BACKPACKING THE CITICO/SLICKROCK WILDERNESS
February 8–27 2012
(Click on all photos to see better resolutions)
** 20 DAYS OF SOLITUDE
** 100 POUND PACK—HEAVIEST IN THE CITICO YEARS
** SNOWSTORM ON THE PINE RIDGE FODDERSTACK
** PATMAN JOINS ME AT CROWDER CAMP
** 10F NIGHT ON FODDERSTACK RIDGE
** A NEW SITE IN THE BURNTHOUSE CAMPS
** BACKPACKING THE NICHOLS COVE YELLOWHAMMER ROUTE
** THE TREACHEROUS LOWER SLICKROCK GOAT TRAIL AND THE NEW FOOTBRIDGE
** CROSSING THE MIGHTY SLICKROCK FIVE TIMES
** THE LONG SLOG UP STIFFKNEE TO SNOW CAMP
** SNOWSTORM AT SNOW CAMP
** INTO LITTLE SANTEETLAH VALLEY
** WINDSTORM IN JENKINS MEADOW
** TUMULT ON HANGOVER MOUNTAIN
** WINDFEST AT NAKED GROUND
** PATMAN LINKS UP AT NAKED GROUND
** WITH PATMAN AND GONZAN ON BOB BALD
** MY LAST NIGHT ON THE SOUTH FORK JEFFREY HELL
** TRIP MILES 63
- Flats Mountan
- Beehouse roadwalk
- Warden’s Field
- Pine Ridge
- Big Stack Gap
- Slickrock Creek
- Nichols Cove
- Ike Branch
- Lower Slickrock Creek
- 54A North
- Four Mile Ridge
- Naked Ground Trail
- Jenkins Meadow
- Haoe Lead
- Four Mile Ridge(Hangover/Naked Ground/Bob Bald)
- 54A South
- South Fork
- Jeffrey Hell and Out
Entrance at Flats Mountain
TRAIL: Flats Mountain
THREE MILES WITH 100 LBS—MY HEAVIEST PACK EVER
Little Mitten and I drive up the Skyway in Tennessee and she drops me off near Eagle Gap at the trailhead to Flats Mt. We say our goodbyes and I say goodbye to Mitten’s new dog Zoe Bindi, a shih-tzu. While not the heaviest pack ever, it’s the heaviest since 2001 when I lived at the ridgetop tipi and hauled tremendous loads. Once again the world asks, “Why so damn heavy?” I can only answer by sporting a gear list and explaining my desire to have a home away from home and a home in the woods for the twenty days I am out. Makes sense, right?
THE ACCOUTREMENTS OF IDIOCY
An Uncle Fungus gear list? If I post a gear list it will be the last gear list I will ever post on trail journals because it will define my style of humpage and be excessively detailed. (Editor’s Note: There’s no way I’m gonna post a complete gear list with food and books and all else. The boredom of doing so would kill me).
POST IT NOTE SURPRISE
Little Mitten sneaks a post it note into the top lid of my pack and it’s a Happy Valentine’s Day message with a red heart drawn above the words “I love you sweetie—Mitten and Zoe.” It’s a pleasant surprise although it would probably make an ultralighter grit his teeth in anger knowing he humped in a fraction of a gram of extra paper weight ha ha ha. I’m so glad I left Little Mitten a Valentine card leaning up against the computer screen as we won’t be together for the big day.
** “Ivan’s War: Life and Death in the Red Army 1939-1945” by Catherine Merridale 2006. Here are some highlights of the introduction—
** In 1941, after six months of fighting the Germans, the Red Army had lost 4.5 million men.
** The German Army captured 2.5 million Red Army troops in the first five months.
** The Kiev campaign cost the Soviets 700,000 killed or missing.
** Total Soviet losses were 27 million (eight of which were actual Soviet Army members).
** Twenty years before 1941 Russia lost over 15 million lives due to civil war, disease and famine. ALL INFO FROM MERRIDALE’S BOOK.
Morning at Flathead Camp
TRAIL: Flats Mt/Beehouse Roadwalk
CAMP: Log Gate Camp Warden’s Field
DAY BECOMES NIGHT
The day became night and one day became another and by dawn on Day 2 the sky spits tiny crystals of snow but nothing much. My goal today is to sit tight and boil up hot tea and wait for full light whereby I’ll get packed and hoof it up a tough hill to finally reach the three terrible downward hills of Flats Mt. Then I stay on a briary ridge before turning right and pulling the three long switchbacks to Beehouse Gap. From there it’s a moderate downhill roadwalk to Warden’s Field and the Pine Ridge and South Fork and Rocky Flats trailheads where I’ll find a place to camp.
THE HARDEST PART
The toughest part about carrying a 100 lbs is getting everything successfully loaded inside the Mystery Ranch pack. Such weight not only has to be humped, it has to be manhandled in various ways when off the back which can be rough. I think I have nearly ten pounds of books and rolled interweb reading material which must be read and burned as quickly as possible.
** “Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100” by Dr. Michio Kaku, 2011.
** This book goes fast as much of the stuff he talks about like computer chips in everything—having a smart toaster or a self driving car or 3D television—I find boring and nonsensical. I guess he feels science and scientists offer hope in a world suffering from too much science and from the dreaded engineer mentality.
“When these chips are inserted into an appliance, it is miraculously transformed.” p22. Hey Michio, it’s just a toaster.
“Of course, science is a double-edged sword; it creates as many problems as it solves, but always on a higher level.” KAKU p16. If he knows we are cave men at heart, why give us or unleash predator drones or atomic weapons or mercury in the air? He doesn’t really address this as he seems an eager apologist for the wonders of science. And here’s a real descent into hubris:
“Today, we have become choreographers of the dances of nature, able to tweak the laws of nature here and there. But by 2100 we will make the transition to being masters of nature.” KAKU p10. Spoken like a true science fanatic? You decide.
“By 2100 our destiny is to become like the gods we once worshipped and feared.” KAKU p10. This is total nonsense. Does he not see that by 2100 we’ll have 20 billion people on the planet? Does he talk about the pollution associated with computers and chip making? Nope. But he does say this:
“Today, we have scrap paper that we scribble on and then throw away. In the future, we might have “scrap computers” that have no special identity of their own. We scribble on them and discard them.” KAKU p32. Hey Michio, what about waste and pollution? He seems to be living in a science induced hippie bubble. Here’s his strangest most self-serving and yet demented quote—in my opinion:
“In the future we will make the transition from being passive observers of the dance of nature, to being masters of nature, and finally to being conservators of nature.” KAKU. I say, let’s go back to being passive observers of nature and leave well enough the hell alone. It’s worked for four million years of human existence but it takes a tremendous amount of instinctual wisdom to do this and we’ve lost it. And then Kaku spends all of the book talking about the future and becoming the masters of nature, an infantile thought but then perhaps to assuage his fervent science “fundamentalism” he tacks on the last phrase as a sort of guilty after-thought—to becoming conservators of nature.
Now he brings up this after a century of hatchet henchmen taking nature apart and fouling the earth with clearcuts, overpopulation, war, weapon systems and air pollution, along with 300 plus foreign chemicals in our blood streams with sky rocketing cancer rates. Asking a scientist to plan the future is like asking a vampire to do a community blood drive. I’ve got a long way to go in the book and I’m sure there will be several more such hubristic statements before it is finished. He should rename the book “An Apologist For Dystopia: How Science Has Polluted the World”. Am I nuts? Just read Eric Horvitz’s quote which Kaku puts on page 66:
“Technologists are providing almost religious visions . . . ”
THE AIMLESS BLADE OF SCIENCE SLASHED THE PEARLY GATES
Thanks to Neil Young for the sentiment. Here are some other troubling Kaku quotes:
“When Columbus sailed to the New World in 1492, he opened the door to a historic economic windfall. Soon, the conquistadors were sending back huge quantities of gold that they plundered from Native Americans, and settlers were sending valuable raw materials and crops back to the Old World. The cost of sending expeditions to the New World was more than offset by the fabulous fortunes that could be made.” p272. KAKU
What? The cost was more than offset by the fortunes? The Indian genocide was worth the wealth?? Here’s his strangest quote of all:
” . . . for countless millennia . . . we lived nomadic lives in small, wandering tribes, scavenging for food in a harsh, hostile environment. For eons, we were indistinguishable from the wolves. There were no written records, just stories handed down from generation to generation at lonely campfires. Life was short and brutish, with an average life expectancy of eighteen to twenty years. Your total wealth consisted of whatever you could carry on your back. Most of your life, you felt the gnawing pain of hunger. After you died, you left no trace that you had ever lived at all.” Micho Kaku, p328.
My final opinion? Never ever let physicists rule the world, they are engineers pure and simple. They’ll take a rock and melt it down to make a car. They’ll dig up uranium to make an atom bomb. Is Kaku biased? Just read the above quote. Let’s pick out some key words—“scavenging”, “harsh”, “hostile”, “indistinguishable from wolves”, “lonely campfires”, “short brutish”, “18-20 year life expectancy”, “gnawing pain of hunger”, “left no trace”. Spoken like a true materialist? Maybe, but sounding more like a convert to a new religion called science. What’s to say we’re not all reincarnated cave men and the same men he mentions above? Kaku won’t touch that subject. Hostile environment? And to think I’ve been living out for the last 30 years in a hostile environment. I must be nuts.
According to this view all creatures other than science-inspired man or physic-aided humans leave no trace and have short brutish lives. This view is called human species racism—we’re the best, the “chosen”, all others are indistinguishable from wolves. Have wolves removed West Virginia or Kentucky mountain tops or spewed mercury or developed hydrogen bombs or slaughtered a 100 million of each other in world wolf wars? Have they paved over a continent and ruined TN valley air? Did wolves cause the gulf oil spill or wipe out 98% of the lower 48 grizzlies? Humans should pray to be so fortunate as to be indistinguishable from wolves.
IT BEGINS WITH TEA
Well, it really started with the unleashing of the white mamba for a pee break but that was at 5 am. Now at 8:30 I’m up to birth a turtlehead and boil a liter of echinacea tea. Both the birth and the boiling come at the same time and so I do an emergency squat next to the tent by digging the necessary hole but just at release the tea boils over. It’s going to be that kind of day. I squat-hobbled bare-assed and shut off the stove and then did a proper two paper towel wet wipe and dug a hole next to the pancake batter turd and scraped it in, phew.
THREE HILL ROLLER COASTER
It’s too nice a day to sit still so I packed and left Flathead Camp and dropped down the three main hills overlooking Indian Lake. I now sit at the top of the third switchback and will spend the rest of the next two hours working my way to Beehouse Gap.
I discovered a new firepit and a short wall of poles against two trees which looked to be either a lean back or a fire reflector. Has HH discovered Flathead Camp? It’s a dang fine camp. Thankfully the rest of my day will be downhill all the way to Warden’s Field where I hope to camp in the blocked off upper section near the Donner Camps but on the other side of Citico Creek. Never camped there before as it’s too close to the rolling couch potatoes but heck it’s February and probably empty.
ADVANTAGES TO A GIANT PACK
** When tipped over it makes an excellent reclining backrest.
** Gigantism enables a sauntering hominid to live outdoors for 20+ days, ya just have to be able to carry it. Beyond these two there are no other advantages. Wait, here’s a third: ** When in a clearing you can be seen from space.
** You help hernia surgeons to plan their retirements.
** You’re amply prepared to take out a new girlfriend for a week and carry everything.
6.2 MILES WITH 100 LBS
It’s now down to 99 lbs after eating two burritos and burning thru 50 pages of a book.
It will soon be eight miles as I finish up my hiking day with a Beehouse roadwalk to Warden’s Field, about a mile away. It’s Thursday and I need to be at Crowder Camp on Saturday to meet Patman and expert backpacker Drew aka Troll aka Papa D. He’s been in my trail journal from years past and was referred to as Troll, the guy who thruhiked the AT in 1985. See Trip 80 from July 2008. We’re all supposed to meet at Crowders on Fodderstack Ridge. Once at Warden’s for a night I’ll climb the mountain on the Pine Ridge trail which will get me close to Crowders for a short Saturday hike as I’ll camp either at the Pine Ridge/Fodder jct (Oglala Camp) or somewhere down on Mill Branch.
Patrick comes in tomorrow and god only knows his route. He may, since he’s coming from Knox, do the Tail of the Dragon’s Anus and do a Slickrock Creek loop. Who knows?
NOTES TO TRAIL WORKER BILL HODGE
Here are some thoughts for local trail worker Bill Hodge and the Crosscut Mountain Boys—
** Cut a connector trail between Flats Mt and the South Fork Citico trail somewhere near where they almost touch, thereby obviating the need to roadwalk the Citico/Beehouse section.
** Cut a connector trail from the Long Branch trail southwest and have it come out at the bridge on Tellico River by the Cow Camp trail into the Bald River wilderness. This would connect the Long Branch and Brushy Ridge area to Bald River without pulling two roadwalks—the North River and the Tellico River.
** Finish the Falls Branch trail from the Falls down to the South Fork Citico.
** Grand Trunk Traverse—Lastly, and this one is far fetched and amibitious, but transect the Citico wilderness south to north with a trail starting at the Jeffrey Hell trailhead and going north over South Fork and up and over the Brush Mt trail and north over the North Fork and over Pine Ridge and parallel to Rocky Flats and over Mill Branch and Crowder Branch and dissect the upper northern section of the Citico and end up at Farr Gap.
Fresh peeled oranges.
LOG GATE CAMP
There’s the remnants of an ancient log footbridge across Citico Creek in Warden’s Field and I’m camped behind the log gate of the bridge and up river about 100 yards at a very nice spot with a firering next to the creek. This is a first for me and after about a thousand days of camping in the Citico I can still find brand new spots.
BACKPACKING RULE #487
When you get to a decent campsite and set up, invariably a couple hundred yards further will be an even better campsite with water. So my advice is to dump your pack and walk up the trail a ways just to find these special spots, and to thwart this rule.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“This surely is a godawful place.” Robert Falcon Scott in Antarctica.
MIDNIGHT HEARTBURN FROM A BEAN CHILI MEAL
Right before midnight I get up with a good dose of heartburn so I take a licorice stomach lozenge and pull out the journal and the headlamp. The sound of mighty Citico Creek is loud here at Log Gate Camp and it’s needed. Cold mountain water quenches a dry mouth and cools an agitated system. Soon Day 3 begins and with it comes the real hump of the trip so far as I climb from 1,400 feet to 3,500 feet in around four miles on the old reliable Pine Ridge trail. It must be done to get to Crowders, all of it must be done with a decision made at Oglala Camp regarding tonight’s camp.
Will it be Oglala or further to Mill Gap and Quillen Camp below the gap on the Mill Branch trail? The last time I thought of staying there I saw a big fat rattlesnake. Neat thing is, Log Gate Camp is right close to the trailhead to the Pine Ridge trail so I’ll be on it and climbing immediately. The first part of Pine Ridge is the worst as it pushes hard up to a left leading ridge where the slope is more gentle. With the weight I’m carrying it’ll be a tough nut to crack.
QUOTE IN THE DARK OF NIGHT
“What good man would prefer a country covered with forests and ranged by a few thousand savages to our extensive Republic studded with cities, towns and prosperous farms, embellished with all the improvements which art can devise or industry execute occupied by more than 12,000,000 happy people and filled with all the blessings of liberty, civilization, and religion?” Andrew Jackson in 1829. Spoken like a true member of a master race. Change 12 million to 330 million and you get a better idea of what he was talking about. He also said:
“The tribes which occupied the countries now constituting the Eastern States were annihilated or have melted away to make room for the whites.” From President Andrew Jackson’s Case for the Removal Act, December 8, 1829. (mtholyoke.edu). The Cherokee Indians regard AJ as the worst president ever.
** In 1832 the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Cherokee and said the Cherokee nation was sovereign and making the removal laws invalid. Justice John Marshall said the forced removal to be illegal, unconstitutional and against treaties made. President Jackson said “John Marshall has made his decision; let him enforce it now if he can.” This gleaned from Christina Berry “Andrew Jackson: The Worst President the Cherokee Ever Met” (www.allthingscherokee.com/articles).
There is no sadder chapter in Indian history than that of California during the gold rush years. State subsidized death squads resulted in the murder of 100,000 Indians in the first two years of the rush, from 1846 to 1848. Hupa historian Jack Norton called it the “Deranged frontier”.
Morning at Log Gate Camp Warden’s Field
TRAIL: Pine Ridge
CAMP: Oglala Camp
I’m up at six in the predawn darkness and surrounded by the song of the Citico heartbeat which is a constant soothing roar of water against rocks.
REVIEW OF SANGEAN DT 400 RADIO
** The first thing to go on this radio is the sure click of the up and down tuning buttons.
** Last year I dropped the thing in snow and the “lock” feature wouldn’t turn off until thoroughly dried, a real hassle.
** Currently the radio squelches in and out of a chosen station and often wants to go to the same station no matter where you are on the band. This means the radio is essentially dead and needs to be replaced unless you want to bang it around every minute or so. It denotes the circuit board is ruined.
** My complaints? It needs more memory slots instead of just 19—like 19 FM and 19 AM.
** The screen light has no ON/OFF switch which means you’re losing power even during the day when the light is not needed because the dang thing comes on every time you switch channels.
** The built-in speaker is nice as is the headphone option and the lock feature (mandatory when traveling or hiking with the radio in your pocket).
** Love the yellow case.
** WX weather is a nice feature and easy to access.
** Catholic church is “outraged” by the birth control mandate in Obama’s health care. Now they are outraged? What about their pedophile priests? Where was their outrage then? The church should’ve been closed after the priest scandal. Has it been? Naw. Message to humans: Never elevate another human to priest status or to a level of perceived higher spirituality. Has the inquisition or the Aztec priest-class taught us nothing? BTW, 98% of Catholic women use birth control sometime in their lifetimes. Who could be against birth control? What does the church want, a planet with 20 billion people?
FOUR LEGS OF THE PINE RIDGE TRAIL
The trail starts out by leaving Warden’s Field and immediately hits a very nasty blowdown which is a bee-atch with a 98 lb pack. Here are the four legs—
** Warden’s to top of switchback.
** Switchback to ridge campsite.
** Campsite to spring.
** Spring to the top.
Where am I? Near the end of leg two by the level ridge campsite. What does it feel like to haul a 97 lb pack up a 2,200 foot mountain in 3.5 miles? Hell, pure and simple. My gonads have shrunk up to the size of hazelnuts and the pain I feel in my chest is either a muscle spasm from the left shoulder strap or congestive heart failure. I pity the rescuers who try to haul out my pack, hopefully they’ll use a helicopter. I’ve been standing in place to rest but I couldn’t make it to the campsite for a real off-pack stop so I sit below it unencumbered for a bit.
START OF LEG THREE
Okay boys, here I sit at the open campsite in a world of scrub pines and heath leaves. It’s a good place to rest. My radio is busted and only stays on a station periodically and only after being hit a couple times with a fist. Pure Chinese crap? You decide.
Pine Ridge is eating away my sac and near the top I throw off the pack and inspect my crotchal distentia and notice I’m as smooth as a ken doll—all vegetable fed manitads and tofu-swollen(?)waist medullas(?)have been removed by a combination of this trail under this pack. Here’s a warning to all backpackers young and old—do not carry 100 lbs. Your days won’t get more than four miles and you’ll be dang thankful to gain 2,000 feet. Have an excellent first aid kit with a lexan protective cup and ample gauze for blood loss. Plus, never lose your footing or you’ll smash down like a falling gun safe.
Phew, it was hellish but here I am where I dumped the pack like a red headed bonobo with syphilis, and quickly pulled out the 40 feet of bear line to pull down the dead snag pine I’ve been eyeballing for the last three years. First, I unrolled the 1/4 line off my stick incense box and then wrapped it around the snag using my hiking pole to get some elevation and better purchase. Let the swaying commence! It took about 50 jerks from the four directions but the thing finally crashed 60% down and on top of another blowdown away from camp. This is a windy camp and I think I just saved a fellow future backpacker certain death. The best part of it all is it looks like a natural fall since it wasn’t cut with a saw or an axe.
TOO MUCH WEIGHT
Today’s hump was seriously demented, like playing 43 man squamish with naked Russians and a chihuahua. Getting water at the spring a half mile back really kicked open my brainstem which is not covered by a protective cup since it added three pounds to my already obscene load.
ATTENTION BOY SCOUTS
Never read this trail journal and never attempt to emulate Uncle Emmerence, the he-hyena of the southern tier. Dig deep and stay at home or go the UL route and do food resupplies every two days.
THE SKY SPITS SNOW
Yes, at 2:10pm the sky spits white flakes and so I go and pull the sleeping bag off a tree.
Morning at Oglala Camp Pine Ridge
WELCOME TO MY WINTER WORLD
I’m up at four in the morning to dangle the well hung squeamish screamer and figure there’s snow everywhere as it’s been pelting the tent for the last eight hours but I’ve been stuck inside the whole time so I decide to don the down layers and booties and go out for a look. It’s not frigid cold but there’s snow on the ground and enough on the tent to be pulled off with a gloved hand. Day 4’s hike will therefore be in the white stuff on a long descending trail going north into the white country and down to Mill Gap. From there it’s a very steep but short section to the top of Crowders Ridge and a gradual descent to Crowder Camp.
PATMAN AND PAPA D
Patman is somewhere out here but uncertain where as I don’t know where he parked. Beech Gap? Warden’s Field? Doublecamp road or Farr Gap? Calderwood Lake and the Slickrock trailhead? Who knows. Then again, with this weather he and Papa D could’ve bailed and I wouldn’t blame them. Or would I? Ha ha ha.
WAITING TO BOOK
The challenge today is to sit tight until mid morning before shoving off because the route is short and there’s no sense in getting to camp too soon and way before the others. Or is there? Doing so will give me first dips on the back campsite and far from whatever fire they may want to build.
“WAUGH” FROM MOUNTAIN MAN COLON FLACCID
“There be fright ‘countered atop these mountain trails for the greenhorn tourists but not for us as we be stewed and properly cooked for a panty-wad trek amongst Miss Nature’s most favored worlds. I come in from the hinder parts and eyeballed yourn camp from the top o old Fodder Top and made it down here as fast I ’twas able and here ye be ensconced on Piney Ridge like a green tube uterus out for some air. Now that’s we found each other, or least I founds you, lets join heads and come up with a plan to leave this herein spot and forge on to the old man Crowder’s place in the north next beyond.”
“Ya got room in that uterine cavity for this old goat and fellow mountain man? I be hiking all night thru the storm and need a bit o human kindness. Tweren’t long ago we met but darnation it’s been too long as I’s been in the Cohutts and ice crossing the Jacks. Well I’s back now to follow you down Sac Hollow and thru the Bung Towers. Last I heard you be in the Hucks and over the Hoop and down into the Birds, a frightful place that. I bet my forelock you be happy to be back on this side of reason and so ensconced with paradise in the top portion of heaven on the Citiquah map.”
“Here, have a piece of jerked toad meat with some dried rock tripe. My’s plan is to reach the main fork of the Slick and seems ‘twfore to be yourn plan too so let’s quit jawing and eyeballing each other’s chest hairs and get on the trail. But dangit here you sit all hunched up in your geese skins and sitting comfy-like on yore caribou or weasel or whatever butt pad and grinning like a baby malamute sleeping in the felt liner of a sorel pak boot. How I’s ever to get you packed and on’s to the trail? Just as well, let’s sit so favored and girliefied and eventually tire of my rich animal fat stank and you’ll sure enough want to leave.”
“BTW, sunny boy, this here is a fabulost tent you’s got in the back of beyond, why there’s room for two hermaphrodites and four eunuchs and a couple land beavers. Don’t mind if I stay put of a morning and watch this snowstorm from the comfort of home. My one pole tipi tent twas overbutted recently and it has a new cover and now uses three poles instead of one so we’s have room to cook an open fire and rooms to lay stretched out like. I’ll show it to ye atop the Crowder and hellfire you can help me set it up.”
ON THE LITTLE BIG HORN WHERE THE WHITE MAN IN ME IS KILLED
Yes, I packed in cold conditions and for some reason my old weak body can’t tolerate the cold so I left in merino long john bottoms covered with my lightweight gtx rainpants and on top had my sandwiched Icebreaker merino tops with the orange Arcteryx rainjacket. On my head I had the IB balaclava and the Turtle Fur cap, the North Face fleece gloves finished the look. Why so overdressed? Cuz it’s cold up here and there’s a nasty wind biting into a camper stupid enough to be out in it and trying to strike camp. No skin off my testes—I was on the trail quickly and dropped to Mill Gap and quickly stormed up the nasty pitch to the top which is called the Little Big Horn because the hill before it will kill the white man in you.
Is this a good thing? It is if you want to spend a significant time out here, otherwise you’ll look around and get a hankering for logging and cutting roads and mining for gold or coal and setting up helicopter landing zones. Such a cultural mindset won’t work in a wilderness so you best do a mind meld with a Cherokee chief like Dragging Canoe and learn to be happy in the garden of eden, or what’s left of it.
SNOW FLURRIES AT CROWDER CAMP
In short order I pull into Crowders and push the shallow snow away and get the tent up with ease and then do a quarter mile water run for two liters down to Crowder spring, all the while looking for bootprints or fellow hominids. Satisfied I’m all alone, I return to the lodge to stash the water in my wadded up shorts and down hood to keep it thawed and then pull out a lunch of ziplocked scrambled eggs with mayo, a dang good combo for those vegetarians of us craving protein and B12. While going thru the food bags for lunch I pulled out dinner and set it aside: McDougall’s black beans, onion, tofutti sour cream. A lit stick of incense puts the final touch on lunch and on Day 4’s camp.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
It’s on Bashcraft USA forum thread which asks, “How much should your gear weigh?” IZ responds, “There’s only one right answer to this question. And that answer clearly is: 1,800 pounds.” 10/6/11.
THE WAILING CRY OF THE SNOWBOUND TURTLEHEAD
There’s a spot out of the wind on the Slickrock side which offered me the opportunity to drop trousers and birth a feisty 21 inch long turtlehead while still wearing my down pants and booties, a risky proposition in the best of times. Goal completed, the midwife nurse handed me a cigar and gave me the exact hour of birth for astrological purposes. It’s a turd in Pisces with a moon in Uranus ha ha ha. And had it lived a healthy life above ground I think we would’ve gotten along.
And he does a nutbuster route from Calderwood Lake on Slickrock Creek past the four footbridges and three major crossings, two requiring him to remove his pants. Then he pulled the third crossing and reached the Stiffknee which he took all the way to Farr Gap, a nutbuster to be sure. Is his day over? Nope, he had the long pull from Farr to here and it had some mean hills. Oh well, he’s alive and now getting water down at Crowder branch.
TIME FOR SUPPER
As it’s too cold to stand around and jaw so I cook up another 18 oz of black beans with a dollop of sour cream and Patman souvenirs me a tub of fresh veggie salad he got from Earth Fare in Knoxville. It’s my after-dinner snack and it’s good.
Morning at Crowder Camp
TRAIL: Big Stack Gap/Slickrock Creek
CAMP: Little West Camp
A 12F MORNING
It’s another winter morning in the woods but this time it’s shared with Pathmandu camped 25 feet away in his icelocker Big Agnes. My platypus stays unfrozen since it was carefully wrapped in the hood of my down parka and placed inside the whole parka next to my sleeping pad. Right now I’m up in geese and sitting with a lit candle on my lap and preparing to slowly extricate myself off the pad and out of the wondrous bag. Today’s plan is to pack the kit around 11 or noon and follow Patman on his route down the Big Stack trail to Slickrock where I hope to camp either at Johnny’s Camp, Little West or at Bee Camp on the other side of the creek in the Slicnic Camps where the Nichols Cove trailhead begins.
First there are the chores which must be done here and the most important is to hang out the Puma bag on a line and let it air out, dry and reloft. It’s no big deal. Luckily my food weight is slowly incrementally getting lighter as I consume the heavy McDougall meals daily although when they are gone I’ll be stuck with what? I only brought one Tasty Bite meal. I’ll stretch out my McDougall’s to Day 10 and go from there. I still have several veggie patties, soy links, bags of Amy’s beans and a pak of tempeh, not good by itself but a sure soup thickener.
What happened to Papa D and our grand plan to rondezvous? Maybe the long drive from Georgia got nixed. Maybe the cold and snow scuttled his plan. I’ll find out on Whiteblaze upon return and especially after I post this trip. I’m amazed Patman pulled the drive and made the ten mile trek on rough tread in long uphill conditions. He’s a rare breed and dedicated to abiding by the call of the wild, and he wants to learn more about winter backpacking and camping. This trip will teach him some things.
** Whitney Houston dead at 48. Her first album came out in 1985.
BIG STACK SKI RUN
Upmost care is needed to hump an enormous load down the Big Stack Gap trail in an inch of wet snow without microspikes but here I sit on the third switchback in full sunlight and follow the tracks left by Patrick a couple hours ago. I hear the mighty Slickrock below and will soon be hiking next to it if I can finish this trail. The steepest part is still ahead. Advice with weight: Go Slow. Simple as that. The Big Stack from Crowders to Slickrock—high to low—
** The pig wallow descent—to the little spring crossing.
** Leroy Ridge to the rock overlook.
** The five switchbacks.
** The rootball express, the hardest part.
** The transverse colon where the trail seems moderate and passes a set of old bed frames.
** The Stack creek approach and crossing.
** The final leg to Slickrock Creek.
And so it is I sit hot and happy near Stack Creek crossing and not far from tonight’s camp, about one half mile. There’s no sign of Papa D so I surmise something came up and I don’t see Patman’s body on the trail so I figure he’s at Big Fat Gap by now and cruising over Hangover Lead North. My goal is Little West Camp on this side of Slickrock so tomorrow I must cross and get on the other side for a swaray to Bee Camp and up the Nichols Cove trail. There are two obstacles between here and Little West—the slippery trail rock face which must be passed, and the side creek which is often deep and must be crossed without resorting to crocs, always a challenge with weight.
CAMPING ON SLICKROCK CREEK
Okay boys, here I sit at Little West under crisp blue skies and a bright cold sun. Everything’s arranged and the only bootprints out here are Patman’s and mine. Where’s Little West? It’s on the west side of the creek and right before (or after) the first (or last) crossing.
Here’s some info gleaned from an old Backpacker magazine article, “America’s Backpacking Capital”, by Steve Netherby.
** The first outfitter shop was Ski Hut/Trailwise started in 1935 by George Rudolf, a 20 year old Stanford grad.
** In 1951 he started Trailwise sleeping bags and packs. Did he make the first contoured aluminum packframe with hipbelt? Maybe.
** Peope who started working at Ski Hut were George Marks and Bob Swanson, who started Sierra Designs, Justus Bauschinger of Class 5, Ken Klopp president of North Face.
** Sierra Designs starts near Berkeley in 1965 with tents and mountain clothing. They created the original 60/40 mountain parka (58% cotton/42% nylon).
** The North Face started out as ski shops in the mid 1960’s. In 1969 Ken Klopp (former Ski Hut general manager) builds up North Face and makes down sleeping bags. Mark Rickson of NF designed the Bigfoot polarguard bag (my first), Morning Glory and Dandelion tents.
** Justus Bauschinger, formerly of Ski Hut and NF, started Class 5 and was the first to introduce cordura cloth in backpacks: “Bauschinger decided cordura was up to the job when he hauled 130 pounds of rocks in a cordura pack without tearing the fabric.” NETHERBY.
Morning at Little West Camp Slickrock Creek
TRAIL: Slickrock Creek
CAMP: New Burnthouse Camp
PRE DAWN AT 15F
Day 6 dawns a little warmer than Day 5 and so I bundle up and leave the tent on a hyena chase and corner the thing and make it pee. Job done, I return to the ice encrusted tent and pull out a candle for in-tent hand warmth while contemplating today’s route and where I want to be for tonight’s sleet storm. Do I stay close to Slickrock Creek for another night or do I book over Windy Gap and camp on Nichols Cove by the twin graves? One decent option is to head up the nutbuster trail towards Burnthouse Camp and instead of crossing Hangover Creek, go left where most people get lost and camp on the hill by the firepits, a never done-before option.
No matter what I do, the first order of business will be crossing Slickrock Creek in bare feet and crocs, an unappetizing start to the day. But heck, it’s only 5:30 in the morning and too early to do much of anything except stay warm and swaddled in down. One idiotic part of me wants to do the complete nutbuster but with snow on the ground this would be flawed. Good morning with hot green super food tea and cashew butter.
THE TARPTENT TRAVAILS OF RYAN SOMMERS
Traditional backpackers will love this story of a boy and his dog of a tent, as posted in a trip report on BackpackingLight.com entitled “A Night To Remember” from July 18, 2010. Here are the pertinent points—
** Ryan decides to take his Tarptent Moment tent for a weekend trip to Wild River State Park in Minnesota.
** His quote: “I knew there were supposed to be storms; I wanted to test the tent out in the elements anyway.”
** He was given the campsite called Meadow Vista but his instinct told him to avoid it and find something in trees with more protection. This wholly points out my advice to carry the tool for a job that can work in a wide variety of situations, and not something so specialized or flimsy that dictates where you have to set up or restricts the freedom of a trip. Let’s continue.
** He reaches the vista and sets up in an open meadow.
** The storm begins with light rain and a breeze.
** Suddenly ” . . . the breeze picked up to tent shaking gusts, I was bracing the pole with my hands as the wind pounded the broadside of the tent.” The rain wallops the tent and he says, “I was getting hit with so much water that I decided I’d pack my sleeping bag and a few other items in the garbage bag . . . .”
” . . . I was slowly getting wet inside the tent.”
There are only two stakes holding up the Moment and one of them popped out of the ground. Should he have covered them with rocks?
** He said he should of “restaked the tent at the first sign the wind was coming from the worst possible angle.” This is strange since a tent is usually staked “properly” from the get go no matter what, and only rocks placed on top if the storm gets really crazy.
** After the collapse the tent’s bathtub floor fills with water and everything inside becomes drenched except for a few protected items like his bag and cell phone and socks.
** He stands outside in his rain jacket and boxers and decides to drag his tent down to a better spot.
** “When I picked the tent up, everything inside, water, camera (Canon 5D MkII) etc, congregated in a nice puddle in the middle.”
** He bails and says ” . . . I’d pack it in and spend the night in my bed.”
** At the SP’s trail center he finds a man and his two sons. “He looked like he’d seen a ghost and said their tent was ripped to shreds by the wind.”
** Here’s the real kicker: “Despite the tent falling down, I’m happy so far with the Moment . . . .” Say what?? What about in the beginning when the rain came thru the fly and got you wet, before the stake pulled lose? Is this a tent quality you admire? He does say “The misting was a little worrisome . . . ”
** He ends the report by asking ” . . . how can you restake a non-freestanding tent in a hurry without dumping water on the contents?” My answer—use decent Easton propeg nail type stakes, put rocks on each, go to sleep.
His report ends and expert ULer and BPL staffer Roger Caffin posts these suggestions:
** “Don’t camp at the end of a long wind channel.” Why not? A decent four season tent will be a-okay. Something like the MSR Fury or Hilleberg Staika or Nammatj or Keron or North Face Mountain.
** “Be prepared to re-orient the tent properly . . .” Not needed if using a good stake with proper initial peg placement.
** “Use plastic bags inside nylon stuff sacks for all important gear.” Unneeded if inside a dry decent non-leaking tent.
And so on. He does end with this “Get decent tent stakes.” Ryan Sommers comes back on to reply and says crazy left field stuff about pack covers and trash bags, keeping things in his pockets during stream crossings(?), pack liners, his LL Bean rain suit, pack towels, bandanna, his OR sombrero(?), and yet no mention is made of his sorry tent. I find this hard to understand. So ends my rant.
CROSSING A BUTT COLD CREEK
The day begins by going barefoot across an ass cold creek and it can’t be over quick enough. On the other side I explore Bee Camp and the Slicnic area and saddle up to pull the first leg of the ten leg nutbuster trail #42—Upper Slickrock. We all know about Burnthouse Camp at the beginning of leg two but I want to explore the campsite on this side of Hangover Creek and directly opposite from Burnthouse where there may be a level spot for my green uterus. There are several new blowdowns on a usually wide open start to the nutbuster but I don’t have a corona saw to clear them dangit.
It’s a great day for humpage especially as the sky clouds over in a wintry haze. I love it and hope it snows tonight as forecasted. I’m resting on the trail next to Slickrock Creek and will soon pull away from this creek and have it replaced with Hangover Creek—both are easily confused.
NEW BURNTHOUSE CAMP
Instead of crossing Hangover Creek and pulling into Burnthouse Camp, I instead veer left on an obvious trail and set up atop a level ridge finger near an old firepit and an ancient pair of discarded boots. The trail to here is often the one mistakenly taken by backpackers attempting the nutbuster trail from Slickrock Creek to Naked Ground as they just don’t see the subtle right path which immediately crosses Hangover Creek. So if someone gets confused they will certainly arrive in my camp which is all well and good as I haven’t seen a single backpacker in six days, not counting Patman of course since I invited him to meet me.
When invading Russia, Hitler orders ” . . . . were to capture Moscow and then to gouge it from the earth, to turn the city into a huge lake.” CATHERINE MERRIDALE p117. This would have happened except for the Russian autumn rains turning everything into mud. By February 1942, for every German killed, 20 Soviet soldiers had died. p147. Three million captured, 2,663,000 killed. In the first night of bombing in Stalingrad, 40,000 civilians died. And so on.
NIGHT COMES TO EAST BURNTHOUSE CAMP
The good sound of Hangover Creek is close to the tent and all I have to do now is wait for the sleet and snow that is called for by the weather wee’tards. I still hope to move thru it tomorrow if I get a reasonable window to do so and the plan is to backtrack the nutbuster down to Bee Camp where I can sit out the mess. By Day 8 I hope to be climbing up the Nichols Cove trail to a fave campsite by the graves.
Morning at New Burnthouse Camp Nutbuster Trail
TRAIL: Slickrock Creek/Nichols Cove
CAMP: Nichols Cove “Dog-With-Hat” Camp
MORE A DRIZZLE THAN A RAIN
What was forecasted as snow is just a butt cold rain but it’s so light as to be a non-event as I get up to check out conditions at five in the morning. If the day allows I hope to pack and leave East Burnthouse for a tromp down the lowest section of the nutbuster to Bee Camp in the Nichols Cove/Slickrock area, or Slicnic. Just as I describe the rain this morning it picks up to the light category and forestalls any desire to pack and move, especially as temps hover around 33F. It’s cold and wet, two nasty elements for a wilderness backpacker.
DOWN AND UP
I go back to sleep and get up again at 9 since it’s been raining all morning and fairly miserable.
A SEALED HILLEBERG
On my last trip as a few readers know my wondrous Hilleberg Keron leaked seriously on the top arc of the middle pole, so when I got home I set it up in the yard without the inner and spent 30 minutes carefully seam sealing the inside of all three pole hoops and a few other parts like the end vents. Now as I sit inside during this drawn out rain I notice there’s not a drop of water anywhere on the top of the yellow canopy fabric. The effort was worth it.
MORE RUSSIAN WAR FACTS
** “Of the 403,272 tank soldiers . . . 310,000 would die.” MERRIDALE p215.
** Civilians buy tanks—strange but true—“A . . .patriotic couple donated 50,000 rubles to buy a heavy tank, trained side by side at Chelyabinsk, and then served in their own machine, fighting all the way to Germany.” p247, MERRIDALE.
** ” . . . Mariya Oktyabrskaya . . . . donated her life savings for the purchase of a T-34. She, too, became a tank driver and was killed near Vitebsk in 1944.” MERRIDALE p 248.
** Also Russian Army regiments adopted stray children between the ages of 6 and 16—” . . . as many as 25,000 children . . . marched with the Army at some point during the war.” MERRIDALE p 248.
** More than three million Soviet POWs killed in German camps. p 290.
** 7.5 million Russian civilians killed under Nazi occupation. p291.
Any American who thinks we have it rough should study the plight of the Russian people during the German invasion of 1941. On the radio, Glenn Beck sometimes says we as a country are “finished” if Obama is re-elected. Finished? Ask the Russian people what it feels like to be finished. Have we lost 27 million people fighting an invading army? Naw, but people like Beck like to exaggerate because they are entertainers pure and simple.
Food and turtleheads share an intimate connection, and today’s breakfast after a recent stool deposit proves this point. If we as humans stop eating we would certainly stop defecating, but until that day arrives we merrily keep stuffing our faces and our colons. There are some laudable types who fast regularly and they are the smart ones, the rest of us are slaves to the tongue. Backpacking lessens the evils of an unbridled appetite as it’s hard to gorge and hump the ruck. Plus, we have to carry everything so there must be an amount of food rationing.
“I spent all day in the tent eating” might apply to me but doesn’t really apply to backpackers as they like to move everyday and they carry a limited amount of food. There’s no refrigerator or food pantry in the woods to use for grazing purposes, and there’s no couch or TV to huddle around to become potatoes.
The rain stopped an hour ago but here I sit eating and looking out the tent door. I need to move.
WINDY GAP HUMP
Okay boys, I left the first leg of the nutbuster trail and got to the Slicnic camps and almost decided to call it a day but the sky seemed only to be misting so I saddled up and pulled the short steep hump to Windy Gap where I sit now resting. There’s a godawful blowdown on the way up so backpackers be warned. The next section of trail is down baby down.
Every backpacker needs to hike thru the Cove as it’s a pleasant change o pace from the usual Cherokee NF scrub pine ridges and saw briar avenues. The Cove itself stretches from below Windy Gap to the gravesite and the jct with the Yellowhammer trail and continues on the YH for a ways. The whole cove is open woods with level trail and it’s a joy to hike thru and to cross the little feeder streams joining the mighty Slickrock several miles away. At the gravesite there is a new trail post where the Nichols Cove trail turns left and the start of the YHT is straight ahead—when descending from Windy Gap.
If you’re coming from the Lake on the Ike Branch trail, you find the YH trail post and veer left up the mountain and go thru a series of fantastic little hollars until the trail ends at the Nichols trailpost and the little graves on your left. Here the Nichols begins. Of course, if you follow Nichols down past the big campsite you’ll enter another wonderful little creek valley which jcts with the Slickrock Creek trail. Here you go left and many crossings to Wildcat Falls and right with one crossing to Stiffknee and the BMT. One more crossing and you’re at Slisgah Camp on the BMT—aka Sgt Rock Camp. Anyway, I’m sitting by the graves and will soon load up and hike to the big campsite nearby which is my day’s destination. It’s moderately miserable weather and I hain’t seen a soul in seven days.
DOG-IN-HAT CAMP IN NICHOLS COVE
Vegetarian chili sounds great on paper but everytime I eat it I get terrific reflux blowback five hours later and always when supine so I take a licorice stomach pill and wait it out with cold mountain spring water. Day 7 wants to reach Day 8 but it’s a long drawn out affair. Tomorrow’s goal is to do all of the Yellowhammer trail and part of the Ike Branch trail to the high gap camp I call Wild Bird. As soon as YH ends I’ll be back on the BMT which is the same as Ike Branch and so I may see fellow backpackers for once, or not.
If I had a pair I’d cruise out of the wilderness and pull a four mile roadwalk to Twenty Mile ranger station and spend some time in the high falutin’ Park cuz I know there’s a non-rez site just a couple of miles in. Problem is, do I feel like hiking along the Tail of the Dragon’s Anus?
Morning at Dog-In-Hat Camp Nichols Cove
TRAIL: Yellowhammer/Ike Branch/Lower Slickrock Creek (Lakeside)
CAMP: Pisgah Canyon Camp
A CRYSTAL BLACK NIGHT SKY
I’m up at six in the morning after a full night of dreams but none worth describing and anyway, who wants to read about another person’s dreams? Six is too early to do much of anything except write and pee and drink cold water and wait. Today will be a sunny freebie before another rainstorm hits tonight and god only knows what Day 9 will bring. They call them “storm systems” which begin with thick fog and then it becomes sunny with a slight chance of rain tonight and 90% later. So I have to find the spot I need to sit out a possible zero day tomorrow, either at Wild Bird Camp or possibly a new camp down by Calderwood Lake, or Pisgah Canyon Camp on Slickrock Creek.
There’s a blog on Whiteblaze.net started by Golden Bear and it is partly titled “I Nominate Myself for Bonehead of the Year.” (July 6, 2011). First he asserts, “I have camped and hiked for decades”, and yet in the next sentence he says “For my first attempt at true backpacking I chose a trip of about 45 miles of walking over four days . . . ” Of course, clouded by the ultralight hysteria he says, “I’m aware that minimum weight and size (?) are key to success . . . .” The trip becomes a travail “featuring the worst night of my life.” Read on.
On Day 1 he has to backpack 12.3 miles but instead of getting an early start he tarries around camp with a bunch of time killing activities. He even says, “I now wonder if I was just trying to avoid what I had come for: hiking with a backpack.” He finally sets off at 10:45. He then complains about “too much size and weight in my pack.” He can’t make his planned designated campsite by dark so he decides to set up camp right on the trail itself. Here’s where it gets very interesting and his actions easily criticized.
** He sets up his doublewall tent but leaves the rain fly off and “somewhere nearby”. In other words, he can’t find it in the pitch dark as a thunderstorm hits. Why?
** Because he didn’t bring a flashlight! He writes, ” . . . I don’t carry a flashlight (save weight, never needed one TIL NOW!).” Save weight? Crazy. And when he says he never needed one before, it makes me wonder about his first comment of having “camped and hiked for decades.” He tried lighting matches in the dark but of course this failed and he couldn’t find his tent fly.
** ” . . . I finally decided that I should just take my lumps and endure the rain”. This I find totally incomprehensible. What? And get totally soaked? Find that fly!! I would’ve been on my hands and knees like a big spider searching for that rainfly. Instead he says “I was in a thick forest under an insect shield in a sleeping bag, and I had a water resistant wind breaker—so I figured some rain could be endured.” This is lunacy. He talks as if all of these points are good things and will keep him safe from a downpour. Being in an exposed sleeping bag but having a wind breaker? Dementia.
LET US CONTINUE
By morning everything he had was soaked. “If the temperature had been much lower . . . or if it was still raining or windy, I would have been in MAJOR danger of hypothermia . . . .” Ya think? The best line of the trip? “I wrung out my sleeping bag.” End of story. It turned out his tent fly was “just a couple feet away”. Miss Nature was merciful and threw him a bone and the rest of his trip went well. He ends by saying, ” . . . if I can survive this stupidity, I can get thru any mistake.” I’m not so sure. Try a two week trip in January and see what happens.
HOT TEA WITH GREEN SUPER FOOD AND HONEY
It’s become my morning ritual and the green grit tastes good and seems very “healthy”. I’m looking thru my food bags and can’t believe how much cooked and ziplocked brown rice bags I have left, at least five, and they must be eaten soon or they will spoil though the cold weather keeps them safe. Anyway, supper will be brown rice.
THE YELLOWHAMMER NUTBUSTER
While the YHT itself is not difficult, it does pass thru some rugged country which requires careful boot placement on a narrow track and yes, there are a few climbs with one in particular being a mini steep nutbuster. From the graves to the Ike Branch/BMT jct is a pleasant backpacking route and when you fall off the last hill be careful as it’s pretty steep. Oh and look for the white quartz boulder to your right. I sit at the five signed trailpost resting and preparing to go north on the BMT/Ike trail to another signed gap of Hangover Lead North trail and the trail Patman took on his way out last Sunday (only three days ago? Seems like a month). It’s good to be back on the B Mac and I’ll take a better break at Wild Bird.
WILD BIRD CAMP
WBC is about the best camp in the world except I probably won’t be staying here because there’s more to see and do and the day is too nice to make camp before noon. It’s a dang warm day too and somewhere in the 50F’s. My other two options are to find a lakeside camp—motor boats anyone?—or a hike around the lake over the four footbridges—and the new $27,000 one—and camp in the Pisgah Canyon Camps by Slickrock Creek. Lunch is a larabar and a probar and not all that interesting but it’s food and a hell of a lot better than the Soviets had on the Russian front in ’41 and ’42.
LET’S RETURN TO RUSSIA
Somebody needs to do a 20 hour miniseries on the German invasion into Russia and base it on Merridale’s book. Show everything. Show the incredible loss of life. Let all Americans learn who really beat the Germans—27,000,000 dead Russians about says it all. And of course the Soviets killed thousands of their own soldiers at the slightest hint of weakness, critical speech or desertions, so the Red Army was gonna fight and die one way or another. The numbers are staggering on deaths caused by the war, not to mention the German death camps and their other assorted genocides.
It was a ferocious time and we thumb our dingleberries and iNads and Fart Phones and tweet incessantly and have no idea what hell is right around the corner and can be released for the stupidest of reasons. Except now it would be worse because back then there were less than two billion people on the planet instead of seven billion and then Russia and Germany did not have nuclear weapons. Germany would have used a hundred A-bombs to destroy Russia if Hitler had them, there is no doubt. All it takes is a mad man with a thousand nuclear weapons and we’re right back to 1941. The US could lose a hundred million people in the first six days.
We would be eating our dead like in Leningrad and this would be the least horrible thing to endure. So, Americans, study up on Russia in 1941 and find out what real war looks like. And study up on the firebombing of Tokyo and the nukes dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. These will be enough to convince you we all are living in a hippie bubble soon to be burst by God’s gift to Planet Earth—bonobo man.
A TREACHEROUS HUMP
I left the reststop of Wild Bird and fell down the steep Ike Branch to the lake where I made a left turn on the Slickrock Creek trail which is a narrow treacherous path alongside a very steep mountain which falls directly into Calderwood Lake. Yes, I passed the three old footbridges and yes I hiked over the brand new footbridge which is huge and stout and beautiful. The trail past the bridge gets tricky thru a rockslide and then you’re at the last bridge which takes you directly down to Slickrock Creek and the campsite on the left bank upstream.
The first campsite comes right after an overflow flood area with very slick rocks, and then past it you climb up and over a small hill and reach the wide open Pisgah Canyon Camps and a fave of Johnny Molloy and Bryan DeLay. In fact, the last time I was here was on a backpacking trip to Slisgah Camp and a dayhike here to see the guys. That was the trip a tropical storm hit and brought flood waters to the area and Bryan bailed and Molloy stuck it out here for several days. Rain is called for tonight and tomorrow so my plan to continue upstream may have to be changed or delayed or I even may have to backtrack out across the four bridges again and climb up the heartbreak that is Ike Branch Hill. Anyway, I’m spent and tired and need to just hang out, rest and relax and take what comes. I’ve been trying to call Little Mitten for several days but I just can’t get out and I haven’t been to the high ground for eight days and I won’t be for several more days.
Morning at Pisgah Canyon Camp Slickrock Creek
TRAIL: Slickrock Creek
THE RAIN COMES
It started before dawn or maybe around midnight and now at 8:30 in the morning there’s the light pitterpatter of a wilderness valley rain. I want to pack and move of course and may do so sometime today if I feel like it even though I deserve a mid trip zero. I have two choices—to brave Slickrock Creek and try to cross it on an upcreek trek, or bail out the way I came yesterday on the treacherous mountain goat path with the bridges.
FIVE SLICKROCK CROSSINGS
There are a total of 12 Slickrock crossings for the normal backpacker but for girlie-men there are 14 crossings, and this is because from the lake and right past the big site I call Pisgah Canyon there’s a rock ledge cliff on the left bank which is the trail and which must be gingerly scooted across without slipping and falling several feet into a deep pool of water. Nimble people with light packs can clutch and go thru this section without a second thought, in fact, backpackers I talk to later don’t even remember it. I get squirrely here and can do it without a pack easily but it’s confounding and scary otherwise and so I cross two extra times below and above this problem rock.
Past it the trail levels out and comes to the first official crossing which is wide and usually easy although today the water is up enough to make all crossings thought provoking and challenging. The second crossing (my fourth) is the one Patman had the hardest time with as it’s belly button deep if you stick to the normal route. However, thirty feet upstream there’s a crossing which is much easier and you can avoid the pool. After this crossing you’re home free and will be at the Ike Branch and BMT jct quickly where you climb up and over a final rock and root obstacle.
Here begins the Slisgah Camps. I could’ve camped but figured I should pull a fifth crossing and head to the Stiffknee camps where I can set up and relax. The sky opened right before arriving and so I had to do the usual rodeo eight second timed event to get everything situated. So yes, I sit in the tent dry and warm while the cold rain continues. Thankfully I did today’s hike in a window of no rain until the very end and this makes me happy and fortunate. And I’m damn glad I crossed the mighty Slick to get here and did not have to backtrack across the cliffside mountain goat path with the bridges. It’s a scary path when humping alot of weight.
DEBRIS HUT IN THE STIFFKNEE CAMPS
I discover a crude primitive lean-to hooch next to the tent and surmise some anxious adolescents came out for a Davy Crockett moment. Of course, I dismantled the thing and since I had my own trash fire decided to burn the junk they left behind. Stiffknee Camp now looks normal and “pristine” except of course for the two or three firepits and the three discarded old walmart green propane tanks and the iron crap left by the old rail loggers.
SUPPER’S ON THE STOVE
And yes it’s brown rice with a veggie patty and a dollop of hummus with some eggless mayo. The meal is over and the pot washed and now we wait for sunset and the end of Day 9.
Morning at Stiffknee Camp
CAMP: South of Farr Gap Camp
Stiffknee Camp is surrounded by two creeks, the mighty Slickrock and the Little Slickrock, so it’s a good place to stay if you need to be massaged by the cooing of Miss Nature. Despite sleeping well I’m up at 4:30 to shake the cobwebs out of my head and have to layer up in the parka as it’s cold down here in the wet river valley. Thankfully my creek crossings are over even though I’ll be crossing Stiffknee/Little Slick five times on today’s hump. These will be done easily by rock hopping in the boots, afterwhich the trail climbs moderately hard to Stiffknee Gap. The real heartache comes after the gap where the trail gets vertical.
There’s a good campsite I’ve been eyeballing on the south side of Farr Gap which will be tonight’s camp as I can stock up on water at Black Snake Creek before reaching Farr. Let’s lay back down and wait. There’s nothing worse on a winter backpacking trip than an early morning start. Why? Because it’s cold and dark. 9am sounds about right.
The news of the day is completely boring—
** The underwear bomber gets four life sentences.
** The endless coverage of the never ending election has become worse than the inertia hovering over an opium den. I blame the ineffectual media like NPR and CNN and Fox News for harping on this non-story.
We could care less about the presidental election until October 2012 but no, millionaires get to flex their cash and we are bombarded for two years with the haggling spitting snarls of the honcho hyena chihuahuas circling the American corpse. They think they are Ben Franklin or Paul Revere with a beacon of hope but instead they are daddy warbuck billionaires with a lawyer-engineer’s wetdream final solution of more people more cars and more coal more oil and more pollution. They are 2012 politicians living like it’s 1950. Meanwhile, the sewage eating media parces each foul tasting tidbit and occasionally details each inch of cabin trim work as the Titanic sinks.
How do you govern 330 million mt dew slurping and gasoline huffing Americans mesmerized by tweeting and texting? Good question. Stalin comes to mind ha ha ha. Just kidding. In 38 years we will have a population of 450 million people. Free market capitalism will remove more mountain tops for coal and turn an already terribly polluted TN valley into a sludge tank. No leader wants less energy or less cars or less people, it’s always more more more. In the end it all just amounts to more cancer.
THERE ARE FOUR SECTIONS TO THE STIFFKNEE
** The five creek crossings.
** The rhodo jungle.
** The open cove to the gap.
** The nutbuster past Black Snake Creek to Farr Gap.
Where am I? Well, I’m near the end of part three with a steep climb ahead to the gap. It’s a beautiful day for backpacking as the sky is powder blue with wisps of white, probably chem trails of sprayed aluminum and barium. There’s water everywhere and I won’t really load up until I reach Snake Creek spring this side of Farr. So far I haven’t seen a soul in ten days. Remarkable.
A NEW TRAILPOST AT STIFFKNEE GAP
It looks like the Crosscut Mountain Boys have been busy beavers and humped a post out here to plant in the gap showing the B Mac and trail 106. Everybody coming up takes a break here and those coming down often get confused without a sign and keep going straight instead of turning right. This post will help.
THE STIFFKNEE NUTBUSTER
The next section of trail is truly steep but thankfully it’s not too long before it becomes manageable. A couple years ago I came down the thing with six inches of snow and in the process broke my aluminum hiking pole used in place of an ice axe. Coming down such a steep path can be done easily without a pack by playing crab man and using all legs and arms and digits for footing. With a heavy pack a person can “bung abseil” whereby he uses his feet, his hands and his butt to slide down inch by inch at which point his hiking stick is stowed away as it just gets in the way.
Going up is another story as then gravity is pulling you back and not forcing you down so it seems safer. In fact, you could still fall going up a rugged pitch and it’s best to not look back. The Kings Meadow trail in the Snowbirds had such a devious section and it was very steep on an incline of dead leaves. Boots slid and I was very worried I would lose my footing and slip backwards and tumble like a rag doll tied to an anvil. “Cartwheeling” I believe it’s called. There’s a similar section on the Hemlock Creek trail in a rocky creek ravine which also poses the same problem. Maybe it’s better to make your own switchback trail in these situations and ladder up more cautiously. If you already know the route, why not parallel it with a more gradual series of switchbacks?
TENTH DAY NOKIA REACH OUT
I finally get a call out to Mitten and the sweet spot is at Farr Gap by the stop posts, another good fact to have in the old brain pan.
Needless to say I’m at the gap after a nutbuster of a climb from Slickrock Creek. Lunch is therefore inhaled and it’s pieces of bread smeared with hummus and it hits the spot. As usual I’m starting to cool down while eating so I need to re-equip and get moving.
SOUTH OF FARR GAP CAMP
I think I have a name for it but this is my third different site basically in the same area and maybe my fourth night here or close by. It’s a much better place than the last ridge camp I had to hew out of a briar field.
** If America was a society of zombies, Leonard Cohen would be it’s most popular singer ha ha ha just kidding. This is just my opinion after hearing a few minutes of his newest album. I’m not sure if he’s singing a melody or low mumbling sentences. Don’t get me wrong, I love much of his previous stuff like “Hallelujah” and “Dance Me To The End Of Love” or “First We Take Manhatten”. In one song he describes himself—“He’s a lazy bastard living in a suit”, from the song GOING HOME. Good stuff.
THE TWILIGHT OF DAY 10
Say goodnight to a fine campsite atop Fodderstack Ridge. I camped here several times—three times—and a fourth time recently not much further south from here.
WILDERNESS MEANS NOTHING
Air traffic noise has devastated the Citico wilderness. Why? Because greed is more important to American people than a designated wilderness area. Some idiots want to run an oil pipeline thru several New Jersey state parks and it’s news of the day. Figures. Screw nature or what’s left of it. The Citico/Slickrock has two major things going against it—constant air traffic noise and the terrible stink of air pollution. In the ten years of backpacking the area it has only gotten worse. This is called lack of political leadership. No wonder so many people hate corporations. They have no requirements for anything except profits. According to them a clean open empty sky is a terrible thing to waste.
We’ve fouled the oceans and the air and the land so what’s left? According to them we’ll colonize space after this place gets ruined. Can we be stopped? No. It’s our manifest destiny to kill everything clean and good. Here’s hope for the future: Is it clean? Is it quiet? Is it pristine? Here is where Michio Kaku seemingly fails in his glee for what’s coming—a human dystopian wasteland. By 2100 we’ll all probably have blood cancers from inhaling the stink.
Morning at South of Far Gap Camp
CAMP: Snow Camp
A BLACK NIGHT
Of course I’m up at six and check out a black sky full of bright stars and so today, at least for awhile, will be a good day for backpacking. There’s a new feature just arrived—a wind—and it blows in something uncertain tonight and tomorrow. Wind, high wind possibly, and certain rain and possibly snow on Day 12 with much colder temps. Today’s goal is to reach Horn in the West and then get to Crowder’s horse camp which is the protected camp with water near where Patrick and I camped on Day 4. There are several tough hills between here and there and also some downhills but as long as the rain holds off I can keep moving.
RADIO SONG QUOTE
“I got passion in my pants and I ain’t afraid to show it.” From Dylan to this? “Sexy And I Know It”? Artist? LMFAO. It’s just 7:30 but I’m ready to move. Somewhere north of Horn there are a series of wake up hills from Farr Gap to the Horn and I’m presently resting on hill number eight or whatever. The rock washboard section is over which is the steepest set and now I’m going up to either the Horn or another unnamed hill. Since Day 1 I’ve been on the BMT a total of seven days out of eleven and I haven’t seen a single backpacking on the thing. You’d think a four day holiday weekend and today being a Saturday I’d see somebody. I was gonna shed layers but it’s cold and I’ll instead cool down and then start again. My first goal is the Horn and then Crowders and probably beyond since it’s so far a sunny Saturday.
CROWDER CAMP RESTSTOP
Okay boys, I make it to Crowders and watch the sky while contemplating the next big hill up and over Big Fodder Mt. Of course the camp is empty as is the trail. Here’s a thought—walk every trail out here and don’t stop until you see a backpacker or his camp. Novel thought. I’d end up in Fontana before that happens. What’s for brunch? A probar. No wonder Papa D didn’t show as Fodderstack Ridge is a remote area in the back of beyond and almost even too solitary for me, especially after eleven days of seclusion.
BIG CLIMB DONE
Phew, it seems like I’ve been climbing all day today and certainly all day yesterday. I sit on Big Fodder Mt with a long merciful downhill ahead of me. The next climb is the Rockstack to Glenn and then the last hump up to Chestnut Knob thru Cherry Log Gap and the final pull to Snow Camp.
HARRISON GAP LUNCH BREAK
And it’s Ezekiel 4:9 sprouted 100% whole grain cinnamon raisin “as described in the holy scripture verse: “Take also unto thee wheat and barley and beans and lentils and millet and spelt and put them in one vessel and make bread of it . . .” Ez 4:9. There it is. Okay, so what’s the real ingredients? Organic sprouted wheat, filtered water, organic raisins, organic sprouted barley, org sprouted millet, org malted barley, org sprouted lentils, org sprouted soybeans, org sprouted spelt, fresh yeast, org wheat gluten, sea salt, org cinnamon. One piece has three grams of protein. I brought two loaves and about forty slices.
DRAGGING INTO SNOW CAMP
The last two days have been tough but here I am miles from where I started on Slickrock Creek two days ago.
THE RAIN BEGINS
It started two hours ago with a light pitterpatter against the tent and now a couple hours before midnight it’s still very light. Luckily it’s a calm rain with no wind as Snow Camp is littered with the fallen branches of previous storms. The cold comes tomorrow when all this is supposed to turn to snow. That could finally be my zero day. BTW, the mice are active here in Snow Camp.
Morning at Snow Camp
For peace of mind I go and guy out the tent with six stakes and a total now of 14. Since I’m up and hungry I decide to snack on a mix of unsalted peanuts and organic honey to whet the appetite but not go overboard. A brisk semi strong wind whips across the high ridge which is Snow Camp. Depending on wind speed, cold, snow and rain I’ll probably stay put here for a zero and anticipate in 24 hours to see a big drop in ambients to below freezing with possible snow, ice of course, and temps around 18 to 20F. Even now I can feel the cold creeping in but so far I am dry, comfy and warm atop the exped downmat and under the unzipped Puma.
I rarely zip the bag and hide inside its cocoon but when temps dip to 10F or below I’m in the thing closed tight and toss and turn all night in the nylon sarcophagus.
It’s an outstanding backpacking sleeping pad. The 9 pump deluxe that is. It’s 26 inches wide and 77 inches long. Here’s how it works—
** Fast hand pumping requires nearly 300 pumps.
** Slow pumping requires around 140 pumps. Why? Because the foam pump needs time to fully inflate and so much more air is pushed in by waiting that extra half second. Demon jack hammer pumping is too fast to allow the foam to expand so only tiny volume gasps get used. It’s the same time for both except the slow method uses up less energy.
Pumping up an exped is always a hassle at the end of a long day of backpacking, but you know it’s well worth it for the warmth and comfort later. What’s the hard use longevity of the exped pad? Good question, and since it’s a winter only pad you would not want to find out the hard way if the pad fails at 0F. Serious adventurers and students of the cold should probably also carry an emergency foam backup just in case. Problem is, where the heck will you carry an extra bulky foam pad? If a blue foam pad or a ridgerest is on the outside of the pack it can pick up embedded thorns like a pin cushion and poke out when the pad is depressed or when an inflatable is thrown on top for extra warmth.
These embedded thorns are not easily found or visible or felt, and you sure can’t take the same precautions you do with your inflatable—triple wrapped with a poncho and using a stuff sac and then cinching to the outside of the pack. Then again, if all you use in the winter are a couple foam pads then this problem is moot. The exped is 8R. How many foam pads to reach 8R? Good question. Two for sure. If I carried two 26 inch wide by 77 inch long foam pads, good god y’all, it would roll up into a beer keg sized bundle and overwhelm the outside of my pack. Ergo the 8R exped, and with goose down inside the exped is warm.
NEW HEADLAMP BATTERIES
It’s that time in the trip where I have to put in fresh batteries and start again. Old batts are carted out of course and once a year we haul them to the local Lowes recycling bin. I have never buried or tossed a battery out in the woods like some miscreants favor, and you see their behavior on a regular basis.
RAIN OF COURSE
It’s been eleven hours of rain but I wanna move today and finish what started three days ago on Slickrock Creek to reach the high ground of Gorak Hill and Four Mile Ridge but this cold rain just may keep me pinned. It’s only a mile and a half to the top but it’s all uphill and slow going and of course wet. What’s on top? Who’s on top? Nobody. 12 days without seeing a backpacker. All this will become snow in about 12 hours. My overall goal now is to dip down into the Kilmer side and pull some time along Little Santee creek, getting there by way of Jenkins probably which will allow me to spend a night at Toad Camp on Haoe Ridge in the old Jenkins Meadow. 14 hours of rain.
10 AM BREAKFAST
The rain continues but it’s not cold so I get up again and cook a two pouch oatmeal breakfast as the rain pelts the home lodge. It’s the first oatmeal I’ve eaten on the trip.
I’ve got six hours to decide and six hours to see if this weather stops enough to make a summit run. What’s the rush? There is no rush as I’ve got nine more days to play around with nylon and goose down.
SUNDAY RAINY SUNDAY
As noted in my trail journal from 1980 forward, it always seems to rain on Sundays. Is it a curse of Miss Nature’s beneficent gift? It’s a gift as the land and its creatures need water. A February rain at 4,400 feet seems incongruous. Why isn’t it snow? But it comes and must be accepted and endured, best done on a zero day inside a tent.
“I’S SEES YOU FROM THE MIDDLING PARTS”
As I lay down in my tent I hear a guffaw and loud snickering and then my tent collapses on me and peels of laughter erupt. Old mountain man Colon Flaccid has entered camp.
“Waugh!! Get up you old bean-dicked her-afro-dite and help me sets up mine three poled erecticile! I’s come from the middling parts around the Wrecktum Towers and free climbed over the Piss Canyons and forded the treacherous high waters of Fallopian Creek and saws yore bootprints leadin’ up the Stiffcrotch trail to points a’plenty and figured you to be so ensconced on the well stacked ridge and by Jim Bridger here ye be! The cold’s a’wantin’ to pounce dontcha know and here lets me help ya with yourin tent ha ha ha.”
“Thanks ya old turd handler for gettin’s my lodge sets up and I’s sees you finally greased down yore tent with weasel fat to keep the waters out. If’n you notice I’s got a whole new sets of skins for my tipi lodge and they be brain tanned by a wildcat woman from the Choctaw nation who spent a spell with me in the Black Bung Mountain range. She ‘ventual left as she tweren’t intolerate my snoring and I’s grown irrespective of her chin hairs. Just kiddin’ ya Fungus! She was twenty and four and had no goatee for sure but was a mite peculiar an’tways. ”
“One time she was making rock tripe stew and I noticed from a’far her using her own toe jam for a seasoning. Another time I had to ford Enema Creek at high water and she made me carry her across standing and balanced on top O my head! A couple beavers and some coyotes sat on the other side purplexed with hard staring. Another time she cooked up a pot of dead leaves and stones and I had to eat it cuz I’s was hungry. She even introduced me to her mountain lion Pa over in the Red Notch Mts.”
“One time for fun she dropped a rattlesnake into my sleeping bag but hellfire I already knew the snake as a pursonal friend and it tweren’t no problem, we got along well. This irked her and she grabt holt of a skinning knife and tore open my thistle pad bag and tried to kill my snake friend so I had to cold-cock her with the ladle from my soup pot. While she was out I tied her to four bobcats with leather thongs and left her on the banks of Pubis Creek. I’m shut of her dontcha know and shut of the wimmin. They make fiery companions and old Flaccid twon’t be replicating no how anyway and so’s they can leave my camps with empty wombs. Tweren’t no little Flaccids fogging up my world view window pane ha ha ha.”
“This herein rain twon’t stop and it’s got my prostrate in an uproar. Just as well might stay stuck with you and wait for snow.
“This pitter pattern you find so wonderful has surely become the drip drip drip of a pekachinese water torture but waugh, idjets like you seem to enjoy it. Twon’t for me to understand. Of course here I sit in yore tent with you so I be a jawing hydrocrit myself.”
“Hey Flaccid, what’s a hydrocrit?”
“Well hellfire, I meant to say a hypoclit.”
“Do you mean hypocrite?”
“I mean to torture you in the Apache way . . . . .”
HOW TO KILL 15 HOURS
It’s a dreary cold wet evening as I sit in the sleet covered tent wanting to move but moving won’t happen for another 15 hours so I must sit alone without even the company of other backpackers of dayhikers. Where is everybody? It’s a strange thing to not see anyone for so long.
WHITE ENCRUSTED TENT
Right before midnight I go out and look at the tent and realize by morning work will need to be done to scrape the tent off with gloved hands. The sleet is frozen stuck to the tent and all of it will need removing before shoving off on Day 13. It’s best done after the inside gear is packed otherwise the inside condensation will wet everything. It’s cold tonight but not frigid and probably close to 18 or 20F. Thankfully this little storm didn’t produce the usual wind gusts so common over 4,000 feet. I have several hours on Day 13 to pack and move up the mountain to Gorak Hill and once there I hope to go beyond and explore Four Mile Ridge to Naked Ground which is about three miles from here.
I’d like to keep hiking until I see another backpacker but this as we know is lunacy as there is no other backpacker. I’m all alone in the big lonesome. Richard Foster and Rick Harris of the Cherokee hiking club are to meet tomorrow at Farr Gap to hike the Milligan Creek and Tallassee Ridge area but I won’t be there to join them. I called both before the trip and said I might be in the area and I was but that was three days ago and I moved on. They are dayhiking only but if they were going to backpack the route on a two night/three day trip I would certainly be by Farr Gap right now and waiting to join them.
It’s an interesting area but for me to start and end at Farr Gap on the same day with a loaded pack just doesn’t make sense. I did hike partway down the old logging cut towards Milligan Creek and I have enough survey ribbon to do most of the route to the lake myself but it’s a lonely place so why go more remote when I at this point in the trip want to see other backpackers and not less?
Morning at Snow Camp
TRAIL: 54A North/Four Mile Ridge/Naked Ground Trail
CAMP: High Dog Camp Little Santee
MIDNIGHT DISTANT WINDS
I hear the lonely cold wind blowing far off across some remote ridge but it’s nowhere near my camp here by Cherry Log Gap. I’m sitting up half wrapped in the bag and feeling my arms and hands go south with the cold so I need to stow the pen and paper and get supine. At first light the fun begins with layering in geese and working to clean off the tent for packing. All ice and snow must come off otherwise it’ll never fit into the tent sac. There’s no hurry to shove off and today’s high will be around 40F so all this is to melt if I can wait long enough. I’m almost out of water but sure don’t want to filter anymore before leaving camp and I can eat snow anyway on the trail.
It’s another mini nutbuster of course and I’ve been climbing since Day 10 when I left Slickrock Creek on the Stiffknee trail. All climbing will end once I reach the Bob. After that my goal is to get on the Little Santee trail and camp at the Dog Camps. There are four ways to get there: Deep Creek to Haoe and Jenkins, Haoe trail proper to Jenkins, Naked Ground trail proper which is the Little Santee trail, Horse Cove trail past Wolf Laurel to the bottom at Rattler Ford. I’ll probably do the Naked Ground trail and return up the Jenkins trail, another nutbuster of a climb. I have eight days to play around.
WELCOME TO SIX A.M.
We all wait for first light, the bugs, the mice, the ants, hiding toads and secret newts. It’s too cold for cold blood carapaces or six legs or eight legs or moth butts or ant mouths. There are certainly mammals out here peering out from behind rhododendron bushes or trotting along trails looking sideways at my tent in disdain. Coyotes come to mind. It’s too warm for hibernation so the bears are out as are the pigs. The bears must’ve been hunted to extinction because in the last year I haven’t seen them or their scat. I’m just glad I can sleep out here and walk the trails and not be singled out and killed. It’s a sort of ethnic cleansing for a species (or a race) different than my own, and may be one of the last vestiges of old world man and his killing off of a particular group of “people”, the people in this case being members of the bear nation.
FROM MYTH TO REALITY
This is a common Native American concept to regard both humans and other creatures on the same level and with the same rights but with different attributes, hence the speaking of bear nation or wolf nation or even dragonfly nation. Animals were killed and eaten of course but human populations were kept in check for 20,000 years and animal habitats were protected. The die off of certain animals like the woolly mammoth and the saber toothed tiger and others were caused by shifts in the weather and a warming climate after the last ice age and not by the popular notion of early Native human eradication, a convenient myth expounded by the new white arrivals to justify their destruction of the Indian environment.
“See, they did it so we can too!!” In fact, if the Indians killed off the big animals, how come there were over a 100 million bison when Columbus landed? Or the existence of the eastern mountain bison or the millions of passenger pigeons or the big grizzly bear population? The Indians did not cause the holocaust of these creatures, it was the new European arrivals who went on a killing spree. Why? To make America safe for greed? A control freak mindset? The religious fanatical fervor of a chosen people with dominion over the earth? All these and more.
A careful study should be made of the white’s treatment of the California Indians in the 1800’s, as previously noted. Now that we have conquered them and surveyed their land, we have taken Andrew Jackson’s glorious and elect 12 million and jacked it up to 330 million. Within this glut we currently are building 700,000 new homes every year with a million new homes the goal. This we consider a “healthy economy”. No wonder there is habitat loss. What happens when we run out of land for these new homes? And what happens in 2050 when there are 450 million Americans? Where will we get the oil and the nuclear waste dumps for the light bulb and the flat screen energy? How many more mountain tops will be removed and how much more coal will be burned?
The old 1830 mindset of expansion and growth no matter what is still in play. Will we end up like Mumbai or Karachi with the highest population densities? Will we turn America the beautiful into Sao Paulo? It’s been happening since the 1700’s and there’s apparently no end in sight. The Citico wilderness is already surrounded by the lights of LA and blasted overhead by the nonstop roar of jets. When we humans are not killing off the swordfish or the tuna or the sea turtles or the whales or the grizzlies or the California Tolowa Indians, we are killing off each other—see WW1 and WW2 and Vietnam. As Sri Yukteswar once said, “The earth is dark with warfare and murder in the sea, land, and air . . . .”
THE NANNY STATE PARK OF GSMNP
It doesn’t take a historian to see what we’ve done and where we’re headed. With dominion over nature and greed being our prime directives, well, say goodbye to American the beautiful. I’m the very last free roaming mountain man left in the Southeast in the last years of free roamable wilderness. Do I have any proof of this? Yes, just look at the proposed backpacking rules for the GSMNP and you’ll see how the nanny state anglo saxon lawyer types want us to behave on 500,000 acres of southeastern forest. The head nannies in charge won’t be happy until every square foot of public land is thus regulated—cash reservations, nightly camping fees, sleeping at designated sites only.
No backpacking trip can happen until every night of that trip is accounted for with every site listed. This will satisfy the big brother bean counters and ticket punching bureaucrats. They won’t be satisfied until they’ve divided up forest land into foot interstates with approved exits and nightly motel stays. You will hike the same route as everyone else and will stay at the same camp as all the thousands before you. They will take a pristine unbroken wilderness area like the Smokies and turn it into a state park guided tour like Mt Rushmore. The sense and wonder of a forest trek will become a paint by the numbers Rembrandt. Meanwhile, while Smokies backpackers are nitpicked to death, millions of cars and trucks enter the Park without paying a dime. Cars are beloved—backpackers are suspect.
What can be done? Well, for centuries Indian ceremonies were outlawed by the US govt and it wasn’t until 1978 that Indians could practice their religions legally. But here’s the thing, the Indians did their rites anyway, hidden in the hollars and badlands and other inaccessible places. As noted before, when fascists rule, the oppressed find ways around. And so it is with public land and backpackers. We will smile goofy like and gladhand and sing and dance to the king’s men but we will secretly find our campsites without needing the proper mein fuhrer paperwork and hand stamp tattoos.
Many of us have been stealth camping for decades anyway, so what’s changed and what’s the problem? It’s sort of sad but like homeless bums we’ll have to sneak around at night and find a bush to sleep under by the county courthouse. This is what the honchos have done to America’s wild places, or as Ed Abbey once said, to paraphrase—“Have fun out there but in a clockwise direction only.” End O Rant.
NPR STORY ON BLACK BEARS
How to keep the black bear numbers down? It’s a story on the radio. There are around 4,000 to 5,000 black bears in Tennessee. How many humans are in Tennessee? Why not cull the humans? Or do we play god with bears? Why not radio track humans and survey them for habitat studies? Should we ask Tennesseans what to do with black bears? HELL NO. People want only people around, not bears. Most people would be happy to live in sterile neighborhoods with no mammals alive except their poodles. This is like letting Heinrich Himmler decide on what to do with the gypsies. Bad choice.
People are afraid of the remote danger of bears but show absolutely no fear of the mercury in the air they are breathing or the sludge of TN valley air pollution or the danger of car travel or the close proximity of five or six nuclear power plants in East TN. Ah, but the bears! There’s not room for both! They are too dangerous! Meanwhile cyrstal meth runs rampant. Hunters love spouting this party line: “If we don’t kill them they’ll destroy their own environment and kill themselves off.” What? How about human destruction of their habitat by logging and bulldozers and road building and sprawl and helicopter flyovers and summer homes and land encroachment by TN’s population of 6.4 million people? 4,000 bears versus 6,400,000 Tennesseans? Uh, wait a minute.
A GREAT DAY FOR BACKPACKING
And still the trails are empty. I packed up a clean tent after spending 20 minutes scraping off the ice so it would roll into the stuff sac and then geared up and climbed the wake up hill with about 700 feet of elevation gain in 1.5 miles. Atop the Bob I called Mitten and we had a good connection and then booked along the Wall in a couple inches of snow to the high gap at Naked Ground where I sit now in a brisk wind facing south towards Cheoah Bald. Unless something better comes up I’ll probably camp here tonight and head down the Kilmer side tomorrow if possible. No one is out because the snow is untrammeled and I guess only Uncle Wad is dumb enough to be out hiking thru paradise and camping in heaven. Hell I thought today was supposed to be a holiday? The dayhikers aren’t even out. 13 days without seeing a soul.
Lunch is a probar in the sun as I think about getting water at the spring and figuring where I need to set up in case ot rains tonight or tomorrow. There are four ways to descend into Kilmer—the Four Trails of the Apocolypse—
** Horse Cove—Horse Cove is out since I passed it by way back at the butt rock.
** Naked Ground trail is right here and pulls eight switchbacks before seriously losing elevation into Little Santee valley.
** Haoe Lead is about a mile from here and on top of Haoe Peak which involoves a climb of four separate hills.
** Deep Creek is near the Hangover and is wild and remote and steep and follows a series of old logging cuts to a little wooden footbridge by a campsite. The rest of Deep Creek meanders down and around and up and over to end at a jct with the Haoe Lead trail coming from the parking area at Maple Springs. You do a loop back by turning right onto the Haoe Lead trail as it battles thru the worst brush and briars of the whole Slickrock wilderness, or at least it did a couple years ago. Maybe some workers came out and cleared it. Past some devilish brush the trail jcts with the Jenkins Meadow trail which veers left and Haoe Lead continues up thru Toad Camp before climbing steeply back to Haoe Peak. Remember Haoe Peak? It’s just a mile from here.
COMING DOWN THE NAKED GROUND TRAIL
Okay boys, I pulled the eight switchbacks and took a spill on the second but landed softly in the mud and coated one glove, the back forearm of my merino top and a bit of mud on my merino left calf but didn’t even hit hard as I slid softly to the ground. I’m sitting below the switchbacks on the steep section where I got water and will soon keep moving to my goal of High Dog Camp.
BLESSED RELIEF AT HIGH DOG CAMP
I got inspired I guess by the weather and as soon as pulling into camp I pulled out the pot and brush and bronners and completely washed my hair and scalp and ears and face and hands with lavender soap. Of course, I rinsed away from the creek. The water is ice cold but my hair was a matted grease ball and needed it. Now I sit in the cold tent as the sun sets in Little Santee valley but I’m bundled up in geese so all is well. What’s the Naked Ground trail and Little Santee valley like? Well, the trail is steep but nothing like the upper Slickrock nutbuster trail. It’s a joy to walk either up or down because it’s maintained enough to keep the frowns down and the screams away, although there’s a very nasty blowdown right above High Dog Camp which hasn’t been touched in a couple years.
While the other side seems to have Friends of the Citico, there ain’t no friends of the Slickrock or Joyce Kilmer and so most of the trails on the NC side are in rough shape althought the SCA did come out a couple years ago to do paid work.
Morning at High Dog Camp Little Santee
TRAIL: Naked Ground Trail
CAMP: Low Dog Camp—Creekside
There are many fine campsites and creek valleys in the Citico/Slickrock and this one is no different except that it is not often used as it’s a bit remote. The Little Santee is a fantastic pristine creek in a valley never logged and the trail thru it is an honest footpath and not an old bulldozed logging cut like all the others. Another neat feature is that the trail does not have to cross the boisterous Little Santee anywhere along its length except at the high headwaters in a step over fashion. There are campsites pretty much all along its length and several options on side trails like—
** The first from the valley is the Jenkins Meadow connector trail which jcts right at the Low Dog Camps. It loops up to the “real” Jenkins Meadow trail which then becomes a nutbuster.
** The memorial big tree loops and the possibility of using the first loop to connect to a shortcut to the Horse Cove trail.
** The Horse Cove/Stratton Bald trail which can be accessed at a trailhead off the Kilmer road by the Rattler Ford campground. This nine mile trail is long and involved but recently 95% cleared by the SCA boys and girls and it skirts the edge of the wilderness all the way to Wolf Laurel and beyond up to the Bob.
** The Maple Springs roadwalk from the Kilmer memorial road. This option could be hiked, I suppose, for four miles as it deadends and offers the final beginning trailhead to the Haoe Lead trail which climbs all the way to Haoe Peak and Hangover Mt and offers two ways to do it, on the Deep Creek trail or the Haoe Lead proper.
** Finally, there’s the lower Jenkins connector loop which starts at a pulloff on the Kilmer memorial road where the road meets the other road from the Skyway.
AIN’T DONE YET
But I’m not done yet with the Little Santee and the Dog Camps as today I hope to pack and descend all the way to the Low Dogs for another night next to this great creek. Of all the many trails in the Cit/Slick, this trail is the most popular due to its trailhead out of the big tree Joyce Kilmer loops. So, after 14 days I just may see another backpacker and nylon pumper. If not, well, this weekend I must climb up and over the Bob again to reach Beech Gap for my evac so there’s always a final weekend swaray inwhich even old Patman might attend.
A SWARAY OF ONE
But nothing’s planned, it’ll just be me myself and Jolene which is a-okay with me and normal.
WAITING FOR THE FULL LIGHT OF DAY
It’s a long slow process inside a cold tent but there’s hope again for the creatures of earth with the dawning of a new day.
It’s early but the time is good enough for the mighty oat.
ON THE PRETTY LITTLE SANTEETLAH TRAIL
I left High Dog and quickly passed the Middle Dogs starting with Staika Boy’s Camp and then the official Middle Dog Camp. Now I sit at the giant cut tree which is huge and I tried to count the rings and came up with around 350. Grandpa of the Santee.
AN HONEST WILDERNESS FOOT TRAIL
It feels good to be on an honest to God wilderness foot trail that isn’t a dynamited and bulldozed and timbered remnant of 1920’s corporate logging greed—raped by the select few and then sold as scrap land to the government. No, it’s a never touched pristine valley with just a few signs of man, a few little footbridges and a score of cut blowdowns. If land can be left alone by the bonobo monkey man it ends up as this—an ancient thriving ecosystem adjusting slowly and with its own innate wisdom to the challenges it faces such as the hemlock dieoff, acid rain, and other stresses.
“Leave it alone” is the damn hardest thing for humans to understand, but here in the Little Santee valley I see the proof of such wisdom. Odin only knows why the land barons didn’t ruin and rape this slice of paradise, I guess the Citico and the Nantahala and the Cherokee and Pisgah and Chattahoochee was enough sap on their hands. Anyway, after the settlers annihilated or removed the Cherokee as Andrew Jackson said, these same settlers squatted and logged and sold out their land to the terrorists with chainsaws, crosscuts and bulldozers and the Southeast was ruined. Little Santee valley is the last remaining multi thousand acre forest left untouched and it stands a lone survivor from a war against nature. I’m lucky to be alive and to be hiking thru it.
Don’t get too excited—the Ranger boys did use dynamite in this valley last year in the Kilmer memorial forest to topple several old dead hemlocks. Why? Because tourism is more important to them than a natural ecosystem. They blasted the trees with dynamite along the two memorial loops so the lard-butted driving public wouldn’t have to bushwack off trail or get beaned by a falling tree. How can you have a memorial forest when you use dynamite to topple the trees? Here’s a thought: Close the dang memorial road and let the tourists hike in from Rattler Ford and let the Kilmer monument return to nature. Sure, people can still visit but they’ll have to hike further and the trail will be rough. Or should we make it a pull-off overlook experience? Make it easy? Way too many places in America are already too easy to reach so blame the damn automobile. End O Screed.
LOW DOG CAMP
I reach the many tentsites in the Low Dog Camps and scouted out a neat one right next to Little Santee Creek which is divided by an old blowdown and it may become tonight’s camp. Some blowhole idiot left two heavy lawn chairs in camp and so I carted them out to the NG trailpost and left them for others to haul. It’s amazing what crap people bring and are too lazy to carry out. But they’re too lazy to haul the chairs all the way to Naked Ground Gap. I wonder why? Cuz they’re girlie-men.
CREEKSIDE CAMP ON LITTLE SANTEETLAH CREEK
I’ve eyeballed this camp for years and so I finally decide to use it. It’s four feet from the water of Little Santee and so I’ll be serenaded with the sound of rushing water all night long. The sun beats down and even bakes the tent.
IT’S LIKE A SUMMER DAY
The sun beats down on the tent and stretches everything tight, even the inflated exped has to be opened to keep it loose. UV rays hit my tent and bag but I’m not worried.
ALONE FOR FOURTEEN DAYS
Patman made the effort because I arranged the meeting, otherwise I haven’t seen anyone in fourteen days. Lay down and go to sleep and forget about it.
It throws me into a grand funk and I emerge foul like a sick griz with no idea what to do next. Eating isn’t the solution and so I wait inside the tent and think I need a vitamin C chewable and some saw palmetto for a sore butt and aching perineum. Ha ha but I do not jest. BTW, I washed out my first pair of silk underwear today and in three hours of sitting on the hot tent it is dry and so I can swap out the red back to the black. It’s always good to be in clean silk. Let’s go rooting thru my vitamin bags and self medicate.
LOW ON COOKABLES
I have six more cooked suppers scheduled for the trip and today’s meal is boiled refried beans in ample soupy water. After today I look at my pile of food and count out the meals—two McDougall’s black bean soups (saving the best for last), one lentil Tasty Bite meal, three soy sausages to add to meals, a six oz pak of wheat gluten to beef up the above three meals, ample packs of oatmeal. So, oats with soy sausage? Yup. I have plenty of snackables—hand to mouth food.
END OF THE LINE
Low Dog Camp is pretty much the end of the line from the high ground and so my thoughts go to which route to take to loop back up to the high ground for a Saturday Bob camp. If I do Jenkins there’s a couple campsites not far up. If I do the memorial loops I hope to find a shortcut from the lower loop up to the Horse Cove trail somewhere near the old stone home foundation. Plus going thru the loops will allow me to dump my trash.
Morning in the Low Dog Camps
TRAIL: Jenkins Meadow/Haoe Lead
CAMP: Toad Camp
FOUR IN THE MORNING
The in-tent sleeping white mamba wakes before me and unzips the tent door and goes out but is pulled back because it’s connected to me and yet with reptile strength it drags me out by the hip and so I give up and let it pee. A reptilean bladder cannot be denied. While outside we both look up into the black night sky and see a billion stars so we know at least part of today will include some good hiking. I’m still in a quandary about which route to do, Jenkins or Horse or backtrack on NG trail but currently I think I want to explore the first memorial loop and try to find a shortcut from it to the Horse Cove trail.
IS IT COLD?
Yes, Low Dog Camp is blanketed with cold air and so I recline on the pad and cover up with the bag. It’s so easy to cuddle up “with myself” and sleep in such cold because the bag can stay unzipped and therefore I can stretch out but still stay warm. I always sleep in my merino longjohn bottoms with the smartwool socks and my Icebreaker zipneck tops along with the Turtle Fur hat.
FIND MY SPOT
It looks like I’ll get some backpacking in for part of the day before something big comes in this afternoon with possible nasty winds. Right now it’s about 30F but will rise as the day continues. A strong cold front is headed my way and will hit tomorrow. Rain will be in the picture for the next three days with morning windows to move if needed.
PARTS OF THE JENKINS MEADOW TRAIL
** Connector to trailsign and spring crossing.
** Moderate uphill to Kurt Peterson’s Log.
** Hard ditch switchbacks and open rock climb to giant oak ridge.
** Oak Ridge.
** Left hillside contour climb.
** Hell follows . . . . and so it goes.
JMT is a nutbuster but it’s doable with a heavy pack if you parse it into several parts. “Hell follows” means the trail keeps climbing steeply and enters an area of big boulders and all else as you struggle always upwards. Finally the trail levels out somewhat in a little gray rocky cove with a creek but there are sparse and questionable campsites here. After crossing the little creek the trail really busts a nut until you reach another little spring which in good times emits from the hillside on the right. I just dipped my jug and got it untreated since I wasn’t far from my day’s camp. Past this spring the trail keeps hurting you until you finally reach a rock dirt circle and the jct of the Haoe Lead trail and the end of the JMT. It’s a good place to dump the pack and staunch blood flow. BTW, there’s a very nasty blowdown below the creek cove and it requires a large detour leap up and around the rootball. Not fun.
PAST THE JCT
Now you’re on the Haoe Lead trail and soon you’ll be atop Haoe Ridge which is a level windy thing with ample tentsites and scattered firerings. I get to Toad Camp and fight the wind to get the tent set up using all 16 pegs. Now what? We wait for rain.
Once camp and kit is set I can layer up and hike the ridge back and forth just for the heck of it.
It’s about monster truck shows. Wait a minute, I thought gas prices are high and we’re conserving oil? One truck uses 10 gallons of fuel to a mile. One truck can be worth $200,000.
My day ends with the wx radio going bonkers with alerts from Alabama to Kentucky and so I listen and try to understand where Little Mitten sits on the map alert and what crap might hit me here at 4,000 + feet. So far there’s a steady wind which isn’t new but far away. Lightning keeps my interest. All this will end by morning—not the wind though—and I’ll have a window to move before the next round hits tomorrow evening. I’ll probably head up and over Hangover Mt and seek shelter on lower ground in Elysium Fields. Otherwise I would stay put on top of Four Mile Ridge.
THE STORM POUNCES
And the deluge hits. I seam sealed the tent before coming out as Toad Camp is getting wailed upon by a large amount of wind whipped water. There’s a few close lightning bolts too. All you can do is sit it out and wait with the headlamp on peering about like a rodent. I am a rodent, owl bait, except the owls aren’t flying in this. My big black bean meal sits heavy on the guts and I squirm with a disturbing bolus of food which won’t go down or come back up. I take a licorice pill and wait. I do have a first aid kit with ibuprofen and other meds but I’m not there yet.
Wind blown limbs and falling trees. Lightning strikes. Microburst wind events. Bad water. Food poisoning. Ain’t backpacking grand? Now we wait as the kerlon takes a beating but at least I’m not in “death valley” with all the thousands of dead hemlocks like down along the Little Santee. Up here we have giant oaks and birch or beech or whatever else but no hemlocks. I hope Mitten is a-ok down in the valley. It’s hard to believe that this is round one and more comes tomorrow night. Afterwhich comes the cold and a final weekend on the mountain top. In 15 days I haven’t seen a single human. This is a record or will be by tomorrow. This storm will peter out by midnight and then comes a good day of humpage to places known and loved.
Yes, the hump from here is strenuous and there’s a bad blowdown across the trail further up as I don’t think Bill Hodge yet came out to work this trail. The whole Haoe Lead trail is a long bugger and would require a team of people several days to get it done. But who knows, maybe he already did the lower part where the briars are terrible. I should walk down the Haoe trail past the JMT jct and see what it’s like and then hook into Deep Creek and camp by the footbridge. It’s an option. I just don’t want to pull the Deep Creek to Hangover hump as I’m all humped out.
HILLS OF THE TRIP
** Pine Ridge.
** Mill Gap to Little Big Horn.
** Nichols Cove to Windy Gap.
** Yellowhammer humps.
** Farr Gap to Crowders and Crowders to Snow Camp.
** 54A north to Bob.
** Jenkins Meadow to Toad Camp and Haoe Peak.
** Jeffrey Hell Climb and out.
Morning at Toad Camp
DAY SIXTEEN TRIP 130
TRAIL: Haoe Lead/Four Mile Ridge
CAMP: Airjet Camp Hangover Mt
MIDNIGHT WITH OCCASIONAL MAD GUSTS
I’m up for a while to square the vestibule away as I hear rodent mvt and so I bring out a single peanut for enticement. The thundering storm is mostly over except for the niagara falls of wind falling from some high place down onto this mountain ridge. This particular wind is not part of a thunderstorm but instead is the usual harbringer of cool temps becoming cold and such a change takes time in a swirl. I’m okay as long as the big trees stay up.
A PRE DAWN AWAKENING
I was gonna say “a pre dawn turtlehead” but by now people are sick and tired of hearing about the stools emerging from the butt of Uncle Fungus. And they are tired of my quasi political screeds against humans in our war against nature. You take these away and what’s left? Very little. Gear talk, routes taken, weather conditions, nutbuster encountered, days out, food eaten, weight carried.
A LAST STICK OF INCENSE
I burn one more stick of incense in the tent vestibule before thinking about packing and climbing hard up another mountain.
SUMMITING HAOE PEAK
It’s another pretty day with unseasonably warm temps so I pack and pull the thousand foot climb to the top of Haoe Peak where I sit now wiped out but happy. A warm day means more afternoon thunderstorms and so I need to decide if I want to keep this hard earned elevation gain and stay on Hangover Mt or if I need to bail down a thousand feet to Elysium Fields. BTW, I haven’t seen a hominid human in 16 days, a record. Some people worry that these trip reports advertise the area too much and open it up to the crowds but I’ve been all thru the Cit/Slick and in 16 days I haven’t seen a single backpacker or dayhiker. This fact should calm their fears. Even with a warm February there’s no one out. It’s very weird. I guess everyone is going thru dumpsters for food or stealing gasoline or can’t afford fuel to drive to the trailheads. Luckily I live very close to here.
Here’s the thing, wind and lightning can get you pretty much anywhere, either here at Airjet Camp or on the flat table of Elysium Fields. It’s supposed to hit late tonight and last all day tomorrow as Miss Nature tries to expend all her hot air and change it to cold. My only job is to survive the next 36 hours of fun.
I listen to the wind blow across the Hangover and some times there is the occasional wild gust which shakes the hilltop and the trees and the leaves and the now amply guyed out Hilleberg. The last two days of humpage has sucked the life out of me for some reason or maybe it was the untreated water I got yesterday and then the big bean meal which stomped me hard and still lingers today so all I can manage is a probar meal and no evening cooked supper. I’ll lay in the tent in convalescent mode and see what tomorrow brings. By then I hope to have enough of an appetite for oatmeal. When your guts are in turmoil you get weird chills even when it’s warm outside and there’s nothing better than to get prone and cover up with the bag. It’s a combination of queasy stomach and foul gas I call backpacker’s indigestion. It doesn’t ruin a trip but it slows a trip down.
As luck or religion would have it a raven squawks nearby and I know I’m in damn good hands. Wow, a couple came very close. They make a strange gurgling squawk and it’s medicine to my ears. Since I’m inside a zipped tent they swing thru without caution or fear. It’s the first “people” I’ve seen in 16 days. I wonder where they sleep? There are hundreds of high peaks for them but they seem to really like the Hangover so it should be called Raven Mountain. They are angels on high and if they would just come down and hang out in the tent for a while I would appreciate it. I’m unworthy so this will never happen. My character is flawed with the three gateways of hell—lust, greed and anger.
These are separate and they’re all intertwined and consume human lives from birth to death. So you want to be a human? Then get ready to deal with lust, greed and anger. Lust is obvious, greed is everywhere, and anger is notoriously common. Advancing years do not bring wisdom, they just make lust, greed and anger easier to see in ourselves. A whole lifetime passes quickly enslaved to these three. Some could care less but most of us try to control them and we get up after falling a million times. We must get back up, otherwise we could care less and life is over.
The hours tick by too slowly only because I want to get the heck out of here at first light since it’s too windy and there are two problem trees leaning over the tent and the gusts are in the wicked maelstrom category. Sore guts have turned me into a girlie-man. No wonder I haven’t seen anyone in 16 days as it’s a war zone out here. And what’s worse, a big thunder fest is headed my way with god only knows what zaps and bolts and dark blue poems are in store for Hangover Mt. Sit it out minute by minute, wait for the worst to arrive and most probably quickly pass and then prepare for the cold. The wind will keep coming until it does its job and brings this cold. How cold? Nights are around 15F or 12F, endurable, even with a stiff wind. Let’s do a stupid sissy count down—I have 12 hours till 8am. The rest of this trip can stay on Four Mile Ridge—Hangover, Naked Ground, Bob, Cold Gap, in that order, and finish off at Beech Gap with Little Mitten. Tonight’s the hump that needs to be passed before kicking back for the finish line.
GOING TO BED HUNGRY?
A sour stomach clouds my mood since I’m a slave to the body and so there will be no cooked supper tonight.
Morning at Airjet Camp Hangover Mt
TRAIL: Four Mile Ridge
CAMP: Landon Camp Naked Ground
WELCOME TO MY WINDY WORLD
I’m up in the tumult at three in the morning and slept out but I could always lay back down and try again. My stomach blahs have left since I stopped eating hours ago and now just wait for first light in about five hours to pack and move. Today’s theme will be wind in all its forms—high whipping winds, circular micro bursts, wind with rain, wind stressing trees, wind and tent longevity at exposed spots, and finally, wind chills as the day goes from the 50F’s down to the 20F’s ambients and then tack on the chill.
If there’s mercy shown and I can get out of here or at least get packed, then I’ll saunter along Four Mile Ridge overdressed to compensate for the strong winds and take my time to the gap at Naked Ground. Once there a command decision must be made, do I set up or keep going? NG has a leading Kilmer edge and a back lot nutbuster side—one in the worst of the wind and one out of the wind. The main thing is to be far away from the center dead tree that still stands after all these years. So far there’s little rain with this storm which is a good thing as I’m not yet blasted off the mountain Miss Nature’s bolts, another thing to worry about.
4.5 HOURS UNTIL SUNRISE
We’re waiting boys, “we” meaning me and the moths and the bugs and the spiders and the ravens and the hidden newts and the nestled coyotes and the sequestered pigs and the sleeping bears. We’re all in this together and I’m the only one foolish enough to be perched at 5,000 feet atop a high ridge surrounded by stunted trees. Let’s go back to sleep.
A LUCKY WINDOW
I get packed and leave Hangover Mt in a no-rain window and hike Four Mile Ridge to Naked Ground in a light rain and manage to set up a tight tent and get water right before the day turns to night and a dark blue poem covers the gap with a new rainstorm. Luckily I prepared the somewhat muddy site with three clumps of dead leaves spread out below the tent. It’s too early in the day to stop but I’m exactly where I want to be and merciful god but the radio plays the Peer Gynt Suite, a favorite. Of course NG is empty. Here’s the thing—no backpackers are brave enough or retarded enough to arrange their kit and drive in a windstorm to a trailhead and hike into a dark blue poem as Miss Nature’s verse goes from high baroque gales to deep freeze cold with a few lightning bolts thrown in amidst the 60 mph wind gusts.
So obviously the nylon equipped and ruck-deranged are squirming away from some of the best Miss Nature has to offer due to fear or laziness or February or imagined cold or five dollar gas. They won’t even say they sleep out every night in the back yard and so I’m all alone in a culture of screens and cyberists.
“Chance of snow showers tonight.” You guys better get out here soon.
Well, the temps dip and the sky opens with sleet and so I zip the lodge and wait it out as I was in the middle of pulling butt patrol in Naked Ground gap and picking up the trash to put in the firepit. It’s windy and therefore cold so I’m in the parka and down pants and two hats which seem excessive except that I’ve been getting chilled lately and feel feeble. Poor Fungus. Supper tonight will be cooked lentils with a large hunk of seitan wheat gluten. With sleet and cold and snow I expect to see some backpackers today or tomorrow which gets me in an upbeat mood. I like to pull the rounds and go to the four trails which come into the gap from the four directions. These interlocking trails are what make NG a destination for all Slickrock backpackers.
The sleet stopped so let’s keep looking gap trash.
My thumbs of all things are cold as I walk around the gap and so at near sunset I return to the tent to get out of the biting wind. The day slowly comes to an end as I wait to see who shows from the Kilmer side or the Bob side or the Jenkins side or even the nutbuster side. I promise you if I see someone I’ll take the necessary fotos. It’ll become the highlight of a lonely trip.
Morning at Naked Ground
TRAIL: Four Mile Ridge
CAMP: Gorak Hill Bob
MIDNIGHT IN THE COLD
Naked Ground gap calmed down mostly and there’s no sleet or snow to captivate a camera lense and the wind is a dull hum over my left shoulder. As far as I can tell no backpacker came up in the dark to set up camp and so the gap is a lonely place. It’s too cold to be sitting up writing without the parka so I’m going back to bed.
7 A.M. TEA
I’m up in a wind advisory which means the wee’tards finally get around to calling what I’ve been in for the last three days as existing. I could of told them this but they were juggling entrails and measuring how far they could spit or what turd splatter looks like when dropped onto a tin plate from above. Necromancers? Alchemists?
The plan is to wait here for several hours and then gear up for the 500 foot climb to the top of Gorak Hill where it will be windy for sure. As soon as I got up I walked around the gap to see if someone pulled in thru the night but nope I’m still on a solitary trip.
BREAK THE SPELL
Today may be the day that breaks my 18 day dry spell run of not seeing another human being. Why? Because it’s a Saturday and I’m heading to the most popular spot in the wilderness—Bob Bald. (Okay, the Joyce Kilmer memorial loops get more traffic but hell, visitors there can drive right up to the thing). My meanderings will take me along Four Mile Ridge on a slow walk in a cold wind. The best time to leave is right around noon, if I leave too early I’ll get there too soon, too late and my energy level won’t be good. The pitiful pleas of a guy in his sixties.
STANDING IN THE SUN
There’s a warm sun everywhere and by 9am it’s slowly trying to change my cold world. In three hours I hope to be ready to pack and start hiking without breafast since I can’t tolerate eating a meal and then cinching a tight hipbelt. Generally the food just sits there and I become sluggish and unwilling to backpack up a mountain.
PATMAN PASSES THRU NAKED GROUND!
We meet again after a 14 day interval. He came to Kilmer and parked by Rattler Ford yesterday and camped in the middle dog camps on the Little Santee trail. Today he finished the hike and popped out at NG where I invited him into the tent to get out of the bitterly cold wind. He watched me pack the kit and soon we were both hiking up the trail to Gorak Hill where the wind tore into our tender flesh along Bob’s Wall. On the Bob we scouted out every possible camp and decided on setting up in the South Col Camps, a good choice as it has room for my tent and his tent and Gonzan’s tent if he shows up as planned.
** He parked at Jeffrey Hell and will spend one night somewhere on the South Fork.
** Today he’ll hump to Cold Gap and pull the last thousand feet to here, so we’ll all get to hang out in splendor.
Now my trip of solitude has expanded into three happy fellows in a biting hand and face eating wind.
We all eat cooked meals around the big firepit and as night falls I invite the boys into my tent for a warm place to hang out before calling it quits and going to our separate lodges. The Keron is certainly big enough to house three backpackers from a butt cold wind.
A GREEN TUNNEL GET TOGETHER
The boys hang out in the Hilleberg for an hour and we hobnob out of the cold wnd until around 9pm when everyone returns to their pads and bags to call it a day. South Col Camp is cold and windy but everyone is experienced enough and with enough warm gear to get thru the night with little concern. I’m all ready to sit tent bound and see this day come to a cold end.
Morning in the South Col Camps
TRAIL: 54A South/South Fork
CAMP: Camp 28 JHell Trailpost
A COLD MORNING AT 5,300 FEET
My day begins with a 6:30 turtlehead which accompanies a urethra blue mamba strike etc. All said before. Anyway, South Col is quiet except for me moving about and unzipping tent doors. Fifty feet away are the tents of Patman in his Big Agnes Fly Creek and Gonzan in his No Limits wedge. My only goal at this point is to sit by a lit candle, write in the journal and wait for morning to unfurl so as to hobnob once last time with the boys before I re-enter a wilderness world of solitude.
GONZAN AND PATMAN TAKE OFF
It’s a trek along Four Mile Ridge to NG and down into the Little Santee valley where Patman will shuttle Gonzan west on the Skyway to the Jeffrey Hell trailhead.
ERIN AND FRIEND
Take everything I ever said about dayhikers back. Erin and his friend, two dayhikers from the Southeast, passed thru on a 12 mile hike from Beech to the Hangover and back, and we had a most interesting conversation as they are experts not only in the Cit/Slick but in the Mt Rogers and other mountain areas. After they left I packed in perfect backpacking conditions and took 54A South off the mountain and got a wild hair in Cold Gap to swing down the South Fork trail past Iron Camp and set up for the last night of the trip at Camp 28, a hundred feet up creek from the Jeffrey Hell trailpost. Someone was here last night as their fire is still smoking.
** NPR has a report on the Keystone oil pipeline. Before it they have a report on who’s gonna pay for the Gulf oil spill. Ironic, ain’t it?
** Daytona 500 stopped because of rain. What!!?? The poor boys can’t race in the rain like the Le Mans types?
** Gas prices—demand at lowest point in ten years. Production is the highest its been in eight years.
** Cushing, Oklahoma smells like rubber and oil. “It smells like money.”
** We use 18.6 million barrels of oil a day. China uses 8.2 million barrels of oil a day. Use it up, boys.
** Newt’s energy policy: Deregulation, open up Alaska, open up Federal lands. A real environmentalist looking to curb our addiction to oil.
There’s a campsite upstream from this one about 100 yards and it’s close to where Gonzan stayed two nights ago when he came down Jeffrey Hell and then climbed up to the Bob for our rondezvous.. He mentioned leaving a fancy Fenix flashlight hanging from a tree there and so today Patman dropped him off at his car at the J Hell trailhead and he dayhiked down here to retrieve it, thereby running into me one last time. He was glad to see me and I took some pertinent and important fotos of him crossing South Fork Creek. It’s a climb out and one I’ll be doing myself in about 14 hours.
Morning at Camp 28 South Fork
TRAIL: Jeffrey Hell and OUT
MIDNIGHT ON THE SOUTH FORK CITICO
Okay boys, It’s the last day of a great winter trip and although it was a solitary thing it did begin and end with Patman and Gonzan.
Trip 130 started long ago on Flats Mt with an enormous pack and progressed to a snowy camp at Crowders with Patman at around 12F. From there it fell to Slickrock Creek and pulled a loop thru coves and around Calderwood Lake to arrive back on Slickrock Creek and the Stiffknee trail. Once on the BMT I stayed on the BMT all the way south to Snow Camp and over the Bob to Naked Ground and a neat descent into the Kilmer side. Finally I climbed out of the valley on Jenkins Meadow and stayed in some high elevation windstorms until meeting Pat and Gonzan on Gorak Hill.
From there the trip now ends with a Citico side exit at Jeffrey hell. Here are the hills of the trip:
** The short but heavy hump to the top of Flats Mt.
** The tough Pine Ridge climb with 99 lbs and a gain of 2,200 feet.
** From Mill Gap to the Little Big Horn. Slow going.
** Nichols Cove up to Windy Gap.
** The Yellowhammer Hills.
** Stiffknee to Farr Gap.
** Farr Gap hills to Crowders—a few tough ones.
** The Crowder to Snow Camp hills and over Big Fodder Mt.
** The Bob climb on 54A North.
** The really tough Jenkins Meadow hump 3,000 feet to Haoe Lead and Haoe Peak.
** From Naked Ground on Four Mile Ridge to the Bob.
** The final J Hell hump to the Skyway and out.
WAITING FOR FIRST LIGHT
My hiking day will begin in crocs as I cross a cold South Fork creek but once over the easy ford I’ll reboot and push hard up the mountain to the top level spot and take a break. Then it’s an easy uphill to Falls Branch culvert crossing and Frustration Camp and pow! I’m done.
The long night ends and at seven in the morning I’m up and ready to go but must wait two hours or I’ll end up sitting by the Skyway all morning. I am burning the rest of my incense sticks—all nine—as these items must be used before leaving.
WHAT IS CAMP 28?
It’s a logging cut platform right off the trail on the South Fork trail close and upstream from the J Hell trail jct and about two miles below Cold Spring Gap and downstream from Iron Camp. Care is needed here since there’s a buried rusty sharp stell cable which is broken and has some bad ends poking up which if unseen will hole a tent floor. I put a fire rock on top of the nasty clump.
MICRO NUTBUSTER ON THE JEFFREY HELL TRAIL
Yes, there’s a short but very steep section of trail which pulls out of the valley and places you atop a flat area perfect for camping and it’s where I sit now reinserting my lungs and swabbing down my butt cheeks (?) . Now the hump becomes a gradual uphill towards Falls Branch creek and the skyway. Clouds overhead portend drizzle.
THE FOUR PARTS OF THE JEFFREY HELL TRAIL
** The first is coming up the Stiffknee climb from the South Fork.
** The flat campsite to the start of the downhill.
** The long downhill to Falls Branch creek.
** The final up to the road.
And so it is I sit at Falls Branch creek getting a liter of water and eyeballing a breakfast of something edible and chewable like a larabar cashew cookie food bar. Let’s face it, the J Hell trail has no aspect of hell in it like Brush Mt or Haoe Lead or Jenkins Meadow or Hangover Lead North. In fact, it’s an open boulevard cleared and worked for easy backpacking and easy access to the upper region of the South Fork Citico. The heath hell that killed Jeffrey is all around you though and stretches from where I’m sitting at the falls crossing all the way down into the South Fork valley, including the area around Falls Branch falls, an eighty foot waterfall which tumbles off high rocks if you bushwack down the creek where I am sitting.
That country is wild and choked and I don’t recommend it. If you’re really crazy you can bushwack the creek from here to the falls (be careful) and stay on it all the way to where it jcts with the mighty South Fork. This will take you thru some very wild country. Or like me you could just keep your testes intact and stay on the groomed and easy trail.
NO TRAFFIC EVAC POINT
Okay boys, I’m at the rattlesnake pull off on the skyway which is also the J Hell trailhead and there’s minimal traffic and so far no screaming or loud roaring motorcycles racing across the mountain for their noise fix. It’s cold here so I layer up in merino tops and bottoms with the rainpants and turtle fur hat. I have a long wait so I could keep walking to the overlook but no thanks I’ll stay put and let it go. The trip is over.
SO GO ON BOYS AND GET YOUR BAG NIGHTS NOW WHILE IT’S COLD BEFORE THE SUMMER HEAT COMES AND YOU’LL HAVE A REAL EXCUSE TO STAY HOME AND AWAY FROM THE YELLOW JACKETS, RATTLEHEADS AND NOSEEUMS WHICH WON’T BE OUT IN MARCH SO GET YOUR KIT AND FLEE THE MARTS OF MEN AND THE ELECTRIC AUTOMATIC GARAGE DOORS AND THE FLUSH TOILETS AND NOSE HAIR CURLING IRONS AND STRAP ON YOU EYELID PACKS AND RUSH FROM THE INSIGNIFICANT OTHERS TO THE ONLY HOME LEFT FOR US WHICH IS NATURE THOUGH BESMIRCHED WITH MERCURY INHALED AND AEROSOL CHEM TRAILS OF ALUMINUM AND BARIUM GLOP TO SUCK IN AS WE CLIMB BIG MOUNTAINS WITH HEAVY WEIGHT TO SATISFY THE GREEN WOMAN OF THE WHITE SNOWS AND LONG RAINS AND DEAD HEMLOCKS IN THE HILLS OF HER BENEFICENCE IN THE NORTH CAROLINA AND TENNESSEE MOUNTAINS.