On 04/29/23, I kicked off a goal to section hike the entire Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine.
It would take me over a decade to cover the 2,200 miles of the Appalachian Trail. Each time picking off where I last left off, I would have to average between 150-200 miles per year.
I had wanted to thru hike the Appalachian Trail since I was about 16 years old. For some reason, I always felt like the day would come where I would escape from the world for 6 months and hike the entire trail.
At the beginning of 2023, I had the realization that I was turning 35 and it likely was never going to be in the cards for me to be one of the true Appalachian Trail thru hikers. The time commitment, the time away from home…When would the time ever be right?
It was on this day in January 2023 that I came up with the idea of section hiking the entire Appalachian Trail and making it a lifelong project to complete.
My first section hike was a 70 mile section in Georgia from the Appalachian Trail Southern Terminus at Springer Mountain to Dick’s Creek Gap just below the North Carolina border.
This would be a huge endeavor for me. I had climbed big mountains, run ultramarathons, and done tons of day hiking..But never hiking for days at a time solo and being 100% responsible for my wellbeing.
Below is my report of the Georgia section of the AT and the things I learned along the way..
Appalachian Trail – Georgia Day 1: Shuttle from Hostel Around the Bend & Mile 0.0 at Springer Mountain (11.8 Miles, 40.5k Steps)
One of the biggest challenges of being a section hiker on the Appalachian Trail is figuring out transportation and logistics on the trailhead.
For my first hike, I would need to be able to park my car at the North Carolina border and get shuttled down to the start of the trail in Springer Mountain.
Luckily, I was able to find an amazing Hostel that specialized in taking care of hikers called Hostel Around the Bend.
Hostel Around the Bend paired me up with 4 other section hikers and shuttled us to our starting destination (Springer Mountain for 2 of us, Amicalola Falls State Park for 3 of us). Our driver had completed his thru hike in 2021 and offered us a ton of advice which helped calm my nerves on the 2 hour drive.
After the easy transportation, we were dropped off at the USFS42 Springer Mountain trailhead parking lot. From here it was a 1 mile hike backwards to the Southern Terminus mile and 0.0 of the Appalachian Trail (2,200 miles from Maine).
The parking lot was surprisingly packed and there were a ton of people on this portion of the trail. I would pass large groups and dozens of people for the first 1-2 hours of the trail.
My goal on day 1 was to make it to the campsites at Hawk Mountain at mile 7.4 at the minimum, but I really wanted to make it further.
Weather conditions were absolutely perfect in late Spring, with temperatures in the 70s during the day and low 40s at night.
After feeling super strong on the first few hours on the hike, I made the decision to push it beyond Hawk Mountain and ultimately camped at mile 11.1 at one of the many stealth campsites available on the trail.
The campsite was massive and had a perfect setup for a hammock. I knew there would be rain coming overnight, so I quickly set up my camp and enjoyed a much needed dinner break.
Appalachian Trail – Georgia Day 2: Ramrock Mountain & Camping at Jarrard Gap (14.4 Miles, 41.7k Steps)
One of my biggest worries heading into my section hike of the Appalachian Trail was my ability to handle all of the elements with my gear while on trail.
I was tested the first night, as it poured down rain overnight for about 12 hours. My hammock/tarp setup at camp held through the rain and heavy winds which I was happy with.
With the heavy rain, I didn’t get started until about 10am and instead opted to rest for a bit in my hammock on the morning of Day 2.
The biggest question for my 2nd day was where I would ultimately camp that night.
Mile 26-31 had (Jarrard Gap to Neels Gap) a bear can requirement due to elevated activity of black bears in the area. I was carrying a bear can, but wasn’t sure if this was sketchy and something that I should avoid.
While hiking the trails, I spoke to a bunch of other hikers throughout the day and made the decision I would hike into the “elevated” territory and spend the night as I met all of the park requirements.
To my surprise, not many section hikers were carrying bear cans which meant the campsites at Mile 25 (prior to Jarrard Gap) were overloaded with people. I was basically the only person that headed into Mile 26-31, so I had my free pick of wherever I wanted to camp.
The wind absolutely took off on the afternoon of Day 2 and was unlike anything I had ever experienced. It was constant major gusts of wind, blowing probably 30-40mph.
I found a campsite shielded from the wind and decided to go to sleep early.
Little did I know the wind was just beginning and would be one of the themes of my trip.
Appalachian Trail – Georgia Day 3: Blood Mountain, Mountain Crossings, Wolf Laurel Top (8.8 Miles, 29.7k Steps)
I slept 11 hours overnight with some amazing sleep in my hammock. Upon waking, the wind continued to howl in the background.
I didn’t plan far ahead or look too much at the map, instead I opted to just get up and get going on the trail. Today was going to be Blood Mountain which I heard was a bit of physical challenge, but I was ready for it.
Blood Mountain was the highest point on the Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail and the climb up was actually easier than I expected. The views at the summit were amazing and I had the entire route up to myself as well as the summit. If you stood on a rock, you were officially above the tree line and had a complete 360 degree view with the Appalachian Mountains in all directions.
The descent of Blood Mountain was much longer and challenging. I passed dozens of day hikers struggling up to the top, while I hiked down with a much too large pack.
After what seemed like a 60-90 minute climb down Blood Mountain, I knew I was about to hit a major milestone: My first resupply point on the Appalachian Trail at a store called Mountain Crossings.
I hiked out of the woods and immediately saw Mountain Crossings at Neel Gap. All I co
uld think of was the hot food I was about to destroy, my first non-camping food in a few days.
Mountain Crossings was loaded with all types of people that were out hiking the Appalachian Trail. Thru hikers, section hikers, and people out day hiking the Appalachian Mountains.
Without much of a plan, I ordered and proceeded to scarf down: A large pizza, a Snickers bar, 2 Powerades, and a Monster energy drink.
Rather than having a solid resupply plan, I bought every random item in the store that looked good (Pop-Tarts, Ramen Noodles, etc). It was like going to the grocery store while hungry, but times a million.
I hiked out of Mountain Crossings and back on the trail with a full belly, but no idea what my next stop would be.
My legs were tired, brain overwhelmed, and I was especially hot on this late spring day. Little did I know that I would not make it on the trail much longer that day.
At mile 35 I came upon a notable view called Wolf Laurel Top – In my mind it looked like a million dollar campsite. Amazing views, perfect setup for a hammock, and a ton of privacy.
Rather than thinking through it, I decided to call my day early and setup camp even though it was only about 3pm.
Appalachian Trail – Georgia Day 4: Rock Bottom (15.1 Miles, 40.3k Steps)
My brilliant idea of camping out at Wolf Laurel Top proved to be a bad decision overnight.
The million dollar views brought me TONS of wind and I was pelted with wind overnight. While my camp held up to the wind, I woke up to it being about 35 degrees outside with over 40mph winds.
To this point, all of my mornings on the trip so far had been late hiking starts (Noon on Day 1 due to the shuttle, 10am Day 2 due to rain, 9am Day 3 due to sleeping in).
Feeling self conscious about my progress so far, I made the decision that I was going to make Day 4 a big day and I would hit my mileage at all costs.
I hit my lowest point on Day 4, basically spending the entire day looking at my watch monitoring my mileage and my pace. If I was behind, I forced myself to hike faster and reduce the amount of breaks I took throughout the day.
Ultimately – I treated Day 4 on the Appalachian Trail like a death march and really did not enjoy my experience.
I was exhausted by the time I got to camp at Blue Mountain shelter. The wind continued to blow out of control and at this point I was physically and mentally over the trip.
I setup my camp and sat freezing in my tent while I watched the northbound thru hikers pass on their way north on the Appalachian Trail for the next several hours.
Appalachian Trail – Georgia Day 5: Tray Mountain, Kelly Knob, Deep Gap Shelter (15.5 Miles, 40.4k Steps)
After my miserable Day 4 on the Appalachian Trail, I woke up on Day 5 with a much better mindset.
For whatever reason – I realized there was light at the end of the tunnel and I was 1-2 days away from getting back to civilization and a warm meal. I also realized that I was on vacation and doing this for fun, so I might as well enjoy the adventure.
No matter what, I decided that I was going to enjoy the miles on the Appalachian Trail and the day of hiking.
The mindset change was a good one because this would be my biggest day of the trip in terms of elevation gain/loss.
I had read the night before that Tray Mountain was one of the larger challenges of the trip, but I was able to breeze through this and enjoy lunch on the summit with a group of section hikers. It was great to chat with the other hikers and this boosted my mood for the rest of the day.
The day ended with a massive climb up to Kelly Knob which was physically and mentally challenging for me. By this point in the day I was pretty beat up and took my time walking to the summit.
Kelly Knob proved to be one of the better climbs of the trip and I didn’t see another hiker for the entire ascent/descent.
Just on the other side of the summit was my last campsite of the trip, which would be the Deep Gap Shelter at mile 65.6 on the trail.
By the time I got to Deep Gap, I knew everyone else that was staying at the shelter. People I didn’t even know existed a few days before, I now knew all of them and some of their story.
I was thankful for the adventure of Day 5 and some of the challenges that were thrown my way. I was able to handle them with a much more positive mindset and Day 5 proved to be the highest point of my trip (literally and figuratively).
Appalachian Trail – Georgia Day 6: Dick’s Creek Gap & Hostel Around the Bend (3.6 Miles, 11.9k Steps)
My first section hike of the Appalachian Trail was scheduled to wrap up at the northern end of the Georgia section, just before the North Carolina border.
By this point, I had already put in the work in terms of miles and Day 6 would just be the home stretch.
Having camped at the Deep Gap shelters the night before, I was less than 4 miles from my take out point which would only take me about 2 hours.
I texted Hostel Around the Bend and scheduled a shuttle for 10am. They immediately responded to me and set up the transportation, so it was time to get to hiking and get to Dick’s Creek Gap.
There were a few uphill portions, but the bulk of my hiking on Day 6 was downhill and the dream of unlimited food carried me to the finish line.
I don’t remember much on the hike to Dick’s Creek Gap, but I do remember feeling incredibly accomplished and happy for myself.
This trip proved to be way harder than I expected, both physically and mentally. I gained so much respect for the people thru hiking all the way to Maine, that seemed almost unfathomable to me.
Needless to say, I made it to Dick’s Creek Gap in a few hours and my shuttle was waiting for me right off of the trail. No drama or waiting, I just jumped in the car and headed a half mile down the road to Hostel Around the Bend.
I settled up with the Hostel and my section hike was over. I had completed all but ~8 miles on the Appalachian Trail in Georgia and it was time to relax in town.
What did I learn on the Section Hiking the Appalachian Trail in Georgia?
Since Georgia was the kickoff of my section hiking career and the start of a lifelong journey of hiking the Appalachian Trail, I learned a massive amount in less than a week.
I’m going to write a dedicated article for people interested in Georgia, but here is a cheat sheet in what I learned:
- My pack was way too heavy and I needed to spend some serious time auditing the gear I took with me and also upgrading my gear. I didn’t have to be ultralight, but I needed to drop ~15 pounds in pack weight.
- The Appalachian Trail was WAY harder physically than I gave it credit for. I had climbed big mountains and ran ultramarathons, so I figured I would breeze through the trails on the AT. It was a grind waking up every day knowing I needed to go out and crush miles. An ultramarathon is one day, this was hiking 40k steps a day for a week straight.
- Water was a complete non-issue in Georgia in Spring. This made my life way easier and I was constantly able to find water. Outside of the crazy wind, the weather was also perfect my entire trip.
- The Bear Can was overkill and ended up taking up way too much space in my pack. I should have bought a Ursack or simply hung my food. Another option would be storing in the bear bins at the Appalachian Trail designated shelters.
- While remote, the Appalachian Trail in Georgia is NOT as off the grid as I expected. I was constantly around people thru hiking as well as section hikers, not to mention tons of families day hiking in the state parks. I never once felt as if I was in a sketchy or dangerous environment.
- The FarOut App is 100% a requirement in my opinion when hiking the Appalachian Trail. It was an amazing resource that used GPS to keep my on trail and showed exactly how many miles you were from water sources and campsites. It was super easy to find your way on the route and it made hiking the Appalachian Trail that much easier.
- All of the other hikers were incredibly nice and supportive. I literally did not talk to 1 person who was not encouraging me and wishing me luck on my hike. Most thru hikers took the time to talk to me and offer advice which I appreciated.
- The trails in Georgia were amazing and well taken care of. I had multiple hikers mention to me how great the Georgia trails were in comparison to some of the northern states like New Hampshire and in New England.
What’s Next for Me on the Appalachian Trail?
My goal is to section hike 150-200 miles per year on the Appalachian Trail, meaning it will take me 10-15 years on the trails to hike the entire 2,2200 miles from Georgia to Maine.
I took out at Dick’s Creek Gap at mile 69.2, so I will hike another 80 miles in 2023. I’m going to spread this mileage out over 2 different trips (one in the summer and one in the fall).
In June of 2023, I will head back to Hostel Around the Bend in Georgia and hike from Dick’s Creek Gap to Winding Stair Gap in North Carolina which is mile 110.
Prior to this trip, I need to upgrade my gear setup and drop about 15 pounds in pack weight. This is priority #1 for me prior to my next hiking trip on the Appalachian Trail this summer.
In the Fall, I will pick up at Winding Stair Gap and hopefully go another 40-50 miles north into the state of North Carolina. I have not planned out the specifics of this yet, taking the trips one at a time in terms of logistics. Half of the fun is finding small trail towns and planning out the trip details.
Hiking one section at a time, one step closer to Maine!