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View Full Version : Duncan Ridge Trail, GA, Jan 2-4, 2013



Bearpaw
2013-01-05, 16:30
If you grew up a fan of the country group Alabama, you’ll remember the line from “Mountain Music” that goes “Swim across the river, just to prove that I’m a man.” After finishing this little 19 mile DRT section between the Appalachian Trail’s Blood Mountain and the Benton MacKaye Trail’s Rhodes Mountain, I couldn’t help but feel like I’d done something very much along those same lines.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

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After dropping my truck at the BMT crossing at Skeenah Gap, my wife drove me to Lake Winfield Scott State Park, and we headed up Jarrard Gap Road as far as we could go. Once at the gate, she dropped off me and my ever-present travel buddy Dewey Bear and headed home.
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The smoothly graded roadbed took us up to the AT and Jarrard Gap in about 10 minutes of walking. From there, we turned left all sudden like and headed north. The Georgia mountains reached out to embrace me with its usual misty hug.
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After a couple of miles of gradual climbing up the trail toward Blood Mountain, I reached the intersection with the Duncan Ridge Trail and the Coosa Backcountry Trail.
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Before ever reaching Blood Mountain’s popular summit, I headed west. The Coosa and Duncan Ridge Trails run together for the first 5 miles, and trees show both the blue blaze (for the DRT) and the lime green blaze (for the CBT).
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As I had climbed up Blood, I had risen above the fog, but as I descended, the mist rolled in again. It kept us company during our lunch break at Slaughter Gap.
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As I stepped off, climbing up Slaughter Mountain, I once again broke free of the fog. The ridgeline offered views of distant peaks in a sea of cloud.
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The DRT is known for having very few water sources, but the recent rain had every imaginable little seep flowing steadily. To my surprise, I also encountered another hiker along the ridge. He was heading east, nearly done with the DRT. He was about half-way through the 57-mile Georgia Loop, consisting of the DRT and a chunk of the Appalachian and Benton MacKaye Trails. We said our goodbyes and headed our separate ways.

Then I headed down to GA-180 at Wolfpen Gap. The natural spring there was bursting out of the ground, and I quickly filled up with 3 quarts and headed on. My planned campsite was just ¾ miles up the trail on the eastern slope of Coosa Bald. I found an excellent little site and quickly changed into some dry layers. Dewey Bear snuggled with my down pillow while I set to work.
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Then over the next 20 minutes, I set up my hammock and tweaked my gear.
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Once set up, I commenced to heat water for cocoa, followed by soup, then a nap. I battened down the tarp and slid into my hammock.
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When I woke, it was nearly dark. I heated water for mashed potatoes with chunked chicken. The cold was definitely palpable, and once I finished dinner, I returned to the warmth of my hanging cocoon and read until I fell asleep.

A short day of only 6 miles left me feeling that the hype of the DRT’s toughness was definitely exaggerated.

Bearpaw
2013-01-05, 16:31
Thursday, January 3, 2013

I rose to a cold morning and spent a good twenty minutes convincing myself to crawl out from my quilts. Once I finally got moving, I managed a breakfast of oatmeal and hot chocolate and headed deeper into the brush to dig a hole and help flush them through my system in all of 45 minutes time.

Packing up always takes longer in the cold, but it seemed worse than usual this day. About an hour and a half after getting out of my hammock, I finally stepped off, heading up the steep climb to Coosa Bald.

Coosa Bald hasn’t been bald in at least 20 years, so there was no real overlook. However, there wouldn’t have been much to see even if there had been a decent viewpoint, due to the ever present mist and fog. It was a bit of a disappointment, but this was quickly replaced by a sense of wonder as I walked into the first frozen patch of trees for the day.
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For the rest of the day, whenever I hiked on the summit or northern slope of Duncan Ridge, the icy cold, moist wind would create an ever-increasing layer of frost on tree limbs, brush, and me. I hike hot, and I rarely wear more than one layer. But the biting wind demanded I pull on my windshirt and double over my Buff to preserve some warmth on my head and ears. I looked like the Great Pumpkin with an icy beard.
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At a little gap called Whiteoak Stomp, a “W” sign with an arrow pointed me down to water. Sgt Rock’s BMT Guide said you might find water .1-.3 miles down the draw. I was barely 100 yards downhill when I reached a seep with enough force to slowly fill my bottle.

I then pushed on up the steep Buckeye Knob. The legendary steepness of the DRT was showing itself. None of the climbs were more than 300-600 feet up, but they happened over less than a half mile, basically sending you up the fall line in many cases. I was doing the shuffle-shuffle-breath-breath step before I reached the top. Buck Knob proved just as steep. And all the while, the ice was getting thicker on the trees.
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The cold was definitely sapping some of my strength just as I had a happy surprise. On the short climb up Wildcat Knob, I looked down and realized the haze and fog had finally cleared, and I had my first valley view of the hike.
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I was genuinely pumped up at this point, since I was only a mile or so from my planned camp for the day. I walked the last bit of flat ridge amidst a tunnel of frost.
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Then, wonder of wonders, I turned down the southwest slop of Wildcat Knob, and the frost disappeared. I marched right down to the gravel FS-4 and Mulky Gap, where a gated road led to a series of “dispersed” campsites.
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A quarter mile later and I arrived at an open pasture with a deer blind and just past this, a beautiful spring-fed stream and pool of water.

I tried to find a good hang site near the spring, beyond the gravel road, but the ground was damp and I knew this would mean heavy frost on my hammock and underquilt the next morning. The trees on the edge of the field were cut by knife-edge winds. Then I returned to the deer blind and found a nice area with minimal underbrush where I set up, secure from moisture and wind.
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The deer blind came with a couple of resident chairs, so I established it as my official kitchen for the night.
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It even came with a great view.
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After dinner, I retired to my hammock to read and sleep. Another 8.5 miles down this day, with the toughest 9 miles of the trip to come.

Bearpaw
2013-01-05, 16:33
Friday, January 4, 2013
The night was well below freezing as frost on my tarp indicated. Despite burying my water bottles in clothing in my pack and turning them upside down, I awoke with a good bit of slush in them.

Still I arose before daylight, packed most everything up and headed to the deer blind. I closed the window to cut away the wind and fixed breakfast. I was much more efficient than the previous day, and I was walking by a bit after 8, just 45 minutes after daylight.

From here, the real teeth of the DRT kicked in. I started with the 700 foot climb up Akin Mountain. I was pleased that there were some gradual switchbacks up an old roadbed.
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The frost was mostly gone, and I got too hot in my windshirt, so I removed it about 100 yards before hitting the ridgeline and being sliced by cold wind. The last couple tenths of a mile were painfully steep, and I was torn between layering up and overheating or freezing. Within 2-3 minutes, ice formed in my beard again.
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Fortunately, I soon reached the south slope which avoided most of the wind and offered the best view along the whole DRT.
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I thought to myself, “That wasn’t so bad” then regretted it a few minutes later as I began hobbling up Clements Mountain. It was only half the altitude gain, but was painfully steep. I felt like an asthmatic, arthritic goat as I covered maybe 20 yards of trail at a time, then stopped to rest my legs and lungs. Even the 600 foot descent down Clements was tiring and painful as my knees and ankles began to grumble.

I got a bit of rest on the mostly level stretch from Akin Gap to Fish Gap, a mostly level half-mile. I stopped for lunch at Fish Gap and met a small group that had driven up, scouting trailheads to hike the DRT as a section of dayhikes. I had to think “That sounds like a great idea!”

Then I pushed on, grunting up High Top (not bad), Payne Knob (lived up to its name), and Gregory Knob (Greg was a damned sadist!). But by far the nastiest climb seemed to be the last one, the two spurs of Rhodes Mountain. The last quarter mile looked like an obscene, brush-choked, steep mess.
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Thankfully the trail wound between the brush with little to climb around or bust through. But I was tired after seven miles of constant steep ups and downs, totally over 2000 vertical feet of climbing. I reached the summit, tired but satisfied that I had handled the worst the DRT could throw at me. A tenth of a mile later, the DRT joined the Benton MacKaye Trail.
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An easy downhill 1.6 miles would take me to my truck at Skeenah Gap.

The Duncan Ridge Trail would be considered mellow compared to the torturous climbs on the AT in the Mahoosuc Range of southern Maine. But for north Georgia, I absolutely consider the 7 miles from Mulky Gap to Rhodes Mountain to be the toughest little stretch of trail in the state. And I’ve hiked LOTS in the region, including the AT, BMT, Pinhoti Trail, Bartram Trail, and Chattooga River Trail. Its longest climb is barely 1000 feet, but most are strikingly steep. If you want a weekend challenge, hike the DRT while the leaves are down and water is flowing. It won’t disappoint.

SGT Rock
2013-01-05, 17:18
Excellent report. You are right, none of the climbs is long, but they are steep SOBs.

Hog On Ice
2013-01-05, 17:41
I wonder how the climbs compare with the rollercoaster section of the AT. I expect that they are worse on the DRT but I don't know

SGT Rock
2013-01-05, 17:49
Steepness wise I think the DRT is worse.

Bearpaw
2013-01-05, 18:05
I wonder how the climbs compare with the rollercoaster section of the AT. I expect that they are worse on the DRT but I don't know

The roller coaster goes on a good bit longer, as best as I can remember, but not nearly as steep.

Ray
2013-01-05, 18:23
Friday, January 4, 2013Then I pushed on, grunting up High Top (not bad), Payne Knob (lived up to its name), and Gregory Knob (Greg was a damned sadist!). But by far the nastiest climb seemed to be the last one, the two spurs of Rhodes Mountain. The last quarter mile looked like an obscene, brush-choked, steep mess.I've heard that is exactly the look that section's maintainer was going for. Fortunately you didn't get lost - that sadistic maintainer loves it when DRT hikers wander off trail (wtf? trail follows ridgeline, if off trail just walk uphill...) and have to eat their boots then their hiking partner(s) just to survive. Dewey might have took some boiling but there's lots of downed timber in that section so it shouldn't have been a problem.


Thankfully the trail wound between the brush with little to climb around or bust through. But I was tired after seven miles of constant steep ups and downs, totally over 2000 vertical feet of climbing. I reached the summit, tired but satisfied that I had handled the worst the DRT could th42row at me. A tenth of a mile later, the DRT joined the Benton MacKaye Trail.

An easy downhill 1.6 miles would take me to my truck at Skeenah Gap.

The Duncan Ridge Trail would be considered mellow compared to the torturous climbs on the AT in the Mahoosuc Range of southern Maine. But for north Georgia, I absolutely consider the 7 miles from Mulky Gap to Rhodes Mountain to be the toughest little stretch of trail in the state. And I’ve hiked LOTS in the region, including the AT, BMT, Pinhoti Trail, Bartram Trail, and ChI heattooga River Trail. Its longest climb is barely 1000 feet, but most are strikingly steep. If you want a weekend challenge, hike the DRT while the leaves are down and water is flowing. It won’t disappoint. Oh, come on! I heard some packsniffer with an artificial hip maintains that entire section. How hard could it possibly be?

Bearpaw
2013-01-05, 18:57
Oh, come on! I heard some packsniffer with an artificial hip maintains that entire section. How hard could it possibly be?

Gotta keep up the legend Ray. Get with the program or that maintainer might get pissed.

And I really do believe that 7 miles has the most concentrated set of truly steep climbs in Georgia.

Ray
2013-01-05, 20:11
Gotta keep up the legend Ray. Get with the program or that maintainer might get pissed.

And I really do believe that 7 miles has the most concentrated set of truly steep climbs in Georgia.It absolutely does.

I could forward you lots of e-mails between me, the Forest Service and George Owen of the BMT. The DRT is George's route, he laid it out and there's an incredibly interesting story all about that and the Blue Ridge Parkway and the AT and the National Scenic Trails Act that someone should write. Actually somebody has but it's copyrighted and not online.

The point being that the Forest Service has very recently said "bring the DRT up to the AT standards so that family groups with grandmommies and itsy bitsy baby grandkids can all hike the DRT from start to finish" and me and George saying "FU gangbang style blindfolded, that's not what the DRT's about, tell grandmom to wrap her loving tail around then take her grandkids elsewhere, there's lots of other places in Georgia for them. The DRT's is supposed to be a challenge for backpackers who know what the hell they're doing and is maintained that way by volunteers of the GATC at no cost to taxpayers. What's so wrong about that?!

Except George never really said all that stuff, he being a church minister and all. But the other guy, bless his heart, did and the FS can't fire him since they don't pay him and George hisself said "YEAH!". I can forward anyone those e-mails. Seriously or maybe deliriously: There's always a buncha shit that goes on behind the scenes and there really are people working very hard to keep nothing from happening.

Hey, all those little signs with "W" and an arrow on them pointing to water sources? Not a single one was approved or authorized or paid for by the FS. Some hiker who knew when and where they were needed nailed them up.

So until the FS is ready to front a bunch of money to improve the DRT (...and pigs fly...) it'll continue to be the toughest little MFing trail in the Southeast.

But any day it could be authorized funding for relos, smoothing out the climbs. That's not very likely anytime soon but nobody really knows what can happen in the future.

I am truly really, really glad that you enjoyed the DRT at its best.

SGT Rock
2013-01-05, 20:17
How about drilling some wells and installing hand pumps?

Bearpaw
2013-01-05, 20:19
I've worked on design and flagging teams with the Cumberland Trail, and I honestly don't how much you could relo over those ridges. They are steep on the main ridge, but ridiculously steep on the faces. Your sidehill cut would be 5-6 feet tall to give you a 3-foot wide tread. And the first time a tree fell across it, the trail is shut down, because you would kill yourself trying to go around on a 50 degree slope.

Have the folks from higher up actually walked the DRT? Have they built trail? Yes, you could change some stuff in some areas, but in the parts where the DRT goes up the fall line, it does so mostly because there's not a realistic option otherwise.

Ray
2013-01-05, 20:21
How about drilling some wells and installing hand pumps?We already have. They're right beside all the shelters. Didn't you notice?

Hot water's on the right.

SGT Rock
2013-01-05, 20:22
So Minismith's idea finally got done! Good deal for old MS.

Bearpaw
2013-01-05, 20:22
How about drilling some wells and installing hand pumps?

Water was NOT a problem out there. Every source listed in your guide was flowing with a couple of extra unlisted seeps.

SGT Rock
2013-01-05, 20:28
That's good. I've had to walk extra far at times on the DRT for water.

john pickett
2013-01-06, 08:36
Damn, I MISS Georgia!

SGT Rock
2013-01-06, 14:28
The DRT is a good challenge to your hiking ability. It should stay the way it is for the most part. It would be a shame if all trails ended up being clones of the AT.

Cuffs
2013-01-06, 14:34
The DRT is a good challenge to your hiking ability. It should stay the way it is for the most part. It would be a shame if all trails ended up being clones of the AT.

AMEN! I keep getting questions about the Pinhoti all the time...
'are there any balds like on the AT?'
Where are the views?
Hostels?

They want bridges over every damn creek.
Shelters every 10 miles...

I love that the BMT was left alone and challenging.
And the DRT too...

sheepdog
2013-01-06, 17:06
I like trails with fast food restaurants and girls who give massages.

sheepdog
2013-01-06, 17:07
and icy cold beer.

Big Mac
2013-01-06, 19:39
Sounds like walking the WHW - stay in an inn every night and have a beer in the pub. Wasn't half bad. Even managed a beer for lunch a couple times.

Bearpaw
2013-01-06, 20:13
I like trails with fast food restaurants and girls who give massages.


and icy cold beer.

That doesn't sound half bad...

Bearpaw
2013-01-06, 20:19
Glancing over the profiles from Rock's BMT guide and the AT Guide, I climbed a little over 5600 feet in the 23 miles of the route. It didn't seem like that much while I was hiking it, maybe because I split it up over three days.

It's encouraging because I want to hike the Art Loeb Trail in April over spring break. It is supposedly a bit over 8000 feet of climbing in 30 miles. So by taking a relaxing four days, I can hopefully have a great hike with even better views.

rcli4
2013-01-06, 20:53
I like trails with fast food restaurants and girls who give massages.


and icy cold beer.

that's what the camino de Santiago is.....

SGT Rock
2013-01-06, 21:20
I saw that movie "The Way". It looks like a good walk.

Sent from my SCH-I500 using Tapatalk 2

rcli4
2013-01-06, 22:30
I saw that movie "The Way". It looks like a good walk.

Sent from my SCH-I500 using Tapatalk 2

I fly out 13, Sept. will be back 28 october. I'll let you know

Big Mac
2013-01-06, 22:32
I fly out 13, Sept. will be back 28 october. I'll let you know

That's awesome Clyde, I'm jealous.

I mean, you suck.

SGT Rock
2013-01-06, 22:38
I fly out 13, Sept. will be back 28 october. I'll let you know

You suck.

Sent from my SCH-I500 using Tapatalk 2

Bearpaw
2013-01-06, 22:57
I fly out 13, Sept. will be back 28 october. I'll let you know

Pictures or it didn't happen!

Kanga
2013-01-07, 11:02
clyde you suck.