A day off work, a highpoint in a neighboring state unattained… it all points to taking off and doing it! After getting off around noon on Tuesday, I gathered all of my camping gear into my mountain duffel and threw it in the back of my Saab. Off down the highway toward Atlanta from Montgomery to beat the rush hour traffic around the beltway. I was mostly successful and was soon headed north from Atlanta on Highway 19 toward the Georgia high country. The highway narrowed from a controlled 4 lane to an uncontrolled 4 lane then in Dahlonega it became a twisting mountain 2 lane road as it gained elevation.
I had been keeping pace with the cold front that came through the SE and had driven through rain, light hail and sunshine. As I entered the mountains, it became windy and partly cloudy. I judged that the rain would soon cease as the cold front swept through later in the evening.
The highpoint is on National Forest Service Land near the NC state line. My plan was to camp out the first night and do the highpoint on Wed morning, then drive back through Atlanta and back to the house. I knew there were some state parks near the highpoint and I thought that I would just stay the night at one of them in their campgrounds. As I drove up through the mountains I crossed the Appalachian Trail and a store/visitors center at Neel gap (el 3125’)… looked like a good place to visit on the way back.
I stopped at Vogel State Park, just shy of the turnoff to RT 180 to the highpoint. The park is Georgia’s 2nd oldest state park and features a mountain stream, a lake, a nice wooded campground and numerous hiking trails. I checked in, selected a back country campsite for my tent and quickly set everything up — just in case it started to rain again. The campsite cost $10 for the night. After cooking some dinner, I went over and spoke with some neighboring campers who were involved in a thru hike of the Appalachian Trail. They were drying out and pretty demoralized from 3 constant days of rain with more forecast for today and Saturday.
After comparing notes on their progress, I took off for a walk around the park making a loop around the lake. The dogwoods were just starting to bloom at 3,000’ and leaves were just starting to break out. At the far end of the lake, I enjoyed a man-made spillway that released water over a 40’ natural cliff forming a rather nice waterfall. I had on long pants and a fleece jackets as the temps had dropped into the 40’s with a stiff wind still blowing.
At about 9:00pm, I crawled into my sleeping bag to read until I drifted off. I next awoke at 2:00am and enjoyed the millions of stars you can see without the light pollution from a city. The next morning dawned sunny and cool as predicted and I quickly broke camp. I felt blessed the dew had been light that night with the wind and nothing was wet as I packed it away.
I took some pictures of the mist rising from the lake before I headed down the road to the highpoint. After about 10 miles of driving up a winding country highway, I reached the Rt. 180 spur with a huge NFS entry sign for Brasstown Bald. From there it was 3 miles to a HUGE parking lot that gives me the idea this is not the place to visit during a weekend in the summer!
The gates were open and there was not a car in sight… of course it was Wed morning at 8:00am! I found an empty space among the open 1000 slots and grabbed my camera and headed up the 1/2 mile trail to the “summit”. It was a very pleasant early morning walk to the top with the birds chirping, the sun etching its line up the ridge line and the flowers just starting to bud. In a few minutes I reached the observation station which is quite an elaborate affair complete with a visitor’s center, tower, and observation deck.
There was of course no one there so I explored around and took some nice photos toward NC. The wind was blowing and the temps were about 38 degrees in the sun. After about 40 minutes of enjoying the solitude of Georgia’s highest point I started down the trail and back to my car for the long ride home. I did stop at the Walasi-Yi Hiking Center at Neel Gap where the Appalachian Trail goes through a building. I enjoyed reading the postcards from thru hikers who had written back to the owners. It is a real nice store with outdoor gifts, equipment, and supplies as well as a hostel for hikers.
After a lengthy stop at the REI store to blow my annual dividend :-), I arrived back in Montgomery at about 2:00pm.
It is amazing that just a short time away to the “mountains” can infuse a better lookout on life and work. I now need to head up to the Mississippi highpoint next week to complete the SE region before I move in June. Although not as dramatic as western highpoints, I must say I have enjoyed visiting parts of the SE that I may not have had the opportunity to see had the highpoint not drawn me there.