few moments later. That sign had outlined a step count of 425. I had thought, ”You got to be kidding?” With some angst, we had eventually cleared those steps as well. About 2 miles later into the hike, we had started the approach trail toward our final destination of the A.T. With the cold wet dark night, we had let common sense prevail agreeing to double back to beginning of the park until daylight. Staying on premises, we had camped out in the first shelter to make way for the next day.

The good news the following morning, the views of the falls were astounding on ascent. The great news for you, there was road side access at the base and top of the falls for those with less of an inclination to cover the 600 combined steps. Amongst the four waterfalls in Georgia and Florida I had seen, Amicalola Falls, claims a special place in my memory with backdrop of the surrounding mountain range. That view had kicked off the 2nd of 5 days in Georgia. If you had decided to travel the Southeast, strongly recommend taking a trip out to Amicalola Falls State Park @ Dawsonville, Georgia.

Amicalola Falls State Park
Address: 240 Amicalola Falls State Park Road, Dawsonville, GA 30534
Phone: (706) 344-1500

Read more:
Appalachian Trail (National Park Service)
Amicalola Falls State Park (Georgia State Parks)

20131224-191105.jpgAmicalola Falls State Park Road, Dawsonville, GA20131224-191150.jpgAmicalola Falls State Park Road, Dawsonville, GA20131224-190931.jpg 20131224-190947.jpg 20131224-191052.jpg 20131224-190912.jpg20131224-191032.jpg 20131224-191003.jpg

Vogel State Park – Blairsville, Georgia: Part 2 – Vogel Overlook and Bear Hair Gap Trail

Before leaving the park office, I had received a detailed trail map for the extended area. Returning from Falls Bottom on the one mile Trahlyta trail loopback, I had recalled the other options in the area. What I had noticed that the Appalachian Trail being under 10 miles away. This had been one of the goals for my Labor Day weekend. Walking past the on premises cabins, another sign had pointed up toward Bear Hair Gap Trail. This 4 mile plus trail had seemed like a great place to start toward that journey. The varied physical features of the woods had been quite remarkable. The tree covered mountain side had its share of surprises. Park services had made a posting for no hang-gliding. After recent outing in Groveland, Florida, the trees, even without leaves, had been too dense to make flight of five feet. Across the ascent, we had crossed over creeks, streams and huge boulders. Florida had sand, Georgia boulders! Now on the trail, the terrain had composed of rocks and roots requiring attention care in passing over. The steep inclines up the mountain side had been challenging for my friend and me; however after about 2 hours we had arrived at Vogel Overlook. This view had peered down on Trahlyta Lake and most of Vogel State Park. At the summit, there had been a campsite of sorts with a log in the middle. With foliage still hearty, it had obstructed part of the sight. I had only imagined the grand scope of this view in fall or winter time. Then again the average temperature around those times had averaged around 30 F.

After coming down from Vogel Overlook, we had moved further up Blood Mountain toward the A.T. Though, the weather had started to change to thunder and an overcast sky with a potential of a downpour. We had been unprepared for this weather or an overnight trek. After some disappointment, we had decided to make the right choice, the smart choice and turn back. That choice had left open another chapter for an adventure solely pursuing the beginnings of the Appalachian Trail. During 2013, Vogel State Park and all its various options had provided one of the memorable interactions with nature. As managed lands, it had provided first hand testimony to natural beauty and majesty right around the corner in the southern United States.

vogel_rocks vogel_trailbridgevogel_trailstream20130925-053322.jpg

20130925-053310.jpg

20130925-053407.jpg

20130925-053441.jpg

20130925-053417.jpg

20130925-053431.jpg

vogel_overlook_camp

vogel_marker

vogel_bloodsign

vogel_sign

Read More:

vogeltrails

Vogel Trail Map (gastateparks.org)
Vogel State Park Hiking Trail (gastateparks.org)
Blood Mountain  (Wikipedia)

Appalachian Trail(Wikipedia)
Vogel State Park – Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites (gastateparks.org)
Vogel State Park (Wikipedia)

Vogel State Park – Blairsville, Georgia: Part 1, Falls Bottom Trail

Going up the north Georgia countryside, I had written down the name Vogel State Park from a passing sign. I had been inventorying possible places to investigate later in the day. After returning down from Brasstown Bald, I had been fairly indecisive about stopping here during a holiday weekend. Coming down a curving road just before the park entrance, I had seen the fading view and the crashing sounds of waterfalls. Indecision had turned into infatuation. Punch drunk had been a more appropriate characterization of my desire to see more. The road leading from the entrance had run parallel to a big lake Trahlyta and a surrounding hiking trail. Passing over a small creek bridge, I had parked in front of the body of water at the base of a couple of mountains. For a Floridian, this had been simply intoxicating variation in topography.

After parking, I had started walking the red clay of the nearby lake hiking trail. Moving down the path, each gaze upon the waters and mountains had provided shots too numerous to keep still for a camera. At the far end of the lake, a wooden sign had pointed downward and left to Falls Bottom Trail. This paved trail had led deeper down a hill under the cover of trees. At the end, the roaring waters I had previously seen from my passenger window. After seeing the best of Florida’s waterfalls at Rainbow Springs, this had bested that sight by a hundred fold. At the base of falls, I had realized my enchantment by one of the two oldest state parks in Georgia; however, the park had another round of secrets to enhance the visceral appeal. To that end, I had decided to save that posting for another day.

Posted park hours had been 8 AM until 10 PM. Like another Georgia park, this ranger had also mentioned no printable receipts and cash only at the gate. Canoe and cabin rentals had been available but, call ahead (706) 745-2628. For those interested in mapping out a drive, the address was 405 Vogel State Park Rd, Blairsville, GA.

Read More:
Vogel State Park – Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites (gastateparks.org)
Vogel State Park (en.wikipedia.org)View shared post

20130925-051845.jpg 20130925-051907.jpg20130925-052204.jpg20130925-052114.jpg 20130925-052133.jpg20130925-052226.jpg 20130925-052249.jpg20130925-052701.jpg20130925-052726.jpg20130925-052830.jpg20130925-052319.jpg

20130925-052428.jpg20130925-052519.jpg20130925-052553.jpg20130925-052618.jpg

Georgia’s Highest Elevation Point – Brasstown Bald, Georgia

Brasstown Bald, Georgia had been one of the most unique experiences of this Labor Day 2013. It had been composed of three phases. The ascent, descent and the 4,783 foot summit. All three had unique characteristics. En route to northern edge of Georgia, I had seen the rolling valleys and mountains on the side of the highway. After spending a considerable portion of the year traveling Florida, the varied topology had been a welcome break. Getting to the last few miles of road, little had I known the importance of having a newly replaced fuel pump. For most of the drive, the climb had been a series of sharp winding roads with a strong incline. There had been portion of the final stretch almost requiring second gear on my vehicle. In contrast, I had seen a vehicle in my rear view mirror struggling to make the drive. With the thick mist and slick road, I had wondered how truly awful a mechanical breakdown could be. Whipping around every turn had been vehicles speedily heading to the base exit. I had thought, ”Someone hand out crazy in Georgia today?”

Once near the top, there had been a gate for paying admission and a place to park before going up the last portion of the summit. From this location, the park shuttle had been available for those wanting or needing assistance to the top. However, this had seemed a bit cheap for a hiking endeavor. Walking up the mountain through the winding paved trail, I had exited at summit facility. Much to my disappointment, heavy clouds had obstructed the multi-state view in every direction. Crestfallen, I had opted to watch a 30 minute film on Brasstown below the observatory. The film had been informative regarding the history, weather, and views of the mountain. One of the facts regarding the summit had been the climate’s similarity to that of New England. With the show over, I had been ready to leave the summit without any good pictures or video. During the 30 minute film, enough of the clouds had been whisked away revealing the surrounding Appalachian and Blue Ridge mountain ranges. The sight had been simply astounding. To describe the breath and scope of this view had almost been a disservice. What had made it more rewarding, the last minute sleight of hand by mother nature, God, good luck, or whatever you chose to believe in.

After taking some departing shots, I had a friend switch driving duties. The roads being narrow with steep incline had posted speed of 30 MPH. So I had chided my friend for driving too fast. In the passenger seat, I had wanted to be back in control.To his credit, he had been riding the breaks all the way down. Having some foresight I had replaced all the brakes on this vehicle right before the trip. However, I hadn’t been too confident swerving around the edge of disaster like Mr. Toad’s wild ride. All I had recalled seeing two roadside crosses on the way up, denoting two accident fatalities. The smell of the breaks overheating had started to drive me fracking nuts. Now I had discovered why the descending cars move dangerously down the mountain. The answer, there had been little choice.

So the summary, if you had been living at sea level all your life, what a great first experience to be on a real mountain. If you had wanted to see a stellar view, a great value for a few dollars. If you had needed a good thrill, well you get that too. Just make sure you had good set of brakes and a good fuel pump to feed gas to your engine.

Read More:

Brasstown Bald – Wikipedia

Brasstown Bald, Georgia’s Highest Mountain – USDA Forest Service

20130921-201017.jpg20130921-201037.jpg

20130921-201157.jpg

20130921-201307.jpg

20130921-201329.jpg

20130921-201351.jpg

20130921-201431.jpg

20130921-201510.jpg

20130921-201530.jpg

20130921-201602.jpg

20130921-201626.jpg

20130921-201644.jpg

20130921-201824.jpg

20130921-201847.jpg

20130921-200822.jpg

What is inside you? Labor Day 2013: Got to believe!

This past 2013 Labor Day holiday, I had traveled across the South East of United States for five days. In driving over 1,500 miles, I had pondered the potential around every Interstate exit, on each hiking trail, with each cold water spring, and every friendly conversation. I had been looking for something that already had been there, self.

20130905-031116.jpg

Recalling my youth in Andros Island, Bahamas, I had asked my father, what lay beyond an exposed coral reef. For five seasons of diving trips, my father had answered,” We’ll stop there on the way back.” Those adventures had never ended gazing down a 500 foot dropoff into the Tongue of the Ocean. In retrospect, my father had been wise in avoiding the potential dangers of the dark waters of the Atlantic. What had remained, a curiosity of the unknown.

20130905-031105.jpg

For quite a few years, journeying around had lost a certain appeal, perhaps all those years of relocation in a Navy family. In limiting my horizons, I had found ways to limit liability and experiences with responsibilities (i.e, work, friends, family, time); However, what had been life’s worth without facing some fear and some danger.

20130902-215757.jpg

Early on in this trip, I had been confronted with the challenge of marching through a flooded hiking trail. What unforeseen danger had been waiting to attack around the next corner. In the end, the theme of man versus nature had affirmed a choice, a belief to press on. This precedent, built on curiosity, had characterized other decisions regarding this journey. One of those had been missing a tour of the Florida Caverns in West Florida. The other had been a failed fuel pump on my red 1996 Ford Explorer. Both of these events had fueled a greater determination to make it to the mountains surrounding Brasstown Bald. Without these setbacks, I had wondered if I bother traveling to the highest point in Georgia.

CAM00696

Periodically, life had shaken my faith in friendships, God and self-worth, but, the question had been about pressing on. Some state coincidence that all these events had occurred with convenience and rhythm. I had chosen to entertain a belief beyond self, a will beyond my own. This will had been forged long ago in a foreign land, to keep trying, to keep reaching. The question of this adventure had I done it all alone? Believe!

CAM00722

More information:

Tongue of the Ocean (Wikipedia)

Andros Island, Bahamas (Wikipedia)

Brasstown Bald (Wikipedia)

Florida Caverns (Florida State Parks)