The John Muir Trail of Tennessee is broken into two segments. The eastern portion is a 20-mile stretch just south of the Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness. The portion in this trip report is the 40-mile section which runs through Big South Fork National Recreation Area and Pickett Rustic State Park.
I hiked the first 18 miles in January, but bailed out due to near-record low temperatures and the fact that my wife was a mere 4 miles off the trail at Charit Creek Lodge.
(My chilly camp for the night)
(The much more pleasant option)
Now I was back to finish the John Muir Trail, starting from the Pickett Rustic State Park side in the west.
By “rustic”, the park means they offer primitive camping, but not developed cabins like most Tennessee State Parks. It also means intentionally rough trails with minimal blazing.
I ran afoul of these conditions on my Sheltowee Trace thru-hike a year earlier. But now I was prepared for them and weathered the rough 2 miles until I could enter the more well-groomed National Park Service trails of Big South Fork. I was greeted with a perfect swimming hole right next to the point where I entered NPS land.
I reached a decent site and set up my comfortable hammock camp about an hour before a heavy thunderstorm rolled in.
The next day I packed up in the last sprinkles of the storm. I covered 10 miles in about 4 ½ hours, with stops to enjoy John Muir Overlook…
…and Boyatt Farm site.
But as early as 2:30, I was feeling the effects of the 90+ degree temperatures. I was glad to set into camp for the day after 13 miles. I was able to dry all my gear, clean up in the creek, eat, read, rest, and so forth. I also schemed on options once I reached the Charit Creek Bridge where I got off the JMT in January. I had a couple of shorter options back to my vehicle at Leatherwood Ford than the official JMT which I has already hiked. I decided to make my decisions based on how I felt the next day.
At 3:30 AM, the skies opened up and thunder and lightning pounded down. By the time I got up a bit after 6 AM, I was ready to consider leaving the backcountry that day rather than the next.
I stepped off at 7:20 and make great time the 7 miles to Charit Creek Bridge as a massive thunderstorm rolled in.
I chose to push hard the .8 miles to Station Creek Crossing to see if I could ford the Big South Fork River. I’d crossed with no problem (calf-deep water) during an adventure race there in September 2001 when water was at its autumn low. But now, I wondered if it was doable in early July after a few days of rain. I decided to find out.
As I stepped into the water, rain began to pound down, and I could hear thunder in the distance. I crossed tentatively, but the even gravel bottom and water which reached just above the knee allowed for a relatively easy crossing between the two columns of large boulders poking out of the water as a guide to horse riders who routinely cross here.
Once on the other side, I made outstanding time down the flat, wide 8-mile-long horse trail known as the River Trail heading back to the JMT Trailhead at Leatherwood Ford. 6 miles in, I stopped to snap a picture of Angel Falls.
It was a much different view from the one I enjoyed six months earlier from Angel Falls Overlook on the west side of the river.
Another 2 miles, and I was back at the Leatherwood Ford JMT trailhead.
I was glad to have finished the JMT, and even more happy to have done it in 3 days rather than riding out another day of rain. They JMT was a neat trail with much to offer, but if I did it again, it would be in winter or early spring, when view are better and poisonous bugs and plants are less.
For a much more detailed account, with more pictures, see my trail journal (http://www.trailjournals.com/entry.cfm?id=242338).