Twig Adventures

BMT Day 0: The Approach

Tuesday, April 30th, 2024, 1400-1930
Amicalola Falls State Park (famous Stone Arch at the beginning of the AT approach trail) to Springer Mountain Shelter, mm 0
10 miles, Gain: 3270′, Loss: 1300′, elevation 3780′

It was an auspicious and serendipitous Day 0 to get to the start of the BMT. In actuality, it was a several day journey to get to this point, which I’ll try to quickly sum up. Two days before, I drove from Miami to Gainesville so I could split the drive and also reconnect with my friend Eve. I met her through the Florida Trail Association and we had adventured together a lot in years past. She moved from Miami to Gainesville a few years ago, which made me sad. But I gained an adventure friend in Gainesville, a place I’d driven past many times but never visited.

We packed a ton of activities into 1.5 days, including a visit to the Devil’s Millhopper sinkhole, Paynes prairie, watching thousands of bats escape the bat house near the UF campus, and kayaking down the Ichetucknee river.

The day of the start of this hike (or at least the approach trail), I drove 6 hours from Gainesville to Amicalola Falls State Park, arriving shortly after noon. There I met another BMT hiker, Mando, who I’d previously arranged a car shuttle with. He would drive my car to Standing Bear hostel and hike south. This way both our cars would be waiting for us at the end.

I started the famous AT approach trail around 2 pm. Unfortunately the stairs  along the falls were closed so I took the west ridge trail to the top of the falls, reconnecting with the approach trail. I hiked down the stairs when I finished the AT going southbound in 2021, but was hoping for the experience going up them, which is so famous for AT hikers’ first bout of suffering. At the road to the lodge, I took a side trail to get a view of the falls. This added almost a mile to my hike but was worth it.

The rest of the miles up to Springer were ok, but I was feeling them. The shoulder straps on my new Waymark pack were biting into my shoulder…I just needed to break them in a bit. About halfway up I caught up to Mockingbird @celestialhikes and Rock and Roll @stillwater.hiker, who I’d earlier met at the visitor center. They were a couple that had just finished the Pinhoti Trail and were out for a few days on the AT. I hiked with them for much of the way up, but towards the end they began to leave me in the dust. I was actually happy for them, being in such good shape at the end of their thru hikes and me being reminded that I needed some time to work up to my fitness.

I’d expected to be passing a bunch of AT hikers that were just starting out but we didn’t really see any. There were a few tents and hammocks set up at some of the campsites along the way but I didn’t see the occupants. We made it to Springer Mountain with plenty of time to bask in the late afternoon sunshine and enjoy the views. I finally got to actually see the mountain as we approached, even though I’d been to the top twice before. In 2021, with the final miles in front of me and desperate to escape the rain that had been hounding me for weeks, I hadn’t been looking backwards as I descended from the mountain. In 2017, I’d started my section hike by driving up the road that comes within a mile of the summit, which doesn’t really offer views. So I was grateful for this experience, which was my nicest and most memorable visit yet. I even remembered to sign the registry for the first time!

We left to go set up camp at the shelter, then returned to the top for the sunset. The shelter was empty, save for us, but I opted to tent. Though I’d finished my Triple Crown here, this night went down as the most special. The sunset was amazing and I quickly came to enjoy the company of new friends. And I was in no rush. I slept so well in my tent, relishing my time on this famous mountain. So great to be back on trail!

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