Four Seasons on the Benton MacKaye Trail
Reflections on Mileposts on the Trail
BMTSouthbound – June, 2009; October, 2009; January, 2013
BMTNorthbound- April, 2010
BMT Davenport Gap to Beech Gap, January, 2010
Links: Photos, Journals, Reflections, Slide shows
http://forgivenesswalks.com/benton-mackaye-trail/ First Winter Walk and Spring Walk slide shows
http://forgivenesswalks.com/benton-mackaye-trail-winter-thru-hike/ Second Winter Walk slide show
http://forgivenesswalks.com/free-resources/fabulous-foods-for-backpacking/ Upcoming Foods Course
“Stream” Mile 119
It’s milepost 119 from the northern terminus of the Benton MacKaye Trail.
The six men in the BMTA Fall Backpack Trip party keep their pace stepping over the two small streams there. They keep chatting as their feet land firmly on the flat triangle of earth between the streams. In just seconds, they’re stepping up the steep bank and heading south on the trail, bound for the night’s camp at Cold Spring Gap.
“But wait!” I call. “This was my Winter Camp! I thought I could have DIED here!”
No one heard me as I alone halted at this unremarkable spot. The Fall foliage and dark Earth blended pleasantly with the gently rushing streams with no fanfare. My mind was rushing though as I relived the memory of my first winter walk. I had camped here two years earlier as snow fell, choosing a site with a water source and a surprise phone signal.
The snow fell through the night and morning revealed a world of white. Wrapped up in my sleeping bag, peeking out under the edges of my tarp, I questioned my preparedness to go on alone in this deep snow, past the Cherohala Skyway into “The Heart of Darkness”, the ominous name for the remote 10-mile section of the BMT along the North Carolina/Tennessee state line.
Delighted with the beauty of the snowy woods, I was satisfied with the plan I had been able to make with Brenda Harris, a BMT friend who lived nearby, to pick me up at Beech Gap, about 4 miles south, the next morning. “You’ll have to wait until they open up the road,” she had said.
I was fine. I had water, plenty of food and fuel, two sleeping bags, my dependable tarp – and a cellphone signal. “I can enjoy 24 hours in a snowy wonderland,” I thought. I stayed put, only venturing out for a walk in mid-afternoon.
Darkness descending outside mirrored my growing inner darkness, however, and I worried for my safety. My phone charge dwindled and the game of calling Leslie in Atlanta to connect with Brenda 10 miles away from me wasn’t so amusing anymore. I was cold.
I shivered uncontrollably, a warning sign of hypothermia. I could still think clearly though. “Get warm. You WILL be ok.” I told myself firmly. I patted my body with my hands. I ate more food. I rearranged my sleeping bags, putting my summer quilt inside my down bag, covering my head with a double layer of insulation.
I recited a litany of gratitude for all the people in my wonderful, fulfilling life. 20 minutes later, body heat flowed to my head, my arms, and my feet and, with relief, I slept well. I woke up to a crystal blue sky and a superlative day for walking in Nature. The untouched path of ankle deep snow inspired a magically spiritual interlude of nourishing solitude. Sparkling glints of sunlit snow contrasted with luminescent blue shadows as I shuffled my way to Beech Gap and Brenda’s infectious cheer, topped off with hot tea from the thermos she had brought.
I spent a luxurious night at the Harrises’, still brightened with Christmas lights, and before I knew it, I was on a Greyhound bound for Atlanta, my Winter Walk ended. I was warm and safe, but only superficially relieved that I had left the trail.
The following Spring, with the forest floor carpeted with green seedlings instead of snow, I approached that site from the south on my Spring Walk. I was curious to get a new perspective on the tiny patch I had briefly inhabited for two nights during the previous Winter.
To my surprise, someone stood there at the stream. That was my introduction to “Tipi Walter”, a frequent visitor to this Citico Creek Wilderness. I had heard about him from Brenda Harris, but had not met him before. For many years, Tipi Walter has camped out for weeks at a time in the wilderness around Tellico Plains, TN. We had both heard of each other!
We took a photo of ourselves, then we chatted comfortably on the Spring trail, in our shorts and single shirt layers. We discovered that we had both been camping on that same stream drainage on that same frigid night a few months earlier. He had been huddled in his tent atop Bob Bald, almost 1,000 feet higher, straight up from my camp while I had been shivering below next to the stream.
“It was cold! I couldn’t find my hat!” he remembered.
Now, it was Spring, and the fresh bursting greenness welcomed us both to this landmark of adventure that we had shared unawares.
A place known only as “Stream” in the BMT Thru-Hikers Guide had become a 4-Seasons landmark for me!