Updated: Jan 24, 2022
Pt 1 Smokies
Pt 2 The Wilds
Pt 3 The Boarlands
Pt 4 The Frogs
Shallowford Bridge: Mile 245.3
We left Blue Ridge around 10:00, getting a ride back out from Howard, who gave us a heads up about the weather. He explained that the weather here really moves in from Atlanta because of the mountains and wanted us to be informed since local news and weather from Chattanooga was also available and people sometimes use that instead.
Leaving Howard at the start of Country Road 158, we began some pretty tranquil road walks past more scenic mountain property. Soon that gave way to an open meadow where we started passing day hikers for the first time all trip. We'd met fishermen, hunters, rafters, kayakers, and white water canoers but not other hikers besides the few passing Nobos.
As we began our ascent up Scroggin Knob and hiked along the ridge leading to the Fall River Falls we saw even more people. Packmule, who we met briefly before our hike to Indian Rock Shelter, told us we'd definitely see hikers out around here since it was the trail to Fall Branch Falls and on a beautiful Saturday morning (with just a bit of rain) that was definitely true.
Towards the top of Rocky Mountain we met Paul up from Atlanta for a weekend trail run with his dog Sully. He ran up at a little junction to see if there was a view, but he later headed back towards the waterfall and chatted with us as we lunched on a little rocky pull off towards the top of the falls. Before leaving he passed on some extra snacks and some energy gel shots (which would prove to be serious trail magic in the near future) then WOOSH he and Sully were off!
After coming down from Fall Branch Falls we began a loooong road walk. It was a bit rainy and rumbly at this point, which was actually a stroke of luck. Road walks can get incredibly hot, especially in the summer, so we didn't mind the rain. Along the way we passed Liz, whose husband is BMTA maintainer in GA she told us, she let us get some water out of her hose which was really kind as we were about halfway through our road walk and I was pretty thirsty.
The lighting increased a bit as we came to the intersection with the Toccoa Riverside Restaurant. We went downstairs to their bar area and waited out the lightning for about an hour or so before pressing on to the Ironbridge Cafe and Shallowford bridge and passing tubers on the Toccoa relaxed and unbothered by the afternoon storm.
On the little stretch of road after crossing the bridge, we encountered some serious trail magic! Firsrt a couple drove by and offered us beers which I gladly accepted and carried. Then we passed a trail angel stand complete with a hiker box, log, and honey buns.
We ended our night at a campsite in the guide listed .1 on trail after getting back on Forest Service land. The spot was a bit stealthy and lightly used, but flat and perfect for our needs with water nearby from a stream flowing slowly, but still decent enough.
Toccoa River Bridge: Mile 271.5
We decided to do a big day. Our biggest yet.
We decided it for many reasons, the main one being that it was time to get serious about making the 500 mile loop. And if we we're going to do it, it's going to take some pushes.
We broke camp quickly, getting on trail by 6:30am with head lamps, to go over 22 miles Toccoa River Bridge to camp.
The morning started with a slow, steep climb up Free Knob which served as a nice warm up.
Then down a gap at Dial Road to go up to Garland Gap (nothing like an up to a down) and up further to Brawley Mountain. It was up, down, up, down all the while getting closer to our ascent up Licklog Mountain to join the Duncan Ridge trail.
The trail through this part of the Chattahoochee was really lovely. One of the gripes some folks have with BMT is a lack of views directly on trail, with stunners like the Hangover being side trails. They feel there's a "green tunnel" effect (not to be confused with the "green wall" coined in our earlier posts effect) like sections of the AT in Virgina where you climb up to tree lined ridges.
But one of the most beautiful parts of the trail has been the diversity of forests we've walked through. Each section has been fascinating and unique, from the thinly lined high elevation in the Smokies to the river gorges and basins, to the rolling, pine lined ridges of the Chattahoochee. I've never bought the "green tunnel effect" personally, here and on the AT. Walking through different Wilderness Areas and National Forests will always be a treat and the BMT gives you an intimate experience with some of the southeast's iconic forests.
We also passed by some future and (what seemed like) recent "proscribed burn" areas which was interesting to be near. In the recently burned areas we noticed there weren't many spiders, but instead we were swarmed by so many tiny gnats! We postulated that perhaps all the spiders keep the gnats away from trail and I felt an (almost) nostalgia for them. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
We stopped to eat and grab water at Payne Gap camp since the next stretch was showing pretty dry both on Guthook and in the Guide. The water was kind of slow here, but someone had made a makeshift pipe from a leaf, creating a nice flow spot. We also split the energy gel shot which Paul had gifted us. It was super effective.
Up, up, and away we went onto the Duncan Ridge Trail. Now big mountains stood between us and our destination:
Licklog at 3,472 feet
Wallalah at 3,100 feet
Toonowee at 2,725 feet
The Duncan Ridge Trail proved one of my, if not my sole, favorite section of the trail. The ridges and climbs were challenging, to be sure, but really well maintained with beautiful campsites. One site we passed had, honestly, the homiest fire ring I've seen. A tight, well designed circle with a big slab of Quartz as a kind of hearthstone.
But we had our goal, so on we went past the great campsites. If we had still had our hammocks and been in camping mode like earlier we probably, definitely, would have stopped. But to finish the loop (or Figure Eight, maybe? If someone knows if that's really what it's called please leave a comment!) needed to shift gears a bit.
Wallalah was a big climb out of a gap and we were definitely feeling it at this point in the day. Resting at the bottom by GA 60 we rationed our water a bit since the stream is listed in the guide as being from a chicken farm. While we debated double treating it, we passed, and I'm glad we did because a spring box on the way up Toonowee listed as intermittent in the guide was flowing beautifully. It was a really nice, piece of old stone engineering, fun to see after passing by the gigantic Fontana Dam and Ocoee 3 Flume.
Up and over we came to the Toccoa River Bridge, a masterful bit of work from the late 70s that swayed with each step over the Toccoa. The campsites were plentiful, but we were careful to pick one without dead trees, and a stream running down into the river on the southside of the bridge provided a great water source.
With light fading we quickly made camp and went to bed, listening to the lulling sounds of river for one last time on the BMT.
Springer Mountain, Southern Terminus: Mile 286.3
Up at our usual 5:00am, we made breakfast sitting on the concrete slabs supporting the bridge and admiring a slow sunrise over the river.
Then we started climbing up to Wildcat Ridge and onward to Springer. It was an odd feeling, being close to the terminus of the BMT, but knowing another 240 miles of the AT were ahead, especially after breaking our 20 barrier.
Down and up along the ridge to "The Bald" a beautiful, sunny meadow where we heard the hum of bees hard at work in the field.
Heading down we soon found ourselves at Long Creek Falls. Along the blue blaze we bumped into Vinegar (AT' 18) who was out with his two grandsons, "getting in their first mile!" He gave us another energy gel shot and grapes and chatted with us a bit about the BMT as he's planning an October BMT hike with some friends.
We snacked at the falls as tourists and hikers alike strolled by. This was also the junction with the AT and it became clear to is that even in the "off-season" for Georgia, this would still be a social trail and a much different experience than the remoteness and solitude of the BMT.
After passing Three Forks we split from the AT (for now) and began the slow steep climb up Rich Mountain to get near elevation with Springer.
Before the final climb we stopped at Owens Overlook, a beautiful little clearing well worth the 100 feet.
From here we climbed Springer taking what felt almost like a secret way up, a beautiful forest floor that was just the rigorous enough to be dramatic without being overbearing or causing us to lose our energy up, up, up.
Small rain clouds sent a few big drops down in a sun shower, cooling the ascent, but not making it more difficult. It was truly perfect hiking weather.
Then we found ourselves at the Benton MacKaye memorial and the end of this leg of our journey. The memorial itself is lovely and well worth the visit, either as a terminus of a thru-hike or just stopping in from the Springer Parking lot. The plaque is set back in rock enclosing so that it looks shrine like. As we took a picture, one of the rain clouds passed and cast a light over it in cinematic fashion, some real trail magic to end a grueling and absolutely gorgeous trail.
Now we find ourselves hiking the realization of MacKaye's vision. There's something truly special about going from the namesake to the dream. A sensation I'll be mulling over and trying to put into words along our next 240 miles.
On a tighter schedule now, we'll be doing quick posts on instagram and in the hiking groups J-Dub is a part of on Facebook, but we'll be saving the AT portion for one big blog at the end. Even now, 31 miles in and writing this at Neel Gap, we'll soon have head back on trail and make at least 14 miles to hit our August 28th goal.
So stay tuned, follow along on social media @BrothersWelch and send good thoughts, prayers, and vibes as we make our way back to the Smokies.
Mileage estimated using the 2021 Benton MacKaye Trail Thru-Hiker's Guide by The Engmans AKA SGT Rock & Kanga