Finally back on the Benton MacKaye Trail today, CareFree and I eased into the trail with a “short” hike to a wonderful meadow.
We got up at 6:30 am — relatively early for us — and after a shower and continental breakfast at the Comfort Inn (with blueberry waffles!), we headed to our shuttle at Standing Bear Farm.
Located just a few miles north of the Appalachian Trail’s exit at the north end of the Great Smoky Mountains, Standing Bear is also located within hiking distance of the northern terminus of the Benton MacKaye Trail, making it a good place to stash our car for the next week and a half.
Standing Bear’s owner drove us the 150 miles from the hostel to the Tellico River, where we left off. The drive was largely uneventful, except the last part of the drive, along narrow single-lanes roads, took far longer than expected because we got stuck behind an RV that wouldn’t pull over for the increasingly long line of cars backed up behind it.
We reached the BMT trailhead just before noon, and had a snack before we headed up the mountain. We’d expected to get to the trail around this time of day, and so planned for a short day, only about 7.4 miles. Of course, that 7.4 miles was all uphill, to a meadow near the top of the climb we expected to camp at.
Back on the trail, we continued hiking by following the Tellico River upstream. The river was fairly loud as we hiked alongside it, no doubt due to yesterday’s rain, and at times, it was so loud as to hinder conversation.
It was fairly humid out, though not nearly as much as it was yesterday, and no small number of bugs swarmed around us, resuming their primary occupation of dive-bombing into my eyes.
Some switchbacks eventually led the trail away from the river, and as we climbed, the humidity slowly started to decrease. Parts of the trail were slightly overgrown, and a few downed trees made for small obstacles. Since we were last on the trail, everything is lush and greener, the tree cover much more complete, and the Rhododendrons are in bloom.
After a short break, we continued climbing, first following what seemed like it was a very old roadbed carved out of the mountain, and then a gravel road which led us to Whigg Meadow.
We got to the meadow around 3:45, and weren’t the only ones there. Leaving the trail and following a pair of tire tracks up the meadow, we saw a pair of day-hikers relaxing at the top, taking in the view to the north and west.
After the day-hikers left, we pondered about where to camp, initially deciding to camp at the top of the meadow, since we’d have a clear view to the sunset (and possibly the sunrise, if we managed to wake up that early tomorrow). We started to set up my tent, but it was a bit windy, and there were potentially other options so I went and explored them.
Back down towards the entrance to the meadow, a short side trail branched off to a small, protected campsite, nearly fully ringed with trees. There was no wind there, but much of the grass there was a foot and a half tall, making it somewhat unsuitable for camping. A very small creek flowed just below that campsite, but would have been a pain to get water from.
A little further up the meadow, a side trail, barely visible in the grass, led into the woods and down the hill through overgrown plants to lead to a couple of creeks with water flowing past the trail. Further down was a pond with clear water and swimming salamanders. Heading back, the trail wasn’t as clear as I remembered, and I got slightly lost, having to resort to GPS and eventually some ribbons trail maintainers had put on some of the trees to find the path out again.
Based on that, we decided that the top of the meadow was the best place to camp, since the grass there was much shorter (and of course, there was a great view). If it had been much more windy, or it we had been expecting bad weather, the sheltered campsite would probably have been our choice.
We pitched the tent at the top of the meadow, and CareFree went back down to the creeks to get water. It was quite relaxing to have several hours from when we got to camp to when the sun set to cook dinner and do chores. As we cooked dinner, much of the humidity blew out, and the wind died down.
As we were relaxing in the tent after dinner, another hiker arrived. Jared, an air-force veteran, was out on a number of small hikes with overnight camping while on his way to Nashville on a road trip.
The three of us watched the sunset, which was quite a nice capstone on our first day back on the trail. As the sun went down and the temperature dropped, the humidity returned. The nearby mountain top was grazed by the occasional low cloud; I hoped we wouldn’t wake up in the morning to fog.