Saturday, March 19, 2011
So Spring Break was here, and I was determined to finish the Bartram Trail. I had hiked the first 19 miles in Georgia three weeks earlier, and now 82 miles remained.
After shuttling my truck to Buckeye Creek Trailhead, where the southern 55-mile leg ended south of Franklin, NC, my wife dropped me off at Warwoman Dell picnic area. We had lunch there, then I stepped off up the trail, quickly crossing Warwoman Road.
After the relatively mild terrain of the Chattooga River walk, I knew I was now entering the mountain portion of the GA Bartram Trail. The grade was relatively steep at first, then it mellowed considerably as I crossed a footbridge right next to the first of many small waterfalls.
A couple of miles later, I approached Martin Creek Campsite. It was full of tents, maybe eight. A short while later, I encountered their owners, a scout group at the boardwalk overlooking Martin Creek Falls. The falls were definitely rocking.
By this point the sun was coming out. The temperature was around 80. Now in the south, 80 degrees is pretty mellow. But after temps in the 50’s earlier in the week, and an almost complete lack of shade due to no leaves, 80 made for some warm hiking up the ridgeline. Still, the weather brought out plenty of backpackers. I passed three small groups and another scout group over the next few miles. But the miles and elevation dropped away slowly.
At Windy Gap, Dewey stopped for a shot with another Georgia highlight, one of the many carved boulders found on the trail.
I had planned a 12-mile day to Saltrock Gap, but between the late start and the warmth of the day, I decided to stop a mile short at a stream near the summit of Flat Top. A mile before camp, a light sprinkling rain began. As soon as I put my pack cover on, the rain stopped….
Fortunately, Dewey and I were able to enjoy the overlook a half-mile before our camp.
When we arrived at camp, there were already a couple of other campers there, including another hammocker. They were courteous and fine with my setting up on the other side of the campsite.
I cooked dinner and settled in for the evening. I enjoyed reading and listening to the campfire my site mates had stoked up in the distance. Before long, I drifted off to sleep.
Sunday, March 20
The first day of Spring began on a less than auspicious note. I had been sure to drink plenty of water in camp, but I awoke around 1 AM with a mild headache. I drank more water and drifted back to sleep. I awoke again around 4:30 with a deeper headache. I urinated and noted the urine was nearly clear, so dehydration didn’t seem like the issue.
I thought maybe the headache was due to congestion from allergies, so I took a zirtec and a couple of Tylenol and lay back down. I lay restlessly for about 15-20 minutes until my stomach churned. Finally , I rolled over in my hammock and hurled over the side. The Tylenol flavored water was a bit nasty, but within 3 minutes, the headache all but disappeared. I can only assume I had been suffering from a migraine. Then I slept the sleep of the dead.
I knew this would be a long day. I had about 13 miles planned with 3000 feet of climbing. But when my alarm rang, my body told me I needed sleep more than an early start. I drifted off for another hour, eventually rising and heading up the trail around 9 AM.
The climb up to Rabun Bald felt remarkably strong, due at least partly to cooler weather. Rabun Bald is the highest point on the GA Bartram Trail, and the second highest point in the whole state at 4696 feet. Like so many southern balds, the summit is no longer bald of trees and brush. But the fire tower atop still allows excellent 360 views.
The wind up top was enough to nearly cut you. Dewey and I quickly snapped a photo with our stickpic.
Then we headed back down the trail. Though the day offered little sun, I at least enjoyed the thought that I might have some shade from the long stretches of rhododendron tunnel that abounded in the region.
As I continued down the mountain, I encountered a number of dayhikers approaching the summit. I also passed the first of many houses just off the trail. Soon I reached Hale Ridge Road and the border with North Carolina. As I pushed into the trailhead, I said goodbye to the yellow diamonds of the GA BT and hello to the yellow rectangular blazes of the NC BT.
As I ascended, Dewey and I paused briefly to enjoy the Osage Mountain Overlook at the parking area on NC106.
Then I began the final ascent over Scaly Mountain. At 4804 feet, it was a bit of a hump later in the day. As I worked my way to the summit, the tread gave way to many long swathes of exposed rock, reminding me of the Appalachian Trail in New England. I’m sure there would have been great views, but the weather conspired against me with clouds closing in and a misty rain gently falling. Once again, within minutes of throwing on my pack cover, the rain stopped.
I made good time downhill to the developed campsite on Tessentee Creek. It offered a fully furnished kitchen with metal fire ring, lantern post, and plenty of log stools and table tops.
It also offered a great set of trees for Dewey and me to enjoy our hammock for the evening.
We crawled in and slept well.
Monday, March 21
I was up early and hiking by 8 AM. I wanted to make good time back to my truck, since I had a few chores to do in Franklin and my wife was meeting me to shuttle my truck to where the BT crossed US19 near the trail’s northern terminus on Cheoah Bald.
The trail was surprisingly rough and rocky in the first mile and my progress was surprisingly slow. However, I began to move more smoothly as I pushed up the main ascent of Jones Knob. The morning was foggy and offered what Dewey referred to as “Grimms’ Fairy Tale Woods”.
But the day cleared and views became more prevalent once I reach the main ridgeline. Fishhawk Mountain showed its rough face.
Side trails offered excellent overlooks.
Dewey asked for a break at Wolf Rocks before we began our 2000 foot descent to Buckeye Creek Trailhead.
Then we headed down. On the ridge, we paused to glance at an old, long-abandoned school bus.
As we neared the trailhead, I noticed the first wildflowers of my hike, spring beauties beginning to blanket the slope.
In the last mile and change, we reached an old smooth roadbed that brought us quickly back to the truck.
There is no official Bartram Trail route through the 14 miles of Franklin to where the northern segment begins at Wallace Branch Trailhead. However, I chose to drive the road walk the Bartram Trail Society described as “recommended” to avoid the heaviest traffic of the area. It was on little country roads with no shoulder and locals who know the way well enough to whip along at 50 MPH. I was glad that I didn’t need to walk it.
All afterward was a blur, visiting the outfitter in Franklin, meeting my wife at Ron Haven’s Budget Inn, shuttling my truck up to US19. The official trailhead at Winding Stair Road was closed due to construction, so I parked at a picnic area a quarter mile down the road where Ledbetter Creek empties into the Nantahala River.
We headed back to Franklin for dinner and some quality time together before we drifted to sleep.