A sunset over the Appalachian Mountains.
Photo by Zoë Symon
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Quarter Trail Update: So It Begins (Zoë's AT Hike Part 3)

This post was originally written for The Trek during my 2016 Appalachian Trail thru-hike. Since I was so terrible about updating my Trek blog, I published one massive update (in multiple parts) that covered the first 550 miles of my hike. This is the first part of that update.

Zoë Symon       Trip Report       01/07/2020
Zoë Symon
Trip Report
01/07/2020

Originally written for The Trek. See the original post here


The first days

This adventure really starts a couple days before I even set foot on the AT approach trail. My wonderful parents were kind enough to drive me from NC down to Amicalola. As we gained elevation, we started to notice snow appearing on the ground. By the time we got to the state park, the ground was completely covered. Not going to lie, my heart sank a bit. I knew I was going to encounter snow, but starting in it? Well, we had planned to spend a couple days hanging out at Amicalola and experiencing the beginning of the 2016 kickoff, and when we woke up the next morning, much of the snow had melted. We decided to hike down the stairs to check out the falls (so yes, I ended up hiking those stairs twice). The next morning, we got to the visitor center as soon as it opened so I could sign the register and begin my hike for real. I ended up being the 374th hiker to sign the register. After some photos and hugs, I walked under the arch to begin the approach trail (I actually ended up starting at the same time as Oats, another hiker who’ve been hiking off and on with since then).

Me at the Southern Terminus plaque on Springer Mountain.
Photo courtesy of Zoë Symon

I made it up to the summit of Springer, and was rewarded with what was honestly a kind of underwhelming view. There were a lot of other people up there, though, so it was nice to talk to other thru-hikers, day hikers, and a ridgerunner. I stopped for a while to eat, and then continued the last 2.5 miles to Stover Creek Shelter for the night.

At the shelter I met 4 other thru-hikers, who I’ve continued to run into throughout my time on the trail. The shelter was very clean (thanks to the ridgerunner who had cleaned it out the day before), so we all ended up staying in there. That night in the shelter was probably one of the most difficult ones I’ve had on the trail. I started thinking ‘What am I doing out here?’ ‘Why did I decide to do this?’ ‘I’ve made too big a deal out of this, so now I have to finish it.’ Well, I woke up the next morning, the sun was shining, the world was beautiful, and I hiked on and never looked back.

Those of you who know the beginning of the AT probably know that there’s a short stretch where bear canisters are required. You also probably know that no thru-hiker wants to carry the weight and bulk of a bear canister. This leads to either a very short day (so you can go all the way through that area to Neel Gap the next day), or a very long day. I ended up deciding on the first option and bunching up at the Lance Creek Campsite with at least 20 other hikers. The next day we hiked a great day over Blood Mountain, and ended up splitting the cost of a cabin at Neel Gap on the other side.

A view from a rocky ledge looks out over distant mountains.
One of many amazing views off the top of Blood Mountain.
Photo by Zoë Symon

It’s amazing how fast you can form friendships with other hikers out here. It was only the fourth day, and I already felt like I was forming a trail family. We ended up hiking together for a few more days until Dick’s Creek Gap, when some decided to take a first zero day. Just before the gap, I had the first night where I camped mostly by myself. I didn’t feel the need to stay at the hostel, so I stopped a little early and camped at a beautiful vista.

Rainy days

At Top of Georgia Hostel, I picked up my first resupply box and was able to do laundry. We hiked out to the next shelter for the night and were greeted with warnings about an epic snorer. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep as well as I could’ve, and woke up to the first rain I had experienced on the trail.

A hiker stands next to the border sign between Georgia and North Carolina on the Appalachian Trail.
Me at the border between Georgia and North Carolina.
Photo courtesy of Zoë Symon

Despite the less-than-sunny weather, it was a good day of hiking, and we crossed our first state border! We were now officially in my home state of North Carolina.

Our destination that night was Standing Indian Shelter. The shelter was packed, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about the people there, so I ended up tenting a ways away from the shelter.

The next day I ended up getting caught in an epic downpour when I was about 45 minutes away from the shelter, but after that, our luck began to improve, and the next day I was able to take a nap in the sun on top of Siler Bald and cowboy camp there that night. We enjoyed a beautiful sunset and hot dogs cooked on the campfire (fellow hiker friends who stopped in Franklin packed them out).

A group of hikers sit in a meadow with their gear.
The campsite on Siler Bald.
Photo by Zoë Symon

The first zero

The weather continued to be amazing all the way to the Nantahala Outdoor Center where we were able to spend two near-o days and a zero relaxing around the river with friends (thanks for coming to visit, Nettie, Janie, and Catherine!). Eating real food and drinking good beer for the first time in a while was a nice treat. Being able to take a shower and do laundry is also always welcome.

A long building is next to a wide flowing river.
At the NOC.
Photo by Zoë Symon

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Appalachian Trail

The Appalachian Trail is one of the oldest National Scenic Trails in the US. Its path takes you from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mt. Katahdin in Maine.

2200 mi (3540 km)      $59.99 full guide
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Pennsylvania, Appalachian Trail
Photo by Zoë Symon
Pennsylvania, Appalachian Trail
Photo by Zoë Symon

Appalachian Trail

The Appalachian Trail is one of the oldest National Scenic Trails in the US. Its path takes you from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mt. Katahdin in Maine.

2200 mi (3540 km)
$59.99 full guide
Learn more
Get our trail guide for this area!
About the Author
A woman wearing glasses sits in front of a bamboo grove.

Zoë Symon

Zoë grew up in North Carolina and first heard of the Appalachian Trail during her time in college. In 2016, she took a leave of absence from her job and thru-hiked the trail. This adventure fostered her love for the outdoors and for hiking. Currently, she explores the public lands of Oregon. In 2017 she joined the team at Atlas Guides as Creative Director. She spends her days improving experiences for all our users.