A little Christmas camping

2020 was such a low-key year with all it’s social distancing and face-masking and fear that we thought that would be the perfect time to get away from it all and be maskless and well outside 6′ of social distancing. Most of those words I never want to hear again. 2020 was the year that shut down campsites all across the nation even though most of them were over 6′ apart (seen a fifth wheel lately?) they were blocked off. I was personally upset most of the year since most people have RV’s, yet the tent sites were the ones not allowing reservations. Sorry, the math just doesn’t add up for me.

Anyhow, I decided that we would find ONE park that allowed visitors, and seeing how most people don’t camp over the holidays, we figured that was perfect. The next problem was finding one with some elevation that was open in cold weather. I finally found one within driving distance and booked it a while back. Our destination: Fort Mountain, Georgia.

I had watched to videos about the CCC tower and was very excited about the trails we could walk and the views we could see from the overlooks. And it would be cooler weather. I just didn’t know how much cooler when I booked it…

As the days drew closer, I snagged another sleeping bag rated for cooler temperatures than what I had the old ones for. I loaded up plenty of firewood, a tiny propane heater to keep the bitter cold away, and we headed out. At each stop I checked the forecast. They had been calling for some “frozen precipitation” for the few days before, but it was never a promise, just a 20% kinda thing. When we arrived and drove up the mountain, lo and behold, the flurries started coming down. We saw it collecting and sticking as we drove higher. Our excitement grew as this was truly our Christmas miracle.

By the time we reached the top of the mountain to check in, it was really coming down and the wind was picking up, but the temperature was quickly dropping. All that talk of it “not sticking” was pretty much bogus at that point.

We checked in and set up our tent. We put together the cots, laid out the sleeping bags, and immediately had to whip out the heater. By this point it was too late to start a fire, so we cozied up to a warm bowl of soup (thank you Coleman stoves). It was already dark and we were exhausted from the drive and our hurried tent-popping. We got into our sleeping bags and tried to doze off.

By 2230 that night, it was so cold that I hurt all over from shivering. I went to the car after debating with myself for a half-hour about getting out of the sleeping bag, and cranked it up. I gave it 5 minutes and woke up the Beanster. Yeah, we copped out. We slept in the car. After a while, we turned the car off, laid the seats back, and caught a few hours of shuteye until about 0230.

We turned the car on again and warmed ourselves up. And repeated the process around 0630. Breakfast was snack foods in the car, then a break to find the restrooms and stretch our muscles from being so cramped up.

For people who aren’t used to seeing anything below 32, this was pretty exciting!

During the night, the temps had dropped and nothing melted. Everything was SOLID ice. We slipped and slid our way up the hill to the restroom. We came back down and I started my first fire without the assistance of lighter fluid. It was so cold that I could barely feel the heat 6″ from it. I finally gave up and got back in the car.

We had seen the trucks with plows driving around and figured we could get out. Welllllllll…. we could get a few places, well, one place. We headed toward the cabins, which were across the dam.

The view was absolutely magical to these tropical flat-landers. We saw so many geese flying overhead and saw little birds flitting around in the snow looking for anything to eat. As we looked at the cabins, then at each other, we knew we should have sprung for something with a heating system. Lesson learned.

The big disappointment was that the trails we were going to walk were inaccessible due to the snow and ice. The roads were closed at the gates. I was truly hoping that we could get a nice picture, even if it was covered in snow. Point is, we will try again at another (warmer) time to go back.

These icicles were at least 2’ in length.

We had taken our tent down that morning and we slept in the car again. By the 3rd morning, we were worn out and ready to go. We showered and headed out. We decided to make the trip worth it and headed to Chattanooga, Tennessee. Rock City was our destination (technically back in Georgia). As we wove up the incredibly narrow winding road, hands gripping the steering wheel, we were grateful to finally reach our destination.

The joint was packed. It was so interesting to see license plates from so many different states, and to appreciate all the other flat-landers from my state who had also braved the mountain.

As we entered, I couldn’t remember seeing any of the place when I was a kid, but we soon found the Eye of the Needle, and we wove our way through. I remembered that, but it sure seemed wider when I was a kid.

We went across the bridge toward Lover’s Leap and I panicked again, just as I did as a kid when my brother swung the bridge under me.

Ye olde swinging bridge.

We saw the 7 states and were awed that it was such a clear day and the view was perfect.

Then we hit the Fat Man’s Squeeze. Ugh. Yeah, that was also a lot easier when I was a kiddo.

Over all, it was worth it. It was a little pricey ($21/adult, $13/children), but hey, if it maintains the bridge, I’m happy. We had hot chocolate and hot coffee, which was perfect, considering it was only 32 degrees F, which felt great after a night of 16 degree weather before….

But then we had to get back down the mountain…

There will be more trips in our future. Next time there’s snow and near-zero temps, there may be a cabin involved.

Peace and love, everyone.

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