Twig Adventures

Benton MacKaye Trail 2024

The Benton Mackaye Trail (BMT) is named after a visionary, who, in 1921, was the first to propose the idea of a continuous footpath running from Maine to Georgia…the Appalachian Trail. Incidentally, his New England roots are the reason original AT signage says “Maine to Georgia”, rather than the other way around, which is typically the direction the trail is hiked. (I, of course, followed historical protocols and hiked the AT southbound in 2021.) The BMT was officially opened on July 16, 2005 and is maintained by the BMT Association.

Description from the Benton MacKaye Trail Association website: With its glorious ridgeline views and the innumerable crossings of mountain streams, the almost 300 mile long Benton MacKaye Trail comes by its reputation for beauty honestly. Nestled in the Southern Appalachian Mountains, the BMT has some of the most varied and abundant wildflowers of any temperate climate forest in the world – and — the variety of tree species is second to none. Whether it’s the creek-side trilliums in the spring, the red-orange of the fall sugar maples at the higher elevations or the unmatched 360 degree views in the winter, the BMT is a visual treat any time of the year.

The BMT’s southern terminus is atop Springer Mountain in Georgia, (shared by the Appalachian Trail). The trail traverses 81.8 miles in Georgia and 205.8 miles in Tennessee / North Carolina. This includes 93 miles in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, making it the longest trail in the Smokies. The northern terminus is at Big Creek, near Davenport Gap. Also known for its remoteness, a third of the trail lies in Wilderness Areas. The lowest elevation (765 ft) on the BMT occurs at the crossing of the Hiwassee River in Tennessee. The highest elevation is the 5,843-foot (1,781 m) summit of Mt. Sterling in the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina.

I’ve known about the BMT ever since passing signs for it on an AT section hike in 2017. Once its Far Out guide was published, I ‘sale-stocked’ and it’s been on my list of to-do’s for several years. I’ve been waiting for a nice opportunity in the spring or fall, preferring the fall because of the colors and fewer ticks. But in the winter doldrums of 2024, I started also thinking about attending AT Trail Days, as a result of having already attended Trail Day events for the PCT (2023) and CDT (2019). I earned my Triple Crown hiking all 3 trails, so figured it was time to finally go to my last, but also biggest and longest running Trail Days event in Damascus, to complete my TC of TD’s. Driving from the tip of South Florida to anywhere is no small matter, so I’m combining multiple activities on my list for the area into one larger trip. I will be starting the trail in the beginning of May, in order to complete it just before Trail Days (about 15 days).

For the first time ever, I will be thru-hiking a long trail NORTHBOUND. For a dedicated southbounder turned multi-directional flip-flopper, this isn’t a big deal to me anymore. In reality, I already hiked 250 miles of the AT northbound over the course of 2 sections hikes in 2017. The BMT is truly one that can be done in either direction, especially considering it’s relative brevity and ease of access to both termini. My direction simply makes sense from a logistics standpoint. I’m coordinating with a southbound hiker to shuttle my car north to park near Davenport Gap. This way my car will be waiting for me at the end and his will be at Amicalola Falls when he finishes. It also works out perfectly that my car and I will be that much closer to Damascus when I finish. So our plan is to meet at Amicalola Falls State Park, where I’ll pass him my keys and cross my fingers that a complete stranger delivers my car safely. What could go wrong? Adventurers do this kind of thing all the time…like when some packrafters handed me their keys to drive their van to the takeout on the Colorado River near Hite, while I was hiking the Hayduke. It worked out great for all of us.

I expect this trail to be pretty mellow and quiet. Sure, there will be some strenuous parts and maybe some overgrown bits. My biggest concern is for ticks, so I’ll be dousing all my clothes in permethrin and using Sawyer picaridin lotion on my skin. I hate chemicals but I hate Lyme and taking antibiotics even more. My pack should be pretty light, since I don’t need to carry more than 4.5 days of food, coming up on the tail end in the Smokies. I will be rocking a BRAND NEW PACK, a hip-belt-less and frameless Waymark EVLV Ultra, so I’m pretty excited about this! Another reason for this hike is simply as a shake-down cruise, before committing to my gear line-up for the Great Divide Trail, July-August. So this is where I get to make sure the pack will work for me, even though it’s pretty much the same as its predecessor, which I wore for over 5000 miles. I have a bunch of other smaller new gear items to test, including a new model of shoes, rain jacket(s), electronics, etc. Zoleo is sponsoring some of my group for the GDT (much more to come on that later), so I’ll be making plenty of references to the use of the device, once I figure it out. Lots of fun info to come, so check in again in a few weeks. Thanks for reading!

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