Not So Smoky Mountains

Finally another posting and story to tell.

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Vogel State Park

Since returning from the Florida Keys we have been busy with family and friends this fall, including volunteering at the Acworth Craft Beer Festival (check out Happenings page).  But we did want to fit in one last trip before we winterized the RV, so we plotted an adventure to the Georgia mountains.  Trouble is, as you know we are in the midst of a drought and there are several big wildfires in the mountains of Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and North Carolina.  So the smoke haze that has been felt in Atlanta and the stories of evacuations in the mountains made us rather skeptical we should be heading into trouble.

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Smoky view of Vogel St. Park

But it seemed that our destination, Vogel State Park, was in-between the major fires and might be worth a visit.  Off to the mountains we went and what fun it was to drive the many switchbacks of the curving ascent to Neels Gap and Vogel State Park, the oldest of Georgia’s state parks.  There were maybe only a dozen campers in a gorgeous rhododendron-filled glen, but we definitely did see the haze of smoke as we walked around Lake Trahlyta and the campground to get our bearings.  Staff at the camp store warned us about the resident bear, so we were hopeful for a late-night sighting.

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Smoky view from the lake at Vogel St. Park

Next day’s challenge was to hike the 4.2 mile Bear Hair Gap trail between the campground and the base of Blood Mountain.  Parts of this loop were on the much longer (12.9 mile) Coosa Backcountry Trail, so we tried our best to watch the trail blazes to stay on the right trail, with a few head-scratching moments at the intersections.  We took the steeper route up and around, preferring to get the tough part over with first.  More than half the leaves were down so visibility was good but there was still a lot of golden brown color, with pops of yellow and red.

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Ohhhh Noooo, not Blood Mountain!

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The Vogel Overlook was a good spot to take a break and admire the view.  We passed several hikers on the loop, compared experiences and confirmed directions.  A quiet hike, with no wildlife spotting at all (unlike our crazy backyard refuge). Maybe tomorrow.

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View from Vogel Overlook

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Made it to the overlook!

Rested and refreshed after a good steak dinner in camp, we set out the next day to hike part of the Appalachian Trail from Neels Gap to Blood Mountain.  In our day packs we had water, light lunch, fruit and snacks.  What we forgot were our hiking sticks (argh!).

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Tree of hiking shoes at the hostel.

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Walasi-yi hostel

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Walasi-yi Interpretive Center

We drove up the road to Neels Gap and the Walasi-yi Hostel and Interpretive Center – a great old stone building constructed in 1937 and now an outfitter post with plenty of hiking supplies.  We spoke with the staff of Mountain Crossings about the hike:

  • 4.3 mile out and back trail
  • 1,471 feet elevation change (gain and loss of 3,000 feet elevation)
  • “You should be fine”

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Off we went to hike a section of the AT on a cool fall day.  With a shift in wind direction, the air was surprisingly clear and free of smoke haze.  The trail starts as a moderate slope upward around the mountain, but soon becomes a series of switchbacks and stone stairways that head up the slope at a steeper angle.  Lots of pauses later the trail seemed to level out a bit and even head downhill just a bit until we reached a section of boulder-climbing and more rocky ascent.

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Once past that section we were sure the summit was near, as the trees were more compressed and windswept and there were more patches of bald rock.  Passing several other hikers heading down we were told “it’s just 10 minutes more” or “just ahead.”  Yet the trail kept heading uphill.  Well, we did eventually make it to the rock shelter at the summit (a CCC construction that sadly had trash littered about) and looked for a spot to rest.

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The view at lunch

Facing west, we sat on a rock ledge to have lunch and enjoy the fantastic view.  Here we were on the highest point of the Appalachian Trail in Georgia. It gave us that sense of wonder that helps put all things in perspective.  In the distance we could see smoke from fires in the Cohutta Wilderness and drifting further south.

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In other views we saw smoke to the east, but where we were was rather clear that day. Spoke with several others on the trail: a pair of college guys headed another 6 miles to Slaughter Mountain; another young man headed for the final 30 miles to Springer Mountain (he started at Mt. Katahdin in Maine); and a few young couples just hiking a version of what we did.  In all, we probably passed about three dozen hikers.  We recalled our own spring hike on the AT approach trail from Amicalola Falls to the Hike Inn lodge (and that’s a story worth reading if you missed it!).

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Summit of Blood Mountain

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The view southeast

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Panorama of Blood Mountain view

Well, on this hike up 1,500 feet, you also have to hike back down again, so down we went.  This part was where we really missed those hiking sticks, since they are a big help in keeping your balance on the rocky and root-filled trail.  But we made it back to Neels Gap just before the center closed for the evening and got ourselves some shirts and drinks.  There was a good crowd outside the hostel sharing stories about their adventures and demonstrating far more energy than they should have (ah, youth!).

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Lake Trahlyta at Vogel State Park

Back in camp we had a few adult beverages and took a hot shower, feeling much better and grateful that we had such comfy accommodations.  A six hour hike, not exactly a record-setting pace, but a personal accomplishment for us both.  Jackie felt that this one was a tougher climb that the ones we did out west last year, but it was cooler weather and not quite the altitude. (4,459 for Blood Mountain, 6,000 to 13,000 in the Rockies).  Another great adventure (but the bear was a no-show).

Notes about our motorhome for RV’ers:

You might be interested in our experiences with our motorhome, one that we feel has served us well.  Last time we reported from our Keys trip that we lost the foot and springs from one of the leveling jacks.  In the weeks since that trip we ordered a replacement foot and springs to install.

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Leveling jack mid-repair

The tricky part of the install was stretching the springs long enough to be able to place the foot over the bottom pin of the hydraulic cylinder.  I read that by inserting wooden wedges along the spring it can be expanded enough to do the trick (and then when the cylinder and foot are extended the wedges will pop out of the spring as it extends).  Our latest discovery, however, is that the cylinder is not extending at all, so the wedges remain for now and we ponder how to finish the fix on this jack.  Either we lost hydraulic fluid, blew a fuse for that jack or the cylinder is simply stuck in place.  We have been able to level the wheels and the recent site was very level to begin with, but it needs to be resolved.  Hmm, this one may need some professional help.  So it goes.

Next Adventure?  Well, the Winnebago is getting winterized (freeze warnings for the weekend already), so it may not be until March or April before we head out in it again.  But there are always plenty of other adventures that await (some of them covered on our Foodie and Happenings pages).  Stay tuned – and thanks for being a faithful reader.

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