BMT 2020: Day 7, Double Spring Gap to Thunder Rock Campground

I hear hurricanes a-blowing

A tree swallows a metal sign

The prediction of rain for this morning was correct. It began falling at 5:30 a.m. and didn't take long to become a steady, drenching downpour.

After putting it off for as long as I could, I forced myself out of my tent to retrieve my food bag. I then returned to the tent as quickly as possible.

My breakfast was a couple of snack bars, and I didn't prepare coffee. More time is usually needed for packing gear and leaving camp when the weather is rainy, so I was trying to shorten the time as best as I could. We had already set a time for my wife to pick us up this afternoon, and I didn't want to be late.

DateWednesday, October 28, 2020
WeatherRain all day, sometimes heavy; high temperature in the mid-60s
Trail ConditionsInconsistently marked, covered in wet leaves; steep climb to start, then mostly easy descent; three stream fords
Today's Miles10.9
Trip Miles93.8

When I exited my tent again, this time to take it down, Just Awesome was already packed and ready to go. He didn't want to stand around in the rain and wait for Tengo and me, and I couldn't blame him.

Tengo Hambre was still in his tent, so after JA left, I went over to check on his status. He said he might be ready in 30 minutes. Like JA, I didn't want to stand in the rain and wait, so I left after I finished packing.

Climbing Big Frog Mountain

The location of last night's campsite was called Double Spring Gap because there were two springs located here, one on each side of the trail. They were situated almost directly on the state line between Georgia and Tennessee.

When I left the gap at 7:50 a.m., rain was still falling steadily. The trail immediately began a steep climb, which was not made easier by the rain and wet leaves.

No view from the top of Big Frog Mountain

The climb took me up to the summit of Big Frog Mountain. The 8,000-plus acre wilderness area that surrounds the mountain takes its name from it.

The elevation of the summit is 4,224 feet. Traveling west of here, you would have to go to Big Bend National Park in Texas or the Black Hills of South Dakota to find another mountain this high.

Although I have hiked before in this area, this was the first time I had hiked to the top of Big Frog Mountain. I couldn't tell if there was a spot for a view from the mountain, but it didn't matter if there was one. No views were to be had today because of the rain.

Weathered sign on Big Frog Mountain

The rain diminished to a misty dreariness by the time I reached the top of the mountain. Winds were gusty, so I didn't want to stay there long.

The only trail sign near the top was at a junction with another trail. The sign was so badly weathered, it was impossible to read. I couldn't tell from it which direction to take.

Sticks lying on the trail

Then I noticed sticks lying across one of the trails at the junction and figured JA had placed them there. Just to be sure I was taking the correct trail, I checked my Guthook navigation app before heading down the mountain.

rhododendron tunnel

The route down followed a long ridge that extended from the summit of Big Frog Mountain. After a slight detour around an outcropping called Chimneytop, it continued along the top of Peavine Ridge before making a more steep descent.

Along the way, the trail passed through three long green tunnels made of rhododendron. They offered a nice break from the wind, which blasted through the sections with no rhododendron.

A blowdown across the trail

There were also a small number of blowdowns across the trail. I had expected to see even more of these because of the wind and rain. Then again, the storm had just started to pass through. More trees were likely to fall in the coming days.

The trail makes a wet descent

I paused on the descent for a snack but didn't stop for long. Though the rainfall wasn't as heavy as it had been earlier this morning, it remained a steady drizzle.

One trail junction along the way was marked only with numbers the Forest Services uses to identify trails. There were no trail names on the sign.

I always find it bothersome to come upon an intersection without sufficient information to know which route to take. It's especially annoying when it's raining and I have to pull out my phone to make sure I'm going in the correct direction.

A concrete abutment on the west fork of Rough Creek

As if the trail wasn't wet enough, I also had to ford the same stream three times, which was the west fork of Rough Creek. There were no rocks or a bridge to walk across at each of these crossings.

The second ford had what appeared to be concrete abutments for a bridge that once stood here. I'm guessing it was constructed during logging operations and fell into disuse when the land was bought by the U.S. Forest Service.

This part of Cherokee National Forest became a wilderness area in 1984. It was expanded with the addition of 348 acres in 2018.

West Fork of Rough Creek

The creek at another crossing reached halfway up the calves of my legs. Of course, my shoes, socks, and rain pants were by now too soaked for this to matter.

Chestnut Ridge Trail

After more than four hours of a walk that sometimes felt like a swim, the trail reached the first of several Forest Service roads. Though I didn't notice a sign indicating that I had exited Big Frog Wilderness, I knew I had. These were maintained roads, which aren't permitted in wilderness areas.

The roads were used as mountain bike trails, and that is also an activity that is not allowed in a wilderness area.

Thunder Rock Trail sign

A small sign was posted at the last of the forest roads to cross. It said the trail was closed ahead but didn't say why. The road was to be used as an alternate route to Thunder Rock Campground.

Comments in the Guthook app said a bridge was damaged. Some said it was crossable, but I didn't want to take a chance on it, especially with all of the recent rainfall in the area. I decided to walk on the road, and I put a large stick across the trail to make sure Tengo saw the sign.

Later, when I saw JA again, he told me he crossed over the bridge. He said it was teetering on one support but wasn't difficult to cross.

powerhouse for Ocoee No. 3 dam

The powerhouse for Ocoee No. 3 dam was located at the bottom of the road, just before reaching the Ocoee River. The dam, which is operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), was more than two miles upstream from the building.

Water is diverted at the dam into a tunnel, where it is delivered to the powerhouse for power generation. Only a minimal level of water is allowed to flow in the river, except on days when it is needed for whitewater recreation.

The whitewater kayaking course for the 1996 Olympic Games is located a short distance upstream of here.

I turned at the powerhouse and walked to Thunder Rock Campground. This was where Kim would be picking us up.

The road leading to Thunder Rock Campground

The campground is operated by the U.S. Forest Service. I had picked this spot to end our first week of hiking because it was easy to reach. Kim wouldn't have to drive on a backcountry forest road to get here.

I walked into the campground a few minutes after 1 p.m., about 30 minutes before Kim was scheduled to arrive. I didn't see any sign of JA, so I wandered about for a short time but failed to find him.

I didn't know it at the time, but he had sent me a message to my Garmin inReach to let me know he was staying warm and out of the rain in a pit toilet at the other end of the campground. The message had not been delivered yet.

Rob, the camp host at Thunder Rock Campground

Returning to the campground restroom, a friendly man named Rob arrived and said he was a volunteer camp host. He offered me a beer, though signs posted at the campground said alcoholic beverages were prohibited.

Rob said he had not yet seen JA or Tengo. Just a couple of minutes later, Kim arrived.

Tengo walked into camp ten minutes later, but we still hadn't seen JA. Fortunately, before we had time to worry and wonder where he was, he walked in from the other end of the campground. He told us he had arrived about 30 minutes before I did.

Kim drove us back home, where we could maintain our little COVID-safe bubble and get cleaned up. The zero day we planned to take tomorrow would give us a chance to dry our gear.

Better still, we now had time tomorrow to make a food drop for the middle of the next section. We originally planned to leave a cache of food on our way back to the trailhead. That would have required a long detour and use time that could be spent hiking. Doing this tomorrow will allow us to get on the trail sooner when we return the next day.

While dropping off the food, we will have time to leave Polecat's truck at Fontana Village Lodge. He will be hiking with us next week. Parking his truck there means Kim won't have to pick us up when we finish our next section.

Although I would not have wished for a tropical storm to pass through in the middle of this hike, I wasn't about to complain about its timing. The zero day we will take tomorrow gives us the convenience of extra time to handle needed chores.

I hear hurricanes a-blowing
I know the end is coming soon
I fear rivers over-flowing
I hear the voice of rage and ruin

Don't go around tonight
Well, it's bound to take your life
There's a bad moon on the rise


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