Editor’s Note: What follows is a delightful story that came to us by circuitous route. BS Troop leader Bill Neal of Columbus, GA emailed me inquiring if BT patches were available for scouts working on their backpacking merit badges to present at their next Court of Honor. I was also able to create individual certificates for each scout upon completion of their trip. At my request, they sent along some photos and a description of their trip to share their adventures. -Ina Warren
Backpacking Trip on the Georgia Bartram Trail
Oct. 17-21, 2007
by Daniel McLendon, BS Troop 777, Columbus, GA
Our first encounter with wilderness survival began on the morning of October 7th when five boys and three grown men were jolted awake by the pitiless roar of an alarm at 4:00 AM. An hour later this groggy crew was bound northward, and at 11:00 AM we all arrived safely at the Chattooga Whitewater Outfitters. Mike Stockton, owner of CWO and official shuttle-driver, courageously transported our boisterous troop (now quite awake) to the head of the trail, where we arrived at 1:25 PM.
L to R: John V Illges, Daniel McLendon (author of this article), Will Anders, Josiah Neal, John Anders. Leaders not pictured: John IV Illges, Bill Neal, and Mark Anders
A short time later we were plodding our way up the trail, until we arrived at our most important stop: lunch. From there we hiked on to Rabun Bald, where we again ate a well-deserved snack and uneasily eyed the growing rainclouds around us. Leaving the rain behind us (or so we wished) we trekked a further two miles until we reached a small, cozy campsite ideally suited for exhausted backpackers such as ourselves. There we ate, and contentedly hit the sack at 8:45 PM.
Consistent with the unalterable mandate of backpacking, our troop was rudely awakened that first night by the jeering pitter-patter of rain on tarp and tent. It rained for the following two days, until Mother Nature decided to let us go, doubtless in favor of some other less rain-worthy group.
As morning dawned, we were surprised to discover that the deluge had ceased. We sloshed from our puddle-ridden tents in eager anticipation of a sunny day, but at the first careless clatter of a pot the elements were alerted! A downpour ensued, and what followed was a mad rush: A headlong dive for anyone’s raincoat, then a struggle to rip down your tent, and then a flurry to yank your backpack aboard. Thus motivated, we moved en masse down the trail, occasionally lifting our heads for a gasp, before sinking back down into our raincoats.
L to R: John Anders, Will Anders, John V Illges hiking up the Georgia Bartram Trail
The otherwise uneventful day was broken only by periodic breaks for chew bars and trail mix. Each hiker was scheming to escape back to civilization, and the wet miles passed quickly. We briefly stopped at Courthouse Gap and then proceeded a further 1 or 2 miles to the campsite by the famed “sixty-foot waterfalls” where we spent an evening drying off by thwacking each other with sticks and general rough-housing.
The closest thing we had to a mishap occurred the next day (Friday.) We ate a fairly dry breakfast in a slightly more serene setting, with the rain limited to an inconsequential torrent. At one point the trail met a log-strewn road which you had to walk down a short distance in order to return to the Bartram. Unfortunately one of our scout masters and a scout failed to turn and continued on up the road. In response, we sent the most expendable scout (guess who?) who bravely turned a corner and met the “lost” duo coming up the correct trail which they had found themselves. Together we joined the rest of the troop. In the meantime, the rain had ceased, and after a few miles more we set up camp on an idyllic location atop the “Mountain With No Name.”
The next morning we awoke to equipment which was dry for the first time since day one, and our morale was all the better for it. Stuffed with breakfast, we eagerly pursued the path towards Dick’s Creeks Falls, where we planned to replenish our water and, of course, to play. We reached our destination in mid-afternoon and fulfilled both objectives to the utmost. Towards evening, we back-tracked for roughly a mile to another campsite. That night we were kept awake by the bittersweet knowledge that this was our final night on the Bartram, and by the loud crack caused by wooden swords in mortal combat.
Josiah Neal conquers!
After a quick breakfast, the more competitive members of our troop raced to see who could take down the tent most quickly. We hit the trail at 8:30 AM. After a very slow-paced, photo-shooting saunter we reached the end of the trail at a quarter till noon. Mike Stockton was scheduled to meet us at 5:30 PM. So we hiked a further three miles up the road until we received the providential aid of Rob and Roxanne, a gracious couple who allowed us to ride in their car until we reached an area with cell service. There we contacted Mike and arranged to meet him at 2:30.
Once more a jumble of backpacks and (malodorous) hikers in a van, we were transported back to the Chattooga Whitewater Rafters. There Mike Stockton and his cook (though his name be forgotten, his superb cooking is not) entertained us with a mountain of warm pizza and stories of whitewater adventures.
But it eventually became time to leave for home (as best we could with pizza-laden bellies) with the mixture of joy and sorrow that accompanies fond memories of halcyon days, when I was a Boy Scout.
L to R: Will Anders, John IV Illges, John V Illges, Daniel McLendon, Josiah Neal, Bill Neal, Mark Anders and John Anders