BMT Day 14 – Reliance

Saturday, August 3,  2013
StartCoker Creek  |  Finish: Reliance, TN  |  Miles: 11.1  |  Total: 177.6

Today was short and sweet.  I gave myself an extra hour this morning.  It was “only ” to be a 10.6 mile day, with resupply and a store at the end.  So I left camp shortly before 9 AM.  The trail was pretty good all day.  Ever since Unicoi Gap, and the John Muir Trail, it has been a good balance of challenging, scenic, and not overgrown.  The one thing that baffled me is how the “wild and scenic” Hiwassee River, though the same size on the map, goes from a stagnant creek above the power station to a huge wide strong & fast river downstream of it.  The trail bypasses the bend where the powerstation is (contrary to the map) so I did not get to see what happens.  I’ll have to google it later.*

The last 4 miles were mostly flat, which can be rough on the feet.  I think that, except for hard climbing, too much of any one terrain is hard on the feet.  The John Muir Trail follows the river at almost water level, followed by a 1 mile road walk in to Reliance.  It’s a Saturday, so this tiny town is PACKED with river tourists.

I picked up my resupply box at Webb Brothers Float Service, replaced the lunches with store bought stuff – Vienna sausage, granola, Payday bars.  Going through my resupply box, I realized one map was missing!  I have hiked this section before – the home stretch from Blue Ridge / Aska Road to Springer or Amicalola –  but would hate to have to rely on my memory.  Also, it might be considered reckless.  Or at least nerve racking.  I gotta have my maps.

My phone has been dead since last night, so I decided to stay in Reliance with the chance that I could find a way to charge it (success!) and call Aimee (fail! – no signal)  I bought a camp site for a rip-off rate of $32 (weekend minimum rate BS).  So I will be surrounded by kayak dude-bros and family weekend campers.  You have your Subaru-neoprene-and-Yuengling crowd, and your pickup truck and Bud Light crowd.  Both contingents are playing cornhole.

Aside – Cornhole?  It seems like such a “traditional” game that must have been around for ever.  Yet it’s seemingly brand new, and it’s everywhere.  I am not buying the Wikipedia assertion that it’s been around since the 14th century, was played by native Americans, etc.  I’ve been to a few church picnics, backyard barbecues and 4ths of Julies, from Texas to Tennessee over the past 40 years (granted, not a lot of tailgating…) , and have not seen or heard of this until the 21st century.

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I have been sitting on the deck at Hiwassee River outfitter, pirating electricity from their landscape lighting outlet, and journaling.  My charge cord is frayed and on it’s last leg, too.  Not sure what to do about the maps.  Or about getting the info to Aimee.  The map is probably on my office floor.   She could mail it to me at Iron Bridge.

24 hours ago I was fantacizing that I could wash my clothes in a sink, take a shower, call home, etc.  Little did I know the “bath house” is disgusting – Turkish prison disgusting.  The camp site is screaming babies and whimpering dogs.  Maybe I should have kept hiking.

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* The river does in fact simply get wider.

Note to self: Salami & cheese only good for about 1 week, then it starts to turn.  I kind of figured this, but wanted to test the limit. And was being lazy in my prep.  Should have mixed up my lunches a bit more.  Moose Goo and tortillas would have been a good choice.  The sample batch of pemmican that I made actually kept in the hot trunk of my car for the full 3 weeks, even though it has cheese in it as well.  I waited till the last minute to try the pemmican, so did not have enough time to make a decent sized batch, in the end.  I’ll post the recipe later.

BMT Day 13 – Coker Creek

Friday, August 2,  2013
StartBrookshire Creek  |  Finish: Coker Creek  |  Miles: 24.6  |  Total: 166.5

8/3/13 actual – So I’m a day behind in journaling, trying to catch up.  I was too beat yesterday.

Woke up Friday morning to that Jazz bird (see below).  I need to look up what it is – whenever I am woken up by birdsong at sunrise in the woods, it’s this bird.

I had been kicking around the idea of a 25 mile day to be closer to Reliance and possibly cut a day to Thunder Rock.  Based on camping at sites designated as camp sites per the guide, there was no real way to cut a day out of a 4 day stretch by distributing the extra miles evenly across 3.  Doing the math I realized a 25 mile day would exhaust all available daylight or at least stretch it to the limit.  So I decided to stick to my original plan, a series of reasonable 13-and-change days to Thunder Rock by Monday.  Smelling the roses and all that.

Started walking at ~8:00.  Just short of Sled Runner Gap, the horse tracks I had been following petered out, but I never did see a camp site or catch up to them.  It’s possible that the litter trail was a few days older than I thought.  Do horses leave less of an imprint if they are walked?  That could be how they “disappeared”, and then they could have gone left at Sled Runner where I went right.

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Toe box relace

Sled Runner Gap was the beginning of a long ridge run.  The first 2 miles were crazy overgrown again – my knees are all slashed up – but suddenly the trail entered a new maintenance district or state line, and the trail was bushhogged or weed-wacked 4′ wide all the way to Moss Gap.  The blazes here were new and white.  Zigging down to Sandy Gap I started hearing heavy machinery.  It sounded like bulldozers and chainsaws.  It kept getting closer, but never quite came in to view..  I even saw a new dirt road with fresh bulldozer tracks parallel to the trail just below me.  When I got to Sandy Gap, they had extended the FSR beyond tha gap – on the map it dead ended at the gap.

Sandy Gap – The half way point of the entire hike!!

At Sandy Gap I did some work on my feet to address a new pinkie toe blister – lance,, abnd-aid, duct-tape, and relaced my shoes to loosen up the toe box.  My feet are spreading and it’s starting to get crowded in there, even though I moved up to a size Wide before this trip.  By then it was almost lunch time, so I did that too.  Longer break than I anticipated, only 2 1/2 legs in to the day.  Was also starting to get low on water.

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View along Sixmile Gap

Contued along the ridge line, with some occasional vistas, over Cantrell Top (still no water) to Tate Gap.  Finally found water .2 miles east of Tate Gap,  I only gave myself the walking ration of 1 liter, since I was close enough to Peel Gap – the destination for the day, which was listed as having water.  When I got to Peel Gap, it was on an overgrown ridge/saddle, with no obvious water or camp sites.  Rather, plenty of flat spots for camping, but all overgrown to knee height or higher.  I figured this was as good as stealth camping, and I could always do that further up the trail, and nearer to an obvious water source.  So I kept walking to look for water first, then a camp site.

I made it all the way to Unicoi Gap and still did not find water.  The described water source at Unicoi Gap turned out to be a thin trickle along the side of a well-used gravelroad.  I couldnt tell if it was a drainage ditch or a dry “creek” – the deepest spot was still only 1/4″ deep.  I passed.  In hindsight maybe should have tried to salvage some water from this, somehow.

The next water source and camping option listed was 8 1/2 miles away.  It was 4:40 PM.  At 2 mph it would be sunset if I made it.  And a 25+ mile day after all.  I decided to go for it, with the option to stealth camp if necessary.  I put my head down, and power hiked 8+ miles into the setting sun.  This section of trail could not have been more perfect for a speed hike – mostly flat, groomed, no overgrowth.  The first 4-5 miles section was a dirt bike trail.  I never did see any bikes, but I could smell exhaust two-stroke fumes.  Very pretty woods.

I made it to Coker Creek camp site at 8:06.  The site is at the dead end of a FS road, on a decent sized river or creek.  Some locals were prospecting in the river, some others setting up a camp with a small teardrop trailer.  The prospecters, a father and adult son, shared their “secret” natural spring with me, on top of which they had pitched their camp.   Several more locals showed up during the night. but it was pretty quiet.

My feet were so sore I had trouble falling asleep.

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This Wood Thrush is the closest thing I can find to the song of the Jazz Bird I mentioned.  It is still not quite right.  The one I always hear seems to be more melodic, slower, more deliberate notes, with 4 phrases that repeat, and without the trill at the end of each phrase.  I call it Jazz Bird because each bird or song is a slight variation on a similar melody.  It is possible I am hearing two birds singing to or over each other.  It’s also possible that the high pitched trill on the video is lost in the ambient noise or distance of the woods, in the real-life scenario.

BMT Day 12 – Brookshire Creek

Thursday, August 1,  2013
StartWhigg Meadow  |  Finish: Brookshire Creek  |  Miles: 14.3  |  Total: 141.9

A good day, overall!  Spirits lifted after yesterday’s perfect storm of misery.

It was still rainy, if not raining, when I woke.  With no breakfast or coffee, yet no motivation either, I managed to be on-trail at 8:00.  My plan was to stop at the next decent looking camp site with water, and have last night’s dinner.  That ended up being 6 miles – 11:00 AM.   So I made it a long 2 hour hot lunch.

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Fog lifting on the Tellico River

The hike down from Whigg Meadow (at 5000′, the 3rd highest point on the BMT and the highest outside the Smokies) started off wet and foggy, but got better the lower I decended.  The trail started as an FSR then branched off on to an OLR*.  Neither was overgrown, thankfully.  The lunch spot was on the roaroing & scenic Tellico River.  During the lunch break the sun came out, and it stayed nice the rest of the day, though quite windy at camp as I write this.

After lunch I passed the Tellico Fish Hatchery and a picnic area on a paved road. With bathrooms!.  The trail then ascended Sugar Mountain.  This area – both sides of the mountain – was part of a controlled burn forest management area.  It had been burned more recently than the Tapoco section – or they do not have the mutant cockroach strain of blackberries here – so the ground was minimally decorated in a green & black scheme.  Think Monster Energy Kawasaki.

Oddly, the Brookshire Creek section was blazed in AT livery...

Oddly, the Brookshire Creek section was blazed in AT livery…

Over Sugar Mountain, down the other side, all on good trails or OLR.  Then a left turn on to, and a nice climb along Brookshire Creek, following a trail of litter left by some horse packers who were ahead of me.  The guide book says “various camp sites” along here.  To me this would mean a tent-sized flat spot and a fire ring, at least.  Not able to spot either,  I have stealth-hammocked on a slope in a clear burned area about where the camp sites were said to be.  I am glad to be in a hammock.  Spots like these are ample for hammock campers, but a tent camper would have far fewer options in this situation.

Beard update

Beard update!

I did see two wild boars today, as well as two large turkeys in flight.  Amazingly HUGE birds, with their wings out.  The boars do NOT look like anything you would want to tangle with!  Imagine the beast you would get if you crossed a Pit Bull with a Bison.  Add tusks.  Fortunately they were running away, whenever I spotted one.

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*Notes:

  • FSR – Forest Service Road – Graded  gravel road, sometimes maintained, sometimes overgrown.  Drive-able with pickup truck or better
  • OLR – Old Logging Road – Older, narrower, steeper, rougher than the FSR, usually long abandoned, but still identifiable as a former vehicle road.   Would require a off-road vehicle today.

BMT Day 11 – Whigg Meadow

Wednesday, July 31, 2013
StartSlickrock Creek |  Finish: Whig Meadow  |  Miles: 21.4  |  Total: 127.6

8:00 PM – By far the worst day yet.

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Scary forest face

(Writing on 8/1/13) – It rained off and on all through the night, finally petering out around 6:00 AM.  I got up at 7:00 and was on the trail a little after 8:00.  The first two miles were supposed to be “numerous creek crossings” so I was prepared to have wet socks.  But I managed to pick across all of them (5 or 7) without getting wet.  About 3 miles in, while climbing up to Farr Gap, it actually started to rain for real.  The rain only lasted about 45 minutes.  However, the rest of the day was cool and “rainy” and never showed a sign of improving.

The trail was pretty pathetic too, even if imagined sunny and dry.  But it was wet.  90% of the time was spent wading through neck high overgrowth.  Pushing through Laurel or Rhododendron, at best, weeds and briers at worst.  On one side trail to find water, I had to wade through waist high grass.That grass can hold some water – it was like pouring a bucket over water over my front.

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This is where you sharpen your claws. Apparently.

None of this section of the trail is blazed, either.  The trails are numbered on the map and at trail intersections, which are numerous.  The “camp sites” are just wide spots on the trail – no real incentive to stop and get cold.  I finally had lunch around 3 PM.  It rained again at 4.  I arrived at Unicoi Crest at 5, where the BMT crosses the Cherohala Skyway.  On the other side of the Skyway, the blazes start up again.  You don’t know how comforting it is to see a white diamond painted on a tree!  This strange short section from Unicoi Crest to Stratton Gap meanders in a convoluted manner along the Skyway,  with a blaze on on nearly every 3rd tree.  The occasional gauntlet of overgrowth was insanely dense.  My destination for the day was “Quarry” – the last half mile was on a service road that reached new heights in the definition of overgrown, even by this day’s standards.

The Quarry – just that, an abandoned overgrown quarry – was supposed to have a camp site and a water source.  I was unable t find either.  The “meadow” was waist high thick wiry grass.  The trail leading out the other side was a rocky service road with dense weedy forest on either side.  By now I was just hoping to find a water source, to camp anywhere.  It was 6PM. I had hiked 19+ miles.  The next camp site was 2 miles away.  1 hour.  I decided to push on.

I arrived at Whigg Meadow at 7 PM.  It was cold and wet and very foggy.  I traipsed around the wet tall grass looking for “campsite”, and found a couple of fire rings.  The water source was not described well enough for me to find it in the thick fog and waning light.  The fog was so thick, I could not see from one side of the meadow to the other.  It messes with your sense of scale and direction.  I decided to push my luck and just set up camp in the trees, and sleep.  No dinner, no journal, just a bag of M&Ms.

During the night it continued to rain.  I also accidentally drained my iPhone batteries.  Usually it drops only a few % points at night, even when falling asleep to music.  But this time it went from 82% to 21%.  I think I was lying on the Voice Command button all night.  I think I smelled ozone.

Sorry for the shortage of pictures – my camera/phone was in a ziplock for most of the day.

Climbs

The biggest climbs are behind me in the Smokies.  The only one remaining that comes close is Big Frog, going southbound (which I am).  Summary of climbs:

  • Mt. Sterling  –  4127′ in 6 miles = 687′ per mile
  • Hyatt Ridge  –  1827′  /  3 mi  /  606
  • Newton Bald  –  2900′  /  4.5 mi  /  644
  • Sassafrass Gap  (from CS-91)  –  1625′  /  2 mi  /  812  (!!)
  • Sassafrass Gap (from lake)  –  2025  /  2.9 mi  /  698
  • Big Frog  –  2554′  /  6 mi  /  425′ per mile – On paper that looks like baby stuff compared to the Smokies….

Of course, my friends who hike “out west” are laughing at me right now…. 😉

 

1/5/14 Edit to add:  Sampling of other “tough” climbs in the southern section of PUDs (pointless ups & downs)

  • Deep Gap – Standing Indian NB – 482
  • NOC to Grassy Gap NB – 428
  • Unicoi Gap – Blue Mountain NB – 717 
  •  Tesnatee Gap – Cow Rock SB – 704
  • Neel Gap – Blood Mtn SB – 557  (hiked these in the opposite direction, so they don’t count for me)
  • NOC – Jump Up SB – 555
  • NOC – Wesser Bald SB – 447

BMT Day 10 – Slickrock Creek

Tuesday, July 30, 2013
StartDeal’s Gap Motorcycle Resort |  Finish: Slickrock Creek   |  Miles: 9.0  |  Total: 106.2

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8:15 AM – Breakfast at the Pub.  Here I was calling it the Tavern the whole time, but it’s Pub & Grill.  Playing classic rock at 8 am.  It will be a late start today.  My choices are camp sites at 11 miles and 16 miles.  11 should be doable if I am on the trail by 10.

Local weather report says chance of rain around 4pm, but most likely dry.  But it’s supposed to rain tomorrow, mid morning.  So plan to be up and out early.  After today I may try to increase the mileage.I would have to string together a week of longer days to cut a day to Reliance or Thunder Rock.

6:30 PM – Slickrock Creek.  I misread my mileage earlier, and had to stop at 9 miles for the day, at 4:30.  If I had started earlier, even by 1 hour, I probably would have pushed for the 16, but as it is I would have been setting up camp at 8 pm.  Stealth camping is always an option, but prepared camp sites are usually nice enough that anything else feels like a compromise.

IMG_3093Today – checked out at 10:30.  Viewed my late morning as my compromise “zero” – not even a nearo, but still.  1/2 mile road walk to TN state line, then 3 miles on an overgrown Forest Service maintenance road.  The land here is owned by a hydroelectric company as far as I can tell.  The trail then turned over a ridge and began its descent to the Cheoah Dam.  This section, the “Tapoco Section” had been burned in a wildfire a few years ago, according to a sign.  Many of the blazes had been obscured or lost, and yellow flagging tape would serve as the route marking.  While many of the trees in the area were bare, the undergrowth had come back with a vengeance.  Briars and brambles will surely survive a nuclear winter, so we can at least look forward to blackberry cobbler in that event.IMG_3096

Between the undergrowth, and the fallen trees and branches, finding the trail was at many times a wild guess.  Back on Enloe Creek I joked that I could have used a machete, but here it was truly needed.  All exposed skin was crisscrossed with bleeding welts.

The Tapoco section seemed like forever, but was actually quite short.  The trail briefly joined US 129 (5 minute motorcycle ride from the start of the day) to cross the Little Tennessee River at the Cheoah Dam.  That dam is one interesting looking chunk of concrete – almost steampunk or brutalist.  Needs to be sketched, but was not in the mood.  Maybe a separate trip is in order.

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After the river, the trail entered the Joyce Kilmer forest.  The rest of the day was dirt-path-in-the-woods classic hiking.  The forest is quite scenic here, as is the camping spot.  It is next to a small creek, lots of moss on the trees and rocks.

Tomorrow needs to be an early start due to it being a 19 mile day.  That will be the longest so far, on this hike.  Odometer turned over 100 today.

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BMT Day 9 – Deal’s Gap

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The creek at Upper Lost Cove

Monday, July 29, 2013
StartUpper Lost Cove – CS 91  |  Finish: Deal’s Gap Motorcycle Resort  |  Miles: 9.8  |  Total: 97.2

I did not journal to speak of, on this day, just jotted down some notes.  Most of this will be going from memory.

First order of the day was a climb up Sassafrass Gap, where the AT crosses the BMT.  This was one intense, steep climb, the steepest on the BMT, and it lasted for 2 miles.  Where the two trails cross I ran in to BMT through-hiker Golden, with hiking companions and section hikers Cole and E-dog.  I grabbed a hurried snapshot of Golden, because I was kicking myself for not having taken a picture of Oreo.  Golden said she remembered Oreo from the Indian Rock shelter in Georgia.  She also warned me of very overgrown trails in my future.

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On top of Sassafras Gap – The AT

Golden

I considered for a moment whether to hike the half mile south on the AT to climb the Shuckstack fire tower, but decided against it.  My resupply situation at 20 Mile Ranger Station was still up in the air:  The original plan to have Aimee meet me there to pick up Jason and deliver the resupply box was turned on its head with Jason’s extraction last Wednesday.  Aimee said she would try to ship the box to Deal’s Gap, but there was no way for me to know whether she was succesful until I arrived at Deal’s Gap.  If she was unable to ship it on time, there was a chance she would be waiting at 20 Mile at the prearranged time – again no way to confirm this.  I weighed the chances and need for a cell signal from Shuckstack with the on-time arrival at 20 Mile, and decided not to add the time, extra mile, and scenic view to the itenerary.

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Golden

10 minutes after leaving Sassafrass Gap I saw my first bear of the trip.  I heard it before I saw it – It was above me off the trail, scrambling towards the ridge away from me.  Shortly after this I joined the 20 Mile trail, and the rest of the walk out of the Smokies was on previously hiked trails.  Years Ago Jason and I walked this section on our Gregory Bald hike.

I arrived at 20 Mile shortly after 12.  Had lunch at the picnic table there, and hung out till 1 pm  in case Aimee showed.  At 1:10 I left a note on the announcement board just in case, and began the 2.8 mile road walk to Deal’s Gap.  Arrived a little after 2.  They said my package had not arrived, but they had spoken with Aimee, and were expecting it.  I went to the Tavern to get a burger and wait.  As soon as I sat down the front desk lady found me to say that the box had arrived on the UPS truck.

My next step was to decide where to stay for the night.  I thought it might be neat to get a ride in to Robbinsville, or do some laundry.  The Fontana Hike Inn has a “Through-Hiker Special”, with a shuttle ride, a load of laundry, a room for the night, and a ride in to town for dinner for one fixed price.  My 2011 guide book listed $60, so I was expecting perhaps $70-75 for this deal in 2013.  When I called them they said they were full, but if I stayed at the nearby Tuskegee Inn ($55) they would be glad to shuttle me to/from Deals Gap, Tuskegee Inn, and Robbinsville for…. $75.  So I booked a room at Deal’s Gap.

The DGMR amenities are sparten to say the least.  A concrete block room with vinyl tile floor, a queen bed (might have been a double, even) and a steel bunkbed.  Tube TV with basic cable.  Some steel wire shelving.  I was able to wash some socks and underwear in the sink, and rigged up a clothes line across the front of the air conditioning unit’s fan.  I spent the afternoon sorting out and repacking a week’s worth of meals while the clothes tried to dry.  Dinner was a bratwurst hotdog from the Tavern.  And cheesecake. Finished off with American Pickers and Jackass on TV.

BMT Day 8 – Upper Lost Cove

Sunday, July 28, 2013
StartPilkey Creek – CS 77  |  Finish: Upper Lost Cove – CS 91  |  Miles: 13.3  |  Total: 87.3

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The plan for the day

Dear Jason,

Today was a good day.  Feels like it’s back to hiking…. instead of a trudge through an abandoned mining, logging, or road grading operation.  Or miles of packed gravel roads.  The fact that my blisters are healing helped a lot too.  Was unable to keep my socks & shoes dry all day.  More about that later.  The trail was a real dirt path most of the day, winding through the woods.  Fairly flat, no big climbs, just minor stuff.  Saw a huge bird in the treetops this morning – “Valley of the Raptors.”  There were thousands of tiny frogs underfoot all day, and yesterday too.  On a side trail during break, I found a grave site that appeared fresh but was probably just well cared for – the earth was brown with no weeds, and plastic flowers.  It was in a mossy clearing, and I think it was a mother and baby.*  About 10 minutes later at Camp Site 81 I stopped to get water.   I heard two wolves howling, call and response.  One seemed very close, the other much farther away.

Lunch was near an abandoned town, Proctor, that was once farming, then logging, then farming again.  It was abandoned when the GSMNP was created.  There is one house left, and someone lives there.  The rest of the town was eaten by the woods.  I saw one stone chimney, and some rusty car parts.

Grave site in the middle of the woods

Grave site in the middle of the woods

The final mile turned back in to the park away from the lake.  The trail followed a stream up in to “magical” forest – mossy rocks, etc.  There were about 8 stream crossings.  The first three I managed to stay dry.  That was tricky – for one I had to get to the narrowest part, which was a waterfall about 3 feet high and 4 feet across.  I then threw my backpack to the other side, and walked across on some arm-thick logs somebody had laid across.  100′ later the trail doubles back and crosses again.  That is where I finally took my shoes off and walked the last 1/2 mile to camp in my Crocs.  There were probably 4 more wet crossings after that.

Camp is nice.  Quiet and not too buggy.

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Upper Lost Cove camp site

Tomorrow I will be out of the Smokies.  The mystery of the resupply awaits.   I have several scenarios worked out, so I’m not worried.

Love, Dad.

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*I read later that the abandoned Highway 288 project mentioned earlier, was intended in part to allow access for the displaced former residents of this area to visit family grave sites located in the Park.

BMT Day 7 – Pilkey Creek

Saturday, July 27, 2013
StartLower Forney Creek – CS 74  |  Finish: Pilkey Creek – CS 77  |  Miles: 13.7  |  Total: 74.8

Dear Jason,

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This iPhone pic was to be my map for the next day & a half

I guess you can consider yourself fortunate for having missed this one.  The sort of inevitable day that only counts toward the greater accomplishment of the total hike, but as a standalone would be disappointing, or drudgery.   The sort I would be apologizing for having subjected you to.  Your company would be needed to offset a hike like today’s.

It started off weird, though.  When I got in to camp last night and was swapping itineraries with the Dudes there, they told me they had walked a few hundred feet down my trail, and it was “totally flooded”.  I wasn’t sure what that meant, but it sounded like wet shoes again.  It rained twice that night- one thunderstorm just after dark that lasted a couple of hours, and another shower in the middle of the night.

New fuel-saving super-breakfast: put the Via coffee in the chocolate protein shake = awesome frapuccino caffeine bomb!

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Trail disappears in to lake

I had to do some major duct tape work on my feet this AM, but still managed to be on-trail by 8:30.  About 10 minutes later the trail seemed to disappear in to the lake.  I stood there and scratched my head for a few minutes.  There had been no trail closures as of last Saturday.  I considered putting on Crocs and wading out to see if I could figure out where it came out.  I considered how far the walk to Bryson City is (11 miles, 3 till I could start hitchhiking) to then somehow find a ride to Fontana Dam and skip the Lakeshore section (no telling how much of it could be under water, based on this).  I considered going back to borrow the Dudes’ map and figure out an alternate route to 20 Mile Ranger Station, over the mountains.

As I was walking back the 1/4 mile to camp, I took another look at the trail sign I had followed.  It was not pointing at the lake, but 90 degrees at the trail headed up in to the woods.  I had walked down the lake access path for canoe campers and horse waterers, and ignored the orientation of the sign right in front of me.  I decided to let the Dudes think I waded across the lake, and wondered who had that in the pool.

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Stumble upon a perfectly good pen, just as I was contemplating my ink supply. This is what they refer to as “trail magic” (this, and treats from hiker-friendly muggles…)

The rest of the morning was uneventful.  The trail meanders along the edge of the lake, but rarely close enough to see the water.  It was lined with baby trees that were hanging over the trail up to my chest, and dripping wet from last night’s rain.  Soon I was soaked from the waist down and my socks were squishing.  I could tell my blisters were coming back, and could feel them starting to get painful.  At lunch I had to completely redo my feet and put on dry socks.

All day I kept seeing odd “civilian” looking litter, not stuff you would expect from hikers.  It dawned on me that a lot of lake fishers must pull their boats in to these sites to camp.  That would explain the vienna sausage and spam cans, beer bottles, etc.

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Prettiest moment of the day: Old NC288, highway through the woods

The afternoon was a long walk on what I’m pretty sure had to be the road grade for a 2-lane highway that was never completed.  Probably the same one with the tunnel – Bryson City to Fontana – that may have been curtailed by the creation of the lake or the GSMNP.  (I have since read that it was a road project that was started in the ’40s to replace a road that was submerged by the lake, and abandoned in the ’70s.)  At times it was eerily cool, but mostly it was wading through waist high weeds and mud bogs littered with cut-up treefall.  But you could make out the smooth two-lane width of perfect grading, even through the trees.

Finally made it to camp at 4:40 – great time, but it was mostly flat.  I did see one tusked boar earlier today.  We locked eyes for a moment, at a distance, then he ran off.

Camp site is a little bit marshy and very buggy.  Today wasn’t bad, just not great.  Opinion probably tainted by blisters.  Tomorrow should be better.

Love, Dad

BMT Day 6 – Lower Fourney Creek

Friday, July 26, 2013
StartBurnt Spruce Campsite – CS 56  |  Finish: Lower Forney Creek – CS 74  |  Miles: 15.4  |  Total: 61.1

Woke up anxious about facing the solitude.  Began singing out loud to pace myself on the climbs.  Started with The Police, then switched to Larry Norman – he’s the only one I can remember most of the words to.  Challenged myself to sing through the entire In Another Land album – probably the most memorized single album of my childhood.  I was amazed at how much of it I could reconstruct.  Then it was on to attempt to reconstruct Pink Floyd’s The Wall – fresh in my head from having just watched the movie again for the first time in 20-odd years.  That didn’t go so well – maybe 50/50.

Trail Karaoke:   If you are going to do a long, lonely hike, I recommend memorizing some songs – any songs.  Your favorite obscure album.  TV themes.  Anything.  Actually, better be good songs that you like, or it will get old.  Songs will get stuck in your head, and it will suck when you realize you don’t actually know 90% of the lyrics.

…………………………..

aaday6_IMG_3037Dear Jason,

Today was actually pretty good trail.  I departed the Forest of Despair (that’s what I dubbed it in honor of the Princess Bride, the creepy vibe, and that I was feeling quite melancholy last night…) campsite at 9:00, following the creek upstream.  Immediately I came to a stream crossing that was impossible to navigate dry.  Rather than mess up my fresh dry socks, I put on the smelly dry-ish socks that we washed at CS 50.  Good thing too – there were 8 or 10 more creek crossings the next 2 miles.  Then a mile-long climb over a ridge.  At 10:15 I met another thru-hiker named Philip “Oreo”, going northbound.  He said I was the first through hiker he met.

On the way back down the other side, I thought it was going to be Forest of Despair 2.0 – thick undergrowth, a muddy, boggy floor, and facefulls of gnats.  However, it soon started to follow Noland Creek, a beautiful mountain stream again very similar to Jack’s River.  As it went down, the trail got wider and flatter, and became an obvious rail bed.  Most of the crossings at this point were on ancient moss covered single-log bridges.  I found a “perfect spot” for lunch on the edge f the roaring creek, and set up the hammock.aaday6_IMG_3034

After lunch, the trail turned in to a gravel jeep road, then a smooth gravel vehicle road all the way to Road to Nowhere.  By the way, the BMT did go under the bridge and up that side trail that we saw (when dropping off the cache box). After loading up with resupply (I had to go back to ditch your food after carrying it a few hundred yards), I went through the tunnel and back on the trail.  The last 3 miles were decent, but I was suffering from some serious blisters by now.  The entire afternoon was basically a road walk in wet socks.  With road walking you get that repetitive stress of every step being the same, and I don’t think I would have worked up the blisters in the same way walking on a rough trail in the same wet socks.

Arrived at camp at 5:45 pm, 15.7 miles for the day.  There is a group of 3 college age dudes here.  The dudes said that Fontana Lake is “flooded” on the trail ahead, so we’ll have to see what that means.

Tomorrow 13.3 flat.

aaday6_IMG_3041Also, I was missing a chunk of the Smokies map.  For some reason the one I scanned and laminated was missing the last 12 miles due to the unfortunate placement of a map legend – showing blatant AT bias!  I was able to get a snapshot  of the missing section from one of the Dudes.  Good thing, too – the BMT on his map is different than the guide book.  On Sunday I will get to see which way it is marked on the actual trail.

Today it dawned on me that I probably should have had you in real hiking boots for a trip like this.  2 of the last 4 hikes ended in rolled ankles wearing sneakers.

–Dad