Monday, July 28, 2008

Abbreviated Vacation

Originally, Carole and I were supposed to have had almost a week in the mountains of northern Georgia. Our plan was to take our travel trailer to De Soto Falls Campground in the Chattahoochee National Forest where I would have had the opportunity to climb Blood Mountain, hike in the De Soto Falls Wilderness, visit Sosebee Cove and Cooper Creek Recreation Area to see old growth trees. But, I couldn't get some annual leave on which we were counting and that wrecked our plans.

Amicalola Falls, a series of seven cascades totaling 729 feet making it, arguably, the highest waterfall in the eastern USA.
So, Carole called to see if we could get two nights at the Len Foote Hike Inn located adjacent to Amicalola Falls State Park. It was booked up, save for one Saturday night room due to a cancellation. Carole booked it. We then drove up to Dahlonega, spent the night in a Days Inn and then drove over to Amicalola Falls State Park on Saturday morning. After checking in at the visitors center, we started our hike at 9:00am. The five-mile hike to the Len Foote Lodge is listed as "moderate", but my wife is, to put it lightly, not an outdoors type. Common wisdom infers that the hike takes "two to four hours". It took us four hours, since Carole is not accustomed to hiking, and also because she has gained so much weight over the past year.

The hike to the facility is through classic southern Appalachian woodlands. There are few views because of the very thick and lush tree cover, which is part of the charm of the mountains of my native South. We saw some flowers (peak season for most flowering shrubs was over) and noted dozens of types of mushrooms and fungi along the trail. In fact, I've never witnessed so many types of mushrooms in my life. We couldn't get over the variety of 'shrooms.

This area supposedly has an enormous bear population, and I was hoping to see at least one. But the wildlife was pretty much absent for our entire trip. The whole time we were there, we saw only one squirrel and one small bird. That was about it for wildlife for us. Other guests of the lodge did encounter a bear, several deer, a timber rattler, a copperhead, an opossum, a raccoon, a turkey, etc. But all we saw was a squirrel and a little songbird. Alas!

From the trailhead at Amicalola Falls, the hike stays mainly on ridgelines with steady climbs and occasional drops into shallow gaps and subsequent reclimbs of the ridge. In all, you get a total gain of about 700 feet between the start of the hike and the end at the Lodge. But actually you climb a lot more than that when you factor in the drops to several gaps. In all, I'd say you have a total elevation gain of around 1,000 feet. Some of the climbs are rather steep and gave Carole a hard time. Between the two of us, we drained five bottles of water along the way.

When we arrived at the Lodge, we checked in and got our bed linens and bags with washcloths and towels. The rooms are simple, but comfortable, with wall fan, a single light, a bunk bed, built-in desk and small chair. There is a shelf and wall pegs for hanging stuff.

I was very impressed with the Len Foot Lodge. It was much, much larger than I had expected. The first thing you see is the covered breezeway with rock floor and Adirondack chairs and rockers. Then there's a set of stairs leading up to the office and the main lodge where the rooms are located. From there, you descend to the bathhouse which has a number of composting toilets, sets of showers and sinks. It was great to be able to take a hot shower after the long hike.

From the bathhouse you descend to the next level which is the dining hall which accommodates around 50 guests who all dine family style at three long tables. The meals proved to be quite substantial and the quality of the food excellent. I can't say enough good things about the fare offered. In addition, the chef keeps snacks in the dining area between meals and there is always tea, lemonade, apple juice, and water available for the taking. And the coffee pots are going continuously.

Taking it easy on a rocker in the breezeway.

After that, you descend another set of stairs to the Sunrise Room which is a large room featuring a padded bench on the circumference, a huge deck, lots of places to sit and enjoy the eastern view, ceiling fans to keep you cool, and games, puzzles, and books to keep you occupied. Below the Sunrise Room is a horseshoe pit, lawn chairs, a huge granite sun dial, and the Chattahoochee National Forest in which to roam.

While Carole took a shower and went to our room to nap, I found myself still full of energy and decided to continue my hike. Grabbing some water and our camera, I hiked up to the Approach Trail (that takes you to the Appalachian Trail) and hiked to the summit of Frosty Mountain, the former site of a fire tower. The tower has been removed, but the concrete footings are still there, and you are at the highest point on Amicalola Mountain. From there, I hiked back down the Approach Trail and down to the Lodge for a round-trip hike of almost four extra miles. Then I took a shower, too, and joined Carole in our room where I also decided to take a nap.

At about five pm we got up and wandered around the Lodge until suppertime. The evening meal was spectacular. We had roast pork loin, roast vegetable medley, green beans, cornbread dressing, whole wheat rolls, fresh green salad with dressing; followed by peach pie with vanilla bean ice cream. It's all served family style with the food arriving in big bowls and platters and passed around from guest to guest where everyone talks and gets to know one another.

After dinner we sloshed away from the table and sat
to enjoy a passing thunderstorm. It was fun to hear the thunder bouncing off the walls of the nearby peaks and coves, echoing round and round the high country. I'd forgotten how much fun it is to listen to a thunderstorm in the mountains. The rain was much needed and we were safe and dry so it was a very pleasant experience.

Relaxing in the Sunrise Room under the great ceiling fans after a hot shower.

Tired, Carole and I fell into a deep sleep by 7:00 pm. Both of us woke up at midnight to the great music of cicadas singing loudly the woods; and we strolled quietly around the lodge, looking up at the sky which had cleared and was packed with stars. Then we got back to sleep around 2:00 am and were awakened by the gentle beating of a leather Indian drum at 6:00 am, letting us know that there was going to be a nice sunrise if we wanted to see it. Carole chose to continue sleeping, but I got up and went to the dining hall where I got a big mug of coffee with lots of cream and sugar and took my camera to the Sunrise Room where I stood on the deck and snapped shots of the rising sun.

Sunrise from the Sunrise Room.

At 8:00 am, breakfast was served in the dining hall. We had crisp bacon, sweet cornbread, grits, fried potatoes with onions, scrambled eggs, juice, and more coffee. After that, we took it easy to let our meal settle, got our stuff packed for the hike back down the mountain, cleared our linens from the room and got it ready for the staff to clean, and sat in the breezeway of the Lodge to think about the long hike back out.

As with the hike to the Lodge, it took us right at four hours. Alone, I could have done it in about one hour fifteen minutes, but Carole is a slow hiker. We took our time with frequent stops along the way. We want to go back, but the next time we go we're going to stay at least two nights. If we'd had a longer stay, I would have hiked to Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. I haven't been there since I
was seventeen years old and I want to see if it's as I recall it.

Georgia is very lucky to have a place like the Len Foot Hike Inn. If you ever get the chance to stay there, I highly recommend it. The staff was very friendly and the service was top-notch. In addition, there's nothing much like a stay in a wilderness lodge, away from the sounds and the stenches of modern life.

Horseshoe Pit below the Sunrise Room.

No comments: