Backpacking Benton MacKaye Trail Epilogue

April 2, 2014 — 2 Comments

This post is part of a short series of posts describing my weekend backpacking the first three sections of the Benton MacKaye Trail on March 21st-23rd:
Backpacking Benton MacKaye Trail Prologue
Backpacking Benton MacKaye Trail Section 1
Backpacking Benton MacKaye Trail Section 2
Backpacking Benton MacKaye Trail Section 3
Backpacking Benton MacKaye Trail Epilogue

I’ve been considering how I would conclude this topic and exactly what I’d be discussing in my summary and I’ve decided that I would split it between two different posts: 1. Discussing my thoughts/feelings being back on the trail and 2. Discussing the gear I used and what changes, if any, I would consider making to my setup.  So for any gear-heads trolling my blog (Duckhunter), you’ll want to read the post after this one.

After I told my wife that I’d been invited on this trip and that I was considering it, she strongly urged me to go.  I was confused by this response as I was expecting her to protest a bit about me being gone for the weekend and leaving her alone with the baby.  Instead, she said something to the effect of, “You need this trip.  I need this trip.  You always come back a better person: more relaxed; polite.”

I’m not certain I return more relaxed and polite so much as maybe I’m just too exhausted to be my usual self for a couple days.  That must be what she means…

I once took one of those self-evaluation studies that claims to help you discover which activities help you connect to God.  Not surprisingly, my answer was through nature (or the outdoors).  Not in any sort of mystical, hippy way — but through just being outside.  (Preferably the farther “outside” the better.)

Backpacking, to a large extent, has often been my reset button (so-to-speak): A place where I can find true peace-and-quiet, revel in His creation and be free of (most) worldly distractions long enough to have some meaningful prayer time.  And, if my mind is particularly free from distraction, actually hear a response.

Introspection aside, I saw this as an opportunity to make new friends, have a guy’s weekend out and the challenge to finish something I started with nothing more than my willpower and the few possessions I packed for the journey.

I’m not short on friends, but finding individuals willing to partake in such an adventure can often be difficult.  Not everyone has the penchant to leave their daily comforts to spend a weekend “roughing it.”  I don’t believe we often think of it in these terms, but the people you embark with on these journeys have a special responsibility to one another: In extreme cases, you may become wholly dependent upon them for survival.  Having been seriously injured (but not severely) on the trail, I know how quickly nature can work against you and how dependent you can be on those you’re with.

Thankfully, such events on this trip were limited to: a simple head/neck injury, blistered feet, twisted ankles/knees, under-equipped for the weather, rodents eating your food and nearly burning down someone else’s property.  In all, both a lively and somewhat uneventful trip. 🙂

Finally, I had my reservations about backpacking with 7 other guys.  Initially, I envisioned all of us bunching up on the trail; all of us stopping when only one of us needed to rest or adjust our gear and otherwise not finding anywhere convenient for all of us to camp in one spot.  In reality, I was very wrong on all my assumptions and it just so happened to work out that 8 was a perfect number for this trip.

I suspect I spent an equal amount of time hiking at all different positions on this trip.  I enjoyed the extra time I had to relax while we waited on others to catch up.  I appreciated everyone patiently waiting on me when I was pulling up the rear.  And I had plenty of time in-between where I hiked alone (at my own pace) but never far behind or ahead of the next guy.

As a bonus, eight guys was the right amount of backpackers to overcome any gear or skill deficiencies as you could be assured that someone else could show you how to do something or could lend you an item you forgot to bring.  I devoted equal time to sharing what I’d learned over the years and studying what others were doing so that I might improve upon my own skill-set.  Just when I believe I’ve got it all figured out…

Aaron Melton


2 responses to Backpacking Benton MacKaye Trail Epilogue

  1. Aaron,

    I was bumping along looking for info on the Benton McKaye and saw your posts. You should keep writing since I enjoyed them all.

    We are a threesome of Dads that are able to get off the reservation 2-3 times/year for 2-3 nights. We have done most of the loops we could find near Fontana Lake area and enjoyed them . . but we are looking for something different and all agreed that we didn’t want to to get too close to the AT with everyone who recently saw/read A Walk in the Woods or Wild.

    Since I have never really been on the Benton McKaye much, I thought we might give it a try (next weekend). Do you know of a loop (ideally taking one car) . . . or a section that you thought you would love to return for a few days? We normally do 5-6 miles/day, but have done up to 8 on some of the Fontana Loops.

    Do you have any recommendations?


    Eddie O.

    • Eddie,

      If I recall correctly, the BMT and AT cross twice early on, so theoretically you could make a figure-8 and return to the parking lot at Springer Mtn. However, I don’t recall how long this loop may be (probably only a few miles) so it may not be that exciting.

      If you’re willing to go somewhere else, I’m mostly sure you can make a decent sized loop in the Shining Rock Wilderness (Art Loeb Trail) from the Big East Fork Trailhead. Some of these trails are ass-kickers, though.

      I can’t think of many (any?) other loops. Relying on one vehicle really limits your options.


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