I took this picture on Table Rock in western Maine last year. The orange trees seem to go on forever and they glowed in the sunlight as I hiked along with them! I have a very fond memory of sitting on this rock all alone enjoying the view and eating peanut butter crackers. It doesn’t get much better than that!
About a month ago I was at work, halfway through my shift when I got a text from a friend saying; “want to go camping this weekend?”. I said yes and I got off work at 5pm and we left at 6pm. We drove into north Georgia and followed a dirt road far into the woods that dead ended at the Appalachian Trail. We got to our backcountry site off the side of the dirt road well after dark to find that the site’s previous occupants had left us a surprise. The fire pit was filled with trash, empty and full beer cans, whole liters of coke, multiple loaves of bread, and a ripped in half trash bag. We also found multiple pairs of socks strewn about the site as well as vomit on a tree. Needless to say this wasn’t the best example of Leave No Trace. It was probably 10pm when we started cleaning up the trash and an hour later we had stuffed it all in the car and cleaned the site up as good as new. We made food and coffee and called it a night after hanging out by the fire for a while.
The next day We decided to hike a small bit of the AT. We took the 1.5mile connector trail that took us to where Tray Gap and Addis Gap meet. We hadn’t planned which way to go and ended up going towards Tray Mountain. Tray is the second tallest mountain on the AT in Georgia and is only a few feet shorter than the tallest, Blood Mountain. The first point of interest we hit was the Swag of the Blue Ridge sign and took our picture by it.
There were a lot of long steep stretches that took us over a couple mountains. And at some point we took a side trail to fill up on water. We reached the bottom of Tray and sat down in a little grassy knoll to eat some granola before the steep hike to the top. I could have easily fallen asleep on that comfy patch of grass. We didn’t sleep though and forced ourselves upwards towards Tray’s peak. The trek was long and steep but all of the sudden we found ourselves walk out into the small open granite area on top of the mountain. The views were great from the top and we were both excited to reach the top and began to take pictures and admire the views. There were a couple of AT thru-hikers that had reached the top at the same time as us and we chatted with them for a bit before having another snack and heading back. We hiked back as far as the Swag of the Blue Ridge with two other hikers that we got to talk to about hiking gear, mountain lions, travel, and probably more stuff I don’t remember. We left them behind and headed back over two more small mountains before taking our side trail back to the campsite where we made lunch and chilled the rest of the day. We did the math later and we did somewhere around twenty miles of hiking that day without planning to. Spontaneous trips like this one are some of my favorite things to do and can be so relaxing.
Also sorry about the lack of pictures.
Josh and me at the top of Pine Mountain
Night hikes are a fun way to experience a trail in a different way. I would recommend if you are going to try night hiking to be prepared and to hike somewhere that you are familiar with so you do not get lost. We typically bring headlamps, compass, water, snacks, and Josh’s coffee making apparatus to prepare coffee at the turnaround point.
Josh and I typically will do a night hike when it is either a full moon or a new moon. On a clear night with a full moon, there is no need to use your headlamps and the trail looks otherworldly with an ethereal glow coming from the moon. It is easy to spot wildlife and keep your footing.
However, with the new moon this weekend we decided to hike one of our regular hikes nearby at the Pine Mountain Recreation Area and the following night hike to the Appalachian Trail to crest the summit of Blood Mountain. The allure of hiking with the new moon is the hope to see stars and maybe even a bit of the Milky Way galaxy.
Fellow night hiker Anya joined us to hike at Pine Mountain the first night. Josh had brought some crazy tea in a bag he found somewhere for us to brew at the top. The Pine Mountain series of trails is two loops connected with a trail over the top of Pine Mountain with a spur trail to the overlook where you can see the bright lights of Atlanta in the distance. This trail system is easy to access off of exit 288 on I-75 in North Georgia. Just turn east and follow the road to the right and there is the trailhead with ample parking.
Pine Mountain Recreational Area sign
The first loop we took the right fork and quickly went in elevation from about 900 ft to almost 1600 ft in about a mile. Once we crested the mountain we took the spur to the overlook and Josh brewed the tea and we enjoyed the view. Being only about 40 miles north of Atlanta the stars were not very visible, but for this area were nice. Venus in particular was very bright. The weather was quite comfortable for late February in Georgia. At this point we had decided to do the more aggressive Blood Mountain hike the next night so we returned to the trailhead using the other side of the first loop and crossing thru the “fat man’s squeeze”. This is about a 2 to 2 ½ mile trip. If we had completed the second loop, then the total distance would have been 4.56 miles. I like the second loop but feel like it is a more enjoyable hike taking the left fork and going around.
Atlanta city lights in the distance from the top of Pine Mountain
part of Josh’s coffee making contraption
The next night Josh and I drove about 2+ hours up into the North Georgia mountains to the Chattahoochee National Forest. This is a huge area of land inhabited by black bears and is where the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail begins. To get to the Blood Mountain trailhead take Hwy 19 north from the Atlanta area until it dead ends on Hwy 129, go left on 129 towards Vogel State Park and the trailhead at Neels Gap will be well marked on the left before you get to Vogel.
Neels Gap Trailhead sign
Neels Gap Trailhead map
After parking at the trailhead, we marveled at the brightness of the stars just from where we were parked and were excited to see what we could find at the top of Blood Mountain. We started out on the Byron Herbert Reece Trail, which crosses a creek with Rhododendrons everywhere and quickly elevates over its .7 mile length. It is marked with blue blazes. You will come to a well-marked crossroads where you can go left south on the Appalachian Trail, right north on the A/T, or straight which has a couple of other named trails. We took the right fork, north on the A/T, to traverse the 2+ miles to the summit of Blood Mountain.
Thankfully the trail is very well marked with reflective white blazes from here on as it was pitch black and other than our headlamps we could not see much around us (well except for one fat rabbit). It was colder tonight dropping down into the lower thirties. As we climbed to the top of the 4459 ft mountain (the highest point along the A/T in Georgia), the trail started to remind me of a stone staircase at points and even a few larger rocks to climb over. As we neared the summit, we had hiked higher in elevation than the mountains around us and could start to see the orange glow of Atlanta around 100 miles to the south. There were several flat granite areas (where I could say a great dad joke, “don’t take this hike for granite”), right before we crested the top. The wind was positively howling at the top and unfortunately we couldn’t get the flame to stay lit on Josh’s coffee brewing contraption. We did enjoy the stars, but with the Atlanta orange glow to the south we couldn’t see the Milky Way like we could out west in Texas and Utah.
Atlanta city lights in the distance from the top of Blood Mountain (note we did bring a better camera than the iphone and tripod to try and get star pictures but the wind was too strong to get it set up and hold still)
To return we just went back the same way we came up. We had one spot where it took us a few minutes to be sure we were still on the trail and it got a bit spooky in the black woods when we could hear bats squeaking a flying about. But before we knew it, we were back to the trailhead at our vehicle. The entire round trip hike of 4.3 miles took us about two hours. Since the night pictures on my phone left much to be desired, I have a few pictures of Blood Mountain from a previous day hike. I hope our adventures have inspired you to try night hiking. rk
Chattahoochee National Forest sign
White blaze on the Appalachian Trail near Blood Mountain in North Georgia
I recently spent two nights and one full day in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia. I thought I would share what I did and what I hope to do whenever I get a chance to go back.
This was my second time in Shenandoah but the first time it rained the whole time I was there and you couldn’t see two feet in front of you. This time the weather was perfect though. The overlooks on the side of the Skyline Drive (the 105 mile road that is the backbone of Shenandoah) had just been fog before but now I could see for miles across the Blue Ridge Mountains, surrounding farms, and small towns. I left Atlanta at 5am and drove about 8 hours to the park, arriving around 1pm. Almost as soon as I pulled into the park my low fuel light came on with the nearest gas station being about 40 miles down the 35mph curvy mountain road. It took an hour to reach the Big Meadows area where there is a lodge, campground, visitors center, store, and gas. I filled up my tank and checked out the visitors center before heading back to my campground on Loft Mountain. The drive back was nice and I stopped at many overlooks to take in the views and the cool mountain air. I checked into my campground and set up my tent. It was 4pm now and I still had a couple more hours of sunlight so despite being tired from my long drive I decided to check out the Loft Mountain store and go on a quick hike. The hike I chose was the Frazier Discovery Trail, a short 1.3 mile loop from the Loft Mountain wayside and led to my first views overlooking the Shenandoah mountains. As I arrived the first rocky overlook there was an Appalachian thru-hiker making himself dinner (The Appalachian Trail goes throughout Shenandoah National Park and many of the parks trails are at least partially on the AT). I looked out at the view and enjoyed it before carrying on a bit further to the next overlook that was more open and arguably prettier! With a big smile on my face I sat down and stared at the view and took some pictures too. I then headed back down the second half of the trail and then headed back to my campsite. I made myself dinner of ramen noodles and coffee and as I cleaned up my stove and dishes it began to get dark so I walked down to the camp store where there was a beautiful view of a purple, yellow, pink, and blue sunset sinking below the mountains. It began to get a little chilly so I hurried back to my tent and cozied up in my sleeping bag, ready for the next day of hiking.
I woke up at 6:30am and waited around for the sun to rise around seven and I made my oatmeal breakfast and of course more coffee. My first hike of the day was just a few miles down the road from my campground in the Doyles River trail. It is a 3.2 mile round trip trail to the upper and lower Doyles River Falls. The hike goes downhill until you reach the second waterfall and your turn back to go all uphill to the parking lot. The waterfalls were impressive and a great way to start my day. The second half of the trail took me by surprise with how quickly it took my breath away but I still finished fairly quickly. I stopped by the Loft Mountain wayside for an early lunch and to refill my water.
I carried on to my next hike (stopping at a few overlooks on the way) at Bearfence Mountain. A short hike but loads of fun as it features a rock scramble across the top of the mountain with a 360 degree view of everything around you. The return trail follows the AT before returning to the parking lot.
My next hike was the Little Stony Man and Stony man hikes together. Being close to the Skyland area this hike was my most populated of the day. After about fifteen minuted I passed a man going back down to the trailhead with a suit on and a cocktail in one hand and a huge lit cigar in the other. I kinda laughed to myself and carried on the the Little Stony Man Cliffs where some people were rock climbing and others just enjoying the view it offered. I then continued to the peak of Stony Man Mountain at 4,010 feet above sea level. The trail from Little Stony Man was unpopulated and followed the AT the whole time until it met up with a large horse path the went straight to the Skyland lodge area to the left and a loop to the peak and back to the right. The trail became more populated now and the overlook at the peak was very crowded but still had a beautiful view where I could see the Little Stony Man cliffs that I just been at. After I returned to my car I pulled into the overlook area just by the trail and sat and ate a granola bar before heading back down the road to my campground. I got back to the Loft Mountain Campground around 4:30pm and went to the camp store to buy some cheese fries and a cream soda for a pre dinner snack. After that I chilled out, had coffee, and read my book before making dinner and turning in for the night at sundown.
So that was my day in Shenandoah National Park. I had a blast in the park and am excited to return. I would love to do the Hawksbill Gap trail, White Oak Canyon, and the Little Devils Stairs whenever I get to go back!