Saturday, March 26, 2022
Springer Mountain Shelter (MM 0.2) to Hawk Mountain Shelter (MM 8.1)
NOTE: We are currently hiking through the unceded homelands of the ᏣᎳᎫᏪᏘᏱ (Tsalaguwetiyi/Cherokee) and Mvskoke (Muskogee) peoples. Most of the ᏣᎳᎫᏪᏘᏱ and Mvskoke were forcibly removed from these lands by white explorers and settlers, beginning with the Spanish in 1539 and culminating in 1850 with the United States' program of ethnic cleansing called the Trail of Tears.
Did I say we zonked out? Ha! Who needs sleep? In our last post, we mentioned how it would be windy last night—gusts of up to 30 MPH, 32°F, yadda, yadda. The winds turned out to be sustained at 12-15 MPH, along with those 30+ gusts, according to Ridgerunner Barak. Depending on your wind chill metrics, that feels like between 17-22°F.
Okay, maybe we did get some sleep. Justin says he got about three interrupted hours and Trek, nearly four in two-hour blocks. But despite the wind waking us many times throughout the night, we felt at least somewhat rested. We weren't grumpy about it, anyway.
We woke up to a very windy, quite cold sunrise. Sol was a stunning strawberry red, and the skies a blend of tangerine orange and violet-blue. Majestic would be an understatement.
Breaking camp was slow-moving. With the wind chill nipping at our fingertips, taking down the tent was a tedious process. After we rolled up our tent and packed our sleeping bags into our backpacks, we set out to make breakfast.
Both of us have a JetBoil, a lightweight backpacking stove kit. Despite the built-in wind guards, both of us had problems keeping our stoves lit in the wind. But we were eventually able to make our cheesy grits and coffee. Grits are highly underrated and, so Trek says, far superior to oatmeal any day. We shared the picnic table with Kim from Virginia, a fellow traveler heading to Maine.
We stepped off at noon, which was okay because we only planned a 7.9-mile day to the Hawk Mountain Shelter. Justin was beginning to notice hot spots on his feet almost right away. Almost on cue, a gentleman named Kevin, a day hiker from Atlanta and formerly of Poughkeepsie, NY, popped out of the first intersection with the Benton MacKaye Trail.
"Hi, I'm Kevin. Do you guys need anything? I came down to meet thru-hikers and to see if y'all need anything! I have batteries, water filters, moleskin, snacks. Just want to help hikers starting out."
Justin's jaw dropped. It was his first taste of trail magic. "Moleskin would be amazing; wow, thank you so much!"
Moleskin received, our gratitude given, we continued on. A few minutes down the trail, Trek regretted not taking him up on a filter, as his froze overnight, rendering it useless.
About one mile after Springer Mountain, we reached the border of Chattahoochee National Forest. It was here that we met Mountain Squid, a trail volunteer. We chatted with him and others before continuing toward Three Forks, so named for the confluence of Long, Stover, and Chester Creeks.
The trail down contained a lot of the same mixed deciduous forest dotted with young and a few mature holly trees, many young eastern white pines, and a few baby eastern hemlocks. The trail here is magical. The path we walked was bespeckled with mica, which looked like glitter glistening in the sunlight. It feels as though we are on a journey toward some magical realm, and perhaps we are.
Before reaching Stover Creek Shelter, we met another thru-hiker, who began their hike today, Alexa from New Hampshire. We shared a few minutes of walking the trail together before Alexa pushed ahead. Not long after, we met Dawn and Michael of Ohio, also attempting a thru-hike together!
As we reached Three Forks and began to walk toward Long Creek Falls, rhododendrons and mountain laurels surrounded us, white quartz was everywhere, and small creeks flowed all around. If you were to ask me to describe heaven, this is it. It was about 50°F and sunny and gorgeous.
Long Creek Falls deserves its own post. The history of DeSoto and the Cherokee is preserved here by 500 glyphs carved into rock by the Cherokee people. If enough of you ask, I'll tell you the story. We met Ken, Dan, and Right On at Long Creek Falls when we stopped for lunch and are hoping to run into them again, too.
After lunch, we continued, eventually coming to an old cemetery of the Appalachian ghost town of Hickory Flatts, now the property of the New Bethel Church. There is a cemetery there, as well as a picnic pavilion and pit toilets, which were useful at this point.
On our way out of Hickory Flatts, Justin's hot spots and blisters began to cause him some pain. While he slowed down, Trek went on ahead toward Hawk Mountain Shelter to ensure we had a campsite before sunset. As Trek approached Hawk Mountain, he ran into an old acquaintance/trail friend: Moxie the Ridgerunner! They stopped to chat for a bit when Justin caught up with them.
Trek first met Moxie in Maine in 2016 at a lean-to site but got to know her later that season at Marni Bumsted's White Mountains Lodge and Hostel. Moxie was visiting for the end-of-season party that Marni threw for all of the hostels and ridgerunners in the area. It was quite the event! Trek and Moxie had a nice reunion and chatted all the way into camp. They made sure to take a picture to send to both Marni and Erik, our friend and the current owner of the now Rattle River Lodge and Hostel
After a quick dinner, we set up in the shelter lean-to, thanks to Rachel, another hiker who helped us make space. That's when Justin noticed some pretty gnarly blisters. OUCH. Once those were dressed, we climbed into our sleeping bags. We hope these three walls will block out tonight's bitter wind. Here's to tomorrow!