September 16th, 2016
On Friday morning, Wayne, Pam, and I met in Westminster, SC at 5 am, loaded our gear into Pam’s vehicle, then began the drive towards a stretch of the Benton Mackaye Trail in Blue Ridge, Georgia. We’re attempting to section hike the entirety of the BMT and today we would be tackling sections five and six.
After arriving in Blue Ridge, we parked our vehicle where the trail comes out on Weaver Creek Road and then were shuttled from there to Wilscot Gap where we would commence our hike.
We were on the trail and moving by 8 am. From the trailhead, the BMT began to climb immediately, gaining 700 feet by the time that we reached the summit of Tipton Mountain 1.3 miles away. It was densely forested at the top so there were no distant views, just a survey marker to mark the spot.
Leaving the summit, the trail began a steep descent towards Ledford Gap. Along the way, we came to this very nice, level, open grassy area. It’s well maintained and would make for a great place to camp this time of year, especially on a starry night.
From Ledford Gap, we began another climb. This one took us to the fire tower located at the summit of Brawley Mountain. Access to the tower is closed to the public and the last set of stairs have been removed. That’s too bad because the views from the top must be pretty great. We sat on some boulders near the base for ten or fifteen minutes and took a break before carrying on.
The weather was nearly ideal. The temperature in the morning was in the mid 60’s, the sky was clear, and there was a very pleasant breeze blowing on us while we hiked.
Throughout our hike we saw an abundance of wildflowers. Here, they were growing along both sides of the trail and down the hillside.
For the next couple of miles, we passed through a beautiful hardwood forest consisting of Poplar, Maple, and Hickory. Some of the trees were huge and must be old growth that somehow avoided being cut for timber.
As we approached the gap at Dial Road, the mix of trees changed and we encountered more Pines. I spotted this tiny fellow hiding amongst the pine needles.
At Dial Road, we saw this sign. The weight limit is clear enough, but what’s up with the “Bubba” truck and the assortment of other images, including a bear named Larry Joe, and a dear named Earl, paddling a canoe?
Next, we had to make a short but steep climb to the top of Free Knob and then down the other side. In a flat area near the summit, we came across these two teepee frames side by side, with a rock lined path between them. One of them had a small fire pit in it, so I suppose that that one could be used as the kitchen/cooking teepee while the other one could serve as the sleeping quarters.
When we finished our descent of Free Knob, we reached the Toccoa River at Shallowford Bridge Road. We followed the road for half a mile then crossed the Toccoa on this old single lane iron bridge.
This is a view of the Toccoa, taken from the center of the bridge and facing downstream. The bridge was decorated with strings of white lights. Later in the evening, after we had finished dinner, we drove the short distance back to here, hoping to see what it looked like all lit up. Unfortunately for us, the lights weren’t on.
Just on the other side of the Toccoa is Aska Road and the Iron Bridge General Store Cafe. I purchased a couple of Peanut Brittle bars, while Wayne and Pam each purchased ice-cold Cokes. We then sat outside and ate our lunches. Even though we had already hiked more than eight miles, it had the feeling of a relaxing, lazy afternoon.
After leaving the cafe, we had more road walking to do. First we had to follow Aska Road West for three-tenths of a mile to an intersection. At the intersection, the trail turned left onto Stanley Creek Road and then followed that for another 3.1 miles. Before long, my feet were feeling pretty sore from walking on the hard pavement. At least this section, although not completely flat, gained elevation only very gradually.
During part of our hike, my nose had been a little runny and I thought that I might be catching a cold. In reality, I was probably having allergy symptoms due to pollen from Ragweed, which is usually at it’s peak in mid-September. This pretty bunch of flowers growing along a fence is Goldenrod and is sometimes confused with Ragweed.
About two-tenths of a mile after the trail finally left the road and headed back into the woods, we came to a side trail that led us to the viewing platform at the base of Fall Branch Falls. Due to a lack of rain, this double tiered falls, which must normally be quite impressive, had been reduced to little more than a trickle.
At the top of the falls, the Benton Mackaye Trail turned sharply left and began an extended climb to the peak of Rocky Mountain, gaining 1,384 feet in 2.5 miles.
From there, we only had between three-and-a-half and four miles to go. The trail the rest of the way was all downhill except for a couple of short climbs, including this one up and over Scroggin Knob.
By the time that we reached Weaver Creek Road and our vehicle, we had hiked 18.74 miles and climbed more than 3,400 feet. For Pam and Wayne, the mileage represented a new single day high. What can I say, they’re a couple of hard-core hikers.