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Hiking: Springer Mountain to Woody Gap

posted Mar 31, 2013, 5:34 PM by Tim Carroll   [ updated Mar 31, 2013, 10:29 PM ]
To Three Forks
Long Creek Falls

We were back at it in the summer of 2012. We did three days and two nights on the Appalachian Trail. This time, we started where we left off with our approach trail climb to Springer Mountain. We parked the car at Woody Gap and had Mr. Ron Brown (AT Angel) give us a ride to our starting point. We saw a bear cub running down the middle of the road on the way up Springer, and Ron told us that there were several bear cubs in the area that were about six months old and just venturing out on their own.

Long Creek Falls
Long Creek Falls

Springer Mountain to Woody Gap is approximately a 20 mile hike according to the map. We were starting about 3 hours later than we'd expected due to a gear run, so I was resetting the first day plan in my head. Although, I'd pre-planned for slight changes, it was nice to hear Ron tell us we could call him if we ran into trouble (ah... cell phones). My crew (9yrs and 7yrs) and I hit the trail around 5pm Friday (08/31/2012).

Even with the late start, we easily made it the four plus miles to the Three Forks area; however, my plan was to make it to a camp site mentioned in the trail guide near Long Creek Falls. Confusion ensued when we saw a sign pointing two directions for Long Creek Falls. At that point, we walked about a half mile further and decided that we'd gone too far, then backtracked to Three Forks. From there, we followed the Benton-MacKaye trail for a mile "up the creek" before turning back again. We finally gave up and stayed the night in a nice camping area at Three Forks [day one on the trail: photo, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo].

The next day, we set out and walked a few miles before coming across Long Creek Falls. We could have easily made it there the night before had we known to forge onward. Damn the sign! In any case, it was probably good that we hadn't made it the night before, because a snake was hanging out on the tent pad at that Long Creek Falls camp site.

Elevation Profile (Plan vs Actual)
Elevation Profile (Plan vs Actual)
This was our first trip with a GPS. It takes some doing to become proficient in using it to plan and document trips; however, I found it interesting how close our GPS track elevation chart (bottom) matched that of the planning grid (top) that i used. The GPS logged 30 miles of walking, but that only equated to 20 miles of the AT. The GPS tracked all of our side trips and walking around the campsite. All that had to be removed before the elevation chart would match up as illustrated [more: graph, graph, graph, map].

That second day we forged onward and covered a good deal of ground, hiking 10 miles from Three Forks to Justis Creek, plus a few miles of side trails along the way. The climb up Hawk Mountain to start the day was not too bad, but from Hightower Gap onward was brutal. There are several rapid ascents in just a handful of miles, including a 1 mile 700+ foot ascent to the peak of Sassafrass Mountain followed by a half mile 500+ foot ascent to the peak of Justis Mountain. It was my daughters voice that helped me make that second climb. I don't know what she was saying, but her chatter kept both of our minds off of the difficulty of the task at hand. I was carrying her pack and mine on very little water, and it would have been easy to give up. The longer she talked, the closer we came to the top.

Gooch Mountain
Gooch Moutain

Once we made it to the base of Justis Mountain and started around Phyllis Spur, we began to lose daylight. We snuck into Justis Creek at dusk and quickly setup camp. We were all very tired and very hungry. We ate and slept [day two on the trail: photo, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo].

On day three, we woke late and it began to rain before we got up and out of the tent. We scurried out and pulled the essentials into the already tight quarters and lounged for another 40 minutes waiting for the rain to stop. When the weather broke, we made coffee and tea then hit the trail.

Thankfully, this section of the hike was much easier than the previous day, and to our delight, it dawned the most rewarding views as well. This section ran along a ridge at 3000 feet without the elevation changes that we'd experienced a day prior [day three on the trail: photo, photo, photo, photo].

When we arrived back where Ron had picked us up, there was a surprise waiting for us. Our great friends from Coastal Georgia were in the area, and they stopped in to greet us after our long journey. That is when the real journey began :-)