11 Days In The Big Frog/Cohutta

7:51 p.m. on June 2, 2011 (EDT)
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I pulled this short trip starting May 23 to June 2, 2011, and here's the trip report.


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Thunder Rock parking area:  Last year I called the Ocoee Whitewater Center and asked them if I could leave my car there for several days during a backpacking trip into the Big Frog/Cohutta---they said no and directed me to the Thunder Rock Campground parking area, a big lot with room for many cars.


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My day begins on the Thunder Rock trail 305 which is actually the BMT as it passes thru Tunder Rock campground.  There are several stiff switchbacks and then you pass this sign.


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A long trip begins by organizing the kit and for me, trying out a new Mystery Ranch pack called the G5000---the perfect long-trip pack for three season use.  Here's the pack in action.


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Somewhere on the 305 trek the trail changes to the West Fork trail 303 and here's the trailhead as it crosses forest road 221 and approaches the Big Frog wilderness boundary.


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My first night is spent on the West Fork of Rough Creek near the wilderness line.  I'm again using the MSR Fury tent.


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On Day 2 I stay on the West Fork and the BMT and cross the creek two times.  There used to be bridges with culverts at the two crossings but they washed out.  Here's the first crossing.


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Near the end of the West Fork trail 303 you reach the jct with the Rough Creek trail which turns to the right.  I keep going straight where the West Fork and the Rough Creek trails share the same tread for a ways.


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After crossing the West Fork Creek one last time I get on the Rough Creek trail and climb up to its jct with the Fork Ridge trail as shown here.  I'm still following the BMT.


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The end of the Fork Ridge trail comes here with its jct with the Big Frog trail.  I stay on the Big Frog all the way up to Big Frog Mt at 4,224 feet, the highest peak in the wilderness area.


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Here's the top of Big Frog Mt and the highest campsite which I explore before backtracking to a better spot I found a half mile north of the peak.


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Here's Big Frog North, an excellent campsite on Big Frog Mt.


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Thank God for this spring on Big Frog Mt.  I fall off the mountain on Day 3 and pass this source as I take the Hemp Top South trail down to Double Springs Gap.


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Here's the jct with Hemp Top trail and Licklog trail.  I stay on Hemp Top and I'm about to fall off the mountain on a very steep section down to Double Spring Gap---an 800 foot drop in .8 of a mile.


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At the bottom of the mini-nutbuster you reach Double Springs Gap where there's water and so I take a long break exploring both sources.


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After many miles on the dry Hemp Top South trail, I reach Penitentiary Branch trail which in 3.6 miles takes me down to Jacks River.  I finally get off the BMT. We must be in a drought cuz this is one dry place.


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Somewhere on Penitentiary Branch I find a hawk feather on the trail and wear it in my hat.


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JACKS RIVER!  I finally make it.  The Jacks River trail has 42 crossings and most of them are slick with silt-covered rocks so I call it Greasy Creek.  Here's my camp by the Penitentiary jct.


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Jacks River in Cohutta.


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On Day 4 I pack up the kit and start hiking downstream on the Jacks and pass this jct with the Rough Ridge trail.


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Here is crossing 20 on the Jacks River trail and the one right above the falls.


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The top of mighty Jacks River Falls.


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Here's another view.


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Uncle Fungus goes for a swim.  The water is cold but it's too hot and humid outside to worry about it.


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I leave the falls and hike up the Beech Bottom trail for a half mile and find this secluded campsite next to Beech Creek just in time for an all night rainstorm, my only rain in eleven days.


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On Day 5 I pull a 1.2 mile hike back to the Falls and find the trail around the gorge.  I go downriver to the next ford, 21, and it's a very slick one.


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A pretty view of the Jacks below the falls.


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Here's the very slick Jacks crossing where I nearly toppled over.  On the other side is the Rice Camp trail jct.


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Rice Camp trailsign.


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About a mile and a half up Rice Camp trail I find a campsite too good to pass up and it HAS WATER.


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On Day 6 I take Rice Camp trail all the way up and cross it or other creeks 15 times.  This is one of the crossings.


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Rice Camp trailhead with a brand new sign.


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Here's the Rice Camp parking lot and my connection to the East Cowpen and Hickory Creek trailheads.


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A pretty trailsign.  The trails in the Cohutta are incredibly maintained and much better than the NC trails in Slickrock/Kilmer. I'm taking the Hickory Creek trail all the way to Conasauga River.


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After a long 8-plus mile day of hiking I reach the Conasauga River at Bray Fields and here's the trailsign at the Hickory Creek ford.  My goal is Panther Creek but I decide to go up the Conasauga five crossings and camp.


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While resting at Bray Fields I watch two backpackers fording the river.


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The cool clear waters of the Conasauga.


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After five Conasauga fords I reach this campsite for the night.

DAY 7 TO CONTINUE



8:37 p.m. on June 2, 2011 (EDT)
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wonderful pictures and trip!!

Thanks for sharing!!

10:13 p.m. on June 2, 2011 (EDT)
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Tipi I really enjoy your trip reports. Great stuff.

11:37 p.m. on June 2, 2011 (EDT)
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On Day 7 I retrace the five fords I did on the Conasauga the day before and tie in with the Panther Creek trail.  I hear it's a real nutbuster so I get an early start.


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Anyone who knows about the Cohutta knows this place.  The Panther Creek trail is sort of famous for old Cohutta hands as not only does it have an 85 foot waterfall but it has the steepest section of trail in the combined wilderness areas.  The trail crosses Panther Creek five times and here's the fifth crossing below the "boulder field nutbuster", the most rugged part of the trail.  I am getting ready to pull the hump and load up on water.


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Somewhere in the boulder field.


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If you get this far there's a 50/50 chance you'll get to the top of the falls.


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Here I am resting in the middle of the boulder field climb.


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Success!  At the top of the falls there's this rock bluff where the trail goes on a level ledge.  I take a break and run into Clinton on a backpacking trip of the area.  He slept right on the ledge the night before.  We doubted anyone would disturb him on a night hike.


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If you think the boulder field is rough, well, it gets as bad or worse further up the trail beyond the falls.  If I rate the upper Slickrock nutbuster trail a ten on difficulty, I'd give the Panther a seven---you will break a sweat so have plenty of water.


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After 3.4 miles on the Panther Creek trail you reach Panther Top at 3,770 feet which is a ridgetop rest area and camping spot and trail jct with the East Cowpen trail.  I knew why I carried 87 oz of water up the Panther trail for a reason since I decided to camp on top at a dry camp.  Many camps in the Cohut are dry so get used to humping water.


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On Day 8 I get up early and strike camp.  Early morning hiking is the best time to backpack the north Georgia hills during a late May heat wave.  And there's no water on the ridge trails, dangit.


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Here I am somewhere on the East Cowpen trail showing off my new pack.


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After two miles on the Cowpen trail I reach the jct with the Hickory Ridge trail.


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It''s a lonely hike and I'm going solo until I meet up with a toad buddy himself pulling some long days in the Cohut.  We swap tales of the trail.


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The long hot slog of Hickory Ridge comes to an end and I immediately cross Jacks River.  I decide to take a 1.2 mile detour to Jacks Falls and find a garter snake trying to eat a toad.  The snake had him and spit him out.


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Memorial Day at Jacks River Falls.  I go in with my loaded pack and join in the festivities for a long swim.


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Jumpers into the Jacks.


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Another jumper hits the Jacks.


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Some fellow backpackers at the Falls.


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I finally leave the swimhole and get to a nice campsite I saw earlier on the trip by the Routh Ridge trailhead.


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The bugs are bad in the Cohut.


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On Day 9 I leave Rough Ridge Camp and follow some backpackers out on the Beech Bottom trail as I try to link back into the Big Frog wilderness.


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After 4.5 miles I come out on Big Frog Loop road and pull a miserably hot roadwalk (up of course) to the Hemp Top/Chestnut Mountain trailhead and get back into the Big Frog area.


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Along the way I check out this fox.  Or at least it looks like a fox.


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Then I spy a little skink lizard.


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Blessed Relief!  I reach the old Chestnut Mountain trailhead which becomes a long hot uphill slog on a bone dry trail, so once again I'm humping a full water load for an overnight camp.


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Here I am below Big Frog Mountain and camping where two old trails join, the Chestnut Mt and the Wolf Ridge.  It's a long hot night of bad sleeping temps.


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Here's the old trailsign on the ground.


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On Day 10 I climb 1,200 feet to Big Frog and pass thru this pretty gap where I see three wild pigs.


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I get to the top of Big Frog Mt and find this big toad waiting for me and hanging out with me for the afternoon.  There's no such thing as solo backpacking.


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I bail off Big Frog and descend a couple thousand feet and get a rare view out of the jungle.


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I pull another long backpacking day and reach West Fork where this whole trip started.  It's my last night of the trip.


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On my hike out I run into a couple black bears walking down the trail towards me.  We say our hellos.


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After we talk they decide to return to their camp and I keep going.


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Right before popping out of the trail and next to the Ocoee River I nearly step on this fine specimen of the copperhead family.  I stop and say hello and he's okay with it for a while and then runs.


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A fitting final shot to the Big Frog/Cohutta.


6:46 a.m. on June 3, 2011 (EDT)
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Cool report Tipi!

 

How do you like the G5000 so far?

8:11 a.m. on June 3, 2011 (EDT)
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Your trips are always excellent. I have been wanting to hit the JRT for the last two years. Going to have to work it out late this summer if I can.

8:48 a.m. on June 3, 2011 (EDT)
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Patman said:

Cool report Tipi!

 

How do you like the G5000 so far?

 The G5000 is much like my slightly larger G6000 which after years of use will be sent back to Mystery Ranch for refitting repairs.  While it's away I have the G5000 to play with. 

9:28 a.m. on June 3, 2011 (EDT)
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As always, Great Report, Tipi!

I haven't been up to Big Frog, though I have always admired the stately shape of the the mountain from afar. My oldest brother did a solo trip up there a couple years ago. He met some bears too :) He also had a *very* strange experience camping on the top of  the mountain. At about 2 or 3am he woke to a group of figures around a fire right outside his tent. When he rose before dawn there was no one to be found, no evidence of a recent fire, and no footprints other than his own even though it was muddy from a heavy rain the previous evening. Spectres on the top of the mountain. Creepy.

That is one of the prettiest copperheads I've ever seen. And I have seen many :) It looks like a pretty good sized one too- How long was it? I rarely come across rattlers, but see these guys much more frequently. I saw a couple water snakes when I was out last weekend, but noting venomous this time.

 

9:34 a.m. on June 3, 2011 (EDT)
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How much does the MR G5000 weigh?

6:18 p.m. on June 3, 2011 (EDT)
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My old MR G6000 weighs in at 7.14 lbs, while the G5000 is 7.7 lbs.

7:54 p.m. on June 3, 2011 (EDT)
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You really do make some incrediable trips and great photos...

9:13 a.m. on June 5, 2011 (EDT)
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Can't help but noticing your "hunched-over posture" with your pack on.

With lengthy days of backpacking with an internal-frame pack, especially with substantial loads, does your spine give you problems?   I mean, even much later, at home and away from hiking activity.

I've been backpacking for decades.   Have been through a lot of packs, including several high-endy ($$) internal-frames.

I now totally eschew the internal-frame packs.   Myriad reasons; but, the almost inevitable spinal problems are reason enough.   That, and the lack of good ventilation.

____________________________

    ~r2~

6:37 p.m. on June 5, 2011 (EDT)
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Another reason I mention this (above post) are some alarming and very troubling reports by orthopaedic specialists, of spinal problems among very young school-age children, stemming (pun intended) from them schlepping (nice Yiddish word from my NY friends) bookbag / backpacks nearly 1/2 their body-weight.

I'm not so sure even an external-frame pack is going to help those kids.

__________________________

~r2~

7:53 a.m. on June 14, 2011 (EDT)
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Robert Rowe said:

Can't help but noticing your "hunched-over posture" with your pack on.

With lengthy days of backpacking with an internal-frame pack, especially with substantial loads, does your spine give you problems?   I mean, even much later, at home and away from hiking activity.

I've been backpacking for decades.   Have been through a lot of packs, including several high-endy ($$) internal-frames.

I now totally eschew the internal-frame packs.   Myriad reasons; but, the almost inevitable spinal problems are reason enough.   That, and the lack of good ventilation.

____________________________

    ~r2~

 No problems yet with loads around 75-80 lbs---although my daily mileage of course is rarely more than 9 miles, all depending on elevation gain, etc.  If you think my posture is hunched over in these pics, you should see me when I'm really carrying some weight.

You can't totally eschew internals until you try several long trips under load with the big Mystery Ranch packs like the G5000 or G6000.  There are very few externals out there that can hump big loads and be comfortable, the key word.  For twenty years all I ever used was a large North Face BackMagic external frame pack and humped tremendous loads in it---but it balked when sagging and dragging.  Then I tried some Keltys (Ultra Tioga and the 50th Anniversary) and developed serious hip pain.  Show me an external with the same high quality as Mystery Ranch and I may just go for it.  (I know, Mystery Ranch makes some great frame packs too but they are very heavy---empty).  Like with anything else, after years of using the same gear, the same tent or the same pack, it's always nice to try something different---so maybe someday I'll go back to an external---maybe I can find a new BackMagic for sale somewhere.


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Here's a fotog of my backpacking buddy Johnny B with his loaded Camp Trails pack (in the usual configuration---stuffed), and on the right is my Ultra Tioga Kelty, a limited edition that they made and then quickly discontinued.  The best of the Tiogas?  Sure, I guess.


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Here's my old North Face BackMagic with the side pockets removed.  This baby got me thru years of constant humpage.


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Finally, here's an old North Face BackMagic in action with the side pockets attached.  It looks brand new and when I saw the Sierra Club member wearing it, I seriously considered mugging the guy and running away---but how to run with a giant pack?? 

9:15 a.m. on June 14, 2011 (EDT)
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Tipi,

To your point I have been astounded at how much better I feel when using the Mystery Ranch pack compared to my old Kelty. I went internal mostly because of off-trail trips that were hellish with the Kelty (hanging on branches and such). I fully expected to compromise some comfort for the lower profile and balance of the Mystery Ranch Trance but the opposite has been true. I also was experiencing slight hip pain with the Kelty but it being my only pack, I didn’t know what I was missing. I’m a MR believer now….

8:16 a.m. on June 15, 2011 (EDT)
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I confess to NOT giving internal-frame packs a thorough investigation.   I just sold my Gregory Lassen internal, and for the time being, plan on keeping my Lowe Alpine Vision (not a large pack, by any means).

I have a few externals, that pretty-much satisfy my requirements.   A 1978 Kelty Serac II/III, an early Gerry 4-panel job, and an amazing Lowe-Alpine that uses a composite "Zytel" (a polymer-based material) frame with myriad adjustment capabilities.

Hiking with large loads was generally confined to established trails.  Lighter loaded,  off-trail forays were achieved without problems with the Gerry panel-loader ... a fairly sleek configuration.   Never had much problem with snags, etc., from overhanging branches.  I suppose if some outfit made a Kevlar pack-cover, that would eliminate most snagging concerns.

From what I am gleaning from your comments, the Mystery Ranch internals are the "holy grail' (??).

So far, I am a "happy camper" (pun intended) with my externals.  I probably never exceed 75-lb pack loads.  I weigh 160, so when approaching 1/2 my body weight in pack loads, I DO seek balance and comfort.  My spine is important, especially at this stage in my life.   I recently had two hernia-repair surgeries ... so, the 'ole bod is starting to show signs of wear-and-tear. 

Of course, I will always be 21.

_________________________________________

           ~r2~

10:10 a.m. on June 15, 2011 (EDT)
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Robert,

I personally don’t have enough experience with all the various brands and types to declare any of them as a “reference standard”, but I can attest that I’m much more comfortable with the internal. I suspect that my Ketly external (and maybe Tipi’s too?) was too effective at transferring the load to the hips resulting in the hip discomfort. I agree with the posture issue however with heavy loads (my external does encourage a more upright posture).  I’m also in the same weight range (155) and balance is a big issue for me when fording creeks and climbing over logs, boulders and such.

2:16 p.m. on June 15, 2011 (EDT)
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Patman said:

Robert,

I personally don’t have enough experience with all the various brands and types to declare any of them as a “reference standard”, but I can attest that I’m much more comfortable with the internal. I suspect that my Ketly external (and maybe Tipi’s too?) was too effective at transferring the load to the hips resulting in the hip discomfort. I agree with the posture issue however with heavy loads (my external does encourage a more upright posture).  I’m also in the same weight range (155) and balance is a big issue for me when fording creeks and climbing over logs, boulders and such.

 Hi, Patman ~~

We're almost exactly the same size ... and, including Mike ("trouthunter"), too.

I should be under 155-lbs soon (ideally "welter-weight", which is 147-lbs), having recently (4 months ago) undergone 2 hernia-repair surgeries, and gained a few pounds, being unable to do much physical activity.

I tend to be more of a "minimalist" hiker vs. the "ultra-light" advocates.  Seldom tote more than 50-60 lb pack-loads.   A bivy, instead of a tent, for example.   No stove, or food requiring cooking.  "Lean and mean", like I hope to soon get my body back to it's optimum condition.

Back to the pack-issue:  I suppose there will be an ever-ongoing preference for one particular type of backpack; whether it be external-frame, or internal-frame.  More-or-less, based on the points you and Tipi have underscored.

Pack-volume, comfort, load-transfer, convenience (simplicity / function), durability ... all come into focus.

I often wonder (?)  why this 1988 Lowe-Alpine "Holoflex"-external frame pack I have (acquired from "apeman" / Brian here) didn't inspire more similar innovation.   It is something of a "hybrid" of the externals and the internals, featuring the best qualities of both types of packs.

Hmmm....    Oh, well ....

_________________________________________

 ~r2~

4:04 p.m. on June 16, 2011 (EDT)
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Your comment regarding the upper part of the trail above Panther Creek rang sooo true! That area just about did me in on a hike a couple of years ago. I vowed to never return! The Big Frog/Thunder Rock area is dear to my heart, though. Enjoyed your report.

2:57 p.m. on June 21, 2011 (EDT)
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When you say, "The bugs are bad in the Cohut," could you provide more details?

I'm planning a five-day backpacking trip there in July, and I'm planning to go that far north of home (Florida) to duck at least some of the heat and mosquitoes.

My experience in the Smokies and in the mountains in North Carolina is that even in mid-summer, the bug situation is not bad at all. Is the Cohut different?

6:44 p.m. on July 3, 2011 (EDT)
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Hey guys, sorry for the delay.  I just got back from a long trip into the Mt Rogers backcountry with a trip report forthcoming. 

Ian F:  I went into the Cohuttas in late April when we had a weird hot snap with temps at around 95F when the usual number that time of year is 83F, etc, so the bugs swarmed and they became pesky, gnats mostly.  July will be hot of course but if you stay around the Jacks or the Conasauga for swimming purposes, and if you carry a decent headnet (Sea to Summit comes to mind), you should be a-okay.  I like to carry several dozen incense sticks too, the smoke by the tent door seems to keep the little motards away.  Just don't burn a hole in your thermarest!

My recent trip into the Mt Rogers area had temps in the low 50F's (!) which I truly appreciated, but towards the end the mosquitoes were bothersome at the lower elevations on the Appalachian Trail going north out of the area. (I went in and came out at the Partnership shelter by the park headquarters).  

Generally, the bugs are the worst in late spring here in the Southeast, and over the years I've walked thru clouds of gnats and camped in a itchy fog of noseeums, always glad to have my tent to retreat to when things get nasty.  Too bad Mt Rogers is too far from Florida . . . . . it's got some outstanding features and at around 5,400 feet you can get chilled on a summer night. 

10:16 a.m. on July 6, 2011 (EDT)
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Thanks! That's most helpful.

Mt. Rogers is a bit of a hike from Florida. I'm trying to stick to someplace I can drive to in a day.

2:38 p.m. on July 9, 2011 (EDT)
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Wow, such a great photo essay and descriptions. I need to get back east to do some hiking. I have been out west for 35 years.

12:02 a.m. on July 10, 2011 (EDT)
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Ian F said:

Thanks! That's most helpful.

Mt. Rogers is a bit of a hike from Florida. I'm trying to stick to someplace I can drive to in a day.

 The Cohut is a very decent place for backpacking as the trails are well marked (when compared to the Citico/Slickrock wilderness), and there are campsites scattered everywhere.  While Panther Creek is probably the hardest trail in the area, the many miles of other trails offer no real challenge except for dry ridgetop hiking requiring more water humpage, and of course hiking in the heat of the full light of day.

I parked at the northern boundary near Hiway 64 but you will probably come in south near Dally Gap or Three Fork Mt or elsewhere, just have a decent map and maybe Homan's book and plan on swimming a lot.

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