BACKPACKING THE BALD RIVER AND BRUSHY RIDGE AND CITICO WILDERNESS
January 28-29-30-31 February 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-11 2010
** BIG SNOWSTORM TURNS TO RAIN ON DAY 2
** CATCHING A RIDE WITHOUT HITCHING
** THE WORST TRAIL OF 2010: HEMLOCK CREEK
** FLATS MOUNTAIN BACKPACK
** WALL-TENT DAVE AND HIS FOUR DOG STOVE
** WINDSTORM AT SNOW CAMP
** CAMPING WITH HOOTYHOO ON THE BOB IN A SNOWSTORM
** LAST SNOWSTORM ON THE NORTH FORK
DAY ONE TRIP 106
INTO THE BALD RIVER GORGE
Little Mitten drives me up Tellico River and we explore further upstream in the car and get on the North River road where I survey a couple side trails leaving north, namely #103 Long Branch, and #101 the Hemlock Creek trail. It’s where I want to be in a couple days so I can leave Bald River and pull a 3.8 mile roadwalk to North River and turn left onto #101 which will take me all the way up to the Skyway and the start of the Flats Mountain trail, my goal for this trip.
BEAST OF BURDEN
Right now I’m shuffling under a tremendous load in the 90lb range but I have some stuff I want to try out like down booties and a pair of down pants for in-camp use as my last trip startled me enough to ponder yet more warm layers and yet more goose down garments.
I was hoping to tie into Jeffrey Hunter and his backpacking group going in on the Brookshire and doing the State Line and Kirkland loop but it looks like the impending snowstorm will keep them away, although Coker Creek Tom might pull a solo and show up to surprise me but I’ll have to be around Horse Camp on the Brookshire for this to work, and even then he might not show.
BIG PINE CAMP
There are a couple major landmarks when you come in from the Falls, the first being the Black Cave after the gorge rocks. Past it comes the Cow Camp junction at the Rock Ledge Camp, and then comes the crossing of Papaw Cove Creek. Midway thru the wilderness you reach my present campsite and it’s well worth setting up and staying put as there’s a creek spring nearby and of course the mighty Bald is 30 feet away.
EXTRA WINTER GEAR
On this trip I augmented my normal down-excessive gear with the following:
** Went back to my thicker and more durable Icebreaker merino long johns.
** A pair of large down booties by WM.
** A pair of medium Flight down pants by WM. These are a pure luxury and near extravagence and become my in-camp pants and replace the old ripped and tossed North Face lined gtx rainpants. Since these cannot be worn on the trail I had to bring a liteweight pair of Outdoor Research gtx rainpants for cold backpacking usage–to be worn only over long johns when conditions truly turn south as in zero temps or deep snow.
** An extra 22oz fuel bottle jacking up my usual 32oz fuel supply to 44oz so now I don’t have to ration fuel all the time like on the last trip and if the temps plummet I can boil up hot tea to my heart’s content.
** Two books and 7 heavy ‘rolls’ of rolled up copied internet journals and articles.
** A Sea To Summit long “7075 T6 alloy hard anodized” spoon. This baby replaces one of my lexan spoons(I have another in reserve–always carry two spoons), and it is very light.
** Six 3-hour candles for in-tent hand warming.
All the rest comprises my usual winter load:
** Base Camp pad.
** Icefall with hood.
** Two pair gloves.
** Arcteryx rain jacket.
** Merino tops and bottoms.
The booties and down pants are pure overkill and goofy looking, “Walter thinks he’s on K2 but he’s in Tennessee”, and I feel conspicuous wearing them but they are very light and puff up like a swollen blowfish.
Fungal Getting Coddled In Goose Down??
DAY TWO TRIP 106
TRAIL: Bald River
CAMP: Cascade Winter Camp
MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD
It is time to let Irene tuck me in and shut down the first day of Trip 106. With me is a roll of many pages of a Backpacking Light.com thread entitled, “Is National Outdoor Leadership School Ready To Go Light?”, and it’s a conversation about why NOLS students carry so much weight and the proposed reduction in weight by NOLS supervisors and policy wonks. Here are some highlighted blurbs I find to be interesting:
“The NOLS standard was that no student should carry more than 40% of their body weight whenever possible. On my Instructor Course, including climbing gear, I stepped off the bus at the trailhead with an 87 pound pack for early May snowpack. This was slightly over my 40% at that time. As an instructor I was able to never carry a load over about 67 pounds because I meticulously cut the weight of all my personal gear. However, it was still largely made up for with group gear and extra food.” SHAWN BASIL Bearpaw ON BPL.COM
“There are a lot of issues.
1) Quantity of recommended gear–yes we need to take less.
2) Bombproofness(and thus heavy)–yup that exists too. We need backpacks that will hold up to a minimum of 200 days of field time/year for example. Hopefully for 3+ years. If someone here can point us in the direction of a pack that will do this that weighs in the 2-3lb or less range please send me the info.” RYAN HUTCHINS ON BPL.COM
“Are these students so spoiled that they’re allowed to thrash steel-and-cordura equipment to within an inch of its’ life, and the instructors just sigh and pull a 3lb repair kit from a 70lb pack? Is that an instructor, or a servant?” BRIAN JAMES ON BPL.COM
“NOLS teaches classes in the field. It’s a school. That means, you really are sitting out, sedentary, in the pouring down rain, freezing snow, and wind, taking notes, asking questions, and having a class. The “ultralight” four-piece clothing system isn’t going to cut it.” RYAN JORDAN ON BPL.COM
“And this is where this whole discussion is hopefully headed . . . what is the best gear that is both durable and light?” JASON HAM ON BPL.COM
“I have actually gotten to the point that I bag my kid’s food separately from mine, so that he can eat when I don’t want to. And I make him carry his food also. This year he is getting his own stove, and learning the art of boiling water . . .lol!”
“Though we usually all eat together in the evening, we just cook separately. There is definitely a connection between light packers and an independent streak.” SARAH KIRKCONNELL Sarbar ON BPL.COM
Sarah says it best with her comment on solo independence and the policy of every backpacker carrying his own stuff, especially food. I’m a firm believer in this. Ten people carrying ten stoves sounds crazy and it probably is and it shows how much I know about group backpacking, but I’m of the school of thought that each person must be self-reliant and sufficient so he can take his group experience and use it for a solo trip. A stove is part of a backpacker’s kit so get used to carrying it. And anyway, who wants to carry somebody else’s gear?
NEOAIR ON BPL
And then there’s a thread on the NeoAir Thermarest sleeping pad review:
“I’ve found the NeoAir adequately warm at 30F when camping on bare ground but slightly cool when camping on snow at the same temperature, which is much the same as the Prolite 3. That’s lying on the mat without any pressure points. Lying on my side with weight on my elbow and I can feel the cold ground as the mat is compressed.” CHRIS TOWNSEND ON BLP.COM
“Expensive, fragile, noisy, narrow and cold. The NeoAir is a nonstarter for me, I’ll stick with my Prolite for winter, and an 8oz foam pad for summer.” ROG TALLBLOKE ON BPL.COM
“I was given a NeoAir as a present for my JMT hike August 2009. I was very disappointed after 2 days when it developed a tear across a baffel exactly where the usual fold is when storing. Looks like material defect. I tried repair kits picked up at Toulumne, but the tear was too large, and ended up sleeping on bare ground until Reds Meadow. Clearly this was a fabric flaw, as my TarpTent and ground sheet had no tears. I returned it to REI quite disappointed because it felt so good the first day.” STEPHEN KUNDELL ON BPL.COM
“I got cold with the thing when the temp got down below 40F. I then made the mistake of taking it on an early October trip in the Cascades in which the temp went down to 18F the first night and 20F the second night, with only a 1/8 inch CCF pad for supplement. I spent the whole night shivering(interestingly, only on my “down” side–my “top” side was plenty warm). I’d never take it out below freezing again without adding a 3/8 inch to 1/2 inch CCF pad–which takes care of the weight difference between it and my POE Insulmat Max Thermo(more recently called the Ether Thermo).”
“The POE pad has taken me down to 20F without supplement and is far more comfortable. Since I take at least one trip to the Rockies every summer, where 20F night temps are not unusual, I’ve ditched the NeoAir and have gone back to my POE pad. The 8 ounce savings(which would be zero when adding a 1/2 inch CCF pad)was not worth it!” MARY D ON BPL.COM
“Seven Days In The Grand Canyon: Mine got(I think it had it from the factory)a real slow leak. 2-3 breaths to re-inflate it at 3am. No big deal, and the leak was so slow I could not find it in the field. If I got it the first night, I did not find whatever made the pin hole. I patched it with an REI patch kit, and it seems to be holding air. The ONLY negative thing I found was that if you touched the ground through the pad, the insulation went from warm to none immediately.” MICHAEL LANDMAN ON BPL.COM
“I had two different sized NeoAir’s and hated them both for various reasons.” JOLLY GREEN GIANT ON BPL.COM
As you can see, I’m interested only in the negative reviews since I spend so much time camping on frozen ground.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“My house was one huge untidy gear room. Piles of stuff lay everywhere and I had stuff that I didn’t even know I had.” MIKE REIG ON BPL.COM
ANOTHER QUOTE OF THE DAY
“Winter’s hardships are slowly giving way to spring, and our thoughts naturally tend to turn to the outdoors. As Americans, we possess few blessings greater than the vast and varied landscapes that stretch the breadth of our continent.” President Obama Oval Office address on 2009 Wilderness Bill.
** Named for the Dahle family, farmers who pastured their animals there.
** One time covered by red spruce and balsam fir.
** Used by US Army during WW2 for artillery practice.
** “There were 37,000 new wilderness acres in my home state . . . how could I not go walking?” DEVIN MONTGOMERY
** “Live mortars have been found there as recently as 1997. Nothing says ‘wilderness’ like a chance to really put that bombproof gear to the test.” ALL FROM DEVIN MONTGOMERY in his “New Wilderness Dolly Sods North and Roaring Plains West.”
REDNECK PIG CAMP
I could call Cascade Winter Camp the Redneck Pig Camp but I won’t, but those fishermen on Trip 105 sure made a mess of it by tearing up the campsite with a dug out firepit, scattered rocks and half burnt logs so Uncle Fungus comes to the rescue and after 30 minutes of effort my tent now sits on their once ruined site filled in with boot scrapings and several handfuls of dead leaves.
The history of America from about 1840 to 2009 could be titled, “Cleaning Up After The Rednecks”, and boy it’s true here at good old Hippie Camp. I took the rednecks out and put back in the hippies and so, yes, Hootyhoo, it’s now safe to enter.
THE FIRST SNOWFLAKES COME
And now it’s a snowstorm. Yup, I’m back in paradise again and this time in late January with a weekend white powder deluge and so I’m glad I stopped here and didn’t try to get on the Brookshire and camp past the river crossing at Horse Camp. If I miss Tom, well, so be it.
THE BLIZZARD OF 2010?
** Hiway 441 thru the Smokies is closed.
** Monkey Cap(India).
You won’t hear me talk about snowloading much cause I don’t get heavy snow amounts on my trips, even my last trip despite its cold only dumped about 12 inches of the stuff and then blew that into high drifts. But what we have here is an actual snowloading event, whereby a tent gets covered by snow in an all-night blizzard. I’m sorta used to snowloading at the tipi and the Blizzard of ’93 was the pinnacle of southeast snowloading for me, but I was in a woodstove heated lodge and only had to worry about the doorway in and out.
In my Hilleberg I’m confronted tonight with some real snowload and so occasional trips must be taken to go out and pull back the snow with gloved hands. It’s easy really and only requires rainpants, rain jacket, boots and gloves. The 3 poled Staika is probably one of the best tents for snowloading, better of course than the Akto and right up there with the GoLite Hex and other tipi tents. Unfortunately the opportunity to test tent snowloading is rare here in east TN and in the southeast generally unless you stay atop LeConte or Clingmans or Mitchell or Grandfather or Dolly Sods or Mt Rogers all the time.
Now I know why the TNWild group bailed as this is a serious winter storm and though not cold it’s deep and wet and won’t stop for at least another 24 hours. What I can’t understand is why during possibly the best snowstorm in recent memory, and belonging to a group called TN Wild, would they bug out and miss one of the best backpacking experiences of a lifetime? Has TN become too wild for them? Maybe they should change their name to TN Mild.com and forego any trips which might test their gear or resolve. And some of them even have 4 wheel drive vehicles to reach the trailhead or better yet, they could’ve parked on pavement by Baby Falls and went in like me on the Bald River trail and tied into Brookshire that way.
German word for tent. Ah, now it’s all beginning to make sense.
** Hiway 68 closed in Coker Creek.
** Slick roads in McMinn county.
** State troopers are out and the road is in a complete whiteout. Is that a word?
** Radio reports everything’s closed! Yippee(hope Little Mitten is okay–stay warm, girl!).
** While most of my winter trips include good doses of chaos, it looks like the rest of the TN valley is getting walloped just like me and for this I am glad. Miss Nature hardly ever rocks the boat of the hard working east TN people and when she does it’s a cause for celebration. Why? Cause even they need to remember who’s in charge and it tain’t the state troopers or the football players or the basketball coaches or the taxman or the governor or the senators or corporate execs, it’s big Momma Nature and she could shut the state down when she wants. All we can do is watch, wait, fast and pray.
ART DAVIDSON’S WINTER CLIMB OF DENALI (From NEAR DEATH IN THE MOUNTAINS: True Stories of Disaster and Survival, edited by Cecil Kuhne and from the chapter “Minus 148 Degrees”,and summarized thusly:
** Art gathered his 8 man team with members Shiro Nishimae, Gregg Blomberg, leader, Dr. George Von Wichman, surgeon and expedition doctor, John Edwards, Dave Johnston(6’7″), Ray Genet “Pirate”, Swiss, and Jacques “Farine” Batkin.
** 43 years ago tomorrow they started their climb Jan 30 1967 by landing on the Kahiltna glacier. It was -12F.
** Carried 60 to 70 lb packs, food and personal gear.
** Farine immediately falls into a crevasse and is killed. Why? Because they all walked thru the snowfield unroped. “We were angry at ourselves for being fooled by the winter conditions.”
** Figuring Farine would want it, they continue the climb.
** They retreat down the glacier into a terrible snowstorm and build a snow igloo where they stay put for several days. After the storm they decide to keep climbing.
** “Feb 15 : The Climb to 17,200 Feet”. Morning in the tent was -38F.
** They spend a night in another igloo at 14,400 feet. They stayed put for 4 days in a blizzard with 2 feet of new snow.
** “By the end of February we had established a well provisioned camp with two igloos at 14,400 feet and had dug a snow cave for our high camp at 17,200 feet.” Art Davidson.
** Feb 27 it was -43F.
** Dave, Pirate and Art leave for summit, Shiro to come after with Gregg. George and John stayed put.
** The 3 reach Denali Pass and wait for Shiro and Gregg. At the pass Gregg turned back, Shiro joins him. Art, Pirate and Dave continue.
** They reach a dangerous crevasse and take 45 minutes to cross it.
** It’s getting dark as they approach Archdeacon’s Tower.
** They reach and climb an ice wall.
** They reach the summit on an icy ridge at night.
** A 20 knot breeze kicks up and they retreat to a hollow, their thermometer reads -58F.
** They head down in headlamps and follow their crampon marks in the ice.
** They jump across a crevasse.
** They reach their cache of sleeping bags on Denali Pass. Here they decide to sleep until morning.
“MARCH 1 -148 DEGREES”
** “The wind woke us” and they bivouacked under a flapping shelter of nylon parachute fabric in their sleeping bags. Woke to -40F.
** The wind whips the parachute and grows in viciousness. “Look, we gotta get out of here,” Dave yelled.
** Art: “I shifted position and the wind seized the parka I had been sitting on. One moment the parka had been under me, then I saw it whirling thru the air fifty, a hundred feet up, sailing in the direction of Mckinley’s summit.” Art Davidson.
** The wind whipped parachute was their only shelter.
** The chute rips from their frozen and numb hands, catches a rock and then is gone.
** Dave scoots off the campsite and disappears around some rocks.
** Pirate and Art huddle between two rocks but are blown out down the ice and have to fight back to the rocks.
** Art leaves Pirate and climbs up the ice to find Dave. Dave’s sitting in the wind with his back to Art and yells “the wind’s the same here go back!”
** Art saves himself with a bare hand on rock near Dave and then reaches Dave: “Christ, Art!” His voice cracked. “You froze your hands!” “Man, he said, we gotta dig!” Art Davidson.
** Down below Shiro figures the winds to be 100 mph.
** Dave dug a cave in the ice and collapsed. Pirate joins them and helps to hollow out the cave. Dave helps Art into the ice hole that is now their new home. Dave begins cooking since only his hands work.
** Dave’s cave: wide end “barely enough room for our shoulders.” Narrow end “our feet in our sleeping bags were heaped on top of each other.” They could not stretch out completely. The ceiling was a foot and a half high but they were out of the wind.
** What they lost to the wind: four hands and two feet, almost all of their body warmth, two packs with half the food, parachute, parka, foam sleeping pads.
** Momentary joy after eating and being so close together and out of the wind.
** They figured the wind to be 130 mph and the wind chill -148 degrees.
** They spent all day in the cave thinking “when will it stop?”
** Dave cooked up more food on Day 2 and Art thought it had a strange aftertaste. Turns out Dave earlier used the pot as a pee bottle.
** Day 2 was spent worrying about their frostbite.
MARCH 3 “PIECES ARE COMING OFF MY BAD EAR”
** They discovered all their canned food to be spoiled.
** Dave ran out of stove fuel but knew he had a gallon cache of it from an earlier trip about 200 feet away. “No one moved.”
** Meanwhile, at 17,200 feet, Gregg and John go down in the terrible wind to the igloo at 14,400 feet. John writes “Pieces are coming off my bad ear.”
MARCH 4 “DAY 4 AT DENALI PASS”
** Art wakes up in delusion and thinks he hears a helicopter. It’s just the wind.
** It was a day of discomfort and pain and wind.
** By now they haven’t had water for 36 hours.
** The door to their cave is a backpack.
** Pirate with his swollen frostbit feet goes out to look for Dave’s gallon of cached gas.
** Pirate returns with the gas!! and keeps Art’s down booties on.
** They finally fill their stomachs with water.
** John and Gregg leave the igloo at 14,400 feet and descend lower for the night, somewhere around 8,000 feet.
** Woke to -35F in the cave.
** Late in the day the wind ends.
** John and Greg leave campsite and find the igloo at around 8,000 feet.
DAY 6 MARCH 6
** They are excited to leave the cave and force on boots over swollen feet and Dave leaves the cave and says, “Whiteout!”
** “Pirate’s appearance was appalling . . . It was as if he had emerged from the cave 20 years older.” Art Davidson.
** They stood around the cave for hours hoping the whiteout would pass.
** Their minds fell “into a dull stupor”
** Art in a rage attacks an old food cache near the cave and he finds dried potatoes, boxes of raisins and a can of ham.
** They cook up all the food and pull another night in their cave.
MARCH 7 ‘GREEN FEET’
** Art woke to a bad dream about his feet being amputated.
** The whiteout disappeared.
** They leave the cave and descend slowly wearing their sleeping bags around their shoulders.
** The descent was very painful with frozen feet and hands.
** They reach a lower camp with food and then a plane passes overhead and drops more food and a radio.
** A gray fog and whiteout comes as they reach fixed ropes and follow them down but they can’t find the igloo camp.
** Dave finds the igloos! But they were empty of the others and it was disappointing but they found more food.
** They stayed the night.
** Morning temps at -16F with a warm sun.
** They are flown off the mountain to Talkeetna.
Shiro retired and later died and his ashes were scattered on the Kahiltna Glacier.
** Ray Genet guided on Denali and later died on Mt Everest.
** No mention of frostbite damage but they lost several appendages. This synopsis gleaned from Art Davidson’s chapter from Cecil Kuhne’s NEAR DEATH IN THE MOUNTAINS.
DAY THREE TRIP 106
TRAIL: Bald River
CAMP: Rock Ledge Camp
A MIDNIGHT SLEET HAS TURNED TO RAIN
And boy it’s coming down! I’m glad I didn’t pull the Upper Bald today as coming out tomorrow would’ve been impossible. I’m thankfully dry in my tent and relying on the strongest point of a Hilleberg tent: it’s waterproofness. Somehow it warmed up thru the night and what would be a snowloadng blizzard has become a spring like 34F rainstorm. I don’t know where Shunka is and I hope he’s not up against the side of the tent. Everything’s inside the tent or the vesti and to have it any other way would be crazy as this rain would soak it and then a later freeze would turn it to roofing tin.
MORNING COMES AT 7:30
As usual it’s cold and very very wet as we are into our 18th hour of nonstop snow and rain and I mean all night it hit the tent with vigor. It wasn’t too cold and I slept with the bag unzipped so I could stretch out and dream about the trail I’m on connecting to the AT about 5 miles away, and so I spent all night on the thing seeing other backpackers and showing them my big silver pack. I gotta get back on the AT! What’s stopping me? Absolutely nothing. I could even walk from Slickrock Creek and in one day be at Walker Gap. It’d be a long walk on a couple dirt roads though. Shoot, I’ll be lucky to get 2 miles today up to the rock ledge camp as this weather is best spent inside a tent though I should go out soon and unfurl and dangle the southern hoplite and watch it battle the mongol hordes coming over the steppes(pee).
The deep snow that filled the camp yesterday has shrunk in the face of a cold rain and the tent is completely clear of the white stuff though thre ground’s still covered by an inch or more of snow from here to Tellico Plains. I’m used to it and used to the cold, but this time I have in addition to my down parka a pair of down pants and booties so I can laugh at the cold, at least for now. My goal is to move downstream today and set up one more night by the Cow Camp trail jct and then the Grand Plan begins to climb up and over Cow Camp and get to the Tellico River road where I’ll turn left and follow it about 1.3 miles to trail 101, Hemlock Creek.
THE NORTH RIVER
Yup, there’s yet another fantastic river valley in the Cherokee mts and it’s called the North River, but unlike the North Fork or the South Fork or Sycamore or Brookshire or Kirkland, the NR is paralleled by a gravel forest road which climbs all the way up to the Skyway, crosses the BMT by the Rock Quarry, and shoots off a side road up to Whiggs Meadow. Along it’s length there are 6 trails running north off the road and all ending at different places on the Cherohala Skyway. I’ve never humped any of them but if I take the Hemlock it will put me right up to the Flats Mt trailhead so I can do that one too, making for a trip where I can explore two unknown trails. All 6 trails heading north from the road are in a protected area called the Brushy Ridge roadless backcountry area and here are the 6 trails(from east to west):
** Trail 103 Long Branch trail: goes to Turkey Creek Mountain on the Skyway.
** Trail 101 Hemlock Creek–goes to Hemlock Knob on the skyway–3.35 miles long, low 1,760 high 3,800, a gain of 2,040 feet.
** Trail 92 McNabb Creek–goes to Grassy Gap on the Skyway–low 1,800 feet high 3,400 , a gain of 1,600 feet.
** Trail 93 Laurel Branch–ends at McIntyre Lead on Skyway–low 2,000 feet high 3,800, a gain of 1,800 feet.
** Trail 94 Big Indian–ends at Rattlesnake Rock parking area–low 2,600 feet high 3,950, a gain of 1,350 feet.
** Trail 89 Sugar Cove or Sugar Cove Branch–ends at Unicoi Crest parking area–low 2,800 feet high 4,450 feet. This trail, believe it or not, may actually cross the BMT between Beech and Mud Gap though I’ve never seen it.
Anyway, there’s the 6 northeast running trails joining up the North River to the Skyway. Hemlock 101 joins the Flat Mt trail, McNabb 92 connects to the Grassy Branch Citico trail(remember I started several trips at the sunken parking lot at Grassy Gap). Both Laurel 92 and Indian Branch 94 tie into the Falls Branch and Jeffrey Hell trails, allowing access to the upper region of the SF Citico. The last trail crosses the BMT by the Stratton Meadows bridge on the Skyway and the top of the North River road which becomes NC road 81 along Big Santeetlah creek. It comes out somewhere around my frequent Beech Gap parking lot at Unicoi Crest, a little bit east of the lot though the location is unknown. After all the time I walked the BMT south you’d think I would’ve noticed the Sugar Cove trail junction. I think I know where it comes in at, by the logging cut where the BMT veers away to the Bridge? Nope, it jcts much further north around Johns Knob.
RAIN STOPS MY FANTASY
I won’t be going anywhere so put up the maps and trail guides and hunker in and think about breakfast or reading or the candle or the radio or this soul numbing journal. “If ya can’t continue your journey, sit and update your journal.” Fungus Quote of the Day.
“But then isn’t the ability to hump heavy loads a requisite for every successful major climb?” Heinrich Harrer(From the chapter NORTH FACE OF THE EIGER in CECIL KUHNE’S BOOK).
** Trash burned.
** Washed yesterday’s pot.
** Fed Shunka.
** Cooked up oatmeal.
ELLIE’S 2009 NOBO CDT JOURNAL(from Postholer.com)
I don’t know why I brought this trip report out with me, possibly because it’s written by a woman and women backpackers always have different insights than men. She starts out with her Big 3: WM Versalite bag(1.2lbs), Circuit pack(1.6), Wild Oasis(2.5). Entry 2.
** Entry 4: Other gear: ULA Conduit pack, Mt Laurel bug bivy, cuben fiber 7×9 tarp, silnylon skirt.
** Entry 5: 12.6lbs baseweight. She already did the PCT and the AT. Other gear: 3/4 thermarest, Arcteryx rain jacket, plus she’s going stoveless.
** Entry 6: “The Conduit pack is not for me.”
** Entry 8: ULA Circuit pack arrived.
** Entry 15: Panasonic camera, Blackberry, GPS, SPOT, chargers, batteries.
** E 16: FF Lark arrives.
** E 26: Found Lark to be disappointing.
** E 30: On the trail!
** E 31 “Putting up the tarp was a treat in the tall grass and to add insult to injury my brand new NeoAir already appeared to have a hole after only 3 days.” “I had to sleep on the hard ground and whine all night.”
** E 36: “My NeoAir has 5 patches and still has a slow leak, so I end up sleeping on the hard baked earth.”
** E 38: “It is far too rocky to set up the tarp but I was able to move rocks and make a little spot for the sleeping bag. I will definitely have to send for my tent–it is heavier but it is much easier to set up since it is free standing. I also have peace of mind in the little cave with nothing nipping at me.”
** E 68: “The theme of the day is COLD. I awoke to a frozen tarp and it took all my will power to climb out of my bag.”
** E 145: “I entertained myself on the road by dancing from rock to rock pretending my pack did not weight 40 pounds . . .” “I’m still amazed it was 40. I had been thinking the low 30s but I carry some very heavy food not often carried by thru-hikers.”
** E 147: “Ya know, this bug is irritating, and you always get bummed when it changes when and how you hike, but I always try to keep my perspective. It is just a bug, and I am getting to do something that many people just dream about doing. The illness is just part of the journey, so it gets to be part of the journal.” “In the whole scheme, it is really nothing.”
** E 153 Last day: “I switched back to my Pocket Rocket in Pinedale Wyoming. A stove allows for a lot more variety in my foods and by Pinedale I was food focused.” About goretex: ” . . . I was gald I used gtx after New Mexico. There was a lot of rain and snow and my trail runners were light enough to dry quickly, even with a gtx liner.”
I NEED TO PACK UP BUT WILL I?
WHAT A CRAPPY HIKE
Like an idiot I pulled a thruhiker’s stunt and packed in crappy wet and cold conditions and fought my way along a slip and slide trail in falling sleet and rain and then in the middle of it all ducked under a blowdown and impaled my forehead on a wooden spike I didn’t see and had copious blood flow staunched with a paper towel. Frustrated, I reached a high Papaw Cove creek crossing and in anger went thru it in my boots up to my ankles but magically both socks stayed dry and the water missed coming in by a few millimeters.
All I wanted to do was get to Rock Ledge Camp and set up another ice cold camp in piss poor conditions. My gloves by this time were saturated and so I wrung them out and set up the tent as fast as possible but not fast enough for me. And yet here I sit in dry socks, down pants, IB tops and thick watch cap tuke boggan whatever. I’m not leaving this spot until death comes or I see the sun. You can have backpacking in slippery snow alone during a sleet storm. It tain’t for me, boys. Sometimes even Uncle Fungus gets discouraged with tents and backpacks and boots and all the rest and he needs a recharge from some unknown source, time to haul out the stuff sac of humor or just switch on the radio and pull out the food bag. A hot candle helps to warm the ice block hands. Food helps to feel secure and fill the ‘void’, a bittersweet crutch verging on sensual addiction. I think I’ll go back to reading Ellie’s CDT journal, it seems to lift my spirits.
SATURDAY NIGHT SNOWFALL
Here comes another batch and this time it’s not sleet but snow and so I scoot out in it in the darkness and prepare for another night in wet and miserable conditions though I’m warm and dry enough. Extra snow means extra hassles but what else is new? I can stay here for days until the sky perks up and this time I will. The tent keeps me sane and the down four provide hope and the lit candle doesn’t hurt.
Here’s some quotes from ANNAPURNA: “The night was absolute hell. Frightful onslaughts of wind battered us incessantly, while the never-ceasing snow piled up on the tents.” MAURICE HERZOG from CECIL KUHNE’S “Near Death In The Mountains: True Stories Of Disaster And Survival”.
“My feet, like Lachenal’s, were very cold and I continued to wriggle my toes, even when we were moving. I could not feel them, but that was nothing new in the mountains, and if I kept on moving them it would keep the circulation going.” HERZOG FROM KUHNE
“My gloves! Before I had time to bend over, I saw them slide and roll. They went further and further straight down the slope.” HERZOG FROM KUHNE.
DAY FOUR TRIP 106
TRAIL: Cow Camp/Tellico Road hitch/North River/Hemlock Creek
CAMP: Snaketooth Creek Camp on Hemlock Creek
IT’S 14F AT 1 AM
I woke up at 6am and brushed teeth at the creek and had hot chocolate by 7, something I rarely do on my trips is brew up hot chocolate but with the extra fuel I feel secure enough in using my stove as much as I feel like it, even 3 times a day.
8.3 POUND TURTLEHEAD
Here’s something you won’t read on Ellie’s trail journal but I go out in 10-14F weather and crunch thru the snow in my red crocs and find a decent burial home birthing site for the newest addition to my backpacking entourage, a feisty twin headed root-for-failure republican buttockal cheek-load turtlehead coming in at 8.3 lbs of all attitude and muscle. Much planning can go into the whole birthing process, but when zero hour arrives and push comes to shove, everything goes out the window and it’s every man-dog for himself.
Herein lies the truth of mid winter squating and 10 degree shating: do it fast and don’t look back. While the Special Forces might do it in a tent with a buddy holding open a plastic bag from behind,(a close buddy), we here in the wild on a solo trip must more often brave the elements and scratch out a trough in the frozen ground under the snow to introduce a fresh turd to the crypt of nature. There’s no one to hold cupped hands behind and catch the afterbirth or give it a name, we’re on our own and painfully aware of it. This is for the best of course, otherwise having someone so close to my bung during load dumping would be nerve wracking and would certainly freeze up the sphincter mechanism resulting in terminal retention and no release, leading to eventual distention, constipation and death.
So let me do this most personal of acts alone please, and back away when you see me squat. Only my dog is allowed to come close but then he has lunch on his mind. So, sure, you can hang around but only if you plan on eating it. As with everything else, winter stool release is always more difficult than summer and a good plan with quick movements are needed. Getting it done fast in other words.
** Dig hole
** Wipe with wet paper towel
** Clean hands with alcohol in tent
** Have a nice day.
Anything more and you’re just playing with yourself. A good turtlehead means you’ll live to backpack another day and so it’s a positive sign and helps to keep the solo backpacker motivated and out. Not dumping, on the other hand, leads to worry and frowns and the furrowed brow of the terminally impacted, and instead of carrying your usual load, you carry two. So on a 15 day trip with a food load of 30lbs, you had better keep your blowhole greased or otherwise you’ll never see your pack get any lighter. “Eating for two” then becomes your trip’s reality with eventual prolapse, distention and death, etc. As usual, these are subjects most concerning older backpackers as they are known for their preoccupation with bodily functions and future debilitations.
Younger backpackers have no such worries and only need enough toilet paper to assuage their monkey-like low attention spans, jumping from branch to branch or cathole to cathole or girlfriend to girlfriend. Older backpackers savor each turdpile with fondness as it just could be their last. As you can see, a long backpacking trip leads to some convoluted and disturbingly interesting thoughts herein recorded. No one indoors close to a toilet would consider writing such garbage and for good reason. But backpackers out in the wild have a lot of leeway in this regard as rectal concerns interest them all and the Bung Diaries are an important part of the backpacking literature, even for dayhikers though you wouldn’t think so by finding all of their above ground turd piles and stained toiilet paper. I digress . . . .
Women backpackers hardly ever write in depth about their emerging turtleheads and this I find strange as they seem preoccupied with their nether regions more than men and will mention them in passing but not put them on the written page. It is sad as we are missing the huge volume of hands-on literature they could offer to the backpacking world. It is left up to Uncle Fungus to teach the world in this regard and I do so willingly and with a sense of service. Does this make me a saint? No, but it does elevate me to a very high level. Just consider it a Pubic Service Announcement.
WAITING FOR THE SUN
Five billion dollars–the weather business.
THE CECIL KUHNE BOOK
And it is called, NEAR DEATH IN THE MOUNTAINS: True Stories Of Disaster And Survival, edited by Cecil Kuhne. He has this interesting quote in the beginning: “The stories here include peaks from around the world. Many are renowned, like Everest, but others are less familiar but equally challenging, especially when the weather suddenly turns ugly, which it is apt to do when humans are present.” KUHNE.
THOMAS F. HORNBEIN From The Chapter “EVEREST WEST RIDGE”
“I wondered briefly what I was doing here, what insanity had led me to become trapped in such a ridiculous endeavour.” HORNBEIN in Everest West Ridge.
“I didn’t have to see. The wind tore the partly inflated mattress from my pack and I last saw it gaining altitude westward.” HORNBEIN
“A box of food skidded over the snow bound for the depths of the Rongbuk. A sleeping bag shot from a rent in the fabric and, inflating like a giant green windsock, flew downward to disappear into the wall of blowing snow.” HORNBEIN
” We dallied over our sardines, pineapple, and chocolate, all frozen and tasteless.” HORNBEIN
“Each shouldered a load of about forty pounds, counting the oxygen he would use during the day. Ila hefted his load. “Very heavy, sahib,” he said. We took turns lifting it. Sure enough, our food ration weighed about ten pounds, more than the other loads.” HORNBEIN
“It promised to be a classical high-camp night on Everest: wind batters the tent while its occupants cling to the poles inside, sipping a cold cup of meagre tea. We had the wind, the insecure platform–and the enticing prospect of a two-mile vertical ride into Tibet if our tent let go. But these modern tents had the poles on the outside; there was nothing to cling to.” HORNBEIN
“The next day was windy, not the sort on which you’d want to wander far from home, especially without water.” HORNBEIN EVEREST WEST RIDGE
“Tired. No hope of finding camp in the darkness. No choice but to wait for day. Packs off. Willi and I slipped into our down parkas. In the dark, numb fingers couldn’t start the zippers. We settled to the ground, curled as small as possible atop our pack frames.” HORNBEIN
** Fishnet underwear next to skin.
** Duofold underwear.
** Wool shirt.
** Down underwear tops and bottoms.
** Wool climbing pants.
** Light wind parka.
** Reindeer hair boots with felt liners–innersoles–two pairs heavy wool socks.
** Wool mittens with down shells.
** Wool balaclavas and parka hoods. (Synopsis gleaned from Hornbein’s chapter EVEREST WEST RIDGE in Cecil Kuhne’s book “NEAR DEATH IN THE MOUNTAINS”.
ROCK LEDGE PACK UP
Yes, I scraped off the ice from the tent and slowly got everything inside their bags and into or onto the pack and immediately hit the steep but short climb up the Cow Camp trail and dealt with several snowdowns and overhung snow encrusted evergreens. Soon I reached the top of the ridge and so began my downhill slide which was beautiful and almost too short.
HITCHING WITHOUT A THUMB
As soon as I reached the Tellico River road a pick-up truck stopped and offered a ride up river to Green Cove where the two people in the vehicle lived. At first I declined and then said what the heck, it would save me a 2.5 mile roadwalk and so I piled all my stuff in the back along with Shunka and I had to sit there with him since he’s too neurotic by himself to not jump out and die. I told them I wanted out at the North River turn off and made this point several times. We took off and dang it if it wasn’t cold in the back of that truck. Froze my rutabaga off along with my bojangles. I never thought 2.5 miles could take so long in a rolling truck but he slowed and turned left and zap we were caravanning it up the NR road w/o stopping so I kept a close eye on my trailhead 101 to the left, and he slowed and I shouted “It’s the second trail on the left, number 101”. Being a local boy and a hunter, he knew all about it and so we quickly reached the little bridge across Hemlock Creek and I got out and wished them luck. Their little compassion saved me almost 4 miles of road walking with a heavy pack.
BUSTING MY CHERRY ON HEMLOCK CREEK TRAIL
I checked my trail guide page I copied out of Will H. Skelton’s book CHEROKEE NATIONAL FOREST HIKING GUIDE, and soon reached the first crossing in a third of a mile and since the water was up I had to drop the pack in the snow and put on the crocs and yes, the water was cold. Let me tell ya! The guide didn’t say how many crossings I had but 4 crossings later(I just left on the crocs), I got to the left bank and couldn’t take no more so I dropped the pack and rebooted in warm socks and leggings Luckily right up ahead about one mile in I reached a fantastic campsite with a firering and so I scrapped off the snow and in 30 minutes had camp set up and down hung and fotogs taken of a brand new spot: Hemlock Camp!
I could call this Montana Camp because the campsite is almost level with the creek and there’s a large bend in the river where the open campsite sits that is large and clear and level. If the sun was out it’d be hit most of the day and feels like a high continental divide meadow where wildflowers take over in the spring and snowmelt feeds the creek. The only thing missing is a glacier lake. Getting here was a beatch if ya want dry feet and so no one will be casually popping in on me as the water’s just too cold. I did 4 today and further up there’s supposed to be 3 or 4 more–I’ll give you a full report later.
Eventually if I can find my way along the rest of this trail I’ll reach and cross the Skyway road and hook into the trailhead. My challenge since I want to camp on top of the mountain(it’s supposed to be flat, right?)is whether to haul two liters of water from this trail(I cross a 10 foot waterfall at mile marker 2 on a 3.35 mile trail)where I can get water, or do I wait and see if I can find the spring 1.3 miles in on the 6.2 mile Flats Mt trail?
NOT DONE YET
My main challenge though will be to see this trail thru and with blowdowns and briars and little blazing it could stymie my attempts and turn me around to do a plan B: back to North River and up to McNabb and Grassy Gap or all the way on North River to the BMT crossng by Stratton Meadows. My climb tomorrow will be 2,000 feet. Have fun, Fungus.
The poor Knox weathermen really stirred up a hornet’s nest four days ago on Thursday when they said Knox would get 8-10 inches of snow and everybody went into nuclear armageddon mode and they only got about an inch. They even came on the air later yesterday and apologized, a first. What happened? Well, the snow turned to rain real simple and they goofed up again. I wonder how they reported the Blizzard of ’93 seventeen years ago? If they misread it like this time then they all should’ve been fired. If not they probably saw it coming and threw themselves into traffic. I’d like to spend about 10 hours listening to their reports when it hit on the Friday it came in. It was a big butt storm and it shut down the entire east coast.
LOST VALLEY SNAKETOOTH CREEK
After dinner I went up to explore near camp and something seemed very familiar and then it struck me, this camp is exactly the same as my favorite campsite in Lost Valley. First you go to the lake and then find the creek that feeds the lake(Snaketooth)and then follow it up to an ancient man-made dam with the date “1919” inscribed on it, and pass over it as you enter a valley full of birch trees and ground cedar. Not far past the old dam you can cross Snaketooth creek and on the other side is an open and level campsite just like this, and the creek is close to camp just like this, and it’s cold and snowy just like this and there’s green rhodo just like this and the creek is about level with the camp site just like this. I can’t really call this Lost Valley can I?
Didn’t I call the upper South Fork around Iron Camp Lost Valley too? But I can call this Snaketooth Camp instead of Hemlock Creek and I should. No one will know what I’m talking about except for a select few. Like Lost Valley, so does this stay level for a while, in Lost Valley it was a long while but inside inpenetrable rhododendron where the creek became the trail. Here the creek does not become the trail as the rhodo isn’t as thick and the valley’s not as choked up with it.
But here you still spend some time underwater thru the 5 or 7 crossings and eventually the trail leaves the water for good like on Kirkland and begins it’s hellish hump out. Lost Valley too has a high exit past the last springheads in the rocks and nettles. But Lost Valley is a beast and there is no trail except for the creek and it isn’t a trail in the human sense. It’s the journey of following a secret pristine creek thru a rhodo choked valley and meandering back and forth as the creek takes you, sometimes past huge rootball mandalas from giant trees or under big dead hemlocks across your path in the creek, so you have to get down on your hands and knees in the water with your pack on and belly crawl thru the water to get past the blowdowns.
SNAKETOOTH HELL SLOG
After a couple miles of this(and it is a hell slog for certain), you start climbing and realize you’ve left the laurel and huff and puff to gain altitude amongst rocks and rivulets and summer stinging nettle. It’s hard to get lost going up Lost Valley but it’s easy to get lost coming down from the top. Lindal and I got lost coming down once but we finally reached the mighty black snailed Snaketooth and I recognized the scenery enough to get us camped. If you ever had a map of Lost Valley you’d recognized it immediately: a vast expanse of unbroken wilderness divided by a creek.
It was discovered this way simply by a map and in those years I explored new places first with a 1:24,000 topo. It was in this way that I found Upper Creek in Pisgah on the Chestnut Mt topo and Lost Valley on a Boone toopo. The last date on the Chestunut Mt map was 1950 and so it had a few changes that messed with my vision of unbroken splendor, namely the new deadend logging road going up past Griffeth Branch and stopping by Ripshin Creek on the Upper.
Take any map back a hundred years and you’ll find paradise, so don’t look at the new ones too closely. You’ll be crushed and in despair and in a hundred years people will read my TJs and think I must’ve been traveling thru nearly virgin unbroken pristine wilderness as their maps will have nothing but purple–the color of interstates and skyscrapers. Every kid needs a big backyard to find toads and turltes, every adult needs a bigger backyard to find tent sites and trails and waterfalls.
I was raised in fields and in parks, tadpoles were my friends and toads threw me lifelines out from despair and I held onto them.. This can’t go on for ever but I’ve gotten a good 60 years of it more than most. Like a 20 volume set my memories are cataloged in a large encylopedia of outdoor bag nights, and I can thumb thru the pages at will no matter where I am. Death will come and then a new body with a fresh blank slate and I’ll think I’ll have to start all over again. In this way I’ll never catch up or be finished, there’s just too much beauty and too many places to camp.
I read about Montana and Wyoming and the CDT and I think, man, look what I’m missing and then I drive 20 miles from home and here I am again, doing what I do best and I have 15 days to think about the PCT or the CDT or the AT again. One day I gotta get Little Mitten to drop me off on the AT, anywhere on the AT, and just start walking. I’ll buy food and hitch to stores and carry my usual loads and stay out as long as I want becoming a trail hobo between Springer and Fontana and Hot Springs and Mt Rogers. What’s stopping me? Nothing.
LOST VALLEY OF THE HEART
Everyone needs a Lost Valley in their life, a place to remember, a place to go to , the Redbud sled of Citizen Kane, one pure thing. We’re all trying to relive the one pure thing. It’s in our bones.
As I follow the unknown Hemlock Creek trail onwards and upwards, I must keep a careful eye out as the trail is now covered with enough snow to keep it hidden, but I can see the sawed blowdowns and the sparse blazes and prob find my way to the top. One good thing about snow, it makes backtracking easy, ya just can’t get lost, and once a trail is done that’s it, you’ve got it locked into your memory stick. On a creek trail the hardest parts are at flooded out areas where the trail disappears and looks to go six different directions.
The snow only makes it worse. Luckily it’s a short screwed up section before you get back to a normal creek with two normal banks, ya just gotta figure which side you need to be on. It’s all about stopping, slowing down, looking around and going with the flow. When you see a cut blowdown a hundred yards up, well, you know all is well. The worst thing to do is get off and impatiently stay off, ruining your chance of getting back to the trail. Occasionally when a trail climbs up a creek ravine you can lose it and have nothing to follow but the ravine. This happens twice on the Rocky Flats trail and could happen here tomorrow.
Somewhere along a ravine the trail will veer off and out of the hollow and it helps to know where this is. Usually you’ll see a cut bank and the trail contouring onto a fairly level exit–a trail rarely follows a ravine to the top. I always try to have a brief trail description of any new trail I might be backpacking and the internet and books help in this . You don’t need much, just a couple copied pages out of a book and you’re set. Though not precise, they’ll give you a few clues on what to look for and where you need to be. When things get hairy like on the Brush Mt trail or the YCMT it helps to have some surveyor ribbon to tie on your route just in case you need to retreat. First time trails around here are always a 75/25 crapshoot–75% youll get thru, 25 you won’t.
Before Ken Jones and Ed Ley and Rick Harris and the CM boys entered the picture it was more like 60/40 and I spent a few sleepless nights in the early days wondering where the heck I was.
BRUSHY RIDGE AREA
I’ve never backpacked the 6 trails in this area and this is a first for me, and I never backpacked the Flats Mt trail either although about 4 years ago I dayhiked part of it from the top and had to turn around when I lost it at a switchback. Flats Mt is a battleground of blowdowns at least it is from the Beehouse side and we’ll get to see it now from the Skyway side. I really hope I find the spring 1.3 miles in and I’ll keep my beady eyes open that’s for sure. But the biggest deal will be getting out of this valley on a 2,000 foot climb with my 75lb pack. The Green Cove couple I met today(Green Covians?)told me to watch my footing higher up in the rocks as the snow could cover holes between them.
IRENE LIKES THE SNAKETOOTH
And what’s not to like? Its an undiscovered paradise now discovered and best savored in the winter when the Skyway above is quiet.
IN THE ZONE:A Chapter by Peter Potterfield in Cecil Kuhne’s book NEAR DEATH IN THE MOUNTAINS: Epic Survival Stories From the Mountaineering World–Cecil Kuhne–starts with this introduction:
“In 1988 Peter Potterfield chose to climb an impressive 7,680 foot spire in the North Cascades of Washington State called Chimney Rock. On the way up he fell 150 feet to a ledge where he was trapped and badly injured, having suffered several compound fractures which protruded grotesquely from his body.” Here we go again.
FURTHER ADVICE TO WINTER BACKPACKERS
After spending weeks out in the cold without a woodstove or building a roaring bonfire, I give you these short words on winter backpacking:
** Carry down booties.
** Carry down pants.
** Carry a below zero down bag.
** Cary an ample down parka with hood.
** Carry a R6 plus sleeping pad or two.
What am I talking about? Am I an inbred idiot fool? Who goes out in the winter with this stuff? Believe me, I know what you’re thinking and I myself lived outdoors for years in the winter with no booties and no pants and no parka. How the heck did I do it? I was younger and dumber and got cold but was more warm blooded than now. When I take Little Mitten out this winter, there won’t be any hemming and hawing around, I’ll outfit her with a thick pad, down pants and booties and a jacket/vest combo, certain to offer her the in-camp comfort she’ll crave.
It’s real simple: If you want to stay out in the winter w/o fire, you’ll need the luxury items. Just keep ’em dry and you’ll be a-okay. What’s 3 or 4 extra lbs of goose down garments? What’s wrong with a 4lb goose down bag or a 3.10 lb two inch thermarest? THERE’S NOTHNG WRONG. Or a 3lb goose down parka? They’re expensive, sure, but so is a cat scan, one cat scan and you’ve got your whole winter kit. Most backpackers run from the cold except for those arctic fanatics out there who sleep on the tundra at -40F, but I’m not writing to them, I’m talking to the southeast types who can’t hunker in a tent on Cheoah Bald for 3 nights or bail to Gatlinburg when it snows and drops to -10F up in the Park. Why do they squirm, bail and bug out?
It’s not because of their hammocks or tarps or tents or bivy sacs, it’s because of their clothing. Should I repeat this? (BTW, down booties make a great water bottle thermos).
THE UL DEBACLE
The UL debacle has convinced winter backpackers to go light in the garment department and so you see windshells and primaloft and capilene and merino and underarmor and all the rest, tiny fleece gloves, and so of course you won’t see them standing still on any trail in January. They’ll either be moving or in their not-quite warm enough sleeping bags atop their not quite comfy enough Ridgerests or NeoAirs. Use what you want but please get some good goose down and edge up closer to your Green Mother. She loves the cold and so should you. Cold will kill us all in the end, but until then let’s be out in it with some weight on our shoulders.
SHELTERS COME AND GO
Shelters come and go, they’re not really the deciding factor in winter survival, garments are. With enough down sewn into enough proper garments, you can be a walking sleeping bag and not fight the cold so much, and let’s face it, down booties and down pants and a good down parka are light–very light–and when stuffed in your pack will take the ragged edge off any winter trip. Just keep them dry and know how and when to use them. The good thing about southeast winters is this: when it gets super cold like zero or below, your down will stay 95% dry and the 5% will be on your bag from in-tent condensation. Hang it out for an hour around camp and it’s good to go. Ventilate the tent and have less condensation. Never use condensation as an excuse to not bring down in the winter and don’t listen to the misers out there who will spend $3,000 on a paint job for their Ford F150 but hem an haw over a $600 down bag.
What to do in the winter if you’re dirt poor? First off, scrape enough money together for the best bag you can afford, maybe something in the $400 range with 750 fill and 0F rating. That’s it! That’s your ticket price to a life of winter freedom. Get a couple foam pads, a cheap tent, and then go to your goodwill store and stock up on wool sweaters and Army surplus wool pants. Get surplus heavyweight polypro underwear tops and bottoms. Get cheap boots. Cheap Walmart hats and gloves. For the poor backpacker, warmth comes with layers and bulk and plenty of it.
It won’t be as warm in camp as down and it’ll feel a bit cocooning but you’ll survive. You’ve got the only big ticket item at hand, your fancy sleeping bag, and when things get rough, get inside. But when you get some cash and stop wasting it on a two year cell phone contract or DISH TV or the iPad or the Xbox or a new SUV or a never happy girlfriend, then go order some excellent goose down gear. And for this there’s only 2 names you need to know: Feathered Friends and Western Mountaineering. Hooking into them will drain your wallet but make your winter trips a thousand times better.
Please believe me and quit nickle and diming yourself with half-arsed shells or baffled jackets or lined doodads or shetland hand-me-downs or military fleece or all the rest. Sure, you’ll need your merino mids and your fleece outers, but that’s just the start. Go to down for the rest and come join me for a couple weeks in February. Let’s stop my hand’s tired and I’m spent. Goodnight to Day 4.
DAY SIX TRIP 106
TRAIL: Flats Mt/Citico Creek Roadwalk/South Fork
CAMP: Donner Camps
ALL DAY RAIN
Sometime in the night a sweeping sleet-like rain began and here it is at 7:30 with a dawning sky as the rain hits the tent and melts the snow around me. I won’t be moving anytime soon but this is a good place to hunker as any. Thank god I didn’t get caught in this deluge yesterday coming up the Poison Hemlock trail. I probably would’ve looked for a tentsite in the ravine saddle as it’s a very pretty little place in an otherwise devilish area and it has water–something this camp does not. I just hope I don’t have to pull a zero day here although for a 15 day trip a couple zero days are par for the course.
Shunka bounded off barking and I wonder if something is attracted to this clearing like a turkey or a pig or a deer? No humans should be out in this kind of weather but here I am at 4,000 feet in just plain old rain and not the sleet and snow called for by the graphic swellheads in the lowlands of Knoxville.
My water supply up here has been melted snow but this rain ironically is removing my drinking water bit by bit but I haven’t even gone out yet to see, so everything white around the tent is gone. The pinheads say this will end by afternoon which means I’ll be stuck in it until tomorrow. At least I’m not getting walloped by a hellish windstorm like I did on Haw Mt during an earlier trip. Now that was a severe test of the old Hilleberg and I remember it clearly. I had a dream of playing catch with a big hippo–he came out of the water and we threw his orange back and forth. Yes, a fruit. He threw it pretty hard. Maybe 40 million years ago Chufa Grass Camp was a hippo lake?
GORE VIDAL QUOTES
Christopher Hitchens writes, “He(Vidal)once said to me of the late Teddy Kennedy, who was then in his low period of red-faced , engorged, and abandoned boyo-hood, that he exhibited “all the charm of three hundred pounds of condemned veal.” Here’s another: “. . . the three most dispiriting words in the English language were ‘Joyce Carol Oates.” “. . . did he have a word to say about England? “This isn’t a country, it’s an American aircraft carrier.” Good Grief.” ALL QUOTES FROM VIDAL LOCO BY Christopher Hitchens. VANITY FAIR, FEB 2010.
It’s a wet mess out there and the fog is thick with suspended liquid. It’s raining but it ain’t, a sort of weird middle state between rain and no rain and yet still rain. Good god, ignore my girlish whining.
SOMEWHERE IN THE MIDDLE OF FLATS MOUNTAIN TRAIL
Do not follow the guide book! Here’s why:
** There’s no register box at the pole.
** The first 2 ‘sharp’ switchbacks will be missed on a faint alternate trail so keep your eyes open.
** The ‘1.7 mile switchback to left should read “to right’.
** The whole “pine stand with views ” is weird as the whole mountain is one big pine stand.
** There are three gaps and not one and after the first there’s no steep descent but a series of 4 switchbacks never mentioned. At the end of the last switchback comes the second gap, no mention, and then comes a very steep climb to the top of yes, a knob. The same one in the guide? Who knows.
** The guide says it’s basically a downhill trail and they are wrong. I’ve counted 3 pulls already and I’m not done yet.
** As the trail treks across the last long spiny ridge it does switchback to the right as the guide says and then to the left, but there’s no mention of the 3rd switchback to the right and the long contouring level trail to the lower blowdown section.
** Whats funny is saying you’ll reach a section of blowdowns as the whole entire trail is surrounded by blowdowns. Somebody needs to sit down and write up a detailed description to this and I guess it’ll have to be me when I do it again from the top on a later trip.
FLAT MOUNTAIN GUIDE: People who write a guide to a 6 mile trail should go into a lot more detail and point out if there are any camping spots along with water sources and side gullies. As far as Flats Mt goes, there’s very few tent sites as the whole place is just like the upper part of the Big Stack Gap trail: scrubby, piney, brambly and overgrown. This trail though is well maintained by Ken Jones and his boys so I have no complaints, although there’s about 20 new blowdowns and a couple nasty ones this side of Beehouse Gap. I found an excellent campsite at the top past the second clearing and above the switchbacks and the water source. It’s not much but it’s level and with a little weed pulling there’s room for a tent.
This trail has a thousand level tentsites but they’re unusable due to all the brush, bushes, blowdowns, scrub, briars, brambles and sawtooth vines stuck everywhere except right on the trail you’re walking. It’s pitiful. It makes the Donner Camps look like an RV campground and yes, I did discover the place I camped on Flats Mt during my last trip, and then I hit Beehouse Gap and didn’t stay cuz I was losing daylight so I turned right on the Citico Creek road and in about 2 miles reached the South Fork 105 trailhead.
My last bit of headgear was spent trying not to fall to my death in the snow on the narrow and steep Peruvian trail section. I made it to the Donner Camps and here I sit waiting for my polenta to thicken, I added gouda cheese and fresh broccoli. I left in the rain today and it stopped and now after getting camp set up it comes back again.
A LONG DAY ENDS
The Citico Creek is up and loud and I’m in a wilder place with the noise, wilder than last night in the chufa field. I haven’t see a backpacker or a hiker in nearly 7 days and it makes me wonder about my nylon compatriots scattered across these mountains. Where are they? It’s not important, what’s important is that I’m out here as I can’t speak or live for anyone else. The tent is my home and the water my life blood and the heart has to go along for the ride.
LOSING SHUNKA ON FLATS MOUNTAIN
On the high switchback falling off Flats Mt today, I turned right in a vast mountain of blowdowns and scrub and Shunka went straight and got lost. I stopped too far ahead and waited but he never came so I dumped the pack and backtracked up the terrible trail, a narrow path with nothing on one side but a drop-off filled with dead and down trees on a 40 degree angle. Where was my dog? I went back to the turn and yelled and then I heard him bark off the mountain to the right and he was stuck one hundred feet down in some godawful thickets.
He lost me and heard the distant sound of the Citico way below, a thousand feed below, and maybe he thought he could find me there. I yelled and he barked and we found each other and so I finally saw him whimpering and partly paralyzed and I went down the steep hillside about 20 feet and waited for him to battle thru the blowdowns back to me. I took off his hated pack when he reached me and he bounded up the last bit to the trail and we hiked back to my pack. In 10 minutes we were back on the trail but this time I kept him right behind, especially at the switchbacks, and when we got to camp I gave him a double portion of food for his suffering. His pack’s still heavy as we have at least 9 more days of backpacking.
I have no real idea where I’ll go tomorrow and since the water’s high it sure won’t be up the North Fork and so I’ll probably explore the South Fork crossing to see if it’s doable. I can always camp on this side of the crossing at White Rock and go from there. Once past the South Fork I’d have to battle thru the worst part of the trail, the high detour logging cut full of rocks, briars and hanging grapevine. Six of the Crosscut Mountain Boys came thru recently but refused to touch it or bring in the tools necessary to clear it out once and for all. I wonder why? Nobody seems to want to work this section of trail. I guess it’s too much work as who wants to clear a one mile swath twenty feet wide of briars and vines on a rock filled surface?
DAY SEVEN TRIP 106
TRAIL: South Fork/Pine Ridge
CAMP: First Pine Ridge Camp
MORNING ON THE SOUTH FORK
There’s snow on the ground around camp and it’s suitable for a place called the Donner Camps but it’s not 200 inches of the stuff and we’re not eating our dead. I got up and layered in the down parka and pants and went to the creek to brush my teeth and scrub out yesterday’s cookpot, coming back with a liter of creek water for whatever I want to cook up later, probably tea or the rest of my hot cocoa.
THE POISON HEMLOCK TRAIL
And just one bite with kill you ha ha ha. It’s my new and apt name for that sucker, though the bottom section is very pretty and Snaketooth Camp is highly nice. Here’s what you do if you want to explore these Brushy Ridge trails: Go up the 4 crossings to Snaketooth and camp, the next day go back out to the road and get to the next one, McNabb Creek and explore and camp on it. Then exit and continue to the next one, Laurel Branch. You’ll find some great campsites but not have to be like Socrates and go the Poison Hemlock route.
My next goal is a repeat of this trip but take McNabb(stupid name)up to the Skyway instead. The neat thing is that the McNabb comes out at Grassy Gap and the Grassy Branch trail so you can immediately cross the Skyway and fall into Citico, one of my favorite trails. Unfortunately I have the guide description of McNabb Creek trail so I’m to expect large left-out portions and erroneous details. For instance, the guide says, “Frequent crossing of McNabb require rock hopping or shallow wading.” How many? Can’t this be figured? There could be 4 or 20, it’s hard to say.
MY POISON HEMLOCK TRAIL GUIDE
I should of kept a running account of the trail, like I’ve done with the Nutbuster, the Brush Mountain or others, but I remember a bit of it.
** There are 7 crossings and after the 4th there’s the open campsite on the right.
** After the 7th crossing you get on the right bank and turn right to begin a gradual approach to the Ravine Hell Climb. This is part one of the Poison Hemlock trail.
** The Ravine Hell Climb. If you’re not dead yet, you’ll reach a pretty and pleasant springhead from the ravine and a mandatory place to rest. Up ahead you see the little gap saddle but it’s cluttered with blowdowns and might be hard to set up a tent. With some work it would be a perfect campsite as it’s close to water.
** The trail goes up towards the saddle but bears left before reaching it.
** You now enter Part 2 of the Poison Hemlock trail: the Hell Ridge Hump. You’ve got to find and follow the faint off-white squarish blazes otherwise you won’t know where to go as the trail is completely obliterated with blowdowns and forest trash. It looks like bombs went off all along the ridge and there is no maintenance.
** From the ravine top to the Skyway is hairy and consists of several ups and downs, mostly ups, along a ridgeline where you’ll see some great views if you weren’t so concerned with staunching bloodflow from you open wounds. Off to the right at some particular hellhole you can see Whiggs Meadow.
** You descend into one gap and see a steep hillside where the trail apparently goes completely blocked and cluttered with tree trunks, blowdowns and branches. God, it’s a mess(see fotog from Day 5). You realize in your primitive hominid pinhead brain that you’re gonna have to climb thru all this crap to get to the top and you’ll weep in frustration. It was here that I hit the wall of anger and cursing and almost threw in the towel, but where exactly would I retreat to, back down the 5.10 ravine? Don’t think so.
LIKE A HOPLITE MONKEY
Like a hoplite monkey scooting thru razor wire, I dipped and weaved and cursed and whimpered and howled and threw my gray refrigerator around on my back like it was a buttpack, and slowly inch by inch made my way up the ridge. Every couple feet there was another whole tree to ponder and pass and it never seemed to end. This trail makes Brush Mt look like city park greenway.
** Finally the trail tops out on a left leaning trail seeming to loop left and then right up the ridge for yet more “SAW–THE MOVIE” torture but wonders upon wonders the trail leaves the ridge on a cut bank contour, the first of the day, and falls moderately along the hillside which is on your right now. This cut trail is the final act of crazed and sadistic trail developers, and shortly pops out on the Skyway at the dynamited and blown apart rock cliff at Eagle Gap. I was never so happy to see the complete and utter destruction of a small mountain(Hemlock Knob)by dynamite and bulldozers as when I came out on the mountain road cut known as Eagle Gap. From there it was an easy downhill slog to the Flats Mt trailhead and the rest is history.
In David Robert’s book ON THE RIDGE BETWEEN LIFE AND DEATH: A Climbing Life Reexamined, he said this about hiking out of the Kichatna Mountains in Alaska: “In June flood, however, even the minor stream of Morris Creek was raging and unfordable. We had to detour six miles toward its headwaters before crossing a snow bridge formed by avalanche runout. Half those six miles were a bushwack through alder thickets, infuriating and exhausting with seventy-pound packs on our backs.”
Poison Hemlock has now become Infuriation Trail. Speaking of David Roberts, here’s a funny quote of his group trying to cross an even higher Happy River: “Although I have never learned to swim, in those days I prided myself on being a good wader.” Here’s another good quote from Roberts on a trip to Tikchik Lakes with his wife Sharon:
“But on our first attempt(to the summit)we ran smack into the worst alder thickets I had ever seen in Alaska. After an hour of fiendish bushwacking that gained us less than half a mile, Sharon was in tears.” Hmmm . . . all this sounds familiar.
THE SUN’S OUT AND IS HITTING THE TENT!!
LITTER ON BIG EVEREST
** 10 tons of garbage at South Col(26,000 feet), also called Camp IV.
** One thousand empty oxygen bottles and the remains of a helicopter that crashed there in 1973.
** Inventa Everest 2000 Environmental Expedition will spend two months collecting trash and will be using extra large backpacks to carry trash out.
** Robert Hoffman is leading the team.
** 1992 Nepalese law: If climbers leave any non-biodegradable trash, they lose a $4,000 deposit.
** A 1994 program pays sherpas(pronounced “shaw-wa”)for every oxygen bottle they bring off the mountain.
** All glass bottles were banned in 1998.
WALL TENT DAVE
As I pull out of Donner Camp I decide to avoid the high waters of the South Fork and instead head down to Warden’s Field and up the Pine Ridge trail. At the low water bridge I see a nice 12×15 wall tent set up and a friendly guy named David camping with his woodstove-heated canvas shelter. Nominally from Connecticut, he spends months car camping around Monroe County and in the Cherokee NF. Since I spent two hours talking with him, I delayed my day’s hike to the top of the Fodderstack but I did finally get away and pulled up to the first campsite on the Pine Ridge trail in a little clearing by a collapsed firepit. With no water I quickly melted a pot full of snow for a liter and so everything’s arranged for another night in the cold.
ROCKY TOP OH ROCKY TOP
WE GET OUR CORN FROM A JAR . . .
I’VE HAD YEARS OF CRAMPED UP CITY LIFE . . .
MYSTERY RANCH G6000 REVIEW
I just got thru reading Richard Lyon’s review of his Mystery Ranch BDSB pack(Big Dana’s Special Blend), and now retitled the Kodiak and possibly the same as the G7000, a bit bigger than my G6000. Lyon has great things to say about his pack and here are some pros and cons(from Backpackgeartest.org):
** He likes the usual Dana Designs Terraplane configuration with the two back pockets and the side water bottle holders and the back daisy chain(missing on the G6000).
** He thinks the pack is waterproof but during a rain test he used a pack liner so was unsure if the pack is waterproof(it’s not, or at least the G6000 is not, and I learned this the hard way in a deluge in the Bald River wilderness).
** He likes how it handles a big load. It has better weight distribution than even the Terraplane.
** He likes the top lid as a daypack with shoulder straps. I do too.
** He thinks the durability is unbeatable. Yup, the cordura is bombproof.
** Great on customer service.
** He wants the top lid to be bigger.
LYON’S FINAL WORDS
“I’m very pleased with this behemoth.” Well said.
HERE’S MY REVIEW
And a follow-up to an earlier Trailspace.com review. Okay, I’ve used this pack every month for the last 3 years on trips between 10 to 15 days, the longest being 23 days in the mountains of NC and TN. It has been soaked and frozen and beaten and jerked and nothing seems to kill it, and will haul 80lbs without sagging and when the trip’s almost over and it’s down to 40lbs, it’ll seem like a daypack filled with a sandwich and a pair of Crocs. In fact, the pack is sitting right next to me in my tent vestibule as I’m in my 7th day of another 15 day trip in the Citico wilderness of TN. Here’s my final report:
** Carries 60-80 lbs without sagging(sagging is common with most heavily loaded packs), and makes the weight “feel lighter”.
** Torso adjustment is easy and allows a big backpack for a small body as the pack can be ordered with small to large shoulder yokes and hipbelts. This is important if you need a large pack with a small hipbelt as I do.
** Stitching, straps, fabric, zippers and buckles are all battle tested and bombproof. The only wear I have is on the lower shoulder strap webbing getting frayed from passing thru the buckle so many times.
** The hipbelt padding and support is fantastic and way beyond anything else out there. It means, in one word, comfort.
** The top lid becomes a daypack with shoulder straps and dispenses with the irksome feature of having to use the hipbelt like on the old Terraplanes.
** The top lid can be “lifted” to accommodate truly massive loads and stuff placed under the lid like an extra food bag or tent.
** The two back zip pockets are roomy and will hold tent poles, stove, two 22oz fuel bottles with room left over for apples, cheese and a half liter of water.
** There are four beefy side straps on the pack, two on each side, which will hold a vertical tent or Thermarest or let you dangle your crocs.
** The back bottom straps by the sleeping bag can hold either a tent or a pad.
** This pack leaks like a sieve in the rain and even with a pack cover in a hard rain I had a cup of water at the bottom of my sleeping bag compartment, and the top lid always lets in water thru the fabric.
** The back outside vertical zipper replaces the old Terraplane daisy chain and it is never used and is dead weight.
** The water bottle holders have a midlevel seam which always snags my Sigg water bottles when I try to shove them in.
** The whole bottom sleeping bag compartment can be done away with, the zipper, the buckles, the inside divider and it’s buckles and straps, and the inside compression strap. It’s easier and quicker to just push in your stuffed sleeping bag down from the top. I cut out most of the stuff in the bottom but I didn’t remove the heavyweight zipper. Taking it and the back vertical zipper out would save some weight.
This pack when placed upright on the ground fully loaded never seems to stay up and always falls over!! After a hundred times you start to get steamed and by angrily jerking it up with the load lifter strap a million times I can start to hear the strap ripping in the seam. I don’t think the little lift strap was made to pick up or drag around a 80-90lb pack.
I’ve used this pack more than most people and it’s the best pack in the world even though I call it the Titan Silverback or the Gray Refrigerator or the Pentagon Filing Cabinet. If you want to stay out in the middle of winter for a 21 day trip without resupply, and you’ve gotta haul 40lbs of food and a 4 season tent and bag and a goose down parka and don’t mind carrying 80lbs on your back cuz you know it’s the price of freedom, then this pack is for you. If you’re 25 and like it, get two or three more of them cuz in 20 years you might still be out backpacking but they could be discontinued. I won’t live long enough to wear mine out. END O REVIEW
GOODNIGHT ON PINE RIDGE CAMP
Wall Tent Dave gave me a big apple today and so here I sit in the tent eating it. Fresh fruit is always good on a backpacking trip.
DAY EIGHT TRIP 106
TRAIL: Pine Ridge/Fodderstack
CAMP: Snow Camp
STARS TO CLOUDS
A black starry night turns to a gray cloudy morning and so I prepare to pack up slowly and try to get up the trail before a round of crap hits the fan.
ON THE PINE RIDGE TRAIL
It’s easy to get going in the morning when it’s right around freezing and not windy and not raining. I’m resting at the Pine Ridge spring and thinking to get some water while I contemplate where I want to be tonight, either up ahead at Oglala Camp(in which case I’ll have to get a full load of water), or right along the Fodderstack to Snow Camp(in case I’ll only need a half liter).
SOMEWHERE ON THE ROCKSTACK
I pulled the Pine Ridge and hit the BMT and climbed up and down the Big Fodder and now I’m anticipating a truly terrible blowdown up ahead where weeping and testicle torment and tearing will occur. If any of you come thru here a year from now and find a ribcage in the mess you’ll know it’s me, especially if you see a large gray refrigerator-like object nearby. There’s always a way around these things.
The worst is over and this makes a great reststop–a ledge belay–and so I bring out my snacks and take a lunch break. Dang it, the cold is turning my snack break into a shivering hoplite reach around grabfest so I’d better get up and keep moving.
CHERRY LOG GAP
The top of the North Fork trail comes out here and it’s a wild remote place with several tent sites and one of which I used when I found Snow Camp full of tents. I’m headed to Snow Camp now.
SNOW CAMP IN SNOW
I made it and had to hand shovel a spot for the tent and as I did a mean wind sprung up from Slickrock valley and so I quickly unrolled the kit and staked out the tent with it’s guylines and now sit in the thing dressed in booties and down pants and parka. The wind’s a whipping, boys! Here comes the next storm and so I survey the towering trees around me and hope they all stay upright. Being hit by a blowdown is a backpacker’s neverending fear. You can look and study and avoid but even green living trees fall without warning, so most of it is luck. Heck, you could pack up in the wind to escape a problem area and get crushed a half mile down the trail while on foot.
HOW TO HIKE WITH A 75LB PACK
** Sit down on the ground to put on and take off a heavy pack. In the old days when I used an external frame pack I could reach up over my head and grab the pack frame bar and take it off with ease. I could even throw on a fairly heavy pack this way too. But a heavy internal pack doesn’t have a frame to grab hold of, all it has is a load lifter strap and a shoulder strap, not good leverage when dealing with hoisting 75lbs. It’s easier for me to sit and strap in the shoulder straps and stand with 80lbs although when the weight hits around 90 I look like a hoplite camel trying to support Rush Limbaugh on a cross-Gobi trip.
DAY 8 THURSDAY 3PM SNOW STARTS
I’ve got to do a water run before dark or at least I think I do, there’s enough snow around here to boil up without a hike down to the spring.
And it’s melted snow with a Mary Janes Farm Bare Burrito.
It’s not the best time to be outside and a terrible time to be doing a nighthike and I’m sure there’s no one anywhere near this camp stumbling along in this night time storm. I had a good hike today from the bottom of Pine Ridge trail and other than a few bad blowdowns I made it here just before the sky opened up. Now we’ll be locked up in a wintery squall that will last for the next 3 days but with a little push and some rain gear I can get up on Four Mile Ridge and pick my spot for tomorrow’s camp.
It’s not cold, somewhere around 34F, but with the higher temp comes the most miserable weather for a backpacker: cold, wind and sleet/rain mix, the perfect conditions for an easy mistake to be made with one piece of clothing getting wet and then another and another and Zap your whole kit is damp and you’re shivering like a republican at a draft board hearing. What’s a draft board, Uncle Fungus? So the best thing to do in this kind of crap is to sit tight, set up, guy out and hunker in. If the sleet turns to snow, well, go ahead and pack up and hike as it’ll be cold enough to bounce and slide off. But if it’s a 30F sleet storm, you’re not going anywhere. I wish all this precip was coming down as snow but once again like on Day 2 and 3, no such luck.
It’s Thursday, a great day to be out here on the high ground cuz with it comes the possibility of seeing some fellow backpackers as I haven’t seen a humanoid in any form in nearly 9 days. February is probably the least popular month for backpacking in the southeast, it’s still too cold and comes after the holidays but before spring break so backpackers are quiet and just waiting for warmer weather and spring. And then the ULers will be back in the saddle and walk back in the spotlight.
BPL.com is a great site for info and when I get back I need to read more of its forums and articles, although most of the articles can only be read by paying money, a stupid policy. Most people will therefore skip it and move on to something free. Anyway, BPL has a lot on winter backpacking and there’s a bunch of UL types who do regular jaunts up to Montana and Canada and Maine and Idaho and Colorado and even Alaska. Ryan Jordan’s Arctic Trek comes to mind. Their zeal just hasn’t filtered down to here and probably never will as you can’t even get heavyweight backpackers out in the winter. No foreskin off my teeth–it leaves more for me to see and backpack without the crowds and anyway, the hardcore types like Rcarver and Quillen are all up in the Smokies where apparently the grass is always greener and the snow is always whiter(or closer).
I know I repeat the same place over and over, it’s the one big drawback to my trip journals and trail reports and it’s my own dang fault as I hate driving a long distance just to “live simply”. But hey, I’m gonna have to pull out my butt plug and pretend I have a pair and man up and get a Jack Bauer shoulder sac and start exploring different areas. Here’s a bucket list:
** Back up to Grayson Highlands for a 15 day trek. They’ve got overnight parking but it’d be hell this time of year. Cold.
** I really want to explore the Dolly Sods in West Virginia.
** Back to Pisgah Upper Creek and the Mountains to Sea Trail to Trout Lake and the Temple of the Gods. This must be done!
** The AT from Springer to Fontana. Now’s the time to plan it. Call Hike Inn and do a shuttle.
** Do the BMT from Springer to Reliance and the Hiwassee River. Stay close to home and figure out shuttles, drop offs and rides.
Leaving a car somewhere for 3 weeks ain’t my idea of a good trip. The two trips I’d like to do for sure as I know the places already are the Mt Rogers area and the Pisgah MST. Here’s a neat thought: Get a ride up to Damascus and go north on the AT and spend a couple weeks exploring the entire Mt Rogers area. Treat it like the Citico/Slickrock and make it my own. Fill two BearVaults with food and leave them in the car for extra time and then have at it. Endure the 5 or 6 hour drive and get to the overnight lot by Massie Gap and set up nearby and then hit Wilburn Ridge and weep.
I’ve done several trips:
** With Greg Vizzi and the all night stomach virus.
** With W.O.W.(Women of the Wilderness) and the two cow heads.
** With Bonnie and the biting pony and the Scales campsite.
** The dayhike and pipe ceremony in the pink rocks of Wilburn Ridge.
It’s a fairly vast area with many trails perfect for my type of long trips, and the AT goes thru it. It’s brutal in the winter.
DAY NINE TRIP 106
CAMP: South Cold Bob
A DOG ON THE SIDE OF THE TENT KIND OF NIGHT
Yes, old Shunka dog gets refuge in a nonstop pelting butt cold rain by laying atop the tent fly and yet he won’t come inside the vestibule for no reason. Once again, what could be 36 inches of snow has become 3 or 4 inches of all-night and into the next day rain, a sure weekend destroyer for my nylon cohorts. At 3am I can give this storm free rein and hope it quiets down enough by 2 or 3pm to give me a wndow of escape over the Bob and down to Naked Ground. At least then I can call out to Little Mitten after 9 days and let her know I’m still alive.
I wouldn’t backpack in this kind of storm as it’s verging on a gully washer, the kind of storm where you go over in your mind if you left anything hanging outside like socks or gloves or the empty pack or boots or the down parka. A stupid little mistake like that could ruin my day.
WHY THE STAIKA IS SO GOOD IN THE RAIN
** It’s hardcore floor.
** The way the fly and vestibules stay away from the tent body, especially around the outside perimeter. Except at the four exact corners, the fly keeps well away from the rectangular floor of this tent so fly drippage and initial pooling or sheeting begins and usually ends a good distance from the tent’s black floor. Sometimes there’s no choice and a heavy rain will fill up a campsite in a pool of water, I call it the Lake Effect, but then here’s when the beefy coated floor comes into play. The Lake Effect doesn’t last long and requires a high intensity rain to stay underfoot(or under butt)for long.
So far, there’s been no let up to this rain, hardly a second goes by without this precip pelting the tent in mad display. Fly condensation is heavy but it keeps out of the inner tent and I think of having a Golite Hex or Mt Hardwear Kiva now and being pelted by the drips and mist of this cold rain, not to mention any ground water joining in the festivities. In the ocean of life, you dn’t want to submerge.
DR. COLON FLACCID’S BACKPACKING DRUGS
In over a century of backpacking Dr. Flaccid has developed a whole line of ingestible pharmaceuticals, topical creams and suppositories to help bonafide backpackers to achieve their full potential. Here are just a few of them:
** Over The Hill male enhancement lozenge, giving backpackers the ability and urge to climb up and over anything.
** Colon-Roids(steroids) and growth hormones.
** Ground Time, hyssop flavored suppositories. Some backpackers spend a lot of time sitting on the ground in a tent and these suppositories relieve butt ache and allow full crab-like motion on a swivel like base.
** Nay Loins, a pill to numb the genitals and to allow 3 to 4 week trips without the bother and interruption of trying to bed down everything that moves, a common male distraction.
** The Keep-Away Stay-Away line of time released capsules based on an earlier line of ingestible weasel repellents. These capsules produce a skin emitting stank which offsets and repels approaching hunters and dayhikers, keeping them well away from your camp.
** Nylon Elixir, a potent drink with tiny bits of nylon to act as a gear vaccine whereby slowly over time you become at one wtih you gear.
** Tent Venom.
** Day Hiker Antivenom. Many times you will be assaulted by dayhikers and even bitten, and so it’s a good idea to keep a few vials of Dayhiker Antivenom around as it will prevent the discoloration and swelling so common with dayhiker encounters.
** Queasy Guard. Finally relief from backpacking trip food poisoning, stomach viruses or bad water. Queasy Guard spells quick relief(100% morphine).
** The Flaccid Wilderness Hospice Kit. Now you can turn a two week backpacking trip into a permanent search and rescue by following the instructions in this kit. Don’t want to come out ever again? Dr. Flaccid has you covered by developing this Hospice Kit. Included is a dehydrated last meal made at the Johnny Socrates Farm(rice, black beans, poison hemlock leaves and roots, salt, onions), detailed directions on locating Rest-In-Peace rock overhangs that won’t be found by others, several poems on nature by Colon Flaccid, and a full length self-closing bivy bag for the final bivouac.
** Hot Loins, male re-invigorator, turning winter into summer. You’ll laugh at the cold(red cayenne suppository taken with a tablespon of plutonium-laced syrup).
** I’m So Cold, male de-enhancement ointment mentholated testicle cream to induce freezing and hypothermia in the summer.
** Sac Dip Squat And Go. A hot clear plastic testes dip resulting in the permanent acrylic preservation of the male gonads whereby loins are girded and readied for any strenuous outdoor activity. Makes all sacs impervious to beaver and weasel bites and raccoon forearm attacks.
** Blue Enzymes. An oral regimen whereby a backpacker can eat and digest his own gear.
** The Spanish Tent Fly–Nasal Spray Female Attractant. A simple in-nose spray containing goat phermones in an oil of olay base, unfortunately it requires a male backpacker to creep into a woman’s camp while she is sleeping to administer a quick blast of attractant up her nose. If done correctly, the woman backpacker will come into your camp in the morning and not leave and you’ll have a constant companion for the length of your trip, maybe even beyond.
** The Ingestible Sock Female Repellent. Flaccid cleverly developed a body cream to repel all women from your camp and uses the extracts of old socks, underwear and tooth decay in a purple emollient to be applied once in the morning and will disgust and repel all women backpackers and especially dayhikers from your presence. To be used in conjunction with the Spanish Tent Fly. Unfortunately this ointment, while repelling human females, attracts devouring black bears as it enlivens their saliva glands and induces hunger pangs and an urgent need to feed. It’s also sold in the Flaccid Wilderness Hospice Kit as a companion body wash.
** TOTIDO TABS. Many backpackers come out for a weekend and think they have a rich life beyond backpacking at home with their families and jobs. This pill changes all that. The TOTIDO pill(Turn On Tune In Drop Out), when given to backpackers from Atlanta or Charlotte or Chattanooga or Knoxville(most will not take it voluntarily so it must be slipped into their food or water bottles unnoticed), will find in 12 hours that they wil start to talk nonstop about gear and then about the wonders of their surroundings and nature, and finally they’ll go on long rants about the evils of society and civilization and weep for America the Beautiful. Once taken, the Totido pill never wears off but repeated doses surely can’t hurt. In fact, in a no-curve blind weasel study on a trail in Idaho, Flaccid took 43 doses ot Totido and from it came his classic backpacking book, “I’VE BEEN TO A TOWN SO WHY GO BACK?” Though outlawed by the DEA and the United States Chamber of Commerce, the drug can be found easily in nature and is one part toad semen and one part snow melt-water, making it therefore impossible to regulate.
One part of me wants to get packed in the rain and leave this spot to higher ground, another part wants to hunker down and sit it out. The rain is not steady or heavy and I probably should think about packing up as I’m out of water anyway and don’t want to do a water run if I’m gonna be moving.
ON THE TRAIL
Somehow I dug deep and packed up in a sleetIng rain so I had to wear my goretex pants and jacket and climbed the slow going 54A up to the Bob Tee in 5-8 inches of snow. At the Tee I found a set of boot prints and knew someone came in from Beech to the Bob and maybe beyond. I finally reach the Ravens Top in soaken wet boots and cold feet and saw no one camped and then a guy in the South Col Camps shouted out, “Walter!” and dang it if it wasn’t Hootyhoo! It was good to see old Hootyhoo up on the Bob during possibly the worst weekend of the year as the cold now pelts our camps and it’s so bad we can’t go out in it.
It took me 30 full minutes to clear off the 8 inches of deep snow of my usual South Col campsite and then I set up the Staika and then did a quick 2 liter water run and got back to my tent just as a hard rain hits my world.
WITH HOOTYHOO ON THE BOB
Is it luck or did I send an unconscious email or did Rvarver put out the word or wERE my plans posted on Facebook, but how the heck did we hook up today? Don’t know but I’m glad we did. Unfortunately all we can do is sit out this Friday afternoon, of course I’m known for pulling weekends on the Bob and so I’m easy to find as I like to be up here on Fridays and Saturdays.
This would be time to have a large 50 square foot tent set up so me and Hootyhoo and the dogs could sit in out of the rain and shoot the stool. Hootyhoo’s on his second day out but I can’t remember where he was last night, somewhere around Cold Gap? Naw, he stayed here last night while I was a mile and a half away at Snow Camp. He’s pulling a 5 day trip but all of it just might be stuck up here in this hateful crappy weather. I was lucky to pack up in it and move, I never would have in this kind of butt cold rain.
What makes it worse is all the deep snow everywhere, the rain hardly melts it and instead just forms a crusty foul mess no good for booties or Crocs and to get anywhere requires donning the saturated hiking boots, Asolo Fugitives this time. I’m warm and comfy in the red Staika and damn happy to have my booties and down pants, and I’ll soon put on the parka and lay down to read. After my water run I called Little Mitten and she thought I died four days ago and so maybe I did going up the Poison Hemlock trail.
RAIN TO ICE
I have a feeling all this water coming down will turn to ice and we know what happens then: frozen flys, zippers, pack straps, boots, shoelaces, dog pack, you name it, if it was wet it becomes stiff and hell on the hands when trying to pack up.
I managed to cook up a welcomed pot of polenta during a 5 minute break from the rain and in the process I fed Shunka the rest of Little Mitten’s questionable banana bread which weighs the same as a brick and something I’ve been carrying for 9 days but couldn’t eat. He ate it up like it was . . . uh . . . a newly . . . discovered . . . uh . . . turd. Sorry, Little Mitten.
Right now I’m waiting 20 minutes for my polenta to thicken and then it will be a feast. I hope Hootyhoo knows how to hunker as we’re in it now, and 40 million years ago when the Bob was around 28,000 feet, well, we wouldn’t be going anywhere then, either.
INTO DAY 10 WITH 22OZ OF FUEL
And I haven’t even corked open my other 22oz jug. I sure could be brewing up a lot more tea and hot cocoa but what’s the point? I ran out of hot cocoa several days ago and my tea stash is nettles, probably not something mountaineers think of when they think of tea. I need a sherpa nearby to brew up a hot pot of yak milk and sugar tea. Now that would be worth sipping thru the night. One more thing to google: tea choices on the big mountains.
BIG SNOWSTORM IN VIRGINIA AND WASHINGTON DC
This crap that’s hitting the Bob is from the same storm that will be dumping 30 inches of snow on the Capitol and they say it’ll be the most snow there in 90 years. Worse than the Blizzard of ’93? I guess so. What we’re getting here has been various since yesterday:
** It started with snow and some wind.
** The wind picked up and the snow turned to sleet.
** Then a full blown windstorm hit and the sleet turned to rain.
** I left camp in rain and got to the Bob with the wind and rain.
** Now the wind has died down a bit but rain increases.
It was pure luck that I got out of Snow Camp and pulled onto the Bob, but now I ain’t going anywhere and this rain will turn back to snow again if the Knox oval-heads are right about it dipping down to 34F there, about 22F here, certainly cold enough to freeze. About 200 miles north, Virginia is already in a state of emergency with approximately 3 feet of snow. It doesn’t sound like much but nowadays with a driving public completely addicted to long commutes and hourly rolling, three feet of snow is armageddon.
In the old days(1960s), a big snowfall wouldn’t have much impact cuz back then we didn’t have soccer moms or compulsory no-excuse school attendence or driving while texting-poding-googling or utter dependence of the rolling steel couch to get a fast meal or a pack of cigarettes or to feed the “just to be rolling” craving. And plus there’s just many more of us to get stuck in our infantile wailings than there was back in the ’60s.
THE OLD DAYS
When I lived in Boone the locals would talk about the snowstorm of 1960-61 and how the drifts touched the tops of the telephone poles. The old timers took it in stride and were proud of staying put for three weeks without electricity in their little homes. They weren’t too far removed from their Daniel Boone namesakes and from their own appalachian parents who were raised in log cabins with outhouses and no electricity. As a now modern people we’ve broken thru the ice and are about to sink for the third time, having as a whole no fortitude or primitive survivalist mindset.
When the electricity goes out now, we contemplate suicide. In the old days people heated with wood and had spring water or a hand pump well so who cared if the power went off? Now without power we freeze or swelter, especially for those like LIttle Mitten and me who live in FEMA trailers. I attribute my anti-society screeds to the outgassing fumes from our formaldehyde dipped doublewide. To make it safe and “green”, well, you’d have gut it down to its steel beams and then throw a few pine planks across the girders and set up your tent.
Nowadays everything puts out toxic fumes, even flame retardant tents, the new car smell, paint and all building materials, even the outside air we breath. We modern Americans could be said to be living in the Age of Outgassing, and we wonder why everybody has cancer or leukemia, there’s even a direct link to benzene in clothing dyes and leukemia. Ah, I bore myself.
I’d like to get out and walk around, I’d even do it in my wet socks and boots and suffer, but this rain won’t stop long enough to do so. Shunka barked and there might be another group up here but there’s no way to know. I wonder what Hootyhoo is doing in his Sierra Designs dome tent? Old Rooty dog is probably inside and we’re all staying warm on a cold February night at 5,300 feet.
DAY TEN TRIP 106
ZERO DAY ON THE BOB
RAIN TO SNOW AT 1AM
Yes, finally the all day rain has turned to snow and I get up way too early to dangle the nylon furlong and here I am sitting up with cold arms to pen a few words in the old journal but soon to be back in the bag to listen to Coast to Coast talk about the “coming ice age.” Yes, this has been a very cold and snowy winter but the start of another Ice Age? Well, it won’t happen overnight and we’ll have plenty of time to “evacuate New York City” before it sits two miles under a glacier.
SMOTHERED IN SNOW
Yup, the tent is once again covered in snow and so I go out in most layers and gloves to scrape off the snow and return the Staika to red but in 20 minutes it is covered again. The same DC storm has been hitting us and though I doubt we’ll get 3 feet, it sure doesn’t look like it’ll stop anytime soon. It’s not that cold, maybe 25F as I’m hot in the parka, so when I go out again it’ll be in my Arcteryx jacket. I went to Hootyhoo’s camp and took a few fotogs and we talked for a bit about his day’s plans as he basically has 3 more days before leaving.
Tent fever, akin to Cabin Fever, will make anyone pack up and move, even into worse conditions, just to be out and on the trail. But this will be my first zero day of the trip and so I’m mentally psyched for it, whereas Hootyhoo is going into his third night here and probably needs a change. If I was gonna move I’d probably, like an idiot, stay on Four Mile Ridge and go to Naked Ground or the Hangover. I know, deep snow, cold wind and postholing–it’d be a futile stupid quest. He could go down the South Fork and perhaps get out of the high blizzard and then climb Jeffrey Hell and the Skyway back to his car at Beech.
Or better yes, leave the Bob and swing along 149 and camp somewhere near the Brush Mt trailhead. This would put him on a straight line exit to his car. Since it’s so “warm” I doubt if the Skyway is blocked or frozen but you never know.
I’d sort of like to fire up the pot and cook some Saturday morning oatmeal, but sometimes you get tired of fiddling with everything: get water, clean urine out of pot(yes boys and girls, I eat out of my toilet), set up stove and unzip tent to prime, cook and eat and take apart stove, etc. I can barely get motivated enough to feed Shunka. Me and Hooty are the only one’s up here, blessed be the reptiles and suffer the little children but area backpackers aren’t amongst the privileged and select, and it is strikingly beautiful up here, and though I might be a “hard man”(in David Roberts’ mountaineering sense)when I’m off the trails and in the marts of men, I don’t need to be hard out here upon Miss Nature’s bosom.
When she gets hard it rubs off and I get hard, but most of the time she stays beautiful and soft. She’s the one behind the words America the Beautiful, and I’ve spent a good portion of my life, half of it in fact, sleeping and comingling with her, and I wonder if such union could ever result in a part of me living on in her, a sort of pregnant nature? I doubt it, she’s always pregnant with or without me, and she’s always surrounded by her brood, her sons and daughters out and about, everywhere. They all have names and go by Wind, Ocean, Rain, Snow, Expanse, Mountain, Creek, Whiteout, Vista and a million others. Right now I’m being visited by Wind and Snow and Cold and White and Tree and Cloud and Spring Trickle and little boy Spindrift.
I offer nothing to the party except as a witness or audience to the celebrities as they dance with their mother the star. Every artist needs an audience, a set of eyeballs below a brain on a swivel stick neck, and so Uncle Fungus becomes the critic and the witness but all I have to say about her dance is the same words I’ve said for the last 33 years–and never anything bad. Naw, that’s not perfectly true, I’ve occasionally cursed her spin, her shake, her cold and her deep snow.
HAITI AND TENTS
When Haiti happened on Trip 105 I wrote about humans setting up a city by a known fault line and then overpopulating that area and living in collapsing crushing stones instead of tents or safer yurts or wall tents or tipis. Well, now they’re in tents and maybe that’s where it should stop. If people live on a fault line, maybe tent living would save a lot of lives. It’d be weird to see all of San Francisco become one big tent city, then again, if they got walloped again they’d all be in tents, too. So maybe Miss Nature wants us all in tents? I think so.
They’re portable, they’re cheap, they don’t require fuel or electricity(just headlamps), when they collapse they don’t kill you, they can be arranged alone or in villages, some can be heated with woodstoves, many are very waterproof and windproof, and none require rent or landlords to dictate terms. And they can be struck and carried on your back or left and so when an earthquake or tsunami hits you just get another tent. Simple. And tent living would be great for American kids, it would finally break them of their resource and electronic addictions.
Infants and toddlers were made for tent living, they’re wired to run from their bedding inside a tent to the outside and back again like a puppy dog. And with no furniture or steps or railings, tents would be perfect for raising children and for their education. Once you have a tent, and a god given place to put it, you can dispense with compulsory education and tent-school your children with hands-on survival techniques: How to garden, how to sew and make clothing, how to raise animals for wool, how to live simply and willingly want it, how to interact successfully with a community, how to set up and repair tents, how to worship nature as god.
Here’s a quote from Joe Tasker in ‘SAVAGE ARENA”: “Pete and I were in a situation where we could decide not to go back on the mountain if we thought it too hard or if his fingers were too much of an affliction. At no time, however, did I hear him waver in his intentions of climbing the mountain.” “It was implicit that we would try again. Inevitably we would miss our flights home and Pete would be so far overdue on his return to the office that he resigned himself to losing his job.”
Now that’s what I’m talking about! When I’m sitting in a snow bound tent at 5,300 feet, I like to read these mountaineers, they seem a committed bunch who generally don’t say no to the wind and the cold and the snow, unlike so many backpackers. So we have a lot to learn from these guys, and what it means to stay out no matter what. And when these guys bail, it’s not to a car somewhere, it’s in brutal conditions to an almost-as-brutal tentsite where they sit tight for 4 or 5 days in appalling conditions, and many of them hump 70lb packs too, and do so on vertical fixed ropes.
My two days or five days up here stuck in the snow is nothing compared to their Denali or K2 or Changabang camps, and I’ve got a tent all to myself, those poor bastardos have to share a small tent with two or three other guys for a week. Talk about misery. And sometimes they lose their sleeping bags or ground pads and have to double up or go without, and the thing is, there’s no place to escape to, they’re stuck at 26,000 feet and 10,000 feet above Base Camp where conditions are the same for most of the downward descent. And so they hunker and wait for the sun and less wind. This could take ten days.
Therefore matches and Bics and stoves become vital just to get melt water to drink, and often they go outside their pummeled tents and stay clipped into their roped down tents to move the snow off or squat. To be alone in these conditions would be rough, rougher than being like sardines as then you have a lot of time to contemplate disaster and death and worry about how a simple ailment like a stomach ache or a headache could mushroom out to fatal inertia and unconsciousness.
When Willi Unsoeld’s daughter Devi died in a tent on Nandi Devi, they wrapped her body in a sleeping bag and cinched it shut and slid her body off the mountain face, like a burial at sea. People die in my neck of the woods too, and sometimes their bodies are never found.
ALL DAY BLIZZARD
It won’t end and so at 2pm I sit in the tent wrapped in down and Hootyhoo, who I haven’t seen in almost 24 hours, hunkers in his tent while waiting for the full light of the sun to stop this pelting snow against our shelters. Being a Saturday you’d think we’d be joined by a group of other backapckers but so far nothing, and here I am getting that itch again to reboot and go exploring out into the great white beyond. We are socked in for sure and this is becoming one of my better Bob storms, hard to distinguish from all the others in one big blur of cold, snow and wind. At least I’m in the protection of these trees and not out on Raven Top or Hutnons Camp by the Death Tree. Soon a good radio show will come on, Bob Edward’s Weekend, and if not for this I’d get so bored and crazy I’d probably go out and try to mount Shunka from behind ha ha ha. Just kidding.
Airports closed, 100,000 without electricity, get a radio for the Superbowl, boys! A foot of snow so far, roads empty, large giant fire breathing reptile roaming the streets, people running and screaming, some in Japanese. Many Tom Cruise look-alikes dodging laser bolts from large three legged tripods. Aliens take over a snowy cold Capital but are killed instantly by Lady Gaga music blasted over loudspeakers. Trucks dump 600 million tons of salt around the White House and DC becomes biblical, some looking back, themselves turning to salt, helping to thaw roads.
Glaciers from Canada approach and crush DC, average nighttime temps reach -70F. Homeless become porcelain. Republicans blame Obama. All Senators flown out to Hawaii, DC instantly warms up, Hawaii disappears underwater. Two guys in tents on a mountain in Tennessee are only survivors, rewrite American history. Hundreds of women try to get to them to restart population, snow too deep, none make it. Airplanes fall out of sky, one in Tennessee, surviving women approach tents to repopulate country, don’t make it, too cold. Female bears get thru, reproduce half human, half bear master race, America begins again, this time better. America the Beautiful stays beautiful, Amen. Hu-bears/Bear-mans frolic with beavers, wilderness returns, balance achieved.
What’s a bearman? Two legged bears with tents. Thick furs repel cold, raccoons happy, weasels happy, beavers plentiful. America returns to its roots. Ice Age welcomed. Glaciers from O Canada stop on the Bob. Soccer moms panic and drive SUVs into approaching glaciers, woolly mammoths pick thru the wreckage.
Despite this long diatribe, I’m still stuck in the tent getting pelted by winter’s blast–you don’t know cozy until you’ve spent 5 days inside a tent during a blizzard. But sometimes ya need to go out and start to boiling something, anything. As usual in a winter storm my vestibule’s a mess and my tent cluttered, housekeeping is in order. Incense helps.
WATER RUN IN WET SOCKS AND CROCS
Yup, my boots were frozen shut and so I put on the stiff socks and did a water run in the red Crocs where I got a full pot of water and balanced it back to the tent to boil on my last bit of gas in the first bottle.
5 O’CLOCK DINNER
I boiled up almost two liters of Bob spring water, stowed one liter in the Sigg and used up the other for a dinner of pasta with mashed potatoes. When I went to get water I went into the tundra dressed in the down parka and down pants and by the time I got back I was hot and starting to sweat so I stripped off everything for about 45 minutes and now here I am again all wrapped up.
FOOD AND THE LONG TRIP
At the beginning of a long backpacking trip, food is all new and fresh and there are things you saved to eat at home just for the trip and so starting out is a wonderful way to eat. After about ten days the thrill is gone and you’re left with the same old stuff, the cheese and the pasta and the chips and the nuts and the Clif bars and all the rest. It’s okay, cuz you’ll eat less anyway and when you do you’ll be grateful for it. Variety is the secret for the backpacking palate and so we delve into the ten flavors of Tasty Bite or the 12 meals of Mary Jane or the differing snack bars.
DUSK IN THE COLD
This might be the coldest night of the trip as the big storm seems to be petering out slowly like a long freight train and as the storm leaves the sky may clear and the temps fall. Although here comes another evening snow shower, we’re all about fed up with it. Shunka’s found his place by the other side of the tent under trees in a little protected hollow.
ICEBREAKERS VS SMARTWOOL LONG JOHNS
** Both made from merino and both in the midweight category.
** Smartwool has a better waist band elastic as the Icebreaker tends to fold over on itself.
** Smartwools are softer and thinner and more comfortable.
** Icebreakers are ten times more durable, thicker and warmer.
** IB are the best for winter use as you can backpack in them with shorts and though they will snag just like the Smartwool, they will withstand the abuse better.
HOW TO BIRTH A TURTLEHEAD AT NIGHT IN A BLIZZARD AT 20F
** Take off down booties and pants.
** Unzip tent.
** Put on crocs.
** Go out by the tent and stomp down a flat place.
** Squat, catch and release(have moist paper towel handy).
** Leave newborn turd atop snow.
** Return to tent quickly.
** Clean hands with alcohol.
** Return to bag.
My morning your stool will be frozen solid and dealt with appropriately with a dug cathole or as breakfast for Shunka. There is no other system worth talking about except possibly an in-tent squat and ziploc storage–messy when urine also enters the picture, it’s much easier out on the snow. My welcome mat now says “Keep Away.”
DAY ELEVEN TRIP 106
CAMP: Cold Gap
A fully encrusted tent at 1am and I’m too hot in the Puma so I get up and light a candle and try to get thru this now stone still and absolutely quiet night as the wind stopped and there’s nothing hitting the tent after 54 hours of straight something, snow, rain to sleet then to rain and back to snow. It’s cold but I’m warm and my brain is way overactive for my own good with the minutiae of home concerns and life on the mountain. It’s too cold to sit up so I’m going back down into down.
MORNING WITH HOOTYHOO
The sun slowly wants to hit our camps and we come up with a plan: to slowly gear up and head off the mountain to Cold Gap and points elsewhere, me to Camp 149 at the Brush Mt trailhead and Hooty either out or close by. My boots are rock solid and sitting out on the bald in the sun.
ALL PACKED UP
Somehow I got everything packed and even got my boots thawed in the sun and rolled up a frozen tent(the new fly hooks helped), and now I’m trying to contact Little Mitten for an evac route and time. Hootyhoo is right behind me and we’ll be on the trail soon enough. I’ve kept on my down booties the whole time and they make excellent warm feet “boots” in deep snow if it stays cold enough. Once again it’s a winter wonderland up here as everything’s coated in ice and snow and now a fog bank comes in and covers the sun, bummer.
It’s always hard packing up camp in ice and cold and snow but it’s been done and I’m grateful. Direct sunlight always helps.
ON THE TRAIL WITH HOOTYHOO
Somehow we pack up our frozen tents and get on the snowy white trail off the Bob and reach the Tee with little problem but then came the Hell Slog on 54A down to Cold Spring Gap. It was difficult as the trail’s a mess but we made it down to the gap and set up our tents on the flat area where many trails come together. I’ve never camped here before and it’s a pretty good spot though somewhat dangerous with the trees all covered in hoar frost and several limbs falling since we got here. We both are anticipating certain death but until then we cooked up separate dinners and boiled water.
Hootyhoo knows of a spring on the Swann side and did a water run while I melted snowwater and finished a dinner of Tasty Bite with veggies and rice. I’m stuffed and now sit in the tent warming up with a lit candle. I called Little Mitten before leaving the Bob and we planned my evac in 4 days at Warden’s Field at noon, so I have time to explore the Citico and my plan is to reach Mill Branch for the night and then loop around Rocky Flats and out. If the Citico Creek road is bad I’ll have to walk out again like last time.
DAY TWELVE TRIP 106
TRAIL: 149/BMT Connector/Fodderstack
CAMP: Oglala Camp/Pine Ridge Junction
CONGRATS TO THE SAINTS
A sunny day arrives at Cold Gap but it’s very cold and surrounded by heavily ice encrusted trees full of white rime ice on every branch and twig. The sun slowly arcs into these trees and they’ve been dropping bits of their ice all night long but when the sun hits some of them grow heavy with ice and limbs will break and fall. I hope to be out of here by then.
The Colts lost, badly, and I think of all the old Baltimore fans who are tickled pink by the Indy loss. Justifiably so as they snuck out of Baltimore at night in a cowardly and deceitful way. The old Baltimore Colts ceased to exist, the fan base turned angry and Indianapolis seemed an impotent, unnecessary and illogical destination for the mighty Colts. The Baltimore blogs are probably gleeful at the loss while the New Orleans Saints have much to be happy about, especially considering they outplayed the Colts with Brees completing 82% of his passes.
The Manning interception sealed the Colt’s fate and it took me back to his years of inconsistent passing and numerous interceptions. Underdogs always seem to want it more and are hungrier, and football seems a game of who wants it more. 90% of the ill-bred wonks and experts considered the Colts to be the obvious winners before the game, which gave the Saints even more of a reason to fight and dominate. The onside kick was smart and an example of the aggressiveness needed to feed a hungry team.
“Did Manning lose the game with the pick?” Yes and No. During a comeback drive when behind in points, it broke their spirits and pushed them even further behind with no time left. It was a “terrible” mistake and crippled a Colt drive, a vital Colt drive to score, and so ended a great Colt season with a disappointing Superbowl loss. Such is sports. It’s just a game.
Thank god backpacking, for the most part, is not a competitive sport although it still may be a game, the game of gear and weight and cold and navigation and freedom. For some it’s a sport to see who can go the lightest or the fastest with the most daily miles, and you won’t hear about the guys who try to go with the heaviest pack or who go the slowest.
GOOD MORNING WITH BREAKFAST
And so it is oatmeal and a long talk with Hootyhoo. He packed up and went south on the Fodderstack/BMT to Beech Gap and out. I left camp 30 minutes later and now sit on the Fodderstack north in the middle of the Big Fodderstack climb. I’m ready to get camp set up and call it a day but it won’t happen for another 40 minutes. I took one good spill a half mile back but didn’t break anything.
I finally reached Pine Ridge junction and had enough hiking in the snow so I set up camp next to a new blowdown after shoveling off the snow. Rain/sleet is headed my way and so I put on the little fly and now sit waiting for my dinner to cook. It looks like I’ll be ending my trip in some crappy weather but I’m close to the exit and have 3 days to play around with mileage and camps. The reason I busted my sac today was to get in enough distance ahead of the storm due in tonight so in case I get paralyzed I won’t have far to go to get out.
DAY THIRTEEN TRIP 106
TRAIL: Pine Ridge/South Fork/North Fork
CAMP: North Fork First Crossing
PELTING RAIN OFF AND ON
The big called-for storm has not yet hit me or Shunka yet so we sit atop the ridge called Pine at 1am listening to a distant wind in treetops far off and wanting to move at first light to the low ground and not have to sit out a winter rainstorm for another day and be pinned down. It’s not cold, certainly not cold enough to snow, and all I need is a window of dryness to fall off this mountain and down thru the heart of the Citico back to Warden’s Field and the low water bridge. There I’ll check the road for ice and walk out to Beehouse Gap if need be like I did on my last trip. This has been a long snowy trip.
A long snowy trip . . .and divided by the exploration of two new trails, the Hemlock and the Flats Mountain. Most of the trip has been in the snow and so I got used to walking along slick white trails up and down and all around. The bottom of the Hemlock trail was cold and white and the 7 creek crossings proved to be cold and frustrating. 95% of the Flats Mt trail was covered in snow and then I slowly made my way up to Fodderstack Ridge and began my journey to the high ground at Snow Camp and beyond.
The Bob was socked in with another winter storm and so I set up a difficult camp by Hootyhoo and we pulled several nights together in our tents separated by a hundred feet of sleet, cold and deepening snow. Getting off the Bob was not easy and the slog down 54A was yet another exercise in snowdowns, blowdowns, and the entanglement of brush. Camping in the col of Cold Spring Gap was a first but it turned out to be an excellent flat place for two backpackers to set up a private camp. Yesterday we went our separate ways and I covered the 7 or 8 mile distance in snow, some of it deep. Today my job will be easy along a slowly falling trail and then I’ll have two more nights to pick my escape. Just in time for Valentine’s Day.
WARDEN’S FIELD EMPTY
Wall Tent Dave is gone but there’s a big wad of black plastic where his tent once stood. I got down the mountain and across the low water bridge and looped back up the South Fork and veered onto the North Fork trail, one of my favorites. I went over the footbridge and up past Johnny’s Hole and got to my camp for Day 13. I need a good name for this great camp as it’s located right at the first crossing of the North Fork.
ONE BACKPACKER IN 15 DAYS
Unless I see someone between now and Thursday, Hootyhoo will be the only person I’ll have seen on this trip, including dayhikers. It’s a-okay with me. Does backpacking make us better people? Here’s a thought by mountaineer Joe Tasker: “It had been absorbed into my subconscious many years before that physical discomfort was a valuable penance and I sometimes wondered whether our penances and frequent deprival of physical pleasure did indeed benefit our souls and make us better people.” JOE TASKER FROM SAVAGE ARENA.
She blessed me today by holding off on the rain until I got off Pine Ridge and set up camp here on the North Fork. Now she lets it pour down from the sky in cold temps but not cold enough to snow, so I pull everything inside the red shell housing the full turtle and zip up the vestibule to lay on the pad to read and write.
TURTLE SHELL CAMP
Here’s a good name for this low North Fork camp.
AFTERNOON NAP IN THE RAIN
Phew, I had a dream of my Mom coming back to drive her car with me and Shunka in it and we go to someone’s house and pick up two other adults and three kids and then she heads out onto an icy snow-covered road going into Boone, NC. Of course she sideswipes another vehicle and then spins out in the ice and we go back and there’s already a State Trooper at the scene marking off the accident. My last thought? There goes her insurance rates.
The dusty climate pundits call for snow tonight and tomorrow and yet again they pique my interest in the neverending allure of the forecasted nonsense of snow in some form before this trip is over. We shall see again how wrong they are. Right now we’re nesting in an outside deluge but dry of course next to the mighty North Fork Citico. It is nowhere near cold enough to turn to snow and so all’s in the cold rain category and will stay this way until I send an alert to my readers.
BARE BURRITO DINNER
There’s not much more boring on a backpacking trip than writing about menu items or foods eaten and so I won’t bore ya with my next meal. Let it just be said that I have enough food for several more days but let’s hope I can get out of here in two days without a problem.
DC GETS HIT AGAIN
I think my third snowstorm to arrive here tonight and tomorrow will be attached to the same storm coming into DC tomorrow with another foot of snow. They also are having a Blue Alert to let the homeless know to get indoors, at least according to the Vice President of Weather.
Wet Snow whereby one inch of rain becomes 10-12 inches of snow. Colder temps produce a dryer snow whereby one inch of water equals 20-40 inches of snow. Snow figures compliments of the Vice President of Weather. I’d say most of the snow we get here is of the warmer wetter variety and so it rarely gets deep enough to notice. On my last trip along Four Mile Ridge I hit some truly deep snow but it was due to a ridgetop phenom whereby a foot of snow becomes 40 inches due to drifting and wind. Everybody generally knows that an inch of rain equals about 10 inches of snow, but few of us consider how a snowfall at zero degrees can be dryer and therefore produce 2-3 times as much volume.
The thing is, it hardly ever gets to 0F and when it does it rarely dumps a big load of precipitation. The ’93 blizzard was a unique event in this regard and it shut down much of the southeast. It was cold enough(around 6F at my tipi)and wet enough where the combination produced at least 3 feet of snow without drifting and greater amounts at different locales such as in the Smokies and south into the Citico and Slickrock. Hence the need for rescues and helicopter evacs. Another strange fact is that it hit around mid-March, spring break for students, and became a surprise blast of winter weather usually reserved for January or February. It took everybody by surprise.
If the storms hitting DC were to come to the southeast from Atlanta to Boston, well, we’d be into the blizzard of 2010 and it would be just like the blizzard of ’93. I guess another big storm could happen in March and the warnings would come from an arctic air mass colliding with a southern rain system. The ’93 storm was just massive though, and it perhaps could be considered the storm of the century.
A COLD WINTER
In my 9 years of backpacking this area, I gotta say that this winter has been the snowiest and most consistently coldest. It’s not easy for a backpacker to spend a long trip in such conditions without some amount of suffering and shivering. Even Hootyhoo, who pulled a 5 day trip in some awful weather and carried a good kit for it, still has a few things to tweak before coming back to face another cold trip. He was the only backpacker or camper I saw in 15 days, so this points to the real world difficulty and reluctance of backpackers coming out in such conditions with their usual kit.
Winter backpackers in Shining Rock or Maine are more tuned in and they come out looking for the worst but people around here just don’t come out and the main reason is their unwillingness to carry or not having the knowledge of what to bring to stay out at 5,300 feet in January or February. For most backpackers, winter is a time to wait and maybe pull one short trip, so why should they load up with the expensive gear needed for indepth extended stays in the snow? Everybody’s kit can do for three seasons, it’s the 4th that requires the extra weight and the extra high dollar gear.
This would be a good name for a winter blog or a winter backpacking book: The Fourth Season. Maybe I’ll name my Whiteblaze trip report “15 Days In The Fourth Season.” Soon though, spring will hit with warmer temps and I won’t have anything to separate me from the other backpackers finally coming out to join me. I’ll have to leave my parka and my booties and my Base Camp and my down pants at home and then I’ll be just like all the rest of you except I’ll still be carrying a 70lb pack while you’ll be traipsing thru the chickweed and the violets with your 3 season kit at 30lbs.
So winter backpacking is part ego driven and it motivates idiots like me to tackle it to feed a swollen and ego-enlarged blowfish head. Without this testosterone ego I’d probably come out in the winter and curl up in a fetal ball a half mile from the trailhead and wait for helicopter rescue. I never considered winter backpacking to be a sign of enlarged cojones though, and it never occurred to me that such a solo activity would make me look “tough”. Simply put, I love being out in the winter despite the hardship because it’s downright beautiful, and I’m an American patriot defending America the Beautiful.
Not too far removed from the last Ice Age, America is known for its winters, and long ago when the woolly mammoths walked the land we were true Americans and early patriots. So when winter comes to me now in the Citico/Slickrock in 2010, I see the strong vestige of those older days with the tusked furry elephants and inside the snow covered wood-heated shelters my ancestors inhabited. As long as we have harsh winters and the potential for another Ice Age we have hope that modern humans won’t completely ruin the place with their laws and writs and provisos and regulations and permits and sprawl and all the rest. See what a little snow does to DC?
It shuts it down. Miss Nature has 10,000 more years of it to come, and for this we can be thankful and find hope. Therefore worship wilderness now because it will hit you in the face sooner or later. She’ll put back the word “north” in North America. I just hope once she does that the woolly mammoths can spring back up, too. When a two mile glacier covers New York City, I hope to be camping on top of it in a crude shelter and sleeping in caribou hides. The Kiwanis Club might not hire me, but I have a vision for New York City that makes more sense than what the city leaders now embrace.
A MESSAGE TO NATURE BOY NEWBORNS
You have been born in a world that worships humans and so for the next 100 or so years you’ll see habitat destruction on a vast scale. Whole continents will be clearcut and no efforts will be made to lower the human population and by 2050 America will approach 450 million and the world 9 billion. It will be a time of lawyers and laws, sprawl and technology, pollution and cancer. World wilderness areas will be finally destroyed and thousands of animals species will go extinct. As a nature boy you will be in lifelong hiding and must plan your exit carefully.
Every forest will be put in National Park category and entrance can only be attained thru intricate paper work in advance, along with nightly fees. Unregulated backpacking for free will be obsolete and extinct. Then you will become a stealth camping outlaw, one step ahead of the court system and the henpecking Tent Police. Go north into the winter lands where it’s -40F at night, there you will find relief from the nanny state Tent Police as they can’t take the cold. You will suffer in your church of nature but you’ll become a bonafide monk in the green and white religion.
As a newborn nature boy you won’t have any trouble sticking close to Miss Nature and when she wallops the high and mighty put-all-humans-on-pedestal types, you’ll be ready to sleep with the toads and wake up on the ground in a new snow. The ball of earth flying thru space is a grain of sand in the wilderness ocean of space and you can turn your back on the humans without a second thought. Your hope and future is not with the humans at all, it’s with the Wilderness Woman who made the grizzlies and the toads and the cold and the trees and the snow and the wind.
Stick with her and know anytime you spend with the humans will be a hypnotic dream produced by their mass vision of a false and temporary future. There is only one reality. It is She. Forget everything else. And finally, don’t worry about reproducing your own kind, ever. There’s more than enough to go around. Raise a family of toads or raccoons instead. When human numbers go from 7 billion down to 100,000, then you can be concerned about keeping the species going. Until then, reproducing your own is unneeded and verges on pure selfishness.
Crazy words from a jaded misanthrope, sure, but you don’t have to be crazy to see what the humans are doing to the natural world. What’s their vision for the next 100 years? More of the same. If you’re born today, pray that you’re born in a hut without electricity and that your parents let you run around outdoors. Otherwise, as a nature boy you’ll be severely crippled right from the beginning by the TV and the Xbox and you’ll be texting by the time you’re four years old. I won’t be around to help you.
Just sleep out in the backyard every night and don’t take your Game Boy. If your parents try to stop you it’s because they’ve been brainwashed by the indolent indoor crowd, that peculiar species who believes the overbuilt house is the best home. They are wrong. Don’t buy into their wetdream vision of the future. Just because they’ve been hooked by the indoor indebt addiction doesn’t mean you have to be. You’re a nature boy, remember? I just hope you have a backyard to go to and it’s not all concrete and street lights and thick yellow smog. It used to be that living outside was healthy and good for you. Not anymore.
Air pollution is changing all that. Future American kids will be raised in sealed homes with treated and filtered outside air and entire cities will be domed for the resident’s protection. Once clean water was everywhere, now it’s 90% gone(check out the Tennessee River or the Ohio or the Potomac). Once oxygen was clean to breath for everyone, not anymore(check out the air quality of the Smokies and the TN valley). In the next 100 years new nature boys will have a lot more to write about even than me, today. God help them.
It’s coming down at 7pm and has already covered the tent in wet flakes so I buttoned up the tent and put on my layers and used the pee pot to keep myself dry in the newest and third snowstorm of the trip. Three snows in one trip is pretty cool and I’m lucky. Hootyhoo got to see one of those three and he got hit by the hardest of the three. This one comes in warmer temps and may not stay for long. If it sticks I’ll have a 3.5 mile road walk out to the Skyway, and I won’t be pulling a last night at Beehouse Gap like before.
THE MANY LEVELS OF COLD
A backpacker can tell thru experience what level of cold he’s at. It’s hard to put it on a scale of one to ten, but ten would be -10F with some serious goose down usage and everything frozen stiff. Level one would be tonight in this wet snow where my hands function perfectly and there’s no cold hands or feet. My night up at Cold Gap with Hootyhoo was very cold even though the temps weren’t lower than about 15F and yet I felt the cold inside my bag. Air moisture, wind speed, actual temp, metabolism, tent wetness and condensation, bag lofting, all of these factors contribute to cold sensitivity.
When it’s really cold a good down bag barely keeps you warm and for me this happens around -10F and depending also on the above factors. Generally there’s no need to get a -30F or -40F down bag for southeast mountain backpacking, it’s just overkill unless you plan on staying atop Mt LeConte or Roan for the month of January. A 0F bag at home is a totally different bag after 5 days in a tent, and usually will lose some of its loft due to moisture no matter how dry it is outside. Usually a good down bag will flatten a bit after a 3 or 4 day in-tent storm, and then loft back up again in a few hours of hanging or an in-tent breeze.
It rarely will be as lofted as when it sits out at home and never as dry. For this reason it’s important to get a bit more down and a lower rating for serious winter trips. For example, I found my near perfect 2001 Marmot O-rated Couloir to stop working for me around 10F and so I went with the beefier Puma. Some people use VBLs in their bags or bivy sacs, or fleece liners or even double bags, but I’ve found a single zipped up mummy bag to be complicated and restricting enough without all those other doodads. VBLs are useful in the Arctic when temps routinely dip to -30F or -40F, and where moisture is deadly and never thaws or dries. It’s of no concern here in the southeast.
Keeping body moisture out of good down is important but not vital in southeast winter camping, but at -40F a VBL is probably a necessity. Problem is, nobody wants to actually sleep in a VBL if they can help it as it’s a clammy plastic non-breathing body condom inducing sweaty, warm and discomforting survival. I used one back in the ’80s for a few trips and found it very sweaty and uncomfortable. Never tried it at -40F though.
SLEEPING BY A CREEK
The North Fork is loud and high enough to be noticed though at flood level it would come up another two feet and skirt near the tent. Yesterday I considered coming down the North Fork and now after seeing its depth I’m glad I didn’t. I started this trip by sleeping next to Bald River for three nights and then a 4th night on Hemlock Creek and on Day 6 was on the Citico in the Donner Camps and then left all the creeks for several days until today. I don’t know where I’ll be on my last night tomorrow.
DAY FOURTEEN TRIP 106
ZERO DAY IN THE SNOW
A TWO CANDLE MORNING
It’s deceptively cold at 5:30 and there’s more snow outside than when I went to sleep last night, but I had to get up to drain the mighty Rodan, the flying dragon who with one swoop over will take verything but leave a camera or a single woman’s shoe(?). That done, I sit up with two warming candles(I have three to spare)and inside my parka and down bag to pen some useless thoughts in the old trail journal. These long trips completely disjoin me from the trail forums I participate in: Whiteblaze, Trailspace, PaleoPlanet, Backpacker magazine forums and Practical Backpacking.com. I’m also an infrequent participant with BPL and they have some excellent articles and threads on winter tents and cold weather backpacking.
Whiteblaze is dedicated mostly to the Appalachian Trail and so it can get to be a little too specific with that trail, although it has a variety of other topics and trails such as Gear and the BMT. Trailspace is a fast moving and excellent site and has a Gear Review section which is excellent. The topic threads tend to drag as forum participation is low and nothing like Whiteblaze or BPL. BPL is excellent though restrictive in that most of its articles and gear reviews cost money to access, and of course it is fixated on the UL fanaticism, but its forums are open and they have many knowledgable people discussing winter techniques.
Backpacking magazine forums and New Posts are filled with irrelevant threads on politics or news stories and the Southern section is mostly about the Smokies and is also slow moving in that section. Trail Journals also has a big forum but I tend to get swamped in it for some reason and hardly ever post. Posting on these forums in large part is an exercise in futility as even the best post will get swamped by others and be lost in a sea of new posts before the day is out. It’s the nature of the internet which gives voice to every individual ego, mine included.
The momentary thrill is soon lost and the addiction to repeat the thrill is what keeps members going, although occasionally you see newbs who really want to learn something and not just argue. These forums are really for the newbs as they can learn a lot in a short time by asing the right questions. The geezors like me on the other hand go on long irrelevant tirades and find some joy in attacking things held dear by other posters. Like the recent awe over the NeoAir or the UL captivation with 30 mile days and the TarpTent. I’m especially vocal with the “It’s Not About Gear” types and the “Tool For The Job” boys. I stay clear of the AT minutiae like mail drops and best towns and coolest hostels.
AT thruhikers use a style of backpacking which is mostly foreign to me and so most of the Whiteblaze threads deal with frequent resupply and lighter packs. This style is therefore part of the AT backpacking technique and most thruhikers spend no more than 3 or 4 days on the trail at a time before getting off the trail to resupply, so they do not have to load up with, say, 15 days of food at a time like Eric Ryback used to do back in the early 1970s.
DAY 14 ON THE NORTH FORK
Today’s route is up for grabs and I have no real plan yet to where I want to be for my last night. Donner? Flats Mt? I look at the tent and there’s a big midmorning snowfall slapping a brand new layer of snow on the ground. I need to go out and snap some fotos for the journal crowd as Day 14 brings yet another white flake dumping. Donner Camp would be a good place to set up. If I do move today I should at least get to Beehouse Gap and get that part over with.
ASSORTED FOOD ITEMS
Here’s a list of some of the foods I brought with me on this trip:
** A Just Tomatoes.com assortment of dried fruit–pineapple, whole red grapes(sweet like candy).
** Organic dried figs.
** Wasna crackers with bran.
** Organic chocolate bars.
** Ghiradelli hot cocoa powder.
** Frontier Herbs fruit powder drink mix.
** Assorted gourmet organic cheeses.
** Superfood Slam Pro Bars.
** Bag of organic broccoli.
** Bag of organic butternut squash.
** Sicilian polenta, a Mary Jane meal–excellent.
And there’s a lot more.
SNOW ON THE SKYWAY?
Tomorrow’s evac may be changed and I’ll have to prepare myself for a long roadwalk and possible hitchhike out. There won’t be any traffic though and I’m trying to think of a place I could camp off the Skyway somehwere towards Tellico. How about the front yard of the Ranger Station ha ha ha. I haven’t even gone out in it yet but soon I’ll go and wash the pot and think about a real breakfast other than snacking from the sleeping bag. Gotta feed Shunka, too.
OUT IN THE SNOW
My last night of the trip will be spent in a fresh new snow and I just may pull a zero day here today or pack up after breakfast and leave the Citico to explore new places. It’s cold too, around 18F or 15F and so this snow won’t be going anywhere for a couple days.
While out on turtlehead patrol I surveyed the cold winter landscape and decided to sit put and pull a zero day here at Turtle Shell Camp along the mighty North Fork Citico. Where’s there to go, anyway? Beehouse Gap? Indian Lake road? And then what? Camp in the pine blowdowns by the side of the road? Sure, in the morning I’ll have a 4 mile walk out to the Skyway but if I get out early enough I may even have time to survey the Skyway for snow and hitch or walk towards Tellico before Little Mitten tries to reach me, and let’s face it, I’m just too comfy and warm to strike camp right now, so I’ll lay back and let breakfast digest and listen to the radio with a brand new set of batteries.
3PM OUTDOOR RECON
It’s snowing and it’s beautiful, about as beautiful as the North Fork is ever gonna get and I’m lucky enough to be out in it for a big block of time. Even though I have a strong itch to pack up and move, I’ve been holding myself back like an eager horse at the gate and as the day passes my window of leaving gets shut and then there’s no time. These next 18 hours will be the hardest of the whole trip as I force myself to sit tight and wait, one drawback to not having a car someplace and instead depending on pick up. My buddy Shunka is ready to move too, and I’m at the point in the trip where I can give him the rest of my food if I want. Why not?
NADDS: NATURE DEFICIT DISORDER
This is probably the most common childhood disease in America today. Many adults have terminal cases but the greatest percentage of cases are with children and young adults between the ages of 2 to 20. As President of the American Association of NADDS(Am Ass O’ Nadds), my job is to educate and develop strategies but, beyond this, in no way to upset business as usual and to actually try and get people outdoors and in nature. Am Ass O’ Nadds produces quarterly papers on the disorder and its remedies which no one reads, in the Journal of Home Addiction(JOHA). The Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM-5) lists NADDS as being the number one mental disorder in America today and the cause of most of the crime in the U.S.
JEBEDIAH CORNWHOLE FOUNDING FATHER OF NADDS TREATMENT
Old mountain man Jebediah Cornwhole, founding father of NADD treatment, says:
“Waugh! I’d take the little citified curs and sheep-dip ’em in a beaver pond overnight and the next day we’d built a fire and cook up hump meat and it took about a week and they’d go nowhere near a house. Here’s some Kid Testimonials:”
Johnny Furbish: “I’ve been to a town.”
Epperson Zytote: “Ya ask me what’s on the grill? Why, grown particular?”
Towham Turlish, age 14: “Thanks for the interview. Now watch your topknot.”
Surlish Towmotor, age 16: “Buffler tongue and elk flank in a batter of cornmeal, now that there’s eating!”
HOW TO CURE NADDS BY DR. CROW PEEN
Curing NADDS can be downright dangerous as old codger and doctor Crow Peen describes: “I had a bunch of kids broke from the electrical plugs and had ’em scattered under hemlocks when a govt helicopter flew over with onboard marksmen and blasting out the sounds of rabbits being killed on big speakers. “Peen!”, they said, “Come out and return those children to their homes!” And just then one of the kids, I guess you’d call him cured, threw a spear into the tail rotor and another kid let lose a barrage of slingshot rocks and dang it if the chopper didn’t start smoking and veer away.”
“I was very proud of my boys but they knew we didn’t have time to jaw and so we moved at night and they never did find us. That was 15 years ago and those boys are now men and leaders in the NADDS recovery movement. There’s thousands of them now scattered across the country and so ya better think twice before spending all day on a couch in front of a TV or get excited about clearcutting a last patch of trees for a shopping mall. These guys take nature seriously. Old Jeb Cornwhole taught them well and if ya ever see an old rusted disabled bulldozer sitting by the side of the road, ya know old Jeb is still out and about. ” ALL QUOTES FROM CROW PEEN.
NADDS became the top news story recently when every television set in Dallas TX stopped working for 3 days resulting in the mass suicide of 62,000 people, mostly teenagers. Since then the syphilized King Tuts in charge put together a fact sheet on the disorder but it made no sense. Here were some of its recommendations:
** Paint all houses a soothing green.
** Keep people inside with more televised sex and violence.
** Require all house dwellers to have indoor pets and live house plants.
** Generate more outdoor air pollution requiring people to stay indoors or die.
GENERAL ADOLF HICKLER
In the ongoing war on nature, General Adolf Hickler had this to say:
“We’re doing a fine job against a tenacious enemy and soon there won’t be a tree or a blade of grass we don’t know about or can’t control. Long ago we were surrounded by the pristine hordes, but we’ve cut them back and eradicated their leaders and all the big mammals have been radio collared or shot, so the war is almost over. ”
I asked General Hickler what can be done with the Grand Canyon and other big symbols of wilderness and he cut me off:
“Hey! We already have over 60,000 helicopter flights daily thru the canyon and a perimeter road with sky piers for the tourists but you’re right, more needs to be done. We’re trying to make it like the Smokies, the most air polluted park in the country, but this will take time and the help of cooperating industry.”
I asked, “So, basically, you’re just gonna leave it out there to inspire nature lovers and other anti-capitalist John Muir-terrorist types?”
“Hey, the Colorado River at the bottom has been pretty much destroyed and luckily most of the indigenous animal species down there are extinct. My colonels tell me that a series of high megaton in-canyon nuclear detonations will permanently shut it down and keep people away and this final solution is already being implemented.”
“What about that other eyesore, Yellowstone?”
“I’m glad you asked. A new highway system is opening this summer that will promote bumper to bumper RV traffic congestion, more air pollution and more animal road kills, but that’s just a start. We contrived a false West Nile virus report and so by June the Air Force will be flying tankers into the Park and dropping millions of gallons of insecticides mixed with mercury and dioxin in the hopes of creating a completely sterile environment and finally getting rid of the last wild herd of buffalo there.”
And I asked, “General, trees keep growing and you can’t seem to cut them back fast enough. Nature lovers keep finding them and camping under them. What can be done?”
“Soon we’ll have an Army of about 450 million Americans and most of them will have chainsaws and then the only trees left will be the ones we want left. There’s hope, so don’t give up the fight!”
BILLY MAYHEM, SPIRITUAL LEADER OF AMERICA
“As chosen people we have become as gods and so we have a universal mandate to subdue the earth and the creatures on the earth.”
I asked Billy, “Do you believe in evil?”
“The great Satan is alive and well, in deed he is all around us. The clearest representation of him is in the unbridled wildness of nature. Knowing this, we have a god-given mandate to tame nature and destroy this wildness.”
“What’s the sign of a spiritually advanced person?”
“Good question and I’ll try to answer it as best I can: To make his environment sterile and safe for other humans and to make high places low. As you know, I am a huge supporter of mountaintop removal and when I pass over these reclammation sites in my private jet, many of them seem to form the shape of a cross.”
“Wow! That almost sounds like a vision!”
“It’s very humbling.”
“As a mere human neophyte and seeker, what is it I can do to begin my journey back to God?”
“Develop, develop, develop! Anytime you see a patch of grass or bare ground, cover it with concrete. If you own a piece of land, don’t be like a sinner and let it sit idle, clearcut and bulldoze it. Take dominion over it. You will be doing God’s work. Divide, subdivide, fence in and pave, these are the mantras for the modern day seeker.”
“Why did nature hit Haiti so hard, Reverend?”
“Because they were evil people doing Satan’s work”.
AND SO IT GOES
Sorry for the long rant. It’s what happens when you’re stuck in a tent all day in a snowstorm.
15 HOURS AND COUNTING
I hope to be out of here by 8 in the morning and I’ll try to boil up some hot water to thaw up the boots and then get moving. Tomorrow promises to be warmer but waiting for that is crazy, when I move it’ll be around 15F and there won’t be time to hug myself and rock back and forth on my heels.
DC AND THE JERSEY SHORE
I feel close to these places and they’ve been following me closely all thru the trip. Deep snow, snowplows, shut down cities, you name it we’re in it. They have it much worse up there. I hope Little Mitten is okay. I’ll find out soon enough.
Tasty Bite Jodhpur lentils with corn chips, makes about a 12oz meal. When you think of a Tasty Bite meal, think of a good vegetarian canned soup and then imagine cusine from India, and then imagine it without the can but inside an air proof sealed foil package. It is not a dehydrated meal and no water needs to be added although I always pour in a couple ounces to clean out the emptied pouch. The neat thing is, Tasty Bite meals come in some cool flavors like mushroom or lentil or channa cheese or eggplant. If you want more volume you can add brown rice from a Seeds Of Change pouch or cook up your own at home and cart a couple ziplocs of the stuff as it sure won’t spoil in the winter.
Tasty Bites also make a good foundation meal for broccoli or squash or cheese. I guess the reason mountaineers like ’em is because they can be set in boiling water with the pouch and warmed and eaten and you still have the water to drink or bottle up, and Tasty Bites can freeze solid and still be pouch-cooked or opened and slid out into the pot. They have only two drawbacks: They are partly liquid and therefore heavy, and one meal portion is a bit small. Try humping 12 Tasty Bite meals with you on a long trip and you’ll feel the weight. 12 go a very long way and will easily keep you going for around 21 days when mixed with Mary Janes Farm meals. These two form the near perfect vegetarian meals for a long backpacking trip.
In addition you can bring other things: Amy’s frozen meals like cheese and enchiladas in two ziplocs and let thaw in the pack. Kashi also has some good frozen meals you can take out in ziplocs. Four of these will start your trip and all you have to do is put one in a pot and add a little water. Another idea is to bring store bought fresh sandwiches or subs or burritos for the first or second day. These things are great when fresh and there’s nothing like biting into a TomatoHead restaurant burrito at the first reststop. Exotic fruit smoothies or pint drinks, heavy sure, but they go fast.
POT WASHED SHUNKA FED NIGHT FALLS ON THE NORTH FORK
I’m in my little red tipi surrounded by a winter wonderland as an all day snow continues into the night but my tent has created a snow free nest and a hole of sleep while all around is a cold wilderness snow field. The creek is next to the tent and keeps me company and I think about my last night and tomorrow’s active efforts to get out of here and onto the trail.
LATE NIGHT BLIZZARD
I go out at 10pm and find a white landscape and a white tent under a black sky in falling snow, a priceless piece of the puzzle falls into camp and it makes me very happy. It’s a special night for sure , one of silence and yet loud with the creek nearby, and snow muffles the outside world and takes me back again to a much better time with far fewer people and more space, a time for welcomed snow cuz everybody’s on foot and either going at slow speed or hunkered in circular skins with small fires. I’m part of that old mystique and it makes me greedy for more and I try to suck every taste of joy I’m getting tonight from the creek and the snow and the cold and the night. It’s enough but will end and I need it to sit on me completely and tattoo itself as a burn on my body so I’ll never forget. How to remember? I really wish I could make myself to never forget.
DAY FIFTEEN TRIP 106
TRAIL: North Fork/South Fork/Citico Roadwalk/Indian Lake/Hitch to Tellico
ALL NIGHT SNOW
Here’s the thing: today is gonna be a long walk in a big snow, and if I’m to meet Little Mitten it’ll have to be done cuz there’s no way I want her to have to drive the cliffs around Beehouse Gap. And yes, the switchback road from the gap to Warden’s Field is dangerous in any amount of snow as it’s a thousand foot drop off on the left hand side.
A THREE CANDLE MORNING
I’m burning all of my candles and it’s about 20F in the tent and so none of this is going anywhere except for me who has to pack up in 90 minutes and be on the trail by 8. It’s all downhill until I hit the treacherous Peruvian cliffhanger trail with certain death on the right and a cliff wall on the left. Careful foot placement is required and will be the scariest part of my day, unless I have to hitch and get picked up by a wannabe deviant. In reality, on a Thursday morning there won’t be any traffic on the Skyway and so I’m not sure what I’ll do but I’m sure much of what I do will include walking.
Nothing can be done until the sun rises. The secret to most hitchhiking is to get out on the road early, before 8am and before the work masses pass thru, but this is not a consideration on the Skyway. Catching tourist traffic is a whole different ball of wax and in fact it won’t pay to get an early start as the snow loving tourist types won’t come out until noon or later, if at all. Even though it’s my last day I’m still gonna have to wear my wet socks as I just might have to camp somewhere tonight.
DOWN TO TWO CANDLES
One stub down, two to go.
CITICO ROADWALK AND OUT
Believe it or don’t, but who do I see while I’m hoofing along the iced over dirt road going to Indian Lake? Ken Jones and Rick Harris and Ed Ley and Bill Hodge and a few others driving in to do trailwork on the Rocky Flats road. We talk and have a grand grabfest and they keep going in but the snow’s so bad they decide to cancel out and I catch a ride with one of them on the flip side. Ed Ley picks me up by the Skyway and takes me and Shunka all the way into Tellico and a little country store where we say our goodbyes and I call Little Mitten for pickup. So ends another great trip.
UNLESS YOU HAVE A WALK-IN FREEZOR YOU WON’T GET TO LIVE OUT IN THE COLD SO GET YOUR GEAR, BOYS, AND FIND A MOUNTAIN WITH SNOW AND SET UP CAMP NOW BECAUSE WHEN SPRING HITS YOU’LL HAVE TO WAIT ANOTHER EIGHT MONTHS.