Monday, September 10, 2012

Keown Falls and Johns Mountain

Sunday was a gorgeous day.  Highs in the 70s, low humidity.... a *perfect* day to get out for a hike!  So we packed up the car with our hiking boots and poles, and a backpack stuffed full of all the important things you might need on a trail.  Peanut butter sandwiches.  Water.  Chap stick.  Hand sanitizer.  Compass.  Pocket knife.  And the camera!

We headed north up I-75, and went to the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest (about a hour's drive north).  It's near Resaca, or Armuchee, or Calhoun, or Dalton... depending on which direction you want to drive.  This is from the top of the mountain looking back towards the east (towards Dalton, I think).

Keown Falls is actually near the top of Johns Mountain, so there's a 700 foot elevation change from the trailhead to the observing point.  Not nearly as bad as our last steep hike (these trailblazers at least appreciate the notion of switchbacks) but it was strenuous nonetheless.  And there was a section of stone steps going straight up... Indeed, if it had not been a bright, cheerful, sunny day, images of Cirith Ungol would have easily spring to mind.  The steps were twisting and uneven, slippery with loose stone and alternating from bring in bright sun to the deep shade of enormous boulders.  Fortunately (again, three cheers for the trailblazers) a rough but steady rail has been added to the side nearest the dropoff.  In fact, the National Forest Service added signage to some of the more treacherous areas: "Danger - Do not pass beyond this sign.  A fall from this area could be fatal."  And they weren't joking!

Had the rails not been there, it would have been a terrifying climb, and even more horrifying on the descent, with tired, rubbery legs!

Also near the top it was obvious a fire had raged sometime in the not too distant past.  Perhaps five years ago?  It wiped out a swath of trees, and left barren crags like this near the crown.  Beautiful, but also desolate.  Does that make sense?  Yes, it was lush and green with all sorts of wildlife, but there was this deep sense of loss because of the fire, and the mountain was struggling to regain its canopy.  It allowed us some beautiful vistas that would have been tree-filled several years ago.  Maybe that recalls another Tolkien reference - Treebeard's lament.

The path up the side was windswept indeed, because of the fire.

Once we got to the top, we took the 3.5 mile trail that essentially looped the mountain.  On the far side, facing west, we snapped this:

This is looking southwest towards Rome.  Living close to Atlanta we forget that the north part of Georgia is beautifully mountainous!   The loop trail was deeply shaded and often overgrown.  It stood in stark contrast to the area around the falls, with its scraggly pines and exposed boulders.

It was a most excellent day!

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