Thursday, March 18th, 2021
It was a rainy morning, but the sun would eventually push out the bad weather. We didn’t have much luck hitching back to trail, however, Carl the motel owner saw us struggling and gave us a ride. He was fun to talk to!
Before moving to Ducktown, he lived in Sarasota, FL, but had a love for the outdoors after spending a lot of his youth in Canada. His parent lived nearby in Hiawassee, GA and he had spent the past 3 years renovating the motel. He was also very knowledgable about the local history. Apparently, there used to be no trees in the area due to the poor soil quality caused by mining. It was hard to believe since we were surrounded by conifers. I would later hear other locals talking about the landscape recovering from the former barren wasteland into a thick forest. Carl also shared his passion for riding his motorcycle and dirt bikes, but said he gave it up once he started a family.
We saw the aftermath of the rain we received over the past couple days as we looked out the truck window. The steady-moving creek we saw on our way into town had turned into aggressive rapids. The trail was mildly flooded in some parts, but the sun was shining and the day seemed promising.
I had a slow start. My calves were locked up and they felt like they were on fire from spending so much time laying around in town. Too many zeroes. After about 20 minutes, I was able to get back up to speed.
We had some incredible views of the river below as we made our way down. Our feet would get wet walking through the flooded trail and we saw several snakes, but we felt like we dodged a bullet by staying in town during the bad weather. However, we hadn’t anticipated the terrifying ford we would have to conquer in order to get to the other side of the creek.
We spent hours bushwhacking back and forth along the rapids in search of a safe place to cross. The water was moving fast and could easily push me down river. A lot of the crossable areas would require swimming because it would be too deep to touch the bottom.
Frisbee tested the waters first. He started to head across, but the force was strong. There was one saving grace; a downed tree laying across the violent rapids. The only problem was it wasn’t stable and there was a waterfall on the other side. Frisbee tried that next. He was successful. The only problem was during his journey across, he loosened the tree even more.
Middle Brother tried crossing the log next. As it swayed underneath him, he turned around. He didn’t want to risk it. Middle Brother decided he felt safer swimming across. Frisbee cheered him on as he fought against the current.
“Swim it! You got it! Swim it!”
I watched in terror from the other side, but was relieved when he made it across safely. Now I was scared for a different reason. The two of them made it across safely, but now it was my turn. As I contemplated my decision, I noticed there was another hiker on the other side hoping to cross in the other direction. I wouldn’t meet her until later.
After staring down my options and against Frisbee’s suggestion, I decided to opt out of swimming across. I had a feeling that if I did, I’d certainly get lodged under the debris hidden below the surface. I tried the log instead. It swayed back and forth, even with the guys stabilizing it on the other side, but I just took my time. I was slow moving, but managed to make it across in one piece.
Lucy Lulu was the hiker I had only seen from a distance before crossing the rapids. She was a badass hiker who had her share of thru hikes on her resume. She was solo hiking and we explained the situation that lay ahead of her. She decided to take the “Middle Brother” route.
We watched anxiously as she swam across. Once the current started pushing her near the edge, she began power swimming. Unfortunately during the process, she lost grip of her pack and we watched as it floated away. Lucky enough, it got snagged on the log and she was able to reunite with it safely. Watching her pack float away gave me such a horrible and helpless feeling. The forest was too thick to chase it down and when you’re out here, it’s your lifeline. All turned out well though and we all survived!
We waved goodbye to her from afar then continued on our journey. We hiked around large boulders and would even see some goats. I’m not sure how they strayed so far from home and got so deep in the woods, but they seemed to be doing just fine out here. There were some mellow switchbacks, pretty waterfalls, and a couple caves to look at as we walked alongside the creek. We had a few more fords, but nothing ever came close to the terrifying experience we had survived earlier.
Our sunny day turned gray and windy. We met a couple guys who were camping and had plans to head in the direction we just came from the next day. We warned them and showed them some video footage of the ford just in case they didn’t want to risk it.
After a steep climb we took a long break at a picnic area. We dried out our feet and got some calories in us. We eventually saw the two guys return to their car. They decided they weren’t interested in sharing our experience! We walked alongside a road and then next to the Hiawassee River. There were very few areas that weren’t flooded, but we managed to find a dry bed of pine needles that was located a safe distance from the river near mile 174.8. It was a good find!
12.2 miles (19.6 km)
Jump Ahead to the Benton MacKaye Trail: Part 13
Jump Back to the Benton MacKaye Trail: Part 11
Start from the Beginning: Benton MacKaye Trail: Part 1