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  1. #1
    Senior Member Bearpaw's Avatar
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    Duncan Ridge Trail, GA, Jan 2-4, 2013

    If you grew up a fan of the country group Alabama, you’ll remember the line from “Mountain Music” that goes “Swim across the river, just to prove that I’m a man.” After finishing this little 19 mile DRT section between the Appalachian Trail’s Blood Mountain and the Benton MacKaye Trail’s Rhodes Mountain, I couldn’t help but feel like I’d done something very much along those same lines.

    Wednesday, January 2, 2013



    After dropping my truck at the BMT crossing at Skeenah Gap, my wife drove me to Lake Winfield Scott State Park, and we headed up Jarrard Gap Road as far as we could go. Once at the gate, she dropped off me and my ever-present travel buddy Dewey Bear and headed home.


    The smoothly graded roadbed took us up to the AT and Jarrard Gap in about 10 minutes of walking. From there, we turned left all sudden like and headed north. The Georgia mountains reached out to embrace me with its usual misty hug.


    After a couple of miles of gradual climbing up the trail toward Blood Mountain, I reached the intersection with the Duncan Ridge Trail and the Coosa Backcountry Trail.


    Before ever reaching Blood Mountain’s popular summit, I headed west. The Coosa and Duncan Ridge Trails run together for the first 5 miles, and trees show both the blue blaze (for the DRT) and the lime green blaze (for the CBT).


    As I had climbed up Blood, I had risen above the fog, but as I descended, the mist rolled in again. It kept us company during our lunch break at Slaughter Gap.


    As I stepped off, climbing up Slaughter Mountain, I once again broke free of the fog. The ridgeline offered views of distant peaks in a sea of cloud.


    The DRT is known for having very few water sources, but the recent rain had every imaginable little seep flowing steadily. To my surprise, I also encountered another hiker along the ridge. He was heading east, nearly done with the DRT. He was about half-way through the 57-mile Georgia Loop, consisting of the DRT and a chunk of the Appalachian and Benton MacKaye Trails. We said our goodbyes and headed our separate ways.

    Then I headed down to GA-180 at Wolfpen Gap. The natural spring there was bursting out of the ground, and I quickly filled up with 3 quarts and headed on. My planned campsite was just ¾ miles up the trail on the eastern slope of Coosa Bald. I found an excellent little site and quickly changed into some dry layers. Dewey Bear snuggled with my down pillow while I set to work.


    Then over the next 20 minutes, I set up my hammock and tweaked my gear.


    Once set up, I commenced to heat water for cocoa, followed by soup, then a nap. I battened down the tarp and slid into my hammock.


    When I woke, it was nearly dark. I heated water for mashed potatoes with chunked chicken. The cold was definitely palpable, and once I finished dinner, I returned to the warmth of my hanging cocoon and read until I fell asleep.

    A short day of only 6 miles left me feeling that the hype of the DRT’s toughness was definitely exaggerated.

  2. #2
    Senior Member Bearpaw's Avatar
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    Thursday, January 3, 2013

    I rose to a cold morning and spent a good twenty minutes convincing myself to crawl out from my quilts. Once I finally got moving, I managed a breakfast of oatmeal and hot chocolate and headed deeper into the brush to dig a hole and help flush them through my system in all of 45 minutes time.

    Packing up always takes longer in the cold, but it seemed worse than usual this day. About an hour and a half after getting out of my hammock, I finally stepped off, heading up the steep climb to Coosa Bald.

    Coosa Bald hasn’t been bald in at least 20 years, so there was no real overlook. However, there wouldn’t have been much to see even if there had been a decent viewpoint, due to the ever present mist and fog. It was a bit of a disappointment, but this was quickly replaced by a sense of wonder as I walked into the first frozen patch of trees for the day.


    For the rest of the day, whenever I hiked on the summit or northern slope of Duncan Ridge, the icy cold, moist wind would create an ever-increasing layer of frost on tree limbs, brush, and me. I hike hot, and I rarely wear more than one layer. But the biting wind demanded I pull on my windshirt and double over my Buff to preserve some warmth on my head and ears. I looked like the Great Pumpkin with an icy beard.


    At a little gap called Whiteoak Stomp, a “W” sign with an arrow pointed me down to water. Sgt Rock’s BMT Guide said you might find water .1-.3 miles down the draw. I was barely 100 yards downhill when I reached a seep with enough force to slowly fill my bottle.

    I then pushed on up the steep Buckeye Knob. The legendary steepness of the DRT was showing itself. None of the climbs were more than 300-600 feet up, but they happened over less than a half mile, basically sending you up the fall line in many cases. I was doing the shuffle-shuffle-breath-breath step before I reached the top. Buck Knob proved just as steep. And all the while, the ice was getting thicker on the trees.


    The cold was definitely sapping some of my strength just as I had a happy surprise. On the short climb up Wildcat Knob, I looked down and realized the haze and fog had finally cleared, and I had my first valley view of the hike.


    I was genuinely pumped up at this point, since I was only a mile or so from my planned camp for the day. I walked the last bit of flat ridge amidst a tunnel of frost.


    Then, wonder of wonders, I turned down the southwest slop of Wildcat Knob, and the frost disappeared. I marched right down to the gravel FS-4 and Mulky Gap, where a gated road led to a series of “dispersed” campsites.


    A quarter mile later and I arrived at an open pasture with a deer blind and just past this, a beautiful spring-fed stream and pool of water.

    I tried to find a good hang site near the spring, beyond the gravel road, but the ground was damp and I knew this would mean heavy frost on my hammock and underquilt the next morning. The trees on the edge of the field were cut by knife-edge winds. Then I returned to the deer blind and found a nice area with minimal underbrush where I set up, secure from moisture and wind.


    The deer blind came with a couple of resident chairs, so I established it as my official kitchen for the night.


    It even came with a great view.


    After dinner, I retired to my hammock to read and sleep. Another 8.5 miles down this day, with the toughest 9 miles of the trip to come.

  3. #3
    Senior Member Bearpaw's Avatar
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    Friday, January 4, 2013

    The night was well below freezing as frost on my tarp indicated. Despite burying my water bottles in clothing in my pack and turning them upside down, I awoke with a good bit of slush in them.

    Still I arose before daylight, packed most everything up and headed to the deer blind. I closed the window to cut away the wind and fixed breakfast. I was much more efficient than the previous day, and I was walking by a bit after 8, just 45 minutes after daylight.

    From here, the real teeth of the DRT kicked in. I started with the 700 foot climb up Akin Mountain. I was pleased that there were some gradual switchbacks up an old roadbed.


    The frost was mostly gone, and I got too hot in my windshirt, so I removed it about 100 yards before hitting the ridgeline and being sliced by cold wind. The last couple tenths of a mile were painfully steep, and I was torn between layering up and overheating or freezing. Within 2-3 minutes, ice formed in my beard again.


    Fortunately, I soon reached the south slope which avoided most of the wind and offered the best view along the whole DRT.


    I thought to myself, “That wasn’t so bad” then regretted it a few minutes later as I began hobbling up Clements Mountain. It was only half the altitude gain, but was painfully steep. I felt like an asthmatic, arthritic goat as I covered maybe 20 yards of trail at a time, then stopped to rest my legs and lungs. Even the 600 foot descent down Clements was tiring and painful as my knees and ankles began to grumble.

    I got a bit of rest on the mostly level stretch from Akin Gap to Fish Gap, a mostly level half-mile. I stopped for lunch at Fish Gap and met a small group that had driven up, scouting trailheads to hike the DRT as a section of dayhikes. I had to think “That sounds like a great idea!”

    Then I pushed on, grunting up High Top (not bad), Payne Knob (lived up to its name), and Gregory Knob (Greg was a damned sadist!). But by far the nastiest climb seemed to be the last one, the two spurs of Rhodes Mountain. The last quarter mile looked like an obscene, brush-choked, steep mess.


    Thankfully the trail wound between the brush with little to climb around or bust through. But I was tired after seven miles of constant steep ups and downs, totally over 2000 vertical feet of climbing. I reached the summit, tired but satisfied that I had handled the worst the DRT could throw at me. A tenth of a mile later, the DRT joined the Benton MacKaye Trail.


    An easy downhill 1.6 miles would take me to my truck at Skeenah Gap.

    The Duncan Ridge Trail would be considered mellow compared to the torturous climbs on the AT in the Mahoosuc Range of southern Maine. But for north Georgia, I absolutely consider the 7 miles from Mulky Gap to Rhodes Mountain to be the toughest little stretch of trail in the state. And I’ve hiked LOTS in the region, including the AT, BMT, Pinhoti Trail, Bartram Trail, and Chattooga River Trail. Its longest climb is barely 1000 feet, but most are strikingly steep. If you want a weekend challenge, hike the DRT while the leaves are down and water is flowing. It won’t disappoint.

  4. #4
    STinGa's Avatar
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    Bearpaw,

    Thanks for the great narrative. I can always read and reread your posts. I have plans on doing the BMT this year with my kids. Now I can add the Duncan Ridge Trail to my (our) to-do list.


    STinGa
    Sarcasm is a dying art.

    Eagle Scout September '85 Troop 339 Smyrna, TN

  5. #5
    TallPaul's Avatar
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    Great write up on the trip report. Nice start to the New year

  6. #6
    Senior Member Ewker's Avatar
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    Nice trip report as usual. You always make them interesting
    There are times that the only way you can do something is alone – that waiting on the convenience of others means that a lot of opportunities will pass you by
    Spirit Walker

    Religion was invented when the first con man met the first fool.” ― Mark Twain

    Who cares about showers, gourmet food, using flush toilets. Just keep on walking and being away from it all.

  7. #7
    Senior Member Bearpaw's Avatar
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    This one WAS interesting. Not bad hiking by any means, but between the cold and ice and many little, steep climbs, it was memorable.

  8. #8
    deerfu's Avatar
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    Good report and pics, thanks.

  9. #9
    Needs more Hang time Catavarie's Avatar
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    Another great trip report, thanks for taking us along.
    *Heaven best have trees, because I plan to lounge for eternity.

    Good judgement is the result of experience and experience the result of bad judgement. - Mark Twain

    Trail name: Radar

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  10. #10
    Senior Member Peg-Leg's Avatar
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    Good to see a new trip report. I was wondering when we'd see another. Thanks for the great pictures and narrative. Makes me want to head out soon.
    If God had meant for us to sleep on the ground,
    He wouldn't have created trees....

    “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul.” - John Muir

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