Saturday, March 17, 2012

Mountain Crossings at Walasi-Yi

Mountain Crossings is a unique and special place.  Located on US19 near Blairsville, Georgia in Neels Gap it sits atop the Appalachian Trail.  The building has two sections separated by a breezeway.  This breezeway is unique in that the Appalachian Trail passes right through.

This historic stone building was built by the CCC in the mid-1930s and opened in 1937 as the Vogel Lodge.  For the past several years it has been an outfitter for hikers, especially the AT thru hikers.  Besides being an outfitter selling all manner of hiking equipment, it is also a small grocery stocking a variety of trail appropriate foods (noodle side dishes, instant oatmeal, snack crackers etc), a limited selection of fresh fruits, and a wide selection of candy bars.  Mountain Crossings is also a fast food restaurant offering hot dogs, microwave pizza, and ice cream by the pint.  About a third of the store is dedicated to a gift shop with a real focus on AT merchandise, but also a very nice collection of handmade pottery.  There is, of course, the T-shirt and baseball cap sections, as well as books.
Little hard to see the AT blaze on the brick by the downspout,
but the AT passes through this breezeway and up the mountain behind.
On the lower level of the residential side is the hiker hostel.  Mountain Crossings is 30 miles by trail from Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the AT.  It takes the average hiker 4-5 days to reach Neels Gap and they are more than ready for a hot shower and a bed to sleep in.

Mountain Crossings is turning into somewhat of a museum of sorts, displaying well worn gear from some famous and some not so famous thru-hikers.  Two things in particular they seem to be collecting are boots and backpacks.  These items are displayed from the rafters and walls or just sitting on the floor around the store.  Hanging from a large tree on the front lawn is a mighty collection of old boots.

Not all hikers who begin their AT journey at Springer Mountain are seasoned backpackers.  Many limp into Mountain Crossings with feet covered in blisters, wearing jeans that have rub their skin raw, and carry 50 or 60 pound loads on their backs.  The staff at Mountain Crossings are famous for their hiker “shakedowns”.  Some hikers come begging for assistance in lightening their loads and tips on being more efficient in the wilderness.  Others get it whether they want it or not.  When the staff sees someone putting themselves in danger with what they’re carrying, they don’t hesitate to offer a few suggestions.

For the past 10 years or so Winton Porter has been the proprietor of Mountain Crossings and he and his staff have seen every type of hiker imaginable over the years.  Winton has written fantastic book called Just Passin’ Thru in which he relates some of the things he’s seen and heard as hikers, hundreds of them, have passed through his breezeway.  It’s an enjoyable read even if you’re not a backpacker.

So, there you have it--all I know about Mountain Crossings, but you really have to go there to appreciate the feel of the place.  Just sit on the porch and take it all in.

That’s it for today.  Thanks for tagging along.

2 comments:

  1. Neals Gap is my favorite lay-over on the AT in Georgia. Did you guys do the 2 mile hike up to Blood Mountain?

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