Sunday, September 16, 2012

Bartram Trail-- Sawmill Gap to Harrison Gap

This weekend's overnight out and back from Sawmill Gap to Harrison Gap took me 20 miles total, most of which I'd previously done.
Ample parking (with a view) at Sawmill Gap off FS 711
The first 2.2 miles to Wine Spring Bald featured views off to the south through a burned hillside.  Last time I did this section only a month ago in rain and fog, so I appreciated the clear day. 
Views for large stretches of trail along the ridge.
The yellow sunflowers were gone, but there were a whole new suite of flowers and berries, including monk's hood, gentian, and angelica.  Under the canopy was a sea of goldenrod and also dense thickets of white snakeroot.  Wildlife clearings buzzed with bees and exploding with more flowers.
White snakeroot as far as the eye can see
Wildlife thickets
Doll's eyes (Actaea pachypoda)
At Wine Spring Bald, the trail joined the AT all the way to Wayah Bald.  Sitting on top of Wayah Bald lookout tower, I reminisced about the previous times I'd been there.  The first time was when I hiked my first 20 mile day.  The second was on a winter AT backpacking trip with friends.  Looking out at all the peaks in the distance (including Cheoah Bald the terminus of the Bartram) made me wonder where I'm heading next.

The Bartram diverges from the AT just north of Wayah Bald, and I filled up on water a short distance past where the Bartram splits off.  This was the last water until I returned to this spot the following day. 

I'd read that the 6 miles between Wayah Bald and Harrison Gap were difficult, and that was indeed true.  My legs actually got sore as I rollercoastered up and down the endless knobs along the ridge.   All the elevation change took me through constantly changing vegetation types from high elevation heaths to rich coves with turtlehead.  Always something new.
Touch Me Not at lower elevation
Stalked puffballs in aspic on the side of Wayah Bald
Campsites were also scarce along this section.  Locust Tree Gap #2, campsite marked on my map, had no trees for my hammock, which was a similar situation to what I encountered at the surge tank at Rattlesnake Knob.  To other hammock hangers who may read this- plan extra time to find campsites, especially in summer when brush may be dense and make stealth camping difficult.  Eventually, I camped in an a stealth spot which was closer to Harrison Gap and the FS road access  than I'd have liked (i.e. only an 8 minutes walk).  It was so out of the way and hidden that I felt like it was relatively safe though.

The next morning, I turned around and retraced my route back to my car.  On the return trip, I was really struck by the difference between the Bartram and where the Bartram runs along the AT.  What a contrast between the two trails!   Certainly no need to look at the color of the blazes to tell if you are on the AT or Bartram.   Large campsites and frequent water sources?  That's the AT.  Feel soft trail under your feet?  Bartram.  People on the trail?  Must be the AT.  Does the trail just take off at a steep incline up each and every knob, without benefit of switchbacks?   Oh how I love the Bartram Trail!  
Tall goldenrod


  1. I am missing hiking so much lately---but I am not one to go alone though I might have to soon.

    I had to google to figure out where Harrison Gap was, but yes I do remember that section between the old poplar area south of Franklin and getting over Wayah Bald and the other side and being completely wiped out. It was our longest day on the AT at that point of 14 miles, and there was tough ice and snow still on the back of Wayah near the Wine Spring area. We had intended to camp there but not in snow!

    Love your hiking stories!

  2. That's so cool that you remember this section, and that there was snow up there. Wow! I sure was wiped out too-- my legs were sore for a week.