Enota Mountain Retreat is a non-profit conservation facility outside of Helen, Georgia offering multiple cabins, RV sites for all size RV/campers, and tent camping sites. The facility has a lodge store, large bath house, trout fishing, 2 large waterfalls, organic garden, farm animals, a playground with in-ground trampolines, and a large conference facility. For RVs, the sites offer full hook-up (water, electric, & sewer). All of the tent/RV sites have picnic tables and fire rings. Many of the sites are located directly on one of the streams. This beautiful 60 acre property is settled in a valley minutes away from Brasstown Bald, Georgia’s highest peak. There are multiple hiking opportunities on the property, and countless more only a short drive away. In fact, there is a 2.3 mile spur trail (Jacks Creek Trail) that connects the property to the famous Appalachian Trail at Red Clay Gap. Nearby towns include Helen & Hiawassee, Georgia.
The HIKE: JACKS CREEK to AT (In & OUT)
Backpacking Training Hike - Oct. 23, 2019
Total Distance: 7.2 miles
Hiking is one of our favorite activities when camping, and we usually do several hikes on a trip. This trip we wanted to have a little extra time to relax, but still hoped to get in one hike to be able to test out our backpacking equipment and train while wearing our packs. The plan was to start at Enota Mountain Retreat, take the Jack’s Creek trail on the Enota property to intercept the Appalachian Trail. Then follow the Appalachian Trail to the Blue Mountain Shelter, stop for lunch, and backtrack the way we came.
Day 1: Arrival / Setup Camp & Packs / Dinner
We arrived at Enota Mountain Retreat around 5:30pm on Tuesday, October 22, 2019. The lodge was closed, but Enota provides site information ahead of time so we went to our site (RV Site #6) and setup the RV. If you arrive after hours, you simply have to grab your packet from the lodge door bulletin board and check in with the lodge the following morning.
Setting up the RV (Thor ACE) is much quicker than the setup process compared to our previous travel trailer thanks to a self leveling system and not having to unhook from the truck. While Chris sets everything up outside (hoses, cords, camping chairs, lights, etc.), I stay inside and unpack clothes, unpack food, put sheets on the bed, etc. Using this tag team approach we are usually set up in around 30 minutes.
Since we arrived a little later than we had originally planned, we decided to make an easy “inside the camper” dinner instead of one of our campfire/grill options. We had spinach & ricotta ravioli with pesto sauce, and garlic bread.
A main goal for this trip was to do a mock backpacking hike. We wanted to fill our packs as though we would be staying at a backcountry campsite overnight, then do the hike carrying those packs. We also wanted to do a mock setup and teardown of the tent. We spent most of our evening going through our packs, taking an inventory of what we thought we were missing or wouldn’t actually need, and loading up the packs for the next day. We also planned out the route we wanted to take on the hike.
After that, we stayed inside our nice warm camper to watch movies before calling it a night.
Day 2: Backpack Test Hike / Mock Tent Assembly
Our original plan for the day was to get up at 7am or 8am, and hit the trail early. We wanted to make it from Enota to Blue Mountain Shelter on the Appalachian Trail and back with time to setup and tear down the tent before dinner at the RV. I was exhausted and decided to sleep in until closer to 10am. I’m sure Chris was a little annoyed, but he rolled with it and we started our day.
Since we wanted to get out onto the trail as quickly as possible, we opted for coffee and a quick breakfast of Kodiak Cakes Cups. They are surprisingly good! All you have to do is add water and microwave. We tried the blueberry muffin cup and the chocolate peanut butter flapjack cup. The muffin cups and the flapjack cups are a different consistency, in line with what you would expect from an actual muffin versus a flapjack. Chris’ only criticism was that the flapjack one could use some syrup, which we did not have in the RV.
After a quick breakfast, it was time to add water and food to our backpacks and head out onto the trail. Chris used his Osprey Exos 58 and I used an Osprey Exos 38 pack. We hiked from around 11am – 4pm, and were able to easily make our goal point of Blue Mountain Shelter despite the later start. (A more detailed description of our hike is below.)
The HIKE: JACKS CREEK - AT (In & OUT)
Backpacking Training Hike - Oct. 23, 2019
Total Time: 4 hours & 2 min
Total Distance: 7.2 miles
PHASE 1: We began our hike at 11:50am from RV Site #6 at Enota Mountain Retreat. We walked by the steps to the beginning of Jacks Creek Trail and made our own path up the side of the mountain next to the lodge and intercepted Jacks Creek Trail a little further down. In hindsight, this neither saved us time or effort, it was simply what we had done the last time we hiked up to the Appalachian Trail from Enota.
Jacks Creek Trail is a spur trail that leads from the campground to the Appalachian Trail, closely following Jacks Creek, hence the name of the trail. The outbound trail to the AT is entirely uphill, and the last part is quite steep. The trail is approximately 2.2 miles in length (one way) and is marked with blue blazes. We reached the junction with the Appalachian Trail at Red Clay Gap at 12:52pm (so about 1 hour from when we started).
PHASE 2: We paused for a moment to catch our breath, and left Red Clay Gap at 11:58pm. We headed eastbound, following the white blazes of the Appalachian Trail, with the goal of making it to Blue Mountain Shelter or hiking for about 2 hours, whichever came first. At 1 hour 27 minutes/ 2.87 miles (1:18pm) we made it to a small sign indicating a campsite/water source. We took a moment to investigate the campsite and left the sign at 1:24pm. The trail then became fairly rocky as we continued towards the shelter. We encountered another sign for a water source at 1 hour 34 min/ 3.17 miles (1:30pm). We encountered one more sign for water at 1 hour 56 min/ 3.8 miles (1:51pm). We were able to make it to Blue Mountain Shelter at 2 hours/ 3.97 miles (1:57pm). We stopped at Blue Mountain Shelter to enjoy a lunch that included bananas, almonds/peanuts, and tuna packets. The entire outbound portion of the AT from Red Clay Gap to Blue Mountain Shelter was slightly uphill, but not steep.
PHASE 3: Our lunch at Blue Mountain Shelter was approximately 30 minutes. For the purpose of his measurements, Chris paused his GPS watch during the lunch. I opted for creating 2 different hikes, and logged the hike in and the hike out separately. Both methods had pretty close to the same result.
We started our hike back, retracing our steps the way we came, at 2:23pm. Since the outbound hike was almost entirely uphill, the return hike would be mostly downhill, and likely to result in a faster time. We made it to the sign indicating a campsite/water at 2:50pm (27 minutes inbound versus 33 minutes outbound). We made it back to Red Clay Gap with a total hike time of 2 hours 46 min/ 5.6 miles (3:09pm).
At that point all we had left was the return along Jacks Creek Trail to Enota. I told Chris he could hike ahead (he is a much faster hiker than me… I blame my short legs). I thought this technique could be useful on the last leg of the day so he could get a jumpstart setting up our shared tent if we were short on daylight. Chris completed the hike in 3 hours 28 min/ 7.21 miles. I completed the hike in 4 hours 3 minutes (3:53pm).
PHASE 4: After returning to the RV we wanted to do a trial run of setting up and repacking our backpacking tent to get an idea of how long each part of the process would take on the trail. We thought this information would be useful when doing backcountry hikes of multiple days and planning when/where to shoot for as a stopping point each evening.
Tent Setup: We ran into a little snag setting up the tent when one of the strings inside the pole had stretched out, and would not hold the pole together at the joint. After fixing that, we were able to setup the tent in 19 minutes. Tent breakdown: We were able to breakdown the tent, and pack the tent, rain fly, and footprint together in the bag in 12 minutes.
THE HIKE IN SUMMARY:
We very much enjoyed our first training hike with our backcountry packs. They were definitely heavier than our usual daypack, but the design of the packs helped out a great deal. Although we didn’t necessarily need them on this trial run, we were able to make a list of things we will need or would simply like to have with us on a hike. We also realized there are things we would like to change about the organization of our packs, to have certain items more readily available in the front pockets instead of buried in the pack (tissues/handkerchief, chapstick, gloves, lighter, etc). We also realized that we averaged about 2 miles per hour on the hike (based upon my slower hiking speed). According to my Garmin Watch, my speed was 1.8 miles per hour to the shelter (mostly uphill) and 2.2 miles per hour on the return hike (mostly downhill). This was actually quicker than we anticipated. We did not think we would be able to make it 7 miles in 4 hours, and we were able to achieve that on this hike. Obviously, that was fresh after a good night of sleep, but it gives us a starting point to where we can plan legs of hikes for backcountry trips without being unrealistic. From what I have read 7-8 miles per day is a good goal and leaves room for the unexpected without risking running out of daylight to setup camp. As we get more experience we will likely be able to increase our planned segment lengths. Setting up the tent before actually needing it also provided us with some useful information, and firsthand experience that will help us have a successful backcountry experience as well. During this entire process I couldn’t help but hear the words of my friend Nicki Bruckmann (founder of Explorer Chick Adventure Co.) echoing through my mind… train how you play! How right she is!
After the hike, we did a mock setup and tear down of our backpacking tent to note the times and any issues we may run into with the tent in the backcountry. We ended up adjusting a couple of the strings in the poles.
Then, we repacked our packs (minus the food and water of course), and settled in to enjoy our evening. It was getting cold so we started a fire and enjoyed some time outside. Then it was time to get cleaned up and prep dinner.
For dinner, we made pizzas to cook on the grill. Our camping grill of choice is the Big Green Egg Mini Max. While its heavier than most small grills out there, we love the way it cooks. For us, the way the food turns out makes it worth bringing, but only when we are camping with the RV.
Normally, Chris makes his own pizza dough ahead of time to bring on the trip. This trip he did not have time to do that, and we did not want to spend the extra time it would take to make our own in the RV. Our second favorite choice is pre-made dough, which you can find at Kroger, Publix, or Whole Foods. If you don’t feel like dealing with dough, an even easier and still tasty option is Caulipower 10in Pizza Crusts . No matter which crust you use, just add your own toppings and throw it on the grill!
Day 3: Resting & Refueling Day
For our last full day camping, we decided to rest and enjoy lots of good food. We slept in until around 9:45am. Then we made coffee and got the fire restarted first thing to try out a new brunch recipe – breakfast potato boats.
We slow cooked 2 baked potatoes in the coals of the campfire. Once they were finished we scooped out the insides, and mixed the inside of the potato in a bowl with eggs, peppers, mushrooms, and cheese. Then we scooped the mixture into the outer part of the potato, and cooked that on the grill for about 15+ minutes. They were quite tasty and I would definitely make them again in the future.
The rest of the morning early evening, we read books, talked about hikes we wanted to do in the future, went for a walk around Enota, and put a puzzle together outside on a card table.
For dinner we slow cooked chili in a dutch oven over the campfire. I couldn’t tell you the recipe because Chris doesn’t measure anything when he makes chili. He picks what he wants to include and throws it all in the pot with lots of spices and seasoning. That isn’t a complaint though, it always turns out delicious!
Day 4: Time to Head Home
Usually our last morning of camping is spent enjoying one last breakfast and coffee before unhooking the RV. But on this trip we got up and packed up the RV fairly quickly because we thought it was going to rain. Luckily, we were able to unhook, drop off the RV at our storage facility (National Indoor RV Center), drive home, AND unload the car, all before the rain started! It was a very enjoyable, relaxing trip. And we can’t wait to get the opportunity to test out what we learned on an overnight hike!
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