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  1. #1
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    Default Completed the BMT: 10 Days on the BMT + 5 Days in the Slickrock/Citico Wilderness

    Back in June 2017 I attempted a BMT nobo thu-hike and ended up getting off trail after 153 miles at the Trout Hatchery, leaving 133 miles to go..Almost four years later I returned to complete the rest of the trail, and then some.. I had a 15 day window, and my original plan was to hike sobo from Baxter Creek to the Slickrock/Citico combined Wilderness, spend about a week exploring the wilderness, then head on south to the Trout Hatchery, and maybe spend a day in the Bald River Gorge Wilderness if I had the time. Of course, those plans changed and I ended up only spending 5 days in the Slickrock/Citico Wilderness and re-doing 61 miles on the BMT, to Thunder Rock CG.

    DAYS 1 - 6: Baxter Creek to Tapoco Lodge
    My good friend and backpacking buddy Trashalope drives me to the trailhead Saturday morning and joins me on my first day to Lauren Gap shelter. We run into quite a few people on the way up to Mt. Sterling but that ends as soon as we get over the mountain..There is some ice and snow up high. My buddy leaves me in the morning and it's a solo trip from here on. I hike to CS 50 Lower Chasteen Creek on a chilly day 2. I run into a nobo thru-hiker in camp and we chat for a bit. On day 3 I climb up Newton Bald and spot my only bear of the trip, a cub/juvenile scurrying up the other side of a hollow as a descend the Sunkota Ridge. I have Jerry Flats all to myself, a large CS on both sides of the trail. On day 4 the walk along the Lakeshore Trail begins a family of 4 day-hiking are the only folks I see on this beautiful day. I set up camp at Pilkey Creek along the Lakeshore Trail. The Smokies section of my trip ends on day 5 as I book it to the Fontana Visitor Center to grab a shower. After I get cleaned up a bit I hike along the BMT/AT joint-treadway to the Fontana Marina where I have a few cold beverages at the end of the day before the last mile or to so my planned CS, where the BMT splits off the AT on a FS road. I saw probably 20 AT thru-hikers at the Fontana Shelter. I'd been anticipating a cold rain on day 6, and she did not disappoint. After a mile or two the sky opens up and doesn't quit until the following morning. Just when I'm thinking to myself, "surely I won't see any other fools out here today", I pass a pair heading the same direction as me. As I pass them and we exchange pleasantries, I think I recognize one of the faces as a frequent appearer in Tipi's trip reports - Bert "Wildcat" Emmerson. More on Wildcat later. The thunderstorms start that afternoon and I'm ridge-walking as fast as I can and keeping my head down and "talking to myself" all the way. I finally make it to Tapoco Lodge and have a cup of coffee to warm up before filling my belly with hot food and cold drink. I have a mail re-supply box waiting for me here, the plan was to grab the box and a meal and hike on, but with the thunderstorms supposed to continue all night, I decided to get a room and stay the night. As I'm eating, I can see Wildcat and his friend (whose name escapes me, real nice guy) coming in from the road and make the same decision as me to hole up at the lodge.
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    DAYS 7 - 11: Exploring the Joyce-Kilmer Slickrock and Citico Creek Wilderness
    I get a pretty early start out of Tapoco on day 7 and head on the BMT to the mandatory side-trip to the Hangover which did not disappoint. I have it all to myself on a glorious sunny day and have a long lunch up top with the views before by first big loop: down Deep Creek Trail and then up Haoe Lead Trail to Naked Ground Gap (after "tagging" the stretch of BMT I missed). The Haoe Lead Trail was spectacular ridge-walking with views off both sides nearly the entire time, and this was easily one of my favorite afternoons of the trip. I camp at Naked Ground Gap where I run into Wildcat, his friend, and another group, and we all hang around the fire for a bit. The next morning my plan is to hike the Naked Ground Trail down to the Big Poplar Loop, then up the Stratton Bald Trail. I make it down the (south-facing) Naked Ground Trail and enjoy the old-growth timber that's a preface for the (north-facing) Big Poplar Loop. The Big Poplar loop was simply spectacular, I walked around in awe like a reverential zombie enjoying the massive, virgin old-growth Poplar trees that grew in these perfect conditions. As I'm road-walking to the Stratton Bald Trailhead it begins to pour, so instead I head to a nearby front-country CG to wait out the rain under a large roofed kiosk. As I wait a local fisherman pulls up to study the sign and asks me, "what church you go to, young'n?" then gave me some McDonalds and a juice. It stops raining so I head up the Stratton Bald Trail (it immediately starts raining again of course) and set up camp about 3 miles up the thing. I knew more storms were coming tonight so I didn't want to be on top. After getting set up, however, I check the radar and there's a huge glob of red coming right at me later..So I make the tough decision to pack up, backtrack down the mountain, and camp at a low elevation front-country CS near the trailhead. On day 9 I lay in the tent in the rain until 11AM before at last climbing the Stratton Bald Trail in the cold, windy rain. The wind is whipping and it's raining and cold as I hustle over the Bob Bald. The plan was to head down the South Fork Trail and then up the Brush Mtn Trail, but I decide with all of these recent rains and flooding, I don't want to risk the South Fork fords. Instead, I head north on the Stratton Bald Alternate to Chery Log Gap, where the clouds subside and the sun comes out. I hike a bit more to Glen Gap on the Fodderstack Ridge Trail and camp. At this point, I decide that I want to avoid the fords of the Slickrock Creek Trail and other "wet" trails in the wilderness, so I modify my route to "dry" trails only and decide to end my wilderness side-quest a couple days early and keep heading down the BMT. On day 10 overall (day 4 in the wilderness), I head down the Pine Ridge Trail, take the Rocky Flats Trail over to Mill Branch Trail which I take back up to the Fodderstack Trail. I need to head back to Tapoco tomorrow re-supply again and my goal is to get as close as I can today. I take Big Stack Gap Trail to the Slickrock Trail, pull a couple late-day upstream fords to the Big Fat Trail, and head down the Big Fat Trail until I find a suitable place to camp. The next day I scoot on down Big Fat to Big Fat Gap, then head south on the Hangover Lead Trail to Yellowhammer Gap, then take the BMT in to Tapoco for a hot meal, cold beer, and re-supply. I head out later that day and take the BMT to it's intersection with Windy Gap Trail, where I divert from the BMT and instead slide down Nichols Cove Trail (earlier on the Nichols Cove Trail I spotted the biggest hog I've ever seen scurrying away from me) to the Slickrock Creek Trail, AKA "The Nutbuster". I spent too long at Tapoco and end up having to night-hike the last 45 minutes of the beast through rhodo tunnels. The climb certainly has earned it's reputation and is quite possibly the toughest climb of my backpacking career. The thing is LONG and STEEP. I camp at Naked Ground Gap, thus ending the wilderness exploration.
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    DAYS 12 - 15: Naked Ground Gap to Thunder Rock CG
    A cold rain starts early in the morning of day 12 and I'm afraid my second time on Bob Bald will be similar to the first, 3 days ago. I'm correct, and the rain keeps on all day as I descend the Unicois, don't slow down for Whigg Meadow, and hike the BMT south to the Trout Hatchery. At this point, I have completed the BMT! I take an obligatory picture, ripped and patched Frogg Togg pants and all, to commemorate. I notice one of the "baskets" of my brand-new Black Diamond carbon fiber poles has completely ripped off. Disappointing, but at least I purchased from REI. The rain isn't supposed to let up until the following morning, so I make the decision to hike the 1.3 miles over to the Green Cove Inn and get a room for the night and dry out my gear. The rates have doubled here since I stayed here in 2017, and the "amenities" (or lack thereof) have not changed. I head out the next morning and MAN is it COLD, the coldest day of my trip. Early in the day a brace/bracket on the already-compromised pole fails and I only have one pole for the rest of the trip, which I only use for water crossings. On my older model of these poles, I was always able to fix a similar "brace/bracket failure" by wedging it out with my file but these are built different and I could not fix it on the fly. I hike in a thermal base-layer, pullover, and my rain jacket all day long. I run into a group of 3 who say I'm the second person I've seen in 4 days..I make it to Doc Rogers old homestead and set up camp nearby on old woods road. Weather forecast says 19 tonight and I'm almost 3000 feet up, but protected wind-wise. My pickup spot is at Thunder Rock CG so I plan a big day for day 14 to make sure I'm early for my pickup the next day. I hump it 26 miles through Hiawassee, my biggest day of the trip, and set up my tent at a little-used site right off a gravel road after climbing the first hill out of Hiawassee. My 2017-2018 BMT guide book says they offer tenting at Hiawassee River Outfitters, but I was told no by the care-taker when I asked. I spend most of my final day climbing on pleasant FS roads before descending down into Thunder Rock CG for pickup.
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    A few general thoughts: hiking the BMT in March/April was a completely different experience than in June. The trail as a whole was in much better condition blow-down wise (hard to say if this is due to more maintenance or just different areas than I hiked the first time) and obviously, the lack of overgrowth along with the pre-leaf out views were great. My first time on the BMT I only ran into one other thru-hiker and one other set of backpackers in general. This time I probably ran into 4-6 thruhikers and dozens of backpackers..I saw dozens of grouse and got the best look I've ever gotten at a pileated woodpecker. On a personal note, this was the longest trip I've ever done, mileage-wise and days-wise at 275 miles over 15 days/14 nights with no zeros.

  2. #2
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    Map of my route, BMT in blue, off-BMT in orange.
    33C3E45F-1579-425B-9186-B6C43E444E00.jpg

  3. #3
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    Congrats on finishing the BMT. Thanks for the trip report and pics - nice stuff!

  4. #4

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    Another congrats on finishing. I enjoyed the report.

  5. #5
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    Enjoyed reading through your post! We did a few miles last May in the Slickrock area. It was good to hear the names of those trails again.
    Congratulations on your finish. Finishing gives such a wonderful feeling of accomplishment. I hope you feel like you can conquer anything.

  6. #6
    Registered User hobbs's Avatar
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    Congrats on the finish I enjoyed your trip report. You got in some good milage in a short amount of time.
    My love for life is quit simple .i get uo in the moring and then i go to bed at night. What I do inbween is to occupy my time. Cary Grant

  7. #7
    Leonidas
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    Congrats! Brought back memories of my recent completion. Its funny to me how few people you saw compared to my trip.
    AT: 471 mi
    Benton MacKaye Trail '20
    Pinhoti Trail '18-19'

    @leonidasonthetrail https://www.youtube.com/c/LeonidasontheTrail

  8. #8
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    To everyone who’s responded - much appreciated and glad some folks enjoyed it!

    Quote Originally Posted by JC13 View Post
    Congrats! Brought back memories of my recent completion. Its funny to me how few people you saw compared to my trip.
    Congratulations to you on your recent BMT thru! I’ve been following your videos. I had bad weather going over some of the more popular spots so that definitely was a crowd factor. I kinda expected to see more in the Smokies.

  9. #9
    Leonidas
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    Quote Originally Posted by Slugg View Post
    To everyone who’s responded - much appreciated and glad some folks enjoyed it!



    Congratulations to you on your recent BMT thru! I’ve been following your videos. I had bad weather going over some of the more popular spots so that definitely was a crowd factor. I kinda expected to see more in the Smokies.
    Appreciate it! I'm not sure what I expected in the Smokies. We saw 3 rangers in the backcountry, one guy at Laurel Shelter and probably 15 or so at Mt. Sterling. Which I guess that makes sense as most people only hit the easy to get to or crazy view spots it seems.
    AT: 471 mi
    Benton MacKaye Trail '20
    Pinhoti Trail '18-19'

    @leonidasonthetrail https://www.youtube.com/c/LeonidasontheTrail

  10. #10
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    Quick question: how well was the trail marked? Don’t want to lose my way.
    thanks,
    paul

  11. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by Pjgaustad View Post
    Quick question: how well was the trail marked?
    A friend and I thru hiked the BMT this past October SOBO. For the most part the trail is well marked, but there are some sections with fewer blazes than I'd like. That's where Sgt. Rock's Guidebook is worth three times its weight. That guide is invaluable. Guthooks is also quite good for the BMT. Even though we had both, through sheer stupidity I managed to go off trail at least twice and picked up some bonus miles. Fortunately, getting off trail becomes increasingly obvious when it happens, so I usually just back tracked, took another look at the Guide and realized my mistake and found the right route.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pjgaustad View Post
    Quick question: how well was the trail marked? Don’t want to lose my way.
    thanks,
    paul
    In the Smokies and the designated wilderness areas, most junctions are marked but no blazes. Most areas are pretty heavily-blazed. If you are at all concerned I would recommend a GPS app like Gaia to double-check yourself. Guthooks is popular and would serve the same purpose but I’ve never used it.

  13. #13
    Registered User colorado_rob's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pjgaustad View Post
    Quick question: how well was the trail marked? Donít want to lose my way.
    thanks,
    paul
    I did about 2/3rds of the BMT a couple of Octobers ago, and it was a bit tough to follow in places. I was sure glad to have the Guthook track on my phone. Maybe it's easier to follow in the summer with the heavier hiker traffic.

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