Hot July South Eastern Backpacking, USA (3.5 trips)

6:57 p.m. on July 31, 2012 (EDT)
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Well actually my first July trip was Forney Creek in the Smokies but I’m stringing together 3.5 trips in this report to round out the month.

 I’ve been so busy with my job during the week that I haven’t had time to post anything; I had insomnia last night and decided to write this out in a Word doc with pictures linked from a site that lets me batch upload.

 ***warning long blog style report on this one*** Read at your own risk.

 First up was my annual Grandfather Mountain Highland Games attendance to merge a little fellowship with some camping and hiking.

 I ground out the three hour drive to the camping registration area. I had to shuttle my car out and hitch a ride back with such a late start on a Friday after work (all spots near the camping meadows were taken long before). The rain was coming and going in waves on the ride out.

 The first part of my report deviates from a strictly hiking topic (although it was technically camping) but was part of my backpacking trip nonetheless.




 And here was the castle wall to the area where the core group I’m connected with has camped for well over a decade (but only my third year in the “castle”). The folks in the area near this one have camped in the same spot for over thirty years for the games. It’s a really fun atmosphere and always a great time with descendants of the Scottish clans that use these games to recall and preserve their heritage (amongst other things.) The camping area is divided in to a “family” side and a “rowdy” side as they call it. It just so happens that the folks I know camp on the fringe of the rowdy side (and I camp on the fringe of their camp, which puts me pretty much in the woods).






 I pitched my Fly Creek (and tarp above to give a dyer entry) for the next two days in my usual spot on the hillside above the main castle camp. This was done hurriedly as the rain picked up again. I didn’t quite keep everything dry in the process.


It was a rainy Friday night on the mountain and things were pretty subdued. The normal Friday night concert on the field had been cancelled due to rain.






 But hey what’s this? A piper (blue jacket in the rainy photo)! Alright, now we got a piper right in our camp braving the rain! That’s the Highland spirit!






 And the piper draws people…..






 And the piper plus the people draw a drummer. And the people plus the piper plus the drummer draw more drummers and more people and so it goes on a rainy mountain Friday. Good times! And we had no “piper down” emergencies!






 Ah the next day brought better weather!






After an hour-long run through area service roads and trails (and an invigorating mountain shower of cold water piped to a freestanding shower tall) it was time to head over to the game field.






Here we have a sighting of the elusive highland fairy.






 A day hike out to an overlook above the games meadow brought this view (the peaks of Grandfather Mountain covered in fog)






 My buddy Keith, getting dressed up to represent his clan in a meeting.






 And I’ll end the games section with this shot of my cousin-in-law Mark in his Fat Bastard attire on the way to attend the Saturday night concert. I think he had a Camelback on beneath that costume but it was something other than water in it. Always a good time at the Highland Games!






 And so here I was on day 3: I’m crossing Boone Fork after driving up the Blue Ridge Parkway to the Daniel Boone Scout Trail parking lot. After two nights and two days of camping with the clansmen I was a little rough around the edges but still ready to hike the mountain!






 Good advise on this mountain.






 Movin’ on up.






 Nice sign. If you actually were lost that washed out map would probably not help you.






 Here is an example of why I love this trail. The route takes you up many rock faces like this one. It was actually pretty challenging because it was so wet and slick.






 And again, you have to watch for blazes in unexpected places. Notice the blaze up high in the photo indicating you should climb the rock wall.






 Ah the Indian Pipe.








 I stopped off to see the High Balsam shelter. It was maybe the first time I’ve seen a shelter interior shellacked; interesting approach.








 These ladders are so fun (these pictures are looking up each ladder). Two of them were quite skillfully curved to the contour of the rock faces they rode.

The thing about these trails is that they are a challenge with more than a daypack on but not overly difficult. I think such trail features create much interest; I like what it adds to the experience.






 I had made it to Calloway peak and this picture is looking across to McCrea peak. The weather is notoriously variable on top of Grandfather; in my opinion it’s because the mountain is such an unobstructed prominence between two valley areas. Whatever the reason, the weather had my attention; with my first summit it began thundering and those dark clouds came and went with rain.







OK that was bad. See that weird whitish column of storm blast?






 The same thing started happening on my route ahead! started thundering and raining very hard. I hung out for a while but after crouching in the rain for about 45 minutes to see what would happen, I decided to bail. I usually regret bailing on any plan but this time I was just fine with getting out of that storm. Lol






 So back down the ladder I go..








 And some time later the other ladder…






 Despite the rain I stopped off to see the crashed plane remnants from long ago.






 A look up the mountain from the “cragway” as I used the alternate trail to descend.






 This cool rock was my last good picture from Grandfather.


This completed my sixth year of attending the Highland Games and my third camping in the “castle”. What a great trip. See you next year G!


Well, I went home that evening and regrouped. It was good to see my lovely wife for the evening and I slept the sleep of the dead that night.


6:59 p.m. on July 31, 2012 (EDT)
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However, the next morning, my inward irritation at bailing off the mountain overcame me and a day-hike plan was formed to shoot out to Frozen Head State Park.





 I decided to hike up the falls trails having not done so in more than a year. This was looking down on Debord falls a short ways up the trail.






 I like a good fungus.






 Here I had arrived at Emerald falls and the end of the official trail on the map.






 The water was lower than I had ever seen it; those falls were really kind of pitiful that day.






 I went around and behind the falls off-trail and decided to try and follow the creek up the valley for fun.






 Though the water was super low, the rocks were quite wet and slippery so it was a dicey route.






 After hanging around for a while I stopped to rinse off at Debord falls on the way back to the car.


A nice snippet hike all in all and it scratched the hiking itch that day.


---Fast forward through the work week---:)

7:01 p.m. on July 31, 2012 (EDT)
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So next up in July was a quick swing through into the Citico Wilderness of East TN. My intentions for this trip were to see a trail I hadn’t previously seen and possibly run into Tipi Walter (based on a rough itinerary he shared with me on-line).


I shot away like a rocket after work that Friday with a loaded pack in the back seat of the car. One of the costs of feeding the backpacking beast is all the drive time. Sometimes Tipi writes about the “lizard brain state” where we get into a reactionary zone as we put all effort into climbing that hill with a heavy pack on or what have you. I try to approach the grind of the drive to the trail head the same as I approach the grind of endurance exercise at times’ it’s just a different type of grind.






 And so I begin at the Unicoi Crest parking area on the Cherohala Skyway near the TN/ NC border, full of vim and vigor.






 On the brief road walk to Beech Gap these flowers jumped out immediately.






 Followed by these.








 The Benton MacKaye Trail was over grown but beautiful as I headed North to junction with trail 149 / to 98 and eventually Cherry Log Gap. I was partly trying to second guess Tipi’s route and possibly catch him ascending from the North Fork/ South fork loop or on a trail that connects them at least.






 The yellow flowers turned into red flowers. What a neat trail but I hit some super overgrown areas that were challenging in a bad challenge kind of way. I passed several tributaries but only one obvious campsite on trail 149. I passed that site about 8:24 PM and kept pushing forward in “find a better spot mode”. That was a trail I had never hiked and so spent the early evening hiking into the darkness to see what was next. I popped out on trail 98 before long and from there decided to head on up to top of the ridge and camp on the high ground with the intersection of the Benton MacKaye trail.






This was my initial camp spot but I didn’t actually lay down there until later and then realized I pitched the tarp in the wrong orientation to the wind. As some weather approached I had to quickly tear down and re-pitch with a better angle to block the wind. I also realized I should get away from the tall tree with summer storms brewing all around me and possibility of lightning.


Despite the weather it was a wonderful night up on that ridge top. The wind would start way down the valley and build to a jet plane type roar as it rolled like waves over the ridge top. It was really cool.






Here was the camp site in the morning light.






 I’m hiking up the Benton MacKaye trail after breakfast the next morning.






 I soon came to the 54A connector trail and this was it. Yes that’s the trail.






 As was this.






 Yes that is still the trail. It was unbelievably overgrown. I don’t know what I was thinking. I hit this same mess last summer but I knew the trail had been cleared late summer/ early fall last year; this was crazy and worse than last year. I had not brought long pants or high gaiters and my legs were shredded and stinging like fire with every step. I kept thinking “maybe after I push through this section it will get better”. It didn’t. The briars and brush were up to 9 feet tall and wet; I was thoroughly soaked from pushing through wall after wall. After joining trail 54 I finally got some relief on the more traveled trail.






 And eventually I came out on the Bob.






I hung up everything I could to dry out and took a break.






 Mug shot on da’ Bob.



I had intended to hike the four miles from the Bob to the Hangover and back but I hit more walls of briars before I even made it a half mile. At that point the pain in my legs from all the little cuts was putting a damper on the day and I decided to head down to Cold Springs Gap and hang for a while.


Well I waited at the Gap to see if Tipi would come through for about an hour but he didn’t and I was getting antsy so I hiked back out to the road and my car.






 I got a wild notion and drove up to Huckleberry Knob; I hiked the two mile roundtrip out to the knob and back. Nice place.






 The next notion was to stop off and hike a short round trip up to see Flats Mountain. I knew of this place from dropping Tipi off at this trail head last year. I went as far as this open area and stopped short before crossing that tall grass with the legs still stinging pretty good.






 The Citico/ Etc.. trip ends and I’m a bit injured but highly satisfied.








 Here are my temporary tattoos for Citico commemoration.


**And fast forward through another work week, obligations, concerns and responsibilities. **

7:04 p.m. on July 31, 2012 (EDT)
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 I begin anew at the Trailhead of the Bald River Falls Trail.






 And after a few miles of hiking I smell the incense that I now associate with my friend Tipi Walter!






 We make our greetings and I set up my little tarp “down the street”.






 Just for fun I had lugged in a watermelon!  It was the smallest I could find but still weighed in at just over 14 pounds. I was very glad I had someone to share that melon with; I would have hated to waste it and sure didn’t want to carry it around all weekend, lol.






 Oh and I had to improvise a sheath for the long kitchen knife I brought to cut the melon with. I used a cardboard core from a roll of paper towels, folded around the blade then wrapped in clear shipping tape to hold the shape.






 Here I’m enjoying the fruits of my labor. Hey that’s literal this time.


We stayed up pretty late catching up on things since last we camped together. It was a really good visit.






 The next morning I wanted a photo in the river; here is Tipi getting his camera set.






 I didn’t get the timing right on my shot but it’s a good pic of TW.

 He was working his way towards an evac; I only had one more night out wanted some solitude so I decided to head the other way and up the mountain for the night.






 So after a couple miles I passed this wonderful cascade.






 And one nice thing about river side hiking in the summer is that you can stop and cool-off all along the way.






 After finishing the Bald River trail I used the Holly Flats gravel forest road (about a mile and a quarter or so) to connect the Brookshire trailhead which is pictured here.






And after a few more miles it was time to cool off again!








The rhodo tunnels were a nice sun block.


After gaing maybe a couple thousand feet on the beautiful Brookshire trail I made the junction of the BMac trail south. Just as I had been forewarned, the water at the Homestead camp was dry. I had to back track a little and bushwhack off trail to a stream to fill up for the night since my intended camp up on the peak of a place called Rocky Top was dry.






 Having never been there before I wasn’t sure which peak was Rocky Top but there were several boulders like this one that clued me in.  I had actually hiked about a half mile past to be sure I was at the highest prominence, then retuned to check out the camping situation.






 The ridge top was pretty overgrown in all areas.






Believe it or not, I spent about an hour clearing this spot to sleep. But as it turned out I didn’t stay. The black flies were overwhelming up there. I was quite surprised since the higher elevations usually aren’t buggy. But this was the exception and I really didn’t want to hang out in head-net and long sleeves all night if I didn’t have to.


So I quickly struck camp and high-tailed it back down the Brookshire to a creek side campsite I had spotted earlier in the day.






 This was my comparativley bug-free camp on the Brookshire about a thousand feet lower.






 I think those were may-flies hovering over the water that night.






 Packed and headed out the next morning after a good nights sleep.






 I only saw this one copperhead and he was expired on the gravel forest road.






 This was a nice spot for wading. And I did.






 TW mentioned a falls he liked to swim at near Black Cave camp and I think this is it. I was done swimming for the day and bypassed.






 And a final shot as I eventually emerged from the wilderness and back to the car.


It was a busy July and I had some good trips… But I’m ready to not be hot anymore! Bring on the Fall!


If you read this far thanks for hanging in there!


Happy Trails!

11:22 p.m. on July 31, 2012 (EDT)
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Looks like close encounters with the nasty plant kind rather than the large animal kind!

What sleeping pad are you using?

6:57 a.m. on August 1, 2012 (EDT)
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ocala, yeah it was lots of overgrown areas


I was sleeping on the ole Neo-Air

10:03 a.m. on August 1, 2012 (EDT)
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Looks like you had a great couple weekends, though I relate to your bushwhacking pain! 

I haven't had the time to head up high, but have gotten out to hike a fish a little bit. 

I'm making short video of some of that fun, which I hope to post later today. 

I am so jealous of getting to go to the Highland Games, I've wanted to for years :)  Oh, well. Maybe someday I'll have enough time to go and make it my annual events. 

12:12 p.m. on August 1, 2012 (EDT)
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Patman, thanks for taking me along on your hikes. At least i did get sliced up like you did.

2:00 p.m. on August 1, 2012 (EDT)
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excellent fun! i think i would of turned around much sooner than you did, but of course, i'm a wimp.

6:11 p.m. on August 1, 2012 (EDT)
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I returned from my little swaray a couple days ago and enjoy looking at your fotogs.  Yes, Rocky Top can be a mess this time of year and requires some serious site prep.  i.e. cutting brambles for a tent site.  It looks like you got to pull a couple sheep dips on your journey into the Upper Bald.  Cascades has several good pools and the last falls looks to be Old Dog Falls on the Brookshire right before reaching the BMT junction.

The SAWS trail boys ended up splitting up, one group working the South Fork and one group doing Slickrock and the Nutbuster Upper Slickrock---now I can return to my favorite trail and grind out a few more adventures into idiocy.  The Nutbuster is my favorite trail in the Citico/Slickrock.

3:58 p.m. on August 2, 2012 (EDT)
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Hey thanks for the comments guys!


Yep that's the falls I was at. It was a really great place; I hung out there for about an hour during the heat of the day.



6:26 p.m. on August 2, 2012 (EDT)
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Nice to have cool streams to swim in all the way along.

Looks like nice times (well, except for a few scratchy things and a few million bugs).

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