Sunday, December 10, 2017

Blood Mountain Loop, Georgia, December 6, 2017

Blood Mountain (4,459') via Byron Reece, Appalachian (AT) and Freeman Trails 12/6/2017

Mileage:  6.4 miles (lollipop loop)

Elevation gain: 1,600'

Trailhead: This hike begins at the Byron Reece Trail at Neels Gap.  From Ellijay, Georgia take GA-5N/GA-515 E for about 20 miles, and go right to continue on US-76 E for another 20 miles.  Turn right onto Earnest Street and then left on to Blue Ridge Street. At the traffic circle take 1st exit to Cleveland Street and travel for 12 miles.  Trailhead parking is on the right. Note: In season, the lot fills up quickly; you cannot park in undesignated areas.

At 4,459', Blood Mountain is the highest point on the Georgia portion of the Appalachian Trail and the sixth highest peak in the state.  This extremely popular day hike has fine views and a stone shelter to explore.  If the trailhead parking lot is full, parking in non-designated areas is not allowed.  You can modify your route however, as there are six other access points (see photo below).

Hiked with Rich today.  When planning our trip to northern Georgia our Florida hiking friends insisted Blood Mountain was a "no miss" so we included it in our plans, though the trailhead is a one hour drive from where we were staying.  

Byron Herbert Reece memorial plaque.

It was a chilly, very windy and cloudy 34° on a weekday and we figured it'd be just us out there but there were several cars already parked when we arrived.  We were prepared for the cold this time and the bite was not so harsh as we endured at the start of our Springer Mountain hike two days before (see previous report).


Limited parking here.

The forest service is strict about overflow parking; they don't allow it but there are other options, all longer hikes with more elevation gain. 



Other options to access Blood Mountain Wilderness.


The first part of the trail is under a canopy of rhododendrons.  The trail was wet from heavy rain the day before.



Switchbacks allow for an easy gain in elevation.  The path has switchbacks, slabs, and a modest cut that runs along the easterly side of the mountain. 


Switchbacks.

We weren't sure what we'd find in the way of trail conditions given the temps so we brought our Microspikes.   Fortunately the steady wind dried the upper portions of the trail (though we did see iced trees on peaks in the distance).


Steps are popular on this trail.

The lower area resembles a bowl with gentle up slopes opposite the mountain.


The wooded slopes opposite the trail.

In no time we were at the junction of the Reece, AT and Freeman trails.  We went right, stepping on to the AT heading south.


Trail junction. We would come up behind this sign on our return.

The wind was fierce and in the distance we could see the mist rising from neighboring peaks.  


Rocky trail cut into the mountainside.

As the trail rounded a corner the mountain blocked the wind providing relief from the cold and the roar.



The trail swings away from the summit (checked our GPS) and we're certain this portion of the trail is a reroute.  Eventually the path turns right and heads up, back toward your goal.


A few boulders.....

We reached the slabs. Here the blazes are on the rock and snow cover could make for some guesswork as to where to go.  If unsure, pick the most likely opening in the laurel and head there.



Slabs are easy to walk on when dry!

The southerly mountain scene from the top of the slabs is lovely, our first unobstructed view today!


Bare, wicked trees in the foreground, deep blues beyond.


After a bit of meander, (and wondering, "Are we there yet?") we reached the summit.  No sign, just a USGS summit marker.  It's a quiet summit today, breezy here but lonely; there is a bit of a view.  We took a few photos and continued to the stone shelter.



The shelter is quite the structure, with an interesting history.  It was built in 1937 for hikers by the CCC and went through a recent refurbishing (see related article).  It's a two room structure that used to have a usable fireplace.  We had lunch there.






Back room.

Fireplace and register.

A remarkable viewpoint just right of the shelter caught our attention.



Northerly mountains - still misty.

After lunch we continued our hike.  From here the trail drops down quickly, with one sharp left just below the trail (watch for it, especially in winter).

That tight left turn.

Several trails meet the AT: Duncan Ridge (at 2.6 miles), Slaughter Creek (at 3.05 miles), and finally the Freeman trail (at 3.5 miles). We met a group coming up the Duncan Ridge trail (they'd parked at Vogel State Park).  






By the time we reached the Freeman trail the wind was ferocious. Someone had set up camp near the trail junction, the tent fly taking abuse from the gusts.



The dark clouds, screaming wind and trees swaying frantically were spooky. It's like winter in the White Mountains when the fierce, all-consuming wind would howl and roar, reminding us that we were allowed there by the good graces of the mountains, hoping nature doesn't decide to change things up and put us in peril.

We turned left onto the Freeman trail.

The Freeman trail is narrow and leafy.

And rocky.

The blue blazed trail swings widely to the south before returning to the AT junction. It's a combination of open woods (late fall) and leafy grassy groves with some small boulders to get down.  A few ups added to our total elevation gain.   

As we made our way, temps started dropping and the dark gray clouds were becoming a bummer.  There'd be no sun today!  

Eventually we returned to the junction of the AT. We went straight across to the Byron Reece trail.


Apparently a misspell.

Getting back to the car was quick. We jumped in and warmed up.

There were about a dozen people on the trail today. (At the parking lot two women were headed toward their car after a week of backpacking. They decided to cut their trip short when the temps dropped.)