Two Weeks Away From the World
I love being in the outdoors and have always wanted to hike a large section of the Appalachian Trail (AT). As a Western North Carolina native, I have frequented the AT, but have never camped longer than a couple of days. Spending the entire day in the woods and away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, always leaves me feeling rejuvenated. It is because of this feeling that I decided to finally fulfill a dream, and head out to explore the AT for two weeks.
I decided to start my journey by exploring the Northbound section of the AT starting at the Southern terminus. The Southern section of the AT is completely below the tree line, which made hammock camping the perfect shelter option. My gear of choice included ENO’s TechNest Hammock, Helios Hammock Straps, ProFly Sil Rain Tarp, and Blaze UnderQuilt. Each item was chosen based on its weight and versatility in all types of weather; a must for late winter in the Southeast.
I left Amicalola Falls State Park on a warm winter day with a 37 lb. backpack and two weeks of freedom ahead of me. If you have ever hiked the 8-mile approach trail, you know how daunting the Falls feel at the base of the 729’ waterfall with nothing but stairs to climb. It’s a wake-up call and makes you question what you signed yourself up for. Hiking the approach trail is a challenging way to start a hike, but it makes the start at Springer Mountain all that more exciting. I spent my first night in the woods at the northern base of Springer Mountain right next to a quiet stream.
The Georgia section of the trail is beautiful, and the weather was perfect for late winter. Cool breezes and sunny afternoons kept the temperature comfortable. The clay soil is soft on the feet and the ascents were comfortably inclined. There’s a rhythm of climbing a ridge, going down the other side, reaching a gap at the bottom, then climbing back up. I experienced a deep connection to the forests and hills around me when I reached each ridge, seeing my progress behind me grow and my goal become closer. I began to average 15 miles a day and got into a routine of waking up early for sunrise, hiking the winding ridges of Georgia, and setting up camp early in the evening with time to eat and relax.
One of the great things about my early mornings was the ease in which I could pack up my setup. ENO gear is fast and easy to unpack and repack. I was always the first one packed and ready to start hiking in the morning. On clear nights, I would hammock without my ProFly Sil Tarp, dozing off with the stars and moon overhead. This, combined with a soft breeze gently rocking me, made sleeping in the TechNest Hammock a dream.
Entering North Carolina, the weather became colder and the mountains taller and more daunting. Standing Indian Mountain was the first mountain that towered over 5000 ft. elevation on my journey. I have to say that the steep climbs at Bly Gap, Unicoi Gap, Albert Mountain, and Cheoah were the most difficult parts of my time on the trail. The terrain became increasingly more rocky as I went and the trail consisted of tall steps cut into the mountains.
As I trekked deeper into North Carolina, I was faced with a couple of tough days. Rain-soaked hiking and a muddy trail made each step more difficult than the last. Luckily, my ProFly Sil Rain Tarp kept my gear dry overnight and my Blaze UnderQuilt kept me insulated and warm.
My favorite moments of the trip quickly became the mornings, each one bringing something beautiful and different. The Blue Ridge Mountains create natural bowls for the morning fog, awaiting the sun’s warmth and the effect is stunning.
I made sure to resupply in Hiawassee, Nantahala, and Fontana Lake. Everyone has a different diet on the Appalachian Trail but for me, my favorite snack was sharp cheddar cheese and salami. Hiking out of each resupply with a heavy backpack, full belly, and a steep climb ahead was always difficult, but after a tough ascent, I was continuously rewarded with beautiful views of cascading mountains. Small towns and reminders of the “real” world in the distance felt insignificant when everything I needed was on my back.
On day 14, I ended my hike at Clingman’s Dome, 200 miles from where I started and halfway through the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. I wanted to see the sunrise from the Clingman’s Dome observatory, so I camped at Double Spring Gap only a couple miles from the summit. I set up my Helios Hammock Straps, TechNest Hammock, and Blaze UnderQuilt and bedded down for the night. I broke down camp in the dim light of early morning. During the winter season, the observatory is closed to vehicles, which makes it accessible to only those who are willing to hike to it.
When I arrived, I was surprised to share the spectacular view with a group of hikers that had slept in the observatory, willingly exposing themselves to whatever the elements threw at them. That morning in particular brought piercing winds and no precipitation, but an amazing sunrise with rapid cloud formations that swirled around us. It felt like the perfect view to conclude my time on the AT.
There are many beautiful aspects of the Appalachian Trail. For me, the people you meet are a large contributing factor to its charm. Everyone is friendly, helpful, and full of stories. No one encapsulated the feel of the AT more than my hiking buddies, Saint and Lightweight. Both were strong hikers with a goal-oriented mind set as well as a desire to stop and smell the roses. Seasoned hikers 511 and Sunshine (and her dog, Miko) were young at heart and brought so much positivity and vitality to the trail! They left such a great impression on people that we heard about them days before we met them. Shout out to Fresh Grounds and his LeapFrog Cafe always providing hikers the best hospitality and trail magic! Be sure to check out his Facebook page for some positive content and donation information. Overall, I found AT community is encouraging, accepting, and optimistic. I would encourage anyone with the interest to pack a bag, bring an ENO hammock, and get out there on the trail!
Elijah Hawley has worked at Eagles Nest Outfitters for four years and is a member of the sales team doing ecommerce and wholesale inquiries. Elijah is an avid reader, backpacker, member of ENO’s party planning committee, and enjoys any excuse to be outside.
Want to support the Appalachian Trail Conservancy?
Check out our AT Giving Back DoubleNest Print Hammock. For each hammock purchase, $10 is donated to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) to support their mission to protect, manage, and advocate for the Appalachian Trail.