Trip 129 Snowbird Backcountry/Brushy Ridge

BACKPACKING
THE
SNOWBIRD
AND
BRUSHY RIDGE
WILDERNESS

Trip 129
January 1-18  2012

**  18 DAYS IN THE SNOWBIRD BACKCOUNTRY

**  CAMPING ON HUCKLEBERRY KNOB AT 5,600 FEET

**  A COLD SNAP WITH SNOW ON THE MITCHELL LICK TRAIL

**  10F CAMP ON A RIDGE FINGER BELOW LAUREL TOP MOUNTAIN

**  12 CROSSINGS ON SNOWBIRD CREEK WITH FROZEN FEET

**  THE NUTBUSTER OF KINGS MEADOW TRAIL

**  CAMPING ON FIRESCALD RIDGE

**  A NIGHT IN THE RAIN ON HOOPER BALD

**  A NIGHT IN THE RAIN ON HAW KNOB

**  A NIGHT IN THE RAIN ON WHIGGS MEADOW

**  A CLASSIC LIGHTNING STORM IN COLD SPRING GAP

**  153 HOURS IN A JANUARY RAINSTORM

**  FOUR NIGHTS IN THE RAIN AT COLD SPRING GAP

**  14F AT COLD SPRING GAP

**  BURNED OUT CAR AT BEECH GAP

**  PULLING THE FLATS MOUNTAIN-LONG BRANCH-NORTH RIVER-TELLICO RIVER-BALD RIVER ROUTE

A Cold Wind At Huckleberry Knob Trailhead

A Cold Wind At Huckleberry Knob Trailhead

DAY ONE

Entrance at Huckleberry Knob

TRAIL:  Huckleberry Knob
CAMP:  Side of Huck Knob

A NEW YEAR ON THE MOUNTAIN KING
I wish all my readers a very good New Year and hope they find—we find—some expression of the outdoor world we can include in our lives.  I hope we are able to continue our pursuit of the wild natural world and we are able to develop our relationship with Miss Nature, the woman of the green and blue and brown and white, the woman of the wind.  2012 may be the last year for some of us and if so I hope the transition is without fear and our loved ones are waiting for us on the other side along with our dogs.  If 2012 proves to be our final year, let’s go ahead and be thankful for the trips we’ve done under load and for the spectacular things we’ve seen on the mountain ridges and inside the clean creek valleys.  Thank God we made it this far and thank God we’ve been able to hike on two legs with a pack.  There is much to be thankful for.

ON THE NEW YEAR’S SUMMIT OF HUCKLEBERRY KNOB
Little Mitten and I drive the Toyota up the Skyway into a world of thick fog and rain and high winds.  We have to slow to 30mph just to see what is up ahead.  The grand plan for the trip requires we go past Beech Gap and we do so passing Hootyhoo’s blue van on the way.  I want to get out and start my trip there so as to see the Hoot but my pack is stuffed with maps and ribbons for a long swaray into the Snowbirds so we keep on and in eight miles pass the Hooper Bald pull off and continue a short distance to the mighty Huckleberry Knob trailhead which leads to the highest mountain in the Cheoah ranger district at 5,560 feet or basically 5,600 feet, 300 feet higher than the Bob.

We take the necessary photos and we say our goodbyes and I load the anvil pack onto my back and start climbing up to the first little bald which is Oak Knob but is not the Huck because it’s not high enough.  Little Huckleberry remains an undiscovered mystery but I’ll find it soon enough.  Huck is an awesome level exposed bald and no place to camp in this kind of wind so I do a complete circle loop around the bald parallel to the treeline and find an orange ribboned trail leading down god knows where and probably to Little Huck—and not a 100 feet down this path I find a level campsite in the protection of trees about 50 feet from the trail.  But be careful boys!

I got lost for ten minutes an hour ago stumbling around on the side of Big Huck Mt and just by luck pulled into the tent spot I cleared 30 minutes earlier on my first run down here before returning to the bald and checking out the very top.  I’ve got a good camp and I’m out of that blasted wind!  If I stay up here another night I’ll either camp up there if possible or try to find the Little Huck.

AN ARCTIC AIR MASS
It’s headed my way and in two days my nights are projected to be around 7F since they say 17F in Knoxville and it’s a good ten degrees colder up here so wow.

BOOKS AND NEW GEAR
**  A book titled “WESTMORELAND:  The General Who Lost Vietnam” by Lewis Sorley, 2011.  This looks to be very good.
**  A book titled “HELL’S ANGELS: The Life and Times of Sonny Barger and the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club” by Ralph “Sonny” Barger with Keith and Kent Zimmerman, 2000.
**  Five rolls of interweb readings.

**  A Turtle Fur fleece hat or tuque.  I got it on right now.
**  A new Nat G map #781.
**  My old worn paper Snowbird map.
**  New hairbrush.
**  A brand new pair of red Crocs size 9 made in Mexico to replace my old worn out pair made in Canada size 9-10 Crocs.

Wondering Why I'm Still Alive

Wondering Why I’m Still Alive And They Ain’t

PRE SUPPER DAYHIKE
Okay boys, I leave Big Huck Camp and follow the ribboned trail on a dayhike all the way off the Huck and reach a fantastic level saddle before climbing again to the third and final bald in the Huckleberry range—Little Huckleberry.  At the top I turned around after finding a decent campsite but was much more pleased with the grassy saddle camp I found earlier.  As darkness approaches I return to camp and grab my journal and hike to the top of Big Huck and the white steel cross put up in memory of Andy Sherman.  Here’s what the plaque reads:

“December 11, 1899—A bitter cold day with snow and fog.  Andy Sherman and Paul O’Neil, lumberjacks from Mill Hall, Pennsylvania, employed by Heiser Lumber company, left the mouth of Sycamore Creek on Tellico River for Robbinsville.  September 6, 1900—Forrest Denton was deer hunting with others and found their bodies three quarters of a mile from this spot near a small stream then unnamed, but now known as Dead Man’s Run.  Apparently the two men missed the trail down Hooper Ridge between Huckleberry Bald and Horse Pen Gap.  Several jugs containing whiskey were found nearby.”

“The sheriff and coroner were summoned to the site and an inquest was held, the jury finding that the men froze to death while lost and intoxicated.  The jury directed that O’Neils skeleton be given to Dr Robert J. Orr as a medical exhibit and that the remains of Andrew Sherman, badly mauled by wild animals, was buried in this grave.”  Placed and Maintained by Snowbird Mountain Lodge, December 11, 1999.

I like the blurb about Dead Man’s Run, and the part about coming here from Sycamore Creek.

A Protected Camp On Huckleberry Knob

A Protected Camp On Huckleberry Knob

WELCOME TO MY COLD
The night comes and with it comes the cold and the cold induced frost on the inside of the tent.  I nibble dried strawberries before midnight and finally think about shedding some layers and hitting the sack.  It’s a cold night at 5,600 feet.  (I used to call this mountain 5,700 feet but I was dead wrong and captivated by my own hubris).  Officially it’s 5,560 feet according to the forest service kiosk.  One summit website has it listed at 5,580, so let’s just jump up in the air and call it 5,600 feet—dang high enough for a January trip.

BIG HUCK AND LITTLE HUCK
Backpacking buddy Gonzan once mentioned in a forum how Little Huck is more remote and therefore more off the beaten path but in this kind of weather there won’t be anyone out even on the very top of Big Huck so my solitude is insured.

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DAY TWO

Morning on Huckleberry Knob

TRAIL:  Huckleberry Knob/Skyway Roadwalk/Hooper Bald/Kings Meadow/Mitchell Lick
CAMP:  Snowy Lick Camp

A 20F WINDSTORM
It’s dawn on Big Huck Mt and the winds of yesterday continue today so let’s talk about gear as the temps continue to fall all caused by a winter wind.  My defenses against Miss Nature’s charms are as follows:

**  A down parka with down hood—I only bring out the hood when things get rough.  It’s a head’s best friend and ups my headgear to three:  the Icebreaker balaclava, the turtle fur tuque and the Feathered Friends Icefall parka with hood.  Love being in the hood.
**  The five 3-inch Manischewitz candles for in-tent hand warming.  One is burnng as we speak.
**  The Western Mountaineering down pants, a winter no-brainer.
**  And the WM down booties—if not taken out and used in January when will they be taken out and used?
**  The illustrious WM Puma down bag in combination with the butt saving and soul uplifting Exped Downmat 9 pump.  When things get bad a zipped up Puma atop a 3.5 inch downmat at 8R will bring salvation and redemption all at once.  No weeping will occur if you stay put and supine.
**  The winter boot of choice is what’s with me now, the Asolo 520 goretex full leather clod hoppers in size 10 wide.  Even when frozen stiff these boots are light years ahead of the Limmers and the usual nylon-leather Fugitives and FSN 95’s.  No sweat.

FORECAST
The Knox wee’tards are calling for 10F tonight with possible snow showers.  Snow?  It sure will be cold enough.  I’m gonna quit writing and crawl back into the bag.  Yesterday when Little Mitten and I drove up the mountain her car thermometer read 56F in Tellico and 42F for the mountain at 5,500 feet, so go ahead and do the math—a 14 degree difference.  So, if Knox gets hit with 20F tonight it’ll be around 6F or 8F up here.  Yikes.

Leaving Huckleberry Knob

ON THE TRAIL
Like Wilburn Ridge in Mt Rogers, Huck Ridge has three peaks:  The first which is large and mowed (Oak Knob), the second which is the largest and mowed, and the third which is smaller and not mowed (Little Huck).  I’m near the Skyway at a water seep and passed our version of the Art Gilkey Memorial—the Andy Sherman cross.

Our Version of the Art Gilkey Memorial

HOOPER BALD RESTSTOP
I pull into the Huck Knob trailhead and quickly reach the backdoor gated tractor trail to the top of Hooper Bald where I sit now in the sun with Big Huck clearly visible to the northeast.  Hoop has a west end point foot trail which leads to the Hooper pulloff and should contain the Kings Meadow trailhead #63 into the Snowbirds.  I hope I can find it otherwise it’s a long hike to Big Junction and Haw Mt.

On Hooper Bald Looking Towards Huckleberry

THE HEADWATERS OF SNOWBIRD CREEK
Getting here was hit and miss as the Hooper Bald trail (or is it the Kings Meadow trail?) dead ends at a road where I tie an orange ribbon and then see the green metal roof of a house so I know I am right on the Kings Meadow boundary and the line between the wilderness and private land.  Nearby I find finally a decent trailpost and so I think I’m on the Mitchell Lick trail #154.  Not far down it I find a better trailpost which confirms my choice although it has the “Hooper Bald Trail” pointing nowhere with no discernable trail.  Hell, I just came down the Hooper trail!  So far the Mitchell Lick trail is nice.  I’m on the part of it that descends across the first headwaters of Snowbird Creek.  Yippee.

The Trailhead Into The Snowbirds Off Hooper Bald

IT’S SNOWING IN THE SNOWBIRDS
I’m camped somewhere in the middle of the Mitchell Lick trail past the big creek crossing on a level ridge finger next to an old and unused fire circle of stones.  Maybe if it cuts lose I’ll call this Snowy Lick Camp as I can’t rightly call it Mitchell Lick proper.  At least I think I’m on the Mitchell Lick trail.  Signage around here is a little weird when it comes to staying on the Kings Meadow trail so I want to plan it anyway and here I am headed towards a soon jct with the Snowbird Creek trail and it will be a left turn while the Lick continues straight to another portion of the headwaters and past to climb up 200 feet to the actual spot on the map called Mitchell Lick.

Actually I’m stump wrong, the Lick trail ends at the jct with the Snowbird Creek trail and does not end at Mitchell Lick.  As soon as 154 ends it becomes the upper part of Trail 64, the Snowbird Creek trail, and it’s this trail which enters the Lick, and if you feel brave and strong and crazy you can continue up 64 past the Lick to Hogjaw Gap and the dogleg northeast to Laurel Top (5,317) and eventually Big Junction.  Yes, long ago I did this route but from the top of Haw Mt to Big Jct and up a nameless trail to the top trailhead and final high point end of the Snowbird Creek trail 64.  I battled thru nasty briars and lost the trail too many times and eventually reached what I took to be Mitchell Lick but hell there were posted no trespassing signs and I couldn’t find how trail 64 kept going or even find trail 415, the Snowbird Mt trail, and how it veered off 64 at the Lick.

I was lost so I turned around and went back like a bug.  This time I’ll be coming in from the other side on a much more established trail and one that even has a few old ribbons along the way.  According to my Snowbird paper map, I’m at about 4,600 feet, high enough to get my testes handed to me on a regular January basis.  Let’s quit writing and cook up supper.  Oh, did I mention this—the sky is spittin’!  I’m glad I brought 44 oz of fuel on this trip.

It’s Spittin’ Snow On The Mitchell Lick Trail

READING WRITING AND COOKING
The Barger book is finished and now I’m on to the Westmoreland tome.  It starts with this quote:

“The premise of this study is that unless and until we understand William Childs Westmoreland, we will never understand fully what happened to us in Vietnam or why.”  LEWIS SORLEY.

WESTMORELAND INFO GLEANED FROM THE LEWIS SORLEY BOOK
**  Born in South Carolina in 1914.
**  Childs is his Mom’s maiden name.  Who knew?
**  Was an eagle scout and went to England in 1929 for the World Scout Jamboree.
**  Raised Espicopalian.
**  Graduated from Spartanburg High School in 1931.

**  Spent a year at the Citadel (his Dad graduated there in 1900).
**  Accepted an appointment to West Point in 1932.
**  Upon graduating from West Point he was 112th out of 276.
**  As a senior he was First Captain—highest cadet military rank.
**  After WP he was made an officer in the Field Artillery and sent to Fort Sill, Ok.

**  He was also stable officer with 38 horses.
**  Westmoreland first met Lt Colonel George S Patton at a horse show.
**  He is transferred to Hawaii.
**  After two years he goes to Ft Bragg in 1941.

**  World War 2—North Africa campaign.
**  His battalion was given the Presidential Unit Citation for action at Thala, Tunisia in 1943.
**  In Sicily his jeep hits a mine but he is uninjured.
**  He is uninjured when a shell hits his vehicle in Tunisia.
**  He is uninjured when a shell hits his vehicle near the Roer River.
**  A shell strikes a latrine he just leaves by the Remagen Bridge.

**  He goes to England with the 9th Division in 1943.
**  Landed in Normandy on D-Day plus 4—goes to Cherborg, St. Lo and Falaise Gap.  Crossed the Marne in 1944.  ALL INFO GLEANED FROM AUTHOR LEWIS SORLEY BOOK.

WESTY IN VIETNAM—IMPORTANT POINTS
**  According to the author Lewis Sorley, Westy on paper did not want more American troops but in fact did all he could to get more troops.  Westy did not seem to like or support the South Vietnamese Army and preferred to give most of the war fighting responsibility to the American soldiers.  Sorley says:

“By 1966 US forces had been given first priority for men, money and material, and the basic mission of strengthening the Vietnamese armed forces became a second priority.”

**  He instituted the 12 month tour.  Big mistake.
**  He did not demand the Reserves be called up.  Another mistake.

GREAT QUOTES
“Mishaps on the tennis court were the closest Westmoreland came to being wounded during his four and one half years in Vietnam.”  LEWIS SORLEY, p 12.

“Westmoreland had submitted to General Wheeler, in an early 1967 cable, statistics that showed the enemy, not allied forces, holding and indeed increasing the tactical initiative.  Wheeler was distraught.  “If these figures should reach the public domain”, he wailed, “they would, literally, blow the lid off Washington.”  First, an interim solution:  “Please do whatever is necessary to insure these figures are not repeat not released to news media or otherwise exposed to public knowledge.” ”  LEWIS SORLEY FROM HIS BOOK “WESTMORELAND”.

A FINAL SOBERING WESTMORELAND QUOTE
“Westy just doesn’t get it.  The war is unwinnable.  We’ve reached a stalemate and we should find a dignified way out.”  General Fred Weyand 1967, article New York Times, quoted from page 154 of Lewis Sorley book.

SNOWY LICK CAMP
This is a damn fine name.  A new snow falls onto the tent as the night of Day 2 will soon become the dark morning of Day 3.  I’ll continue my journey tomorrow if the snow isn’t too deep.

10PM REPORT
It’s dark cold and windy with snow now everywhere and this will remain for the next three days before it warms back up to the 40F’s.  I’m a-okay although I’m down to a few gulps of water but there are creeks all around me of varying volume.  Hopefully I’ll have the gumption I need in twelve hours to sally forth and gather water on the run.  My trip’s goal is not to lounge on the Bob or the Hangover or the Fodderstack but to once and for all explore the Birds.  If the Cranberry high school kids can do it and did it a couple years ago, I sure as heck can try.  I know the trails can get tricky around here and I was lucky to get off Hooper Bald and find the rest of the upper Kings Meadow trail and really lucky to find the Mitchell Lick traverse.

CONTEMPLATING THE BIRDS
Soon I’ll pass the Snowbird Creek trail and only hope it’s clearly marked.  Once found I hope to take it west and not south, further up and not down.  This will allow me to reach infamous Mitchell Lick, a name on a map and a place of recent repute where I got my butt confused and turned around.  With enough surveyor ribbon I believe I can get thru this place.  If I do find the Lick I should know it and remember it as I was there once and will recognize the posted private land signs and maybe even find the campsite cherished and so described by Will Skelton and Kim in a Picasa trip report.

So the Lick is the goal and if found will result in a short day of humpage but this is allowed as I’m here to explore and camp in the place and not rush thru in a frenzy.  If I do make it to the Lick I’d really like to find my old route up to Hogjaw Gap and the ridgeline path to Big Jct but that’s a bonus and ain’t on the schedule.  Plus, if the snow gets deep I’ll have to be very careful as the trail will disappear and I don’t know these trails and they are not clearly blazed or marked.  I know the Citico/Slickrock and can bulldoze my way thru that place without much thought but I want to make the Snowbirds just as familiar and this will take effort and a little bit of soloing fright.

10F degree tromping is risky even on main routes, here in the Birds it’s even more challenging and going alone is really exciting.  So, I do not want to get lost and will backtrack all the way to Hooper if I have to if things get confused, snowed out or tricky.  I’ll ribbon my last known trail spot and inch forwards carefully, always prepared to remember and return the way I came.   And in the Birds you can’t depend on pulling a successful loop out as there probably ain’t a successful loop out. The Big Junction problem is an example.  The cold?  Frigid temps add to the mix but as long as the hands and feet stay healthy and the Exped keeps firm and the down stays dry I’m okay with the cold.  Deep snow with severe cold is really the test when exploring a new area like the Birds.

THIRD TIME IN
This is only my third time here.  The first was a dayhike from the bottom with Little Mitten and we parked at Junction City and hiked 64 upstream a short ways to Sassafras Creek.  The second was my aborted Mitchell Lick reach around, and now here I am for my third swaray.  Mitchell Lick is almost at 4,600 feet and about where I am right now.  The real descent won’t happen until I get on the Snowbird Creek trail but even after six miles on it I’ll still be at 3,800 feet so it’s not a creek nutbuster trail like all the others—North Fork, South Fork, Mill Branch, Crowders, Little Santee.

The neat thing is the lowest point here is at around 2,800 feet at Junction City although yes the Birds do stretch vastly east with sections at 2,200 feet but this slice is dissected by the lower Snowbird Creek road and has no on-map trails though there are plenty of side creeks like Wildcat Branch, Owlcamp Branch, Belding House Branch, Deerlick Branch, Chestnut Flat Branch and Polecat Branch.  Cool names but no trails.  The most interesting trail out here on paper is the 9.5 mile long Snowbird Mountain trail #415.

Knowing the NC forest service and the Hangover clearcut loving Cheoah Ranger district this Fodderstack-like perimeter trail is probably completely unmaintained and completely unwalkable.  I even doubt it can be found leaving Mitchell Lick where it starts on the high end.  Its lower trailhead is near Junction City where it connects to the Snowbird Creek trail.  Stop thinking and let’s snuggle back into the bag as my hands have gone south and my arms are cold.

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DAY THREE
Morning at Snowy Lick Camp

TRAIL:  Mitchell Lick/Off Trail to Laurel Top Mt
CAMP:  Laurel Top Finger Camp

Morning In The Snowbirds

ALL NIGHT SNOW
It’s live action and it’s piled up all around the tent and so I’m up at 5:30 to drain the white mamba but first I emerge from the bag warm and toasty and keep the toastiness intact by immediately donning the down parka, pants and booties and THEN went out to drain the yelping hyena afterwhich I gathered enough snow to boil up a liter of peppermint tea with honey and so here I sit with liquid refreshment and it’s needed as I was down to about 4 oz of hydrating fluids.  Now there’s a titanium pot of hot tea in front of me.

It’s 19F in Murphy which is close but Murphy ain’t at 4,600 feet so I’ll stick with my 10F reading for this early morning and see where we go from here.  The main question is, will I be able to follow these sketchy Snowbird trails as the snow keeps piling up?  It’s a good question and one which will be tested later in the morning.  The weather radio says “If you must venture outside, make sure you wear hat and gloves” and I laugh imagining thousands of naked humans standing outside wearing JUST hats and gloves.

TURTLEHEAD BIRTHED AND BURIED AND TRASH BURNED
Okay boys, I dug an easy hole in the snow covered ground and then did a squat and release whereby a Latin speaking turtlehead popped out and was then drenched in warm urine—the afterbirth—and now sits buried cold and silent.  Then I got all my litter from the last three days and burned it by the tent, mostly book pages and a couple probar wrappers and three used Hefty food bags.

The day looks ready for movement as the trail is apparent and the snow isn’t deep enough to worry about.  I may have to leave more ribbon now that the trails are covered and there cannot be any chance of getting lost.  At least with my bootprints in the snow I can always backtrack.  Backtracking is the most important consideration when exploring an area such as the Snowbirds.  Mt Rogers on the other hand gets alot more traffic and so the trails are obvious.

Snowy Lick Is The New Name For This Camp

DAY 3 SLOG TO MITCHELL LICK??
The path along Mitchell Lick trail seems straight forward enough as it descends sharply from my campsite finger and gets to a major crossing of Snowbird Creek whereupon I miss the real trail and the one I take—based on seeing up-leading ribbons—gets harder and harder to find.  I pass what looks to be the end of the Lick trail and its jct with the Snowbird Creek trail proper, a left path in the snow with no trailsign sob.  This ain’t it but I forge on.

As I keep on the trail—my trail—climbs of course but there’s no trail in the snow just random and infrequent ribbons.  I place my own of course and finally climb a tough hill to the top of a flat plateau which I surmise is the Lick but IT IS NOT and it’s where I am camping now.  I know I’m on some kind of trail as I keep seeing old blue and orange ribbons and of course my bootprints in the snow will get me back to that jct with Snowbird Creek.  I hope I can get on the creek trail tomorrow when I backtrack.

DAYHIKE INTO CONFUSION
Thank God for the snow or I’d be completely lost.  There’s no reason to this place.  I think I found the real Lick trail or part of it or the upper Snowbird Creek trail or what the hell you call it but it doesn’t make sense on the map as I’m above it to the east on a flat ridge which ain’t on the map.  Weird.  So it looks like my adventure in the Birds will be over as soon as I can climb back to Hooper.  Right now I need to do a water run on the trail off the side of this flat table camp.

Where The Hell Am I Camp? Below Laurel Top Mt

WHERE THE HELL AM I? CAMP
The water run is finished.  If anyone knows where the hell I am send an email and let me know.

Cooking Up A Meal In The Tent Vestibule

IN VESTIBULE HOT MEAL

ANOTHER BUTT COLD NIGHT
I’m camped on a ridge finger below Laurel Top Mt, I think, and there’s a stiff bitter face eating wind coming across the mountain.  Thank god for this tent and praise Thor I do not have just a tarp or a hammock.

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DAY FOUR
Morning at Laurel Top Camp

TRAIL:  Off Trail/Mitchell Lick/Snowbird Creek
CAMP:  Snowbird Creek 6-7

IT’S A BUTT COLD MORNING AT LAUREL TOP CAMP
I’m not really at the Lick but it would look good on paper if I was.  Today’s big plan is to backtrack to the main creek crossing and see if I lost the real trail there as my map shows the Lick 154 trail running with it for alot longer than I did yesterday.  Then I merely crossed the sucker and booked uphill away from it on the only apparent trail with old orange ribbons.  At least today I can follow my bootprints in the snow back to this creek crossing for a more thorough recon.  If all turns to naught I’ll hoof it up the finger back to Day 2’s camp and continue on to the boundary vacation house and the gravel road and the Hooper Bald trail out of here.  Wish me luck.  There’s no hurry as it’s very cold at 6am and too cold for an early shove off.

DAYLIGHT

I Find The Holy Blue Blaze Of Snowbird Creek!

BACKTRACKS REACH AROUNDS AND PROTECTIVE CUPS
It turns out I was never on the Mitchell Lick trail after leaving the main creek crossing and instead forged up the mountain towards a finger running off Laurel Top mountain so I wanted to get back to that very same creek crossing and ZAP I found the real Lick trail on a pleasant old logging cut and paralleling the creek as depicted on the map.  I dayhiked it for a while and then returned to my pack and saddled up for a real shot at finding Snowbird Creek.  In about a half mile I passed a decent campsite (Lick Gap Camp) and got into a rocky wet valley which took me to Snowbird Creek and the left turn of the main creek.  Yes, it’s here where the Lick trail ends and intersects the Snowbird Creek trail which comes up from the creek and keeps going up the creek on a really crappy extension all the way to the bonafide and genuine Mitchell Lick area.

I dayhiked it a bit and had to break a hundred rhodo branches and step over dozens of blowdowns before being satisfied it runs to the Lick as advertised.  I came back to my pack at the creek jct with the blue blaze on the tree and I’m trying to warm up my water filter enough to get a liter.  It won’t pump presently but shucks it got cold last night.  My current goal is to descend Snowbird Creek to points wherever.  Wish me luck.

Pulling Six Crossing On The Butt Cold Snowbird Creek Trail

FIVE CROSSING HELL SLOG
Can anyone say Cold Friggin’ Feet?

CROSSING NUMBER SIX
Okay boys, here’s the way Snowbird Creek lays out from the top—there are six crossings and then right before the seventh you reach a large camp which has two firepits.  My tent is up by the higher rock circle and the lower circle seems to be a hobo camp with all the trash I found and piled high in its main rock circle.  The seventh crossing is just beyond this campsite so the fun begins again tomorrow.  I hope the snow melts because I can usually leave my crocs on all day with this many crossings but with last night’s 10F temps and with snow still on the trail it’s pure hell not only to have to cross the Snowbird but it’s pure hell to stay in the crocs and walk in snow deep enough to enter the rubber shoes.  So I did what I hate doing, changing into boots after every crossing.  So far I did six crossings, two by rock hopping and four in crocs.  God knows how many more I have on this trail.

My Campsite After The Sixth Crossing

TRAILSPACE.COM RECAP FOR DAY 4
“Since I’m not on any obvious trail I plan Day 4 by following my bootprints in the snow back down to the big Snowbird Creek crossing and to from there.  The Holy Blue Paint—I reach the Snowbird Creek trail and here’s proof—the blue blaze!  I reach the end of the Lick trail and junction with the creek which sports blue hatch marks.  The creek trail immediately gets you into bare feet and crocs and it’s numbingly cold.  I have to pull a trick I hate doing on a creek with so many crossings, and it’s putting on the warm boots everytime after each crossing.  It’s time consuming.  Usually I just stay in crocs the whole time but it’s too dang cold and there’s snow on the ground.”  And so it is.  I’ll call this new site Snowbird Creek Camp 6-7.

THE REALITY OF NAKED GROUND
A trip report from the blog “The Not So Empty Nest” (at emptynestart.wordpress).  God knows how I found this, probably by deep googling Joyce Kilmer/Slickrock, but it details a group of nine women backpackers all heading up the Naked Ground trail to the high gap at NG.  Before the trip they had three trail levels:  easy, moderate and strenuous.  Now they have “are you out of your mind?”  (They should do the Nutbuster).  Anyway, they take a dayhike to the Bob and then the next day they head down the way they came.  Not much more to it than that.

The Not So Empty Nest blog has an outstanding photo on its Backpacking Command Central page of March 14, 2011, and it shows the blogger’s picture standing in the snow in a red American Eagle hat with a big smile on her face.  In the background are two backpackers tromping thru the snow.  It’s a great pic, so great in fact that I have it folded just right to accent the picture and it sits here in front of me as I write.  For some reason I find it very inspiring, positive and uplifting and it gives heart on a long solo trip.  It shows there are others out here who love it as much and so I have to post it here in my report.  Here’s the link:

http://emptynestart.wordpress.com/2011/03/14/backpacking-command-central%E2%80%A6/

HILLEBERG MINUTIAE TEAR STRENGTHS
**  Kerlon 1000 (three season tents) 22 lbs.
**  Kerlon 1200 26.5 lbs.
**  Kerlon 1800 40 lbs.
**  Kerlon SP 33 lbs.
**  Typical tear strength of ripstop nylon is 4.4 lbs to 6.5 lbs.

MONROE AND GRAHAM HIGH POINTS
**  Monroe county high point is Haw Mt.
**  Graham country high point is Huckleberry Knob.

This is what Summitpost.org has to say about the Huck (contributed page by Wounded Knee):
**  Fourth most prominent mountain in NC (whatever this means).
**  Deserters from DeSoto’s group roamed the mountains nearby (dubious).
**  Civil War bushwackers roamed the area and killed Bob Stratton of Bob Bald fame.
**  ” . . . in December of 1899 two lumberjacks got hopped up on whiskey, proceeded to get lost, then froze to death on the slopes of Huckleberry Knob.  In fact several jugs of whiskey were located near their bodies.  A grave memorializes these two young men near the summit.  If you are to attempt this peak in winter, I’d recommend only bringing one jug of whiskey.”  WOUNDED KNEE.

WESTMORELAND
Here’s a neat thing from the Lewis Sorley book:  “He instructed General William Momyer, his Air Force Deputy . . . .”  My unit of 60 guys was personally inspected man to man by Gen Momyer in 1971.  some of us even decided to not shave that day and see what he would do ha ha ha.  QUOTE FROM LEWIS SORLEY, p 170.

SCIENCE NEWS
**  It would cost $1,000,000 a pound to sent you to Mars.  Or is it $10,000,000?

EXCITEMENT RUNS DEEP
It’s exciting to finally be in the Snowbirds and backpacking on Snowbird Creek.  Sure, if a big rainstorm comes I’d be stool out of luck as presently I’m stuck in the middle of many crossings with no clear way out except to wait, sort of like being on the Jacks or the Conasauga rivers with their forty crossings.  Well, the plan is to keep trekking downstream and keep counting the crossings.  Right now I’m up to six with a seventh breathing down my neck.  Further down this almost 13 mile creek the water will get much deeper and so I dread the notion of each upcoming ford.  Am I scared?  Partly.  Sobered too.

If I make it to Junction City and the road, well, it’s a long multi back roads hike to the Skyway and the Joyce Kilmer turnoff.  Let’s hope I can either find the bottom of the Kings Meadow trail (it’s almost eight miles long) and hope it goes undisturbed to that house and trail signs I saw two days ago.   It has no creek crossings of course although it might cross Snowbird Creek at the bottom—not good.  There are other options too as I descend past Upper Falls—

**  64A, the hillside detour of 1.1 miles and avoiding a one mile section of the creek.
**  65A with 65, Burntrock Ridge trail combined with Sassafras Creek, 1.7 miles plus one mile to detour around a good portion of Snowbird Creek—missing Middle and Lower Falls and god knows how many crossings.
**  The last three miles of the creek must be done although there may be a tricky footbridge and very few other crossings.  Time will tell.

My main plan is to descend to Junction City and return up creek just as I came down.  If I get caught in a downpour, well, grease down your codpieces boys cuz I may be in the Snowbirds for a damn long time.  At least I’m carrying ample ointment for a complete grease down.  BTW, did I mention the uppermost part of the Snowbird Creek trail is a mess of rhodo and blowdowns?  Mitchell Lick is up thar somewhere.  At least it is warming up and my hands aren’t ice cold so tomorrow’s fords won’t be so terrible.

GOD THROWS A BONE
As I sit deep in the Birds Miss Nature or her husband throws me a musical bone—Brahms Clarinet Quintet opus 115, the best thing ever written for the clarinet.  The station is playing the whole dang piece.  BTW, dinner was good—brown rice, cut onion and 4oz of wheat gluten.

THE COYOTES ARE ALWAYS AROUND
Yes, these boys are hiking every trail out here and though I may feel alone and remote, these boys own the woods and roam at night.  I can get to a snowy camp in the afternoon with nothing but my prints and by morning there will be a set of one of these guys.  They are my companions and wilderness friends (as long as they don’t steal my food).

WESTMORELAND QUOTE
“Westmoreland had an astonishing lack of interest in a wide range of things.”  General John Galvin from Lewis Sorley’s book, p264.

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DAY FIVE
Morning at Snowbird Creek Camp 6-7

TRAIL:  Snowbird Creek/Middle Falls Trail
CAMP:  Sassafras Camp

TODAY’S THE BIG DAY
Today’s the big day as I attempt the long journey down Snowbird Creek and will look for these important landmarks:
**  Upper Falls.
**  The jct with the parallel detour trail 64A, a creek connector to Sassafras Creek trail 65.
**  Either of these can be used.
**  Middle Falls, if I decide to stay on the creek trail and not pull the crossing free 64A.
**  Lower Falls (Big Falls on the map) which comes past where 64A and 64 join.
**  The jct with the bottom trailhead of trail 65 Sassafras Creek trail.
**  The long meander along Snowbird Creek and the hazy jct with trail 415 the Snowbird Mt trail.
**  And then comes the end at Junction City where forest road 75 ends in a parking lot.

I’ll look for trail 63 the Kings Meadow trail (it’s where all the fun started at Hooper Bald).  It leaves road 75 near the deadend and hopefully I don’t have to cross Snowbird Creek to access it.  Anyway, there’s alot to do today even though it’s still cold enough to make croc crossings difficult.  This time I dearly hope I can stay in the crocs and not swap out into boots after each crossing.  It’s a real pain in the buttocks.  Snowbird Creek Camp 6-7, my camp, is still high at 4,000 feet and I won’t see 3,000 feet until after passing the Sassafras Creek jct.
**  Upper Falls is 3,600.
**  64A is 3,600.
**  3,600 at 65A.
**  3,400 where 64A reconnects to Snowbird Creek and at Big Falls.
**  3,200 at Sassafras Creek jct.
**  2,800 at 415 jct.
**  About 2,750 at Junction City.

So, unlike North Fork or South Fork or Mill Branch or Little Santee, the low ground here is much higher so the whole Snowbird valley is a high elevation watershed.  When road 75 finally leaves the Snowbird backcountry in Ammons Cove, the elevation then is 2,000 feet, the normal usual number for this area.  It looks to be around 6 miles from Junction to this cove on 75, maybe more.

SUNRISE COMES TO SNOWBIRD CREEK
I’m up and about ready to move after burning a trash fire and it feels good to burn thru book weight and interweb material.  I’ll get a fairly early start today and come up with a way to stay in crocs even if I have to wear socks in the things while hiking.  It’s a possible solution to butt cold feet and toes—go barefoot in crocs at each crossing then dry feet off with paper towels on the other side and put on my hiking socks with the crocs—this means I’ll have to dry out the crocs too with towels so this just may not work as I do not want the socks to get soaked.  Here’s where a good pair of neoprene socks would come in handy—for winter backpacking trips on the Snowbird.

Get Ready For Cold Feet, Boys

SNOWBIRD CREEK
**  After the tenth crossing you stay on the left bank for about a mile.  Enjoy.
**  After the 12th crossing you come to a big open camp which the trail runs thru.
**  Winter advice: after the tenth reboot.  After the 12th reboot (the trail is along a cliff cut bank and nearly impossible with crocs in the snow.
**  Oh, and don’t get lost in the campsite after crossing 12, look for the ribbon and the small creek on the right.

Signs Help In The Mighty Snowbirds

**  Long after the 12th crossing you reach an obvious veer up and to the left and you could consider this the start of 64A, the Middle Falls trail with orange blazes.  Further up the hill you see an obvious trail to the right which crosses Snowbird Creek and is probably the actual Snowbird Creek trail.
**  I took a left turn at the orange paint and in a short time was at a helpful trailsign:  “Middle Falls right, Middle Falls trail left”.  and so here I am on the pretty in-the-woods Middle Falls trail as it bypasses the creek for a mile and avoids countless crossings.

Resting At The Middle Falls Trailpost

**  Eventually I’ll cross a side creek and then reconnect with the Snowbird trail right above Big Falls (aka Lower Falls).  There’s a tricky footbridge in my future as I’ve seen YouTube vids of it online.  Wish me luck.
**  Middle Falls trail would be a good place to camp if you could find a spot as it has a side spring and is far enough from the main creek for a change O pace.  The creek valley is cold and still covered in snow.
**  There’s a big camp where 64A returns to the creek and it’s a tough return on switchbacks and one nasty blowdown and I sure don’t wanna go back that way.

Blazes In The Snowbird Style

**  Now we’ll look for the main creek trail.  My toes are throbbing.
**  The 13th crossing is mercifully God a brand new footbridge!!  What a welcomed sight to cold feet and furrowed brow.
**  Right after the bridge you reach Big Falls and so it is I’m sitting in the sun on the right bank of the creek and resting.

A Foot Saver! The 13th Crossing Is Managed With A Bridge

A Brand New Bridge And A Brand New Attitude

In The Winter, Hope Is A Footbridge

Soon I hope to see the jct with trail 65, the Sassafras Creek trail with silver blazes.  I won’t be taking it this time around as god knows how many crossings it has and we all know trail 415 from where it jcts with Sassafras near a gap called Cold Spring and all the way to Mitchell Lick is probably a beast of brush and blowdowns.  No thanks!

**  My goal is to reach the 65 jct and keep on 64.  About a half mile from the bridge and big falls you reach trail 65, Sassafras Creek.  It’s another three miles on Snowbird to Junction City.  Let’s hope I find a place to camp and there’s absolutely no more creek crossings.
**  Sassafras Creek crossing and it’s a big one and almost qualifies as a major Snowbird crossing but it’s a crossing not across Snowbird Creek but across the Sassafras.

Sassafras Creek Camp

SASSAFRAS CREEK CAMP
Okay boys, after 12 major crossing I decide to set up camp by a firering right before the Sassafras crossing which I’ll have to do tomorrow as this campsite is level and in the sunlight and at 3pm I’m about ready to call it a day.

MILD FROST NIP?
My toes are hurting so I figure I got a low grade case of frost bite coming across the Snowbird yesterday and today.  When you enter the Snowbirds be prepared to have snow and cold kick your butt.  Crossing once is rough, doing it 12 times is seriously serious.

Tight Crocs And Sore Toe Solution

SANTA RETHINK
What I think is frostbite of the toes is actually the pain incurred from hiking all day in size 9 crocs which are too small and need to be size 10.  Santa left these crocs for me to replace my old pair but they’re just too short causing my toes to jam up—the original toejam event.  Relief comes with cutting out the toe box with my pocketknife, easy enough with soft rubber.

THE RUSTED JALOPY
I won’t be happy until I pass the old rusted jalopy I saw long ago on the previous trip.  And I won’t be happy until I see the bonafide trailhead to the Kings Meadow trail 63.  This one is important unless I want to repeat what I did today all over again but going up.  Tomorrow begins in crocs to cross Sassafras Creek but I’ll quickly reboot on the other side and see what the next three miles of trail offer.  Snowbird Creek at this point is a major river and not one I want to cross and rains are headed my way for Day 7 and 8 so I need to come up with a plan of hunkering it out.  Either I’ll find Kings Meadow trail and follow it without problems to a high camp tomorrow or I won’t find it and have to backtrack up Snowbird to the fancy footbridge and set up camp and wait it out for a probable return to Middle Falls trail and the 12 crossings to the top by Mitchell Lick.

There’s a nice campsite by the bridge and a nice camp on this side of crossing 12, way up past the Middle Falls trail.  I do not want to do all this again, especially after two days of rain, but if I can’t find 63 I definitely don’t want to pull a roadwalk thru Graham County and try to get to the Skyway and the Kilmer turnoff.  That’s gotta be 30 miles from here.  I’ll do my best to find 63 and have ribbon in hand for a reach around.  My goal of course is Hoopers Bald and the old stomping grounds of Four Mile Ridge.  At least I know what to expect here on the Snowbird.

GOODNIGHT TO DAY 5
It’s cold again but not ten degrees frigid so I’m covered with an unzipped bag.  There’s nothing on the radio of any interest so I listen to the sing song of the creek instead.

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DAY SIX
Morning at Sassafras Creek Camp

TRAIL:  Snowbird Creek/Kings Meadow
CAMP:  Firescald Ridge

Everybody Knows This Jalopy

I AM UP
I’m up at 2:30 in the morning to check out the cold and yes it’s cold.  Today’s my last good day before the rains come tomorrow so I best explore my butt off.  Guess what?  Sassafras Creek Camp is jalopy central as right across the creek is the rusted old school bus—ambulance—station wagon.  And yes, it was rough starting out the hiking day in bare feet and crocs by fording butt cold Sassafras Creek.  Right now I’m approaching Jct City and looking for the 415 turnoff.  Okay, just passed it.

The Kings Meadow Footbridge Thank God

A MERCIFUL MISS NATURE
I reach the dead end road at Jct City and lo and behold there’s a trailsign which reads “King Meadows Right” and I follow it a hundred feet to a butt big footbridge over the now wide and deep Snowbird Creek.  It’s a lifesaver!  So here I am up the Kings Meadow trail not far and stopped at Owlcamp Creek to get my usual 52oz of water for a possible camp later on today as this trail looks to be bone dry.

Snowbird Creek From The Kings Meadow Bridge

THE FIRESCALD NUTBUSTER
I got lost right out of the gate on the KMT and kept going on the obvious old logging cut but the trail ended up in a nightmare of rhodo so I pulled a reach around and decided to look and see if I missed the real trail.  I did.  Here begins a nutbuster climb up a very steep logging cut and it rivals the climb out of Stecoah Gap on the AT past Sweetwater Gap called the Jacob’s Ladder.  I seriously doubt I can return down this terribly steep trail except on my butt doing a bung abseil.  Now I sit near the top of Firescald Mt but it’s a half mile away and I’m getting tired.  Let’s keep moving.

It’s Easy To Get Lost On The Kings Meadow Trail As This Is As Good As It Gets

FIRESCALD RIDGE CAMP
The pull up from Snowbird Creek to here is tortuous and hellish but hey I’m at around 4,000 feet so I climbed 1,400 feet and have 1,500 more to go tomorrow.  Firescald Ridge is a terrible place to camp and I spent 30 minutes just clearing sawbriars and brambles for a decent level campsite.  The KMT is barely a trail but as long as I can see the faint path and the faded yellow blazes I’m okay.  I could’ve made it to Deep Gap which is about a mile from Kings Meadow but campsites are damn hard to find around here and hauling a 75 lb pack on a haphazard unmaintained trail is not my idea of fun.  If you want to understand this trail, hike Hemlock Creek up and then do Flats Mt all the way from Beehouse Gap.  Just below this ridge I got lost and it took me 30 minutes to find a few faint hatch marks and I connected the bottom to the top and then tied out my own ribbons just in case I have to go back.

A Nameless Camp On Firescald Ridge

ANXIOUS TO FINISH THIS TRAIL
Night comes to Day 6 and all I can think about is packing up and climbing the rest of this trail and the main reason is because it’s in such bad shape and new to me that I don’t want any surprises like losing the trail and having to go back down.  My camp is situated next to an old orange trail ribbon and there are a couple old yellow blazes on trees here and so I know I’m presently on the trail and my map helps alot to allay my fears.  The thing is, this trail could merge with almost anything in the next four miles including new roads or jumbled up logging cuts and so I need to go slow and look for the yellow and the ribbons.  Once again, if it gets bad I’ll have to turn back but I don’t wanna!!  So it’ll be a stressful night waiting for first light.

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DAY SEVEN
Morning on Firescald Ridge

TRAIL:  Kings Meadow/Hooper Bald trail
CAMP:  Hooper Bald

PITTER OF RAIN
The slight pitter of rain hits the tent at 3am and it’s a bummer since I need to get this trail finished before it rains me out.  Oh well, let’s hope it’s just an all day drizzle.

Humping Up Kings Meadow In The Rain

ON THE TRAIL BY 7:30

The King Rednecks Welcome You To North Carolina

THE KING REDNECKS RULE THE MOUNTAIN
At first light I was packed and on the KMT which fights thru thousands of sawbriars to reach Deep Gap where I broke a sweat but couldn’t be bothered.  After the Gap I pull some steep pitches to the trash dump that is Kings Meadow which is named for the King rednecks who have claimed the mountain with their garbage and their gas addiction as proven by the many ATV tracks in the area.  Of course, they can’t be bothered with walking.  Near the top of the King I saw a terrible site of trash piled high next to a pole structure with rotten tarps hanging off it—certainly a redneck version of car camping.  These boys must come up drunk and leave drunk cuz none of them seem interested in cleaning up their garbage.  Most of the best camping spots up here are on private land anyway so don’t bother staying, just keep moving boys.  Beyond Trash Meadow the trail climbs hard to Queen Ridge and then drops moderately to another gap which is crisscrossed with ATV tracks and is about as trashed as the King.  Here the trail does its merciful climb on a rutted out road to a barb wire fence, a cinder block foundation and then Zap you’re back at the green roofed summer cabin where all of this madness began.  And I’m damn glad to be here!  I have one more nutbuster of a climb and I’ll be on Hoopers Bald, my camp for the night.

SUMMARY OF THE KINGS MEADOW TRAIL
**  The footbridge at the bottom is deceiving as you think you’re in for an Appalachian Trail type experience.  You ain’t.
**  After the bridge the trail climbs a logging cut and then veers right off onto another cut which is the steepest section of the whole trail and reaches a near vertical incline which you may need a rope and a jumar if you’re carrying 75 lbs and worried about cartwheeling off the mountain.
**  After this Hell Pitch you reach a very nasty blowdown Ouch!
**  Then you find a little marked side trail which gets off the cut and then back on, taking you to a small gap where the trail turns left and up to Firescald Ridge.  It’s here I got lost for 30 minutes.
**  Now the sawbrairs begin as you endlessly climb to the near top of Firescald Mt.  It’s hateful and it’s where I camped.
**  Past Firescald Camp the trail continues around Firescald Mt and reaches Deep Gap, a possibly decent place to camp.
**  Past the Gap the trail passes over a couple springs and climbs steeply to skirt around Bee Knob.  Stay on the trail here which is a logging cut and don’t follow any side ridge ribbons to the left.

Kings Meadow Near Queen Ridge

**  Climb up to Kings Meadow trash dumb and notice the private land red blazes.  Stay on the main cut and eventually leave the meadows for a hell ridge ascent to Queen Ridge.

Snowbird Wilderness Gets Tamed

**  At the top the trail dips to a trashed out gap torn up by people in vehicles.
**  The final climb begins as you pull a rocky and rutted logging cut which passes by a house on the right and then you reach the old Snowbird backcountry trail sign.
**  It’s easier now if you stay on the road here and keep climbing to the Hooper Bald gravel trail.  You’ll pass a gate at the end of the road and should turn right if you want a tiny spring seep and want to camp atop Hooper which is what I did.  Make a left if you want to reach the restrooms and parking area.

THE CHEROKEE AND THE SNOWBIRDS
The white man has destroyed this part of the Snowbird backcountry so don’t bother backpacking it unless you like to see dynamited logging roads, ATV tracks and strewn piles of garbage.  Plus, most of the trail is hard to follow, the sawbriars are tough and the boys need to come out and repaint the yellow blazes as they are mostly invisible.

The Struggle Up Kings Meadow Is Over As I Reach Hooper Bald

A MERCIFUL GOD
Yes, a merciful God got me set up on Hooper Bald just as the sky opens and rain pelts the meadow.  In other words, I was damn lucky to get set up seconds before the sky dumped its load and so here I sit dry and warm and happy.  Hooper Bald is only a good place to camp in the winter and especially during a cold January rainstorm as then you won’t be bothered by car traffic or racing screaming motorcycles or on-foot dayhiking rolling couch potato gawkers.  Hooper is almost 5,500 feet, 5,420 to be exact.

A COLD CAMP IN THE FOG

AN ALL DAY PELTING RAIN
And it’s nasty out here boys!  Crossing the Snowbird after this deluge might prove difficult so the Snowbird journey is over for this trip.  My plans are to get back into old familiar ground by crossing over Haw Mt and who knows, I may even see Sgt Rock as he has a plan to pull a long trip near Four Mile Ridge after January 9th, my Day 9.  The weather radio says I’ll have rain today and for the next four days.  Hopefully I can move furtively from camp to camp like a rodent on each day although I’m allowed a zero day tomorrow if needed.  At least the temps are mild and up here on the Hoop it’s about 45F no sweat.  There are occasional gusts but I have the Keron guyed out with 14 pegs and have two extra pegs just in case.  With a two hour window I can pack and get to Haw Mt with no problem, and the next day the same to the Whigg.  And then I’d need several hours to get to Beech Gap to make a grand entrance into the Citico.  I guarantee old Rock won’t be starting a trip in this crap.

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DAY EIGHT
Morning on Hooper Bald

TRAIL:  Hooper Bald Trail/Skyway Roadwalk/Haw Mt Trail
CAMP:  Haw Knob

WELCOME TO MY FOG
The rain and wind stopped but there’s a heavy fog going across the Hoop and so I wait out the night on the Exped and sip cold spring water from a Hooper seep right below camp.  Convenient.  It’s only one in the morning and I slept hard until the bladder wanted up and out.

THE UNICOI MOUNTAIN RANGE
**  It’s part of the Blue Ridge Mt Province of the Southern Appalachian Mountains.
**  South of the Smokies and west of the Cheoah Mountains.
**  It’s where I do most of my backpacking trips.
**  Unicoi is a Cherokee word “unega” meaning “white” for lowlying clouds and fog.  Tonight here on the Hoop would fit the description.

**  The range covers a thousand square miles.
**  Tellico River source from McDaniel Bald to the Little River in Vonore, TN.
**  Santeetlah Creek source from western slope of Huckleberry into Cheoah River.
**  The highest peaks in the Unicoi are Huck at 5,5600, Haw, Hooper, Stratton Bald, Bob Bald and Haoe at 5,249.
**  Formed 250 million years ago.

**  Old growths include Kilmer, an 187 acre patch near Falls Branch Falls and a section near Glenn Gap.
**  John Stratton settled in the area around Bob Bald (1799–1862).  His Dad Absolum died while visiting his son in 1852 and is buried at Stratton Meadows.
**  John’s son Robert “Bob” Stratton (1825–1864) moved from Stratton Meadows to Bob Bald and was killed in 1864 by Civil War bushwackers.

**  John and Albertine Denton moved to Little Santee Creek and built a log cabin.  Before the cabin was built they lived in a hewed out giant chestnut log six feet in diameter and housed seven people in two rooms.  This was after the Civil War.
**  In 1911 George Moore established a pig hunting reserve on top of Hooper Bald—a 500 acre enclosed lot stocked with Russian blue boars.  Most escaped.  White man in action.
**  1915 Babcock Lumber company logged out the Slickrock watershed.
**  1922 Babcock logged out the Citico Creek.  In 1925 a massive forest fire destroyed the logging tramways and wiped out half the forest.

**  Logging continued in the Doublecamp area until 1929.
**  1958 Sam Williams led a covered wagon train across the Unicoi from Tellico to Murphy, NC.
**  Dr. Colon Flaccid, the last remaining mountain man from TN, set up roving camps in the Unicoi and did so for the last 85 years.

There’s A Way From Hooper To Haw And Here’s The Mighty Haw

FROM THE HOOP TO THE HAW
I left Hooper Bald in a light dirzzle and thick fog and hiked the Skyway to Big Jct which is the trailhead to Haw Knob, another hill in the 5,500 foot range.  Even though the trail to the top of Haw is not a designated trail on any map or in any forest service guide, it’s a hell of alot better than some of the Snowbird trails.  The NC side of the Nantahala and the Snowbirds is like a shiny facade with nothing behind.  The NC boys pour money into nice restroom facilities and hiway pulloffs and dayhiker paths but behind their picture of Dorian Gray lies a monster of unmaintained and mostly unmarked trails.

Anyway, here I sit on top of the Haw with the tent up after 30 minutes spent clearing briars for the tent.  It’s cold and windy and wet up here but it’s home for the night.  I haven’t been here since Trip 86 in December 2008 during a hellish windstorm in the green Staika tent.  The first thing I did upon arrival was to check for the back trail down the mountain to the Whigg cuz it’s important to know where to go tomorrow.  I find it.

THE SNOWBIRD PEAKS
I consider all these high peaks the northern boundary of the great Snowbird wilderness.  This border starts with Huckleberry Knob and goes west to Hooper and Haw Balds.  This high line encloses the Snowbird and also includes a southern edge of the box with Big Jct, Laurel Top, Grassy Top and Mitchell Lick.  So, if you camp atop the Huck or the Hoop or the Haw, you’re on the north edge of the Snowbirds and it lays spread out before you to explore.

HAW
There used to be a firetower up here and so there is an old jeep road to the top from both sides, the Hooper side and the Whiggs side.  Coming up from the Hoop side is easy, going down the Whigg side is longer and more difficult due to the brush and the diverging logging cuts.  I’ll mark my path down with ribbons if I need to backtrack and return to Big Jct for a road walk to Mud Gap where I can get on the BMT.  The Skyway is stone silent cuz the weather sucks.  Here comes another rain and just in time for me as I’m dry and set up.  I’m just glad I got to move today and not have to pull a zero on the Hoop.  Now we sit on the Haw to see this thing thru.

HAW MOUNTAIN MISERABLE
A late afternoon rain returns and turns an already miserable socked in foggy mountain top into a no-man’s land of inclemency.  There won’t be backpackers out today anywhere in the Unicoi and for sure none up here on the Haw.  In 24 hours I hope to be on the Whigg if I can locate the old trail down the west side of this mountain.  Supper is brown rice, refried beans, cut onion, coconut oil and the last of my butternut squash.  The bean-rice combo makes an excellent protein source and my food bags are loaded with more protein such as soy sausage and several paks of tempeh along with a couple pouches of Seeds of Change red beans and rice and around seven Tasty Bite lentil meals.

FIVE DAYS OF RAIN
When the wee’tards call for five days of rain, the best thing for a backpacker to do is to pack and move every one of those days but only a short distance in the two mile range.  This way when you find a window of no rain you don’t have to sit and pull a zero and let’s face it, a five day rain will have periods of no rain.

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DAY NINE
Morning on Haw Knob

TRAIL:  Haw Mt West/Mud Gap BMT
CAMP:  Whiggs Meadow Shoulder Camp

A MORNING WIND WHIPS THE TENT
A 4am wind whips the tent atop Haw Knob and so I go out and place the six extra guyout pegs to keep the big Hilleberg from swaying.  54 hours of rain.  All this started at 3am on Saturday morning as I was camped on Firescald Ridge but I packed anyway several hours later and got thru a long day of backpacking with mist and drizzle, only to have the sky open up on me that day by around noon.  It’s been falling ever since and so this morning I slept in til 9 listening to the downpours come and go across the mighty Haw.  I will move today because this rain is mostly light and stops frequently giving me plenty of windows to move.  So my only goal is to reach the Whigg, another 5,000 foot bald in the cavalcade of peaks—Huck, Hoop, Laurel Top, Haw and the Whigg.  It’s a grand tour of the Unicoi Tetons and very enjoyable for those southeastern backpackers dumb enough to find joy from such foolery.

I once ponder the inspiring foto from the March 14, 2011 blog entry at emptynestart.wordpress.com and it livens up the stalled head and still legs to get moving under load.  The more I study it the more it seems taken on a trail I know, and the dusting of snow only makes it seem that much more familiar.  I’ll have my own version to share by Day 12 I think as the wee’tards are calling for snow that day.  Okay boys, enough talk, let’s figure this day out.

STRAP ON YOUR PROTECTIVE CUPS
Okay boys, the “trail” off the west side of Haw Knob starts out easy enough—for 50 feet—and then you enter a true heath hell which will rip off anything not strapped down including manitalia and flopping breast extensions.  Eventually you come to an open “road” and the worst is over.  Of course on my trip today all the brush was soaked and so I ended at the bottom in a drenched state.  After the brush the rest of the hump is easy enough as long as you stick to the obvious rutted logging cut.  It seems to go on too long but then you’re out on the Mud Gap BMT so all is well.

Turn left here to get to the Whigg which is what I did but instead of going all the way to the foggy bald I veered right at a high clearing with a firepit which is close to Whigg Creek and set up here for the first time ever.  Why not?  I call it the Whigg Shoulder Camp.  On a better note—LSU plays Alabama tonight on the radio.

There’s A Way To Connect Haw Mt To Whiggs Meadow And Here’s The Whigg

WEATHER REPORT
A resident offbeat wee’tard turd handler in a hidden bunker somewhere beneath an Oak Ridge weapons storage facility has issued this weather report for tomorrow:  Sunny!  Of course as he writes this out his head glows like the sun itself.

Today is the first time of the trip that I’m not in a semi-stressed out state since I’m on old famaliar ground again and there’s no groping along on questionable trails like the Mitchell Lick and Kings Meadow.  A new area and new trails are usually thought provoking at best and panic inducing at worst.  It would be the same in the Big South Fork or Dolly Sods.  The AT used to be this way 50 years ago but now it’s become an interstate so very little stress there.  Mt Rogers is well marked too.

THE SKY OPENS UP
62 hours of rain.  I took a needed rainy day nap and got up to cook a supper of rice and beans with 4oz of sliced tempeh.  After the meal is cooked I barely had time to squeeze off a turtlehead just before a big sweep of rain hits camp so I cover up the stool and run back to the lodge to eat a hot soupy meal which is great and my only hot meal of the day.  My next chore is to go out again to guy out the tunnel just in case a gust happens between now and tomorrow—it’s raining too much right now though.  It’s the hardest rain so far on the trip.

Caught In A 153 Hour Rainstorm On The Whigg

TRIP 115
This is the same spot or close to it where Sgt Rock had his homemade hammock malfunction and he hit the ground from a suspended height at around 10pm on one night of our BMT trip in October 2010, so I should name this Falling Rock Camp or Watch For Falling Rock Camp ha ha ha.  All this rain is leading up to a Day 12 cold snap with snow so I best just hunker in and watch and wait.  Coming off Haw today was not fun as I came thru the brushes of an auto car wash which scrubbed me and my gear clean.

WHAT RAIN DOES TO GOOSE DOWN
When I start a trip all my down items are bone dry and highly lofted but this changes after a few days of rain, not because the actual items get wet but because of the high humidity in the air and because of in-tent condensation especially when I pack up a wet tent every morning to move during a four day rainstorm.  Sitting out and pulling zero days during a rainstorm therefore keeps the down items a bit drier.  Eventually this rain will stop and a sun will poke out and then comes the opportunity to air dry and hang the four important down items—the bag, booties, parka and pants.

The present downpour would of kept me on top of Haw Mt had it come this morning but I got a three hour window of no rain and got to move.  I may move tomorrow but then I may not as I’m tired of stuffing a soaked tent and moist gear.  It’s all part of Appalachian backpacking though this is a particularly strong dose of crappy weather.  Miss Nature isn’t testing me, she knows I won’t bail and she tested me much more in the Snowbirds anyway, but its pesky and comforting all at once—to be warm and dry in the Raven’s Yard during a series of really sour days.  I haven’t seen a backpacker in almost ten days and this is a near record (15 days in February seeing no one is the record).

The Unicoi range is vast and for any Southeast backpackers out there I recommend devoting their lives to living outdoors from Dolly Gap and the Conasauga in the Cohuttas north and northeast up across the Ocoee and Hiwassee rivers thru Coker Creek and the BMT along State Line and Waucheesi Mt and the Warrior’s Passage trail thru the Upper Bald and Bald River wilderness and over Sugar Mt to Sycamore Creek and up to the Whigg and the high peaks down into the snowbirds and up thru Mud and Beech Gaps to the Citico and Brushy Ridge and Flats Mt and into the Slickrock thru Tapoco to Fontana and south on the AT over Cheoah Bald and all the way back down to Georgia at Springer.  It’s a vast area and repeat trips are recommended.  Get out there boys!!

THE MOST BORING GAME OF THE CENTURY
The first LSU-Bama game was called the Game of the Century so I suppose this meeting should be called the Game of the Millenium.  And by Odin it’s once again the most boring game in the world, sort of like soccer.  It’s two teams coached by conservative lawyers with the mindset “win at all costs” which translates into “let’s score our three points, sit on it and keep the ball and go home and see, we won!!”  This is my analysis of the first half.  Doesn’t Miles or Saban want to play football instead of chess?  Open it up!  Throw some bombs, do some laterals, anything but sit on the score with no touchdowns.  I’d rather see Okla State and Oregon play than this.

Conservative football in the day and age of conservative America—take no chances but win at all costs.  “Don’t risk it”.  It must be the mantra from the coaches and the guys in the booth.  It’s turned football into trench warfare with the same repetitive plays over and over again and with the same results—no touchdowns.  It’s like a baseball bat hitting a tree over and over again.  Hey, try something different.  “Can’t risk it, we could lose”.  So what?  This kind of football is a loss to all watching.  Maybe the second half will have some excitement.  And LSU?  God, they are terrible, at least in the first half.

Even the announcers want LSU to “mix it up” and take some chances.  37 or 40 days we waited while college football disintegrated—why wasn’t this game played a week after the SEC championship?  Why wait 37 days?  There’s no more spirit left, just a token afterthought super bowl of staggering boredom.  SEC football has become the top of the heap and therefore heavily guarded and boring in order to protect some imagined lofty perch.

THE SECOND HALF BEGINS
The way LSU is playing they deserve to get zeroed out.  9 to zip so far.  If LSU wants to play soccer style football, well, bring pillows and a bedroll cuz we’re in for a long night.  12 to zip, another Bama field goal.  Any college championship game which doesn’t include a single touchdown should be cancelled out and let the #3 and #4 teams play a new championship.  Otherwise forty million Americans will stroke out due to terminal boredom.  Two Abram tanks are on a field, they are not allowed to use their guns, they can only grind gears against each other face to face.

Such is this game.  Hey, somebody, throw a spear or a tomahawk at the hulks.  “Tigers have to punt the ball”—the usual soccer style mantra.  Somebody needs to fumble just for the hell of it.  Naw, the ball is gripped too tight and buttholes are clenched too tight.  “That was a touchdown there if he could just have gotten to the ball . . . . ”  The announces have to say something to earn their pay.  “Third down and eleven”.  YAWN.  “4th down and about 7” and so it goes.  LSU gets the ball again so take your ambien and I’ll wake you in an hour . . . . . . . .

This all reminds me of when LSU played TN this year and made a tremendous amount of personal fouls.  It’s amazing they’re undefeated and ranked #1.  LSU’s Jordan Jefferson screws up and throws an interception—-a shovel pass.   They have no offense.  Bama has the ball.  At this point I hope Alabama scores around 72 to nothing.  Why not?  Their opponent didn’t even show up.  The LSU radio guys are shocked.  Alabama starts at the LSU 27 yard line, 2nd and 12.  3rd and 6.  Incomplete pass.  4th and 6.  41 yard field goal attempt—missed.

What if Bama wins 72-0 but all 72 points are field goals? ha ha ha.  SEC football at its best.  Now LSU has the ball—third quarter—Jefferson sacked at 17 yard line.  They punt of course.  Bama’s ball at LSU 47 yard line.  3:23 in third quarter.  Bama gets first down, gets another first down to LUS 25 yard line.  Gibson drops a pass on the one yard line. 3rd and 10 now on LSU 25.  Bama can’t do crap either.  Can anyone score?  4th down.  Field goal?  “This is getting to be old, isn’t it?” so says the announcer.  Field goal is good.  15 to zip.

FOURTH QUARTER
Will LSU offense even show up on the field for this quarter?  It looks like they all went into the locker room.  Bama has no one to play.  Wait a minute, here comes a couple Tigers.  It’s the waterboy and a couple ball boys.  Yes, they’re suiting up and will face Alabama.  A girl reporter for the LSU school newspaper decides to join them.  We have a game!

FOURTH QUARTER
Desperation will finally force LSU to play some football.  Tigers finally get a first down.  Three Tellico high school players are subbing for LSU.  3rd and 3.  LSU must keep the ball here.  Oops, 4th down and 3 yards.  Sweetwater high school sends in their coaches.  LSU punts.  Bama’s ball.  LSU’s defense is replaced by the front four of the lingerie football league.  A wild dog runs across the field.  Bama has the ball but goes nowhere.  2nd and 7.  3rd and 7.  Nothing.  It looks like they actually want to punt.  Bama sacked, must punt.  Yawn.  Ten minutes on the clock.

PHEW
LSU’s ball at 35 yard line.  Here we go again.  TV time out.  Figures.  Who would sponsor this crap?  LSU gets first down.  8:20 to go in game.  LSU gets another first down.  7:00 in game.  LSU gets 5 yard penalty.  2nd and 18 yards.  6:49 in game.  QB throws ball into the crowd.  3rd and 18.  Incomplete.  4th and 18.  Going for it.  A Jordan Jefferson fumble and recovered by Alabama!

AFTER THE FUMBLE
6:15 in game.  Now the LSU announcer says “it’s just a game.  Just try to have fun out there . . . . . .”  Of course, what else can be said?  Two thirds of the crowd are LSU fans.  Oops.  Bama’s ball after the fumble.  2nd and 8.  Bootleg to get first down to LSU 35 yard line.  2nd and 9.  Trent scores a touchdown!!!!!  21-0.  Finally.  Due mostly to the fumble.  Bama kicks off, LSU gets to 23 yard line.  Incomplete pass.  2nd and 10.  3rd and 13.  Sacked.  4th and 60?  LSU punts.  Bama gets the ball with around two minutes left.  First down.  GAME OVER.

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DAY TEN
Morning at Whigg Shoulder Camp

TRAIL:  Mud Gap/Skyway BMT/Fodderstack
CAMP:  Cold Spring Gap

HOPING FOR PATCHES OF BLUE
I’ts six in the morning and I’m up hoping the day has some patches of blue instead of pea fog so when I move there will be some good hiking vibes instead of the usual rodent scurrying from camp to camp in a cold rain.  The goal is to brew hot tea and then think about packing a soaked tent again and fall to Mud Gap for a usual hump along the Skyway BMT to Beech Gap.  It will officially end my Snowbird adventure and return me to the old reliable Citico/Slickrock.  83 hours of rain.

Leaving The Whigg And Passing Thru The Rock Quarry

I left the Whigg in a light rain and in seven miles I set up at Cold Gap in the Citico in a light rain, making this hour my 83rd of rain since 3am on the morning of Day 7.  There’s more to come too tonight and all day tomorrow as the wee’tards even call for thunderstorms and then the big cold snap.  Thankfully and mercifully I got the drenched Keron up again just minutes before the sky opens so I squat inside like a bonobo snacking on a banana.  The wedge camp is nearby but I’ll probably stay here for awhile and see if the back of this long rainstorm can finally be broken.

NOTHING DRIES
Well get used to a January rinse cycle and then dump out the load but instead of stuffing it all nto a dryer, let it sit in a lump and freeze.  Such is the reality here in the Unicois.

DUSK COMES TO COLD GAP CAMP
Yup, it’s cold but above freezing and I’m having a supper of beans and rice with two veggie meat patties.

A CALL OUT TO LITTLE MITTEN
There’s a nokia sweet spot near Cold Gap and so I got a call out to Mitten and she’s okay but I’m in a weird homesick mood and missing her due I think to the four days of rain and due to not seeing a fellow backpacking in almost eleven days.  Where’s Patman or Papa D or Sgt Rock when I need them?  I have my headlamp and incense sticks and little yellow radio to keep me company, and now comes a new wind to the gap which also could be my friend.  I’ve had it with the rain and fog but more is coming and this wind not only proves my point but will be bringing in cold in the low teens with snow and yet this weekend looks to be spectacular.

Cold Spring Gap Where It’s Windy And Where I Spent Several Days Waiting Out The Rain

A gap wind is needed to dry out stuff and everything is moist with loss of down loft due to the always high humidity and fog and rain and mist and drizzle and in-tent kerlon condensation.  This is the kind of weather that got me shut of the shrinking Staika tent last year, the Keron fares better in this regard.  To save me a 2am effort I guyed out the tent with all six extra guylines just in case the wind turns nasty.  Dessert after supper are several organic dried figs.  The emergency Thermarest I had cached nearby has been discovered and shredded by either a bear or a pig or dogs.

If able I’ll pack tomorrow and descend into the wedge and endure the next storm in Little Cove Camp—probably.  Or I could bail down the South Fork to old reliable Iron Camp.  The “move every day” mantra is alive and well with old Uncle Fungus but he’ll zero out a day without a second thought when confronted with nasty conditions.  The Snowbird trek had to be done and it lasted nine days from Huckleberry Knob to Haw Mt, a necklace between two heads with a plunging neckline to Snowbird Creek.  Not only did I get to explore the Hucks and the Hoop but I got to backpack the Mitchell Lick trail and the Snowbird Creek trail and the Middle Falls trail and the complete Kings Meadow trail, a decent recon with even a night spent “lost” on the side of Laurel Top Mt.

I discovered a nutbuster climb on the King trail and almost got lost too in a snowy gap below Firescald Ridge.  I discovered how the King uses a gravel road for high access and sadly how eat up and trashed a good portion of the trail is around the meadow and Queen Ridge.  I got to explore the high Hucks and the Hoop and the Haw for a second time.  It’s been a great trip and one I’ll post on Facebook to get old hand Will Skelton’s opinion as he has recently backpacked the Birds.  Footnote:  On my next Snowbird trip I need to get on the Mitchell Lick trail and take pruners and a Corona saw and clear the trail from the top of Snowbird Creek to Mitchell Lick.  It’s in nasty shape but fairly easily fixable though the log blowdowns will be out of my range.

GOODNIGHT TO DAY 10
A 10pm rainstorm hits the Citico and so let me tabulate the hours—91 hours and almost four days.

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DAY ELEVEN
Morning at Cold Gap

ZERO DAY

FOUR IN THE MORNING
I’m up at four in the morning to swab down the inner tent and hear a fierce wind blowing across the gap where I am camped and with the wind comes the sound of pelting rain ripping across the lodge in a mean sideways fashion.  Nothing can be done about it except to hunker in and check the guylines at first light.  The big storm has hit and it will be an all day affair even though I’m into my 98th hour of rain which is a Citico/Slickrock record.  Today I may hunker in and pull a first zero as there’s no point in wadding up a wet tent and setting up in a similar sodden camp.  After this particular storm comes the cold and it will freeze solid everything that’s now wet including the pole tensioners, the poles themselves, the whole tent and the wet gloves and maybe even the boots.  And then will come the snow.  The only important thing is to get more water at the South Fork spring and wait this out.

MAJOR DELUGE HITS COLD GAP
And the great Keron tent finally springs a leak at the top of the middle pole hoop where the laundry line attaches to the canopy.  I wrap a paper towel around the cord and know I’ll have to seam seal the kerlon when I get back.  It’s the first obvious leak I’ve seen on a Hilleberg tent but like the Staika umbrella fly it’s fixed easily enough by setting up the tent without the inner and sealing from the inside and god knows I have enough McNetts silnet at home.  It’s not fly condensation either because in a hard rain it continues to drip right on top of my sleeping bag.  Not good.

It’s a flaw since the Hilleberg boys say their tents don’t need to be sealed but just go ahead and do the most obvious seams for rainstorm peace of mind.  I noticed this leak a couple days ago when the top of my bag had a large circle of wet and it could only come from a leak.  It’s almost eight in the morning after 102 hours of rain, an incredible number.  I need to find a break and go out to adjust guylines and filter some water.  There were a couple lightning blasts earlier and they may return although I feel safe enough for some reason, probably old hand complacency kicking in.  I will zero out today and not move and it’s about time after ten previous days on the move.  Anyway, I won’t pack in a downpour as my previous moves happened in a mist or a drizzle and nothing more.

All this crap started early on Day 7 and stayed with me on the Kings trail and walloped me atop Hooper and Haw on Day 8 and the Whigg on Day 9 and yesterday here in the Citico.  So here I sit on Day 11 in the continuing deluge and added high wind tumult.  Another round of rain buckets hit the tent and so we wait for a break to see this thing thru.  They say all this will turn to snow by tomorrow evening which is par for the course in a January rainstorm.  I’m warm and dry and this is all that matters.  I’m parked right on the BMT in the Cold Spring Gap nexus of trails and so will see anyone coming or going or stupid enough to be out during this foul weather.  BMackers coming north or south, backpackers from the South Fork or the Beech or the Bob, even dayhikers too.  But of course I haven’t seen anyone in 11 days.  I’m just glad I’m not on Snowbird Creek and trying to negotiate the crossings after all this rain.  It’s crazy.  And I’m damn glad I’m not stuck on the Kings trail waiting this out or marooned on an unknown unmarked trail in a foot of snow.

9:30 THE STORM RAGES
Big wind gusts ravage the gap and so I go out and find two stakes pulled so I hammer them down and tighten up everything before returning to the lodge in a new barrage of slicing velcro ripping rain.  It’s nasty out here boys!  But nothing can be done about it except to wait for a chance to get drinking water and then think about oatmeal sometime before noon.  A slow gestating turtlehead wants out but it’ll just have to wait for a proper burial and in this weather I’d be better off just squeezing it out into my shorts and go back to sleep.  This system works okay for infants and so why not for me?  I’ll be an infant soon enough on the flip side of this life.

Here’s my Trailspace comment for today:  “Day 11 dawns wet and windy so I sit tight in a guyed out tent listening to the pelting downpour.  I find a drop by drop leak in my Hilleberg and know I’ll have to seam seal it when I get back.  Tremendous gusts attack the tent and so I go out in the morning and find two pegs pulled out so I hammer all 14 down with a rock and tighten the guylines.  Day 11 becomes a zero day because who wants to move a bomb shelter in the middle of a bombing run?”  And so it is.

A MOTIVATED ADULT MALE
**  Put on your rain pants.
**  Take off tuque and put on baseball cap.
**  Put on rain jacket and cinch hood.
**  Put on boots.
**  Grab two paper towels with water filter and platypus bladder.
**  Unzip tent and zip back.
**  Get hiking pole and find a turd grave.
**  Dig out hole with pole tip.
**  Squat and release.
**  Bury paper in separate deep hole poked in by the pole.
**  Return to tent and grab filter and head to water.
**  Filter liquids and return to tent.
**  Grab camera and take Dat 11 shots—the only shots of the day.
**  Remove all shells and return to normal.
**  Recheck and reseat all tent pegs.

Voila!!  Time for a 10:30 breakfast.

106 HOURS OF RAIN
Hard to believe but it’s true.  It’s 11am and the rain meter continues to climb.  By Noon the clicker will go to 106 hours.  The wind died down but a light rain keeps pittering against the tent.

THE SUN POKES OUT

FUN WITH ARTILLERY
North Carolina howitzers face Tennessee howitzers and I’m right in the middle as the Battle for Cold Gap Mt ensues.  There are blasts all along the watchtower and the tent is walloped by rain first and then a new type of flechette round called Hail.  White bolts zap across the sky and everything is moving too fast to count or study or observe.  If you’re sleeping thru it, stay sleeping, if you’re up, sip cold water and write in your journal.  It’s too late to move and there’s no where to go anyway.

108 HOURS
The rain comes down in buckets but the crazy war is fast and moves on to the east thru the Citico with lingering forces hovering around the big mountain behind me.  White zaps continue and then I’m pounced on by the weird sounds of thunder overhead sounding exactly like a rumbling gurgling stomach of a monster living creature the size of a mountain.  I’m in the digestive tract of mother nature!  Something hits the left side of the tent and it’s either a tree twig, my hiking pole or a collapsing backpacker on the BMT arriving too late to set up.

THE GUNNY AND THE HILL FIGHTS
Two hours ago the sun shone and things “dried out” and then the clever mongol hordes mounted their attack and rode in without opposition.  “Dig a hole and hide!” the Gunny says but there’s only a tent and even my buried turtlehead has a safer spot than me.  At 2:11 it keeps coming and I keep writing which is a nervous tic caused by the stress of possible imminent death.  The white balls of hail surround the tent and then another white zap lights up the afternoon sky like white phosphorus and old Gunny runs up and down the line shouting out encouragement and to keep our heads down.  He jumps in the hole with me and shouts “How ya doin’ TP?” and I give him a thumbs up and he’s off to the next.

He’s a crazy sum bitch but he’s the only hope we can see for the grunts in the gap.  We want to say “Get down idiot!” but we’re more afraid of him than we are of the incoming so we just try to smile and lie.  “Doing a-ok Sarge” we say and he’s gone.  At 2:22 the sky seems to brighten but the rain keeps up and then a stray mortar round lands nearby and we all laugh loudly and wait.  “Ain’t nothin’ but a thang!” someone says and we’re getting salty.  Newbie Wilson asks me “Is this your first firefight?” and I laugh and tell him to try and get some sleep.  At 2:28 the barrage has passed and you can hear yells and laughter down the line.  “Don’t mean nothin’ ” even though we’re missing a few guys as way off at the edge I can see a couple new body bags.

The Gunny yells out “Keep your f***** heads down!!” and he hisses this so we tumble back into our tents and giggle.  Another day in the Citiquah and we’re the lucky ones.

THE TALE OF THE TWO TURTLEHEADS
Enough said.  The big storm has passed, the battle joined by other backpackers on other hillsides and we’re left with all quiet on the Citico front.  There’s a wind of course and falling temps but nothing worth writing about.  A 5pm rain hits the tent and this puts me into my 111th hour of the stuff.  The full five day mark will come tonight at 3am on Day 12.  Five days of rain sounds crazy and untrue but it’s real and I’ve given up hope on ever having dry gear, and when this crap turns to snow I’ll keep the count down going.  Supper is finished and I do what I do best afterwards—-laying on the Exped under the unzipped bag and using my nalgene bottle as a headrest and listening to the rain pelt the old lodgeskins.  Two zeros at the same place?  I hope not.  but if this keeps up I ain’t going nowhere.  The Hilleberg is paying for itself on this tough trip.

115 HOURS OF RAIN
I hope Sgt Rock isn’t out here somewhere in a hammock peering out like a rodent and asking himself “Now why the hell do I like to backpack?”  This is not the time to be doing a long trip in the Unicoi Mts, they’ve turned ugly and mean and only full blown retards like myself are stupid enough to be so ensconced in the ass backwards of beyond.  I am parked right on the BMT but this means nothing on January 11 of 2012.  Miss Nature has other ideas.  We as humans like our comforts (the Puma bag and Exped pad—the tent) and we are lazy (a zero day) and Miss Nature can go along with this if we can handle the in-tent boredom levels.  Otherwise if Miss Nature sends an objective danger—a lightning strike, an arctic outbreak, a falling tree—we are screwed.

Let’s hope this hillside stays intact cuz one time at the Tipi we got as much rain and it carved out a landslide on the mountain side next to my spring which tore a swath twenty feet wide and a half mile long to the bottom of the mountain.  Objective dangers, mountaineers call it.  Disasters beyond our control.  The main thing now is to stay dry and warm, easier to do if ya don’t pack and hike and instead sit put.  Zeros can save your butt.  Body heat in a dry tent can dry moist gear like tuques and bag but won’t do much for wet socks or gloves so don’t bother sleeping with them unless your only pair of socks is wet.  My two pair of gloves are wet but after cooking up a pot of food I always place the hot pot on top of my wet gloves and they are drying meal by meal, and after three such pots are almost dry.

IT JUST WON’T STOP
There’s nothing to do but sit back and either try to relax or weep.  I just may want to sit tight here again tomorrow and take a good long hiking break.  The rodents come out at night to feed, even in this weather.

10PM 116 HOURS
This is the longest rain period in my 32 year personal backpacking history.  I’ve done 96 hours before in the mountains of NC, a fairly common occurrence, but never 116 hours.  The sky is a wispy thing and yet holds a billion tons of water?  Weird science.  And it ain’t over yet.  Let’s close out Day 11 and put it in the history bin and see if Day 12 has any hope to it.  The official Five Day Mark is coming in five hours.  This may be normal in Washington state or Vancouver or in Maine or the Olympic Peninsula but it’s damn rare for the Unicoi and the TN/NC hills.  I think there’s some guy doing a January thruhike of the BMT and I bet he’s having a boatload of fun.  I need also to check Trail Journals for backpackers doing the AT from Jan 7 to Jan 12.

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DAY TWELVE
Morning at Cold Gap

ZERO DAY

MIDNIGHT 118 HOURS
It’s midnight in the monsoon jungle and nothing’s changed except the temp is falling.

124 HOURS
It’s close to six in the morning and the rain keeps falling and so I’m bummed.  It’s getting colder too so it won’t be long until Mister Frost enters camp.  I spend ten minutes swabbing out the tent and get a bunch of water out of a couple paper towels.

127 HOURS
Okay boys, I’m up again and decide to try and understand if the rain has stopped or if I’m still dreaming.  There’s only a few outside drops hitting the tent and I think it’s over for awhile although the inside of the tent is a different story as the yellow canopy is soaked and sometimes drips due to five days of being wet with condensation.  A quick run across with paper towels and it’s fixed for awhile.  Big drops outside keep hitting the tent and they come from the trees above but it seems to have stopped actually raining although the mist is heavy and it could start up again in fact it’s not suppose to stop until tomorrow as this is to turn into snow by tonight.

I wanna move today to points where-the-heck-ever just to say I did as three nights at the same place is verboten unless I’m caught in a blizzard which I will be if I sit around here and twiddle my gurgling intestines.  What are my choices?
**  Up to the Bob and Four Mile Ridge.
**  Over to Barrel Gap and stay on the BMT.
**  Down the South Fork to Iron Camp.

This is about it.  Going up a thousand feet to Gorak Hill will really shove my face in the cold bosom of Miss Nature’s planned cold snap and so I must think this one through.  In 24 hours I should be in a winter wonderland so I need to gear up and pick the spot to greet the morning of Day 13’s snowscape.  The weather radio calls for cold wind chills of course and about three or four inches of the white stuff by tomorrow so let’s get our headgear wired tight and figure this out.  A new storm is to bring blustery cold wind with temps around 14F and of course the tent will be frozen solid.

OH TO HAVE DRY GEAR
Backpackers starting out today or tomorrow for a four day MLK holiday weekend will step out of their cars with home-baked and therefore bone dry gear and I am envious as I’ve been bottled up and monsooned for the last 12 days inside a cold temperate rain forest while they move thru a Thursday drizzle or a Friday snow under a pack full of clean dry gear.  Such are the snippet backpackers.  For them to reach my present state of in-tent moist malaise on a three day trip they’d have to do something seriously wrong.  But it all accrues boys if you stay out long enough without a woodstove or without the hint of a sun.  Big drops keep hitting the tent and so the precip continues so I guess it’s time to think about breakfast, a hot breakfast of oats.  Why not?

I’m not going anywhere quite yet as I don’t wanna pack up wet gear and a soaked tent.  I’m part lazy and part bummed and part jaded and part disgusted and part pissed and part indifferent.  Such is the state of long term backpacking in a six day January rainstorm.  Being solo and all alone doesn’t help either.  There’s no one to share in the stark sober misery.  Tempit fug it, let’s put it this way:  I will move if this demon rain stops.  Three mice came to visit last night.  Where are they now?  You guessed it.

COLD GAP
At least here I’m on the main beaten track for area backpackers so I may see someone eventually.  They will as noted traispe by with covered packs and bone dry gear, happy to be out, and pass by a grumbling he-rodent peering out from inside a long green tent.  I’m in a sour mood and snappish.  More drops hit the tent so nothing’s changed.

MARINES PEEING ON DEAD TALIBAN
This is a non story as the pee victims are dead so what’s the problem?  At least it’s not the Americal Division slaughtering women and children and babies in My Lai and filmed by some US soldier with a smart phone.  Should the taliban be upset?  I thought they are always upset anyway, and when one of our numerous errant missles kills a dozen Afghan civilians, well, then they should really be upset.  Otherwise, Marines are doing what they’ve always done—rain pee down from above. Remember the burnt black bodies of US contractors left hanging on a bridge by insurgents in Iraq?  Maybe when Blackwater or whoever allegedly killed all those Iraqis in a fire fight later, maybe that was payback.

Maybe the peeing Marines will get payback in the future by upset insurgents.  War seems all about payback and traded insults.  At least the Marines weren’t caught torturing children or executing women against a wall.  Stalin was a short man, around 5’4″ tall, and he got several painters to make portraits of him.  If he was displeased he had them shot.  Further footnote:  Hitler committed suicide with the same Walther pistol that his niece used to commit suicide years earlier.

ONTO OTHER NEWS
Pity the poor republicans.  They don’t like Newt, can’t tolerate Romney and good old boy Perry sits in the back.  2012 republicans are mostly leaderless, odd considering we have 330 million Americans and none are fit to lead?  Thing is, we live in a plutocracy so only the rich oligarchs can lead, and this leaves out 99.5% of our potential leaders to emerge.  Our criteria of pure blue bloods to lead is not that different than the Third Reich’s idea of pure Aryan blood to dominate.  In our system it’s the wealthy who are chosen to rule—the pure blue bloods—and cash blood quantum is carefully observed for each candidate.  The one with the most money usually winds.  This we call American exceptionalism and democracy.

Our justice system is also organized and serves best those who have the money to get expensive lawyers or to pay the bond.  In fact, simple cash gets a person out of jail.  The medical system is much the same way, the rich live longer.  The average American shrugs it off and watches TV.  The average American cannot grease the skids to become rich enough to qualify for President and so we end up with the wealthy elect trying to feel our pain.  They are clueless.  We instead need loin-clouted visionaries like Gandhi who lead from the front in a penniless state.

Obama has $220,000,000 for re-election.  It’s obscene and would make Gandhi surly.  So much for a Christian nation following the words of Jesus to give up everything and follow him.

TWO HOURS OF BLUE SKY AND BRIGHT SUN
So I go out and dry off everything important—the gloves, the bag, the rainpants, the tent.  I manage to burn up all my trash down the hill towards the wedge and out of the wind.  Then before you can say puckum wrecktum fogioso the rain returns.

FRESH AIR RADIO SHOW
It finally hits a home run because they interview Gary Oldman, the most interesting English actor alive today.

THREE HOUR RESPITE
Yes, at 11am the sky clears for enough time to hang out my gear and then it clouds over with ominous gray skies from the west and by 1pm a new rain hits the lodgeskins and it could be more sleet than rain so I scrap plans to pack and move and instead do a water run and return to the tent to sit tight and count up new hours.  At least Miss Nature threw me a bone and allowed the tent and the bag to dry out, a good thing with another storm headed my way.  Snow this time after whatever this is that’s falling becomes white.  Day 12 becomes a Thursday get-out-the-pack day as anyone planning to backpack for the weekend had better already be on the road and headed to the high ground, otherwise by tomorrow the roads could be icy and they just won’t wanna do it.

I should talk as I’m a lazy zygote pulling three nights at the same damn place—a camper more than a hiker.  If Sgt Rock is out here (doubtful) he came in from Maryville and the Tail of the Dragon’s Anus and so certainly parked at the Slickrock Creek trailhead by the lake in Tapoco.  The creek will be too high to cross so he’ll take the BMT up to Wild Bird Camp and shoot for Big Fat Gap and climb to Hangover Mt and Four Mile Ridge where he could now be as we speak.  He won’t pass thru Cold Gap no way unless he parks at Beech and that won’t happen.  I saw Hootyhoo’s van 12 days ago at Beech so I doubt if he’ll pull a repeat so close together and come thru here today.

PREPARING FOR THE SNOW
**  Protect and wrap water bladder in down parka.
**  Open up laces and spread apart hiking boots.
**  Make sure everything outside is now inside esp the pack and gloves (and the bag!).
**  Hunker in and sit tight and let the games begin.

PELTING SLEET
Yes boys it’s coming down hard and so far is more liquid than ice and it will keep my backpacking friends away for good until tomorrow when there’s snow on the ground and blue sky above, THEN they will come out to play.  No one willingly comes out in this kind of weather unless they’ve got the terminal outdoor bug up their butts.

THE WONDROUS GREEN TUNNEL
It’s the best of times to puff up the Exped and lay back and read thru the journals and relax in an afternoon Raven’s Yard, the special place to have to nest and curl in and stay warm and dry while all around you the world turns to stool.  If the tent is big enough then your whole world is self contained and tight and organized.  Everything has its place and when seen from afar there’s only you and the tent and you’re inside the tent.  The only thing outside is the hiking pole standing guard by one of the guylines.  You’re prepared for the cold and the snow because you’re inside the nest.

2PM 132 HOURS
It’s really coming down now boys.  Let’s hope the trees don’t get coated in ice and we have a windy ice storm with a thousand broken limbs.

THE WINTER RAINSTORM OF 2012
This is as good a name as any other and rivals the blizzard of ’93 or the arctic outbreak of ’85.  It just won’t stop raining.

DAY 12 STORM
It’s getting cold boys!  Here comes the wind.  172 inches today in Alaska.  500,000 Haitians still in canvas tents and it’s hell and hot and thugs steal what little they have in the tents.  Meanwhile Obama and Romney spend hundreds of millions for public office.  Weird.

A 5PM DELUGE
It hits hard and fast under dark skies and my after dinner walk gets me into a spring back to the lodge to protect the all important goose down layers.  It didn’t rain for 40 days and nights but it did for six.  Wow, at 5:15 is really hits the fan!  Buckets of rain wallop the tent and with it comes a severe wind gust and so it’s about time to think about bailing off into the wedge but there’s no way to move in this deluge and so I’m staying put for the duration.  Cold Gap is a tough place to sit out a winter storm so just sit back and try to keep calm.  What hits now as rain will turn to sleet, it’s already sleet, and then will come snow.  Let’s hunker in and tabulate the costs but I sincerely hope to move tomorrow Miss Nature willing and the trees around me don’t collapse.  There’s too much rain and too much ice and I’m too alone without the company of another backpacker to share in this tumult.

6PM 136 HOURS
I wish I had a couple more books to read or some blogs on backpacking but I don’t.  The radio holds no interest.  The blue sky I saw earlier was weird, dangerous and forboding because it disappeared so fast and was replaced by this blitzkrieg storm.  Welcome to January.  Cordova, Alaska—185 inches of snow.  City of Valdez—318 inches.

7PM 137 HOURS
Outside Tent Scrape—Yup, I go out to clean off the tent and get walloped with a horizontal sleetstorm.  It’s fantastic but still contributes to my hourly countdown and it’s not letting up at all.  I got a good flash fotog of the maelstrom and it’ll look good in the old trip report.  This is down bootie and down pants and down parka with hood weather and so be so advised.

8PM 138 HOURS
It’s nasty up here boys!  At least it’s better than rain, the white stuff always is.

GOODNIGHT TO DAY 12
A cold night wind blows across the gap and there’s a pause in the sleet and so maybe the precip storm in finally over after 138 hours.  Now only the whipping wind remains and with it will certainly come clearing skies and cold falling temps.  The rain and sleet and snow just may be spent since it’s all coming to an end anyway with a bright weekend in store for us.  I must find a way to strike camp in the morning and explore other camps—or not—it’s all okay as long as I’m out.  The wind is rough here and a change is needed and so I hope to have the energy and huevos to move in frigid icy conditions as we all know I hate packing a frozen encrusted tent.  Sometimes I need a tent sac as big as my 35 liter sleeping bag stuff sac.  Hey, that’s an idea but then what would I use for the bag, the tent sack?

COLD
I can feel the cold creeping in and it’s another facet of this challenging trip and it’s getting in the teens which means the old free-for-all rainstorms of the past six days must make room for some serious changes—like real snow—or go home and stay put and good riddance.  I’m sick of the rain and the sleet, let’s see what else is up her sleeve.  I know what it is:  Ten degrees at midnight.  A whole new ball of wax.  I may have to zip up the bag tonight.  Day 13 is Friday so let’s hope I see someone after 13 days alone.  Chant and relax and take away the fear of death.  OM.

*

*

DAY THIRTEEN
Morning at Cold Gap

ZERO DAY

153 Hours Of Rain Becomes Snow At Cold Gap

MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF COLD
Yes boys, it’s dang cold.  I had to get up and let the hyena run wild and in the process felt the 12F temps attack my hands, face and arms.  It’s cold boys!!

UP AND ABOUT
Okay, I go out for some photos and return to boil up a liter of peppermint tea with honey if I can get the honey out of the jar.  Yes, jar.

SNOW FLURRIES THRUOUT THE MORNING
So it’s been 153 hours of rain or snow as the precip never stopped and then after studying the tent and the solid boots and the falling snow I decide to stay put for another night here at Cold Gap.  It’s crazy I know but it’s too cold to do much else and the tent is set in concrete after six days of rain turned to ice and so the sitting is good.  You have to know how to hunker when needed in the winter.  Another zero day will give the bag a chance to air out and dry the frozen shell if I can get it hung properly.  With nothing else to do I take bootie dayhikes up the Fodderstack trail towards Beech Gap and back and most of the walk is out of the face eating wind which is so bad in this gap.  An in-tent lit candle keeps the hands warm.

CROSS COUNTRY SKIER
Well, I go for another dayhike and find a set of cross country skis trekking from Beech and stopped a hundred feet from my tent.  Along with his tracks are a dog’s so I figure he turned around before reaching my camp so as not to bother me.  It’s cold sure but the snow’s barely deep enough to support skiing.

GUESS WHAT?
The rain countdown is officially over at 153 hours, an unheard number and one way beyond normal for the mountains of TN and NC.  The sun finally burns thru the clouds at two in the afternoon so I string the bear line and hang the Puma bag and get ready for one more night here in the gap.  All the 14 stakes are frozen solid in a once saturated and now rock solid earth so getting them out tomorrow will be fun.  My plan since I have seven more days is to pack and climb to Gorak Hill and spend one night high and then pull something in the Kilmer area like Horse Cove or Little Santee valley.  My evac day is one week from today and god only knows what condition the road will be by then or whether I’ll have to hitch out of here again.  I have a few more chores to do—

**  Put on the boots and get a pot of water.
**  Strip off the booties and down pants and birth another turtlehead—not fun.
**  Think about using the pot of water and cooking supper in about three hours.

Once the sun descends this will be a cold night in the low teens or worse but I’m ready for it even though I’m in a sad sac frame of mind—“better to get one demerit for a door without a doorknob than a hundred demerits for what’s inside the room”—an old Sad Sack cartoon.  Or the funny WW2 Bill Mauldin cartoon of a boy Air Force colonel “Uncle Willie”.  Or the old horse cavalry sergeant shooting his jeep.  I’m losing my mind.

First And Only Backpacker In 18 Days

FIRST BACKPACKER AND ONLY BACKPACKER IN 18 DAYS
Finally I see a fellow backpacker with a big CampTrails or Kelty pack with a blue foam pad and he’s headed up to the Bob and I would follow but I’m cold and weak and lazy and old.

POT CLEANED AND READY FOR NIGHT
It’s all quiet in the gap as I thaw out my hands after washing out the pot in South Fork spring.  I had a strange supper best forgotten, something about cornbread boiled in water with tempeh and a soy sausage.  It was hot and filling but I burned the bottom of the titanium pot which required extra scrubbing.  All is set now to see Day 13 go into dusk and another cold night before tomorrow’s sun and blue of another day.

BUTT COLD TURTLEHEAD
It was put off all day but by late afternoon I could not wait and so grabbed the necessary accoutrements of stooldum and dug a quick hole for the newborn.  Adios, turd.  I think I’ll dayhike around the gap again.

*

*

DAY FOURTEEN
Morning at Cold Gap

TRAIL:  Fodderstack/Skyway Roadwalk/Jeffrey Hell
CAMP:  Frustration Camp

Morning Breaks Cold

12F MORNING
Today I hope to move anywhere but here and with a little gumption I should be able.  More snow is headed my way for tonight but at this point who cares?  It’s a Saturday and I pulled a 7:30am turtlehead run in stool patrol so all is well except these nagging thoughts that I am dying.  It must be the cold.

A VERY WET TENT
What was frozen condensation is now an in-tent rain storm as everything melts and I scurry to remove the bag after stopping the oatmeal from cooking and then return and try to swab out the lodge.  It’s a wet mess.

MAD HOUSE IN THE CITICO
It takes every bit of energy and patience to get the tent down and the stakes pulled and the poles pushed out of the sleeves but it’s finally done in an butt cold wind and the frozen boots laced and the ice encrusted tent rolled and stuffed and then pow!  I’m on the trail but not 54A going up to the Bob but the Fodderstack to Beech.  Right before packing the Knox backpacker who I saw yesterday comes off the mountain and we talk for a while and take pictures.  he told me his name but I spaced it out.  He pulled a cold night on the hill and took off back to Beech Gap and home.

It’s Time To Leave Cold Gap On A Snowy Trail To Beech Gap And Beyond

DAMNIT
Here’s where the story gets tricky.  As I get close to the gap I run into two dayhikers from Blount county who tell me a burned out car sits on rims in the pull off and then I remember a very strange siren last night around 11pm come up the Skyway and stop somewhere close by.  It squawked like a fire truck.  Well I get to the gap and find a totally burned out hulk of a car and melted beyond hope, and then I thought of my fellow backpacker coming out earlier and wondered if this was his car.  Was it an accident or vandalism?  Did it overheat or did some thugs torch it?  Whoever however whatever, I may never know.  I just hope it was an overheated car that caught fire after arrival, otherwise we have some serious assholes roaming the Skyway.  Anyway, I left the gap and the hulk and started a two mile roadwalk to Jeffrey Hell trailhead where I sit now contemplating my next move.  Do I keep hiking or do I find a close camp?

The Burned Hulk Of Beech Gap

FRUSTRATION CAMP ON JEFFREY HELL TRAIL
This is an excellent winter camp and close to Falls Branch Creek and not far from the Skyway so tomorrow I can backtrack and continue my hike to Flats Mt.  I’m still in awe of the burned car at Beech.

Frustration Camp On The Jeffrey Hell Trail

A FAVORITE TUNE
The radio plays a great piece for four clarinets called the Kuhlau quartet except the radio version uses four flutes.  I know the piece very well.

*

*

DAY FIFTEEN
Morning at Frustration Camp

TRAIL:  Jeffrey Hell/Skyway Roadwalk/Flats Mt
CAMP:  First Bald on Flats Mt

Uncle Fungus Hoofs It Up The Jeffrey Hell Trail

MORNING BEGINS
Morning begins with a short in-croc water run to a near spring where I dip the liter pot and come back to boil hot peppermint tea with honey afterwhich I sit in the tent in the down gear.  Along with the tea comes a few slices of ezekial cinnamon bread which acts as a sort of intestinal broom.  The goal today is to slowly pack and backtrack up the J Hell trail to the Skyway for a five mile roadwalk to Eagle Gap and Flats Mt.

Skyway Roadwalk And The Brushy Ridge Overlook Reststop

BRUSHY RIDGE OVERLOOK
I left J Hell trail and pulled a 2.5 mile roadwalk to the big overlook whereby a hominid can see Haw Mt and Whiggs Meadow clearly to the east.  My next landmark will be a downhill to Grassy Gap and then the long uphill pull to Eagle Gap and the short drop to the Flats Mt trailhead.  It’s a bright sunny day full of promise and no traffic and certainly no loud roaring motorcycles.  It’s a peaceful quiet Sunday as God intended.

FLATS MOUNTAIN
The hump up thru Eagle Gap got me to Flats Mt and the short uphill to the first bald where I sit in the sun where I may just camp.  The Skyway is quiet and so this becomes a great spot for the Hilleberg tent.  As usual I find bootprints at the trailhead to Flats and so maybe I’ll see some dayhikers this holiday weekend.

LITTLE MITTEN
We al live on borrowed time and a short lease so we should rather be kind than right.

The First Bald Of Flats Mountain

AFTERNOON RELAXATION
Everything is set in camp so I retire to the tent before dusk and lay on the pad to call it a day.  It’s easy to get a call out to Mitten here and so I’ll do another one later and plan our evac.

ICEFALL PARKA REVIEW
This is my go to winter jacket which is part of my in camp winter threesome—down pants, down booties and down parka.  Here’s my review after several winters of hard use.

PROS:  **  When you purchase an expensive down parka you think it’s overkill until you need it and use it in the cold.  The Icefall is therefore very nice to have.
**  My model is a few years old and is made from eVent fabric, a better version of goretex although discontinued for Pertex for some unknown reason.  The company highly lauded the eVent choice and then dumped it like a hot potato.  I wonder why?
**  The down snap on hood is very warm and very nice.

**  The entire parka uses high grade down and is warm.
**  The front main zipper is a pain in the butt as it always catches on the fabric near the top.
**  The parka’s down is sewn into horizontal baffles and the lower two back baffles seem seriously underfilled.  This is a serious flaw for a jacket costing more than $500.  In fact, there seems to be a need for more down in this jacket to fill all the baffles.
**  The supplied stuff sack is useless and way too small so I have to use a small tent stuff sac.

FLATS GOODNIGHT
Okay, it’s time to think about making a last call out to Mitten before locking down the tent a final time.  It’s hard to pull an 18 day trip, the temptation is always there to bail early and it can be fought off by testing the conversation waters.  If there’s a pleading tone, well, go ahead and cut it short.

*

*

DAY SIXTEEN
Morning on Flats Mt

TRAIL:  Flats Mt/Skyway Roadwalk/Long Branch
CAMP:  Turkey Feather

FLATS BLOW
A wind picks up on Flats and I’ve got about six hours before leaving this open bald campsite and another Skyway roadwalk down to the Long Branch trailhead and Turkey Feather Camp and to do this before the projected rainfall arrives later today.  This wind is bringing it.

4AM GUYOUT
I go out as the wind picks up and guy out the tent and keep sway to a minimum.  The ground is not frozen though the wind chill is cold.

Leaving Flats Mt With The Mountain Behind Me

PRIMITIVE CART ROAD #165 HIKE
I leave Flats Mt and pull a Skyway roadway with absolutely no traffic and as the sky clouds over into a nasty blue gray I reach the trailhead to the Long Branch trail.  My plan was to pull all of Long Branch and do the North River goat trail hike and then the two plus miles on the Tellico River hyena path to enter the Bald River wilderness at Bald River Falls but at Turkey Feather Camp the sky looked nasty and impending so I take advantage of a fantastic spot by water.  I arranged pick up with Little Mitten at Bald River Falls in five days so I have plenty of time to reach my evac area.

Turkey Feather Camp On Long Branch Trail

IT’S FINALLY GOOD TO BE BY WATER
Turkey Feather Camp has a spring ten feet from the tent and it’s dang nice.  Many of my trip camps had no water.

I WAS WRONG
It looks like I was really wrong about Rick Perry clinching the republican nomination.  I guess I was spooked by his environmental plans and his disdain for the EPA and figured all of America would love him for this and love his Texas drawl but I was grossly misguided.  He seemed to have exactly what the right craves—big business and corporations over the environment, and a dislike for “environmental wackos”—and a chilling christian fundalmentalism stuck in the dark ages.  Funny thing, I guess Americans have had their bellyful of smiling aw shucks Texas presidents.  I thought LBJ cured us of Texas politicians but I was terribly wrong.

NEWS
**  Utah’s John Huntman quits the race.
**  Cruise ship sinks with 4,200 passengers and many dead.  2,000 tons of fuel in the ship—in a dolphin wildlife reserve.  Hey fish, welcome to humans.  I wonder when humans built this luxury ship, didn’t they know upon sinking it would release this fuel into the water?  “Acceptable risk” I can hear the engineers say.  “Stump jaded humans-think-they-are-god idiocy” the dolphins say.  Capitalism comes home to roost on the Italian coast.  Not capitalism per se but a “who gives a crap about the long term consequence of our actions” type of capitalism.  All too common in our world.  Build it and they will come say the hucksters and sycophant greedballs, “they” being not grizzlies or dolphins or even bonobos or hyenas as they could care less about our baubles—but the well heeled humans out for a couch potato experience care deeply.  It’s easy to attack humans in regards to their behavior to the environment around them because we’re so stupid, clumsy and predictably greedy.
**  Fort Pilla massacre led by General Nathan Bedford, founder of the KKK.
**  Four Air Force bandsmen caught peeing on military sheet music.
**  A creeping jazzman with a tenor saxophone caught slinking around the town of Sweetwater, TN.
**  Six wild dogs crossed the field during the Green Bay/Giants game.
**  Goat semen found on the floors of several Appalachian Trail shelters.
**  Pet hyenas used as cadaver dogs by the Flurbus Sherrif Department.
**   Backpacking and camping outlawed in seven southern states and every night of an individual’s life must be accounted and “paid” for.

**  Flesh eating salamanders invade an RV campground on the Black Tongue indian reservation.  Motorhomes found with skeletal remains of occupants—coffee cups still hot on the counter tops.  Hyenas called in.
**  All Americans now considered criminals and subject to warrantless searches and incarceration without lawyer or bail.
**  War on Drugs is good business for private prison companies.  Mass incarcerations an American reality.
**  Monroe county boy arrested with SEVEN GRAMS of marijuana.  Say what? 1/65th of a pound?
**  What happened to the tea party, candidates like Bachman and Palin?

RAIN BEGINS AT 2PM

GOODBYE TO DAY 16
It’s dark and the sky keeps everything aloft and rain is imminent.

*

*

DAY SEVENTEEN
Morning at Turkey Feather Camp

TRAIL:  Long Branch/North River Roadwalk/Tellico River Roadwalk/Bald River
CAMP:  Black Cave

A LONG BRANCH WIND
It’s midnight on Brushy Ridge and so far the real rain has held off completely although I smell it in the air and it’s coming.  I’d like to move today and get into Bald River if possible but not have to hike in an all day rain as there are no decent places to camp once I leave this camp until reaching Bald River.  We shall see what happens.  A good tune on the radio gets my attention—Carmen Fantasy for Violin and orchestra by Sarasate.  If I must get to Bald River I can walk in a wind whipped rain as long as it isn’t heavy or even moderate in volume.

TRIP SUMMARY
It all started in the Snowbirds for a 9 day romp and then pulled away west to the BMT on Whiggs Meadow and into the Citico most of which happened in a 153 hour rain and snowstorm.  It was ugly.  Then the burned out car got my attention as I roadwalked to Flats and then to here on my way to the Bald River area.  So stay tuned.

RAIN NOT HERE YET
I set up here early to avoid a certain rainstorm that never came and now at 5:30 in the morning I want to pack and go at first light in the worst way but certain then the rain will come.  I’ve become a full blown worry wart girlie-man unfit for the ruck or the trail.

**  The Earth is moving 135 miles a second.
**  At this speed it takes us 226 million years for one revolution around the Milky Way galaxy.

Chugging Down The Long Branch Trail

Stopping To Admire Baby Falls On Tellico River

A LONG DAY UNDER DRIZZLE
I leave Turkey Feather Camp and descend the Long Branch trail all the way to the North River goat path which in a half mile gets me to the Tellico River donkey cart trail which in several miles takes me past Baby Falls and the entrance to the Bald River wilderness where I turn left at the trailhead and climb into the gorge.  In a bit I arrive at the Black Cave Camps where I set up the Hilleberg tent and call it a merciful day under questionable skies which held off until arriving in camp.  Now a light rain falls but I’m warm and dry and that is all that matters.  Oh, and sore.  These last three days have been long.

In The Bald River Wilderness At The Black Cave Camps

A REAL RAIN BEGINS
45 minutes after getting camp set the sky opens up and the real downpour begins.  I am very happy I did not have to walk thru this mess today on my long trek down Long Branch and the North River and Tellico River roadwalks.  A merciful Miss Nature allowed me to pack in a drizzle and she held off until getting comfortally ensconced and in the green tent even though I had to hike for miles.  My evac point has been changed to Bald River Falls and on Day 20 I’ll probably hoof it out early and do a river roadwalk.

**  78 million obses American adults, 12 million obese children.  Junk food.

THUNDER IN THE VALLEY AND LIGHTNING BOLTS LIKE A STROBE

CENTER HILLEBERG HOOP LEAK
Yes, it’s confirmed, the center pole seam leaks in several places and allows water drops to hit the inner tent and drip and come down the outside to seep onto the floor on the sides and make puddles.  Not good and a big Hilleberg flaw hopefully rectified with ample at home seam sealing.  Had I brought a tube of McNetts with me I would’ve done it on the Flats with a bone dry tent.  The main problem areas are the three main top attachment points which are sewn thru the kerlon fly and these seep water and drip onto the yellow canopy.  Don’t believe the Hilleberg literature that says their tents do not need to be seam sealed—my Staika’s umbrella fly needed it and now so does the Keron.  It’s easily done on the Keron from the inside using Silnet but the outside seam is a combination of silnylon sewn to a non silicone pole sleeve so I’m not sure which sealer is the best.  What I used last time I think was regular seamgrip for urethane so this time I’ll go whole hog with the silnet.

*

*

DAY EIGHTEEN
Morning at the Black Cave Camps

TRAIL:  Bald River/Tellico River Roadwalk

AND OUT

UP AND LOUD
The rain finally stopped as the temps dipped and at midnight I sit in the tent writing in the trip journal and waiting to return to the warm bag.  So far there’s no snow but it could come I guess if it’s cold enough.  The river next to me is up and loud.

STRANGE DREAMS AND UP AT FIVE
Welcome to another day of backpacking as the morning will dawn cold so I’m up early to clean the pot in the river and then use it to brew up some hot peppermint tea with organic honey.  As far as my route goes, I’ll look at the map and figure it oout.  I have only three more days to either sit put or explore, we’ll see.

Leaving The Gorge On The Last Day

DAY 18’S QUANDARY
I got a wild hair to scoot out of here by pulling a long Tellico River roadwalk and I do so and reach the Ranger Station on foot where I get a call out to Little Mitten and she comes to pick me up two days early. After 18 days I’m satisfied with myself and the woods around me. Now we plan the next trip.

And So It’s Goodbye To The Mountains And Bald River Falls

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