20 Days Of Solitude

9:30 a.m. on March 5, 2012 (EST)
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Yes boys, strap on your head gear for another long trip with a butt heavy pack into the mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina.

HIGHLIGHTS

Trip 130
February 8-27  2012

**  20 DAYS OF SOLITUDE

**  100 POUND PACK---HEAVIEST IN THE CITICO YEARS

**  SNOWSTORM ON THE PINE RIDGE FODDERSTACK

**  PATMAN JOINS ME AT CROWDER CAMP

**  10F NIGHT ON FODDERSTACK RIDGE

**  A NEW SITE IN THE BURNTHOUSE CAMPS

**  BACKPACKING THE NICHOLS COVE YELLOWHAMMER ROUTE

**  THE TREACHEROUS LOWER SLICKROCK GOAT TRAIL AND THE NEW FOOTBRIDGE

**  CROSSING THE MIGHTY SLICKROCK FIVE TIMES

**  THE LONG SLOG UP STIFFKNEE TO SNOW CAMP

**  SNOWSTORM AT SNOW CAMP

**  INTO LITTLE SANTEETLAH VALLEY

**  WINDSTORM IN JENKINS MEADOW

**  TUMULT ON HANGOVER MOUNTAIN

**  WINDFEST AT NAKED GROUND

**  PATMAN LINKS UP AT NAKED GROUND

**  WITH PATMAN AND GONZAN ON BOB BALD

**  MY LAST NIGHT ON THE SOUTH FORK JEFFREY HELL

**  TRIP MILES 63

GEAR LIST

This should satisfy all those nylon droolers who think they need a bunch of gear but are smart enough to not be willing to carry it.  On second thought, forget about a long and involved gear list and let's get right to the trip.


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On Day 1 Little Mitten and I drive up the Skyway to the Flats Mt trailhead where I say goodbye to Mitten's new friend Zoe Dog the Mighty Mite, a new addition to the Uncle Fungus family. 


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What does 100 lbs look like?  It looks about like 75.  There's no reason for the insanity except for the book reading and food obsession.  Here I am on a three mile hike to Day 1's camp somewhere on the Flats Mt trail.


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FLATHEAD CAMP---It's too good a camp to pass up and so I use it to divide the Flats trail into two separate but equal parts.  The tent of choice of course is the Hilleberg Keron.  As previously posted on other reports, this pool of water is what makes Flathead Camp so nice.


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On Day 2 I leave camp and fall off the three main hills and right before leaving the ridge on three switchbacks I turn to my left and say goodbye to Indian Lake below.


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Flats Mt trail ends at Beehouse Gap where I take a needed break after pulling 6.2 miles with 99 lbs (burned some book pages and ate a meal or two).


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After a short one mile roadwalk I reach the trailhead to South Fork Citico and further to Warden's Field where I decide to camp.  Here's the SF trailhead.


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Warden's Field was at one time long ago a small town with a ranger station and a post office.  Here's a vestige of an old footbridge across Citico Creek.  I go upstream a couple 100 yards to camp.


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LOG GATE CAMP---A new spot for me but a very nice one with the good sound of water all night.


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I carry in 11 of these interweb rolls of reading material---60 pages each with both sides printed---they are heavy but easily burned.


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Climbing Up The Pine Ridge Trail---It's a nutbuster with alot of weight and a gain of 2,200 feet so I stop alot and ponder the futility of my existence.


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Here's a site I call Oglala Camp cuz it's on the Pine Ridge trail.  Get it?  Pine Ridge rez.  I finally reach the top where the Pine Ridge jcts with the Fodderstack/BMT and decide to set up for the night.  First though I have to pull down a dead pine snag leaning over camp and I do so with my bear line and swaying.  It works---see it leaning safely away behind the tent.


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Welcome to a 4 am snow---I go out in the early morning of Day 4 to take the mandatory nighttime snow shot with flash.  It's cold but not unbearable and hey, I brought my geese.


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Morning dawns white and crisp at Oglala Camp.


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It's time to pack the kit and leave to go north to Crowder Camp where I'm to meet Patman.


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CROWDER CAMP---I leave Pine Ridge and descend to Mill Gap and climb up the short but steep hill to a place I call the Little Big Horn---where the white man in me is killed (by the climb) ha ha ha.  Anyway, I reach Crowders and set up and prepare for another cold night.


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I'm back from a quarter mile water run using my Pur Hiker filter and my two-plus liter platypus bottle.


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Patman arrives after an eleven mile slog and a gain of several thousand feet. 


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Patman's pack is dumped while he goes to get water.


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Patman sets up his Big Agnes tent as the temps fall in a crisp wind.


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Camp is arranged and we hang out to talk and think about supper.

MORE TO COME

10:13 a.m. on March 5, 2012 (EST)
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DAY FIVE


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Morning arrives and according to Patman it's 10F which seems about right.  He's packed and ready to move down the Big Stack Gap trail and I follow the same trail but two hours behind.


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After a two mile loss of about 1,500 feet (and it's tricky in the wet snow) I make it to Slickrock Creek.


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My camp for the night is by the first creek crossing and I call it Little West Camp.  It's another butt cold night.


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On Day 6 I pack up the gear and cross a butt cold Slickrock Creek in bare feet and crocs and get to the other side where I must take this obligatory shot.


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After the crossing I reboot and head over to the Big Fat trail jct and explore the Nichols Cove camps in the Slicnic area.  Satisfied I'm all alone, I return to the jct and take this shot of the trailpost showing my route on #42 as I pull leg one of the ten leg Nutbuster trail to a new camp near Hangover Creek.


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Here's my camp for Day 6 on a high rise ridge finger opposite old Burnthouse Camp and above Hangover Creek.


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Can you find the tent? 


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Behind me is the dreaded upper Slickrock Nutbuster trail.  I leave the Burnthouse Camps and follow Slickrock Creek back to the Nichols Cove/Big Fat trailhead where I pose for this shot.


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Despite the cold rain I decide to bust a gonad and hump up Nichols Cove trail to the top of Windy Gap ridge where I take this shot.  From here down to the Cove of Nichols is wonderful and the actual cove is fantastic.


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I reach a major intersection on the Nichols Cove trail where it jcts with the Yellowhammer trail at the little twin gravesite visible above.  My campsite is 75 yards down the hill by water.  I haven't seen a human soul in seven days---and I don't count Patman as I invited him out to meet me.


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Nichols Cove Camp---Here's the nice camp located below the Cove gravesite, and there's water right behind and to the left of the tent.


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The morning of Day 8 comes to Nichols Cove Camp and I get a wild hair to hike all day.  My day begins by hiking all of the Yellowhammer trail to this spot where the YH ends and jcts with the Ike Branch BMT.  It's a good place to take a break as the YH has some steep sections.


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Yes, I'm now on the BMT.


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The next trail I hike is the Ike Branch/BMT and it too has some steep sections and jcts with the lower Slickrock trail by Calderwood Lake and the Tapoco trailhead.  Here is the jct sign.


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Here's a close up of the Ike Branch/Lower Slickrock sign.


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I decide to turn left and follow the treacherous trail above the lake which is the lowest part of the Slickrock Creek trail.  Here is Calderwood Lake.


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There are four footbridges on this narrow and dangerous trail---here is the first.


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The old second bridge has been replaced with this new one and it's a beautiful thing.


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The third footbridge.


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And the fourth footbridge.


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After the risky "peruvian cliff hike" I reach an open area next to Slickrock Creek and set up camp after a long day of humpage.  I call it Pisgah Canyon Camp.


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Day 9 was going to be a zero day spent in an all-day rain but I was worried about my location and felt locked into a place I did not want to stay for long.  The treacherous mountain goat path I did yesterday wasn't high on my list of things to repeat, and yet the mighty Slickrock is higher than normal and with more rain coming, well, I may never get across.

So, I get a window of light rain and decide to pull five challenging crossings thru cold water in my crocs.  At the last crossing before Stiffknee Camp I had to take this shot.


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Here's Stiffknee Camp and it's a "safe" place to be when or if Slickrock Creek gets too high to cross.  You can bail up the Stiffknee trail which is also the Benton MacKaye trail---again.

YET MORE TO COME

11:14 a.m. on March 5, 2012 (EST)
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DAY TEN


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Day 10 begins under pretty skies and so I pack the kit and pull the Stiffknee trail to the top at Farr Gap.  Here I am pulling the five creek crossings---easy in boots.


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Stiffknee Gap---it's a hard pull to this gap but I'm surprised by a new trailpost put in by the Crosscut Mountain Boys.


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A close up of the numbers.  2 is the BMT, 106 is Stiffknee.


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They put in this sign too as the old one disintegrated long ago.


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I make it to Farr Gap and load up on water at Black Snake Spring near the end of the Stiffknee trail.


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About a half mile south of Farr Gap I find this level campsite on Fodderstack Ridge on the BMT and it's a good place to crash for the night.


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Day 11 begins with a couple tough hills on Fodderstack Ridge and I pass thru Mill Gap where I take a needed break before the long uphill slog over Big Fodder Mt.


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After a long day of backpacking I make it to Snow Camp near Cherry Log Gap at around 4,500 feet where I wet up camp and wait for snow.


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Okay boys, the rain turns to sleet and snow and it makes for a pretty picture.  I spend my first zero day of the trip in the stuff.


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The night of Day 12 finds me warm and dry inside the tent and I go out to take the obligatory snow-flash shot and put Day 12 into the history bin.


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Day 13 dawns cold and clear and so I spend 20 minutes scraping the ice off the tent and get ready to leave Snow Camp.


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To get to the highest ground you've got to climb 54A North and at the top I rest for this fotog.  On to the Bob!!


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Gorak Hill and not a soul in sight.  In fact, I hain't seen anyone in 13 days.


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I make it to Naked Ground Gap and decide to drop down a thousand feet into the Kilmer valley along Little Santeetlah creek.  Here's my camp about a mile off the mountain.


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Little Santee Creek---Day 14 begins and ends on the banks of Little Santee Creek.


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The Naked Ground trail is the last vestige of once was---unlogged and unbulldozed like every other place---and so the foot trail is an honest foot trail.  Here it passes thru an ancient 300+ year old blowdown.


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Uncle Fungus by the Smiling Rock.  It looks friendly enough but it will eat you.


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Beware of the Smiling Frog!  Grab the tail, Jim!! 


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A little footbridge on the Naked Ground trail.  I'm headed downstream towards the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest.


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CREEKSIDE CAMP ON THE LITTLE SANTEE---Behind Low Dog Camp there is this little alcove four feet from the loud rushing waters of Little Santee Creek and it's level and perfect for a tent and so I set up and call it a day.


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Here's another shot of the fine little campsite.  Towering dead hemlocks make camping in the Kilmer valley a risky endeavor---just keep eyeballing above you.

STILL MORE TO COME

12:01 p.m. on March 5, 2012 (EST)
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DAY FIFTEEN


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Day 15 dawns cool and clear and so I get an early start on the banks of Little Santee Creek.  With several routes possible, I decide to tackle the dreaded JMT---Jenkins Meadow trail---and pull the connector of it from the Naked Ground trail to the real start of the JMT.  Here I am at the start of the Jenkins after the connector.


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The JMT is a true nutbuster in the Citico/Slickrock tradition but it finally ends at this little rocky dirt circle where it jcts with the Haoe Lead trail.  My day is almost over once I ascend the final push to Haoe Ridge.


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This is the actual Jenkins Meadow as it's very flat and around 4,000 feet on the spine of Haoe Ridge.  I call it Toad Camp.  A strong wind requires using all 16 pegs and the wind stays with me for the next four days.

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It's another pretty day with unseasonably warm temps so I pack and pull the thousand foot climb to the top of Haoe Peak where I stop for this shot.  A warm day means more afternoon thunderstorms so I need to decide if I want to keep my hard earned elevation gain and stay on Hangover Mt or if I need to bail down a thousand feet to Elysium Fields. 


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I decide to brave the elements and set up on top of Hangover Mt at aptly named Airjet Camp.  Check out the nerw wind toppled tree by the tent.  Uh oh . . . .


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There's not much to say for Day 17.  I leave one mountain top storm for another mountain top storm.  The trek takes me from Hangover Mt to Naked Ground Gap in the rain and I set up in a stiff wind as the sky turns dark.  It's another storm, boys.  While in the gap I find two dead trees with the distinct gouges of lightning strikes.


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Day 18 begins with a pleasant surprise when Patman backpacks up the Naked Ground trail and passes thru camp on his way to the Bob.  We gear up and prepare to hike up the mountain together in a cold wind to Gorak Hill.


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Uncle Fungus and Pathmandu somewhere on Four Mile Ridge between Hangover Mt and Bob's Bald.


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Patman sets up on the Bob in the South Col Camps and we find some relief from the cold wind.


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The Hilleberg in the South Col Camps.


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Gonzan shows up from Jeffrey Hell/South Fork trails and we all camp together in a stiff cold wind.


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STAYING WARM IN THE KERON TUNNEL---A big tent pays off on occasion when you're on a cold mountain top in a bitter wind and need a place to socialize.


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Day 19 begins in 15F temps when I catch Gonzan pulling some early morning photography.


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Patman gets up early to use his jetboil to cook up some hot oatmeal.


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It's time for the group shot on top of Gorak Hill.


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Patman doing some morning yoga before shoving off.


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SADDLED UP---The boys go one way and I go another.  They head down the Naked Ground trail to the Kilmer side and I head off the Bob to Cold Gap and the South Fork Citico.


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My final night is next to South Fork Creek at the Jeffrey Hell trailpost which will be my exit climb in the morning.


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Gonzan returns to the South Fork to retrieve his flashlight and so I take the necessary fotogs of his crossing.


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In the middle.


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Almost across.


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CROSSING THE SOUTH FORK ON DAY 20---Now it's my turn but I'm not so nimblefooted so I have to use crocs.


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The trip ends by climbing up the Jeffrey Hell and reaching my evac point on the Skyway to meet Little Mitten.  So ends another great trip.

2:42 p.m. on March 5, 2012 (EST)
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Tipi

Thanks for another great trip report.

 

Hoppin John

2:56 p.m. on March 5, 2012 (EST)
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my goodness, what a trip. would be interesting to not see anyone for 3 weeks!

2:56 p.m. on March 5, 2012 (EST)
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Hey Tipi, Glad to see you survived the tornados and have electricity (but I was thinking if anyone down there was equipped to live without power, it would be you!).

Excellent report as always and it’s neat to see the gaps in the route. I know you told me of them but it helps to see the progression…man, you were all over that place!

It was a good time as always. Those last pics of Gonzan look like he was walking on water…hmmm.

3:40 p.m. on March 5, 2012 (EST)
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Thanks boys, for the blurbs. 

Well, as soon as I got back my home town got walloped by a twister traveling right thru the heart of the little city.  I could file a trip report just on this one event but suffice it to say cops and road crews and telephone pole people and state troopers and chainsawers and church groups and volunteers and sheriff deputies and Head Honchos and all else congregated around the little place and went to work. 

Little Mitten and drove around right after it happened and people were sort of walking around in shock---powerlines over the road, even the cops in a spaced-out zone---and the honchos immediately cordoned off the roads and kept gawkers and the rolling couch potatoes out to prevent burglary and whatever else.

The internet provider building in town was actually leveled to stick pieces and cinder block chunks. 

We might be in sorry shape as a country but people band together when it really matters.

10:13 p.m. on March 5, 2012 (EST)
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Tipi Walter said:

 cops and road crews and telephone pole people and state troopers and chainsawers and church groups and volunteers and sheriff deputies and Head Honchos and all else congregated around the little place and went to work. 

We might be in sorry shape as a country but people band together when it really matters.

 It is great to see when folks come together to care fore each other in times of need, isn't it? Glad to know you and Little Mitten are ok. 

To echo the others, what a great trip report! I am quite jealous of the weekend with snow when Patman hoofed all the way in from Calderwood. I really wanted to head up there as well, but we had family events to attend. 

Those shots of me crossing the South Fork are indeed pretty funny; picking out the rocks to hop was a bit of a dance :)

2:04 a.m. on March 6, 2012 (EST)
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Tipi,

Your solitary trips remind me of the man in the picture that used to hang above the chimney of the old Wonderland Hotel there in GSMNP (a ruin now) near Elkmont--he was a native of the area from back before the Park, if I remember the story correctly, and they say he never tired of walking those trails alone even when he got to be quite old.  I appreciated your trip report and pictures, also, but I am curious (and envious) as to how you maintain your positive,  focused detachment from the outside world for that many days alone?!  I've only made it for 4 days like that and started to go "stir-crazy."  Perhaps it is an "acquired taste"?  Anyway, I am sorry for the people of your town who were affected by that storm, but glad to hear they congregated around the experience.  Always glad to see your posts; welcome home!

8:17 a.m. on March 6, 2012 (EST)
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Bunion said:

Tipi,

I appreciated your trip report and pictures, also, but I am curious (and envious) as to how you maintain your positive,  focused detachment from the outside world for that many days alone?!  I've only made it for 4 days like that and started to go "stir-crazy."  Perhaps it is an "acquired taste"?  

 This is an interesting question and one that I rarely consider since it's hard for me to put myself into the shoes (or boots) of people who do not have the same motivation to be out.  I just assume everyone is wired to be outdoors, 200,000 years of hominid history and all.

What you call "Focused detachment from the outside world" could be swapped around to read "focused attachment to living in 'nature' ".  Beyond the quasi science of human history, i.e. that our species has spent 99% of time as hunter-gatherers, there has been a negative shift in human consciousness from living out as tribal groups to the modern choice of conducting a war on "pristine" nature.

Anyway, people need to find out where they belong.  If it's in a tent in a forest by a waterfall then so be it.  Don't all humans have the Call of the Wild?

10:03 a.m. on March 6, 2012 (EST)
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You are one hellofa madman, wish I was half of it....

 

1:41 p.m. on March 6, 2012 (EST)
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Tipi, you are an inspiration.

congrats on a great trip.

 

earl.

2:45 p.m. on March 6, 2012 (EST)
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The more I do, the more I want.  I just hope my body doesn't collapse in some Walmart before the next trip, and that all orifices stay healthy etc etc.

2:48 p.m. on March 6, 2012 (EST)
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                          tres buenos amigos de la tierra

2:48 p.m. on March 6, 2012 (EST)
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Tipi, I gotta say that your 18 and 20 day trips make me want to get out there for longer periods than I do. 

100lbs in the pack... That's what I am talking about.

PACK MULES UNITE !!!

Awesome tr. 

4:53 p.m. on March 6, 2012 (EST)
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Rick-Pittsburgh said:

Tipi, I gotta say that your 18 and 20 day trips make me want to get out there for longer periods than I do. 

100lbs in the pack... That's what I am talking about.

PACK MULES UNITE !!!

Awesome tr. 

 The 100 lb limit has been reached and no future trip will include such weight as I'm more of an 85 lb guy . . . . .

Problem is, at home I arrange the kit and always eyeball far more books and food---but mainly books---than should ever be set aside and carried, yet the only real reading I ever do is out on a trip since 'computer reading' is an oxygen depleting moronic endeavor.  Oxymoron.  So, I end up carrying far too much prose and text and tomes and thus delight in the final rendering of a burn pile every day or so.  There's nothing much more gratifying than burning thru pages on a long backpacking trip. 

Here are the books I have ready for the next trip---coverless and de-indexed, etc. (And purchased at a used book store with very low prices):

**  WARRIOR SOUL:  The Memoir of a Navy SEAL, Chuck Pfarrer.

**  THE KILLING OF CRAZY HORSE, Thomas Powers.  Detailed history of the Lakota people and Crazy Horse.

**  IN THE HANDS OF THE GREAT SPIRIT:  The 20,000 Year History of American Indians, by Jake Page.

There's a fourth called NORMAN CLYDE: Legendary Mountaineer of California's Sierra Nevada, by Robert C. Pavlik.  This one may have to be left as I CANNOT ALLOW MYSELF to hump such a load again. 

7:51 p.m. on March 6, 2012 (EST)
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your my hero - i would just like to get 20 off from work :) fanstic trip, thanks for sharing with everyone.

9:02 a.m. on March 8, 2012 (EST)
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Great trip as always stay safe during this tornado season.

9:11 a.m. on March 12, 2012 (EDT)
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Loved it Tipi! Hike on brother.

3:31 p.m. on March 12, 2012 (EDT)
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What else can I say.......Tipi, You Da Man!

I always look forward to your TR's. They inspire the rest of us to keep going further and longer. Thank You.

Love the smiling rock and the reference to "Grab the tail Jim!" Just once I would have loved to hear Jim say "Forget you! You grab the tail this time!" :)

Thanx for another excellent TR and hope you have many more ahead. If I drop in a Walmart parking lot Im begging that somebody drag my carcus out to the desert.......Please Im begging you!

October 2, 2014
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