Tuesday–March 30, 2021
Location–Springer Mountain, then on to Len Foote Hike Inn
I forgot to set my alarm. Barry rousts me at seven–coffee and breakfast ready. He finally manages to get me on trail by eight.
From Three Forks I’ve got a pretty much steady climb, 1,800-feet of up to reach the summit of Springer Mountain. So, no problem lingering a while to take in the surrounding grandeur–the virgin stand of hemlock along Stover Creek. I wrote about this cathedral-like grove of old sentinels in my first book, Ten Million Steps. Indeed, it is a special place.
I’m meeting a steady stream of AT northbounders now, close to 50 by the time I reach the southern AT terminus. They’re all radiating shiny-smiley faces. Most have new gear, packs, clothing. Some are sporting crazy whacky-dazzle neon shades of green, blue, even pink–shoes included. I get a puzzled look from most. I wish each one well.
And y’all are probably puzzled too. Your likely question, “How did you get on the AT and why are you hiking it backwards to Springer?” Fair question! Here’s the deal: I could have hiked the Benton MacKaye Trail all the way to its southern terminus at Springer Mountain, there to have picked up the AT to head north. However, the Benton MacKaye Trail crosses the AT some four miles north of Springer. So, why hike that distance twice? By jumping on the AT near Three Forks–when I reach Springer today, I will already have hiked over four miles of the AT! When Barry carries me back to Three Forks, I’ll just head north on the AT from there. Make sense?
Barry’s driven up and around and is waiting for me at Cross Trails parking (a mile below Springer summit), the AT passing straight through. Here, also waiting, is dear friend, Goldilocks. She’s come all the way over from Alabama, bringing well wishes and to hike the mile with me–to Springer summit. Twenty-some years ago the first quarter-mile or so of the AT was rerouted, moved from the ridge line to just below. I helped with that work. It turned out great–smooth grass-lined tread. That’s all gone now. The relentless Vibram army has pounded it completely down to nothing but roots, rocks, and boulders. In fact, the entire mile of trail from the parking lot is now total roots, rocks, and boulders. Very sad, what’s happened. But hey, I’ve helped beat it down too!
The Benton MacKaye Trail comes in and ends/begins on the AT a short distance from the summit of Springer. By turning and hiking it a couple-hundred yards, it’s possible to pay regards to Mr. MacKaye–by visiting the bronze memorial that’s been affixed to a large boulder there. I take great pride in showing this to Barry and Goldilocks, as I was involved in getting the memorial placed here. That was back in 1997, 24 years ago.
On the summit, we linger by the bronze AT plaque. Nearby is the first AT white blaze. A number of soon-to-be AT thru-hikers are here, filled with great energy and much excitement. Ahh, this is indeed another very special place. Over the years, many a life began changing for the better–right here!
As Barry and Goldilocks turn to return to Cross Trails parking, I pass on across the summit of Springer and begin my descent along the approach trail. I’m headed for the Len Foote Hike Inn, beyond Nimblewill Gap, some four-miles distant.
The Hike Inn Trail breaks off after a short climb up the flanks of Frosty Mountain, then it’s a gentle (boulder-free) hike on down to the Hike Inn. Barry is already here when I arrive at three.
Fond memories of this place. I was one of the first to be hired when the Inn opened more than two decades ago. I was their maintenance guy, worked here for six months. Lots of start-up problems. I tried to hold everything together. Does my heart good to see the place kept up, fresh, clean, just the least bit of wear.
Evening, I’m asked to say a few words, tell about my experiences on the trail to a group of young folks from Cornerstone Prep Academy, Acworth, GA
(IMPACT Team: Georgia Outdoors)
Front Row: Reilly, Lily, Kathy, Nimblewill, Caleb, Jenny; Aaliyah kneeling down front.
Middle Row: Danica, Millie, Autumn, Brooks, Isaac, David
Back Row: Campbell, Zan, Owen
The Hike Inn is noted for the grand tradition–good old-fashioned southern hospitality.
Thanks, Eric (GM), Matt (Assist. GM), and Gail (Assist.)…
Sometimes the smallest step in the right direction
can be the biggest step of your life.