Trip 131 Citico/Slickrock Wilderness

TRIP 131

BACKPACKING THE CITICO/SLICKROCK WILDERNESS

March 10-22  2012

(Click on all photos to see better resolutions)

HIGHLIGHTS

** 13 DAYS WITH THE CRANBERRIES

** MEETING PAUL AND AUDREY’S CRANBROOK GROUP AT NAKED GROUND

** A SERIES OF FIVE THUNDERSTORMS WITH LIGHTNING BLASTS

** IT’S JULY IN MARCH

** CAMPING WITH BRYAN AND CHELSEA’S GROUP ON THE SOUTH FORK

** THE SOUTH FORK CROSSING AND LOG GATE CAMP IN WARDEN’S FIELD

** MEETING IAN AND EGLEE’S GROUP AT CROWDER CAMP

** CAMPING WITH PAUL AND AUDREY’S GROUP AT WILDCAT FALLS

** CROSSING SLICKROCK CREEK WITH IAN AND EGLEE’S GROUP

** FAREWELL TO THE CRANBERRIES

** CLIMBING THE UPPER SLICKROCK NUTBUSTER TRAIL 27TH TIME

** FAMILY EMERGENCY SHORTENS THE TRIP

TRAILS

  • Jeffrey Hell
  • South Fork Citico
  • Trail 149
  • North Fork/Fodderstack
  • 54A North/Four Mile Ridge
  • Horse Cove
  • Four Mile Ridge/54A South
  • South Fork
  • Rocky Flats
  • Mill Branch
  • Doublecamp Roadwalk
  • Crowder Branch
  • Big Stack Gap
  • Slickrock Creek
  • Nutbuster 27th Time
  • Four Mile Ridge/54A South/Fodderstack And Out

DAY ONE

Entrance at Jeffrey Hell Trailhead

TRAIL: Jeffrey Hell/South Fork
CAMP: Iron Camp

A large load on the Jeffrey Hell trail

THIS TRIP STARTS WHERE THE LAST TRIP STOPPED
Once again a gracious and good hearted woman drives me into the Tennessee mountains and drops me off in the Citico wilderness at the Jeffrey Hell trailhead and the same place I exited after 20 days on Trip 130. Little Mitten and I converse on the drive and with us in the back seat is Zoe the little mighty mite dog. Another trip begins and I’ll miss the girls but it must be done as long as I have the health to carry tremendous weight for long periods of time in the church of nature. Winter has left the mountains because the sun is out under blue skies and it’s warm enough for a t-shirt and shorts.

Lunch is commencing on the Jeffrey Hell trail as I sit at the end of leg 1 where the trail reaches a wide open camp before falling like a rock to cross a creek before reaching the South Fork Citico. Lunch is a homemade burrito with sprouts, spinach, hummus and brown rice. By Day 15 I’ll wish I had more of these to eat as they are good. No plans have been made to link up with Patman or Gonzan or Papa D or Rob Bush or Hootyhoo or Hoppin John or anyone else, except it won’t be a solitary trip like last time since the Cranberry kids will be out on their 43rd annual wilderness backpacking trip. My immediate goal is to descend a very steep trail with a 90 lb pack. Wish me luck.

THE TORNADO OF TELLICO
As soon as I got back from my last trip, in fact the day after, a strong kick ass tornado ripped thru my hometown of Tellico Plains and did a significant amount of damage. The community banded together and immediately pitched in and got to work. Thankfully no human was killed. Today on the drive here we passed a hard hit spot and saw six Amish buggies parked and the fine Amish people helping the townfolk to rebuild.

Iron Camp on the South Fork Citico

IRON CAMP ON THE SOUTH FORK TRAIL
Iron Camp is a fine place to camp as it’s around 3,500 feet and close to water and near where the trail hits the mountain bowl and climbs steeply to Cold Spring Gap, a thousand feet higher than here.

SAY GOODNIGHT TO DAY 1
It’s dark and cold and so I lay back down on the Exped pad and try to understand the hump I have tomorrow with a full pack. This trip is undertaken to be a freebie saunter of outdoor relaxation and ease, an enjoyable vacation and a time to hole up and to read and eat and not worry about mileage or trails.

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DAY TWO  

Morning at Iron Camp

TRAIL: South Fork/149
CAMP: Barrel Gap

IRON CAMP
The time change hits and I’m up at six but it’s now seven so I change my new Sangean radio’s time and my cheap Walmart seven dollar watch. A new yellow DT-400W radio graces my tent and it replaces an identical radio which disintegrated after two years of hard use. With the radio I have a new pair of headphones made by Sennheiser model number PX 100-II, a light foldable set which seems advanced and way beyond the usual crappy headphones I’ve been using for the last thirty years.

READINGS
** Seven rolled internet readings.
** Three books—

** “WARRIOR SOUL: The Memoir of a Navy SEAL”, by Chuck Pfarrer, 2004.
** “THE KILLING OF CRAZY HORSE” by Thomas Powers, 2010.
** “IN THE HANDS OF THE GREAT SPIRIT: The 20,000 Year History of American Indians” by Jake Page, 2003.

The two latter books are thick and heavy but will supply several days of reading pleasure even though they have to be humped. I’m already on page 114 in the Pfarrer book and have burned thru one roll of the seven so yes, the 90 lb pack is slowly shrinking.

A THOUSAND FEET WITH 90 LBS
I left Iron Camp and now sit on leg 11 of a 14 leg slog up the South Fork trail below Cold Spring Gap. Leg 11 is the steepest and I sit on top of it but know there are several more pulls before popping out like a swollen testicle in the gap. No trip with a 95 lb pack can be in a hippie bubble or be done by a hippie for as soon as you sit down and get strapped in and try to get up you go from the furry freak brothers to the Dick Cheney Pentagon war room. Or as one of my old Boone friends once said, “This piece and love s*** is about to wear me down.”

Actually, my Dick Cheney mind meld is unneeded and only used when getting stung by yellow jackets or when stepping over a rattlesnake on the trail. Then I get all beady eyed and insist on going to war for no real reason except reactionary fear and trembling. The hippie mode keeps me in a balanced mellow state (though of course not fearless) and the only drug I need to tote (not toke) is a 100 lb pack. It’s a dangerous habit boys, but it’s not addictive so have at it. Don’t blame me if your gonads swell to the size of softballs and you begin to bleed from the ears. This is normal when humping tremendous weight up a mountain trail. Revere nature while you’re at it and all will be well.

HIGH BOWL SPRING
If you’re high enough on the South Fork you reach a rocky swamp area which is a good place to rest and get minimal water to drink while in pause mode. Some backpackers get “lost” here since the trail sorta disappears in the wet swamp but they’ll find it soon enough by gaining ground and veering to the right up and away thru the final bowl climb to the top at Cold Gap.

GAP RELIEF
For some reason my testes swell up to a 14 lb bowling ball size and with the extra weight I barely summited old South Fork Mt. Do Probars contain arsenic? I emailed this question to the company and they sent a company email saying “We maintain rigorous quality standards exceeding government regulations” which is a non-answer in that they never say probars do not contain traces of arsenic (from the rice syrup in the bars). Granted, naturally occurring arsenic is in the soil and probably in all foods and even in all organic foods. I just believe probar hasn’t actually sat down and tested their bars for arsenic. They should, but then they might have to say, “Yes, our bars contain a trace amount of arsenic.” Oops, not a news bite they are interested in developing. I’m eating a probar as I write this, a nutty banana boom, damn good. They should make one called Uncle Fungus Original Arsenic Ambrosia—From an authentic Dr. Colon Flaccid Recipe.”

A great place at Barrel Gap

BARREL GAP
Today’s hike is special only in that I pulled the South Fork hump with a very heavy pack and turned left onto trail 149 and lurched to Barrel Gap where I sit now in the tent waiting for a chance to cook up a supper of brown rice and onions with other odds and ends. The Pfarrer book gets interesting as he describes the 1983 Marine barracks bombing in Beirut, an overlooked blunder of the Reagan presidency and ignored by the current republican neocons and Reagan worshippers. The bombing is a subject deserving further study on the net when I get home. The USMC lost more men in one day in Beirut than they lost since the Battle of Iwo Jima in WW2. When you jab a stick into a hornet nest as Reagan did, you usually get walloped. Even the French Foreign Legion got their butts handed to them that day. Just today there’s news that a lone GI Army guy killed 16 civilians in Afghanistan, nine of them children. Some news idiot says “That sometimes happens in war.” War! Who the crap declared war? And why the hell are we still there?

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DAY THREE  

Morning at Barrel Gap

TRAIL: 149
CAMP: Dean Camp

A BARREL GAP WIND
It’s windy at midnight so I go out and place the six guyline pegs and then return to the tent for some serious tooth attention with a brush and floss. The hotshot wee’tards call for rain tonight and so far it’s as clear as glass with a black night and a billion stars. Hazardous weather and spotter activation junk clutters up the weather radio and it’s a waste of broadcast time. Anyway, rain is coming but not when they say it’s coming, so I’ll have to wait and see what happens.

QUOTE OF THE DAY
“Pigs treat us as equals.” Sir Winston Churchill.

“Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.” Will Rogers.

*My ancestors didn’t come over on the Mayflower, but they met ’em at the boat.” Will Rogers.

*If you want to be successful, it’s just this simple. Know what you are doing. Love what you are doing. And believe in what you are doing.” Will Rogers.

*Politics has become so expensive that it takes a lot of money to even be defeated.” Will Rogers.

KIFARU INTERNATIONAL
Patrick Smith, President of Kifaru International, said the following quotes in a speech titled “Getting Further Back: Eleven Steps to Improving Your Hunting Success.” I’ll just add my own comments. Why not? I’m in the middle of nowhere with nothing else to do. (From kifaru.net/rmef2000.htm).

** “As a backpacking hunter, I experience the full-time freedom of the hills, just as the elk do.” And then I kill them?

** “Packing in lets you . . . . share the turf with our elk friends.” And then we kill them?

** “You are in there among them, on much more equal terms.” What? Do they also shoot rifles?

** “Tip Number 6—Stay warm and dry and try to get some external heat”. Of course, by external heat he doesn’t mean a good Western Mountaineering down bag or an Exped downmat, he means a Kifaru tipi tent with a woodstove, which he sells.

** “Instead of huddling in your clammy sleeping bag each night slowly wearing out, you can get just as warm and dry in these tents as if you were at home.” Who wears out? And who ends up with a clammy sleeping bag? Only those who screw up.

** “I’ve found that in cold weather you wear down quickly unless you can expose yourself to an external heat source for a goodly period each day. You can’t eat enough to counteract this deterioration either. These heated tents are just the ticket!” All this is an unfounded myth. I never “wear down” on my 20 day winter trips, and my standard Hilleberg tent with the sleeping kit works just fine. Plus, only rank newbs get their clothing or their bags wet (and clammy) to need a woodstove. Finally, there’s this little gem:

** “When it comes to carrying serious weight in serious terrain, we take a back seat to nobody.” Uh, what about Mystery Ranch? They deserve at least a mention. He ends:

** “We want what works, not what appeals to the sensibilities of the vegetarians.” Spoken allegedly like a gun drooling Ted Nugent type groupie? You decide. As far as serious weight, I’ve been a veggie for 39 years, often carry 90 lbs, and it’s Mystery Ranch all the way for me, sensible for this vegetarian. Hunters always seem to bristle up when discussing vegetarians. News flash—Hey, boys, it’s possible to not eat meat and thrive and it’s possible to not eat meat and to not hunt and to carry real weight and live outdoors. Quit being so defensive about eating meat.

WINDY IN BARREL GAP
I build a fancy stone “woodstove” in the firepit and it’s a shaped stone box with a half rectangle stone top cover so I can burn a bunch of paper pages and not have them swirl away in the wind.

BREAKFAST
It’s hot peppermint tea with organic honey, powdered soy milk, Amazing Grass green powder, a piece of Ezekiel bread, almond butter and strawberry jam.

Leaving Barrel Gap on Trail 149

ON THE TRAIL
I leave Barrel Gap under clouds and get to Dean Camp on Trail 149 right as the sky opens but after setting up the Hilleberg tent and doing a water run at the high nearby North Fork springhead.

THE TIPI FIRE RING
It’s hard to believe but the little stick tipi tripod I put here in the firepit still stands after several weeks.

WAGLULA
Lakota for worm. Good trail name.

THE FOUR GREAT TRIALS OF THE LAKOTA MAN
As told to anthropologist Clark Wissler by a group of old Sioux men in 1902, from Powers book, page 36—

** “Most difficult . . . was to be left wifeless with a small child in winter.”

** “To be shot in the leg in mid-winter and to struggle home with the blood frozen in legging and moccasin . . . ”

** “To be without food in winter for many days . . . ”

** “To go on the warpath, be set upon by superior numbers, driven back and wounded.”

** But the worse? “The loss of a young son.” From “The Killing Of Crazy Horse” by Thomas Powers.

CRANBERRY COUNTDOWN
The rain begins at 3:30 in the afternoon and it gets me to thinking about whether or not I’ll see the Cranberries this year out for their annual wilderness backpacking trip. So far nixola, and there’s even a chance they won’t even come here this year.

GETTING TO KNOW THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
Okay boys, let’s do a short study of torture and the church. First off, it started with the Inquisition of heretics in France in 1184. They kept torturing and killing people until 1860—that’s alot of years of fun. There were four Inquisitions:
** Medieval—Guy responsible? Pope Innocent IV’s ad extirpanda 1252 authorizing torture in investigating heresy. Wonderful guy.
** Spanish—Started by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in 1478 and survived until 1834. Fun couple.
** Portuguese—Started in 1536 and targeted sephardic Jews and stopped in 1821.
** Roman—Including the Episcopal and the Papal Inquisitions and targeted in particular the Cathars and Waldensians. Most famous case of the Roman was Galileo Galilei in 1633.

QUOTE OF THE DAY
“Anyone who attempts to construe a personal view of God which conflicts with church dogma must be burned without pity.” Pope Innocent III. And we still have the Church??

Dean Camp on Trail 149 by the headwaters of the North Fork

SAY GOODNIGHT TO DAY 3
Dean Camp is a wonderful spot next to the gentle soothing sound of upper North Fork Creek and requires a few things to be used as a home for the night. The light cold rain only makes Dean Camp an even better place to call home and so a backpacker can sit in warm comfort while planning his next day’s route and destination. The plan is to reach the North Fork and descend on Day 4 to a low camp by water and then slowly make my way up the mountain again to Gorak Hill but this time on the Brush Mt trail, the nutbuster of the Citico since I want to be on the Bob by Day 9 to possibly see Patman again.

There are just a couple ways to reach the high ground from the Citico lowlands and one of them is the Brush Mt trail or the longer South Fork Citico trail. Both are good. Or I could climb over the Bob sooner and play around Horse Cove Ridge for a few days and then do it. We’ll see what the weather tards have to say.

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DAY FOUR  

Morning at Dean Camp

TRAIL: 149/North Fork/Fodderstack
CAMP: Snow Camp

AN ALL NIGHT RAIN
The real glory of backpacking is spending a long March night in a cozy tent during an all night rainstorm and the glory must be named—the Raven’s Yard. The only qualification of a Raven’s Yard is that it must be a quieting experience and not one invoking concern with a high water lake effect deluge or a sphincter puckering wind or a white bolt lightning attack. A good thing but not too much of a good thing. And so Dean Camp on trail 149 qualifies as another wonderful night in a dry lodge listening to the symphony of nature’s best. You let the rain come since you’re safely ensconced for a whole night and you think by midmorning it will have passed and you’ll be able to gear up and go again.

So, the long night of rain drains the sky and you don’t have to spend a day hiking thru it. “Rain by night, Hike by day” is a good system and something that actually happens on a regular basis but don’t ask me why this is. 50% of the time ya sleep off a rain and 50% of the time you get an all day rain which means you either hike in it or set up camp and wait it out or otherwise pull a zero day by seeing your morning is hopelessly wet. Hiking in the rain is done only if the rain is a mist or a drizzle or light, anything more and it becomes a compromise to your kit. On Trip 129 to the Snowbirds I hit 153 hours of consecutive rain but this is the exception and even during that I had windows of opportunity to move. Most rains come and go in a span of 12 to 16 hours and so the backpacker can juggle his shove off and zeros.

QUOTE OF THE DAY
“The Bering Strait migration theory suggests that Indians did not originate in the Americas (which can be read as the latest in a long history of colonial attempts to invalidate Indian land claims), while the Pleistocene overkill theory blames paleo-Indians for mass extinctions of ancient flora and fauna (which might be interpreted as a more recent effort to discredit Indian environmental practice.” JAMES TREAT, University of New Mexico, in a review of Vine Deloria’s book RED EARTH, WHITE LIES.

IT’S TIME FOR TEA
Okay, I’m up at nine to squat and release a hillbilly mountain turtlehead and then wipe off my hands with Gold Bond hand wash and light a stick of SRF incense and get to boiling a liter of peppermint tea with all the trimmings. Oh btw, the rain continues to fall so I’m into my 18th hour of the stuff. The morning sky darkens and more is coming but I will pack and move later hopefully.

At the North Fork trailpost for a break

PATIENCE PAYS OFF
I waited all morning for the rain to stop and by 11:30 the sun poked out and I packed and finished trail 149 to jct with the North Fork trail where I sit by the trailpost eating a crisp red apple and figuring which way I should go—left or right? Right would get me to Snake Mt Camp and an easy day, left would be an obstacle course with weight and a series of around 21 creek crossings, 7 of them deep enough to need crocs.

NORTH FORK HIPPIE ROCK
The North Fork work I did two years ago is still apparent as the usually hellish hump up is now in an open tunnel with few blowdowns or rhodo traps although a big tree did come down in the upper creek section necessitating a small detour over several rhodo trunks, quick work for a Corona saw. I’m resting at the hippie cairn rock where the trail leaves the creek bed and enters the open bowl below Cherry Log Gap. My goal is Snake Mt camp and from there I’ll make a command decision whether to stay or keep moving. The sky is blue so there’s no rush to find a place to set up camp and it’s a perfect mid March day for backpacking the southern Appalachians.

Where is winter? It’s waiting to sweep down from Canada. So far there’s no sign of Gordon or Greg or Frank of the Cranbrook school and this is just as well as I again want to see how long I can go before seeing another backpacker. This definitely ain’t Mt Rogers which reminds me, I need to get back there soon as I miss that place. Who wouldn’t? I’m totally content to be right here on the upper North Fork thank you, and I want to keep on the high ground. I started this trip by going down on Jeffrey . . . . wait a minute, that doesn’t sound right. I started this trip by descending the Jeffrey Hell trail so if I fall down the North Fork I’d just have to hump all the way back to reach old man Bob Mt by Day 8 and not something I wanna do with the weight I’m carrying.

SNAKE MOUNTAIN CAMP
I pull into camp and drop my load and quickly start checking out the campsite for tent placement if I decide to stay. Why not?

RESTSTOP SERENADE
My new Sennheiser headphones fill my brain with a very nice tune, the Faure Requiem. It’s all in Latin and I wonder, was it written under the threat of torture ha ha ha. Not funny.

CHERRY LOG SUMMIT
I’m draggin’ but I pull the bowl climb and sit in the gap eyeballing the last hill to Snow Camp and tonight’s stay.

Snow Camp on Fodderstack Ridge

SNOW CAMP
Dean Camp to Snow Camp? It’s ain’t far, maybe a mile? But it’s a hump and anyway I feel out of sorts with a bloated gut about to burst although it’s mostly empty. Weird.

NO ONE SEEN IN FOUR DAYS
Here we go again.

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DAY FIVE  

Morning at Snow Camp

TRAIL: 54A North/Four Mile Ridge
CAMP: Watauga Camp

THERE’S NO EXCUSE BOYS
This March weather presents cool overall temps with mostly blue skies and so there’s no reason backpackers shouldn’t be out enjoying a benign woman of the wilderness. Remember, it’s the same woman who slammed us 19 years ago with the big blizzard of ’93, a storm ripping apart spring break and the protected hearts of outdoor men. Yet here we sit in 50F or 60F temps but 19 years removed with no trace of cold or wind or snow.

CLIMBING 54A NORTH
A hump is a hump and all humps whether long or short are mini nutbusters when carrying big loads in unseasonably warm winter temps. Thankfully I’m on leg 5 of a 6 leg journey and soon will be at the Bob Tee by the pack rock and the trailpost. My immediate goal is to cross over Gorak Hill and then pull the pretty wall and at the butt rock make another command decision—left to Naked Ground or right to Wolf Laurel? So far no sign of the Berries and no sign of my species.

BOB TEE
Thanks to the saintly guy who cleared 54A North last year, the usually choked trail is now wide open and easy. I threw off the bloated chihuahua and placed it on ruck rock by the trailpost and I sit sucking on dried papaya and looking forwards to pulling the almost level climb to the bald and points further. It’s another powder blue sky with cool temps in a backpacker’s paradise. Don’t sit at home this weekend boys, and fixate on March madness, it’s flat screen dementia. Instead let the college boys get their cardio without you while instead you gather your kit and hump righteous March ruck into the back of beyond.

Which is it gonna be, Momma’s madness or March madness? The window of opportunity to be out is short, the chance to sit on a couch with a TV is common and yawningly predictable so please pry off your couched suction butts and load up your rucks and stumble into the woods.

I make it to the Bob

TWO BACKPACKERS
As I climb to the bald I run into a man and woman backpacking up from the Kilmer loops and heading to Crowders on Fodderstack Ridge. Last night they ran into the Cranberries at Naked Ground and said they came in loud at midnight and “got woke up.” They’ll go down Big Stack to Slickrock Creek and climb South Lead over Hangover Mt and descend Jenkins and out. So, it’s good to know the Berries are out and about.

BUTT ROCK
A decision has been made, I’ll veer left and fall to NG and probably stay at Watauga Camp, a favorite.

Reaching Naked Ground Gap I run into my first Cranberries

Paul points out the day’s route on the map

Neo, Paul and Audrey gear up

PAUL AND AUDREY’S GROUP
I run into the big group of Berries the two backpackers on the Bob mentioned and they are led by old acquaintance Paul along with Audrey, an adult leader and faculty member. We had a great pow wow and then they headed from NG over the bald and into the Wedge to camp at Little Cove and I got two liters and climbed to Watauga Camp. Neither Lexi or Cassie is with this year’s group pshaw but Frank Norton is basecamping down at Warden’s Field and Paul’s group will be soloing on Doublecamp road by Mill Branch so I just may see them again as I could camp at either place.

Paul giving final instructions

DAY SIX  

Morning at Watauga Camp

TRAIL: Four Mile Ridge/Horse Cove
CAMP: Wolf Laurel Camp

Morning at Watauga Camp on Four Mile Ridge

A COOL MORNING
I’m up in the dark of morning and hear the weather report talk about rain today and tomorrow and probably into the weekend. Distant thunder wakes me and so I consider my options and where I think I need to be tonight.

BOWING TO THE THUNDER BEINGS
An early start from Watauga Camp found me on a ridge hike under white zaps and thunder bolts and in such conditions you can’t help but hurry along even though you’re climbing a mountain under load. Then the rain hit and I depacked and got into t-shirt and shorts and put on the rain jacket and kept climbing Four Mile Ridge to the top of Bob’s Wall and instead of resting at the butt rock I quickly bailed off the heights on the Horse Cove trail to Wolf Laurel camp where I set up in the rain and got water at Wolf spring. Now I sit in the tent boiling up peppermint tea with green powder and honey.

Nasty weather causes me to bail off the mountain and find a lower camp at Wolf Laurel jct where I set up in rain and lightning blasts

A ROUGH START EVENS OUT
What started with morning mortar rounds turns to sunny skies in warm temps and so I know tomorrow will be an excellent time to hike even though a few more thunderstorms may come and go. This was my goal all along, to leave the ridge and get to either Wolf Laurel or Elysium Fields where I could get off the highest ground and descend a thousand feet . Once again there’s thunder nearby and another bushel of bolt potatoes are coming to pelt my camp but so far all is well.

WALTER YELL
Yesterday at dusk I kept hearing a human voice yell out my name and so I responded with five or six yells of my own but nothing came of it and I either misheard or it was Papa D or Patman trying to find me. It came from the Bob side and whoever it was probably stayed on the bald so they’ll never find me here. Tomorrow is Friday and so maybe by the weekend the mystery will be solved. Thunder and lightning usually are a minor inconvenience but after the recent Tellico tornado I’m all spooked and eager to set up camp in a protected draw at the first hint of white bolts. But heck boys, I’m still at around 4,200 feet. The low temp in Boone today was 35F. Wow. In Asheville at 4pm it’s 75F.

WILL UNMANNED DRONES INVADE MY WORLD?
The white men have a grand plan to fly thousands of drones over American skies in the next year and so Uncle Fungus warns American backpackers to prepare for the noise pollution. It’s just one more poke in Miss Nature’s eye. It’s infants with toys but they babble something about “science” which is a word they use to justify their voodoo behavior. The engineer mentality can’t keep it in their pants and howl in a religio-erotic fever when they come up with these wetdream schemes to further ruin the natural world. Only off-world alien cyborg testicle-lickers could come up with such a plan. “Let’s crisscross American skies with 30,000 unmanned drones!!” they ejaculate, and all else be damned.

Let’s hope apostate engineers go nuts and fly them all into the sea or into each other. It won’t matter, assembly lines on the ground will grind out another 30,000 in a week. White men call it the “Can Do” attitude. Have you noticed? None of these hare-brained ideas are ever stopped, no one ever says “Naw, this is stupid. Let’s nix it.” And so we have drivers going 80mph on the interstate while texting or newb backpackers drooling over a GPS or 87,000 air flights daily. The anglo saxon hordes love to bugger nature, it’s in their religion to tame the wild lands and kill off the clean.

It’s the war on nature and the history books will call this time “When The Fascists Nearly Won” but Miss Nature has other plans and she’ll wipe us off her mirror like a smudge. So go on boys and salivate over your latest trinkets with a science-viagra induced hard-on as you’re fully unconscious as far as I can tell and have no clue to the long term consequences of your dim witted actions. The frenzy you feel for progress doesn’t come from between your ears but from between your legs. It’s a lust to play God—the common bonobo human trait—homo sapiens are Zeus and the god’s home is a blade runner megatropolis Mt Olympus.

A REALLY CRAPPY PIECE OF MUSIC
The radio plays a scarification ritual called the E Minor Trio for Piano opus 67 by Shostakovich.

BOGGLING NEWS
We won’t get out of Afghanistan until 2014!! Good God, that’s March 2012 to December 2014—34 months!! Don’t we spend $10 billion a month there? That’s $340 billion, more wasted American taxpayer’s cash. Who’s in charge? I thought republicans want to cut spending and balance the budget? The mantra used to be “bomb them back to the stone age”, now it’s “let’s bankrupt the American public.” Do we have any leaders? Meanwhile, Americans drool over college basketball. It could be the special forces or Green Berets or Navy SEALS are actually running foreign policy so as to keep combat teams going in perpetuity. This seems to make the most sense. Afghanistan therefore becomes a sort of advanced boot camp where we can actually kill people during our training cycles and run patrols godwilling forever. So what if it costs $10 billion a month? Enough of my rants.

SUPPER
It’s Wildwood tofu, onion, and a Tasty Bite lentil pouch.

PINK SLIME
Harvard Red Meat Study—meat eating results in significant higher rates of death. American Meat Institute disagrees of course. “The Earth is round!” Harvard says. “No!! It’s flat!!” says the Meat Institute. The Shostakovich piece is balanced by a better tune by Faure called the Pavanne for a Dead Princess. Often this piece uses a choir and it’s nice.

A PERFECT 20 DAY TRIP
** Jeffrey Hell to Iron Camp.
** South Fork up to Barrel Gap.
** Brush Mt to South Fork/Donner Camps.
** Rocky Flats to Chimney/Mill Branch.
** Crowders to Crowder Camp.
** Big Stack to Wildcat.
** Down Slickrock to Slisgah.
** To Pisgah Canyon Camp.
** Around to Ike Branch and Wild Bird Camp.
** Yellowhammer to Nichols Cove graves.
** Windy Gap to Big Fat Gap.
** To Elysium Fields on South Lead.
** To Hangover Mt.
** To Toad Camp on Haoe Ridge.
** Down Jenkins to Low Dog Camp on Little Santee.
** To High Dog Camp.
** To Naked Ground.
** Bob Bald.
** Snow Camp.
** Out on BMT Connector and Beech Gap.

LIGHTNING STORM BAIL OFF CAMPS ON THE BIG MOUNTAIN
** Elysium Fields.
** Deep Creek bridge.
** Toad Haoe Ridge.
** Wolf Laurel.
** High Dog Little Santee.
** Cold Gap and Wedge.
** Snow Camp.
** Barrel Gap.
** Tractor Trail camps.

Good to know in a lightning storm. Unfortunately the nutbuster #42 doesn’t have a high bail off unless you drop way down to section five and the open cove.

A NIGHT TIME STORM
My second thunderstorm passes thru with bolts and claps and rain and then in an hour it is gone. Distant flashes look like hikers coming up the trail with their headlamps. The scrotal wee’tards change the forecast because yesterday they said Saturday would be sunny, now they say it’ll be raining all day, 50% chance.

QUOTES OF THE DAY
“When Europeans arrived on these shores, they generally agreed that the wilderness was a place of dark and mysterious dangers, a place to be tamed, cut back, reduced to civilized plots of farmland and towns. It was assumed that the Indians—savages—lived in the untamed woodland wilderness among all of Satan’s plots and schemes.” JAKE PAGE “IN THE HANDS OF THE GREAT SPIRIT”, page 5.

“After the ravages of European-borne diseases, the religion of the Europeans was the single most dangerous force the Indians across the entire hemisphere would ever face. As historian Wilcomb E. Washburn summarized the matter:

‘In the first centuries after the birth of Christ, the Christian message spoke for the weak and oppressed. Its message was one of peace and love. The New Testament message might have been understood and honored by the Indians of America had it been preached as it was on the shores of Galilee. But by the time the American Indian came face to face with the doctrine of Christ it had hardened into a mold of bigotry, intolerance, militancy and greed which make it the mortal enemy of the American Indian . . . . . The new look of Christianity reflected the changed status of the sect: from that of persecuted minority to dominant majority.’ From the Book “IN THE HANDS OF THE GREAT SPIRIT” by Jake Page, page 111.

THIRD BATTLE STORM
White zaps and heavy rain and here I sit on my haunches at 10:30 pm wanting to run out and peg down the tent guylnes. No chance in this rain though so I wait. The wind isn’t bad but it could turn very mean in a second just like at Beartooth Rock camp on Stone Mt in Mt Rogers. There’s now talk of a cold front coming in tomorrow and it’s about time.

RULE #437
Always bolt down your tent if thunderstorms are possible, especially on a ridge like Horse Cove. Lightning safety? Well, try to lose elevation, get off the top peaks and ridges and get lower. I should’ve gone all the way down to Kilmer and Little Santee. Oh well, we’re here now. The wx radio shot out an alert for 60mph winds and lightning and hail in Monroe county and that storm has now reached me. Hold onto your pudendus boys and clutch onto your medicine bags. “Frequent ground to air lightning”. This means you.

GUYLINE RUSH
I put on the rain jacket with hood and stripped off my socks and long johns and spent two full minutes in the rain seating the six guylines for the wind. Only the back of my underwear gets wet. It doesn’t take long for a human body to get soaked but I made it with minimum fuss and can now lay down without worrying about a swaying tent.

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DAY SEVEN  

Morning at Wolf Camp

TRAIL: Horse Cove/Four Mile Ridge/54A South/South Fork
CAMP: Iron Camp

CALM AFTER THE STORM
At three in the morning I’m up in calm conditions and cooler temps as the crazy storm moved on to other points. It’s brothers are still out here and they’ll swing by in their own sweet time. It’s the early spring storms of 2012. Way off I hear the deep growls of thunder and so today’s plan must be considered. First, do I move or do I not? Do I pull a zero day? Only if it rains all day, unlikely. So, there are two options: Climb up and over Gorak Hill and find shelter in the wedge, or hike seven miles to the bottom of this trail on Horse Cove Ridge and pull another two miles up to the Low Dog Camps on the Naked Ground trail. OR go over Gorak and shoot for Warden’s Field by way of South Fork or North Fork or Brush Mt or Pine Ridge. Why Warden’s? Because a Cranberry basecamp is down there.

FOUR DAYS OF THUNDERSTORMS
What started yesterday on Day 6 will stay with me until Day 10, four days from now. It’s mostly late afternoon thunderstorms with rain and bolts, the usual maelstrom. So far I’ve been thru three separate “battles” of thunder, white lightning and rain. Knowing what I know I may have to nix my Bob stay and scoot over the mountain to points down or way down.

HIWAY 129 IS CLOSED!
There is a merciful God and he or she shuts down the dreaded racetrack called the Tail of the Dragon’s Anus with a rockslide. I pray that it takes four years to clear. As everyone knows, it’s a hateful noisy road used by loud motorcyclists to break both the speed laws and the decibel laws. Unfortunately with the road closed the noise lovers will come over to the Skyway.

THE SUN
It’s eight in the morning and the sun rises right into the door of my tent. It’s time to pack and move.

One water bar of forty put in by the Student Conservation Association

FORTY ONE WATER BAR TRAIL
The hump from Wolf Laurel to Bob’s Wall and the butt rock is fun with 75 lbs as it’s divided by 41 new wooden step water bars put in by the SCA boys. Without them the trail would be a runoff creek ditch. They did good.

Climbing up the Horse Cove trail

HEADNET NEXT TRIP
The next pull must be done and then I reach the wall and the butt rock where another break will be taken. Luckily I lightened my load considerably by dumping a 7 lb turtlehead into a dug dirt pit right off the trail and I feel 20 years younger and many lbs lighter. The green amazing grass powder seems to be helping.

BUTT ROCK RELIEF
Wow, it’s nice to have that hump over with and it’s nice to place my bony butt atop a waist high bench made of stone. The black flies are out but there’s a mild breeze blowing across the wall and it discourages the buggers. As the sky clouds over I must make tracks.

THE SLACK BOYS
Well, I first smell their wood fire a quarter mile back and say to myself, “I bet they left camp and left their campfire burning” and dangit if I wasn’t right. They stayed in South Col and left a large pit of hot ashes smoldering and they were gone but I did run into them past the open meadow and we talked and they smirked a bit about leaving the fire going. Three backpackers from Beech Gap—in and out and can’t be bothered by dousing their fire with water before leaving. Welcome to TN.

I sit at the Bob Tee on my way off the mountain on 54A South and will probably set up in the wedge at Little Cove Camp. The sky is turning into the dark blue poem we know so well. So let’s move.

MIGHTY OAK BREAK
There are nine parts to 54A South and I’m at the start of part seven, the nasty pitches. It feels good to bail off the Bob with impending doom. Spring thunderstorms in mid March? Sounds crazy but it’s true. Little Cove here I come.

I descend the South Fork trail and look back up the way I came

WOLF TO WALL TO BOB TO COLD TO IRON
It reads like a Mr Universe schedule of injections but there’s truth to the verse. I did start out at Wolf Camp, climbed a thousand feet to the Wall and hiked over the Bob and fell 2,000 feet to Cold Gap and the South Fork’s Iron Camp but I’m not camping at the usual Iron Camp spot but left of it near the 100 year old logger’s trash heap of rusted out cans. It’s a new place for me and dang level and it’ll become day seven’s home for the night.

I find a new spot to stay at Iron Camp on the South Fork trail

UNCLE FUNGUS SCREWS UP
Well, March has become hot and July but I didn’t bring bug oil or my headnet. Who would’ve thunk it? Thank sweet medicine I brought numerous incense sticks, the smoke repels the black flies and gnats. The tent is up and the exped pumped but four more down items need to be unpacked and shook. It’s all part of winter backpacking. What winter?

LET’S WASH THE HAIR AND FACE
Might as well, it’s warm enough.

JOHNNY OYSTER SEED
Bryan arrives as the lead element to a Berry group who will camp here at Iron and pull their solos with eight of them going off alone to individual tarps for two nights and one full day of fasting and solitude. Me and Bryan bushwacked thru the lost valley of Iron Camp and the upper South Fork and found several suitable spots for eight solitary tarp campers. Many of the spots require crawling under rhodo to achieve and when night falls they’ll be nearly impossible to find. Good luck boys. I didn’t want to give too much advice cuz if something goes “terribly wrong” I’ll be the guy accused.

What could go wrong? They could get “lost”, a dead tree could be towering over any one of their camps—we didn’t look up, now did we? In addition as we were looking the sky opened up and the lightning bolts flew so I put on my rain jacket and continued the search behind Bryan. Now I sit in the tent wondering about supper and listening to the rain peter off. The rain returns so I stay in the tent and eat a McDougall’s black bean soup box with red onions and mayo. If it lets up I’ll hobnob with the Cranberries.

Bryan’s Cranberries share my spot at Iron Camp in the rain

TWO HOURS WITH BRYAN AND CHELSEA AND BOBBY
My trip unfolds into an excellent group get-together around a whisperlight cookstove as the leaders huddle and talk while the students do their thing 30 feet away with their food. I return to my tent at 10pm and let the group get organized, share stories and crash.

AFTER THE STORM
Day 7 comes to an end and it’s been a fine day in all ways and with gratitude the fourth thunderstorm pounced after I was set up so I’m 95% dry and the only wet gear comes from trudging thru the rain with Bryan looking for solo spots for the kids. I learned a lesson and understand how backpacking groups can compromise their gear and allow themselves to get wet by not stopping or by trying to keep up in a storm. Many of the kids, at least three, had wet sleeping bags partly due to their shelter tarp leaking last night and partly due to hiking today in the rain. Bryan carries several emergency foil blankets for this problem but it’s always better to keep them dry instead.

ROUTE
Tomorrow’s plan is to descend the South Fork and pull the one major crossing and get into Warden’s Field for the night at the campsite I discovered on my last trip by the log gate next to the full sound of Citico Creek.

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DAY EIGHT 

Morning at Iron Camp

TRAIL: South Fork/Warden’s Field
CAMP: Log Gate Camp

FIRST LIGHT
I’m up at 5:30 to shake off a jumbled head and wait for first light and see if the tent dries off before packing and moving downstream.

SCATTERED THUNDERSTORMS
Today’s big challenge will be crossing the South Fork in high water but this won’t happen for many miles. The overall goal is to reach Warden’s Field and camp at the new spot I used on my last trip by Citico Creek which has become at this point the combined North Fork and South Fork. It’s a good spot I guess if I want to hobnob with the Berry basecamp and if not I’ll stay at the Donner Camps. The next day’s plan is to pull Rocky Flats and tie in with Paul and Audrey’s group again at their Doublecamp soloing basecamp. So, there are alot of miles to cover.

Student leader Bobby in Iron Camp

MORNING RAIN
It starts again at seven and so I turn over and go back to sleep. I’m up again at nine and go to burn my trash and another downpour scoots me inside at 9:30 so today’s shove off looks to be a drawn out affair. Day 8 may just become my first zero day but it’s not wanted or needed and the bottom South Fork crossing will be a bee-atch if this keeps up. If I do have to pull a zero at least the Berries are around to share in the misery of a rainy Saturday. What’s for breakfast? Water, cashew butter and Lundberg honey nut rice cakes. The water helps it all to go down.

MORNING CLARINET
The bouncing rain is competing against a nice radio tune, Mendelssohn’s E flat major Sonata in three mvts for clarinet and piano, an obscure piece not often heard. It’s a “high school” piece, meaning it’s playable for both the pianist and the instrumentalist. It ain’t the Bozza concerto but it’s an okay simple piece anyway. BTW, this current rainstorm comes without thunder and lightning so it’s different than all the rest.

LOGGING CUT DETOUR ON THE SOUTH FORK TRAIL
I left Bryan’s group after a full morning of rain and as soon as I parked and stepped on the trail the clouds parted to blue and the sun came out. And so it is here I sit at the pine reststop by the hippie cairn in t-shirt and shorts as it’s hot! The water is up and high and will be the biggest challenge of the day. Let’s keep moving.

The mandatory South Fork crossing

The swirling waters of the South Fork and it’s gotta be crossed, boys

I make it!

A DAMN CAREFUL CROSSING
Reaching the swollen South Fork I find several doable fords but decide to just go ahead and do the regular trail ford with full attention. Tons of water swept past but only came to mid thigh and I planned it to past by several rocks jutting out of the water which gave me something to lean on and keep my balance. Warm March temps also made it 100% easier. The next leg of the journey is the two ford detour and thank God for it or I’d have to cross this creek two more times, no thanks.

Log Gat Camp is next to Citico Creek and in the back of Warden’s Field inaccessible by cars

LOG GATE CAMP
Highlights of hiking the South Fork—
** The high water crossing.
** The 12 tents of the boy scouts at the Donner Camps.
** The 8 cars in Warden’s Field and their couch potato camps.

My initial goal was to reach Warden’s Field and see the Cranbrook basecamp but as soon as I passed thru the reality of syphilization and vehicles and rolling couch potato car campers tore my attitude in half and caused me to scoot thru like a chihuahua being chased by an unmanned drone. No hobnobbing with the mud people, thank you. Car camping is camping in a parking lot with the usual gunning engines five feet from your tent and 2am headlights parked at your tent door. Ain’t nature great!!

SUPPER
Onion soup with Koyo organic ramen noodles. Half way decent.

10PM ORCHESTRA
Log Gate Camp is loud but it ain’t noise boys, it’s the new world symphony written and performed by Miss Nature. My day is almost over and it’s been a good one descending the South Fork Citico to the small village of Warden’s Field where I’m tucked in at the periphery with the incense of woodsmoke lulling me to sleep. The night sky is clear and black and tomorrow brings another new day with the Rocky Flats trail on the menu. Today was a mad scramble to get an exhausted camp set, so maybe in the morning I’ll get a clear day start to hobnob with the village people and the Cranbrook crew.

LATE NIGHT TEA
I go ahead and dip the pot into the roiling Citico and boil up a liter of peppermint tea for a nightcap. With 12 boy scouts upriver boiling is about the best solution, just havta wait for it to cool. In the mean time I do an 11 o’clock trash fire to get caught up before moving out in the morning.

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DAY NINE  

Morning at Log Gate Camp

TRAIL: Rocky Flats/Mill Branch
CAMP: Mill Creek Camp

DEMON DREAM
An evil preacher and his group takes our house, moves it, takes off roof shingles, unplugs all electric outlets. I run thru the streets looking for the house but it’s gone. Town flooding. My phone can’t dial out Little Mitten or 911 or the police. I arrive inside a place where my house has been miniaturized. The demon preacher leaves a long spear like thing (just like a giant nut pick) and I go on a rampage, killing two or three minion humans of the preacher. Turns out he placed the pick nearby so that I would do exactly that and then he comes into the room to tell me this. Luckily I spear him in the throat and chest and run the cleaver down to his abdomen. He collapses. At the end of the dream I am flying thru the air and below me is a long crinkly line of the bad karma I just produced, looking like miles of burnt rope ashes. As I fly over, the ash line is removed and disappears as if I am redeemed and my acts forgiven. Very weird dream. Welcome to the Citico. Don’t move my house!!

OH DARK THIRTY RAIN
The star studded 3am sky pounces and distant lightning brings in another cycle of rain with so far minimal thunder bolts. I’m used to it by now. “Scattered thunderstorms” is what the wee’tards call it.

OH EIGHT HUNDRED
I’m up! Citico Creek is now Citico River and where I’m camped here at the Log Gate cul de sac the river is wide and wild with spring melt off except it’s not melting snow causing the high flow but early spring rains. Here in the Warden’s cul de sac there are several good campsites and several old firerings as this used to be open to cars until about 2004 when the forest service mercifully came in and blocked the back entrance with boulders and cut down several towering dead trees making the area a perfect place for Citico backpackers to camp as they loop thru the wilderness. And of course car campers are a strange bunch because they won’t park in the fields and hike the 200 yards here from their oh so beloved cars and set up camp. Why? The umbilical cord from their steel boxes would then be stretched dangerously thin.

The boy scouts hiking out on the South Fork trail

A better shot showing how the South Fork trail is a narrow goat path above the Citico

I’ll be going back into the Fields on my way to the Rocky Flats trailhead and then can view the car lot debauchery and check out the green grass seeded probably by the rangers to make the place a little less of a mudpit. If I was a serious car camper I’d take a bale of hay with me in case my tent site is a mud trough. It’s now 8:30 but there’s no point in showing my face in Warden’s until around ten because people are probably slow Sunday movers and won’t be cognizant until after coffee and bacon and a rekindled campfire. My tent is wet again and so I’ll swab it off after thinking about doing a complete bronners hair and scalp wash. The wee’tard forecast is bleak for the next seven days and it’s the same every day—30 to 40% rain with daily thunderstorms.

Abbey Branch is a pretty little creek in a pretty little valley on the Rocky Flats trail

THE SEVEN CROSSINGS OF ABBEY BRANCH
Wherever Cranberry basecamp was at Warden’s bugged out early this morning as did the 15 boy scouts who I clearly saw on the goat path that is trail 105 as it skirts along a high ledge above Citico Creek, the ample photos show their route. I breezed thru the Fields without a nod and immediately busted a nut climbing up Rocky Flats and reached the rocky ridge overlook for a foto before doglegging to the right and climbing up the valley of Ed Abbey Branch. There are officially seven crossings and I’m at the top one where I’m resting for a water break. The next section looks to be steep but overall this trail is not a nutbuster because it equally shares its ups and downs. Let’s get packing!

A typical blaze in the Citico

LAUREL CREEK RESTSTOP
The big descent comes after the pine hill pud which is the climb right after Abbey Branch valley. Past the pine hill the trail contours the hillsides and drops to Laurel Creek which is another awesome blue line in a long line of blue lines. Of course you must climb again on the other side of Laurel but then you reach a fave campsite I call Johnny’s Spur which comes before chimney cove and the zigzap descent to the old homestead and stone “chimley”. Chimney valley is an easy place to lose the trail and get momentarily lost but Rick Harris told me they recently cleared it out for easier hiking. Which reminds me, all praise goes to the Crosscut Mountain Boys for diligently keeping the Rocky Flats trail in excellent shape. It may just be the best trail in the Citico.

Laurel Creek crossing on the Rocky Flats trail, another good place to rest

JOHNNY’S SPUR RESTSTOP
What a great mid Flats spot to set up camp cuz water is only a few hundred yards back at Laurel Creek. I’m only taking a longer break and will keep going in a bit. The next break comes with pictures at the chimney site.

Near the end of the Rocky Flats there’s this chimney which demands a decent reststop

CHIMNEY RELAX
Throw off your packs boys, and check out the stone chimney. You can either camp here or continue the trail by climbing out of the valley and reaching a scrub pine peak on an old logging cut and approach the driveway to the old homestead. The trail then descends in hot scrub country and pops out on Doublecamp Creek where the Mill Branch trail jcts. My goal is Mill Branch where there’s a decent campsite near the start.

If you go up Mill Branch a ways you reach this little pulloff by the trail and a good place to pull a night before tackling the Crowders climb

MILL CREEK CAMP
There’s a campsite right up the Mill Branch trail and it’s where I plopped down after a long day with weight on the Rocky Flats. The Doublecamp sites are empty and I see from the Mill Branch trail that I’m right behind Paul and Audrey’s group but I’ll never catch up as they’re probably at Crowders by now. This is as far as I’m going today and my decision tomorrow is whether I climb Mill or Crowders as both are equally nutbusting.

QUOTE OF THE DAY
“You have my horses and my guns,” he told the soldiers. ” . . . . I have only my tent and my will.” Crazy Horse, from Thomas Powers “The Killing of Crazy Horse”, page 344.

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DAY TEN  

Morning at Mill Creek Camp

TRAIL:Mill/Doublecamp/Crowder Branch/Fodderstack/Big Stack Gap/Slickrock Creek
CAMP: Wildcat Falls

MILL CREEK
It’s midnight close to the sound of Mill Creek and the sky is black and full of inky stars.

ALL BOOKS BURNED
It took ten days but all three books are gone and my load is several lbs lighter. All that remains are two fat rolls of interweb readings which can stay with me for the rest of the trip or be burned when desired. The Cranberries will leave the woods on Day 12 and so I doubt I’ll run into any more groups for the remaining four days of the trip unless I speed across the mountains and be on Hangover Mt by tonight. This won’t happen as my day’s goal is simply hiking Crowder Branch to the top of Fodderstack Ridge and camping near the spring at Crowder’s horse camp. It’ll be a fun trek even though it’s a 20 or more creek crossing nutbuster and similar to climbing Mill Branch. Both trails are similar.

IT’S EIGHT O’CLOCK
Well boys, I’m psyched to get packed and moving.

I call all roads hyena paths but sometimes ya gotta walk ’em—and this one is called Doublecamp, a good connector from Rocky Flats to Mill or Crowders

DOUBLECAMP HYENA TRAIL AND CROWDER BRANCH
Okay boys, I sit at the 8th crossing of Crowder Branch and the water’s high but I stayed in the boots and worried each crossing to death but only got the boots wet below the ankle opening. I think there are 19 crossings on this trail so I’ve got 11 to go. The 8th crossing has the suspended hippie cairn where the trail goes underneath three big blowdowns and it’s a good place to rest. I won’t see nobody today as old Crowders is a remote area. Let’s keep moving.

A good view of heading up Crowders as it shows the trail, the creek, the blowdowns and even the little cairn thrown up on a blowdown by some old hippies

ON THE CROWDER NUTBUSTER
There’s the left bank hump and the right bank hump and I’m still on the left bank pull which stays on the left side after the 8th ford. The 9th ford introduces you to another little nutbuster section but this time on on the right. As luck would have it there’s a nasty small pine blowdown right in the trail which elicits guttural yells and cursings but the bastard is now behind me. Crowder valley is another rugged watershed and backpackers need to go slow and enjoy the mind numbing repetition of climbing. Expect gonad loss. The last blowdown ripped off my shorts, crammed my silk underwear up over my face and head, and speared my testicles like a wilderness shish kabob ready for the outdoor grill. The Hung Well Trail.

AFTER THE 9TH CROSSING
Weep boys cuz the left bank trail becomes a bonafide nutbuster and you’re not there yet. When a big hill presents itself, it’s best to pull out the headphone and radio and crank up some tunes. Unfortunately the dial stopped on a Justin Moore country song (Small Town USA) and his twang seemed so contrived and a caricature of country drawl that it pissed me off and this pissedness transformed to a rage—
** Pissed about these damn hot March temps.
** Pissed over the gnats flying in my face on a damn winter trip.
** Pissed by sucking in TN valley air pollution which is obvious and stinks.
** And then the Justin song hits my ears and I lose it.

IN THE BELLY OF THE BEAST
The right bank is steep but short and then the trail crosses back to the left and enters the swamp area whereby I lost count of all the individual crossings. I’m near the top of this sac eater and once in the horse camp I throw off the pack like a motarded red head hare-lipped swinging richard gonad deflated bonobo step child.

HORSE WATER AND CROWDER CAMP
The nutbuster is finished as I got almost 2.5 liters and crawled the last hill to Crowder Camp in the grass on Fodderstack Ridge. It’s hot up here with too many bugs.

IAN AND MIKE AND EGLEE

Cranbrook leaders Eglee, Mike and Ian on top of Fodderstack Ridge at Crowder Camp

I follow Eglee down the Big Stack Gap trail 2,000 feet to Wildcat Falls on Slickrock Creek

Mike and Ian crossing Big Stack Creek

Another shot of the boys

A BIG DAY TO THE WILDCAT
My day starts at the bottom of Mill Branch, ties into the trailhead of Crowder Branch via Doublecamp road, humps the Crowder nutbuster to Crowder Camp and then my day gets interesting by meeting Eglee and Mike and Ian’s group coming from Mill Gap and heading down Big Stack Gap trail to Slickrock Creek. I follow them and end up at Wildcat Falls where I see Audrey and Paul’s group is camped so I set up nearby and go for a partial swim in the top pool of Wildcat Falls. It’s too cold for a full dunking for these old bones.

The Slickrock crossing to Wildcat Falls is very pretty

SUPPER WITH THE WILDCAT BUNCH
Paul and Noa and Audrey and I all sit around and cook up our suppers next to the loud music of Wildcat Falls and then around dusk I call it a day and head back to the Hilleberg tent and solitude.

Wildcat Falls is always a worthy destination and especially with the Cranberries as you can see their tarp to the left

Wildcat Falls

BERRIES ALL ALONG THE SLICKROCK
Yes, I’m stuck in the middle between two groups of Berries with Paul below and Ian above. Like I told Paul today, my trip is gonna get real lonely after the old Berries leave in two days. And I’ve got ten more days of fun in the sun. (A family emergency shortens my trip to 13 days).

Hanging out with the ‘Berries at Wildcat Falls

DAY 11 PLAN
It’s sorta up for grabs—I’ll cross the creek two times and then have to make a decision like I did on my last trip—do I climb the nutbuster or head up Nichols Cove?

10PM NIGHT
Slickrock Creek is sounding good and would lull me to sleep had I not stuffed myself with food several hours ago.

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DAY ELEVEN  

Morning at Wildcat Falls

TRAIL: Slickrock Creek/Nutbuster 27th Time
CAMP: Buckeye Camp

CROSSING A CREEK
I’m up at 2:30 to unload the docked frigate (pee) and understand fully the wonderful coolness in the night valley air next to Slickrock Creek. Eventually I’ll pack in seven hours and leave in crocs to recross the creek as I make my way upstream for a second crossing into the Slicnic Camps of Big Fat, Slickrock and Nichols Cove. I have no clear intention on the day’s camp or route choice but I’m sure it’ll come to me. The creek is higher than normal so I won’t be going downstream for eight crossings to Slisgah Camp on the BMT near Ike Branch jct. No, my route will take me upstream where I’ll either follow Paul’s group to Big Fat Gap or go on my own up the Nutbuster to Burnthouse or maybe beyond. All the Cranberries will be out tomorrow and so this is my last chance to hike or hang out with them. If I do wait for Paul’s group I’ll get some good pics of them crossing Slickrock Creek, always a good subject for the trip photo album.

Breakfast in Paul and Audrey’s camp

MORNING WAKE UP WITH PAUL AND AUDREY
I swing down to their camp and put up the heart rock and will return to say goodbye after I pack.

A typical Cranberry camp with the obligatory tarp

FAREWELL TO THE BERRIES
After saying goodbye to Paul I cross Slickrock once and then get to the second crossing where I run into Mike and Eglee and Ian and pull the next crossing and change back into boots for a climb up the nutbuster. Ian’s group crosses and I get several good fotogs of their ford.

It’s always fun watching backpacking humans cross a creek—here are the Cranberries fording the Slickrock

This would be Ian and Eglee’s group

Yes even the trip leaders have to cross with Ian leading the way

CLIMBING THE NUTBUSTER TRAIL FOR THE 27TH TIME
Yes, I decide to gird the medulla and start the nutbuster trail to however high I feel like going before setting up camp. It’ll either be Burnthouse or Buckeye Camp. Buckeye sounds excellent. Once I leave the Slickrock where I’m sitting at the crossing, I won’t see anymore Berries for the next 9 days until I leave. But who knows, maybe I’ll run into regular civilian backpackers between now and my evac date as spring weather should bring them out or not. Do I really want to do the nutbuster again? Well, it’s been many months since the last time and if Paul’s Berries can do it at night, I surely can do it in daylight over a period of two days.

I’ve divided the rugged Nutbuster trail into 10 legs and this is leg 3 as it easily climbs to Buckeye Camp

CAMPS
There are just a handful of tentsites on the Nutbuster—
** Bottom camps.
** Leg 1-2 Burnthouse camps.
** Leg 3-4 Buckeye.
** Leg 5 open cove camp.
** Leg 6 tiny spot on Lonesome Ridge.
** Leg 7 or 8 or 9 or 10? Nope. It’s a jumbled mess. Let’s get moving.

LEG 1 RESTSTOP
I cross Hangover Creek and pull into Burnthouse Camp where I sit hot and bothered as March has become summer in the southern Appalachians. Leg 2 is a short contour and ends at a steep uphill to the left which begins the three switchbacks of Leg 3. At the end of 3 comes pretty Snaketooth Creek and the hidden camp of Buckeye, my destination. As far as backpacking goes, Legs 1,2 and 3 are easy even though you’re climbing the whole time. It’s not until Leg 4 before you see a glimmer of the rugged nutbsuter in all its glory. I call Leg 4 the rock boulder leg and you’ll see why soon enough. Leg 5 used to be the most pleasant and best but since the hemlock dieoff it has gone from a shady open cove switchback to a hellish briar jungle full of ass big blowdowns. You will bust a nut scooting across these blowdowns. Please wear protective cups.

AH LEG 6
As everyone knows by now, Leg 6 is what gives the nutbuster its reputation and infamy. Nuts and ovaries will be busted accordingly. And whatever you do, don’t fall backwards.

ON THE THIRD SWITCHBACK OF LEG 3
I just turned onto switchback 3 and have to stop to get a half liter of cold mountain water. This part of the trail is super nice and spring greens are growing everywhere. Baby greens.

SNAKETOOTH CREEK RESTSTOP
It’s the prettiest creek in the wilderness and an excellent place to stop for a break before the last bit to Buckeye Camp.

SWEAT BEES AND BLACK FLIES
Should’ve brought the old black headnet but noway hayzeus I left it at home.

CHEEK CARBUNCLE
Uncle Fungus becomes Carbuncle Fungus as I have a nice sized pimple on my right cheek below the eye and along with a missing front tooth it makes me look like an old geezer with tertiary Head Rot. Must’ve made a great impression on the Cranberries. “Inbred Tennessee boy” I can hear them say. Just kidding. I look around the woods and the trees and the rocks and the creeks don’t care what I look like. Hot March weather makes Mt Rogers call out my name—“come back to the crest zone, boy!!” and I listen. This place though is paradise, at least this spot and Snaketooth Creek.

If you divide the Nutbuster up into a couple days you will survive and keep important appendages intact—here is Buckeye Camp at the end of leg 3

BUCKEYE CAMP ON THE NUTBUSTER TRAIL
Even though a locust tree fell thru the middle of Buckeye Camp several years ago, there’s still plenty of room for my Keron lodge and room for another tent on the other side of two blowdowns. Sure it’s hot but the beauty of the Hilleberg Keron tent is that both end doors can be opened fully creating a cross breeze thru the shelter. Also being inside the tent keeps the bugs away and the lit incense stick by the front door doesn’t hurt. Buckeye Camp is a hidden camp 50 feet from the nutbuster where a little sidetrail veers left and crosses Hangover Creek to reach a favorite spot I call Buckeye Camp.

RAIN COMES AT 2:50
It’s a short squall line reaching into the nutbuster but it’s over quick enough. Another blast of thunder hits closeby and we may get more water from the sky. First day of summer I mean first day of Spring. Weep, boys.

NEWS ON THE NUTBUSTER
The Peyton Manning hysteria is way overblown. He’s past his prime, he’s 36 and he’s only won the super bowl once, way behind the other immortals like Tom Brady, John Elway, Johnny Unitas or Joe Montana. Yet Peyton is elevated to Best Ever despite his inconsistencies and not infrequent thrown interceptions. In fact, all I really remember of him in the last several years is crunch time for some play off game and him tossing interceptions.

TRASH BURNED AND POT CLEANED
All my paper trash is burned along with the paper black bean cartons.

THE NUTBUSTER TRAIL
It’s good to be back on my most favorite trail in the Slickrock and after 26 times I should by now know it well. One outstanding quality is that it has water along its entire length, a rarity with most 3,000 foot climbs. On the other hand, the nutbuster stays with water all the way to the top. There are seeps and rivers and springs and creeks and streams all the way to the top. But past leg 5 there are no places to put my behemoth tent until the end on top at Naked Ground. The trail is just too rugged and steep except for a bivy sac or a hammock.

*

*
DAY TWELVE  

Morning at Buckeye Camp Nutbuster

TRAIL: Nutbuster 27TH TIME
CAMP: Landon Camp Naked Ground.

MIDNIGHT IN THE SOUND GARDEN OF HANGOVER CREEK
Yes, Buckeye Camp is an excellent nutbuster camp located on a remote and rugged trail and a camp Johnny B once called “the best camp I ever saw” or something like that. We stayed here for a night on Trip 45 on a 9 day swaray where I took him up the nutbuster just to show him the most rugged trail in the Southeast. He thought the North Fork was worse but that was only because of the low rhododendron which constantly snagged his frame pack and which has since been cut. Having hiked both trails extensively, I have to say this nutbuster is definitely the harder of the two—it’s longer and much steeper and still needs alot of work where the North Fork does not. The Crosscut Mountain Boys never work this trail and it’s a shame since it’s the best trail in the combined wilderness. The SCA boys didn’t touch it either. I haven’t seen any blowdown work on this trail in the last 10 years. A sin, really.

COY AND I ONCE WORKED THIS
I guess me and Coy clearing the top sections a couple years ago have been the last maintainers on this spectacular trail. We did extensive clearing on leg 9 in the low heath and worked our way down to leg 5 where we spent the night and then worked our way back up again but we didn’t cut the briars and we couldn’t cut the blowdowns, some of them 4 to 5 foot diameter hemlocks and a few nasty belly crawls. There’s even a giant fallen hemlock right in the middle of leg 6 on the worst steepest part of the whole trail. It will never be cleared unless Yoda comes out and levitates it away.

I wish he would materialize a Corona saw and loppers into my hands tonight so I could work the trail going up today. I feel like it and would gladly spend two more days camping up high and werking the trail, especially removing the worst of the briar stalks. Coy and I created a rootball sidetrail around a very bad and wide blowdown in section 5 and so I’ll get to see our work later today. I gotta go out and filter some water.

FRUIT DRINK
Okay, I go out right after midnight and get water and mix up some Frontier Co-op fruit powder for a refreshingly craved liquid repast. I’m apparently thirsty as heck.

CRANBROOK’S LAST NIGHT
There are many camps with excited kids and probably saddened leaders who are out for the last time tonight and planning their evac from scattered points in the wilderness. Paul and Audrey will be exiting off the Big Fat Gap road, Bryan and Chelsea will be leaving from the Snowbirds, and Ian and Eglee will be bailing from Cheoah Dam and the Calderwood Lake trailhead. The school buses will be loaded for departure at noon today and will be back in Michigan in 12 hours and old Uncle Fungus will be all alone again and all alone on the most rugged and remote trail in the Southeast.

NOW
Maybe the summer temps will leave me and the last of winter cold will come calling. All my goose down is going to waste.

UT BASKETBALL
Okay, here’s the thing, the Volunteers decided to not do the NCAA March madness tournament, probably because they thought they’d get whipped in the first round, so instead they join the NIT tournament which many describe as the little leagues. Knox area sportcasters then say that UT will easily go to the final four of the NIT and probably dominate. Except what really happens? The Vols lose on the second round to MTSU! Yet today the sport wonks talk about what a fine job TN has done this year! It’s beyond mind boggling, it’s seriously in denial.

EIGHT O’CLOCK
I’m up after a warm night in cool temps, warm because I’m using a winter bag and pad.

A flying couch potato buzzes the wilderness and no one cares except old Fungus

DAMN HATEFUL YELLOW SPORT PLANE
March 21, 8:10am. The hateful yellow sport plane is buzzing the wilderness on repeated sweeps and flying a couple hundred feet off the deck and even zooming down from Naked Ground and buzzing Slickrock Creek valley right off the deck. I cursed and shot repeated birds but to no avail. I must call and email the Cheoah ranger district when I get back and include a picture I took of the bastardo several months ago buzzing Bob Bald. How to ruin the Nutbuster? Get droned by illegal air traffic. Remember, wilderness areas are off limit to overflights.

LEG 5 OPEN COVE RESTSTOP
Okay boys, I pulled the interesting and moderately steep 4th leg with the big boulders and now sit at the start of the open cove by the Coy Williams Campsite, that big tilted area off to the right when ascending. let me go check it out for tentsites. Okay, there’s one good keron site down there.

Okay boys, this is leg 5 of the Nutbuster trail so get used to it and wear your protective cups

BLESSED BE THE COY ROOTBALL
Leg 5 of the nutbuster is appreciably worse then when I humped it last and it’ll only get worse as the dead hemlocks fall. Of course the Cheoah ranger district could care less as they haven’t maintained this trail in years. Thankfully dozens of Cranbrook boots have cleared the trail or at least have made good detours around the numerous big blowdowns. The big scoot over hemlock which me and Coy detoured is excellent and one of the few well thought out and cut rootball go arounds. I’m at the end of leg 5 and will soon be climbing the worst more rugged section of the nutbuster—Lonesome Ridge. Let’s hope it’s open and not a tangled mess.

Leg 5 reaches its conclusion by a couple sets of big rocks and it’s here you should rest before leg 6 which is Lonesome Ridge and hellish

Rugged Lonesome Ridge lives up to the Nutbuster tradition

This is the easy part—just your standard over-one and under-another

Leg 6 ends at a level creek crossing—High Tooth Creek—and it’s here you need to reinsert your lungs and take a break

HEARTBREAK ON LONSESOME RIDGE
Well, there’s a new blowdown right in the middle of the worst section of the nutbuster on Lonesome Ridge but the Berries found a rootball detour which still wasn’t pleasant but hell, here I am at High Tooth Creek getting water and eyeballing leg 7 since leg 6 is finished. Even though the trail is rough it’s considerably better after Coy and I lopped off scores of horizontal rhodo branches. Since then new blowdowns fell and new sections of rhodo lean over onto the trail so another round of work needs to be done.

INTO THE HEATH
I pulled out of leg 8 and the upper lonesome and pre-heath and finally entered the actual heath section 9 which climbs steeply but is inside a tunnel of low heath which Coy and I cleared a couple years ago, otherwise it’s like hiking thru a tangle of steel rebar with near constant duck walking as the trunks don’t budge but they’re susceptible to a corona folding saw dontcha know. Let 9 is close to the top but it’s still a goodly hump so I can’t hurry it. Leg 9 is divided by the rocky heath overlook which is a mandatory reststop and water break before finishing the leg and getting on the final leg 10 which is easy and contours right into the gap at Naked Ground. You’ve just hiked 3,000 feet up the nutbuster!

The end of the Nutbuster nears if you make it this far—to the Heath Overlook

HEATH OVERLOOK
Although we did tremendous work, the heath section needs a touch up.

The goal of the nutbuster is Naked Ground Gap at nearly 5,000 feet so you just pulled a 3,000 foot hump

NAKED GROUND ARRIVAL
The nutbuster is finished! I called Little Mitten and she went for a heart exam in Knoxville but everything checked out okay and so we talked in the gap and I’ll stay up here tonight and make another call to her and then bail off the mountain to avoid the upcoming thunderstorms. NG gap is almost at 5,000 feet and it delivers a decent cool breeze which repels the gnats and black flies which are so pesky down below.

NEWS
Poet W.H. Auden used benzedrine for twenty years to polish his poetry and make it “perfect”. This trail journal is benzedrine-fee and uses no outside substance to achieve its jolly insights and brilliance and philosophical meatiness except for the natural endorphins and serotonins which come from hauling a 70 lb pack up the nutbuster trail. ATTENTION all drug addicts, stoners, sots and winos—hump a 70 lb pack up the nutbuster and you’ll get a shot of a mix of adrenaline and endorphin directly into the brain and it won’t be something a SWAT team can break down your door for at three in the morning. I call it my 1,500 step program, or how many boot steps it takes to get up here from the bottom.

THE UNCLE MOTARD ELEVEN STEP PROGRAM (Condensed from the 1,500 step program)
** I admit that I am powerless over gear and the outdoors and that my life has become unmanageable.

** I have come to believe that Miss Nature is a Power far greater than myself and She will restore me to sanity if I just get my swollen butt off the couch and go outside.

** I have made the decision to turn over my life and will to the Mother Of The Forest as we understand Her.

** I have made a searching and fearless inventory of all my gear both good and bad and have kept what suits me to commune with the Beneficent Her.

** I have admitted to Her and to myself and to any other who will listen the exact nature of my Backpacking Trips and what Gear I like.

**   I am entirely ready to replace old gear with new and allow Miss Nature to do this whenever She wants.

** I have humbly asked Her to remove calf pain and sore shoulders and a throbbing neck.

** I have made a list of all persons I have guided into the outdoors and I’m willing to make amends to them all for the nutbuster trails they endured.

** I will continue to take a personal inventory of both my summer gear and my winter gear, and if any of it seems shoddy or punctured or worn I will promptly admit it.

** I have sought thru long backpacking trips in pristine wilderness to improve my conscious contact with Miss Nature as I understand Her, hoping and praying She allows me to keep my gear in high winds or cold blizzards or summer thunderstorms.

** Having been born again hard in the Neanderthal mindset, I will try to carry this message to couch potatoes, car campers, ultralighters, dayhikers and thermostat-loving Insiders, and I will try to continue to practice these principles for as long as possible.

After running thru my 1,500 step program I guarantee you’ll be damn thankful just to suck in fresh air at the end. The last thing you’ll think about is booze or grass or speed. I call it the “I’m Damn Thankful to be Serene” meditation and it goes like this:

Lord grant me the ability to hump tremendous weight up a seriously hellish slope.”

FACTOID
Lakota Indians used to shove arrow points in between a person’s toes to see if they were really dead. Apparently you can’t fake death during this procedure. So, if you’re playing dead after a battle, get ready for some toe pain.

WOODSMOKE IN THE AIR
Somebody is pulling a controlled burn as the sky is hazy and the smokey air stinks like a wood fire.

A LONELY WILDERNESS
As I said before, now that the Berries are gone my trip gets lonelier and more remote and unless there are spring breakers out and about I’m on my own again. The odds of seeing any backpackers are slim to nihil especially with a series of thunderstorms headed my way this weekend.

LATE NIGHT CALL TO LITTLE MITTEN
We check in with each other and I need my down jacket to fight off a cold wind coming from the Kilmer side. My plan tomorrow is to climb over the Bob and head to the wedge and Little Cove Camp in preparation for tomorrow night’s rainstorms. While in Cold Gap I’ll give Mitten another call just to check in one more time.

*

*
DAY THIRTEEN  

Morning at Landon Camp NG

TRAIL: Four Mile Ridge/54A South/Fodderstack and OUT

4:30 AM WIND AND FOG
A strong wind whips across Four Mile Ridge and across my camp in the high gap of Naked Ground. Today’s goal must be to cross Gorak Hill and descend into the protection of the wedge in preparation for the scattered thunderstorms which are to come tonight and tomorrow. It already sounds like raindrops are hitting the tent at this early hur but this could be the mere slapping of the tent fly. I may have to cut the trip short if Mitten wants me back after her battery of medical tests, although everything came out normal and she has some peace of mind knowing her heart is a-okay. Oft times as we get older we get strange sensations in our chests and arms and necks and lungs and we take these as being heart related so Little Mitten went for tests and the good doctors gave her a clean bill of health although she was at the time freaked out.

So today I’ll pack and call and if she wants me back for any reason I’ll shorten the trip a few days and go for an early evac, otherwise I will shoot for the wedge and Little Cove. She knows the place as we camped there together once.

FOG DROPS
It’s another great day but now there are changes afoot which will break the back of this crazy heat wave. Before this happens comes high winds and rain and thunderstorms and then more normal temps.

IT’S EIGHT AND GREAT
If you consider a high ridge windstorm in fog to be great then this is your place. I gotta get out of here and move out.

NEWS
Two people are missing in the Smokies. A guy named Derek left his Ford at Newfound Gap and it’s full of maps and he leaves a note saying he does not want to be searched for. Another guy, Michael, is 23 years old from Nashville and took off near Sugarlands.

On the out to Beech Gap

TWO MILE RESTSTOP
I leave NG in high wind and dripping fog and pass over an empty Bob and now sit a half mile beyond at the Bob Tee taking a break and preparing to drop off the mountain on 54A South, a short trail which reaches Cold Gap after a drop of a thousand feet. The lost Park hikers piqued my interest and why wouldn’t it?

Bear sandwich

FAMILY EMERGENCY SHORTENS THE TRIP
Little Mitten needs a little TLC and so I call her at Cold Gap and decide to pull out at Beech Gap after a short trip of 13 days. We’re in for 2 or 3 days of rain anyway and so it’s time to reconnect with my little pumpkin eating sweetheart—and so here I sit at Beech Gap after finding my Thermarest cache torn apart by a black bear so see fotos. This makes the second cached pad eaten by ursus horribilis. Go figure. They’re my friends and I don’t hold it against them. They’re welcome to chew everything produced by bonobo humans. Okay, the sky clouds over and I could get walloped at any moment.

A ceremonial farewell and a return

SO ENDS ANOTHER GREAT BACKPACKING TRIP WITH AN EXIT OUT OF MY TENNESSEE MOUNTAINS AND I COME OUT WITH A BRAND NEW PLAN TO HIT THE INTERSTATE AND HAUL MY GEAR TO MT ROGERS AGAIN FOR A FITTING SWARAY INTO THE BENEFICENT CREST ZONE. SEE YOU THERE.

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