Dahlonega may be considered “The South”, but because of our location in the mountains, Mother Nature’s wrath can hit hard. Over the past couple of days the North Georgia Mountains have been experiencing bitter cold, fierce winds and an icy mix of freezing rain, sleet and snow. With the last “arctic blast”, which moved into the area on Sunday/Monday, we got about .5+ inch of ice accumulation. Among other problems, this caused collapsed power lines and countless fallen trees; leaving thousands without electricity, heat, and water (including us, here at the Hiker Hostel, for over 24 hours).
At the height of the storm on Monday night, we stood bundled up on the front porch to witness the beautiful chaos taking place in the woods surrounding our usually quiet and peaceful Bed and Breakfast. The wind swirled and howled around us, testing the strength of even the hardiest of trees, as the entire forest swayed violently back and forth. Hard-driven pellets of ice fell with a steady, “SHHHHHHHHH”, which sounded like marbles rolling down a metal slide. Ice quickly blanketed every conceivable surface and every few minutes the “explosions” could be heard. What sounded like gunfire resonating through the darkness, was actually full grown trees, surrendering under the weight of the heavy ice. With a deafening “POP”, they were snapping right in half. They shook the ground beneath us as their massive trunks and branches crashed to the forest floor.
The next morning revealed a true winter wonderland. When the sun briefly shone down through the trees, it appeared that the entire world around us was shrouded in a thick, yet delicate layer of shimmering glass. But with all this beauty, came all the dangers and inconveniences associated with an ice storm. Road and power crews were out before sunrise, trying to repair the damage. Chainsaws could be heard in unison, beginning around 5AM, as many roads were impassable under so many fallen trees. Even now, two days later, it is risky to walk around outside. Not only is the ground slick and treacherous, but with every gust of wind comes a shower of frozen bombs blowing down from the trees! More “arctic explosions” can be heard throughout the day, as sheets of heavy ice continue to slide down off the tin roof of the hostel and slam onto the deck, 3 stories below!
With more winter weather on the way this weekend, as well as plummeting temperatures, we’re bracing to see what comes next. If you’re planning on spending any time in the outdoors this winter, and especially over the next several days (especially to our fellow Appalachian Trail hikers!), keep a few things in mind:
1: Temperatures can get dangerously low. For example, on Thursday it is predicted to be -10F during the day. Starting a thru hike this time of year with simply a bivy sack or a 30F sleeping bag is taking an unnecessary risk. Invest in weather-appropriate gear!! It could save your life.
2: Certain roads remain impassable and can stay that way indefinitely. If you insist on beginning your hike during inclement weather, you may not be able to be rescued when you’ve had enough of the cold. The same weather that causes people to want to get off the trail is the same weather that sometimes prevents us from getting to the trail heads in a vehicle.
3: Even if you are able to get out to the trail be prepared for endless blow-downs, which will make travel slower and especially arduous. Plan accordingly for lower mileage and be willing to be patient!
4: Beware of falling objects! Even small chunks of ice and branches can cause serious injury when they’re falling from high above your head. Keep this in mind as you’re hiking and if/when you’re setting up a tent at night. Shelters can offer additional coverage, but they are not indestructible.
Have fun out there, but remember: while wintertime in the Appalachian Mountains can be picturesque and charming, it’s NOT the time to underestimate the power of Mother Nature!