Today was going to be a short mileage day and the shortest we've hiked so far. I wouldn't usually want to hike only 8.5 miles in a day if it wasn't a town day or in a stretch of difficult terrain, but there wasn't much choice in the matter.
Only 30.6 miles remain on our thru-hike of the Benton MacKaye Trail. Typically, this distance would be split into two days. That wouldn't work if we wanted our last day to be short without making the other one extra long. I wasn't interested in hiking 20 miles in a day this time of year when at least a couple of hours would be walking in the dark.
We wanted a short last day because we will have a 90-minute drive back to my house. Shortly after that, Tengo Hambre will have a flight home to catch.
The location of campsites along the way didn't help matters. They weren't evenly spaced, and we're required to make reservations at designated sites while in the park. The best we could work out was to hike 8.5 miles today, 15.9 miles tomorrow, and finish with 6.2 miles.
|Date||Wednesday, November 11, 2020|
|Weather||Rain continues overnight, then cloudy with brief sprinkles until late afternoon and more rain, temperatures from low-50s to upper-60s|
|Trail Conditions||Steady climb, initially on an old logging railroad bed, then a descent to the campsite|
The good news about today's short day was it gave us the luxury of a little extra time to sleep. Even better, Just Awesome's parents were fixing breakfast for us, so that was one less chore to do this morning.
There was a break in the rain when we woke up, so we packed our gear first. Our tents were wet, but at least we could take them down before rain began to fall again.
Joe and Mary's kindness and generosity extended through the morning, starting with a tasty breakfast.
There was another break in the rain when we finished, and they said they would walk with us for part of the way up the trail.
We could have taken a shortcut through Smokemont Campground, but we chose to go back to where we left the trail yesterday. We wanted to stay true to the BMT's path.
The campground was on the site of a small community called Bradleytown. It began in the 1830s, and by the early 1900s, hardwoods were selectively harvested in the surrounding forest.
Then around 1917, the Champion Fibre Company of Canton, N.C. began acquiring large tracts of land to remove hemlock and spruce trees for the production of paper products. Bradleytown became a village named Smokemont and quickly grew to support the several hundred workers here on the Oconaluftee River. It included homes, churches, a hotel, a boardinghouse, a school, and a commissary.
The only structure remaining today from that period is Smokemont Baptist Church (also known as Oconaluftee or Lufty Church), which we passed as we left the campground. The congregation was founded in 1836, and the building that stands today was constructed in 1907.
About 90,000 acres of land Champion owned in the Smokies was sold to the National Park Service in 1931 for $3 million. By that time, most of the lumber had already been removed.
A Civilian Conservation Corps work camp operated here from 1933 to the start of World War II.
The church congregation continued to hold services here until 1939.
The BMT took a route around the campground. This was also a trail used by horse riders, but thankfully, there were no horses on the trail today.
An evenly-spaced pattern of trampled depressions left no doubt the route was used for many tourist trail rides. The rain overnight made it less a trail and more a string of mud puddles.
The rain held off for most of our 2.5-mile hike with Mary and Joe, though the air was a little misty.
However, as soon as we arrived at Chasteen Creek Cascade, rain began to fall again. We didn't stay long at the waterfall.
The horse rides route stopped at the waterfall, so the rest of the way wasn't as muddy.
After putting on our rain gear, we said thanks and goodbye to Joe and Mary, then continued up the trail. We didn't get far before the rain stopped again, and we had to stop to take off our rain jackets.
We were now going upstream next to Chasteen Creek. This was a four-mile climb to Hughes Ridge, which used an old railroad bed for the first couple of miles.
As the climb to Hughes Ridge continued higher, the trail got steeper and steeper. Part of the way up, I could see the ridge ahead.
We stopped several times to put on or take off our rain jackets. During one stop, we did both because the rain resumed as soon as we removed our jackets.
The Chasteen Creek Trail became narrower toward the top. I didn't want to wear my rain jacket unless I had to because I was getting too warm with it on.
There was a junction at the top of the ridge with the Hughes Ridge Trail. This could have taken us to Peck's Corner Shelter in just five miles. I stayed at that shelter on Day 18, my last night in the Smokies during my AT thru-hike.
I stopped at the trail junction to send a text message to Kim and eat lunch by myself. Tengo and JA were somewhere ahead of me.
The BMT followed the Hughes Ridge Trail for just four-tenths of a mile before turning to take the Enloe Creek Trail down from the ridge.
In all, the climb from Smokemont had gone up 2,655 feet. Now, the descent was not nearly as steep nor as long. It was an easy 2.5-miles to our campsite from there.
This was one of the most remote areas of the park. Remarkably, it had not been touched by logging operations before the land was purchased and became a national park.
Part of the way down was a stream to ford, Hideaway Brook. JA and Tengo had stopped on the other side and waited for me to catch up.
We had just one more mile to go. Although there weren't any more stream crossings marked on our navigation app, we had to cross a small one. I wondered if maybe this one only appeared after heavy rains.
We arrived at Enloe Creek Campsite at 2:45 p.m. One other hiker was already set up there with his tent. He said his name was Jacob and he was from New York City.
The space for tents was small and nearly blocked the trail. At one end was an iron footbridge that looked like the one we crossed four days ago.
Despite its name, the campsite was located on Raven Fork. The only way to get water from the stream was to cross to the other side, then scramble about fifteen feet down some rocks.
Rain began to fall again at 4:30 p.m. while we were talking with our campmate, so we ended the conversation and crawled into our tents. The rainfall wasn't too heavy, making it possible to cook my dinner in the vestibule of my tent.
Later, the rain became much heavier. I decided to not hang my food bag because I hadn't seen any bear scat on the trail today. The heavy rain also made me think a bear was unlikely to steal my food tonight.
The rain stopped at 6:30 p.m. but started again soon after that. I had to put in earplugs to muffle the sound as it hit my tent.
The rain seemed to quit shortly before midnight, then came down harder than ever. I won't claim it was biblical, but it was a lot.