Unicoi Mountains, USA

7:03 p.m. on February 14, 2012 (EST)
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 I intended to squeeze in a quick two night / two day trip after work that would require a short night hike to get started. I had been ill recently and wasn’t at full strength but went forward anyway. The temps dropped and the weather called for rain on Friday night: I’m willing to hike at night and I’m willing to hike in the rain but decided to not hike at night and in the rain. My route included several sections previously unseen which can be good and bad of course.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 So, I got up early and drove the 1.5 hours to the Tapoco trailhead at the end of the Tail Of the Dragon. My pack cover fits too snug when I’ve got it too full, so I went with a garbage bag (not well secured yet). I’m a little funny looking anyway and this just adds to it…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 About a mile in I start to smell oil. Surprisingly this bridge was the source of the smell. Whatever they sealed it with is serious stuff.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 After dropping down to Slickrock creek, the trail turns nasty and rough. (hmm, glad I didn’t try to night-hike this)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 Check out the rock ledge to tip toe across. You don’t wanna fall in at these temps (mid 20ies).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 This looked like a nice spot to return to in warmer times.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 Ah well, the crossing begins. I wound up pulling three crossings with ambient temps about 25 degrees. I had to take my pants off for the last two crossings because they were so deep; I’ll spare you the “chicken leg” photos. That stuff takes the fight right out of you. At some point after the first crossing I lost the trail once and had to back track to pick it up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 I passed this cool (but slightly creepy) rams-head growth on a tree going up the “Stiff-Knee” trail. The snow was really picking up about then and having never been there before I gave full attention to staying on the trail.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 Just had to post this google eyed photo. Too funny.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 I’m standing on the trail. Can you see it? I barely could.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 After rounding “Farr Gap” the climb began in earnest. I honestly had a moment through there were the wind was blowing so hard, and I was so exhausted that I started eyeing all the semi –flat spots as potential campsites. I was thirsty but my water bottle threads had frozen shut and while trying to clean my glasses a lens popped out. I suppose every backpacker has those moments on windy, snowy mountains where you think: why did this seem like a good idea? lol

 

 

After a few miles I heard a strange bellowing sound that was quite unnerving. Upon investigation it was coming from a green snow covered tube. Fearing the worst I began digging and digging and ……

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 Out popped Tipi Walter all warm and smiling in his down suit! He was so warm looking and happy that I completely forgot about my anxiety a few moments earlier!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 Yeah, I know my tent was “out of season” there, but I’m working on it. After making our greetings, Tipi told me where to find an excellent spring just down the mountain. We caught up for a while but it eventually got down to about 10 degrees (zero with the wind chill, I reckon) and I had to go get in my sleeping bag so as to get the digits warmed up. Hey Hiking Jim, you’re right: Gas canister stoves don’t work well in those temperatures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 I tried to get a photo of the first light over the mountain but my camera didn’t work well in those temps either. I had to put it in my bag for a while before it recognized the battery.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 I also slept with my fuel canister so I could have a hot breakfast. (Really stretching out the three season gear huh?)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 After shooting the morning breeze with TW, I bailed down the Big Stack Gap trail on my loop hike. Oh yeah, Tipi said to say Hi to all you Trailspacers. (He’ll be out there for two more weeks!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 You gotta love the frosty mountains.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 I had made it to Big Fat Gap (parking lot is empty due to winter road closure…nice) where I stopped for lunch. The sunshine didn’t do much to keep me warm so I started going again pretty soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 When I told Tipi that I was going to hike the Hangover Lead North trail, he said something like “Why would you do that?”. And then he said something else about it being “hellish”. OK, I get it now. Good grief...I could not capture in photos how steep that descent was (mostly because it took my total concentration to keep from falling and sliding). I should listen better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 It did however offer this rare vantage of the Smokies. That is Gregory Bald to the right. I admit that I was really glad to get off that lead when I finally did.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 And finally I arrived back at Cheaoh Dam near my car.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 I hate to end on a blurry photo so here is Calderwood Dam (I think) as seen from the Tail of the Dragon.

 

Happy Trails!

7:16 p.m. on February 14, 2012 (EST)
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Cool tr Patman. Gotta love the snow. That hill shouldn't have been much trouble. Just glissade away...

After further thought and the visualization of a pinball I would like to retract my last suggestion lol. 

Anywho, cool tr. Looks like a good time. 

7:42 p.m. on February 14, 2012 (EST)
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Great pics as always. I'm glad to see someone has snow, we had a short spurt of a couple days of it and now its gone again.

I'm heading to New Hampshire on Friday to take an ice climbing course through EMS down there. Hope they've got lots although its Mt. Washington so I'm sure it does!

9:36 p.m. on February 14, 2012 (EST)
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Nice TR Patman. Looked real chilly. I dont want to even try and imagine what that creek crossing was like!

I hear ya on stretching the 3 season gear, it gets kinda crowded in the sleeping bag with all the goodies needing to stay warm, ie. filters, gas cans, headllamps, cameras, morning socks etc. etc..

My last trip the coldest I had was upper 20's one morning, I got to thinking about next time bringing a couple of those small hand heater packs to place in a ditty sack outside the sleeping bag with all those things I need to keep warm. Would make for much more room and comfort in the bag.

10:37 p.m. on February 14, 2012 (EST)
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Does Tipi live in his tent? HA! Nice trip report and looked like a great adventure!

11:47 p.m. on February 14, 2012 (EST)
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Great TR.  What do you use as a tripod?

11:53 p.m. on February 14, 2012 (EST)
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I would hate to carry the load Tipi carries, but he sure does look like he's staying warm and comfortable does'nt he

5:33 a.m. on February 15, 2012 (EST)
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Patman said:

  

February-2012-038.jpg

..Hangover Lead North trail... ..I could not capture in photos how steep that descent was (mostly because it took my total concentration to keep from falling and sliding)...

Actually Pat, the photo looks awfullly steep to me!  Looks steep as an intermediate ski slope.  Surprized you didn't fall on your backside at least once. 

7:16 a.m. on February 15, 2012 (EST)
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Rick,

I thought about trying to do a controlled slide down that lead …..but it was three miles long and full of rocks and trees.  I had visions of bad endings, so I opted for the turtle approach. J

Jake,

Thanks man. I only had snow after gaining 3000 feet on the mountain. Where I live there was none (hardly ever is inKnoxville…) but at least it’s just a drive and a hike away. Funny, I was reading about MtWashingtonthe other day…..from what I read you should definitely expect some winter weather. Be safe!

AZR,

Yeah, Tipi told me his pack tipped 100 lbs this time. But hey, if I was going to be out for 20 days at a time I would probably be similarly equipped.

Ocala,

Nah, I don’t use a tripod, I just look for likely things to set my camera on like forked tree branches and rocks, etc…

Ed,

I did slip once but caught myself before gaining any downward momentum. There was another section that was far steeper than the one in the picture I posted; I wish I had gotten a picture of it but I was too distracted by gravity and all…

Karen,

Yeah I think you could say that Tipi does live in his tent (20 days a month anyway!)

7:54 a.m. on February 15, 2012 (EST)
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Looks cold.

I have done some of these trails but it was in July, part of a loop through Slickrock and Joyce Kilmer.  On the way down toward Slickrock from Big Fat Gap we came across a nice patch of ripe blackberries.  And further down, for probably 1/2 mile of trail, as far as I could see upslope and downslope from the trail were blueberries, and they were also ripe, the bushes were loaded.  They were quite good.  I commented on how I was surprised there was no bear sign with all the ripe berries.  Not a few feet further and there was fresh scat on the trail.  Ooops, I take that back.

7:58 a.m. on February 15, 2012 (EST)
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Forgot to add - we also had to deal with the yellow jacket nests in the trail.  One of them (going up to Jenkins Meadow) resulted in 7 stings.  I was 3rd in line, the worst place to be, as the first 2 passing by stirred up the nest.  I avoided 3rd position after that.

And some of those trails really are steep.

8:19 a.m. on February 15, 2012 (EST)
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Chumango,

Yeah I got nailed right on top of the head last July also coming down the "nutbuster trail" from Naked Ground. That place is the land of the "yellow jacket" isn't it? Were you leading a scout group? If so, we may have met on Slickrock creek near Wildcat falls....

9:13 a.m. on February 15, 2012 (EST)
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WOW...me and the Jackets are not on speaking terms.....tht would SUCK!

9:34 a.m. on February 15, 2012 (EST)
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Nice trip.  Seems like you guys are always crossing streams.  Come out west, we've been in a drought for so long you won't have to cross a stream, ever!

10:24 a.m. on February 15, 2012 (EST)
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Nice trip report...

12:01 p.m. on February 16, 2012 (EST)
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Patman, 

Looks like you had an amazing hike, I am in awe of the mileage and elevation changes you pulled on this trip! 

I am quite jealous you were able to get out that weekend. I wanted to really badly, but had family obligations on Saturday and Sunday :( I am just hoping we get some more snow on a weekend when I can get out. 

I know the exact spot you show in your fourth photo; it is a wida'maker even in fair weather! The Slickrock isn't named errantly, LOL!

Tipi wasn't kidding about the Hangover lead trail, it is a beast. I haven't hiked the north section in many years, but the south section isn't much kinder. Have you ever hiked up from the Big Fat to Saddle Tree? In addition to the steep sections, there are also some side-hilling sections that are crumbling away pretty badly. It would be obnoxious in the snow and ice. 

I am trying to piece together your exact trail route, was it:

  • Up Slickrock trail from Tapoco trailhead
  • junction with Stiffnee about halfway up
  • Stiffnee all the way to Farr Gap
  • Climb south along BMT/Fodderstack Trail
  • Camp along BMT at [Location?]
  • Continue South on BMT/Foddertack to Big Stack Gap
  • Take Big Stack Gap Trail down and east
  • Cross Slickrock Creek, and Climb up to Big Fat Gap on  [Trail?]
  • Hangover Lead Trail North (up then down) all the way back to Cheoah Dam

I would be better able to identify some of the route, but the online USGS for that area do not show the current trails. 

Are you planning on getting out again on any of the next few weekends?

1:24 p.m. on February 16, 2012 (EST)
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G,

 You nailed it. That was my exact route. Tipi and I camped at what he calls "Crowder Camp". I guess it's actually "Big Stack Gap" since it's right at the trail juntion of 139 (Big Stack Gap trail) and 95/2 (BMT).

I sent a PM about the next few weeks.

 I have gone from BFG to Saddle tree a few times....I thought it was a little milder than the north side. I admit Saturdays (day 1) route kicked my tail pretty good.

Oh and I chose trail 41 (Big Fat Gap Trail) from the Slick Rock / Nichols Cove area to approach Big Fat.

1:47 p.m. on February 16, 2012 (EST)
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Rob,

 

I would so love to come out west....ah, some day.

1:54 p.m. on February 16, 2012 (EST)
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Patman said:

....I thought it was a little milder than the north side

 It probably is, it has been such a long time since I did the North section that I really can't remember it accurately enough to compare well. 

6:43 p.m. on February 16, 2012 (EST)
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Very cool trip report.

I have always wanted to backpack in that part of the Unicoi's.

Is there an online elevation graph for those trails that you know of?

Thanks Pat.

8:46 a.m. on February 17, 2012 (EST)
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great report as always!

10:56 a.m. on February 17, 2012 (EST)
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trouthunter said:

I have always wanted to backpack in that part of the Unicoi's.

 Haha, have you read your PMs? ;)

11:00 a.m. on February 17, 2012 (EST)
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trouthunter said:

Is there an online elevation graph for those trails that you know of?

Thanks Pat.

 Pat might know, but I am not aware of any online. There might be in some guide book, but I couldn't point you to any specifically. I think on e of the main reasons there are so few El. graphs for that area is that there are just so many trails that no one has taken it on yet :)

12:33 p.m. on February 17, 2012 (EST)
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Whoops, I missed that ....I'm not aware of any good elevation data online either. My Nat Geo map has some markings here and there but not much. I actually bought a cheap digital altimeter but havn't messed with it yet. 

5:42 p.m. on February 18, 2012 (EST)
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Nice atleast your getting some snow and outdoor time...Thanks for shareing it patric..

7:11 a.m. on March 2, 2012 (EST)
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February-2012-007.jpg

This is the exact spot which confounds me with weight and so I always have to cross the creek two extra times to get around this slippery rock ledge.  Without a pack, of course, it's a breeze.

And Patman, Big Stack Gap is actually a mile south where the Fodderstack trail jcts with the Mill Branch trail, in a gap with a large cut blowdown oak.  See your quote below.

"G,

 You nailed it. That was my exact route. Tipi and I camped at what he calls "Crowder Camp". I guess it's actually "Big Stack Gap" since it's right at the trail juntion of 139 (Big Stack Gap trail) and 95/2 (BMT)."

9:11 a.m. on March 2, 2012 (EST)
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Tipi,

Ah OK,

I missed that on my map but I do see now that Big Stack is marked as you say. So is the Crowder Camp a named Gap at all?

 

thanks!

11:30 a.m. on March 2, 2012 (EST)
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Down where the Crowder Branch trailpost is I call Crowder Gap.

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