My brother and I planned a quick overnight to Springer Mountain as a way to welcome springtime to Georgia. I really wanted to see a cross section of those people who decide to become Appalachian Trail thru-hikers. My brother has never declined an offer of bourbon out of my flask. We had been experiencing fabulous weather and lots of sunshine ... perfect for hiking a wicked stretch of steep, eroded red clay that's known as the Springer Mountain approach trail.
As our weekend approached, Atlanta and the north Georgia mountains received an unusual snowfall. That's right, snow in Georgia in March. We quickly scanned internet weather sites to discover predictions of lows around 33 degrees - with showers -in nearby valley towns. What would the weather be on the mountain? ("We'll probably be hiking above the clouds, you moron." Brotherly love is a strong tradition in our family.)
The weather was actually very good until late afternoon when the sunshine waned and the wind strengthened. We arrived at the well-developed and well-maintained Springer Mountain shelter "complex" at about 3:30. I refer to it as a "complex" because it is: a two-level wooden shelter, two composting privies, an excellent water source, at least two sets of wire-cable food bag suspension systems, and 18 or 20 levelled tent sites. Since this is typically the first campsite for everyone attempting the AT, it gets a LOT of traffic. (Fifty miles farther on, many have turned back, and camper impact on the woods is much less severe.)
Pitched our tent near the meadow in the sunshine, and wandered around chit-chatting with the hikers. There were about 30 people there, but the tentsites are spaced far enough apart that you can't see but a few from your own spot. We got friendly with 5 hikers - 4 of whom declared their intention to hike to Katahdin. After wishing them well and noting that the Georgia miles are perhaps the toughest on the entire AT(maybe New Hampshire, OK?), we returned to our site, put on every piece of clothing we had, and cooked dinner.
It had gotten so cold that we had lost all interest in partying, telling yarns, or discussing politics with the thru-hikers. And everyone else lost interest, too. All of us were in our sleeping bags before the sun went down.
My brother snores -- I mean REALLY snores like a chainsaw. Thanks to the Jim Beam, I got about five hours sleep through the chainsaw sonata before waking up with a need to irrigate the Chattahoochee National Forest. What an experience! The stars were absolutely magnificent! But the wind and temperature were pretty magnificent, too. The tent was buffeted like a sailboat in a squall and my brief two-minute nature call left me shivering uncontrollably. Of course, the blast of cold wind into the tent as I left awakened my dear brother who realized he, too, would share in my forest irrigation program. His weather report was similar to mine: really, really cold with an amazingly sharp wind. (Translated from our family's unique dialect.)
We could hear the wind roaring up the mountain through the naked oaks and hickories, getting closer and closer to our tent when - whammo! - the tent walls would flex like an ambu bag in the hands of a hyperactive EMT. Then the wind's freight train roar would begin down in the valley again and come rushing up to remind us who actually wields the power on this planet.
Morning came, and no one stirred. An hour after sunrise, I decided to brave the cold, and found no one outside their tent. As I started to rummage through my backpack for ibuprofen (my head was pounding for some strange reason, Mr. Beam) I discovered a thick skin of frost on the rain cover. There were four-inch icicles on the seeps dripping from rock ledges, and thick frost "whiskers" jutting up from mud along the trail.
The strange weather returned to normal around noon as strong sunshine and clear blue sky brought the temperature back into the sixties.
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