Though I gush about every group that I lead a trip for, I want to particularly praise this YouthPride group that I spent the weekend with near Tray Mountain:
The participants ranged from 14 – 23 years old, with two older adults participating as well. Everyone was positive, upbeat, and game for adventures. And our adventures were many and varied: driving miles on forest service roads, making fire, day hiking to waterfalls, backpacking, summiting Tray Mountain, etc.
The trip started out with some confusion, however. One participant missed her bus, so our group split up so T.H. could pick her up from her house.
Then, when we arrived in north Georgia, it seemed as though the whole world had descended upon the mountains. Hundreds of motorcycles. Hoards of hikers. Caravans of tour buses. I’ve never seen the likes! Our group stopped at Dukes Creek Falls for a day hike while T.H. and E. caught up with us. I’d never visited Dukes Creek (probably because it’s a mile hike to the falls – too far for a side trip, too short for a day hike)… but it is gorgeous! The rain this year has really made north Georgia a waterfall-lover’s delight.
Once our group reunited, we drove another 2 miles to Raven Cliff Falls trailhead, where we found even MORE people! I ran down the trail a mile or two to check for possible campsites and passed at least 75-100 hikers. Though there were available campsites, but we were discouraged by the lack of privacy, and decided to move on and find a campsite near Tray Mountain. As the sun dipped low in the sky, we had completed a tour of Helen-area trailheads, but had only just arrived at our destination. Though this might souns like a wild goose chase, we were enjoying each other’s company, the air was warm, and the drive through the mountains was beautiful.
Finally, we had found a location remote enough for solitude. The participants pitched their tents with little or no help from me and then we had a surprise: B.D. was carrying a bow drill and all the tools to make fire without matches! As some participants gathered firewood, S. (a softball catcher) threw the bear ropes into a tree, E. torn down and rebuilt (smaller) the fire ring, and J. collected & purified water from a gushing spring, I began preparations for dinner. Then, B. demonstrated how to make fire with his bow drill. I’ve gotten quite good at building pyres and starting one-match fires, but this was my first experience with the bow drill – it’s quite impressive. The participants sang the ABCs and by the time they were done, B. had a spark in his nest of tulip tree inner bark. E. blew and fire blazed. Truly impressive.
While some made fire, others chopped onions, garlic, carrots, cheese, and sausage. Then T., E., and I tended the pots until our Backcountry Shepherd’s Pie was ready. We ate our fill and didn’t even have to pack out any leftovers! Yay for Ellen T. (LNT=Leave No Trace)!
Around the campfire, our conversations spanned TV shows to philosophical questions such as “Would you rather live in a world with truth and no beauty or beauty and no truth?” Though our time in the woods did not have a strict program, participants had the space to learn camp skills, connect with each other, and succeed at a new endeavor. On the surface, teaching may not be evident, but learning was constant. Most of all, I love watching (and being a part of) the friendships and trust built within the group.
When we awoke with the sun (7 am), the air was already warmer than it had been the night before. The sun rose as we cooked bagels and spread on cream cheese & Nutella. As we were eating, a lone hiked walked by, decked out in play jewelry. A thru-hiker! “Zipper” (her trail name), was 50 miles from completing a flip-flop thru-hike (she started in Virginia, hiked to Maine, then re-started in Virginia and hiked south). We fed her a bagel and she regaled us with stories of the Appalachian Trail and then departed. It’s always special to share time with a pilgrim.
Our final pilgrimage was to the top of Tray Mountain, where we ate lunch. The sky was deep blue and we could see for miles: Lake Chatuge to the north, Brasstown Bald to the west, Mount Yonah to the south, and Lake Burton to the east. What a fulfilling mountaintop to end our trip on!
As we drove home, I was tired but invigorated by the community spirit and deep conversation of the weekend. I look forward to the next YouthPride camping trip in the spring!
To view more photos of our trip, visit the Sure Foot Adventures Facebook page.