Thursday, May 12, 2011

Section Hiking the Georgia AT (Part 3: Hightower to Gooch)

This Saturday, I hiked with the Trail Dames 8.2 miles from Hightower to Gooch Gap on the Appalachian Trail.  It was a day to savor being outside in perfect hiking weather.  Nine of us met at Woody Gap on GA 60.  A record four of us were sporting hiking skirts (for those that are skeptical, I've got two words: easy peeing.  Haha!).  Thankfully, two women had brought trucks for the forest service roads, so we hopped in for the ride to Gooch Gap, the end of our hike.  We left one truck at Gooch Gap, and all piled into the other truck, Indra exclaiming that she'd never ridden in the bed of a truck before.  On the bumpy ride along FS 42 to Hightower, we previewed the flame azalea lighting up the forest.
The fabulous AT hikers.  Photo by Sandi.

This was the first AT hike for Sue, Amy and Indra, and by the end, they were already talking about their plans to take on the rest of Georgia.  Sharing the hike with women new to the AT gave the rest of us a wonderful, fresh perspective 

The first few miles took us up and down and up and down, and included the infamous Sassafras Mountain.  Apparently, Sandi and the others totally missed the summit, where we'd agreed to stop to reconvene for lunch, and had to backtrack.  Way to go for blazing right past the mountain, as if the climb were no big deal!  With that, Sandi earned her new Trail Name-- Sassafras (Sassy for short).  It definitely suits her bubbly personality, plus sassafras are way cool plants, with their three different leaf types, not to mention we all love root beer!

At lunch, Salt (Kristen) demonstrated how to setup a hammock, since Sassy (Sandi) was interested in learning about them for backpacking. (Hehe-- we may soon have another convert!). 

After refueling, we set off again, Denise, Sandra, Still Waters, and the others paving the way.  We passed through more diverse forest types with different plant assemblages-- here were foam flower, wood betony, columbine, Indian cucumber, purple meadow parsnip, wild yam.  Butterflies circled around us.  Monarch caterpillars munched on milkweed. 

Monarch caterpillar on milkweed

It was a pleasure hiking with other people who enjoy nature, and who take the time to notice interesting things along the trail.  I loved it when Indra and Sue would stop to point stuff out.  Together, we saw (and sniffed out!) so much-  in full bloom were a profusion of Catesby's trillium, wild geranium, solomon's plume and solomon's seal, mayapple, and flame azelea.

Salt and Sassy in their hiking skirts checking out the flame azalea

Cooper Gap, 3.5 miles into the hike, marked the last section of the AT in GA for me.  It didn't feel like the end of anything though, not just because we still weren't halfway into the hike, but because my experience of the Georgia section of the AT has been a jumping off point for exploring more sections of the AT and other long distance trails.  Plus, I'm hooked on revisiting the same sections of the AT in different seasons.

Finishing my section hike of the GA AT.
Now, let's go hike some more!

The 4.7 miles from Cooper to Gooch Gap had been transformed in the last two months since we hiked it in a very cold rain.  The sun lit up the spring-green new growth, and it was even warm enough to linger at Justice Creek to cool our feet.

The last few miles brought dwarf crested iris in bloom, a few stray jack in the pulpits, yellow wakerobin, canada violet,  wood sorrel, showy orchis (alas already past blooming-- but now I know where it is for the future), two patches of pink lady slipper orchid, and my botanical highlight of the day, a small yellow lady slipper orchid.  At the end of the trip, Sue declared they deserved a Certificate for all the plants they'd learned about!

Yellow lady slipper orchid

By the time the last of us reached Gooch Gap and had a snack, Still Waters and Salt returned from picking up the trucks, and we all headed back to Woody.  It was such a lovely day to enjoy with new and old friends.

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