One of the great things about hiking in northern Georgia is the great views that many hikes provide. You’re hiking along in the woods when the trail tops a ridge or passes through a saddle, and there it is – a grand vista opening up in front of you, sometimes providing an unrestricted view for miles and miles, all the way to the point where the mountains fade away into the soothing blue haze.
Or at least that’s how it is in the winter when there are no leaves on the trees. Sure, it’s cold in the wintertime. You have to bundle up to keep from freezing. But the views…
On the other hand, there’s spring. During the warming months that are just around the corner, months when many folks like to hike, trees start to leaf out. The shade is welcome as spring turns to summer, but the downside is that all that new foliage does a dandy job of blocking the sightline. Sure, the weather’s warm and the hiking can be pleasant. But if you’re looking for views, you just might need to forget it. Leaves and views simply don’t mix.
So, cold-weather views and freezing temperatures vs. warm-weather non-views but comfortable hiking: which one’s a body to choose?
As it happens, there’s a third choice. For a little while in the early spring, and in the late fall too, we get to enjoy a few weeks of moderate temperatures and minimal leaf cover. In the spring that’s because the leaves aren’t out yet; in the fall, if you time it right, it’s because the leaves have fallen.
Right now, of course, we’re on the edge of spring. Up in the mountains the trees are ready, but for now the leafy explosion hasn’t yet occurred.
That means pleasant hiking – and good views too!
Last week, I set out to see if I could find one of those early-spring trails-with-a-view. I succeeded, too, on the Jack’s Knob Trail, a connector trail linking Brasstown Bald with the Appalachian Trail a few miles away.
Actually, my primary mission was to find the headwaters of the Chattahoochee River. I’m finishing up a new book on the trout of the Chattahoochee, from the uppermost reaches of the river to the lowermost extent of the trout water, and I found myself in need of a few photos of the place where the river begins. Those who study such things have decided, apparently based on elevation, that the river’s origin is not too far from the Appalachian Trail at a place called Chattahoochee Spring. That was my goal.
But, wait a minute now. Depending on which authority I chose to believe, the trail I planned to hike was rated either “moderate” to “fairly strenuous.”
Was I, who had surely spent too many winter hours sitting at the keyboard instead of keeping up my hiking chops, up to it? Sure!
Did I reach my goal? Well…
My jumping off point was the parking area at the intersection of Georgia 180 and the 180 spur, which is the road up to the parking area at Brasstown Bald. The Jack’s Knob Trail actually starts near the summit of Brasstown Bald, then goes down the side of Springer Mountain and crosses Georgia 180 on its way to the AT. In the interest of time, and because I was on an urgent journalistic mission, I decided to cut the length of the hike in half to about 2.4 miles each way and start near the trail’s midpoint where it crosses Georgia 180. There’s a small parking area there near a large informational sign, and that’s where I parked the car.
The trail intersection is a few dozen yards to the left along 180 back toward Georgia 75 and Helen. Shouldering daypack and GPS, I set off up the trail.
The trail, while not wide, is clear and easy to follow and begins with a steady climb. But about the time I began to think “I hope the whole thing isn’t like this,” it moderated into a gently rolling path that continued for a while. I passed a number of spots where the view across the mountains was unobstructed, but I was on that mission and so did not stop to appreciate them.
The relatively easy grade of this part of the trail provided a chance to catch my breath and to pick up the pace too. I was making good headway despite a late start.
Just about the time I was really getting into the rhythm of things, and just about at the exact moment I was telling myself that maybe I really was God’s gift to hiking after all, the trail reminded me otherwise.
That reminder was gentle at first, a slight but noticeable uphill trend. But then I was climbing, sure enough, and I realized all of a sudden that those “uphills” were all the time.
Being known to some as “Steve of the Wilderness,” and not wanting to give up all the glory and fame that comes with a moniker like that, I had no choice but to push on. Besides, I knew from the cheerfully glowing screen of my GPS that the climb didn’t go on forever. Did it?
I can make it till it levels out! I can make it.
But the trail grew steeper, and the legs ached more. I can make it. I can make-
“Or I can stop right here,” I told myself. “And enjoy this magnificently unobstructed-by-leaves view that has suddenly and miraculously appeared.”
And so that’s what I did.
I’m not really sure what that particular view was showing me, but it was spectacular. It went on and on and on, the mountains fading to blue in the distance. It was view that demanded to be appreciated, and appreciate it I did for quite some time, there in the total and soul-soothing silence that only wilderness can bring.
After a while I looked at my watch and decided that I’d really not left enough time to finish the hike I’d set out to make.
“I’ll just have to come back and do it next week,” I told myself, and I’ll tell you about it when I do.
Then I turned back the way I’d come. I’d come about halfway to my goal, so I had about a mile and a quarter of trail between me and the car. I knew it would be blessedly downhill most of the way.