Day 19 - Benton MacKaye Trail

It rained all night and finally tapered off just around sunrise.  We got out of the tent at about 7:50 and wiped everything down as best we could before setting out for, on paper, looked to be a tough day.  We began by climbing to the top of Hughes Ridge and meeting the Enloe Creek trail for a few miles before finally heading back downhill.  The trails were slick, but in great shape considering the weather.  We forded Enloe Creek and NoKey actually managed to rock hop the whole thing!  We passed a few pretty cascades before coming to campsite 47 and beginning our next climb. 

 A beautiful waterfall in the remote Smokies Backcountry. 

A beautiful waterfall in the remote Smokies Backcountry. 

The next climb to Beech Gap Trail started steep, but leveled out near the top giving us a much needed break. Towards the top of this 5000-foot peak we were once again walking in the clouds, but didn't mind because it kept us nice and cool.  From here we had a steep downhill of nearly 2000 feet of descending down to Straight Fork Branch, where the sun came out for a few minutes and we had a quick lunch before beginning our last big climb!  

 Walking a verdant path through the high clouds in the Smokies

Walking a verdant path through the high clouds in the Smokies

After lunch the clouds rolled back in and we had to climb nearly 3000 feet yet again!  We took our time and took lots of breaks at some beautiful springs, filling our water as we went.  This has been such a nice way to end our trip, not carrying so much water!  Near the top of our climb at the junction of Beech Gap and Balsam Mountain, the trail levels out as we walked through a spruce forest at nearly 5600 feet of elevation before heading downhill into Laurel Gap shelter. 

 A surprisingly full house for a Tuesday after a holiday! 

A surprisingly full house for a Tuesday after a holiday! 

We camped with 12 people at Laurel Gap and met lots of interesting people!  It was so nice to stay under a roof and be social for the night.  Just around 7 pm the rain started to fall for a few hours - a nice way to fall asleep knowing our tent had been dried out and we were dry, listening to the rain fall on the tin roof.  A great way to spend our last night on trail!