Wayne, Pam, and I have lately been talking about section hiking the Benton Mackaye Trail (BMT). The BMT runs for about 300 miles from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Davenport Gap in the northernmost part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The middle of the BMT crosses the Appalachian Trail near Fontana. If you were to look at an overview map, you’d see that the two trails form a huge lopsided figure eight.
The trails namesake, Benton Mackaye (pronounced Mak-eye), was a forester and a conservationist. He is probably best known for proposing the idea for the Appalachian Trail, having written about it in an article published in 1921.
On Friday, we finally got started and hiked all of section 1 and most of section 2. We hiked 16.4 miles total from Springer Mountain to just beyond the swinging bridge over the Toccoa River. The guide says that the distance is 14.3 miles, but that doesn’t include the eight tenths of a mile hike on the A.T. from the parking area along the gravel road (FS 42) to the junction for the southern terminus of the BMT. It also doesn’t include a short detour near the beginning to an impressive overlook.
Later, we took a side trail down to Long Creek Falls. Even accounting for those things though, our hike ended up being about a mile longer than expected. When we thought that we had hiked far enough to be at the end, we were in fact still high up on a ridge and the Toccoa River was nowhere to be seen (or even heard). When we figured that we should be going downhill towards the river valley, we found ourselves instead still making a couple of short climbs. Eventually though, the trail did drop steeply and cross the swinging bridge. From there, all that was left to do was one more short climb back to Pam’s vehicle.
This had been a very long day. I was up by 4:30 am and met Wayne and Pam in Westminster shortly before six. We left my car there and drove in their two vehicles towards Fannin County, GA. On the way, we stopped for a quick breakfast in Dahlonega before continuing on. By the time that we had shuttled our vehicles and were finally ready to begin our hike, it was already noon.
An early morning downpour had cooled things off a little, so even though it was hot, it wasn’t terribly hot. Later, however, when the rainwater began to evaporate, it became exceedingly humid. It felt like we were hiking in a steam bath most of the day. The three of us and our packs were completely soaked with sweat. We still managed to average about 22 minutes per mile while actually hiking, but with water breaks, lunch, photo opp’s, etc, it took us a total of 7 hrs and 11 mins. Once we arrived at Pam’s vehicle, we still had to make the return drive to Springer to get Wayne’s truck. Afterwards, we drove back to Dahlonega, where we ate dinner at Gustavo’s Pizzeria. Wayne asked the hostess to seat us at the back of the restaurant, along the wall, since we had been hiking and didn’t smell too good. The hostess apparently didn’t bat an eye, as though she gets this request on a regular basis.
After dinner, we finished our drive to Westminster. By the time that I got home, it was more than half past midnight. I didn’t get to sleep until about 3 am. Our house was full of people (a dozen teenagers, my wife and I, and our youngest son), but that’s another story for another time. It had been almost 24 hours since I first woke to begin the day.
As for the stats, as I mentioned before, we hiked a total of 16.4 miles. There had been a little over 3,200 feet of elevation gain and more than 4,400 feet of downhill. The BMT is much more remote than the Appalachian Trail. In fact, we didn’t see anybody else except for where it briefly overlapped the A.T. near the waterfall. It’s beautiful, but some of the terrain is pretty steep. The Benton Mackaye Trail Association website states that it is chartered to travel the high ridge and is rated as strenuous (no argument from me).
After such a long and tiring day, I joked with Wayne and Pam that I was going to turn my phone off for a few days so that they couldn’t call and tempt me with another hike. Or at least they think that I was joking.