Hikes n' Climbs Blood Mountain (Appalachian Trail, GA)

Blood Mountain (Appalachian Trail, GA) Blood Mountain (Appalachian Trail, GA) Hot

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Blood Mountain (Appalachian Trail, GA)

Hike/Site Details

At the Neel's Gap Shelter on HWY 19, start at the Reece trailhead.
Top Elevation
4458 feet


Geographic Location


"A Reward At The Top"

Sometimes in order to understand certain things, it helps to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes.  That’s why this particular write up I’m going to reference a blog written by my good buddy Michael Wright, whom I joined on this adventure.  Perhaps knowing and understanding others and their journey is a key ingredient to the big lasagna of life.
So, cuddle up for a couple of minutes and join my friend Michael.  Dive into an experience of a man finding himself on a journey, not just up a mountain, but through a life.
-Rudy Vaughn

“A Reward At The Top" by Michael Wright

Tomorrow I will reach a pretty big milestone – one year of sobriety.   When I think back about the events of the past year I can only thank God for saving my life.   Anything else is just background noise.   A year ago tomorrow I went on my last bender and I woke up the next day miraculously in Gwinnett Medical Center on a breathing machine.   Over the next 24 hours my kidneys went into total shutdown.  I spent 17 days in the hospital, 11 of them in intensive care.    I left the hospital and went to rehab for a month and finally came back to Georgia on October 30th.
These are the events that have split time in my life.   These are the defining line between before and after.   Forty-two years before.  One year after.
In that year I have experienced the full range of human emotion.  I have lived in a hotel before moving back home.   I have been to hundreds of 12step meetings and dozens of counseling sessions.   I have faced many people to whom I owed amends and I have made them.   I have tried to give God control of my life only to wrestle him for it the next day.   I have watched my oldest son graduate high school and comforted his mother when he left for college.   (Or tried to anyway)   I helped my next son buy his first car.   I have been emotionally present for and with my kids – maybe for the first time.   I have put away my crackberry at night and on weekends.   I’ve sold a business.   I’ve resumed a full time work schedule.
More important than all of this however…I have truly experienced grace.  I have been humbled.  I have been broken.    I have been served and I have served.   God is doing for me countless things I could not do for myself.
I have been full of love and joy and I have been full of fear and anger.   I have taken risks and been hurt and I have given asking nothing in return.    I have learned that God is trustworthy.  I have fixed my hope in him.
I have declared that before I die I will climb Mount Rainier before and I have been honest about what has to happen in order for that to be true.   I have begun a journey to lose 127 pounds and I’ve lost the first 29 of them.   I’ve adopted a lifestyle of action.
Over the past two weekends I have heard God’s voice very clearly while pushing myself outdoors.
The first occurred on the banks of the Chattahoochee with by good buddy Brian a little over a week ago.   Brian and I have made a covenant to paddle the upper 48 miles of the river starting at the Buford Dam.
…For most people, this would have been enough but I believe what came next was directly from God to me to be certain that I did not miss the point.   Fast forward to this past Friday.  A random message come to me through Facebook from my old friend Dustin saying that he would love to get out on the water or in the woods sometime.   I shot him a message saying how about Saturday.   Saturday came and we were off.   On my way to meet up, Dustin called and asked if our mutual friend Rudy could come along.   So now here the three of us sit in a local restaurant with three trail books on the table when Dustin says, “I know a place we can go.  It’s got a couple of challenges but there’s a huge payoff.   It’s called Blood Mountain.”

Now right here I have to say that this in itself goes against everything in me.   As it relates to outdoor stuff I am usually Mr. Preparation.   I always know where I’m going before I get there and never go out without safety gear and a map.   But on this day Dustin was the leader of the expedition and the trail we were taking on was not in any of the guidebooks I own.   (This may have been a clue to the intensity of what lay ahead and indeed the Appalachian Trail from Neel’s Gap to the summit of Blood Mountain and back down does not belong in a book entitled “Easy Metro Atlanta Day Hikes.”)

Now the fact that Dustin had done this hike before brought me no comfort since he and I would not wrestle in the same weight class.  We are presently separated by at least 120 pounds.   The fact that Dustin did not know our beginning elevation, the trail distance or our ending elevation only added to the mental torture induced by countless switchbacks, of rough hewn stone treads and root complexes.   At the end of the Reese approach trail we intersected the AT at a place called flat rock gap.  I sat on the flat rock and rung out at least sixteen ounces of water from my socks.

You see the moment we stepped on the trail an hour earlier a deluge swept the mountain.   We were headed up as dozens of hikers scurried back down.   Like before Mr. Preparation’s cousin, Mr. Safety is usually along for the trip but on this day for reasons otherwise unknown at the time, I pressed up this trail despite the cold, rain, lightning, fog, and unknown destination and route.   I rested frequently.    Sitting at Flat Rock Gap, I made the mistake of asking Dustin, “Honestly as a percentage how far have we come.”   Dustin replied, “Ten Percent.”   My heart sank and I prepared myself to utter the words, “Y’all go on ahead.  I will stay here and catch you on the way back down.”   Then he said, “I don’t know really, I’m not good at distances.”  I clung to that shred of hope, popped some dried cranberries in my mouth, drank some water and headed upward.”

Another hour passed and at our first vista, we encountered a very old hiker coming down from the summit.   When asked how much farther all he could say is, “You got a pretty good ways to go still.   But if it makes you feel any better it’s all uphill.”  Again I was ready to make myself comfortable and park myself until the younger, stronger, thinner boys could make the summit and come back down. Rudy and Dustin both encouraged me though and I never uttered those words.   Despite the pain coursing through my body I was having fun.  In fact there was adrenaline flowing through my very soul.  I began to believe I could make it to the top of this mountain – however high it was.

We set out again and an hour later we ran across some guys setting up camp.   They were dry and we were soaked.   We chatted briefly and then one of them said, “Well at least you made it.”    Leaving the clearing behind and entering a rhododendron thicket, another hundred feet and we arrived at the summit, marked well by a stone lodge built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps.   Up to the top of Picnic Rock and then there we were nearly at the top of Georgia with only five peaks higher than this one none of them more than 500 feet more.   We talked with several other hikers including a man and woman who were over 1100 miles deep into a thru-hike of their own.   They had started in Virginia and gone all the way to Kathadin in Maine.  After a three-week hiatus they had returned to the trail this time from the Southern terminus at Springer Mountain making their way back before November they hoped to their original starting point.

After having a group from Sweden take out picture and watching Rudy try to help them memorize his email address (“Did you ever see the football movie Rudy?”) and with a great sense of accomplishment we headed down.  This time instead of me bringing up the rear my friends insisted that I break trail all the way down.  We stopped but once for a rest back at Flat Rock Gap.  What had been a three-hour trip to the top became an hour and a half descent.   And then there we were back at Neels Gap in the parking lot, putting on dry shirts and turning on the heated seats in the big black BMW, slipping back down the mountain quietly in the cover of night.

When I got home I got on the Internet and discovered that we had made our way to the tallest peak on the AT in Georgia.   We had gained 1800 feet of altitude in a little less than two and a half miles.
Again I heard the voice of God speak to me.   Somewhere high on the mountain Rudy spoke of the rain that enveloped us just as we headed up.  He said that often he had been faced with a challenge right before something big and rewarding and that usually the “logical” choice would have led to comfort.   Yesterday we chose to face the challenge of rain and cold.  Yesterday I chose to fight for a summit whose path was undefined and whose reward was unknown.  I knew of nothing more than what I could see in front of me – which typically was very little given the nearly vertical grade.   All I had to go on was the encouragement of two equally cold and wet companions and the word of one who had climbed the mountain before telling me that there was a reward at the top that would justify the effort.
I stood atop Blood Mountain yesterday with the sun on my face.   On the eve of my one-year sobriety birthday I heard God say, “There is a reward at the top.”
Michael Wright                                 

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Blood Mountain (Appalachian Trail, GA)
Blood Mountain (Appalachian Trail, GA)
Blood Mountain (Appalachian Trail, GA)


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Editor reviews

Blood Mountain (Appalachian Trail, GA) 2011-11-16 16:03:27 Rudy Vaughn
Overall rating 
Trail Conditions 
Camp Sites 
Water Availability 
Big Nuts Tilt 
Reviewed by Rudy Vaughn    November 16, 2011
Last updated: February 18, 2012
Top 10 Reviewer  -   View all my reviews

Blood Mountain

Great climb on one of the highest mountains in GA


Good Points
Easy to find and access, good view from the top
Bad Points
Trail is a bit arduous at times.
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