Fort Mountain, aka the time I hiked 9 miles

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A couple weekends ago, I hiked 9 miles. Which is a lot, for me. I’m pretty sure that is the farthest I have ever hiked. Needless to say, my legs were very sore the next day.

Whenever I go off adventuring on my own, my mother tends to ask “You went by yourself?” in this tone of voice that implies, “I rather wish you wouldn’t do that, but I suppose I can’t really do anything about it since you are a grown woman afterall.” And to that I say yes!

In this regard, I take after my father. He also loves outdoor activities, cycling in particular. He is not picky about who he goes riding with. If he is going to ride and others want to join him, great! The more the merrier. But if no one want to come with, oh well, he will go on his own and not mind one bit. I am the same way. So, when no one wanted/was available to go adventuring with me, I went on my own.

Work things had been somewhat stressful, and  I hadn’t been as  active as I usually am. I knew if I didn’t take the weekend to get out of the city and do something physically demanding, I would regret it come next week. I considered mountain biking with my dad. The weather was supposed to be just beautiful for being outside, but he and my mom were out of town at a wedding. I could have gone on my own, but that would have meant driving to my parents house to get my bike and then driving to the trails. I wasn’t too keen on that idea.

A few days prior, Tyler and I had talked about going hiking somewhere, but when we woke up in the morning, Tyler wasn’t feeling up to a super long strenuous hike like I was. I checked with some friends, but they had other obligations that day and couldn’t go either. It was looking like I was going hiking on my own.

I chose to go to Fort Mountain State Park, because I have never been there before. The features of the park included an old stacked stone wall and a fire tower on top, as well as a couple of nice views.  I looked at the map to figure out which trails I wanted to hike. The firetower and stone wall were part of a system of very short mile trails, which is nice, but I knew I wanted to hike more than a few miles. Fort Mountain State Park also has an 8 mile backpacking loop. But 10 miles sounded like too much to me! I’ve never hiked that far.

At the bottom of the backpacking loop, there are some other shorter trails that I could link together. I decided I would take those to cut off a section of the backpacking trail. That way I could hike the shorter trails up top to see the fire tower and stone wall, but still have a full day of hiking. It sounded like a good plan.

Naturally, things took way longer than expected for me to get out the door and on my way. I had intended on leaving around 10:00 to get to the park around noon. I got out the door just a bit after ten, so that wasn’t too bad. However, when I started the car, my low tire pressure indicator light came on. It does this every year when the temps start to cool. I went to get gas and pump up my tires, but there was a line of about 5 cars waiting for air. I decided not to wait. I went to a nearby Publix to get a sub sandwich for lunch and stopped at another gas station near there. I filled up my tires and was ready to actually drive to the park. I looked at my clock, 11:15. Oh well, I tried.

When I say that I am hiking alone, I really mean that I don’t have another human companion. Come to think of it, I’ve never hiked completely alone. When no other people can come with me, I always bring Gauss along. He keeps me company.

After a long drive, I finally pulled into the parking lot for the Gahuti Trail, Fort Mountain’s  backcountry camping trail. Gauss was super excited as always. Since we got a later start than I had intended, I opted to eat my lunch while I hiked, rather that sitting down for a picnic.

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Immediately from the parking lot, we encountered the Cool Springs overlook. We didn’t linger for very long. Even though I had planned on cutting off the lower portion of the Gahuti Trail, I estimated I was still going to hike around 8 miles in total. I needed to get moving if I wanted to finish before dark.

Guass and I hiked the trail counterclockwise. There was a brief section of uphill at first, and then we started to descend. We went downhill for quite some time. Every now and then, a group of hikers would pass us going the other way. I always stepped off the side of the trail with Gauss. That way they could pass without enteracting with Gauss if they didn’t want to. I love hiking with my dog, but I know not everyone wants to meet my him. There were a few people who wanted to come say hello, and Gauss was happy to get some extra pets. Though he was even happier when I told him we could keep going!

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Eventually, we came to the Big Rock Trail intersection just past a little footbridge. There we turned right to continue on the combined Gahuti and Big Rock Trails.

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True to its name, this section of the trail was very rocky as we followed alongside a small creek.

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When the path turned away from the creek, the two trails parted. Rather than continuing on the Gahuti Trail, we followed Big Rock Trail to its trailhead. There, we crossed the paved road to find the Lake Trail.

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The Lake Trail runs along the perimeter of Fort Mountain’s lake. Thus, it is very flat. At first, the trail was gravel with wooden beams placed to keep the gravel from spreading out and falling into the lake. After a little bit it transitioned to a regular dirt trail, although it remained very flat and wide.

I knew that the next trail I wanted to turn onto was the Creek Connector Trail: off to the right with red blazes. What I didn’t realize was that there were two trails coming off the right of the Lake Trail that are marked with red blazes. I wanted to second one, not the first one.

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Well, I came to an intersection with a red blazed trail off to the right. I said, “Ah this must be it,” and started climbing up the hill. It was a very steep hill. I got to the top and realized that the trail petered out. I looked around and saw some log cabins. Oh no! I had taken the wrong trail! Thankfully, it was short, so I didn’t have to backtrack very much. Still, that hill was no fun to climb or descend.

I got back on the blue blazed Lake Trail and continued on, looking for another intersection. This time the intersection was very obvious, but again there was just the red blazes to know which trail was which! I was surprised that neither the Creek Connector Trail, nor the Upper Cabin Access Trail had signs, as there were signs through out the park for other intersections that were less confusing.

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The Creek Connector Trail was also fairly flat and wide. It deposited us at the Goldmine Creek Trail. Supposedly, some of the old mining pits are still visible from the trail, but I did not see any of them. I guess I just didn’t know where to look. The Goldmine Trail started off pretty flat and wide, then it took a turn and headed downhill. The trail got very narrow and we crossed the creek a few times. There was one point where some fallen brush made it difficult to track the trail. So beware! But really, the trails here have so many blazes that it is almost impossible to accidentally walk off and not notice.

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After crossing the creek, we hiked uphill on the Goldmine Trail until it crossed paths with the Gahuti Trail. There we switched to the Gahuti Trail to follow it back up to the car.

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This portion of the Gahuti trail was flat and wide, like an old roadbed. We passed by an overlook with a bench. We stopped to take a picture, but then pressed on. Past this point, the trail sloped down to the main paved road of the park.

There we crossed the road and climbed, but only for a little while. Then we started to descend even further. At this point I was kind of worried because I felt like I had done a lot of downhill hiking all day, but not very much uphill. Was I in for a super steep climb to the car?

Nope. I’m not sure how, but I hardly noticed any climbing. Right at the end there was a couple of easy grade switch backs, but other than that, I really didn’t feel as though I was climbing. In fact, I continued to feel as though I was walking downhill. My internal altimeter must be off. Since I started and ended at the car, I must have climbed and descened the same amount, but it certainly didn’t feel like it. Even so, my legs were trashed by the time I circled back around the car.

But wait! There’s more! At this point, I checked my phone and saw that I had walked about 7.5 miles. The Gahuti trail is just over 8 miles. It turns out that by taking all of those shorter trails to cut off the bottom of the Gahuti Trail, I hardly cut out any trail miles! Oh well, now I know. And so do you.

I said there was more and there is, albeit just a short bit. Although I was tired, I still had not seen the stone wall or the fire tower! I figured, I drove all the way up here, I wanted to see the things I came here to see. Gauss and I climbed back into the car to drive to another parking lot just a little farther north.

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I struggled to get out of the car. My legs felt like lead, but I had more hiking to do! Even though it was fairly late, there were still plenty of car in the parking lot and people on the trails. First, I hiked up to the stone wall. The wall itself is odd because nobody really knows its origins or purpose. One theory is that the wall was made by the people preceeding the Cherokee Native Americans. The stone wall is low, made simply of local stones piled on top of each other. The wall winds along for 885 feet, just below the summit.

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After viewing the stone wall, Gauss and I continued up the mountain to the summit, where the recently renovated firetower stands. I was disappointed to learn that you are only allowed to the top during certain times, and that the window for today had passed at 4:00 that afternoon. Unfortunately, from the ground, there was not a pretty view. There were too many bushes and trees in the way.

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Next, we followed a trail to the right, which took us to a place that did have a pretty view: the West Overlook. It was very crowded here, so I snapped a picture from one of the “inferior” site and moved on. There is a small network of trails in this area, so Gauss and I followed a different trail back to the stone wall. Then, we retraced oursteps to the car.

All together, I hiked 9 miles at Fort Mountain. I had fun, the weather was beautiful, and it was just what I needed.

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