Saturday, March 16, 2013

AT: Three Forks to Big Cedar Mountain

I joined my friend Pathfinder for two nights at the start of her thru hike of the Appalachian Trail.
I met Pathfinder last year on a Leave No Trace Trainer Course Backpacking trip in New Mexico.  She'd been talking about doing the AT back then, and it was so wonderful to see her at the start of her journey!   
Pathfinder and me at Long Creek Falls
Instead of doing a shuttle, I did this trip as an out-and-back, setting out southbound from a cold, blustery Woody Gap before sunrise, and flying south 15 miles to Three Forks.  I was overjoyed when Pathfinder, heading northbound, finally intercepted me with hugs and a radiant smile.  Bubbling with tales of her night at the Hike Inn and her start at Springer Mountain that morning. 
First night's campsite at the junction of the AT and BMT.
Pathfinder's warmth and positive energy was infectious.  The evening was filled with hysterical bear-rope hanging antics, delicious pumpkin pie dessert (rehydrated pumpkin + sweetened condensed milk over ginger snap cookies), and absorbing conversations that lasted well into the night.  Pathfinder shared details of planning and preparing for her thru with me-- which were so valuable because it turns out we are in similar stages of life in many ways.  Pathfinder's story of decided to quit her job and live her dream really resonated with me.  Can you imagine what that would be like?!?!
Stopping to look at the little things.
 How refreshing it was to be with a like-minded hiker-- noticing the beautiful colors that come alive in the early light, appreciating the simplicity of backpacking, and laughing in the face of the ridiculous misadventures that are inevitable on the trail.
"Over there?"   Bushwacking down the hillside to get water from a small stream.
Pathfinder had never stealth camped on the AT before, so it was fun to share the treasure hunt of finding a stealth site with her when we decided we were ready to stop for the evening before we'd reached Justus Creek.  In no time, the unremarkable site was transformed into a temporary home for the night.  And then the next morning when we left, you'd never know we'd been there-- we both fluffed up the foliage just like we'd learned last year at our LNT course when we first backpacked together.
Stealth site down an old road out of sight from the main trail.
The last day, we hiked to Woody Gap, and then continued up Big Cedar Mountain to Preacher's Rock, one of my very favorite campsites on the AT in Georgia, which was amazingly empty.  We shared some dinner before saying goodbye, until the next week where I'd join Pathfinder further up the trail.
View from Big Cedar Mountain.

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