Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Benton MacKaye Trail: Conclusion

Disused logging road
The BMT has been great and I can highly recommend it. The BMT has been created to take pressure off the popular AT and it definitely rivals its big brother. If you are not dead set on hiking a section of the AT I would rather hike the BMT or a BMT/AT loop. Why is that?

I find the BMT much more varied and therefore more interesting than the AT. The AT is religiously routed over single file trail going up every single mountain along the way. This leads to lots of strenuous climbing on rather difficult terrain. You'll get very little reward for it though on the long green tunnel. All you'll see is a lot of trees and the occasional mountain view - and tons of hikers! The BMT takes a different approach, probably because it was created much later and because it receives much less funding. Most of the BMT is on single file trail, too but it usually lacks the steep climbs of the AT. But the BMT also uses a lot of old and long disused logging roads which makes for an interesting change. There is only a couple of miles  paved road walk on the BMT.

Rare trail sign
The scenery is much more varied on the BMT and involves some incredibly scenic walks along rivers and streams, the Hiawassee being the most spectacular. You'll find an interesting mix of ridge and river walks and nice unspoilt trail towns.

The hiking itself is a bit easier on the BMT than on the AT but overall I found the BMT at least as demanding due to the following reasons: There are only two shelters on the entire BMT. This is on purpose as BMTA considers the abundance of shelters the main reason for overcrowding on the AT. So you'll have to camp on the BMT, there is no shelter infrastructure. Also there are tons of river fords on the BMT whereas you can hike the AT with dry feet for almost 2,000 miles. None of the fords are particularly dangerous in normal conditions but rain and snow melt can make the hike demanding. The trail marking varies a lot on the BMT from good to non existent.

Luckily there is a lot of BMT info material out there. You can download the entire set of BMT maps for free on postholer.com. These maps are excellent! You can download the important waypoints from the BMTA website for free. You'll find the whole BMT route on the US trails overlay map on gpsfiledepot.com. And last but not least there is an excellent thruhiker data and guidebook by Sgt Rock for 13$ available on the BMTA website. This guidebook also includes trail town information and elevation profiles and is invaluable.

But what I liked most about the BMT is that it is still a bit of a secret tip. I did not see a single other hiker on the whole trail. Although there is some infrastructure for hikers the BMT still feels like an adventure and not like the AT hiker highway in high season.

One last word on when to hike it: I chose the BMT for a winter hike and other hikers consider it a winter destination, too. But although it can be hiked in winter be warned: the BMT goes several times above 4,000 ft! I had solid frost almost every night and encountered snow several times. Stream crossings in sub freezing temps are challenging. If you want to hike the BMT in winter make sure you are mentally and gearwise prepared - it will not be a walk in the park.


Bayou said...

Good going! Hike safe.

Bayou said...

Good going! Hike safe.