Hiking The Bartram Trail – Hickory Knut Gap To Wayah Bald

This post is a compilation of images from three recent day hikes as Wayne, Tally, Pam, and I continued our section hike of the Bartram Trail in Georgia and North Carolina. The images and narrative pick up at Hickory Knut Gap (where my last blog post left off) and end at the Wayah Bald fire tower. We bypassed the 14 mile road walk for now, but Wayne and I plan to return to do that at a later date.

The weather during our hikes was what would be expected for the South this time of year, hot and very humid. On hike number one, we began at Hickory Knut Gap Road and hiked 7.1 miles to Jones Gap. Along the way, we enjoyed the views from the top of Scaly Mountain as we looked back on all the terrain that we had previously covered.

On hike number two, we hiked 10.6 miles from Jones Gap to Buckeye Creek. There had been a 60 percent chance of rain for the afternoon, and the forecast proved to be accurate. While rain showers teased us early on, the sky eventually fully opened up and thoroughly drenched us. My pack cover and rain jacket proved to be of little use. The trail became a soggy, slippery mess and my “waterproof” boots filled with water.

Our third and most recent hike was from Wallace Branch to the Wayah Bald fire tower. While the guide book says that this section is 10.8 miles long, Wayne’s GPS (which has been very accurate) indicated that the distance was closer to 12 miles. There is also a sign within about one or two tenths of Wayah Bald that corroborates Wayne’s GPS. This part of the Bartram Trail has a lot of climbing. Our total elevation gain was 5,781 feet. For those desiring to do this section, you may want to consider hiking in the opposite direction so that there would be less uphill. Another option would be to cut the hike in half by beginning or ending at Harrison Gap, which is roughly at the midway point.

We all struggled on this third hike from a combination of the heat and humidity, together with all of the steep climbs. There were few switchbacks and even the switchbacks climbed steeply. With about three miles to go, we were all getting low on water and were rationing our last few sips. Virtually all that I could think about was just how thirsty I was. Fortunately, within about a mile of the finish, I finally came to a water source in the form of a small creek that crossed the trail. I stopped there and filtered a couple of liters of water, which we all shared.

These first images are of our view from the top of Scaly Mountain.

On our hikes, we encountered many varieties of mushrooms or fungi.  Some were tiny and delicate while others were larger than my hands. Some of them were intricately detailed and kind of resembled coral. Most grew out of the ground, though some were growing on the sides of trees.

These images are of trees that I found either odd or interesting, including a tree growing on a slope with finger-like main branches, a tree that has grown in a corkscrew shape, an old broken tree, a tree growing on the edge of a large boulder, and a large tree flanked by orange fungi with a little opening at it’s base.

The trail is quite varied. In places, the trail was overgrown with tall brush, while in other areas, it passed through low ground cover. Parts of the trail were slightly rutted, while other stretches were narrow and steeply sloping on one side.

On these two occasions, the trail broke out into the open as it passed through small grassy fields.

These are just a sampling of some of the wildflowers that we saw as we hiked.  My favorite may be the Turk’s Cap Lily.

More mountain views, including Whiterock Mountain, from the vicinity of Jones Knob.

A little over half way between Jones Gap and Buckeye Creek is this old school bus which sits along the ridge, right in the middle of the trail. Even though the new school year is about to start, I doubt that this bus will be called into service anytime soon.

The spur trails that led to overlooks, were rocky, sometimes moss covered, and had patches of colorful wildflowers.

Get-Along the Turtle’s cousin (twice removed) was determined to make the steep climb to the top of Fishhawk Mountain. While there are no views at the top, there is this plaque that is dedicated to the memory of the trail’s namesake, William Bartram.

Our first views of the fire tower as we approached Wayah Bald.

A stone staircase leads to the top of the tower. From there, you have nearly 360 degree views. To the north are views of the Great Smoky Mountains, while more than 100 miles to the east/southeast is Greenville, South Carolina.

Views from base of tower. Wayah Bald is at an elevation of 5,342 feet. It’s always windy and tends to be chilly, even on a summer’s day.

These three sections of the Bartram Trail offered lots of nice views, hot, humid and wet weather, a variety of wild flowers, interesting and unexpected finds, and plenty of climbing. The third section was particularly difficult, but it was all enjoyable and rewarding in the end.


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