Fantastic Fort Mountain
In keeping with my 2019 plan to hike longer and more challenging routes, I decided to plan a Girls Who Hike group event at Fort Mountain State Park. There are several trails at Fort Mountain, but I had my heart set on the Gahuti Backcountry Trail. I’d never hiked it before though, so I first had to go scout it out and see what we were in for. When we plan official events for Girls Who Hike, we always visit the trail ourselves first to be sure we know exactly where we’re going and what to expect. Unfortunately, due to my own schedule, the only day I had free happened to be extremely cold and windy. This was back in March when the weather in Georgia is usually horribly unpredictable and often unseasonably cold.
Driving up Highway 52 from Ellijay, there was zero visibility on the road and also zero visibility once I got to the trailhead. It was all I could do to not turn around and get back in the car- but I had just driven an hour and 40 minutes and had to scout out this hike. It was also A LOT colder at Fort Mountain that it had been at my house. Fortunately, I still had some extra layers in my car from a hike the day before so I bundled up and started out down the trail. I had no idea what the scenery even looked like because everything was so foggy! My hands were so cold, I didn’t even take my camera out to take pictures (what you see here is from the group hike, on a much nicer day)!
As I went down the trail, all I could think about was how much I wanted a grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup. This stayed in my mind consistently throughout the entire hike. I was moving quickly but that wasn’t even enough to really keep me warm. To make matters worse, about halfway through the hike, the wind really picked up. I reached a section that was relatively exposed and felt like I was going to get blown off the mountain. I reached one of the highlights of the trail, the beautiful Goldmine Creek Falls, but the last thing on my mind was being anywhere near freezing cold water. After hiking for what felt like forever, I finally reached the end point observation deck and amazingly the clouds began to clear. My misery from the cold temperatures wasn’t an overstatement, as I could see snow on the mountains across the valley! By then, I couldn’t feel my face so I hopped in the car, blasted the heat, and stopped at the store for some vegan grilled cheese supplies.
After my first hike at Fort Mountain, I was a little scared to actually bring a group here. What if the weather was terrible again? What if it was too hard? I felt I had underestimated the difficulty and only made it through unscathed because my adrenaline was running. My GPS tracker showed 2000+ feet of elevation change, which is pretty strenuous by Georgia hiking standards. Moreover, I was leading this hike without another ambassador along for support. I was really worried we were going to bite off more than we could chew. But, I am a woman of my word so there was no way I was going to modify or cancel the event.
Fortunately, our group hike turned out to be MUCH better than my initial visit. The weather was perfect, everyone showed up, and we had great camaraderie on the trail. There were a few ladies I had never met before but they jumped right in and were up for adventure. Everyone agreed it was a challenging hike, but we made it through together and I was extremely proud of everyone’s effort. Since the weather was so pretty, we could actually see all the great features of the trail- beautiful overlooks, wildflowers, lots of interesting rocks, and the waterfall, which ended up being a great place to stop for lunch.
This group was up for adventure, so after we finished the Gahuti Backcountry Trail we then hiked a short distance to the historic fire tower, the mysterious stone wall, and another overlook. The fire tower was absolutely gorgeous. I’ve never seen anything like it. Suffice to say, I could definitely live in it and be a fire watcher. The stone wall was also really neat and we learned a little history about the area as well. I had skipped all these areas of the park during my initial visit because I was so cold and miserable, but I am glad we decided to visit them. Fort Mountain State Park ended up being one of the most interesting places I’ve been in a while.
So this is all a great example of how one trail can be completely different depending on various factors and why I always like to visit the same place twice (or more). The weather, the season, but moreover the people you are with, can make a huge difference. I’m glad I pushed myself through my first miserable hike at Fort Mountain so I could then have a much more fun experience with a great group of ladies!