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Spring break on the Appalachian Trail

Published: March 31, 2022 Author: Story and Photos by Joe Timmerman

Fresh, crisp and freeing.

It’s day four of seven and the elevation is 5,342 feet at the Wayah Bald Lookout Tower, the highest point we’ll ascend during our 30-mile section hike of the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina’s Nantahala National Forest. Rain is coming our way, but for now a deep breath of mountain air brings me peace.

For spring break this year, eight Ohio University students signed up to backpack one of the most well-known trails in the United States with Outdoor Pursuits, the adventure recreation and education program of Campus Recreation. Almost all of them had never been backpacking before.

“I don’t get a lot of opportunities like this to go out and completely submerse myself in nature,” said Helena Karlstrom, an 18-year-old freshman environmental studies major. “I have felt really overwhelmed by school this semester … so it was really nice to just drop everything and be unable to use any technology or do any schoolwork.”

“Spending seven days out in the wilderness with a group of people you’d never met, you've got to come out of your box pretty quick,” said Eamonn Bell, a 23-year-old sixth year junior double majoring in Outdoor Recreation and Education, and Recreation Management. “I think that’s what I got from (the trip), being myself more in groups of people.”

As a trip leader for Outdoor Pursuits and a photographer for University Communications and Marketing, I co-led the way and photographed nearly the entire trip — here’s what I saw. 

Click on the photos to view captions.

Eamonn Bell hike lays his sleeping bag in our tent during his first night backpacking a section of the Appalachian Trail in the Nantahala National Forest on Saturday, March 5, 2022, at the Rock Gap campground near Franklin, North Carolina.

Eamonn Bell lays his sleeping bag in our tent during his first night backpacking a section of the Appalachian Trail in the Nantahala National Forest on Saturday, March 5, 2022, at the Rock Gap campground near Franklin, North Carolina.

Helena Karlstrom, Riley Long and Eamonn Bell get on the bus after the last gas stop before arriving to backpack a section of the Appalachian Trail in the Nantahala National Forest on Saturday, March 5, 2022, in North Carolina.

Helena Karlstrom, Riley Long and Eamonn Bell get on the bus after the last gas stop before arriving to backpack a section of the Appalachian Trail in the Nantahala National Forest on Saturday, March 5, 2022, in North Carolina.

Eamonn Bell, Helena Karlstrom and Melanie Ahmetspahic sleep on the bus on the way to backpack a section of the Appalachian Trail in the Nantahala National Forest on Saturday, March 5, 2022, in North Carolina.

Eamonn Bell, Helena Karlstrom and Melanie Ahmetspahic sleep on the bus on the way to backpack a section of the Appalachian Trail in the Nantahala National Forest on Saturday, March 5, 2022, in North Carolina.

A bird soars across the sky during the fourth day backpacking a section of the Appalachian Trail in the Nantahala National Forest on Tuesday, March 8, 2022, at the Wayah Bald Lookout Tower near Franklin, North Carolina.

A bird soars across the sky during the fourth day of backpacking a section of the Appalachian Trail in the Nantahala National Forest on Tuesday, March 8, 2022, at the Wayah Bald Lookout Tower near Franklin, North Carolina.

Ohio University students gain elevation during their third day backpacking a section of the Appalachian Trail in the Nantahala National Forest on Monday, March 7, 2022, near Franklin, North Carolina.

Ohio University students gain elevation during their third day backpacking a section of the Appalachian Trail in the Nantahala National Forest on Monday, March 7, 2022, near Franklin, North Carolina.

Vishnu Palanki rests his hand on a tree during his fourth day backpacking a section of the Appalachian Trail in the Nantahala National Forest on Tuesday, March 8, 2022, near Franklin, North Carolina.

Vishnu Palanki rests his hand on a tree during his fourth day backpacking a section of the Appalachian Trail in the Nantahala National Forest on Tuesday, March 8, 2022, near Franklin, North Carolina.

Ohio University students hike across a creek during their second day backpacking a section of the Appalachian Trail in the Nantahala National Forest on Sunday, March 6, 2022, near Franklin, North Carolina.

Ohio University students hike across a creek during their second day backpacking a section of the Appalachian Trail in the Nantahala National Forest on Sunday, March 6, 2022, near Franklin, North Carolina.

Regan Magee takes a moment to herself in the sunlight during her fifth day backpacking a section of the Appalachian Trail in the Nantahala National Forest on Wednesday, March 9, 2022, at the Cold Springs Shelter near Franklin, North Carolina.

Regan Magee takes a moment to herself in the sunlight during her fifth day backpacking a section of the Appalachian Trail in the Nantahala National Forest on Wednesday, March 9, 2022, at the Cold Springs Shelter near Franklin, North Carolina.

Ohio University students play cards together during their third day backpacking a section of the Appalachian Trail in the Nantahala National Forest on Monday, March 7, 2022, at the Siler Bald Shelter near Franklin, North Carolina.

Ohio University students play cards together during their third day backpacking a section of the Appalachian Trail in the Nantahala National Forest on Monday, March 7, 2022, at the Siler Bald Shelter near Franklin, North Carolina.

Helena Karlstrom hugs a tree as the group takes a short break during her second day backpacking a section of the Appalachian Trail in the Nantahala National Forest on Sunday, March 6, 2022, near Franklin, North Carolina.

Helena Karlstrom hugs a tree as the group takes a short break during her second day backpacking a section of the Appalachian Trail in the Nantahala National Forest on Sunday, March 6, 2022, near Franklin, North Carolina.

Ohio University students pose for a group picture during their fifth day backpacking a section of the Appalachian Trail in the Nantahala National Forest on Wednesday, March 9, 2022, at the Cold Springs Shelter near Franklin, North Carolina.

Ohio University students pose for a group picture during their fifth day backpacking a section of the Appalachian Trail in the Nantahala National Forest on Wednesday, March 9, 2022, at the Cold Springs Shelter near Franklin, North Carolina.

Helena Karlstrom and Eamonn Bell work hard to keep the campfire going during their fifth day backpacking a section of the Appalachian Trail in the Nantahala National Forest on Wednesday, March 9, 2022, at the Cold Springs Shelter near Franklin, North Carolina.

Helena Karlstrom and Eamonn Bell work hard to keep the campfire going during their fifth day backpacking a section of the Appalachian Trail in the Nantahala National Forest on Wednesday, March 9, 2022, at the Cold Springs Shelter near Franklin, North Carolina.

Ohio University students eat quinoa stir fry for dinner by the campfire during their second day backpacking a section of the Appalachian Trail in the Nantahala National Forest on Sunday, March 6, 2022, at the Moore Creek Camp near Franklin, North Carolina.

Ohio University students eat quinoa stir fry for dinner by the campfire during their second day backpacking a section of the Appalachian Trail in the Nantahala National Forest on Sunday, March 6, 2022, at the Moore Creek Camp near Franklin, North Carolina.

Ohio University students wait for dinner to be ready as the sun sets during their first day backpacking a section of the Appalachian Trail in the Nantahala National Forest on Saturday, March 5, 2022, at the Rock Gap Shelter near Franklin, North Carolina.

Ohio University students wait for dinner to be ready as the sun sets during their first day backpacking a section of the Appalachian Trail in the Nantahala National Forest on Saturday, March 5, 2022, at the Rock Gap Shelter near Franklin, North Carolina.

Ohio University students tents stand tall in the rain during the fourth day backpacking a section of the Appalachian Trail in the Nantahala National Forest on Tuesday, March 8, 2022, at the Wayah Bald Shelter near Franklin, North Carolina.

Ohio University tents stand tall in the rain during the fourth day backpacking a section of the Appalachian Trail in the Nantahala National Forest on Tuesday, March 8, 2022, at the Wayah Bald Shelter near Franklin, North Carolina.

Eamonn Bell reads The Catcher in the Rye while laying in his tent at the Rock Gap campground during his second day backpacking a section of the Appalachian Trail in the Nantahala National Forest on Sunday, March 6, 2022, at the Moore Creek Camp near Franklin, North Carolina.

Eamonn Bell reads "The Catcher in the Rye," while resting in his tent at the Rock Gap campground during his second day backpacking a section of the Appalachian Trail in the Nantahala National Forest on Sunday, March 6, 2022, at the Moore Creek Camp near Franklin, North Carolina.

Katelyn Rousch points towards a constellation during her second day backpacking a section of the Appalachian Trail in the Nantahala National Forest on Sunday, March 6, 2022, at the Moore Creek Camp near Franklin, North Carolina.

Katelyn Rousch points towards a constellation during her second day backpacking a section of the Appalachian Trail in the Nantahala National Forest on Sunday, March 6, 2022, at the Moore Creek Camp near Franklin, North Carolina.