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Local backpackers David Daniels, Owen Holbrook and Bob Rahn, from left, make their way across the Jacks River Trail. They recently backpacked the 16.7-mile trail in the Cohutta Wilderness in North Georgia. with 40 river crossings included.

Backpacking always has challenges. After all, everything that is needed has to be carried, and the balance between necessity and weight is a tough one.

When backpacking the Jacks River Trail in the Cohutta Wilderness in northern Georgia, at least one more challenge is added: crossing the river 40 times in the 16.7 miles between the Dally Gap and Alaculsy Valley trailheads.

Depending on recent rainfall, the river can be hazardous to cross, but backpackers usually can ford the cold water if they use hiking poles and are careful to plant their feet on the slippery rocks.

Most backpackers on the Jacks River Trail will opt to start at Dally Gap, as the elevation at that end is 2,578 feet and Alaculsy is just below 1,000 feet.

Much of the trail follows the rail bed cut by the Conasauga Lumber Company. Starting in 1915, the area was a major source of timber harvesting for 15 years. Cable and old train parts can be seen as one hikes the trail.

Getting to the upper trailhead can be difficult, though, as the distance by Forest Service roads is around 35 miles, according to Ron Brown, the owner of Ron's Appalachian Trail Shuttle. He makes his living driving his 1998 Toyota Rave 4 to take hikers to the Appalachian Trail and other major paths in the Georgia and Tennessee mountains.

"I don't get too many calls for the shuttle for the Jacks River Trail. I don't know the reason why, as people like hiking it," said Brown, whose odometer has passed 415,000 miles.

He speculated that the two hours of driving time between the two trailheads may discourage shuttling. And, he said, many backpackers may not even know there is such a service for that section of the Cohutta Wilderness.

Chattanooga residents Owen Holbrook and Bob Rahn and Ringgold's David Daniels recently spent two nights camping along the side of the river as they made their way back to their trucks. All are nearing 70 years old.

"I have only recently learned of the excellent hiking in the North Georgia area," said Holbrook, a retired electrical engineer and experienced backpacker who took 10 years to cover the whole Appalachian Trail in sections, hiking on weekends and during vacations.

He said he liked that the Jacks River Trail is close to home and not as overused as some areas of the Smoky Mountains.

"It was challenging, enjoyable and needs to be done in warm weather because of the many river crossings," he said, noting that he fell only twice in the cold water when he lost his footing.

"Great outing! Weather was perfect, good fire, great ride to the trailhead, slept well, got a little wet," said Rahn, who said he hit the water only once.

Also an avid tennis player, Rahn tends to hike slower than his counterparts since he has only one lung and one kidney.

For Daniels the trip was a reminder of trips he took when his son, Jason, was in the Boy Scouts.

Daniels is no stranger to carrying a backpack. The BlueCross BlueShield retiree served as an Army infantryman during the Vietnam War. He is a Purple Heart recipient.

"It was great to 'unplug' for a few days," he said of the Jacks River adventure. "There was no cell service, Internet or constant barrage of TV bad news.

"It was a challenging trip due to the river crossings," he added. "All of us fell or got wet at least once, and some more than others."

Three times in his case, he said, admitting that his sleeping bag got wet in the first dunking.

"We did OK for a bunch of 'old guys' with varying levels of health histories," Daniels said. "Probably the best thing was the great feeling you get when you successfully complete a physically challenging adventure with good friends."

The Cohutta Wilderness was designated by the U.S. Congress in 1975. Records show that 36,977 of the wilderness resides in Georgia with another 1,709 residing in Tennessee.

Contact Gary Petty at sports@timesfreepress.com

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