The following entries were transcribed directly from my pen-and-paper journal, from my 6-day, 92 mile hike on the Benton MacKaye Trail.
Sunday, June 26, 2011 / 7:06pm / Wildcat Ridge
Got up at 5:00 but did not hit the road till 7:30. Was shooting for 7, but lots of last minute this, last minute that. Was an hour up the road when I realized I left my BMT guide book behind. At least I have maps, but NEED the guide for finding water and camp sites.
I stopped near Cherry Log where the trail crosses Highway 5/515. Dropped off my cache there. Met up with Gene the shuttle guy at 10:15 at Thunder Rock. He dropped me off at Springer Mountain trail head parking just before noon. Thought I would eat lunch on Springer, but heard thunder in the distance to the West, so decided to get moving.
The first seven miles of the Benton Mackaye Trail serpentines around the Appalachian Trail. At Long Creek Falls is where it splits from the AT for good, and leaves familiar territory behind. Long Creek Falls is where I camped my first night on the Amicalola to Neel’s Gap hike in ’08. Saw plenty of people on the AT sections, all daytrippers. Not a soul on the BMT so far. I took a long break at LCF. Gene had loaned me his BMT Pocket Guide… which said there was no more reliable water till Bryson Gap – 4.5 miles. I figured I would do 3 before stopping so I filled my camelback & my platypus for camp water. Bad move – the extra 4.4 lbs of the platy (also way out in the back pouch … oddly balanced) was very noticeable, and made it a tiring and hard 3 miles. Given the choice between packing lighter to press a longer leg, or packing heavier for a short leg, I think I’ll choose light/long next time. I found a decent camping spot on Wildcat Ridge. No sooner had I hung the bear rope, then the sky went dark, and a huge wind blew up. I was scrambling trying to get my hammock and tarp up before the rain hit (…What , no guy lines?? Lucky I brought extra paracord. (I had put them to the new tarp which I swapped back at the last minute. D’oh!)). Frantically tying knots in the gale, I managed to get it up before the rain. Now I’m not hungry at all. Rain is light and thunder is distant. But the wind was crazy as it rolled in.
10.1 miles today, according to the guide plus the approach, an even 11. 10.1 in 3×90 minutes + 10 min = 4:40 + breaks. Very good time. It’s kind of chilly now. Don’t know if I’ll eat. Maybe just a big breakfast.
The rain petered out around 8:00. It’s been dead quite for at least a 1/2 hour. Some brids just now starting back up. Lots of flies and bees this afternoon, but none now with the cool and damp. Very quiet…still light, twilight (is that a morning thing? Is it dusk?) One bird off in the distance chip-churrr…chip-churrr. Some large black ants checking out my gear.
July 3, 2011 Edit to add:
I did see some kind of wild cat. Fairly early on the first day. I saw it on the trail ahead of me, just a few miles in on my first day. It was shortly (1/2 mile or so) before the BMT re-crosses the AT, which puts it close to the trailhead parking as well. At first I thought it must be a dog, that I was catching up to some other hikers. It was about the size of a dog… but then I noticed it was alone, and had that slinky nonchalance of a cat. And that unmistakable lazy tail. All this I took in in a split second, and it just went around a bend. I stopped, got out my camera, zoomed it in, (took one shot to realize it was way too dim for shooting at full zoom, below) , and started walking again. Before I could round the bend to get a good look, I stepped on a twig with a loud snap. It stopped, then took off into the woods to the left. There were still trees between myself and it, so I did not get another clear look. But I did see & hear it run away.
Well, It turns out there are officially no “big cats” in Georgia, according to the DNR. The bobcat or lynx does live here – it is about twice the size of a house cat, and has a bobbed tail. I saw one of those run across the road in front of my motorcycle just last weekend near Highlands NC, just over the northwest corner of GA. There have been many “cougar” sightings, even claims of black panthers, but no hard proof. So I suppose I have to enter myself into the category of people who thinks they saw some kind of mountain lion. And that everyone who thinks they saw one really saw a large bobcat. If I knew it was so controversial I would have looked around for prints at least. And there was the tail – I noticed that specifically, because it looked and carried itself like a cat’s tail. And bobcats don’t have them.