In September my dad, cousin and I are going to Yosemite to spend 3 beautiful days backpacking the John Muir Trail. This is a very exciting prospect.
Until then, however, my father and I are planning gradually more difficult backpacking trips every month to prepare ourselves (on top of regular every-day workouts). I’m a bit overweight, so my goal is to lose ~20ish lbs by September in addition to gaining muscle and generally being in better shape than I am now. I can do it, I just have to stick with it (go me!).
Last month we went on our first shakedown, the Coosa Backcountry Trail.
The Coosa trail is a 12.7 mile loop in northern Georgia rated as “medium” difficulty by all the reviews I’ve read. Still, it has some significant inclines that taxed the both of us pretty heavily – and the heat definitely didn’t help. Since it’s a loop you can walk it either clockwise or counter-clockwise, but I feel like clockwise is a bit of insanity; it’s significantly more uphill.
The trail itself is in Vogel State Park, which provides a 1 mile trail to get to the actual loop (technically the loop is 11.7 miles…the extra mile is just necessary to get there). If you start at Vogel like we did there’s a nominal fee for parking and a permit. I’d recommend always going to a park office and paying the small fees; that way you get up-to-date information on the trail (whether or not the bears are active, for example, as they were when we left) as well as a last gear check (they made sure we had water, purification tablets, first aid). Always helpful, plus you get the chance to support a state park.
We started out of Vogel at about 10:30AM, which is traditionally a pretty late start for us. From there the first mile of the hike is actually getting you to the Coosa trail; you’re technically not on it until you reach the beginning of the loop. Once you start the loop itself there’s a steady but moderate incline until you reach SR 180 (a nice little warmup), and there you cross the road and begin an extremely enjoyable descent into a gap/valley. Take time to enjoy the scenery and breeze; when you start going up, it’ll be awhile until you get to relax again.
Once you pass over state road 129 the inclines begin. It’s moderate at first, balancing areas of steep incline with flat or downward inclines. After a mile or so this ends and you begin a pretty consistent upward climb. On the march to Coosa Bald you’ll pass through Calf Stomp Gap, which is your last opportunity for water until you return to the east side of the loop. You’ll walk parallel to the water for maybe around half a mile to a mile, but don’t fret – eventually you’ll end up right next to it in order to refill your supply. My father and I weren’t sure about this since it wasn’t clearly marked on the map or the trail, so we ended up traipsing down the steep hillside to refill our supplies. Imagine our chagrin after 10 or 15 minutes when the water ended up right next to us. It was a /facepalm moment, for sure.
This climb up Coosa Bald is where we had to stop several times. If you take a look at the elevation profile section of the map above, you can see that you rise something like 1800 feet in 3 miles; it was tough. Additionally the hike to Coosa Bald is chock-full of what I jokingly call “teaser” or “fake-out” peaks; multiple times when you think you’re rounding the mountain to reach the top, it turns out there’s just a liiiitle more to go. *shakes fist*
When you reach the trail’s peak of Coosa Bald (not to be confused with the actual peak; the trail doesn’t actually go to the top of the bald, though there is one if you want to take it) the trail intersects with the Duncan Ridge trail. Take a breather here to enjoy a nice view. There’s also plenty of spots to pitch a tent if you decide to stay there for the night.
Next you follow the Duncan Ridge/Coosa combined trail down Wildcat Gap, then bounce back up onto Wildcat Knob. Coming down from there you drop down into Wolfpen Gap, the bottom of which where we stopped for the night. About 100 yards or so from SR 180 and the bottom of Wolfpen there was a good, if slightly tilted, camp site. There was plenty of space to pitch tents, a fire pit if you were interested in making a fire (we did not), enough privacy for bathroom stops and plenty of trees in which to sling a bear bag.
Starting the next morning at around 8AM we crossed SR 180 and headed up towards Slaughter Mountain. We spied a few spots on the trail up Slaughter Mountain, so if you wanted to push past Wolfpen Gap and camp a mile or two later, it’s possible. Just as with Coosa Bald you aren’t explicitly taken up to the top of the Mountain, but unlike Coosa I’m not sure that there’s a path that will take you there if you desire. The walk up was actually very pleasant in the morning; it was steep, but significantly less teasing (and significantly cooler) than the walk to Coosa Bald.
The final dip back down into Slaughter Gap and down the rest of the trail is relatively easy going, though it is pretty non-stop. After all that uphill, make sure your legs and feet are prepared for all the down!
This trail was a challenge for the both of us, but doing it in the fall or winter would probably make it easier; the heat, humidity, and frequent lack of breeze got to the both of us pretty quickly. Even so, it was an interesting trail, and while it never actually goes to the peak of any mountains it rolls over (which personally I find a bit annoying), there’s plenty of opportunity extend your hike by going to the tops of Coosa Bald, Slaughter Mountain, and Blood Mountain alike.
It wasn’t exactly my cup of tea (I prefer hikes with distinct peaks and a few more vistas along the way – Coosa’s vistas are typically obscured by masses of trees) but in retrospect I could probably be convinced to do it again when I’m in better shape and/or it’s not as stinking hot outside. Extending the hike to the peaks we passed by would probably make it more exciting too.