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6:57 p.m. on February 25, 2014 (EST)
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The last three weekends afforded great opportunity to enjoy the outdoors....

First up was a 2 night, 2 day loop through the Citico wilderness of East TN with plans to meet up with friends on the second night.

I parked at Eagle Gap on the Skyway after the usual Friday night post work launch.

My plan was to either hike or thumb up the skyway to Beech gap and the Benton MacKay Trail to start a loop. The wind was cold and the light was fading at the start and I doubted there would be any traffic on that kind of road at that hour but you never know.

 

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The first car that came by was a Cooper mini with a couple inside. The man was driving and slowed down; obviously he wanted to stop. The woman was gesturing frantically for him to keep going and they rolled on past as if I were a suburban stop sign. Too funny!

 

 

 

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As the wind blew stronger I had some internal debate as to whether or not I wanted to do the five mile road walk plus a two mile trail walk with a late camp or if I should maybe shoot down Grassy Branch trail which I would pass en-route, hoping to find a quick camp spot.

 

 

 

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I opted to trudge on up the road and I was glad I did; I really enjoyed the scenery more than any previous time while driving. After going about three of the five miles a car load of Whig Meadow bound backpackers squeezed me in and dropped me off at Beech Gap.

 

 

 

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Beech Gap camp.

I got little sleep that night as the wind blew ice laden limbs off the trees all night long. Crash, whap, swoosh and wop was the tale of the evening....

 

 

 

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The next morning I was a little bleary from lack of sleep but ready to hit Brush Mountain!

Much could be said about the Brush Mountain Trail of the Citico but I'll be brief: For a large section it's really not a trail but just a vague suggestion of where a trail might one day be formed and there are at least a dozen places where you can make a wrong choice and lose it. Were it not for the flagging tape put up by Tipi last summer I would have taken a lot longer to find my way down that mountain. And lastly, it is the best route in the Citico for a wilderness trail experience.

 

 

 

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After navigating a frigid crossing of the South Fork I soon came upon a camp of leisure by a fellow I recognized from the Internet.

 

 

 

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Here I am with Bryan Delay; he is in that 100+ night per year category of backpackers.

Bryan has that very stylistic visage like all the professional backpackers I know. He has a nice rhythm going on by running his real estate company four days a week and spending all the others out in the wilderness. I hope to have some version of that lifestyle myself one day. But alas, I'm in the 40+ night per year category, having to work full time and five days a week. :)

 

 

 

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Several miles later up on the Flats Mountain Trail, I found the flagging tape marking a camp about forty yards off trail (put up as signal to me) by my backpacking buddy Tipi Walter.

And speaking of nights per year.....I'm guessing Walt is more like 200 per year. ???!

 

 

 

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I asked Tipi to do something for the camera to make a good picture and this is all I got. Well, I do hope I'm in that good of shape when I'm in my mid-sixties!

 

 

 

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Tipi had already been joined by our mutual friend Bob Butterfield. Here they are around Bob's fire.

 

We had nice evening of fellowship and it was good to catch up. Bob is less than a year from retirement and plans on hiking all of the first two years post career. He will start with the AT. I've gotta stop hanging out with these retired, nearly retired, and part-timers  'cause I'm getting crazy jealous of their lifestyles!

 

 

 

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Here is that condensation I've been experiencing loads of this winter. This was after waking up in the middle of the night and wiping down the bag.

 

 

 

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In a move few will be able to comprehend, Tipi Walter bought a bigger pack! WTH?

 

 

 

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Me, Tipi Walter, Bob Butterfield

 

 

The next morning we were all ready to hike off in different directions ultimately. And my trip went on for a while but this is a good place to end the narrative. 

Next the blog moves to the Smokies and trailheads near Bryson City NC, where Susan and I spent Valentines weekend backpacking.

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Here I'll just add a few favorite photos rather than a detailed report, it was Valentines weekend after all....:

 

 

 

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And finally last weekend was a shuttled section hike in the Smokies from Little Green Brier area to School House Gap trail with a stop over in White Oak Sinks.

  

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"No bridge" is the pertinent data for this trail.

 

 

 

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Though brown for now, these little mountains are still beautiful.

 

 

 

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This is the end of the Roundtop trail looking back to the rocky bank I crossed from.

It doesn't really come across in the photos but the water was almost chest deep in spots and moving swiftly. I probably should not have crossed it. I really had to push hard and use good technique to keep from being swept off my feet.

 

 

 

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Yeah it was super cold; the water was high from snowmelt. This would have been a great spot for a packraft!

 

 

 

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I knew I was going to get really wet and packed extra clothes just for this crossing.

 

 

 

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This White Oak Sinks waterfall goes straight in to a cave...very cool and a fine place to end the blog this evening....

Overall it was a great three weekends of backpacking!

 

Happy Trails friends!

7:41 p.m. on February 25, 2014 (EST)
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Another great outing and you meet the nicest folks out there :)  I am jealous again because we are too cold for me to go out the last few weeks.

That moisture does look like a problem.  Is that a Hubba?  Are you closing it up at night? I haven't used mine in the winter but the tent I do take out I try to leave the door open and the lee side of my fly flapping loose so I get good air flow.

11:58 p.m. on February 25, 2014 (EST)
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Thanks for another glimpse of your wintertime trips, Patman!

I've enjoyed 'em all.

You opt for the tent to keep warmth in? Could've sworn you were a tarper. If not, seems like all that condensation may push you back in that direction. 

And, man oh man...Tipi! Shoot!

Pretty soon he'll have a pack that doubles as his shelter (also assuming Hilleberg starts making packs).

Cool to see y'all meeting up - livin' vicariously through your TR's!

Cabin fever's killin' me back here in IL - this winter's been a bruiser (low of -5 tonight!).

12:28 a.m. on February 26, 2014 (EST)
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Nice trips...

I was in general area that first weekend---but on the other side of the skyway.......

Brush mountain, eh? Nice........that's a beast of a trail....and I didn't have tipi's flagging to follow last year when I did it as he went afterwards to clear and flag it...

And that Bryan guy---yeah, met him last summer along south fork....

White oak sinks is a nice place....hope you also got to check out the blowhole which is another cave (gated off) in that area...

There's a really nice manway that leads outta there up to schoolhouse gap right near the house on the boundary edge.....

1:30 a.m. on February 26, 2014 (EST)
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Looks like you're doing right to me as a weekender Patman...love Tipi's down pants (brand?).

6:57 a.m. on February 26, 2014 (EST)
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LS, that tent is a Hoop. Yes most nights I've used that tent I closed it up due to cold. I may need to open it up....

 

Eric, I use various tents and tarps. Sometimes I choose one over another for some perceived reason but honestly it's mostly about whatever strikes my fancy at a given moment. Yeah, even though I've been getting out I still feel like I have cabin fever a bit just because most evenings are so cold it forces you to bundle up and shelter up sooner than I would like. Perspective is funny....20 degree days would have seemed cold back in the late summer / early fall but after the winter we've had, 20 degrees seems downright pleasant.

Kevin, I actually spent over two hours exploring White Oak Sinks but just didn't get a lot of good pictures from it. I found three caves total. That blowhole cave was really neat; there was a cool mist blowing out of it continuously which I assume is it's namesake. When I first pressed my face up to the grate a bat flew out and veered away just a foot from my face. I thought "oh cool, I'm gonna get some bat photos" so I waited, and waited....and waited and never saw another one.

 

Joseph, yeah I do pretty well given all my other responsibilities, but there is that comparison thing, and I keep wanting more!

I'm pretty sure all of Tipi's down is either Western Mountaineering or Feathered Friends.

9:35 a.m. on February 26, 2014 (EST)
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Nice TR patman. I, too, am quite jealous to the 100+ club. Ah, one day. Walter with a bigger pack? Shocker! Ha! 

10:45 a.m. on February 26, 2014 (EST)
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Good Stuff, Patrick! 

I truly laughed out loud at your description of the couple in the mini :) 

Your crossing on the Roundtop trail looks insane, my friend! I don't mind deepish crossing in winter too much, but chest deep is a tad on the masochistic side :)

Have you ever done much caving? If your curiosity and investigation of White Oak Sinks is any indication, you might enjoy it! 

I am awed by Tipi's new pack, but not surprised, as he IS a load masochist, ha! What is the model/make on that beast? Also, do I see TWO Hilles strapped to it?

2:39 p.m. on February 26, 2014 (EST)
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Gonzan,

Regarding that crossing, my twisted logic was that I wanted to have all my Smokies trails done before spring (or least have the boundary trails done by then) and not waste the prime time trips on boundary trails as they are my least favorite. Many of them go right by vacation cabins which always brings me down and spoils my illusion of wilderness. So I did actually wait until a warmer forecast was given but warm days don’t mean low water and in this case the warmness melted a bunch of snow!

I have never done any serious caving. I’m not opposed to it but it doesn’t draw me like the outdoors in general pulls me. I’ve spent one overnight in a cave as a young teenager but was ill equipped to be comfortable back then (woke up shivering after too much beer and sleeping on a rock). I do like the Lost Sea! Lol

One of the caves at White Oak is not barred off and has a sign to obtain a permit before entering.

I think Walt’s pack is a G7000….definitely a Mystery Ranch.

2:49 p.m. on February 26, 2014 (EST)
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Patman said:

LS, that tent is a Hoop. Yes most nights I've used that tent I closed it up due to cold. I may need to open it up....

 Not sure if that has any vents in the fly but one way or another some air flow should help with that.  I like to look outside during the night so unless it is pouring rain I usually leave things open at least half way.  It does make the tent less warm in winter but also easier to get out of for 2am nature calls ;)

3:03 p.m. on February 26, 2014 (EST)
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LS,

I’m guessing that has something to do with it, but what’s funny is the night before that one that I posted a picture of it was actually colder outside and I had zero condensation with all the same equipment (hmmm, but I was in a very windy gap). Maybe it is a simple air-flow issue.

That Hoop tent has only a mesh band around the top; its fabric everywhere else. I’ve given up trying to anticipate the condensation outcome. I’ve had massive condensation under flat tarps.

3:22 p.m. on February 26, 2014 (EST)
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Patrick,

I had a chuckle after reading your trip report esp after we had talked about Whiteoak sinks before you even posted your report. what are the odds..lol

3:37 p.m. on February 26, 2014 (EST)
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whiteoak sinks has alot of history behind it........there's some cool "features" down in that area....along with being a great place to see wildflowers...

somewhere in that area is a grave that i dont think i have seen yet...

interesting that you saw a bat during daytime.....musta been one that had woken up due to the warm weather......if you had stuck around til dusk, thats when you would have seen more fly out as they are nocturnal...

and interesting enough---on saturday, i also saw a bat flying around during the day.......it was about noon as i was coming up laurel branch trail and it came outta a tree and swooped around my head for a touch.....

thought it was kinda weird and maybe it was a sign that something was going to happen...

and something did happen---it took me 5 hours to cover 5 miles.......space and time just got warped away....

4:42 p.m. on February 26, 2014 (EST)
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Gotta say, it's pretty gutsy to be doing the nude shots. With my luck, after crossing, Kate Beckinsale would pop out of the woods on her solo hike and there I would be, in my George Constanza moment.

4:58 p.m. on February 26, 2014 (EST)
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"i was in the pool.......i was in the pool'

4:59 p.m. on February 26, 2014 (EST)
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lol, martin, I have on underwear, no nudes this time...and I did a strategic hand placement just in case

 

Actually that crossing is in full view of a main road in the park and that is the only reason i didn't go nude. When I'm in the park interior I usally do go nude rather than deal with wet clothes.

 

So far no one has walked up on me. :)

 

heck, I did a 9 day trip in November and only saw two other backpackers the whole time.

 

 

8:40 p.m. on February 26, 2014 (EST)
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Great pics. 

I thought Tipi was in the 300+ night group. :P

7:00 a.m. on February 27, 2014 (EST)
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Thanks Goose!

 

Hey Kevin,

I found this grave at White Oak; it was up on that sort of flat hill to the left and south as you approach the sinks and before blow hole cave:


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Obviously that marker is not from 1864......

 

4:51 p.m. on February 28, 2014 (EST)
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Great fotogs as usual and it was good to see you on the Flats.  I just got back from my little swaray and will report on it soon with all the pertinent pics, etc.

Patman's pic of me with the new G7000 pack is NOT AN AUTHORIZED photo and should never be seen. 

Eric Labanauskas---You're right, my pack does double duty and serves as a Gun Safe and a Refrigerator.


Joseph Renow---the downpants are Western Mountaineering Flights but next time I would get a pair without the 2 side zips---totally unnecessary.

July 25, 2014
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