The ridgewalking seemed to stretch for miles but there were only tiny glimpses of sky through the tunnel of green. The reality of southeastern forests is that the nature here envelops you. A jungle-like greenery seemed to reach out to fill the air. Thick spider webs adhered to sweaty skin as if stuck with superglue. Nature was constantly flying into my eyes (no-see-ums!), buzzing in my ears, and biting through my skin (ticks, sweatbees, mosquitos!). Even the air itself seemed thick to breathe, laden with humidity.
Along the ridge, beauty could be found not by looking out, but looking close at the tangle of life.
Rocks jutted up along the spine created ideal habitat for lichen and rockcap fern. Hill-topping butterflies danced along the ridge looking for mates.
|Red-spotted purple (Limenitis arthemis) mimics the coloration of the poisonous pipevine swallowtail to avoid getting eaten.|
|Rock with lichen and mosses.|
Little did I know that the BMT trail maintainers refer to this remote, jungle-like section as the “Heart of Darkness." Dedicated volunteers do regular brushing to open up the trail but the brambles grow back quickly each year. I hiked for miles through freshly brushed-out trail, thankful for their hard work.
|The culprit. Also, delicious.|
But then I got to the end of the maintained section, where the brambles were thick and high. If only I'd checked the BMT website, I would have seen their warning. But alas, I didn't plan ahead.
How long do you hike through blackberries before you turn around? What if you are on an out-and-back? Knowing the further you go, that it only adds to the distance you will have on the way back.
|Putting on my rainpants and diving into the neck-high mess.|
I made it a mile. Had to because I was out of water in 90 degree heat and needed to get to the next spring. But after filling up at the spring, I cut my trip short and turned around. I'd had enough up-close nature.
|Always a good night's rest and thankful for a bugnet.|
|Side trip from Sixmile Gap up to Waucheesi Mountain. Finally got a view, even though the communication tower and trash detracted from the ambiance.|
This out-and-back backpacking trip was along the Benton Mackaye Trail from TN Hwy 68 to near Round Top (and back). It included parts of Sections 14, 15, and 16. This section is lightly used and no other people were seen.
The Benton Mackaye Trail Association has a great website with all the resources, maps, and information you need. Check it before you go so you can avoid problems.