Last year, some friends of mine with whom I was working at the Clemson Libraries went with me to hike to the top of Blood Mountain, which lies along the Appalachian Trail in northern Georgia. It's one of my favorite places, and I was glad to share it with folks who had never been there. Unfortunately, due to rain and low clouds, there wasn't much of a view when we reached the top. This is a pretty strenuous hike, although it is only just over 4 miles up and back, and it was disappointing to have worked so hard for so little to see.
This year, we decided to try it again. I came down from Knoxville, and they came over from South Carolina, bringing another of our friends from Clemson to join. I had gotten there early, as is my habit, and discovered that it was bitter cold that morning. Although I had been prepared for the weather, I recognized that the hat I had brought with me would offer very little in the way of protection from the chill.
So, I stopped off at Mountain Crossings, a hiking outfitter store at the Walasi-Yi Interpretive Center. This store is in a building rebuilt by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 30s from an original log building erected by a logging company. Both the building and the store are worth a stop, and I always drop in to see what they have. They are clearly hiking enthusiasts and support a wide variety of hikers, since they are built along the Appalachian Trail.
I went in and found a good knit cap and some warmer socks than those I had brought with me. I also added a t-shirt to my collection of trail shirts. I got to the parking area, which was already filling up, even at 9 am. This is the parking area for the Byron Herbert Reece Trail, and it is not very big, so I'd recommend getting there as early as you can. On this day, I saw a very sizable group gathering and heading up all at once, which accounted for most of the cars.
When the others got there at the appointed time, they struggled to find a parking space, but ended up finding one that would suffice and met me at the trailhead. It was great to see these folks, as I very much miss the people at the Clemson Libraries. And these are some of the people I miss the most. However, in the brisk air, we wasted no time in heading off, to warm up.
And warm up, we did. The trail doesn't start off particularly easy; it let's you know early what you're in for. The trail to the AT is composed mainly of steep switchbacks with a few straight shots that give one a brief breather. We got to the saddle where the Byron Herbert Reece Trail meets the AT and took a few minutes to enjoy the view from there. And to take a short rest, as well.
Going from there, the trail seems to head continually up, with stone stairs and switchbacks that carry one up towards the crown of the mountain. We took a few breaks, but made good time going up. As one nears the top, the trail gets harder to see as a trail, and appears more like a rock climbing exercise. We clambered over the boulders and then started to get to the open areas of stone that signal last part of the upward climb.
These bare patches of rock are perfect for stopping to catch breath and have it taken away by the incredible view. From Blood Mountain, which rises to a height of 4,458 feet, the Appalachians spread out across the horizon. Even at this late stage of autumn, there were still patches of color in the trees. And this year, we could see it, not just a wall of mist.
At the top of the mountain is a shelter built by the CCC in 1937. It is on the National Register of Historic Places, and was repaired very recently. Once we got there, we saw that the large group of hikers I had seen previously were all part of a wedding celebration. This wedding was taking place on a huge boulder that provides the best view of the surroundings. We crept up beneath this rock and stayed out of sight while the wedding completed. It seemed like a fantastic place for such a ceremony, if you can get all of your guests to make the trip up.
We all stayed at the top for a while, eating a bit and taking pictures. After the trip up, it was hard to consider heading back down. But, eventually, we knew we had to go back. So, packing up again, we headed down, mingling with the wedding guests who were also making their way back to the trailhead.
After making it back down, we headed off to Clarkesville, Georgia for lunch. Good food, good company, great hiking. I'm looking forward to going again next year.