Springer – Neel Gap Revisited
On 28 February 2014 my son and I were stood on Springer Mountain ready to start our Appalachian Trail thru-hike. On 4 August 2014 we summited Katahdin after what turned out to be the greatest adventure of my life but also the hardest challenge. Along the way we experienced both the best and worse living and hiking for 5 ½ months has to offer. But in the end, I would not change a thing.
3 years later I once again stood on Springer Mountain to hike for a few days and repeat the first part of the trail. I had suffered at the start of the thru-hike to a point that by Woody gap I was ready to quit. My pack was way too heavy; 55lb, I was unprepared, unfit, overweight and suffering. Of those first days I remember little, other than vomiting as I climb Sassafras, feeling dizzy and sick, and throwing my pack on the ground just so I can breath.
So the idea of re-hiking the first part of the Appalachian Trail has been on my mind for some time. I wanted to see how hard I would find it now, I wanted to be able to experience it without the pain, and I wanted to do it at my leisure.
Having returned to different sections of the AT since summiting Katahdin I have experienced it in a very different light. In 2014 our total focus was to get from Springer to Katahdin, and with my son being on a visitors visa we had a time crunch added to that. So it meant following blazes north as best we can while dealing with the challenges, weather, knee injury, foot injury and malnutrition, while being on a tight timeline. But now when I hike the AT I do not have those pressures. I can blue blaze, yellow blaze, side trail, different trail, stop when I want, zero when I want: theres an approach that I can actually hike to enjoy my time and I dont have to hike in a storm anymore. That was the focus of returning to Springer, I wanted to hike the section I suffered so badly on and enjoy it.
|1||8.1||Springer Hawk Shelter||Plus the 1 mile from parking lot to Springer|
|2||6.3||Hawk Shelter Justus Creek|
|3||6.2||Justus Creek – Woody Gap|
|4||10.8||Woody Gap Neel Gap||Slack packed|
|Total||31.4||Springer Neel Gap|
Pack weight: 55lb
|1||11||Springer Sassafras||Plus the 1 mile from parking lot to Springer|
|2||9.6||Sassafras Woody Gap|
|3||10.8||Woody Gap Neel Gap|
|Total||31.4||Springer Neel Gap|
Pack weight: 20lb
The biggest contributing factor to increased miles and less suffering, in my opinion, was pack weight. Although I had packed for winter (down jacket, 15f down sleeping bag, larger backpack), my pack was still over 50% less than 2014. Although by Neel Gap my legs were like lead, my feet were sore and swollen and I had a blister, I still felt a lot better than when I arrived there is 2014.
One thing that did surprise me was the amount of hikers on the trail. I must of seen 80 on day one and most I spoke to were attempting a thru-hike. The shelters and camp areas were busy and I was pleased to each so many trail ambassadors and ridge runners. Each camp area and shelter had someone there to assist and educate as well as along the trail. Bear boxes were at camp areas and shelters, unlike 2014 when it was hanging poles.
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Very encouraging post Paul, I am part of this years Green Beret Appalachian Trail Challenge, which begins this coming Wednesday. Groups of former and retired U.S. Army Green Berets start at Khatadin and Springer simultaneously hiking sections of the trail, raising money for the Green Beret Foundation. We are all over 55-ish, many of us are in our 70’s. Having spent a career carrying “mule like” loads, we are now of course much less capable, so we too have our concerns about this trail. Hope to keep seeing your posts. Viking (Montana)