Posted by: pjbarr | March 21, 2010

Threshold of Adventure

“This was the threshold of my great adventure…. Get moving, Ridgerunner, the Trail is calling and Katahdin is far away.” –Earl Shaffer, atop Mt. Oglethorpe, April 4, 1948

We finally made it to Georgia, though not without more mishaps. The car overheated again in Franklin and then off and on throughout the day. This sporadically delayed us and constantly had us on edge while negotiating the mountain roads and their steep grades. Once night fell, a powerful thunderstorm blew through Dahlonega and knocked out power for several hours. I’m glad this night was not my first on the AT. I quickly realized the irony that I would soon not need electricity for days and weeks at a time, but at this time I really needed it to complete my final preparations for Monday’s departure. We ended up driving all the way to Gainsville in order to locate an operating Wal-Mart. Naturally, the car’s cooling system wasn’t pleased about this additional outing. Allison and I are spending the night in Dahlonega now. This will be my last entry until she receives my first mailing of journal entries and can transcribe them around the beginning of next week.

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Visiting the Oglethorpe Monument in Jasper, GA

If you aren’t familiar with my fanatical affection for Appalachian Trail history, you soon will become well acquainted. I have long maintained several prerequisites to my impending hiking journey. One of these included visiting the original stone monument that once stood atop Mt. Oglethorpe, the AT’s original southern terminus. The 38-foot tall obelisk made of locally quarried marble was erected atop Mt. Oglethorpe in 1930 to honor General James Oglethorpe, the founder of the colony of Georgia. It was moved from the summit to downtown Jasper, GA in 1999. Visiting it was exceptionally exciting for me. I doubt many people have gotten as worked up about this rather benign pinnacle of stone like I did, but I don’t care. Earl Shaffer once stood at the base of this monument and took his initial steps on what would become the first completed thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. A handful of other hiking pioneers, Gene Espy included, also embarked on their journeys from it as well. It was only fitting that I do the same.

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The Oglethorpe Monument Once Stood at the Original AT Southern Terminus on Mt. Oglethorpe

Another prerequisite to my journey was a visit to the summit of Mt. Oglethorpe. Originally named Grassy Knob (Earl Shaffer’s photos show that it was bald in 1948 minus the monument), the peak was renamed for Georgia’s founding father in 1930, an event commemorated by the erection of the aforementioned stone monument. Even more significant than the monument, the summit hosted the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail from its onset until 1959 when it terminus was moved due to encroaching development and problematic private property. The southern terminus is now atop Springer Mountain, where I will begin my hike on Monday.

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Atop Mt. Oglethorpe, Paying Homage to Earl Shaffer, the Day Prior to Beginning the AT

It was from this very spot that Earl Shaffer and Gene Espy, among others, set off on their epic adventures on the Appalachian Trail. In ceremony, so it was where I began my AT journey. It was fitting that the summit was cloaked in a thick blanket of fog. A cold wind was howling and the setting was overwhelmingly eerie. We felt the ghosts of hikers past clinging to this significant spot, a location where such a great gamut of emotions was experienced. It was now me that was embracing this mix of fear and exhilaration at this spot. A circular stone wall on the summit no longer supports the Oglethorpe monument, nor the initial steps of the AT, but it still stores the memories of the beginning of so many great adventures.

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At Amicalola Falls State Park Visitor Center

Allison and I made our way to our next destination, Amicalola Falls State Park. Ever since I began hiking, I have purposely avoided hiking any portion of the Appalachian Trail in Georgia with the specific intent of walking these miles on an eventual thru-hike. So it is ironic that I had already visited Amicalola and even hiked a portion of the AT approach trail in the past, a fact I hadn’t even discovered until a few years ago. While visiting my friend Aaron Odom in Georgia shortly after I finished high school, he drove me north from Atlanta to Amicalola State Park. We hiked a short distance to an exceptionally impressive waterfall. I had no idea of the time that the AT was so intertwined with that park nor that our path actually made up a small piece of the AT approach trail. I discovered it years later. I always dreamed of returning but for only one specific reason.

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Signing the AT Thru-Hiker Register

Today I finally returned to Amicalola and it was indeed for that reason. We entered the visitor center and my nerves began to kick in – butterflies and all. I suppose walking in there elevated the level of seriousness. I’m finally here – and I’m really doing this. I timidly asked the lady behind the counter how to sign in for an AT thru-hike. I quickly did so; seriousness level continuing to climb. I was hiker #385 of the season. This list consists of only those who stop in at this office to sign-in; many elect to skip this formality or those who begin from the top of Springer Mountain in lieu of using the Approach Trail typically neglect the side trip just to sign their name. I suspect I’m at least the 500th hiker to set out on the Trail this year. This was a fact that somewhat bothered me. I initially had intended to begin the Trail in February. My reasons were specifically to avoid crowds;the filled shelters, satellite tent cities, and hostels lacking vacancy are not my cup of tea. But I elected to delay my departure so that I may avoid the unpleasantness of waist high snow on a daily basis. I chose to let these 385 others break the trail for me while I wait on Spring to inch closer. With exception of the snow, I found myself instantly envious of the experiences all of these hikers have already been though and the adventures they’ve had. They’re already out there living my dream. But my time is now upon me.

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Weighing My Pack – Just Under 40 Pounds!

My pack weighed in at 36 pounds. It was still missing a few items so I wrote 38 pounds on the hiker sign-in sheet to compensate. I suspect it will be right at 40 pounds when I set off Monday from Springer based on a few last minute additions I made to its weight – including several slices of Pizza Hut pan pizza! I did notice that I was several pounds under the average that the previous 385 hikers had listed. A range of 42 to 45 pounds was more of the norm, so I was ultimately satisfied with my beginning pack weight. And I weighed my pack with a week’s worth of food and two liters of water. With a lot of extra winter clothing and erring on the high side for my food supply to begin, I’m confident my pack weight will be closer to 30 pounds when the weather warms.

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Paying Homage to Gene Espy

The visitor center at Amicalola has a display of Gene Espy’s original hiking gear that he used during his 1951 thru-hike. Gene was the second person to ever complete an AT thru-hike. I had the great fortune of meeting him last May in Damascus at Trail Days and obtained my now cherished copy of his AT memoir book. He signed it to me: “Good luck in 2010”. I was very eager to see the display, which included his backpack, shoes, camera, cook stove, hat, canteen, and other primitive but proven backpacking equipment. I was fortunate enough to see a similar, more limited display involving Earl Shaffer’s 1948 thru-hike at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC this past September.

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Amicalola Falls

Allison and I hiked the short path and 125+ stairs to the high base of Amicalola Falls. I’ve heard this waterfall mentioned as a contender for the highest falls in the eastern U.S. I doubt this is true, and this falls would be difficult to classify since it is not a continuous drop but rather a series of cascades. I forget what my friend Ron Tagliapietra has expressed on the subject in his waterfall book, but I would trust his word as a final one on the subject.

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A Strange Sensation Walking Above Swift Moving Water

Nevertheless, Amicalola Falls is quite spectacular and visually stunning. It drops into an impressive miniature canyon. It is especially interesting because its greatest drop is actually high up on the mountain slope – enough that it looks like a giant waterfall up in the air when viewed from either the park below or from more distantly in the valley. The AT Approach Trail snakes its way up the canyon wall using metal staircases and wooden boardwalks, crossing in front of the falls a few times.

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AT Marker Indicating the Start of the Approach Trail

Well, I’m at the threshold of my great adventure. My entries will surely not endure this long from here on out nor will they include as many photographs. As mentioned before, there will be a short hiatus of about a week before another post is display on this blog. I will be mailing Allison my first entries from Neels Gap and they should begin appearing online around March 29 or March 30.

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Appalachian Trail Plaque at Amicalola

While rarely planned and nearly always regretted, it has evolved into a tradition that I remain active throughout the night prior to a hiking trip – neglecting sleep in exchange for last minute preparations or having to control my excitement and anticipation. Departing for this hike will now be no exception. The sun rises on my great adventure in less than an hour. Good morning, and goodbye for now…

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Get moving Whippersnap, the Trail is calling and Katahdin is far away.


Responses

  1. It’s been nearly a week now since you set off on your adventure, and I’m thinking about your journey and wishing you the best. The weather has been a bit unstable the past few days, to say the least, and I hope you haven’t run into any bad thunderstorms! Anyway, hope things are going well, and maybe I and some others of the Wild Country gang will meet up with you before too long.


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