We started at Amicalola State Park on the approach trail and headed to Stover Creek Shelter. This means we hiked 8.5 miles before we reached the beginning of the Appalachian Trail. We wanted to start there because of the iconic stone archway marking where most hikers start, and because it’s a long hard climb up stairs and the mountain. This year, the AT is 2190.9 miles long. I figured the approach trail was an initiation, and it was indeed.
It was cold, 32 degrees, and snowed on us all day. This was a lucky break, first because it was so pretty and second because we quickly realized the hard little snowflakes did not stay on us and melt. For two days prior to our start, hikers were dealing with freezing rain. One man who started a day ahead of us, woke to find his tent zipper frozen shut. This was after he discovered a mouse had chewed through his tent to eat some nuts he had in a baggie. Two other women whom we met found themselves and every piece of gear and clothing soaked through and through, with temps in the 30’s on the night before they could reach a road and shuttle to a hotel.
So we were delighted to hike all day in the snow. At the top of Springer Mtn is the start of the AT. It was after 3 pm, bitter cold and windy. Karen made the right call by nixing the campsite near the top of the mountain and having us hike 2.8 more miles down to Stover Creek Shelter. The three sided hut was full, so we set up our three tents out of the worst of the wind. It was hard to set up our cookstoves and eat, because it was so cold. After eating, I was shivering and needed to climb into my insulated sleeping bag liner and my bag, which was on top of a pad in the tent. At first I wore my puffy coat and mittens too, but eventually took off the coat and mittens. We couldn’t let our water filters, water, or fuel canisters freeze, so I put those in the bag with me. Surprisingly, they were not uncomfortable to sleep with.
I worried a bit through the night thinking it might become colder, and took consolation knowing there were about twenty five others camping up there too -surely we were not all idiots freezing to death.
I was so excited to open my eyes and see the first bit of light from dawn coming into my tent. It was 29 degrees and the wind was blowing like crazy, but we were fine and would soon be hiking again. We could only work a minute or two on taking down our gear and packing up, before needing to warm our hands so they didn’t hurt so darn bad. It took over 2 hours to eat and break down camp, which is ridiculously long, but then we set off hiking into what became a beautiful day, happy to again be hiking and looking forward to Day 2 on the AT.
Lesson One: snow is better than rain
Lesson Two: buy warmer gloves