AT Approach Trail to Springer Mountain

Published: 02/3/16 10:00 AM in North America, State, Travel.
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As the fall weather continued to bring lower temperatures throughout the Atlanta area, Kevin and I found ourselves craving a trip out to the mountains to camp and indulge in the beauty of having a change in weather. Only this time, we decided to spend the weekend in the backcountry hiking and camping with the solace of unpopulated trails and true darkness. We decided to hike the Appalachian Approach Trail to Springer Mountain starting at Amicalola Falls, which we visited for a short hike in the summer.

This weekend getaway would be a bigger test for me as it would be my first true backpacking experience into the backcountry. Prior to this point most of my camping experience has been with a mode of transportation a mile or so away at most and involved ice chests and s’mores. This time, I followed Kevin’s experienced lead as we packed light and efficiently for our 8-mile trek into the mountains of north Georgia.

Kevin Banogon lays out all the hiking gear he is going to near while backcountry camping on Spring Mountain.

Meredith Lambert Banogon, Kevin Banogon, and Whitney Kics stretch before they begin their hike to Springer Mountain on the Appalachian Approach Trail.

Meredith Lambert Banogon embarks on a backcountry hiking trip on the AT Approach Trail to Springer Mountain with her husband and friend.

Fall on the Appalachian approach trail to Springer Mountain starting from Amicalola Falls.

Meredith Lambert Banogon and Whitney Kics hike along the 8 mile trail to Springer Mountain.


The Trail to Springer Mountain

Before beginning our hike to Springer Mountain, Kevin took charge of making sure the group was properly packed, hydrated, and even stretched out by having us do a warm-up circle. Our friend Whitney, who had recently moved to Atlanta for work, decided to join us on the hike in order to get a break from the city for the weekend and get her first taste of mountains she now lives near. After getting us properly warmed up, we headed out for a full day of hiking in order to reach camp before nightfall.

Being a slow hiker with bad knees, the hike was relatively tough on me. Taking my time on the uphills due to the fact that my knees are weak and then being careful on the downhills to avoid doing actual damage to them caused me to slow our progression down considerably. However, I like to think that it gave us more time to take in the beauty of the secluded mountainside. Sometimes you get so focused on pace and watching where your next step will be that you forget to look up and realize where you are.

The trail itself was relatively moderate, but the almost constant uphill and distance made the entire experience a bit more strenuous. For a more experienced hiker like Kevin, the entire hike up Springer Mountain would be considered a moderate 8-mile hike.


A view from Springer Mountain during a rest stop on the Appalachian approach trail.

Kevin Banogon takes a break to have a snack on the Appalachian Approach Trail to Springer Mountain.

Meredith Lambert Banogon and Whitney Kics hike the Appalachian approach trail with Kevin Banogon.

A panoramic view of the Hike Inn along the AT Approach Trail up Springer Mountain.

A well constructed set of stairs along the trail to Springer Mountain.

Kevin Banogon weighs his pack at the Hike Inn while backpacking the AT Approach Trail.

The peek through the trees at the Hike Inn, 5 miles along the AT Approach Trail.


A Respite at the Hike Inn on Springer Mountain

At the 5-mile mark of the trail, we arrived at the Hike Inn (get it?), an inn that connects to no roads and allows it’s guests to enjoy a backcountry environment with a bed and rudimentary shower/bathroom facilities. To stay at the Hike Inn, you must hike the 5-miles to reach it and then hike out from there as well. Their kitchen staff provides non-waste producing meals and encourages guests to minimize their contribution to food waste.

We decided to take a momentary break at this point in the trail and indulge ourselves by using their extremely clean latrine toilets and sinks. We were also able to grab a couple oranges from their kitchen staff which would be delicious treats in the morning. While there, we also used their scale to definitively discover what each of our packs weighed. Of course, Kevin took on the brunt of the gear weighing in at 45 pounds with Whitney and I each carrying about 35 pounds each. It was nice to finally put a number to our burdens.


Meredith Lambert Banogon hikes through the fall light along the AT Approach Trail.

Backcountry camping on Springer Mountain is made even easier with the BioLite Stove.

Kevin Banogon sets up camp in the backcountry along the AT Approach Trail to Springer Mountain.

Creating a fire in the backcountry can bring a relief from the cold of outdoor adventures.


Backcountry Camping on Springer Mountain

As a result of my consistently slow pace, we found ourselves short on daylight as we reached the AT Shelter at Black Gap about a mile away from the more populated shelter at Springer Mountain. Since we didn’t want to risk getting caught in the dark without camp set up, we decided to spend the night at Black Gap and promptly began scoping out a spot to set up our tents. Whitney and I once again trusted in Kevin’s expertise at this point and let him lead in the selection for the night. He decided on a flat clearing in the trees that conveniently already had a rudimentary fire pit set up with larger tree trucks precariously lain around it to create space for seating.

Now that we had our spot, we all got to work. Kevin and Whitney began setting up the two tents for the night while I began gathering firewood. Once the tents were set up, Kevin began getting the fire going and we all settled down to start preparing a dinner of ramen and beef jerky. Kevin also got our bear hang set up and tried to get me to memorize more knots that he likes to use.

All in all the night was pleasant but ultimately cold. Our overall mantra for the night was ‘Shorter distance, more food’ since we were all still hungry due to the amount of calories burned hiking. However, Kevin kept us focused on not over eating our hiking snacks since we would still need them for the hike back in the morning.


A view off the Appalachian Approach trail to Springer Mountain in the fall.

Kevin Banogon takes a selfie while backcountry hiking along the Appalachian approach trail to Springer Mountain.

Meredith Lambert Banogon and Whitney Kics make their way uphill along the Appalachian Approach Trail.

Meredith Lambert Banogon takes a GoPro selfie while hiking along the Appalachian Approach Trail with Kevin Banogon and Whitney Kics.


The Return Trail from Springer Mountain

In the morning, we awoke to the peace and chill of the mountain air and promptly got a fire going to fuel up for the day. After eating what we had, breaking down camp, and re-donning our very slightly lighter packs we headed back out on the trail back the way we came. We took a brief pit stop to filter some water from a tiny stream and were finally off for the 6-mile hike back.

The return hike was notably easier than the hike in, mostly due to the 2 less miles and the shift to mostly downhill. Although we were sore from the day before, we were all encouraged forward by the prospect of a huge meal at the end of our journey. We were able to complete the return hike faster than we originally planned so we indulged ourselves in an amazing buffet as a reward.

In hindsight, the entire experience was very rewarding! I now feel more confident in my backcountry camping and hiking abilities, and am excited by the prospect of doing more in the future.


Meredith Lambert Banogon and Whitney Kics finish up the Approach Trail to Springer Mountain.

Kevin Banogon, Meredith Lambert Banogon, and Whitney Kics feel relieved as they finish the Appalachian Approach Trail to Springer Mountain.

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