Day 14 - Benton MacKaye Trail

We woke up to the same rain that had been pouring down all night.  We were camped at 4900 feet so the rain plus high elevations made for cold temperatures.  We didn't leave camp until about 10:30 since we were waiting for the rain to abate.  We were walking downhill through brush and undergrowth so our legs, socks, and shoes got pretty wet.  We had quite a few ups and downs this morning before running into some day hikers about 3 miles from Farr Gap.  We had a quick lunch and then headed to the gap and the infamous Stiffknee/Slickrock Creek trail.

 Always a comforting sign to see when you sleep with your food in your tent and you're not even half a mile from camp! 

Always a comforting sign to see when you sleep with your food in your tent and you're not even half a mile from camp! 

 

Now I had heard rumor this trail was rerouted to miss this nasty creek, but if it was we didn't see it! We started down steeply and immediately understood the name Stiffknee Trail!  Our packs are nearly empty and this thing was steep!  We kept dropping down and crossing numerous creeks, fighting our way through numerous blow downs and through brambles.  The trail got muddier and tougher to walk and we eventually reached a junction that let us know we were actually still on the right trail (miraculously!)  all of a sudden we were standing on a rock with a sign reading Slickrock Creek and we knew if there was a reroute we definitely were not on it.  We forded the creek, which was about thigh deep, and shook out on the other side. 

 We finally saw rhododendron blooming today! 

We finally saw rhododendron blooming today! 

 

By now we were exhausted, but no campsites were listed in our book and we just wanted to be both dry and warm, as the sun still had not come out and we spent most of the day walking in clouds. We climbed up Ike Branch to Yellow Hammer Gap and looked for the side trail to Tapoco Lodge, but it hasn't been built yet.  Up we went some more crossing Ike Branch about a thousand times before finally reaching the top and crossing it about a thousand more times on the way down.  We reached the Tapoco Trailhead at Cheoah Dam (the one they filmed The Fugitive on) and finishing our day with a half-mile road walk to Tapoco Lodge.

 Cheoah Dam - they filmed The Fugitive here. 

Cheoah Dam - they filmed The Fugitive here. 

 

When we saw the lodge we were elated! A big sign greeted us and we walked through the gates and were immediately awestruck.  This lodge only became hiker friendly a year ago, and walking up to it it was more like a private club or a five star hotel. We checked in and couldn't have been treated better.  We had a gorgeous room, a hot shower, free laundry, and a brick oven pizza place on premises! We ate a huge salad and pizza with some beers, had cleaner clothes than we have in over 100 miles, and climbed into the biggest bed I've ever seen to sleep.  What was a tough day turned into an epic evening!

 An epic evening awaited us here! 

An epic evening awaited us here!