Updated: Jan 24
Pt 1 Smokies
Camp around mile 136.5
We started out of Green Cove Lodge around 8:30am after checking out and grabbing a bit of breakfast. We were going into Cherokee National Forest and up into the Unicoi Mountains. A place we decided to call: the Boarlands
We called it this mainly because people had been warning us about the wild boars in this area. Really, the boars had been with us the whole hike, but this section they were supposed to be particularly rampant. This section of the Cherokee National Forest was also set aside as game land for folks who want to boar hunt so we met people who knew boar very well.
Boars are a particularly tricky obstacle for hikers. It seems the only thing to do if one sees you and charges you is to climb a tree or high boulder. Unlike holding your ground for a bear, you need to get as high away as possible and avoid their tusks which are nicely placed at thigh gashing level.
So, into the Boarlands we went!
But first the 1.4mile road walk back and a trip to the Pheasant Field bathrooms which, as mentioned last blog, were really nice.
Always an up out of town. This was no different even though it was a lodge and not technically a town. The up was steep, but not altogether too bad. Then we had a few fords. Like the fords in the Smokies, these were pretty tame, but there was one at the bald river junction that was over slick rock right next to a waterfall, the force of the current was surprisingly powerful for how small a distance the ford itself was.
Past that ford and up a bit we ended up camping by a creek at 149.2 (NoBo) we found from a Guthook comment. It was raining on and off so we moved from camp chores to our tarp shelter, camp chores to our tarp shelter, until the rain finally let up later in the night.
Gap Campsite 144.9
No boar sightings or sounds over night, but plenty of evidence along the trail from rutting, hoof marks, and scat.
We climbed up Rocky Top and Round Top passing the halfway point of the BMT. We ended up stopping at a campsite by a spring in the gap before Hazelnut Knob about 6.9 from our last site. A short day but we had some weird logistics coming up including a long stretch without water and wanted to set ourselves up for that as best as possible.
As we passed the afternoon we heard a few rumbles of thunder that threatened then went away and a few hours later threatened again, but nothing happened. It seemed something big was brewing. We were camping in the gap itself, and while there was a fairly nice site down the .2 to the spring we decided to stay put.
As we lounged and watched the sky we had our first fellow BMT thru-hiker come by, a young guy named Johnson who was hiking and carrying a fly rod, seems like the best of both world for this trail. He stopped at the spring and said it was the best water before "the Chimney" (an actual old stone chimney) and that after the Chimney... there wasn't much of anything.
We told him about terrain coming up and he did the same. He also went down to Reliance Fly and Tackle and raved about it, which was nice to hear since that was our stop in a few days.
Not long after Johnson left the storm finally come through and it was a long one. Heavy rain with some thunder and lightning that stayed intense for about 45 minutes but lingered rumbling and raining on and off for another half-hour or so.
We waited out the storm under the shelter then ate dinner and set up our tents, gearing up for what would be our biggest day yet.
Coker Creek 164.9
Up and out early as usual we made quick work of Hazelnut Knob and the slew of ups and downs along the ridge to Cantrell Top a steep climb and steep descent to Tate Gap and some forest service road walking.
We got to the intersection of Trail 117 where the guide and Guthook comments mentioned camping and water. We didn't immediately see a campsite, but also didn't dally too long. Our inital thought was to stay in the area to break it up a bit, but the thought soon subsided and it became clear we'd have to make the push to Coker Creek. There was camping up by the Chimney an old, stone ruin, close to the top of the ridge but it was a bit overgrown and water was near-ish by down the hill, where he had just filled up, but not super close.
On our way down we bumped into another NoBo named Jared! We had a whole quick information dump about terrain and conditions. We also told him about Johnson and he seemed excited to hear that there was another thru-hiker out. This trail could definitely feel pretty lonely solo, even in the Smokies we didn't encounter other hikers, so it makes sense that you'd be looking forward to having someone in your bubble, so to speak.
Parting with Jared we went on and on, for a long stretch with no water. The day was threatening rain and we wanted to press on past our powerline crossing before a storm came in. Well, we thought it was a crossing, but we actually followed underneath the powerlines for a good distance on, what appeared to be, an access or service road for them though a bit brushy now. Our exit was even more dramatic, hunching down to pass through a narrow section of trail covered in brush and young pines that seemed more like a glorified water runoff ditch than a trail.
Our hunched brush run didn't last too long and we took a short lunch break back on open trail.
The trail from here out was rolly and the footing was tough. We were getting lower in elevation so there was more clay in the soil. Having hiked around the Lake Norman area a good deal, we were familiar with clay's behavior. It gets real mucky after rain (like our storm last night) but as it dries it first gets hard and slick, so that’s what we were working with.
Honestly, this passage was long and hot, and most of the day was a grueling race to the finish. We managed to find a small, intermittent Spring listed in the guide at the 123.3 mark and the terrain didn't change too, too much once we turned onto the John Muir Trail.
We made a late entrance to Coker Creek and took a few minutes to collect ourselves. The creek area itself was nice but definitely a local party spot with quite a bit of trash and damage around. There was also a good amount of dead and weak pine trees which made us wary, but weariness beat wariness and we set up as best as possible.
John Muir Trail at Childers Creek Mile 175.6
Easy day into town!
We wanted to make it into Reliance Fly and Tackle today, in part because we were technically two days behind our schedule and this would gain us back one day and in part because there wasn't much camping listed at a reasonable distance.
The last river walk we had into Tellico was a beautiful stretch of trail that flowed along the river. Since the elevation profile didn't look too bad, we figured this would be similar, with a few more steep ups, but we were wrong.
It started easy enough with a rolly walk along Coker Creek to ford Loss Creek. The ford itself was probably our biggest in size and depth, but wasn't too difficult. There was a nice campground immediately after it as well to sit and put my hiking boots back on.
Soon after "The Narrows" the trail took on a distinctly southern gothic feel. The river slowed to a stagnat, almost swamp like pace and the forest floor began to be dotted with palmettos. Our ups were rocky and beside small caves.
There were a few pretty spots to stop and get water as well as few nice campsites. People who love swamps and swamp walking talk about the allure and beauty of them and I've never really bought it, but there was admittedly something entrancing about the early morning light hitting all the dead logs and murky water.
Heading up out of the swampy section marked the beginning of what we would affectionately call "Shelob's Lair" (after the spider from Lord of the Rings) as we walked into spider web, after spider web, after spider web. It was out of control. We were moving slow and trying to use our poles to cut them out of the way. But even then we'd miss some. We took turns leading because it was just too much for one person to take the brunt of. When we paused for water or lunch, we were finding spiders of all colors and sizes on our packs and having to flick them off.
Shelob's lair turned into a ridge above the Hiawassee which became a narrow, slanted cliff walk. We followed this, and the webs, down to the Towee Boating area parking lot. We took another break to spider check and collect ourselves there then went on.
The terrain changed again (though still with spider webs) we began walking beside a road along the shore of the Hiawassee River. As we walked, the road next to us passed by with bus after van after bus of rafters heading to put-in spots and on the river we could see kayakers out riding the rapids. If Tellico had been a prime fishing spot. It was clear we were now entering rafting country.
The trail took a sharp upward turn and we found ourselves on the ridge of the river gorge, cliff walking again. This section was a bit more overgrown with sections of the trail washed out making it, quite frankly, scary at times. The culmination of this was a scramble down wet rock with no real margin for error.
Easy day into town.
Tapering back down and into a parking lot we next found ourselves actually along the river shore with a few nice little camp spots along the way. Standing by the Hiawasee River we could feel just how powerful it was and the difference between it and the creeks and brooks we'd been fording. The Hiawassee is a wide, long river and it's pull cooled down the shore immensely with a nice a breeze.
The trail seemed a bit tamer from here and we zoomed along trying to beat the heat. Then we got actually right along the river... actually right along it. This was admittedly a pretty cool section, though at the end of a long, hot day, didn't feel so fun. There were some unique, technical scrambles over the river itself including one that had us hugging a rock wall to avoid the falling in.
The trail then led out to a parking lot which carries on further into Reliance, but we turned the opposite way to walk a hot .6 along the road to Reliance Fly & Tackle where we had a mail drop and were hoping to be able to tent. We heard it can get crowded, but since we were coming in on a Wednesday we thought we'd have pretty good odds.
No one was camping there and we were able to get a shady tent spot right by Childer's Creek, a small stream running through the property, for $25. The campstore itself has a nice bit of resupply and snacks as well as a good selection of beverages.
The staff were really cool with two smelly, kind of disoriented hikers rambling in at the height of the afternoon. They had our package, immediately got the shower rooms open, and the lady working the deli stayed on past her shift to fix us some sandwhiches. A wonderful spot that has a hiker-hostile feel, definitely worth the .6!
We intended to keep going, but the heat really got to us. Two big pushes through heat wave afternoons had taken their toll and we decieded it'd be safest to pay another $25 to tent again and ride out heat in the AC of the store.
While the place gets busy over the weekends, they were totally cool with us holding down the spot for a second night with no reservation. We passed the day hydrating and watching cart loads (literally) of tubers being shuttled up and down the river.
We also stopped into Hiawassee Adventures right across the street which has a few more hiker specific resupplies like camp soap, Mountain House meals, fuel, clothing and the like. Worth the visit over if you're camping at Reliance Fly & Tackle
We're feeling the pressure of staying heat safe while also staying on schedule. We got up bright and early, leaving Reliance Fly and Tackle to head into The Frogs.
Note: The campsite names are my own based on their relative location to landmarks.
Mileage estimated using the 2021 Benton MacKaye Trail Thru-Hiker's Guide by The Engmans AKA SGT Rock & Kanga