Benton MacKaye Trail in NC – Wolf Laurel Hunt Camp to Whigg Meadow and beyond – 6/24/18 – 12 Miles
Scoreboard: one tough day, one easy day. Next up?
A very rainy morning to start (no surprise) and a long tense drive in damp fog. I felt responsible for Carol’s car, the roads, the weather, but the only thing I could control was my attitude. We signed on for another day, we’re here, so let’s do our best. Carol had her "git 'er done" on and Mike was confident, as always, of the way forward. I confess, it took a while to turn my frown upside down.
First, we dropped Mike’s van at yesterday’s starting point on Whigg Meadow Road. From there we drove Carol’s car up more rutted long forest roads to old Wolf Laurel Hunt Camp that Mike remembered from years past, hiking around Bob Bald. But…is Bob Bald on the BMT?
Do your homework: Yes, Bob Bald is on the BMT. Throw away your old National Geographic Map 781. The BMT has been rerouted to avoid a dangerous crossing of Slickrock Creek. The reroute is a major one. If you’re thinking of hiking these sections, you really need to acquire the trail guide for the TN/NC section published by the Benton MacKaye Trail Association. They provide an in-depth explanation of the old and new routes.
Wolf Laurel Trail is not an easy access point – it adds some distance – but it’s what Mike worked out so we followed his plan. See my disclaimer on the first day of this BMT trip.
We began on a connector trail (Wolf Laurel) to a second connector trail (Stratton Bald) to the Benton MacKaye Trail. I paid close attention and took photos of every trail sign.
Mike’s memory of a 10- or 20-minute walk on a connector trail to the BMT intersection, in reality, was 1.3 miles and 45 minutes of steep climbing. The first intersection we reached was Stratton Bald Trail, not the BMT. Out in the woods, accuracy matters – so is it one intersection or two? Mike said turn left and continue to the real BMT intersection, and he was right, and now I understood. Why is this so important? Because tomorrow Carol and I will return to this same point - without Mike - and hike northbound. (Today is southbound to Whigg Meadow.)
Déjà vu: head-high foliage, all soaking wet from rain, wearing long pants and getting slapped with branches. I am not at all happy to be doing this again.
Longing for good old Beaverdam Bald
At Bob Bald there were multiple trails through the knee-high grass: which one is right? Carol and I followed one bearing left, not the one, and Mike cut across without regard to trails. We followed him but felt unsure until we intersected another trail which turned out to be correct. I admit it, I don’t have enough confidence to do this without blazes. At least there are good signs at major intersections – if you can find the intersections!
I call this one “Michael in the Mist”
At Cold Spring Gap the old and new BMT’s intersect, along with a couple of other trails. We took a break to get our bearings and enjoy the fact that the rain had stopped and the fog was thinning.
Continuing southbound for about a mile-and-a-half the trail approaches the Cherohala Skyway, announced in advance by the roar of motorcycles. Earsplitting, heart-thumping, disruptive to the peace of the woods – but the riders were having the time of their lives and who could begrudge them that? We must share the mountains.
The BMT closely follows the Skyway for the next three miles, sometimes crossing over, sometimes just touching the pavement at an overlook and bending back out into the woods again. We came to a full stop near Stratton Gap at a bridge built to span a huge gully wash, but the bridge had been broken and dislodged. There was no other way to cross the gully, so we had to backtrack to a Skyway access and walk the road to the next crossing. This was the only time we had to backtrack, but we did grumble a bit because there was no signage “the bridge is out”. But sitting here writing this months later, I remind myself that the wild does not keep itself pristine so that humans can feel comfortable and convenient. Things grow and things break. Remember, the trail is maintained and problems are solved by the grace and freely given time of trail volunteers…
Manmade meadow near a quarry used for construction of the Skyway
From Mud Gap the BMT climbed up to Little Haw Knob. The elevation profile looked daunting but it really didn’t feel too bad. We had one eye on the sky, black clouds gathering, lots of rumbling and whistling wind, but no rain fell. I kind of enjoyed the hour of drama.
“Mike Under Stormy Skies”
Carol and I reached Whigg Meadow ahead of Mike. The BMT doesn’t go across it, but rather passes along the left edge on the gravel road for 1.25 miles down to where we parked the van. We walked out into the enormous grassy expanse but, seeing lightning flashes on the horizon, we were cautious not to get too far out into the open. A lovely place – will I ever return?
Walking the last mile on a gravel road is boring
Our day was not yet over; we still had to reckon with our vehicle shuttling saga. We retrieved Mike’s van from the land of the hunt camp, then dropped Carol’s car at Tapoco Lodge for end of day tomorrow. All the while I was running scenarios through my head. Today’s hike was half-and-half, a shaky start and an okay finish. Do we want to hike 12+ miles of unknown again and then drive back to Charlotte? In any scenario, it’s best to have Carol’s car at the Lodge. Bumping along the forest roads in Mike’s van back to the cabin, he put out the idea of meeting us at Big Fat Gap (a midpoint) and then we decide if we want to continue. A good bailout option…once again, Mike’s plan is a good one.
Approaching dark-thirty when we arrived at the cabin, very tired from all the logistics, we ate something or other, changed out of wet clothes (grateful once again that we weren't doing this in a tent) and climbed into our bunks. Carol and I mulled over our tasks for the morning, packing up, cleaning up and leaving the cabin. We decided that we would definitely stop tomorrow at Big Fat Gap. So a short day and now we think we know what we’re doing – what could possibly go wrong?
Dreams of hot showers, hot food and sodas danced in our heads…