BMT 2020: Day 8, Thunder Rock Campground to Big Lost Creek

Now there's a second side to every story

Polecat and Tengo Hambre on the Benton MacKaye Trail

Although I didn't initially intend to do it this way, the plan for my thru-hike attempt of the Benton MacKaye Trail naturally divided into thirds. The first third was nearly 100 miles long, extending from the southern terminus on Springer Mountain in Georgia to the Ocoee River in Tennessee. With that section now done, we were embarking today on the second third.

This leg of the hike would be different than the first in at least two ways. For one, Tengo Hambre, Just Awesome, and I were joined by Polecat. He is a long-time friend who joined me for sections of my Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail thru-hikes.

The other difference was in the terrain. We didn't expect to find as many steep ups and downs as we had walking in Georgia. Looking at the trail's profile, it was more moderate in elevation changes and flattened for many miles along the Hiwassee River.

DateFriday, October 30, 2020
WeatherOvercast and chilly in the morning with temperatures in the low 40s, gradually becoming partly sunny and warming to low 50s
Trail ConditionsHighway crossing, then long and sometimes steep climb, ending in long and rolling descent to creek
Today's Miles13.8
Trip Miles107.6

Our zero day yesterday was spent handling logistics for not only the next week, but also for the last week of our hike.

After making a few minor gear adjustments in the morning, we prepared two boxes of food. One was to be dropped off later today. We intend to pick it up in the middle of the next section.

The other box was for the following week. JA drove it to his parents' house, who live just an hour away from my house. They agreed to meet us in Great Smoky Mountains National Park next week and will bring that box with them.

Dropping off these two boxes of food ahead of time means we won't have to carry more than four days of food at a time.

After JA left for his parents' house, Tengo and I followed Polecat to Fontana Village Resort. The personnel there said it was no problem for Polecat to leave his truck in a parking lot. This was a convenient place for us because the BMT passes within a few yards of the lodge.

Our final chore of the day was to drop off a box of food at Green Cove Store & Lodge, which was located on the Tellico River and only 1.3 miles off the trail.

The trip from Fontana Village to Green Cove took longer than expected. Then when we arrived there, we discovered the store had just closed. Two men were chatting across the street but paid no attention to us. After several minutes of searching for someone who worked there, we discovered that one of the men was the store's manager.

He put our food in a storage closet, then we drove back to my house for another night before returning to the trail.

Tengo Hambre, Polecat, Gravity, and Just Awesome

We picked up Polecat at 7:00 this morning before making the two-hour drive back to Thunder Rock Campground. This spot connected our footsteps with where we left the trail the day before yesterday.

Rob, the camp host we met Wednesday, was there when we arrived. We said hello to him and goodbye to Kim before resuming our hike.

A large pipe feeding water to the Ocoee Dam No. 3 powerhouse

A large pipeline could be seen from the road. It carried water from Ocoee Dam #3 to the powerhouse we passed when we walked to the campground on Wednesday.

Crossing the Ocoee River

The day started cloudy and chilly, but at least the heavy rain from Tropical Storm Zeta had passed. Northern Georgia received up to four inches yesterday and the day before, so our zero day allowed us to miss the worst of it.

The amount of rain that fell was apparent when we crossed a bridge over the Ocoee River.

Ocoee River

The river was muddy brown and flowing rapidly under the bridge. Other than certain weekend days when water from Dam No. 3 is released for whitewater kayaking, the river doesn't usually run this high.

The name for the river was taken from the Cherokee word for “apricot vine place.” Today it looked like chocolate milk.

U.S. Highway 64

Before continuing much past the river, we had to patiently wait for a gap in traffic before crossing U.S. Highway 64.

The roadway is also called the Ocoee Scenic Byway. It is 26 miles long, which includes a seven-mile side trip on Forest Road 77, called the Chilhowee Scenic Spur, to the top of the Chilhowee Mountains. It was the first highway given the designation of scenic byway by the U.S. Forest Service.

This route was originally a wagon trail called the Old Copper Road. Starting in the 1850s, copper was transported on the road from an area to the east called the Copper Basin to the towns of Cleveland and Chattanooga to the west.

The town of Ducktown is about 7.5 miles east here. It was the center of the Copper Basin, where deep underground copper mines were located.

Back on the trail

While we waited for an opening in the traffic to safely cross the highway, I remembered that several proposals have been made to substantially widen and rebuild it. Most of the plans were met with heavy opposition due to the environmental impact.

Known as the Corridor K Project, transportation authorities are now turning their attention to ways to improve the highway without destroying the character of the surrounding river and mountains. I hoped part of the plan included a safer way to cross the highway.

At last, after making it across, we were back on a forest trail. Right from the start, it made a steep climb. In the next 4.2 miles, we would go up more than 1,600 feet.

A view of Peavine Mountain

Our first opportunity for a view came after just a half mile up the climb. A cut in the trees for a power line opened a view. I could see a water tank above the powerhouse we just left. Behind it stood Peavine Mountain, which was on the route we walked in the rain the day before yesterday.

There wouldn't be many views today, however. The trail took us through a thick forest, which in itself is remarkable. Not so long ago, this area was nearly completely deforested. The area was clear-cut when copper production was underway around Ducktown. The timber was used to provide fuel for a process of smelting copper ore called open-pot roasting.

Smelting operations released high concentrations of sulfur dioxide, and that killed most of the remaining plant life. In all, 32,000 acres of land were disturbed, with 23,000 acres becoming severely eroded because of the lack of vegetation.

Intensive reforestation efforts were begun in the 1930s, but it took decades before the scars began to disappear. A few hundred acres of barren land still remain, but they are purposely left that way as a reminder of the consequences of destructive environmental practices.

Enter Little Frog Wilderness

The morning chill was forgotten as we made the climb from the highway and entered Little Frog Wilderness. The BMT took the same path in this section as the Rock Creek Trail, which was one of just two trails in the 5,652-acre wilderness area.

Climbing on the Benton MacKaye Trail

The climbing continued until we reached a junction with the Dry Pond Lead Trail, the other trail in the wilderness area. At 2,779 feet above sea level, this would be the highest point we would be for the next 35 miles.

The way down wasn't as continuous as the way up had been. There were a couple of short climbs thrown in to break up the descent.

After warming up during the climb, we began to cool off and needed to put on an outer layer again. The sky remained cloudy, but no rain fell.

A view of Big Frog Mountain

When we left Little Frog Wilderness, a forest road offered another viewpoint. Again, we could see where we had walked the day before yesterday. This time, the clouds had lifted enough that Big Frog Mountain could be seen behind Peavine Mountain and the TVA water tower.

As a crow flies, Big Frog Mountain was now 8.6 miles away. By trail, it was 15 miles away.

Meeting Just Awesome at the 100-mile marker

For much of the day, Just Awesome hiked ahead of Tengo, Polecat, and me. Just before we reached Kimsey Mountain Highway, we found JA sitting on the trail. He had stopped to wait for us.

He said he stopped when he thought he was near the 100-mile point of the BMT. Then we all laughed when we looked down and discovered JA was sitting next to the number 100 written with sticks.

We ate lunch there, which was on an old logging road. JA told us he heard a large animal moving nearby while he waited for us. He never saw it and we didn't see any animals while we ate lunch.

The Forest Service road now known as Kimsey Mountain Highway began as an Indian trail called the Little Frog Trail. By 1912, the Copper Road had fallen into disrepair during the construction of the Parkview Dam on the Ocoee River. Dr. L.E. Kimsey, a leading citizen of Polk County, promoted making improvements to Little Frog Trail to make it an alternate route to the Copper Road.

When construction on the mountain route was completed in 1918, the road was named for Dr. Kimsey. It remained the preferred route to Ducktown until the Copper Road, now U.S. Highway 64, was improved in 1931.

Today, Kimsey Mountain Highway remains a gravel road, though it has been improved from time to time by the U.S. Forest Service. It was considered as a location for a possible reroute of Highway 64 when transportation engineers were searching for ways to upgrade Corridor K.

New blowdowns

There was no traffic on Kimsey Mountain Highway, so we had no problem crossing. There were problems on the other side, though. We ran into several blowdowns. Most appeared to be new and probably felled by Tropical Storm Zeta.

Sun on the Benton MacKaye Trail

As the day wore into early afternoon, the clouds began to clear and patches of blue appeared in the sky. With some sunlight, the temperature rose to a pleasant range in the 50s.

Damage on the trail caused by wild boars

We didn't see any animals like what JA thought he heard this morning. We did notice some fresh scat, but it didn't appear to be bear scat.

A little farther, the source of the scat became obvious. The area around the trail was freshly disturbed. Seeing this, I knew wild boars had been rooting around, looking for food.

Climbing over a blowdown on the trail

The blowdowns slowed us down at times, but otherwise, the trail remained easy as it descended to its lowest elevation since leaving the Ocoee River.

A sunny trail

The rest of the way to our campsite passed by a couple of unmarked trails and turns that could easily be missed. At one of these, JA left for us an arrow made with sticks to point the correct direction to go.

Descending on the Benton MacKaye Trail

We considered camping at Lost Creek Campground, which is maintained by the Forest Service. When Polecat and I reached a turn for the campground, we were unsure if JA had gone there. Wanting to make sure we didn't walk past him, Polecat agreed to go check the campground while I waited for Tengo to catch up. We also didn't want Tengo to walk past the campground if JA had already stopped there.

Tengo arrived at about the same time as Polecat returned to say he didn't see JA. As we continued down the trail, however, we saw from across the creek a part of the campground Polecat didn't remember checking. He wondered if he missed seeing JA.

“You had one job,” I teased. Still, we agreed it was unlikely JA had stopped early. We continued to another site downstream from the campground on Big Lost Creek where we figured he more likely had stopped.

Before long, we found JA there, setting up his tent. We arrived at 5 p.m., which was a little later than we expected to arrive but well before dark.

This had been a pleasant day on the trail and tomorrow looked to be even better. The weather was improving and no long climbs lay ahead for the day.

Now there's a second side to every story
At least that's what I've heard, if not a third
In case a certain sentence may be mandatory
Ain't waiting for the final word

Gotta go
I really got to go
Got to break away
What more can I say
I'm long gone Sam
Gonna take it with me when I go


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