Hike or run the historic Currahee Mountain, the mountain of “Band of Brothers” fame, to long-range summit views, and visit the tumbling waterfall at Toccoa Falls.
“Three Miles Up, Three Miles Down!” Not the most encouraging words you want to hear when you’re setting out on an outdoor adventure. Unless you’re a history nut like me.
In 2001, just after I enlisted in the army. I read Stephen Ambrose’s book, “Band of Brothers,” and immediately felt like I knew the men of Easy Company, 506th PIR personally. A few months later, all of our lives changed one September morning; I would end up at Fort Bragg, N.C. and earned the Airborne tab on my shoulder. Though not a Screaming Eagle of the 506th, my connection to the men in the book, for various reasons, some obvious, was growing stronger. When HBO released “Band of Brothers,” the miniseries, I felt a pull to run Currahee Mountain. The same mountain braver men than me ran several times a week at Camp Toccoa between 1942 and 1944. Men who were attending Army Airborne training during WWII. Men who would put their lives on pause for our country. Some men – many in fact – who would never again see the country they would go to war defending.
Currahee Mountain sits at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Georgia and its name (“stand alone,” in Cherokee) became part of the motto of the 506th: “Stand alone… together.” A motto that meant so much to men that would easily find themselves alone, or in small groups, far behind enemy lines.
I thought of these soldiers way back in 2001 and 2002. And again, they were in my thoughts as I parked at the bottom of the mountain and assessed the challenge in front of me. There was no time limit and no reason to run up the mountain, save for honoring the memory of the men who gave so much so I could decide, if I felt like it, to run or walk, in their footsteps. But off I went…
In the year that my family has been in the Atlanta area we have tried to do all the things that continue to drive our interests – explore, explore, explore. We have annual passes to Stone Mountain Park and have hiked some trails and have hiked some of Georgia’s waterfalls, but every time we’ve planned a day trip with the family I kept regretting I wasn’t running Currahee. So, on a recent Saturday with the wife and kids away, I woke up way too early and drove northeast and hour and a half with a big smile on my face. I was going to run Currahee Mountain.
Now, if you’re interested in running, walking, biking, or skipping up the mountain, I’m happy to provide a few pointers. First, be well hydrated. If you can, bring water, because there are no water stops along the way or at the top. You will need water.
Second, don’t be afraid of the mountain. Yes, it’s roughly three miles up, gradually ascending for much of the run, before a sharp increase at a switchback near the top that brought me from a slow jog to a slow walk. There’s no shame in taking your time, because unlike the men of Easy Co, there is no CPT Sobel barking at you to pick up the pace. In fact, if you’re lucky enough to go on a day where the sun is out and the clouds are minimal, the view is well worth enjoying at every step. For me, I had it in my mind to take in the view after I reached the top. My mind’s motor was working through thoughts of the men who’s iron will was forged on this same mountain road 70-some years ago. I thought about my grandfather who was in WWII at Normandy and Bastogne, my six years in the Army, my brother who still serves, and the millions of Americans who have taken the oath.
Back to my adventure of this sliver of the Blue Ridge. Obviously, the best part is the feeling you have once you reach the top, around 1700 feet above sea level (Yes, you may feel as great as I did once I made it back to my car, but that’s downhill, so big deal, right? Ha!). Up on the summit, hopefully, you’ve found your way to the path around the radio antennas down to the flat rock (with so much graffiti, bummer) and a view of two or three states in the near distance. This is the best part. I took my hammock out of my pack and hung the straps on a nearby tree, gave my dog some much needed and well-earned water and treats, and I laid about reflecting on a dream realized. I took pictures and had a twenty-minute siesta and I just… was. It was perfect.
What goes up must go down. After an hour on top of the rock, I started my return run amongst a mountain bike race, which was now underway. I very much enjoyed the downhill and made it to my car about 11 minutes faster than it took me going up. Back down to my car at the bottom, with the COL Robert Sink memorial plaque by the road, I did a final assessment of my day and felt something I don’t know how to describe. It wasn’t an accomplishment, though I was glad to have done this run. It wasn’t pride because I hadn’t been seeking that emotion. I guess the closest thing I can think of is a reverence I had for the men who trained here. Their sacrifices are not lost on me. My connection to the ghosts of these men was further hardened that day.
Things to know about hiking (or running) Currahee Mountain
It’s not hard to get to. Google Maps got me there easily.
Wear a hat. Although there are trees all over the mountain, the road is exposed and there is very little canopy cover as you make your way up. I’d also be sure to check the weather. You can actually drive right to the very top of the mountain along the narrow 1 and ½ car dirt road, but I wouldn’t want to be on the road after a big rain. The ground was soft in a lot of places, and as such, the road looks as if it has been re-graveled and rolled dozens of times. A week after my run I brought the family up via car for a picnic. Please clean up after yourselves.
Pack out everything you pack in, and please leave no trace. The mountain has suffered from years of graffiti and abuse: please don’t contribute to the problem. And, please consider helping with the Currahee Cleanup Project, a group that’s dedicated to restoring and conserving this important historic mountain.
There are many side trails all over the mountain rendering great views, and at least three spots for repelling and caving, I’m told. If you’re interested in the mountain for its place in military history, then I also highly suggest heading a few more minutes into the town of Toccoa after your sojourn on the mountain. There is a small, but very well maintained museum dedicated to Camp Toccoa and the Airborne soldiers who trained there.
And finally, if you’ve come all this way and done the mountain and the museum, drive five more minutes to Toccoa Falls College and take the very short walk to a most impressive sight, Toccoa Falls.
The short walk to Toccoa Falls will cost you $2 (per person), unless you’re a veteran. I have been to hundreds of waterfalls and Toccoa Falls ranks highly among them.