Georgia Road Trip: Springer Mountain

It is early in the morning and I hear a drum beat outside my room. We must be expecting a great sunrise this morning. I go to the kitchen to get some coffee and walk down to the sunrise observation area.

The sunrise is amazing this morning. I feel very lucky. The lodge at Hike Inn is mostly quiet but some guests play Here Comes the Sun from their phone and the sunrise group sings along.

After sunrise it is time for breakfast. It is very filling and I am offered extra servings of bacon. I would never pass up extra bacon.

grits, bacon, eggs, peach spoonbread

I talk to the front desk staff about how long today’s hike should take. There are two dinner times scheduled this evening and I am assigned to the early one. I know I am a slow hiker so I ask if I can be moved to the later dinner. I never know how long a hike will take me and I want to be safe. Luckily they can move me.

I ordered a trail lunch yesterday and pick it up at the front desk while I get ready for my hike today ($8 three sandwich choices ~meat, veggie, peanut butter; plus trail mix, and a large cookie).

My cookie. I end up eating it later after my hike.

I start my hike today at 9:20 am. I am hoping that gives me enough time for the return trip.

The hike today is to Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, a 4.4-mile hike (8.8 miles round trip) from the Hike Inn.

The first part of the hike is mostly downhill which is nice but I am warned to save energy for this part on the return trip.

I reach a gap where there is an open area. I cross this area to continue my hike. It is here that I start the hike uphill. Luckily the climb is pretty gradual.

There are a couple springs where I can refill my water bottle with fresh water but my camelback is still 3/4 full and already heavy enough. Good to know that on a hot day there are options for refills.

I finally get to the top. I stop to take some pictures then sit down to enjoy my sandwich. I chat with other hikers.

Sandwich time

There are ladies from the lodge up here who brought their own wine in a water bottle. What a fun idea!

I try not to rest too long because I want to allow enough time to get back in time for my late dinner. While hiking back I meet a barefoot hiker from Florida. It takes a brave person to hike barefoot in the woods.

I love the fall colors and slightly barren trees.

The last couple miles on the way back is hard because there is about a mile of inclines to hike toward the end. I need to stop frequently.

I eventually arrive back at the inn. I am not as late as I anticipated. In fact, I could have made it in time for the early dinner. I decide to take advantage of this extra time and shower so I am cleaned up for dinner. I can go to sleep soon after eating. I am so tired I forget to photograph my dinner.

My body is sore so I proactively take pain relief so I get a good night sleep. I despise being woke up by aching muscles.

Next Morning

I do wake up a few times during the night but I otherwise am well rested. We are woken up for sunrise but it isn’t as lovely as the day before. Fortunately I scheduled two nights at the inn and had at least one full sunrise.

After sunrise I take one last look around the grounds.

Since I burned so many calories yesterday I am excited about breakfast this morning. No bacon today but I enjoy the sausage and biscuits and gravy. After breakfast I get ready to checkout.

After I pay my bill I sit at the front entrance tightening my shoes and such getting ready for hike back. There are a group of ladies getting ready to hike back to the parking lot “the long way” (all the way to Springer mountain and then to the parking lot for a total of about 12 miles). One in the group is not up for the long hike (nor would I be) and asks if she can walk back with me. Its been a long while since I’ve had a hiking companion. We have a nice hike back and talk about lots of different things. We make it back to the parking lot safe!

Never been so happy to see a sign that I have reached the parking lot. I have another smaller hike scheduled for later in the trip but for now I am heading to Helen to relax.

Georgia Road Trip: Hiking to Len Foote Inn

Amicalola Falls waterfall

I am checking out of the beautiful Limelight Inn and making a short stop at a waterfall before I start a 5 mile hike to an inn where I will spend the next two nights. While planning my trip to Georgia my aunt mentioned Springer Mountain as a multi-day hike. She has fond memories of hiking to this inn that can only be accessed by foot. The inn is also a starting point to hiking Springer Mountain, the start of the Appalachian trail in the south. The inn, Len Foote Hike Inn (named after Leonard E. Foote, a local conservationist), has limited capacity but luckily I am able to get a reservation for two nights. Most hike in for the day, stay one night, and hike out the next. I will stay for two nights so I can spend a complete day hiking to the summit of Springer Mountain. Some do this as very long hike to Springer Mountain to and from the parking lot but that is way too ambitious for me.

The check in for the hike is at the Visitors Center inside the Amicalola Falls State Park. They instruct hikers to start no later than 2:00 PM for the 5 mile hike to the inn. The check in deadline is to ensure all hikers arrive early enough for dinner and lodge check in. I plan start at about 11:00 am this morning after my visit to the Amicalola waterfall. Hopefully I have more than enough time, given how slow I am.

I stop at the first parking lot for viewing the waterfall. It is a short walk to the observation point. I notice a staircase to get different views for the waterfall. If I had more time I would go to different levels but I want to get my hike started. I take a couple photos and head back to my car.

Parking for the Hike Inn

There is limited parking nearby the trail. I’ve read I may have to park at the overflow lot at the nearby lodge. When I arrive at the turn the road for the parking lot it is blocked by service vehicles. I talk to the person at the parking entrance and tell them that I am trying to park for the hike (the same parking lot is used for viewing the waterfall from the top). They think the lot is full but let me in anyway. To my disapointment the lot is full. I park illegally for the time being and run over to use the nearby bathroom. I sit in my car and wait to think of what to do next. Luckily while I wait people return to their cars from viewing the waterfall and I am able secure a space right at the trailhead! This is where my car will live for the next 48 hours or so.

Parking lot for Hike Inn
Trailhead

I gather everything I think I might need for two nights into a smaller daypack and my hiking poles. I don’t want to carry extra weight but I kind of wish I had a bigger pack to bring more comforts with me. I’ve hiked the Inca Trail so two nights in semi-discomfort in a cabin should be a breeze to me at this point.

After the trail starts hikers have to cross a paved road which confuses some day hikers I run into. Eventually the trail splits in two: one heading to the Hike Inn (where I am going) and one heading directly to Springer Mountain (Blue trail, 7.3 miles one way). Some do the Springer mountain hike as an out and back day hike and some hike directly to Springer Mountain to start their Appalachian trail hike from the south.

The trail starts out relatively flat then is continuous inclines and declines. It can be quite tiring to an out of shape hiker. I stop along the way to rest and enjoy beautiful views. I feel blessed that I am able to enjoy fall foliage and have cooler air to hike in. I am warm but not overheated; I love hiking in this type of weather.

At one point I stop to watch the wind blow colorful leaves down all around me. It is magical.

I notice a skunk-like smell. I think some people are smoking pot on the trail. It isn’t until later that evening that I discover it is the plant called Galax that grows along the trail.

Most of the trail is flat but there are some rocky parts. There is a fun section with some bare trees that look like they are out of a horror movie. I am sure they look eerie at night.

I am also enjoying the signs that tell me how far I have gone. It is helpful to know when I should stop and take a break along the way.

Fun trees

I finally get to an area of flat paths at the last part of the trail. Wooden planks are elevated side by side to make a wooded trail. I assume this area must get wet at times. My legs are about to give up but I am just happy it is cool and flat here. I think I am getting close to the end.

Finally the trail leads me to the lodge where I am spending the next two nights. I catch my breath then head up the stairs to check in. My room is ready but my linens are not yet ready. The accommodations are minimal but they do provide bedding, towel, and wash cloth to use during your stay.

My room is a bunk bed room. I have the room to myself and no single supplement is required!

One of the main buildings houses individual odorless composting toilet stalls. Instructions say to only drop compostable items in the toilets and keep the lid closed when they are not in use. They are interesting to use since you feel air flowing below you; I almost thought it might suck me in. It is weird but you get used to it.

Nearby the toilets is a separate women’s and men’s washroom with sinks and two shower stalls. I thought it would be busy with only two showers but I really only had to wait once for a little bit for my shower opportunity. The water was warm which is nice.

I arrive early enough for the tour of the grounds at 5 pm. We learn the history of the lodge and all the efforts they put into reducing their carbon footprint – composting worms, reduced use of electricity and use of solar panels. There is no WIFI on site and although I could get a cell phone signal at the inn, they discourage phone and computer use.

Recreation room. During normal times this is full of games and books. They removed them temporarily due to covid.

Nice porch to read and waste the evening away.

view from the lodge
View of the lodge

There is a outdoor sitting area with a nice view of the range in the distance. It is a great place to watch the sunrise in the morning. If they expect a good sunrise, staff members will beat a drum gently to alert lodgers who want to see the sunrise.

They are all about conservation so you are encouraged to use the same mug for beverages during your stay. They have coffee, tea, water and juice available at all times. Food is only served at breakfast and dinner. You can plan for separate paid bag lunch ahead of time if you want something to take along for a day hike. Meals are typically served family style but due to covid they currently sit parties with only people they traveled with. I like my alone time but I need things like forced group activities to get me out of my shell. I guess for this trip I’ll do lots of reflection.

The food is plentiful and tasty. They are big fans of no waste so we are encouraged strongly to take seconds and even thirds. They even reuse some of the foods for the next day’s meals (i.e. extra ham is served at breakfast or as part of a lunch sandwich). Lets just say I did not go hungry during my entire stay.

After dinner it is pretty much almost dark (fall time). I go straight back to my room to unwind for the evening. Time to get rested up for my long hike tomorrow. I am doing the hike up to Springer Mountain.

Salento: Valle de Cocora

One of the most popular things to do in Salento is hike in the nearby Cocora Valley (about a 30 minute jeep ride from town). Two options exist: a loop hike which is about 12km and a shorter up and back hike (about an hour or so). Both hikes will give you a view of Cocora Valley’s iconic palm trees. The long hike is rumored to be amazing so I am planning on doing the whole loop today.

I start off early today because I know I am a slow hiker. I inform my hotel I am missing breakfast again and they instead provide me a lovely fruit platter and orange juice to take on my journey. I also stop at the shop on the corner to order a coffee, empanada and some other breads to take with me (one being my new addiction of sausage stuffed rolls – these are amazing when they are fresh). I also carry lots of water.

To arrive at the start I hire a jeep from town square in the morning. They say they leave once an hour but they really leave once they fill up. Mine left 15 minutes early. Luckily I showed up early for the 7:30 am ride.

Made sure to note jeep ride times

The jeep drops us off on a dirt road I am assuming is nearby the trail entrance. There is really no instruction of where to start, I just know that I should start “off to the right” for which direction I plan to go. I should have followed the crowd as the jeep emptied but I decide to try to use the nearby restroom before I start my journey. By the time I got out of the restroom there is no one really to ask which way to go.

I wander around for a bit up and back on the dirt road. The entrance I am looking for should be to the right of the road.

view from the road

I look down at maps.me on my phone and I think I discover the correct way to the start.

I chose doing the loop going counter-clockwise to avoid crowds. Also the journey across the waterway is beautiful early in the day and the inclines are more gradual in this direction.

I head down into the valley and I eventually reach the trail entrance where I pay an admission charge and receive a wrist band.

I pass a small bridge and stop to say hi to some cows.

Entrance to first part of the path.

I start my hike trough a narrow trail in the middle of a meadow. There are cow pastures on the sides of the path. Vibrant green grass blankets the meadow. The weather is slightly cool. It is a beautiful day.

At the edge of the meadow I stop and eat my fruit before I carry onto the next part of my journey.

Fruit box from my lovely hotel

I start the stream-jumping section of the path. The second part of the trail is basically a series of rocky paths that wind around a stream with frequent bridge crossings. The bridges get progressively more scary: meaning the further you go the less maintained the bridges seem to be (I read where one called them the Indian Jones bridges).

This is another amazingly beautiful part of the trail. I enjoy hearing the stream of water while I hike.

Leaving the waterway behind I start climbing uphill towards a hummingbird sanctuary, a pit stop on the trail. I intended to visit the sanctuary but the climb is making me tired. I recall the advice I was given from other travelers a couple days ago and decide to turn back and forgo the visit. I have much further to go and I want to make sure I have energy to complete the loop. I did read reviews later that were favorable but nonetheless I am glad I skipped it because the trail continues uphill in the intended direction and I need all the energy I can conserve.

While on the trail I encounter signs of the different wildlife I may see along the way.

I hope I don’t run into one of these guys
Getting closer to the top
Bamboo shaded rest area

The terrain is changing again and I end up on a sandy path. It is challenging and uphill. I hear the sounds of doors creaking in the trees. I look up and see no birds so I can only assume what may be making those sounds.

I finally reach what I understand to be the highest point. I take the slow zig zags uphill. I stop on the bright green meadow “walls” to lay down and rest because it looks so comfortable.

At the top of the switchbacks

At the top there seems to be a café but it looks like they are only serving a specific tour group. It may be private property but they don’t mind that others are hanging around and resting on the nearby benches. I find Finca La Montaña a place to catch my breath and snack on my breads before moving on. I learn later that it is a coffee farm.

I am past the halfway point now I think.
I watch a dog watching people walk downhill (doing the trail loop clockwise)
Finca La Montaña

As I leave Finca La Montaña I walk by quite a few people going in the opposite direction. It appears the Finca La Montaña I have just arrived at is the final spot at top for those doing just the shorter hike. Unfortunately those walking toward the finca look tired since the journey is mostly uphill and it is now the hottest time of day. I chatted with a few hikers caught off guard with the uphill challenge. My hike is challenging as far as inclines go but at least the uphill parts are broken up by horizontal parts. I am excited to learn the rest of my hike will be mostly downhill.

I walk by some lovely tall pine trees.

only 4.2 km to go. mostly downhill from here.

I notice more beautiful views hiking down. Soon I reach another section where someone is collecting admission to the observation area where I can finally view the tall palms – El Bosque de Las Palmas. I receive another wrist band.

This map makes the path look very simple but it didn’t feel very simple while I was hiking.

Downhill path. It is now hot and sunny so I am thankful.

Finally I reach the upper level of the mirador or viewpoint of the lovely palm trees. It is incredibly windy today.

I walk out a down a series of sandy terraces, each giving a distinct viewpoint of the area.

Entrance if you are entering the trail from the opposite direction. Some people just visit this portion of the area and skip the long hike.
Chill out areas with great views
Tried to follow my location via maps.me. Not sure really how helpful it was.

I head back down what I believe is the street I arrived at this morning. I see a meadow where jeeps are parked. This must be where I catch my return trip to town. I wait for a jeep to become available and hop in the back. Luckily I am sitting inside (even though it is crowded) and not hanging off the back like other adventurous travelers.

Ride back into town

The journey today was long and exhausting but it was highly rewarding. I am adding this hike to my list of memorable hikes.

Heading to Lake Matheson

My time in Queenstown New Zealand is over. I am heading towards Fox Glacier for the night.

Of course I wake up super early. I prepare my coffee and yogurt but today I am watching a very noisy helicopter off in the distance drop wood or pick up wood along the hillside; the task isn’t clear, the only thing that is clear is that it is waking other campers. I get my groceries from the camp fridge, straighten and clean my van and get on the road by 9 am.

Leaving Queenstown

It is a very scenic drive out of town so I have to stop. I read about how invasive pines have taken over the area so they are in the process of killing them off. The pines are beautiful but suck the life out of the native vegetation.

Wanaka Tree

My next stop is at the famous Wanaka tree. This lone willow tree is a very popular photography stop for travelers in the area. I am shocked to have learned just two months after my visit someone cut off the bottom limbs.

Wanaka Tree

I continue on my drive and keep finding spots to stop for scenic views. I see beautiful lakes along the way.

My next scheduled stop is at the Blue Pools to see the beautiful cold pools of water filled from clear melted glacier water.

Blue pools

A visit to the blue pools can be as short or long as you like. It is a about a 30 minute roundtrip hike from the car park down a nice trail.

I reach a suspension bridge that starts to give views of the river or stream below.

I notice people swimming in the water. It looks refreshing. This is one of the times I hate being a solo traveler. I have no one to trust to leave my belongings with to explore the water.

I walk down to a beach area and take my boots off and soak my feet in the cold water for a bit. It is very cold but I love it. I sit and listen to the water flow as I soak. It is so peaceful and relaxing. I eat a snack but I could stay here all day or even just long enough for a picnic lunch.

I walk back to my car and head toward my final destination for the day.

Everything on my drive is beautiful: Water, rocks and mountain views. Water is blue and clear from melting glacial snow.

Will I ever find a gas station?

I start to discover that my USA credit cards are not compatible with all gas stations in New Zealand. For 75% of the time I am unable to pay at the pump while in this country; only a time or two is there an actual attendant to process a credit card manually inside. I start to find myself with worry that I won’t be able to find an accessible gas station when I really need too. The towns get smaller and smaller along my route. I start to stop at gas stations even when I am not in need of gas to fill up just in case the next one cannot take my purchase.

Will I ever arrive at my destination?

I am so tired of driving. This drive is supposed to be a 4 hour drive but it is now 6 hours. My anxiousness in getting to my next location doesn’t stop me from checking out this salmon farm I see on the way. They are getting ready to close but I pick up some smoked salmon to snack on.

I finally make it to my lodging. I am actually staying in a motel for the night. Living in luxury with my own little kitchen at the Rainforest Motel.

View from my room.

I have cable tv and working wifi. This is great. But I don’t stay in my room too long because I want to go checkout the sunset views of Lake Matheson and Mount Cook.

Lake Matheson / Te Ara Kairaumati Walk

car park view

Once arriving at the car park there is a nice trail that takes you 2.6 km in a loop around Lake Matheson.

Crossing a little bridge to get to the trail.

The trail is nice and peaceful. Still looking for kiwis but having no luck again.

Look at this beautiful green pathway! (Sorry about vertical mode).

After doing a bit of walking around I find the spots where the sun hits the mountain tops just right to reflect in the lake below.

I sit around a bit and watch the sky change then I walk back to the car park. Still great views on the way out. But no kiwis!

Watching the sun set on the walk back
Nice view but this is the closest I will get to the mountain tops this trip.

Not doing an all out glacier walk this trip even though I am really close. It seemed very complicated for a short stop. For now I am just viewing the glaciers from a distance. Another one added to my list for when I return someday.

Arthur’s Pass, New Zealand

Yesterday we took the train from Kaikoura back to Christchurch. According to the maps it seems like our bed and breakfast is in walking distance to the train station. We set off with our luggage but unfortunately it seems in the wrong direction. We hike over an overpass and seemingly going out of our way. We walk past some office buildings and then finally we see our lodging, Addington Bed and Breakfast.

We booked the cheapest room, the twin room. It is tight for the two of us with all our luggage but the home is nice. The breakfast is quite good and the house is clean. I am happy there is a washer and dryer available so I can do some laundry while I am here. Space is tight but we don’t plan on spending too much time in the room; besides I’ll have the whole room to myself for the third night anyway.

Today we visit Arthurs Pass National Park and seemingly the best way to visit is by train, a couple hours from Christchurch. Accommodation and amenities are limited at the national park so we visit as most do as a day trip by train. There is also an option to rent a car and drive to the pass; in the interest of time we didn’t take this option.

The weather is quite uncertain as it often is. We hope to get some time to look around before the rain sets in.

We start off with a walking tour provided by a park ranger. We meet at the temporary visitor center.

Learn about animals introduced that became pests. New Zealand is very strict about people bringing in foreign plants and animals, even checking our hiking boots on the way into the country. Unfortunately they weren’t always as strict and now they are paying the price with foreign introduced animals wreaking havoc on their ecosystem.

Our guide takes us past a waterfall, a church with a great view and some other notable landmarks.

Only about 30 people actually live at Arthur’s Pass. As far as visitors go I think many who stay the night do tramping (similar to backpacking, the recreational activity of going for long-distance walks in rough country).

After our tour ends we take the hike up to view some waterfalls.

Devil’s Punchbowl Falls (Māori name is Hinekakai) is up and down a good amount of stairs (2.2 mile hike). I may have cursed and whined a little on the stairs but it is worth it.

After the water fall hike I’m hungry so we head to lunch at one the two restaurants at Arthur’s Pass.

Even with no competition, The Wobbly Kea isn’t bad.

I love my halloumi and pear salad.

After lunch we go for a short nature hike. At this point I am focused on seeing a live kiwi but from what we’ve been told it is more likely to see them at dusk. My ears are actively listening but we are unsuccessful in the quest. However we do happen upon some beautiful lichen lined paths that are other worldly.

Wide open spaces

After our hike we head over to the general store and watch a very naughty Kea bird try to steal everything.

We walk back to the station to await the train. It starts raining but fortunately the rain was not able to ruin our day.

While we wait for the train we start chatting with the guys next to us. We find out they are in Christchurch for a quick stop back home (California I believe). They are scientists that work in Antarctica. They are responsible for fixing and setting up important scientific equipment. They are fascinating to speak with.

Our ride back to Christchurch begins and the rain stops to open up some beautiful views.

Once we are back in Christchurch we head to dinner before walking back to our bed and breakfast. My aunt leaves me tomorrow and I am once again alone for at least another month. It is nice to have a companion while it lasts.