The Benton MacKaye Temptation

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Photo Credit:  George Miko

This past weekend I tackled the first seventeen miles of the Benton MacKaye Trail with my buddy George.  It was about as good as a winter backpacking weekend can get, with perfectly clear skies, great trail conditions, and even a few AT thru-hikers along the way.  Both trails begin on Springer Mountain, and crisscross each other several times over the next 288 miles.  Early on near Three Forks the trails are coincident with each other, so the trees sport double blazes, the BMT white diamond on top, and the AT’s iconic white rectangle blaze underneath.

This was the second weekend in a row that I had the pleasure of interacting with AT hikers at the very beginning of their trek.  I offered what encouragement and positive energy I could towards them.  Beginnings are always difficult.

While driving in we noticed snow and ice, enough to strand George’s adventure van, which he calls “Little Sasquatch.”  Erring on the side of caution, we opted to park at a BMT trailhead a couple of miles from Springer.  We looped south on the BMT, then picked up the AT to go north and get back to where we began.  Then we continued north on the BMT to the beautiful suspension bridge which spans the Toccoa river.

We camped next to the bridge for the night, near a tiny waterfall which serves as quite the tourist attraction.  There is an immense amount of foot traffic at this bridge, as the nearest parking area is less than a quarter mile away.  I counted at least eighteen teenagers, who apparently came to the site simply for Instagram selfies.  Some fifty people visited the spot during our time there.

On a past trip to the Foothills Trail in SC, I made fun of George for wanting to take this 7lb, four-season mountaineering tent.  This weekend however, with temperatures potentially dropping into the teens, I said nothing, and agreed to carry the poles and stakes.  For the record, the poles and stakes weighed more than any shelter I have used in the past five years, nearly 2.5lbs!

When I crawled into this 35F sauna at 9pm, I thanked George for carrying in the bulk of this palace.  Its fully enclosed one-way breathable interior provided a surprising amount of insulation.  In theory, all condensation passes through this layer, and if it does freeze, it does so on the outside fly of the tent.  With snow flaps, and an exterior frame rated for 80mph winds, this tent is a beast!  So much overkill.  So much comfort!

While cooking dinner we both noticed a horrible dead animal smell.  Soon enough we found the culprit, washed ashore amid several tons of arboreal flotsam.  It was a dead fawn, which must have been swept down river with all of the rains and flooding of late.  George named him “Ralph” for… obvious… reasons:

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With so much driftwood on along the shoreline, we had a fire going with ease.  Soon enough the smell of wood smoke was predominant over the smell of decay.  As night fell and temperatures dropped with it, the odoriferous Cervidae became far less noticeable.

The hike back was fairly uneventful, though both of us at a hell of a time getting moving the following morning.  Whereas the descent down to the river was a fine way to end the previous day, ascending over 1000′ first thing was tough.  The temperature had climbed thirty-eight degrees in under three hours as well, so I spent the first half of the day stripping a layer every mile.  By the time we reached Little Sasquatch, I was down to my running shorts and button down shirt.  I started the day in head to toe thermals, shirt, shorts, a fleece, a hooded insulated jacket, gloves and a hat!

As a result of this trip I have since purchased the updated BMT Thru-hiker’s Guide and I am considering doing a quick end to end hike before I go back to work.  This weekend taught me that I still possess a twenty mile per day fitness level, which would make a full thru of the BMT very doable in two weeks.  Given that I am home with access to real grocery stores and Region-B USPS boxes, I could feasibly do the whole hike for less than my last paycheck from Kroger.  It’s tempting!

With all of the thru hikers on trail this weekend, I have effectively caught the bug again.  Before April I will either do a BMT thru hike, or a full out and back on the Foothills Trail, which would be a far easier jaunt at 154 miles.  I’ll keep you guys posted!

 

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