You might think that the Appalachian Trail is long, and it is: around 2100 miles, give or take. You might also think that you more or less get out of your car at one end, start walking, and those miles begin to tick away. It is not so. No, there’s a trail to get to the trail; an Approach Trail.
On the Southern end, said Approach Trail starts at Amicalola Falls State Park, just an hour and a half north of my beloved home of Atlanta, and goes directly up a cliff face which has water frothing down it in a great torrent. This water is Amicalola Falls and it is both striking and lovely. I understand it is also the highest falls east of the Mississippi. Kudos to you, Falls.
At the visitor’s center, situated at the foot of the Falls, I signed in, told the gentlemen how far I intended to hike–definitely to Springer Mountain, possibly as far as Stover’s Creek–and received a piece of paper to put in my car to indicate that I was out on the A.T., not merely abandoning my car.
“You know,” one of the gentlemen said, “You could drive to the top of the falls. Save you about a mile of walking.”
I waved my hand dismissively, as any foolishly-confident city-loving idiot might. “Meh, a mile? No big deal.”
That first mile of the Approach Trail is not so much a trail as a orgy of stairway overindulgence. It has off-angle landings and soaring flights, twists and turns, and always, always more steps. Around 600 steps, in fact. Mind you, the stairs are sturdy and free of needless carvings or paint, but they still must surely be the stairway designer’s equivalent of Beethoven’s 9th.
Along the way, I labored and sweated past more than a few families resting on the benches built into the landings. Once, thanks to an ill-timed arm swing and the afternoon sun, a drop of my sweat broke free of my swinging hand, arced trough the air, caught perfectly a twinkle of sunshine, and landed on a toddler, causing his father to frown. Ill-equipped to tactfully handle this situation, I climbed on as though nothing had happened.
At last, I reached the top of the falls and quite a nice view.
Soon I was in the woods proper, and still climbing. I sweated even more profusely, but at this altitude toddlers were mercifully scarce on the ground. I did see the dead body of a rattlesnake, which I handled with my usual aplomb. Let’s just hope that anyone in earshot merely thought I was shrieking excitedly to my brother the trucker.
I also came upon my first pile of discarded gear trailside. Hikers, it seems, desperate to shed any weight they can, are known to merely drop items on the side of the trail. In this case there was a hatchet and a rain poncho.
I walked along in something of a rush, wanting to make sure I got to the summit of Springer Mountain with enough daylight to make dinner and set up camp comfortably. I got there in just over four hours of hiking, and enjoyed another nice view from the top.
The view was even better in the morning.
That was nice, considering I knew I had to do down the stairs when I got back to the falls. Oh well, at least I didn’t get eaten by a bear.