We didn't realize it, but we were now halfway done with our thru-hike of the Benton MacKaye Trail. Instead of reflecting on that, Just Awesome, Tengo Hambre, Polecat, and I talked last night about the day ahead.
We decided to eat breakfast in the morning after we forded two streams. We would wear our water shoes until crossing the second stream, then eat breakfast while putting on our hiking shoes.
At the time, this seemed like an efficient way to get moving as soon as possible. Our goal for today was Whigg Meadow, which was said to be a beautiful place and great for viewing sunsets and nighttime skies. The meadow was about 14.5 miles away from our campsite on Brookshire Creek.
|Date||Tuesday, November 3, 2020|
|Weather||Mostly sunny; temperatures range from the mid-30s to low 60s|
|Trail Conditions||Two big climbs and one descent, none of which were steep but included some blowdowns; some sections used old logging roads|
That wasn't all of today's mileage, however. We had to walk an additional three miles round trip to pick up our food at Green Cove Store & Lodge. The extra distance could make it difficult to reach our destination before dark.
Once we got up and prepared to leave this morning, the idea of fording the streams before breakfast no longer seemed necessary. We were up and moving early, so we ate before leaving.
We were on the trail by 6:45 a.m., which was about 15 minutes before the sun rose.
We followed Brookshire Creek 1.5 miles downstream from our campsite to the first crossing. Polecat and JA spent several minutes scouting for a spot to rock-hop across.
Tengo and I decided it wasn't worth the effort. We put on our water shoes, and after crossing the creek, we kept them on for a half-mile walk to the next crossing.
The second one was a little more tricky. The water was deeper, and there was no way to rock-hop across. There was also a six-foot waterfall next to the crossing. One slip might have been disastrous if the current was stronger.
Everyone made it across without a mishap. Unfortunately, the time we needed to put on and take off our water shoes was cutting into the daylight time we were trying to save.
After reassembling ourselves, we were ready to take on a 1,300-foot climb.
We didn't get far before meeting a southbound hiker named Quill. He told us the next 15 miles were easy.
The first climb was easy enough, though some overgrown thickets of rhododendron required a little effort to duck around.
We were going up the south shoulder of Sugar Mountain.
We also weren't finished with stream crossings. There were four more on the climb. At least these were easier. We didn't bother putting on water shoes.
The third crossing went over a fork of Bald River. For the most part, the trail remained just outside the boundary of Upper Bald River Wilderness, which totals 9,038 acres.
The wilderness area was created by the Tennessee Wilderness Act, which required several years of legislative wrangling before it was passed and signed into law in 2018. The act also added to the size of the existing Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock, Big Frog, Little Frog Mountain, Big Laurel Branch, and Sampson Mountain wilderness areas.
Everyone hiked ahead of me, but I eventually caught up to Polecat. He had stopped to set up his tent when he found some sunlight to dry it out.
We didn't get any rain last night, but condensation made a few things damp.
The descent from the slope of Sugar Mountain was a 1,500-foot drop in 2.5 miles. The only thing that made this a challenge was a layer of leaves, which made the trail a little difficult to find at times.
Ducking under blown-down trees slowed us down a little. Although we weren't rushing, the limited daylight was always in the back of my mind.
We reached River Road shortly after 11 a.m. This was where we needed to leave the trail and walk to Green Cove. JA waited for us at a nearby picnic area, where he was drying out some gear.
There was no traffic on the road, so there was no opportunity to hitch a ride. This was expected, and we didn't mind. The road was flat, making the walk easy to the store.
The store mostly catered to a small number of residents in the area and to fly fishing enthusiasts. It didn't stock much food suitable for backpacking, so we were glad the manager was agreeable to hold the food we dropped off five days ago.
When we picked up our food, we also bought snacks and Gatorade. Then we ate lunch on the store's porch while we repacked it.
Because this was Election Day, it was no surprise for us to find many Trump signs posted around this deep-red conservative community. Trump water bottles that didn't look like they were sanctioned by the campaign were sold in the store.
By 12:45 p.m., we were ready to walk back to the trail. The road along the Tellico River was built where a railroad owned by the Tellico River Lumber Company hauled timber to a mill. The company was started by the Babcock Lumber Company and began operations here in 1905. By 1925, nearly every tree had been cut down. A forest fire destroyed most of what remained and the land was sold to the U.S. Forest Service.
Later, when the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was created to provide jobs during the Great Depression, workers constructed their first camp in Tennessee near here.
We didn't get far down the road before we were joined by a couple of hunting dogs. They didn't bother us, and unlike the dogs that followed us on Day 5, they didn't hang around for long.
The water level of the Tellico River wasn't high enough for kayakers today, but this river is popular with paddlers. When conditions are right, usually in the spring, some of the rapids are rated Class IV.
The river is also favored for fly fishing as one of the top trout streams in Tennessee.
In fact, a trout hatchery is located on the river. The BMT crossed the river on a bridge near the hatchery.
The hatchery was one of the projects constructed by the CCC. It is misnamed, however. To be more correct, it would be named a fish-rearing facility.
Rainbow trout are hatched at Dale Hollow National Fish Hatchery. Then when they reach about nine inches in length, they are trucked here to be reared to a larger size before being released in the river or other nearby streams.
After crossing the river, the trail followed Sycamore Creek. We walked upstream on an old logging road. Along the way, there was a small dam. It diverted some water to the trout hatchery.
Logging roads would be our footpath for the remainder of the day.
The roads weren't always the best footpath. We had to climb over some large blowdowns. The trail was also rutted and washed out in a few places. This was especially true where it left the creek and made a steep climb. We had to step over and around large rocks that littered the way.
Farther up the trail was a side trail leading back to Sycamore Creek and a waterfall. When I reached the side trail, JA described the best way to go to see falls. I must have misunderstood what he told me, though, because the route I took was covered in mud and tangled rhododendron.
It took a while before I could extract myself from that mess. By the time I made it back to the trail, everyone was gone.
The rest of the way was uneventful, but I became increasingly concerned about reaching camp before dark. By 5:30 p.m., the sun was sinking below a distant ridge, and I was still more than a mile from Whigg Meadow.
I decided to pick up my pace and hoped I reached the campsite before it became too dark to find my way.
This section of the trail was a maintained forest road. I was glad for this because I wasn't stumbling over rocks in the fading light.
I reached the campsite in the last light of dusk. The temperature dropped quickly. Although we were camped in a small area away from the meadow, which was surrounded by trees and shrubs, we weren't completely protected against a breeze.
We all ate in our tents to stay out of the wind.
Later, as I turned off my headlamp and went to sleep, I wondered who won today's presidential election. I knew nothing of the chaos going on in the so-called real world.
And you run, and you run to catch up with the sun, but it's sinking
Racing around to come up behind you again
The sun is the same in a relative way, but you're older
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death