Saturday, July 2, 2016

Blood Mountain

Goodness, the backlog grows, yet again.

Let's see... 3 weeks ago, feeling well, we all went to Duke's Creek Falls. Of course, Monday evening I was full on sick again, but it only lasted 2 days. Again, by Friday night I felt fine. But! Just to be sure, I laid about all Saturday. Sunday morning I was about the same. Ok. Adventure!

Blood Mountain, this time.

The approach to Neels Gap from the south is twisty and windy, and Kathryn hates twisty and windy, so we approached from the north. This required making this huge arc though Ellijay, Blue Ridge, and Blairsville, rather than going straight up through Dahlonega. 3 hours later we were climbing Blood Mountain from the north. It is substantially less twisty that way, but my goodness, the cost.

We parked at the Byron Herbert Reece trailhead, but not before first making a run up to Mountain Crossing at Neels Gap proper for a bathroom break, and also just so Sophie and Kathryn could see the building and the view, such as it was. The main bathroom was closed, but there was a row of the cleanest, most well-stocked port-a-john's I've ever encountered nearby, and we availed ourselves of these facilities.

Back at the trailhead, Sophie decided she needed a hiking stick, and went looking around for one.


She found two candidates but eventually decided that neither was actually suitable and abandoned them one at a time.

Oh yeah... It was just me and Kathryn and Sophie. Iz was hanging out with her boyfriend, if memory serves.

Anyway, we made quick work of the BHR and took a little break at the AT/Freeman Trail intersection.

Sophie and Kathryn at BHR-AT-Freeman Intersection

Wild Azaleas were blooming everywhere up there.

Orangeish Wild Azaleas

Man, I mean everywhere, and in great variety. They usually look orange with a hint of red or maybe salmon, but these were super orange, and later I saw some more that were super red.

Sophie really loves climbing on rocks, and that factored significantly into my choice of trail. It's almost nothing but climbing-on-rocks, all the way up to the top.

Sophie Climbing Blood Mountain

Kathryn was having trouble for the first quarter of the climb, but then she seemed to get warmed up and after that she seemed totally fine.

Somewhere up there, there's a little outcropping that faces kind of over toward Helen, with several big rock-chunks perched on it. One of them looks a bit like a sea turtle.

Sea Turtle Rock

...from the right angle, if you use your imagination. Ok, it's a lot more obvious in real life.

About 2/3rds of the way up we passed a family with two really young kids, one two and one three. When I was scouting the TNGA route, my girls and I explored all over North Georgia, but I want to say they were 3 and 5 when we first started doing all that, but it was mostly short little hikes to check out things we couldn't drive. We didn't tackle Blood Mountain until they were 7 and 9, I think. Even more amazing though, the mom was carrying a teeny tiny one in a sling across her chest. Kathryn asked how old he was. 2 months! As in, mom was well enough recovered to hike Blood Mountain only two months after bearing the child! Niiice.

We also met some Russian guys coming back down. Or, at least they sounded Russian. I guess they could have come from any of the former Soviet Republics.

And, before we knew it, we were at the top.

Sophie at Blood Mountain Shelter

A few years back Gary Monk and some other AT Conservancy guys made some major repairs to the shelter. I think it needed a new roof, and some of the roof beams even needed to be replaced. There was just no easy way to get the beams up there though. The closest thing to a road leads over to Slaughter Mountain, and most if it has become the Coosa Backcountry Trail. But it doesn't matter anyway, it's all Wilderness, in every direction. At the time, if not still, Gary was part of the CoTrails group, as were several members of the Backcountry Horsemen of North Georgia. They all got together, hatched a plan to haul the beams up on mules, and BAM! Done! The beams were carried up, and the up shelter was restored to its former glory. Man, you should have seen the photos. They attached a beam to either side of a pair of mules, and led them up from the Lake Winfield Scott side. Gary had always been frightened of horses, but by the end of the job, he'd actually ridden a mule up and back down. At the next meeting, he introduced himself as "Gary Monk... Equestrian!" Then he showed us all the photos. The work still looks good today, and I imagine it will for most of my lifetime.

There are some huge rocks up there, that dwarf the shelter, and we climbed all over them.

The view is spectacular.

View From Blood Mountain

Kathryn and Sophie climbed on some rocks next door too.

Kathryn and Sophie on Blood Mountain Sophie on Blood Mountain Again

Kathryn, though, apparently! didn't realize that it's not a good idea to walk up behind a kid who's standing as close to a ledge as they feel safe standing, and put her arm around them from behind. She did this and startled Sophie, who felt like Kathryn was pushing her forward, toward the ledge, that she didn't want to be any closer to! Sophie's reaction was to try to step back, but she couldn't because Kathryn was pressed up behind her. This put her off balance, she got scared, and told Kathryn to back up, but Kathryn kind-of argued with her rather than moving back... This made Sophie even more scared. Sophie tends to act when she's scared, rather than freeze, which Kathryn also, apparently! didn't know. Kathryn's keep-my-kid safe instinct was to grab her more tightly, but that just made Sophie feel even less in-control and gerch around even more, which put her even more off balance... Good. God. Imagine the fear and frustration that the other parent, who has plenty of experience with how Sophie is likely to react in such situations, would feel, watching all of this happen, from too far away to do anything about it. Imagine the urge to shout, and then imagine the presence of mind, and restraint it would take not to.

Just, imagine that.

On the upside, Kathryn has formidable crisis-handling skills. Little red flags started going up, and after two, escalating, iterations, she override her own instincts, let Sophie go and backed up. Then, a few seconds later, she WAS able to put her arm around Sophie, after _Telling Her_: "Hey Sophie, I'm going to put my arm around you, OK?" and then _Getting From Sophie_: "OK."

Coordinating access to personal space in potentially dangerous situations. What a concept!

The girls have pretty good instincts for what to do and what not to do in the woods, and Kathryn's picking it up quickly too, but we do have a few things we go over at the start of every hike. Just things that, over the years, we determined needed that extra bit of reinforcing: What's the first rule? Stay together as a group. What's the next rule? Leave nature where you found it. What do you do if you see a bear? Put your arms up. Do you run? No.

We used to talk about snake safety, but everyone's got that down now.

We may need to add some language about safety around precarious features though.

Where was I?

After climbing all over the rocks, we sat on them and enjoyed the view, for quite a while. Then we rested and we all had a bite to eat.

Rest and Food

Sophie took some pictures of us.

Kathryn and I on Blood Mountain

There was a family up there for a while speaking in what seemed to be a collection of languages. I definitely heard English, French, and what was either Spanish or Portuguese (the words they said were too similar in both to tell). But, they didn't speak one language consistently. They alternated randomly between them. Someone would say something in one language and someone else would answer in another. I felt bad eavesdropping, but it was fascinating.

Before long they left though, and this little bird flew in and hopped around in front of us, persistently.


Sophie threw it a goldfish. I figured it would peck at it, eat it, and beg for more. Nope. It grabbed it, spun around, and bombed down into the woods.

Well... Bye.

When we were sufficiently well rested, we pushed on. There's a set of switchbacks on the north/west side of Blood Mountain. Somewhere in there is a connector over to the Coosa Backcountry Trail. I know it exists, I've hiked it before, but it was well hidden. I was specifically looking for it and I never saw it.

When we hit the Freeman Trail, we took it back around to the BHR.

The last time I was on that trail, it was late fall and the trail felt like it was nothing but rocks and sticks.

Not so though, in early summer.

Overgrown Freeman Trail

We were constantly pushing through brush. "Things were touching us" and Kathryn is, understandably, not a big fan of "things touching her" when she's in the woods. Fortunately she was wearing her awesome new full length tights and though she didn't get to feel the breeze on her legs, she also didn't get to feel most of the brush, at least not directly. Most importantly, she was reasonably well protected from thorns and poison ivy.

The trail was super rocky too. Just constantly up and down and odd angles.

Rocky Freeman Trail

If you're not accustomed to it, it'll wear out your calves. Sophie's and Kathryn's were sore the next day. Mine were, admittedly, a bit more tired than usual too.

We ran into some really, really red Wild Azaleas somewhere on that trail.

Reddish Wild Azaleas

And Kathryn half climbed inside this hollow tree trunk.

Kathryn and a Hollow Trunk

She really liked that tree trunk.

They were both really happy when we hit the BHR. We were all tired of rocks and grass and weeds, it was downhill all the way back to the car, and the trail was sufficiently well traveled to keep the brush back.

The only drag was that Sophie kept trying to push past Kathryn all the way down, and they kept bumping into one another. Well, she wasn't exactly trying to push past. I guess she was doing the hiking equivalent of half-wheeling someone on a bike ride. In fact, I kept telling her to "stop half-wheeling Mom." It never seemed to take though. She'd stop and then she'd be doing it again a minute later.

Arhhh, Sophie! Personal space!

But, there was no crashing, and we made it out with plenty of light, despite Kathryn's joking insistence that the sun was "already down" because we couldn't see it behind the mountain.

None of us wanted to spend 3 more hours driving home through Blairsville, when it would take about an hour and a half through Dahlonega, so Kathryn braved the twisty descent down the north side of the mountain. This turned out to be totally fine until the last few turns when I had to speed up to keep a guy from tailgating me.

We had dinner at Johnny's Pizza in Dawsonville. Sophie had some really good ravioli. Kathryn had a sandwich, I think. I had some actual pizza, but I forgot that I really only like the 4-cheese pizza at Johnny's, so it was OK, but not great.

Well, you win some and you lose some. I lost at dinner, but we all won on the Adventure!

Blood Mountain!

Highly recommended.

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