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  1. #1

    Default BMT Thru Hike Trip Report: 3/22/17 - 4/12/17

    Hi everyone,

    I recently completed a solo thru hike of the BMT (trail name “Wayfinder”) and decided to post a trip report to help those who might be planning a hike on the trail. Originally, I planned to continue north on the AT at Davenport Gap for a while, but decided to stop at Big Creek. I found everything I wanted on the BMT.

    I completed my northbound thru hike in three weeks from 3/22/17 to 4/12/17. This included two zero days at Fontana and a couple of shorter <10 mile days during town visits. The most miles I hiked in a day was 23, but I usually averaged in the 15-20 mile range.

    The night before my hike, I stayed at the Hiker Hostel in Dahlonega, GA. They picked me up in Atlanta, lodged me for the night, and shuttled me to Springer the next morning all for a price lower than most shuttles alone would have cost. An interesting side note: almost every AT thru hiker I spoke with at the hostel did not know that the Benton MacKaye Trail exists.

    On my thru hike, I stopped in every town along the way and carried 3-5 days of food at a time. I usually have very little appetite when I hike, and being a skinny dude with a super fast metabolism, eating binges in town are essential for me to maintain a healthy weight. Plus, I simply enjoy experiencing the local culture of small towns along the way and like to support mom and pop establishments.

    Here’s the rundown:

    Maps/Guides

    I used SGT Rock’s BMT Thru-Hikers’ Guide 2014-2015 Edition, Nat Geo Maps 777 and 781, and the $1.00 NPS trail map of the Smokies. I also used a basic orienteering compass.

    What I liked

    The solitude. I saw a few backpackers in Georgia, including a BMTA maintainer, but went 70 miles in the Tennessee and TN/NC state line area without seeing another hiker. I saw the most hikers in the Smokies, but most did not even know they were on the BMT. Unlike the AT, the BMT is more of a wilderness experience. This is why I go hiking, so I loved it. I felt like I got much more out of this hike than the 200 mile section of the AT I did two years ago from Springer to Newfound Gap. The AT has become too crowded for my taste. The BMT was everything I hoped for in a long hike. Oh, and I had a pleasant encounter with Tipi Walter around Bob Bald!

    What I didn’t like

    Sharing campsites for my last few nights in the Smokies. I prefer to camp alone and choose my own sites, so this restricted my hike at the end. I really enjoyed the trail in the Smokies, just not the camping. However, when I thought about the overcrowding/shelter situation on the AT just a ridgeline away, I felt much better about my route through the park. Elsewhere on the BMT, there were some sections of trail that utilized current or old FS roads that were less than desirable. Recent windstorms and fires caused a lot of down trees in the area between the Little Frog Wilderness and Lost Creek. Most of these obstacles were easily maneuvered around, but they made the going tough at times. Otherwise, there was not much to dislike about the trail.

    Hardest parts

    Toccoa River to Skeenah Gap Road
    Unicoi Gap to Rocky Top
    Tapoco to Fontana.

    Overall, I felt the trail was more of a “moderate” trail with occasional short strenuous climbs.

    Easiest parts

    Springer to Toccoa River (northbound)
    Lost Creek to Unicoi Gap
    The Smokies--even the big climbs in the Smokies were gently graded.

    Favorite sections

    Toccoa River, Big Frog Mountain, Hiwassee River, Tellico River to the Hangover, Little Frog Wilderness, the many creekside walks in the Smokies. I also enjoyed the early roadwalk section in the Aska Road area where the trail passes the Shallowford Bridge and Iron Bridge Cafe.

    Least favorite sections

    The road walk on Stanley Creek Road in Georgia, the section around Unicoi Gap where dirt bikers nearly ran me down, a fire damaged section between Little Big Frog Wilderness and Lost Creek where the trail was essentially an obstacle course. Any shared section with the AT which felt like an interstate highway.

    Hitching

    A mixed bag. I easily hitched into and out of Ducktown and Cherokee, getting rides within minutes. I had no luck getting into Blue Ridge and ended up walking the five miles into town.

    Water Sources

    Water sources were plentiful for the majority of the trail, with the exception of the 15 or so miles north of the Toccoa River. All of the water sources in this section indicated as unreliable in SGT Rock’s guide were dry, including Payne Gap. I loaded up at the Toccoa River before entering this section and supplemented at the creek behind the church .2 miles down Skeenah Gap Road. Someone else had mentioned that in an earlier post here.

    Stream crossings

    Too many to mention. Some can be rock hopped, but many I just plowed through in my trail runners. I encountered two sketchy crossings. The first was West Fork Rough Creek coming out of Big Frog. This would have probably been a super easy crossing under normal conditions, but I hit it the morning after an all night deluge. I made it through the first knee deep crossing okay, but opted to take a detour around the second one as it was longer and swifter than the first and the Rough Creek Trail offered a convenient bypass. I was possibly being a little too cautious as a solo hiker, but I believe I made the right decision. The second problematic crossing was Noland Creek in the Smokies, which is also a double crossing. Again, I hit this one after a big rain. The first crossing was thigh deep and the second almost up to my waist. On the second crossing, I ended up bushwhacking 100 yards downstream and fording where the current was slower. I also recall a lot of stream crossings in the Lost Creek and Brookshire Creek areas, but none of those presented any problems.

    Trail markings and blazes

    I have to commend the BMTA as they have done an excellent job blazing the trail. Even the road walks were well marked. In wilderness areas where blazes are not allowed, the trail is usually easily followed. I did make use of my Nat Geo maps on a few occasions and took a few compass bearings just to make sure I was headed in the right direction. The only major wrong turn I made was at the intersection of the Jacks River Trail in the Cohutta. There is a missing sign here and I went east when I should have gone west. I came out at Dally Gap and took the Hemp Top Trail to rejoin the BMT--not a big deal. The trail along Brookshire Creek is blazed with white rectangular blazes which confused me a little and made me question if I was still on the BMT. Also, The BMT goes straight through the Tapoco Lodge property on their private paved road. I wasn’t sure at first if this was right, but that’s the way it goes.

    Gear
    For those interested, here is a partial list of gear I used on the hike and would use again:

    Osprey Aether 60 pack
    Eureka Spitfire 1 tent
    Marmot Sawtooth 15 bag
    Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite air mattress
    Merrell Moab Ventilator trail runners
    Sawyer Squeeze filter
    Packa rain parka

    Trail towns/resupply

    Blue Ridge: The downtown area away from the ugly commercial strip is nice. I stayed at the Douglas Inn and visited Mike’s Trackside BBQ and Fannin Brewing Company while I was there. I would recommend all three. The Douglas Inn has on-site laundry. Food Lion was nearby.

    Ducktown: Not much here except for a Piggly Wiggly and a surprisingly good pizza joint: Copper Station. The Copper Inn next door looked nasty and there wasn’t anybody staying there.

    Reliance: A small fishing community without many services. I sent myself a mail drop and stayed overnight at Reliance Fly and Tackle which I highly recommend. Being that severe storms were coming through the night I stayed, I splurged and stayed in their rental cabin for the night, but you can easily camp outside for a small fee. I ordered lots of burgers, sandwiches, and hot dogs from their deli. They are really friendly people. Their store does have a few items a hiker might want (Clif bars, fig bars, beef jerky), but definitely nothing for long term resupply. They also did not have any fuel other than Camp Heat/Sterno type fuel.

    Fontana: I had been hiking each day when I arrived at Fontana and decided to rest for two days at the Lodge before heading into the Smokies. As you can imagine, the place was packed with AT hikers. Fontana General Store gouged me for resupply, but it was still better than sending a mail drop. Plenty to choose from. The Wildwood Grill had good food, if not a little overpriced. I used the computer and printer to make my campsite permits for the Smokies. When I left, I was happy that I was continuing on the BMT and not the AT.

    Cherokee: I only visited the extreme northern part of town and didn’t bother venturing any farther south. I did a re-supply for two days at a gas station and ate at the Little Princess Restaurant which was nothing special. Way too many tourists! I was happy to get back to the trail. This was probably my least favorite town stop.

    Summary

    If you are looking for a long hike that delivers more of a wilderness experience than the AT, this is it. I felt like it made me a better backpacker and I had lots of time and space for self-reflection and meditation. A wonderful experience.

  2. #2
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    Thanks for sharing. I plan to do a thru hike later this season and I was hoping someone would make a post like this. It sounds like exactly what I'm looking for.

  3. #3
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    Oh, and congratulations!

  4. #4

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    Congrats on your thru. The long trails are probably out for me as far as thru hiking are concerned but this trail and others like it seem to be more attainable. Great info in your report!

  5. #5

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    Glad you got back okay and survived the onerous GSMNP rules. Being told where to camp will never be a consideration for me.

    Your Strenuous Climbs list is well known to me as I just pulled the Unicoi Gap to Rocky Top trek last month and there are some nut hills! And the Tapoco to Fontana trek is on the new BMT reroute using the old Yellow Creek Mt trail which used to be the original Appalachian Trail back in the 1940s. It too has some terrible nut hills---a roller coaster. I remember backpacking YCMT back in 2002 when it was a hell zone full of blowdowns and briars---and way before it was designated part of the BMT.

    Another tough nut climb is leaving Double Spring Gap and climbing a thousand feet in one mile to Big Frog Mt. Did it last year on a nighthike with a 75 lb pack and never thought I'd reach the top. But a buddy was waiting for me with a whole watermelon he humped in from god knows where.

    It was good seeing you on Bob Mt---


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    Super helpful! Thanks for posting!


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

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    Excellent write-up! Congrats on the trip. Wallalah>Licklog>Rhodes - definitely a test of resolve.

  8. #8

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    Nice report Wayfinder. I did this section " between Little Big Frog Wilderness and Lost Creek where the trail was essentially an obstacle course" a little over a month ago. It was very difficult and slow going. Here's a couple of pictures.

    DSC01398.jpgDSC01402.jpg

  9. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by Cedar Tree View Post
    Nice report Wayfinder. I did this section " between Little Big Frog Wilderness and Lost Creek where the trail was essentially an obstacle course" a little over a month ago. It was very difficult and slow going. Here's a couple of pictures.

    DSC01398.jpgDSC01402.jpg
    That's one of my least favorite sections, maybe because the forest honchos logged the trail in one area and rerouted the trail. Just what the trail needs---logging. And when I did Lost Creek there was a big bulldozer working the surrounding hills for days, completely ruining the outdoor experience with noise pollution.

  10. #10

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    Congratulations and thanks for the report! I'm starting in just a few days and really appreciate the information.

  11. #11
    Registered User soilman's Avatar
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    Thanks for the trip report. I am planning on a NOBO this fall and this is quite helpful.
    More walking, less talking.

  12. #12
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    Great BMT hike report, thanks for posting. I'm planning a Nobo BMT hike later this spring so this was helpful.

    and I agree 110% with you on the AT becoming too overcrowded this time of year. I cut my last AT section hike short in north GA...too many hikers and tent cities, just had no appeal in that mob. Mountain Xings just posted a report at their FB page that many NoBo thru hikers are showing up sick...reports of Lance Creek contamination, toilet paper being seen along the creek and along the trail in that vicinity.

    again, thanks for sharing your experience

  13. #13
    Registered User lonehiker's Avatar
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    Have been pondering a ~500 mile AT prep hike next spring. Think I may look into doing the BMT/AT loop instead. Is the March/April time-period optimal as far as weather goes for the BMT?
    Lonehiker

  14. #14

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    Quote Originally Posted by lonehiker View Post
    Have been pondering a ~500 mile AT prep hike next spring. Think I may look into doing the BMT/AT loop instead. Is the March/April time-period optimal as far as weather goes for the BMT?
    I was happy with my decision to start the BMT in late March. It was cold enough that the bugs were not really a factor outside of a couple of warm days. Plus, the trees had not leafed yet so the views were outstanding. The only troubling weather I encountered were some rounds of severe storms which are always possible in the southeast during spring.

    The BMT route follows a lower elevation overall compared to the AT and will be a warmer hike. When snow, wind, and 20 degree temperatures hit the high ridgeline of the Smokies toward the end of my BMT hike, I was on the low elevation Lakeshore Trail in 35-45 degree temps and very little wind. Not until I got up to Mount Sterling did I see any snow on the ground.

    If I were doing the AT/BMT loop in this time frame, I would do the BMT section first in order to leave the high elevation AT route through the Smokies until the end. I also think autumn would be a great time of year to hike this route. This would also allow you to avoid the spring thru hiker bubble on the AT. Of course, if you are planning to thru hike in the future, you may want to get a taste of that.

  15. #15

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    Or you could do as I do and use the BMT as a trail to link up hundreds of miles of other trails and still stay out for a month or more.

    Since the BMT goes thru the Cohutta/Big Frog, you could blue blaze off the BMT into both areas and spend a couple weeks doing all the trails.

    Same thing with the BMT going thru the Upper Bald River wilderness and going thru the Citico/Slickrock area. You could even pass over Whiggs Meadow on the BMT and veer off over Haw Knob and drop into the Snowbird wilderness for an extended trip. (Note---This Whigg/Haw/Snowbird Creek linkup is part of the proposed western extension of the Bartram Trail from Cheoah Bald and designed to join both the Bartram with the BMT).

  16. #16

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    I thru'd the BMT 10/23/16 to 11/13-16 and pretty much had similar experiences as yours. Though I hiked it during that nasty drought and didn't hit my first stream crossing until that big one before Reliance and after that didn't have to get my feet wet again until a handful of crossings in the smokies. Curious to know how bad the damage was between Little Frog Wilderness and Lost Creek. I had to have been one of the last hikers to go through those areas before the fires did it's damage.

    I had similar hitching experiences as well. No one in Blue Ridge would give me a ride lol.

  17. #17
    Registered User AO2134's Avatar
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    I section hiked the entire BMT 2 years ago. This is my favorite trail. I love the BMT. Congrats and amazing trip report.
    Foothills Trail - 14
    Bartram Trail - 15 - Video
    Benton MacKaye Trail - 15 - Video
    AT - 15% complete
    Pinhoti Trail - 16 - Video

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