20 Days To Panther Branch and Henderson Top

10:40 a.m. on August 4, 2012 (EDT)
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HIGHLIGHTS

**  FOOD POISONING ON FLATS MOUNTAIN

**  7 DAYS OF JULY RAIN

**  FASTING ON THE BANKS OF CITICO CREEK

**  YOSEF AND ERIC ON THE NORTH FORK TRAIL

**  ILLINOIS FATHER AND SON SCOTT AND CREIGHTON AT WILDCAT FALLS

**  HIGH WATER CROSSINGS ON SLICKROCK CREEK

**  A COMPLETELY CLEARED WINDY GAP TRAIL

**  20 DAYS FROM CITICO TO BALD RIVER

**  THE COLONEL AND THE BOY SCOUTS

**  BACKPACKING PANTHER BRANCH AND HENDERSON TOP

**  INSIDE THE BALD RIVER FURNACE

**  COPPERHEAD ON THE BALD RIVER TRAIL

**  PATMAN JOINS ME ON THE BALD RIVER TRAIL


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JULY ON FLATS MOUNTAIN---I'm returning to my old Citico wilderness stomping ground after recent trips to Mt Rogers in May and the Hiwassee furnace in June.  Little Mitten and me and Zoeloft the snapping shihtzu climbed into the black Toyota and drove up the Skyway to my drop off trailhead at Flats Mt.  We said our goodbyes and I cached an emergency thermarest and got this fotog at the trailhead.


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Here is Little Mitten saying goodbye on Flats Mt.


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There are two open balds on Flats Mt and this is the second one.


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Camp Hope is the highest camp on top of Flats Mt and it's where I spend my first night with a mild case of food poisoning.  Ugh.  The next day I decide to fast for 24 hours.


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When leaving Camp Hope on Day 2 the outside buckle on my Mystery Ranch pack snaps---the one of 2 which holds my tent---and is easily replaced with the sternum strap buckle which is in reserve.


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Several miles later I reach Flathead Camp in the rain and set up still hurting from stomach blahs and turtlehead woes.  The rain lulls me to sleep.


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On Day 3 I finish Flats Mt on a 3.5 mile trek and here's the trail along the mountaintop.  It looks peaceful enough but don't let it fool you, the Flats is full of briars and brush and sharp sawbriar and one very nasty blowdown on the lower switchbacks.  I finally reach Beehouse Gap where I turn right and pull a 1.5 mile roadwalk to Warden's Field and Log Gate Camp on Citico Creek.


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Log Gate Camp is a good place to go without food as it's right on the banks of the mighty Citico Creek.


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Fasting goes well with chewed yellowroot, a medicinal plant growing on creek banks thruout the Southeast.


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On Day 4 I leave Log Gate Camp and tie into the South Fork 105 trail which takes me past a few waterfalls on Citico Creek.


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I quickly reach the bridge going across the North Fork trail and decide to shoot for Camp 2.


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There are 20-something crossings on the North Fork trail and this is number one.  The water's low even after 4 days of rain.


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So there's not much danger crossing the North Fork.


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My camp on the North Fork is next to crossing 2 so I call it Camp 2.


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The butterflies like my Smartwool socks. 


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YOSEF AND ERIC---Two backpackers pass by my North Fork camp and they are from Gainesville Florida out for a 4 day trip.


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The boys cross the NF to points beyond.


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Day 5 gets me to change my original route by foregoing a low South Fork camp and pulling 1,500 feet in 7 miles up the South Fork trail to an upper site called Iron Camp, but first I have to leave the North Fork and in the process pass Johnny's Hole, a nice swim pool.


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Who's solo when you hike with a crawdad? 


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About a half mile up the South Fork trail you reach its first mandatory crossing as shown.


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The hump to the high ground begins as I stand on the SF trail by the Grassy Branch trail jct.


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Who can get lonely when you got a snake for company??


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My day's destination is Iron Camp on the SF Citico.  There are 2 nutbusting climbs on the SF and Iron Camp is right at the start of the second.

DAY 6 TO COME

1:17 p.m. on August 4, 2012 (EDT)
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Great photos, Tipi, and, as usual, makes me yearn to be out there!  Sorry about the poisoning (awful feeling).  I noticed your map page (where you were showing the Yellowroot).  I am having trouble looking in all the wrong places for area-specific maps like that, especially ones that may show details about water sources in high places.  Would you mind sharing where you get your trail maps?  Again, thanks for doing such a good job on these reports.

5:08 p.m. on August 4, 2012 (EDT)
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Day 6 begins on a nutbusting slog up the South Fork trail to Cold Gap where I sit for a lunch of a peanut butter probar.  A 6th day of rain opens up and so I cover the pack and pull another 3 miles to Snow Camp where I find Yosef and Eric set up in their Eureka tent as the rain falls.


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The old faded Hilleberg in Snow Camp on Fodderstack Ridge.


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Stinging nettle leaves make a very good tea.


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Yosef and Eric decide to pack it in after a heavy rain since the floor of their Eureka tent leaks and wets some of their gear.  Point is, never put a ground cloth under your tent to catch water.


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Eric's parents have some old gear which he borrows.  Here's an old Lowe pack.


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And who can forget the old 1980-era orange thermarest with the metal valve?


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Yosef's hiking boots disintegrate on the North Fork trail and have to be tied together repeatedly thru the course of a day.  Both entire soles came unglued.  Make a note of it:  Thomas McCann boots.


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The boys are ready to hit the North Fork on a backtrack out and they bailed early due to soggy gear and a leaking tent floor.


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Day 7 finds me prepared to leave Snow Camp on a 3,000 foot descent down the North Fork trail and along the way I pass Old Goat Falls in a jungle of trees.


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The Pine Ridge trail is a deceptively difficult trail as it gains 2,000 feet in 3.5 miles but I break it up into 2 days and stay on the middle of it after a long day from Snow Camp on the North Fork and Pine Ridge trails.


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On Day 8 I finally reach the end of the Pine Ridge trail where it jcts with the Fodderstack trail.  Here's my reasoned Pine Ridge trail description from the Trail Journal (squeamish look away)---

"Phew, the hump up the Little Big Horn from Pine Ridge kicked open my medulla and squirted a mix of pure serotonin and watery diarrhea into my brain from an orifice situated near the base of my skull.  At the top of the hill a mix of adrenaline and fresh urine poured over my tongue from the soft palate and caused my uvula to become erect."

"Taken together, these 4 substances are the body's natural reaction to backpacking with a fully loaded pack and will course thru a prepared and qualified backpacker willing to go the distance.  The body has a natural chemistry which remains hidden to all but the most robust backpackers who can carry real weight above 60 lbs."

"When the mix of stool, urine, serotonin and adrenaline hits the heart of such a backpacker it produces a burst of energy equivalent to the enraged bite of an adult chihuahua.  Many first time backpackers just off the couch try to duplicate this headrush by ingesting their own stool and urine along with artificial serotonin and adrenal uptake which results only in self-intoxication and congestive heart failure.  The Bark of the Hyena but not the Bite of the Chihuahua."


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Once on Fodderstack Ridge I head north towards Crowder Camp and catch a view of Hangover Mt to the east, my eventual destination.


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At Crowders I take Big Stack Gap trail and drop like a rock 1,500 feet to Slickrock Creek and Wildcat Falls where I find this yellow Eureka tent.  Later a rainstorm hits and its occupants never show up so I cover it with the fly for them.


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The first order of business is to dump the pack and jump in the first pool of Wildcat Falls.  It's the Uncle Fungus flea dip.


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The hippie cairns of Wildcat Falls.


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The Hilleberg Keron at Wildcat Falls.

5:24 p.m. on August 4, 2012 (EDT)
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Okay let's continue this idiocy.


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On Day 9 I leave Wildcat and pull 8 crossings on Slickrock Creek downstream to Slisgah Camp.


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Slisgah Camp is on the BMT portion of the creek trail and I'm camped at Sgt Rock's old spot during my last trip during the hammock hang.


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On Day 10 I decide to pull away from the creek but to do so I have to cross it 2 times.  What's weird is during the night as I slept the roar of the creek got louder and louder and then I realize somewhere high above in the headwaters a rainstorm caused a flash flood.  Well, I have to cross the mess and the second ford nearly threw me down but I made it here to the Nichols Cove trail jct.


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Here's a typical wilderness blowdown right on the trail.


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Rattlesnake plantain.  Not edible but medicinal I think.


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WINDY GAP---Nichols Cove trail climbs to Windy Gap where the Windy Gap trail climbs to Big Fat Gap.  Mercifully someone came out recently and brushed out the whole trail making my life a whole lot easier.


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There's a spring on the Windy Gap trail near Big Fat Gap but ya gotta know where to look.


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Near the end of the Windy Gap trail there's this campsite and a good place to call it a day.

MORE TO COME OF COURSE.  DAY 11 FOLLOWS.

9:05 a.m. on August 5, 2012 (EDT)
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A storm hits camp at Windy Gap at 2 in the morning but by dawn I'm packed and ready to hit the nutbuster of Hangover Mt---South Lead Trail.  When you reach this overhang rock cave you know the worst part of the trail is over or at least half of it.


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Elysium Fields is a fantastic level ridge a thousand feet below 5,000 foot Hangover Mt.  There's even a creek about 200 yards thru the brush.


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On Day 12 I leave 4,000 feet and climb a thousand to Haoe Peak where I take a much needed break.


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Two friendly backpackers, Andrew and Dave, greet me on Four Mile Ridge as they pull a 3 day trip thruout the wilderness.


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Phlox at 5,300 feet on Bob Bald.


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To get out of the direct sunlight on the Bob I set up in the trees nearby.


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Day 13 starts by leaving the Bob but before I do I take this shot in the sun and at the beginning of a long day of humpage.


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A 10 mile day begins on the high shoulder of the Bob and I'm ready for the fun.


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In 7 miles I make it to Whiggs Meadow and my feet hurt so it's time to quit but heck the day's too nice and what's 3 more miles?


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I totter into Hobo Camp and set up the Hilleberg and immediately go swimming in Sycamore Creek which is right behind and to the left of the tent.


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Hobo Camp is located behind this trailsign on the 3rd switchback.


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Sycamore Creek parallels the trail and since another heatwave hits the Southeast and the creek becomes a swimhole I decide to stay on it another night.


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My camp at a new site on lower Sycamore Creek.


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On Day 15 I leave Sycamore Creek and in a half mile hit the Tellico River ox cart trail which in 4 miles takes me to the Panther Branch trailhead with its own little footbridge across the Tellico.  It's a good place to rest and go for a swim.


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Lunch break on Tellico River---Probar, Dale protein bar, journal and radio.


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Yes, the Tellico furnace becomes the Uncle Fungus Sheep Dip.


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So let the adventure begin!  Here's the Panther Branch trail with the new hatch marks and recently opened up after years of disuse by the Crosscut Mountain Boys.


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I find a good moss covered camp for the Keron on the Panther Branch trail past the second of around 12 crossings.

MORE TO COME  DAY 16 FOLLOWS

12:17 p.m. on August 5, 2012 (EDT)
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A new heatwave strikes Uncle Fungus and noseeums ruin my day so I pack and hit the trail by 7:15 in the morning.  Here's a shot of Panther Branch trail.


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I know the reuputation of the Panther trail from a previous trip and so I know the final climb is a real nutbuster---the steepest continuous climb in the whole of the Unicoi Mountains and it shows on my face.


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Panther trail tops out on Maple Camp trail which connects to Henderson Top trail here at this junction.


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SCENES ON HENDERSON TOP---Recently cleared and my 4th attempt after getting lost on 3 previous tries.


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A turkey feather on the trail.


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Henderson Top is a mess of blowdowns recently cut by the Crosscut Boys but before it was impossible to follow.


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Furnace conditions kick my butt but the headnet helps to keep the bugs out of my ears and eyes.


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COW CAMP JCT---Henderson Top is behind me in all ways and I'm shut of the hot pine scrub thing.  Cow Camp is a side door into the Bald River wilderness.


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I take Cow Camp trail down to Bald River and set up in Rock Ledge Camp.  The river is to the right and becomes my swimhole for the day.


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The noseeums are killing me so I pack on Day 17 and hit the Bald River trail.  Along the way I find this luna moth named Todd being eaten by yellow jackets but there's no way I'll let them so I pick him up and hand carry him to the Cascade waterfall where I make him comfy while I go for a swim.  After my swim and lunch Todd checks out and so I place him in the river and watch him float away until he's out of sight.


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Along the way I run into this friendly garter snake.


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I make it to the Cascades where I spend all day in the sun and the water.


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The Cascade overlook rock.


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I leave the Cascades and backtrack a quarter mile to Cascade Winter Camp.


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Day 18 begins with a miracle---from my trail journal---

"A modern day miracle:  I'm all packed up and ready to go but I take a very short dayhike up the trail to kill time.  While walking I say to myself, "I'd like to see a copperhead just so I could get a few good pics".  I walk past a leafy tree limb-blowdown and get to a sunken place on the right side of the trail.  I say to myself, "This fills up with water after a bad rain and even the trail is under water."

"As soon as I say this I turn around and walk 5 feet back the way I came and there's a copperhead right in the middle of the trail.  Where was it just seconds before?  Did it just appear?  I take the necessary fotogs and can't believe I didn't step on him the first time."


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Here's another shot.  No matter how the camera adjusts it's still hard to see.


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Rattlehead.


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The Cascade swimhole.


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I leave the swimhole and backtrack along Bald River to Big Pine Camp as shown.


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THE GOOD AND THE BAD---This July trip killed a bunch of gear, the most notable being my sorry Sangean radio.  Here's a pic at the start of the trip or whenever.


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AND THE UGLY---Here's the radio at the end of the trip HA HA HA.  Dang thing just stopped working.


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Patman pops into camp with a 14 lb watermelon and is renamed Pisgah Boy for his effort.


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I loft the Holy Melon.


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Patman ain't afraid of no snake.


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On Day 19 Patman and I pose in the holy waters of Bald River.


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Patman prepares to leave Big Pine Camp and go deeper into the Bald and Upper Bald wilderness while I spend my last night on Bald River and soak up the rays by a Black Cave waterfall.


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Patman's temporary Gregory (Idiot) Savant pack until his Mystery Ranch Trance pack returns from the MR repair shop after a bear mauling.  He says it was a bear but I think it was a chipmunk.  Several chipmunks working as a group can carry off a pack and they do have a vicious bite very similar to the bite of an enraged chihuahua.  He tells everyone it was a black bear but does so to increase his status.  Even the Park Rangers told him it was a chipmunk.


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I make it to the Black Cave Camps and spend all day by the "Green Cataract" swimming.


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My final night is spend in the Black Cave Camps.

MORE TO COME

12:36 p.m. on August 5, 2012 (EDT)
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FINAL SHOTS


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I take the trail out of the wilderness and say my goodbyes to the heat and the water and the noseeums and the rattleheads.


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There's gotta me a trail sign shot to end every trip.


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And Bald River Falls is very low.  I end the trip with a long rant in my trail journal best left undone.  So ends July.

6:38 a.m. on August 6, 2012 (EDT)
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Another excellent report!

Wow, what a route you took on this one...

I meant to ask you about saw briar and stinging nettle: just on the begining of trail 149 I went through something that stung like fire every time it touched my bare legs. It was too dark to tell what it was but it remined of almost a chemical burning sensation. Could that have been a stinging nettle?

 

And BTW, you have now revealed the source of my chipmunk-o-phobia.

 

 

9:19 a.m. on August 6, 2012 (EDT)
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It's funny you should mention Trail 149 and stinging nettle as there's a VERY NASTY PATCH of the stuff right where 149 jcts Brush Mt trail.  It's different than the rest of the normal nettle in that IT BITES HARD and almost got me to consider putting on pants once---a never-never option usually.

9:48 a.m. on August 6, 2012 (EDT)
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ok, then that must be what got me. It lit me up pretty good at the very spot you mention. So that is the same one that you make tea from? That seems so weird but fascinating.

10:40 a.m. on August 6, 2012 (EDT)
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Tipi, 

Fantastic report, as always. 

That was quite a long and rambling trip! All your swimming hole stops look so wonderful. I've taken a short hike to a water hole near  my house a couple time lately, and just love it. 

I shoulda' known Patman's story was off, Chipmunks make a lot more sense ;) 

Ugh, I hate having to hike through stinging nettle. Earlier in the year there it has very few of the hairy spines, which deliver the toxin, and it's not too bad. But Late in the summer the heinous spines are numerous and large, inflicting a most obnoxious sensations.  The juice from Jewelweed  stems provides almost complete relief from it, and usually grows in the same locations. 

There are three main types of Nettle in southeast, or possibly more accurately, two nettles and one look-alike. Here is a wonderful guide to telling the difference: http://identifythatplant.com/three-members-of-the-nettle-family/

 

10:49 a.m. on August 6, 2012 (EDT)
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Tipi,  I think it may have gotten  kind of buried up above, in between your posts, but Bunion posted the folowing and I wanted to make sure it was noticed. 

Bunion said:

Great photos, Tipi, and, as usual, makes me yearn to be out there!  Sorry about the poisoning (awful feeling).  I noticed your map page (where you were showing the Yellowroot).  I am having trouble looking in all the wrong places for area-specific maps like that, especially ones that may show details about water sources in high places.  Would you mind sharing where you get your trail maps?  Again, thanks for doing such a good job on these reports.

 

2:54 p.m. on August 6, 2012 (EDT)
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I've read that if you run into some Stinging Nettles, the cure is finding a plant called "Lamb's Ear" 

Lamb's Ear typically grows near Stinging Nettles so the cure is easy to find. 

2:54 p.m. on August 6, 2012 (EDT)
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First off to Bunion---I only use two trail maps, the National Geographic 781 and a paper map called the Citico Creek--Joyce Kilmer Slickrock Wilderness, which is a 1:24,000 topo map---very nice but melts in a light rain.

To Gonzan---Thanks for the helpful link.  Clearweed grows everywhere and I had an acre of it up at my tipi and always wondered if it's truly edible.  The nettle in my tea picture is wood nettle, and the NASTY STUFF is urtica dioica---stinging nettle.  Wood nettle also delivers and zap but nothing like Urtica.

7:54 p.m. on August 6, 2012 (EDT)
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I was delighted to find that page. I wasn't certain of the difference between Wood Nettle and Stinging Nettle until I did some study today. There are bunch of sources for the same info, which I found first, but that page is wonderfully clear and concise, with great photos. 

Now that I know, they will be easy to tell apart. 

1:27 p.m. on August 9, 2012 (EDT)
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Tipi,  thanks for the trip report and pics. Everytime I show them to Hamhocker she wants to go there. The only time we have been to that area was at the hammock hang.

4:06 p.m. on August 9, 2012 (EDT)
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October is a good time to see the Citico.  Or December.

6:28 p.m. on August 9, 2012 (EDT)
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There's a spring on the Windy Gap trail near Big Fat Gap but ya gotta know where to look.

It's me again, Tipi.  I hate to ask so many questions of you and the others, but I'm a Cub Scout dropout and a city-slicker to boot.  Esp in the summertime, I like the ridgetops (little bit breezier), but when I have a hard time finding water, I get jittery when my last canteen runs low (did that recently when the BMT kept going up-up-up).  How do you find these water sources--how do you "know where to look"?  The wet spots on my 1:64K map turned out to be dried up--is the answer in a smaller scale map?

Anywho, thanks for any advice.  Your photography is getting better and better--real nice shots!

8:45 a.m. on August 10, 2012 (EDT)
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Finding water happens several different ways, and of course geographical locations and where you backpack makes all the difference.  In the Southeast mountains of TN, NC and VA, well, water is plentiful and it's hard to walk all day---maybe impossible---and not parallel a creek or cross a spring.

Knowing where to camp and knowing the nearest water source, or the last water source before reaching camp, is the name of the game.  Cuz ya can't camp without water.  Appalachian campsites either are wet or dry and the best camps are usually wet.  But I can name off many which require water humpage and some even a mile or more away from the last water.

Finding water when stuck in a dry campsite is always fun and usually nonproductive as there's only so much bushwacking you want to do off the side of a mountain.  Gaps are usually the best place to look but you don't know which side so you can dump your pack in a gap and head down each side for a couple hundred yards to see if there's a springhead or seep.

Often times you can follow a dry rocky seep down until it has water, and this has worked for me at the spring on Big Frog Mountain.  In Glenn Gap on Fodderstack Ridge in the Citico there's a gap spring with flowing water.  At Barrel Gap on the BMT there's a spring seep close to camp. 

The Windy Gap spring is barely visible off the trail and I found it several years ago after a rainstorm and saw it tumbling down the mountain.  Now in low water it's invisible unless you know where to look and move the dead leaves out of the way.

Good 1:24,000 topo maps are helpful to find blue lines and to see how close you are to these lines, especially when walking ridge trails.  Often a blue line creek ends much higher on the mountain than the map indicates.

Overall, I'd say the best way to find water is to carry water to a dry campsite, set up camp, and spend a couple hours doing a circle recon of the area until you find some or not.  This requires spending ample time backpacking a certain area and really getting to know it---not just quickly passing thru.

In fact, my biggest complaint with trail guides and trail books is they don't know the place well enough to REALLY know where all the springs and seeps are located.  You will understand this when you walk a dry 5 mile ridge spine and have a nagging thought that there's probably water somewhere below the ridge but you have no idea where to start looking.  Trail guides and trail descriptions are woefully crappy in this regard.

9:51 a.m. on August 10, 2012 (EDT)
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In fact, my biggest complaint with trail guides and trail books is they don't know the place well enough to REALLY know where all the springs and seeps are located.[...] Trail guides and trail descriptions are woefully crappy in 

You are so right about that. It is my one big pet peeve with trail guides. I bought the highest recommended TCT guide book when planning my Wyoming trip. Considering there aren't that many trails in that park, I was expecting a comprehensive descriptions that would include water sources for all the trails in the NP. No dice, I was left begging and searching for info. Water wasn't a problem, but I sure as heck wasn't going to leave it to chance when soloing out there. 

In the southern Apps, along with Tipi's sage wisdom above, also look in drainages off the north and east corners of higher peaks. Even if not facing north or east, those with one steeper or sheer side are usually the most promising. A combination of healthy looking water-hungry plants like  rhododendron, mountain laurel, mosses, fern are always a good indicator. 

9:59 a.m. on August 10, 2012 (EDT)
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gonzan said:


In the southern Apps, along with Tipi's sage wisdom above, also look in drainages off the north and east corners of higher peaks. Even if not facing north or east, those with one steeper or sheer side are usually the most promising. A combination of healthy looking water-hungry plants like  rhododendron, mountain laurel, mosses, fern are always a good indicator. 

 Also Jewelweed is a good indication.  I was on the AT back in 2006 and found a perfect campsite in the middle of nowhere, but dry.  I passed a huge patch of jewelweed before reaching the camp and decided to dump the pack and do a water recon back thru the jewelweeds and ZAPPO I found a swamp seep in the patch off the mountainside.

12:52 p.m. on August 10, 2012 (EDT)
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I have only recently discovered trail reports here at Trailspace and I have really enjoyed your Citico report and commentary.  Yet another trip on my list! 

1:02 p.m. on August 10, 2012 (EDT)
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soleful2001 said:

I have only recently discovered trail reports here at Trailspace and I have really enjoyed your Citico report and commentary.  Yet another trip on my list! 

 You should enjoy the Citico side as there's a group of volunteer trailworkers---the Crosscut Mountain Boys---who do everything in their power to keep the Citico trails open. And they just finished clearing the middle part of the South Fork and the upper part of the Nutbuster Upper Slickrock #42.  So, my next trip will use these two trails just to see their work up close.

They also just cleared two old trails as in my report---the Panther Branch and Henderson Top.  I recommend these two for a neato loop into Bald River.

7:09 p.m. on August 10, 2012 (EDT)
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Thanks a lot, fellas!  Google just doesn't have that kind of locale-specific information.  Really appreciate you taking the time.

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