SST – Stage 4 – Benton Mackaye Trail

Distance:  299 miles (481 km) – This total includes the extra 3 miles from Standing Bear Farm to Davenport Gap, as well as the additional 8.8 miles from Springer mountain down to Amicoala State Park trailhead.

Start:  Davenport Gap, TN

Finish:  Springer Mountain, GA

Time:  12.5 days (including a zero day I took in Blue Ridge, GA) – Nov.17 to Nov 29

Daily Average:  23.9 miles (38.5 km)

Highlights:

  • Razorback: Whilst hiking the Lakeshore Trail along Fontana Dam, I saw one of the biggest wild hogs I have ever seen. Hyperbole aside, it must have weighed somewhere between 350 and 400 lbs. According to some local hunters, these boars were introduced from Russia a few centuries back. From the looks of things they haven’t missed too many meals in subsequent years.
  • The People: The folk I encountered along the way are what really made the Benton Mackaye (as well as the other sections of the SST) a memorable hike. A huge thanks to the following people:

1. Neon John, the softly spoken nuclear scientist and his much appreciated drying machine.

2. Lori and family, who magically appeared out of the fog bearing biscuits, hot soup and perhaps the most wonderful cup of coffee I have ever had.

3. The good ol’ boys of Reliance Fly and Tackle for their memorable hospitality, never-ending supply of Pabst Blue Ribbon and unexpected instruction in the arts of drag racing, motorcycle construction and tasering.

4. Tom and Janet Mitchell. Simply two of the nicest people I can recall meeting. I met Tom (who is a trail maintainer for the BMT) at the McDonalds restaurant in Blue Ridge. Taking refuge from the elements over a cup of coffee and a newspaper, Tom spotted my backpack, shorts, unkempt appearance and didn’t have to be Sherlock Holmes incarnate to realize that he was looking at a cold and hungry long distance hiker. Next thing I knew I was enjoying an unexpected rest day in the warm and dry confines of their wonderful home.

5. Last but not least, Ron Brown, the shuttle King of Amicalola State Park. Ron has been providing shuttles to hikers for years, and goes above and beyond the call of duty in order to help hikers in anyway he can. Case in point; when I arrived at the Park visitor centre it was already dark and Ron was just about to head home. Instead, he kindly gave me a ride to Gainesville and then waited until my bus arrived just to make sure that there was space.


Lowlights
:

  • We’re not in Scotland anymore, Toto: Some of the most challenging weather a hiker can encounter is driving wind and rain, coupled with temperatures just on the high side of freezing. Not quite cold enough to snow, but nowhere near warm enough that you have even the remotest chance of getting dry and comfy. This was the sort of weather I encountered for most of my Benton Mackaye experience. It was like hiking in the UK, but without the pubs to take refuge in at day’s end. Come to think of it, I must have a chat to the BMTA about rectifying that…………….

Notes & Musings:

  • The Art of Staying Dry: Unlike it’s more popular cousin the Appalachian Trail, the BMT has very little in the way of lean-tos or huts (there are only two throughout its course). Coupled with the fact that I am using a poncho tarp as my primary shelter, staying dry proved to be a constant challenge. Nonetheless, with the exception of one particularly uncomfortable night on Harrison Ridge, I was usually able to pitch my tarp in relatively sheltered spots so that I was spared the brunt of Mother Nature’s fury.
  • Poncho Tarp:  Over the years I have often been asked about tarp pitching configurations. There are many different options, but 95% of the time I use only two: namely the Half Pyramid and the A Frame. I employ the former the majority of the time, while I use the latter only when there is a chance of rain or high winds. The stronger the wind and rain, the lower to the ground I will pitch my tarp. In such conditions, the goal is to make your shelter as aerodynamic as possible. The keys are 1. find a sheltered position, and 2. pitch your tarp as tautly as possible (don’t skimp on guy lines or tent pegs).

Comments

SST – Stage 4 – Benton Mackaye Trail — 3 Comments

  1. cam
    wonderful to read the journal.
    you continue to be such an inspiration. I do hope the new year finds you in good health and that the year will see you complete the oustanding effort so far. best wishes

    peter

  2. Cam,
    Me and hiking buddy ran into you on the BMT, (somewhere in the Smokies). It was one of those dreary rainy days you describe and the chance meeting and trailside chat about your hikes, your gear and this site resulted in a “hiking life change”. Since that trip we have both retooled all our gear and now have a new lease on many many more years of hiking! THANKS!!!

    • Hey Randy,
      Thanks for the message. That was a very damp few weeks from what I recall. The Appalachians in November is not the place to be if you are looking for dry days and balmy nights!! Congrats on making the changes!!
      All the best,
      Cam

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