BMT 2020: Day 21, Enloe Creek to Mt. Sterling

Love child, different from the rest

Walking in low clouds on the Mt. Sterling Ridge Trail

I woke up briefly this morning at 3:00. The rain had stopped.

When I woke up again at 5:30, it still wasn't raining. After all that fell yesterday, I was hopeful we had seen the last of it.

For sure, anyway, this was our last full day on the trail.

DateThursday, November 12, 2020
WeatherClear or mostly clear sky all day after rain stopped, temperatures from mid-40s to upper-60s
Trail ConditionsTwo big climbs and one descent, often with wet and rocky conditions; three miles of flat trail
Today's Miles15.9
Trip Miles283.5

As I had presumed, we didn't get a visit last night from a bear. Apparently, though, a much smaller creature came into camp. Just Awesome discovered a mouse ate a hole in his food bag. He left it in his tent vestibule, making it an easy and tempting midnight snack.

After packing our gear and eating breakfast, we wished our campmate Jacob good luck on his hike and left.

Crossing the footbridge over Raven Fork

Leaving camp, we crossed the iron bridge over Raven Fork. It would have been impossible to cross the stream today without a bridge.

Raven Fork

Yesterday's rain made the creek a torrent. Water crashed over and around large boulders as it thundered through the gorge.

The bridge we crossed was constructed several years ago after a backpacker attempted to ford the creek in similar conditions and drowned.

Clouds over Shanty and Spruce Mountains

We followed a very wet trail up a long but not-too-steep climb. In the next 2.7 miles, we climbed 1,400 feet. The route took us to a long ridge, where we left the Enloe Creek Trail and turned onto the Hyatt Ridge Trail.

This area of the park was home to the Enloe family. Although their name might not be familiar to you, they are part of a fascinating legend connected with a familiar name.

There are, in fact, multiple versions of the story, and historians are quick to call it a myth. As it is usually told, for several years the Enloes employed a servant girl and farmhand. When she became pregnant, she was quietly sent away to Kentucky.

There she met and married an illiterate widower named Thomas Lincoln. They called the child Abraham. Yes, that Abraham Lincoln.

Those who tell the story about Nancy Hanks and claim to have researched it say young Abraham looked more like an Enloe than a Lincoln.

A marriage certificate for Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks was discovered in 1878. It shows they were married nearly three years before Abraham's birth date.

Still, the story persists with claims his real birth date and parentage were part of a centuries-old coverup.

A bridge over Straight Fork at Beech Gap

At the top of the ridge, I texted Kim to let her know we didn’t drown in yesterday's rainstorm. Then I turned from the Hyatt Ridge Trail to the Beech Gap Trail and began a long descent.

The forest here was a mix of second-growth hardwoods. According to Hiking Trails of the Smokies, most of the trees removed from this area were red spruce and Fraser fir.

After dropping more than 1,800 feet in three miles, I reached Beech Gap and a gravel road. The trail followed the road over a bridge crossing Straight Fork.

Drying out gear at Beech Gap

We stopped on the other side of the creek at the junction with the Beech Gap Trail to dry out our gear and eat an early lunch. We were grateful to have some sunshine. Everything we owned was damp if not soaked.

Tengo Hambre rock-hops across as stream

I felt a little sluggish when we left, but fortunately, that quickly passed. We had another, much bigger climb ahead, and now the temperature was rising.

The Beech Gap Trail was the start of the highest climb of the BMT, going up 2,500 feet in less than four miles to an elevation of more than 5,600 feet. It was a hot, sweaty, and energy-sapping climb.

A little more than halfway up the climb, the BMT turned to follow the Balsam Mountain Trail and go up the slope of Balsam High Top.

Balsam Mountain Trail

The trail didn't quite crest Balsam High Top but passed near the summit. The weather here was significantly different. A low layer of clouds enveloped the ridge, making the temperature noticeably cooler.

Going over Balsam High Top

Dropping gently from the top, the trail headed to Laurel Gap. At this elevation, spruce and fir trees were the dominant species. The cooler air and the character of the forest made me feel as if I had teleported to Maine.

A deep groove carved in an old logging road

The trail followed an old logging road, but it didn't look like a road because of a deep groove carved in the middle by hikers' feet.

Tengo Hambre at Laurel Gap Shelter

I arrived at Laurel Gap Shelter at 3 p.m. Tengo Hambre had been there only a couple of minutes before me. We hadn't seen Just Awesome since our lunch stop.

The shelter was constructed like those found in the park on the Appalachian Trail. It was the third and last shelter we would see on the BMT.

Though we were tired, we didn’t take a long break. We stayed just long enough to eat a snack. We still had nearly six miles to go to reach our campsite with less than three hours of daylight remaining.

We decided to save time and get water on the trail and not at a stream located 500 feet downhill from the shelter.

Mount Sterling Ridge Trail

I knew some of the next section of the trail would be easy because I had hiked it several years ago. After continuing another two-tenths of a mile, the BMT turned to follow the Mount Sterling Ridge Trail.

The next three miles were flat, and we tried to motor along as quickly as possible. This trail was popular with horse riders, though, so it wasn't always in the greatest of shape.

The trail traversed along the slope of Big Cataloochee Mountain, which is one of the twelve mountains in the Smokies that stand above 6,000 feet.

A stream of water in the middle of the trail

The only pause in our pace was a stop to filter some water at a stream that crossed the trail.

Later, the trail was a stream. Thanks in part to yesterday's rain, there was no shortage of water in this section.

Fog on the climb to Mt. Sterling

The low clouds became thicker as we got closer to our destination and sundown. The air was so damp that trees were dripping water. Until I realized this, I thought it had started to rain.

Darkness came early, and I needed to wear my headlamp for the last half mile. I arrived at the campsite on Mt. Sterling at 6 p.m.

This was the highest point of the BMT. An old fire tower stood near our campsite, but by now the sky was so cloudy and dark I could barely see it.

A few other hikers were camped nearby, though too far away to socialize with them. They were the first people we had seen since leaving camp this morning.

After setting up my tent, I sent Kim and Polecat text messages to let them know we had arrived at our last campsite. Then Tengo, JA, and I enjoyed our last dinner together on the Benton MacKaye Trail.

Love child, never meant to be
Love child, (scorned by) society
Love child, always second best
Love child, different from the rest (Hold on, hold on, just a little bit)
Mm, baby (Hold on, hold on, just a little bit)
Mm, baby (Hold on, hold on, just a little bit)


"Nothing to tell now. Let the words be yours, I'm done with mine."ref.