Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Appalachian Trail

I was going through some old files and found a recap of my first and only backpacking experience. Rob, Reuben, and I decided we wanted to take a road trip before our senior year of Calvin and do some backpacking. We thought we were tough, so we decided to hike the Duncan Ridge Trail which was dubbed the "toughest trail in Georgia." Here is my recap. It is kind of long and boring so I highlighted the important parts in RED (mostly our blunders). As you can see by the elevation chart the trail is nothing but ups and downs. None of us had even backpacked before. Aside from hiking the 30 miles of Duncan Ridge we had to hike 10 miles to access the start and another ten miles to reach our car at the end (where a friend had dropped it off).

September 2, 2003: Drove down from West Lafayette Indiana and did not allow ourselves enough time. We were also driving down with the sister of one of my roommates and planned on having her drop us off at three forks, however the complexity of our situation and apparent difficulty of navigating all of those Forest Service roads we had never been on before was too much in the dark. So we decided to have her drop us off at Amocola Falls state park which is right off of GA 52, adding 10 miles to our original plan. After filling up on one last good meal at McDonalds we started hiking at 9:30 pm (totally dark). Went about 2 miles up the access trail to the Appalachian Trail (AT) and set up camp.

September 3, 2003 (Wed) Hiked 5.5 miles to the southern terminus of the AT at the top of Springer Mountain by 10:30 am. After a short stay we trekked to three forks by noon and filled our water at the river there. Decided to filter and treat the water here but not again because it took so long and we were impatient. We decided to go to the Toccoa River for the night. The Benton Macaye Trail (BMT) was very difficult but easy to follow. Slight overgrowth rubbed against the legs but nothing too bad. We began experiencing fatigue around 2 and painfully stumbled to the footbridge over the Toccoa around 5:30 after a 20 mile day. Our water source was a nice stream at the base of the bridge on the south side. As the sun began to set the clouds rolled in and we had a big thunderstorm most of the night.

September 4, 2003 (Thurs) Woke up wet and disheartened and started hiking toward highway 60. After walking the 3 miles to GA 60 in a downpour we decided to quit and hitchhike back to Neels gap. In the 1.5 hours we spent trying to get a ride the sky cleared and our spirits lifted slightly so we decided to continue and finish what we started. The decision was very painful at first as the Wallalah and Licklog mountain climbs were incredibly hard and steep. We trekked on and finally split off the BMT and solely onto the Duncan Ridge Trail (DRT). Rhodes Mountain was supposed to have a good view but there wasn't so much as a peak. The rest of the day was more ups and downs and we hiked until we thought we reached Mulky Gap. We found a small stream about 500 yards down the main road at the clearing. We ate dinner and decided to get the 800 ft. ascent up West Wildcat out of the way before we went to bed. However after an hour of hiking we hadn't tackled any big hills and we pitched camp at 8:00 pm after about 15 miles of hiking for the day.

September 5, 2003 (Fri) Thinking we only had 8 miles left we started early to be done early. After 45 minutes of hiking we came to a clearing that had a gated road with a handicap sign on it and we realized that THIS was mulky gap. That was a miserable feeling (remember, we thought we were at Mulky Gap before dinner the previous night). So we continued and west wildcat was a hard ascent and the ups and downs continued. The hike dragged on in difficult fashion until we finally reached GA 180 where we knew we were almost done. The hike up Slaughter Mountain was hard but ranked about 7th of all the ascents. Going up Blood Mountain was an easy grade but rocky and hard on the feet after 45 miles. The summit of Blood Mountain was the first good view (or any view) since Springer Mountain some 40 miles ago. The last 2.4 miles were very painful on the feet as it was steep and rocky but the sight of the car at neels gap was so rewarding. Did about 13 miles on this day.

RECAP: The Duncan Ridge Trail was a very trying hike. It takes the right kind of hiker to enjoy it. I was physically challenged the entire time and the climbs did not disappoint. I'd say that about 90% of the hike was an incline or decline. I felt the hardest portion of the hike was the Wallalah/Licklog climbs but almost all of the other climbs were also very hard. I was expecting the Benton Macaye section to be the easiest part but it was just as hard. The DRT was very well marked with old and new blue blazes and staying on the trail was not a problem. I was hiking with the capacity of 6 Liters of water and each of my friends 1. We never risked running out and drank as we pleased. All three of us, though, got a bad case of traveler's diarrhea (terrible liquid poo) for about 3 days after the hike from the water because we didn't filter or treat it most of the way. The DRT was slightly overgrown but not that bad and overall I’d say the trail was in good shape. We did a total of about 50 miles in 18.5 hours of actual hiking (had a stopwatch just for timing our hiking-includes full 50 miles, not just DRT) but don't fool yourself into thinking you can do more than about 7 hours of hiking in one day. As far as scenery I was very disappointed. We kept spending so much energy to get to the top of a mountain and then did not see anything except trees and trees and trees. It was nothing but woods the entire hike except a small window on Springer Mountain and a bunch of good views from the top of Blood Mountain. For wildlife we saw a few deer (big deal, see them all the time in MI), a turtle (wow), and insects (cool butterflies at least). Also disappointing. For the entire hike we saw one other person hiking (going up Springer Mountain as we were going down) and two guys fishing in the Toccoa River for awhile. So we didn't see a soul on the DRT. On the whole I’d rate the hike as perfect for the right kind of person and an extreme challenge with little payoff for anyone else. If you enjoy solitude, plants, and great exercise this is the hike for you. But if you're like me and like exercise but really enjoy the cool views and sights along the way then I recommend you pick a hike with better attractions. The Amocola Falls we saw after 200 yards of hiking were probably the best out of everything.

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Blogger Rob Holleman said...

Thanks for the reminder Randall. That brought back some of the miserable times that we had. What you didn't say is how we spent most of the rest of the weekend on the toilet.

5:05 PM  
Blogger Slicy said...

I learned several lessons through your pain.

1. Water with poop in it might not be good to drink... who knew?

2. Hiking 50 miles in rain with heavy gear up and down hills with no physical, emotional, or psychological benefit can seem silly to others.

3. Poop is always funny (yet another proof)

5:21 AM  

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