Day Zero: The Stairs of Amicalola Falls
I've been on trail for weeks now. Although I've been fairly diligent about journaling each night with pen and paper, I've found myself with much less free time in the evenings than I imagined, and keeping the blog up to date has fallen by the wayside. I'm attempting to catch up this week, using my journal and sketches to keep the days straight, because they are already blending together. Normal life feels far away.
I flew to Atlanta without complications. If you're planning on flying to Georgia for a thru hike I recommend reading TSA's page about carrying and checking luggage, both because it will help you avoid having your gear confiscated and because of a few gems like this one:
My cousin and dear friend Amanda picked me up from the airport and we spent the night at her apartment. The next morning, we drove to Amicalola Falls State Park. The weather was beautiful and I could barely contain my excitement when we parked at the visitor center. I saw another hiker weighing his pack on the hanging scale outside. I followed suit. With three days of food and 1 liter of water, my pack was 25 pounds.
Inside, I was directed to the A.T. registration, where I signed my name and received a hang tag. More than 2,000 other hikers had already started their 2018 Nobo thru-hike attempts. Next, instead of cutting us loose like I'd anticipated, there was an informational course about thru-hiking and Leave No Trace. I think this class is a great idea to help new hikers reduce their impact on the trail, but with all the research and shakedown hiking I had done, none of the information was new to me and I fidgeted in my folding chair, impatient to get outside.
By the time the ridgerunner finished the class, it was already noon. Amanda and I suddenly had doubts about making it to the top of Springer and a mile beyond to catch a shuttle back to our hotel before dusk. I posed for pictures at the famous arch and we started up the trail. It was flat for a few minutes before we arrived at the notorious stairs up Amicalola Falls. The weather was sunny and the waterfall was impressive. My muscles burned as we climbed, but my careful conditioning paid off because my problem knee felt normal.
After the first 175 stairs, a sign announced more than 400 more. "I'm not so sure about this," said Amanda. This staircase receding up the mountainside was just the first obstacle. Eight more miles of uphill hiking also awaited us, and we realized that our initial plan might not be realistic with such a late start in the day. But the A.T. is all about adaptation, so soon I called to cancel our shuttle and we hatched a new scheme. We would hike only the stairs today and spend the rest of the day exploring the area. After spending the night in a hotel, Amanda would drop me off the next morning with my pack at the top of the stairs and I would finish the Approach Trail and start the A.T. proper.
My pack felt heavy and my heart was hammering by the time I reached the top of the Amicalola Falls. From at the top of the cliff, you could look past your feet at the water cascading downward or out across the valley to a horizon made of overlapping blue mountains. A short distance away, we found the lodge and ate lunch there. Then, we left the state park and drove to downtown Dahlonega, where we wandered for a few hours. We talked through dinner and into the night, until we went to bed at our hotel. The next morning I would hit the Approach Trail again, the difficult part already behind me, and hike my first miles of white blazes.