Big South Fork TN ( Burnt Mill to Honey Creek)

6:48 p.m. on July 27, 2011 (EDT)
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It’s been so darn hot that I had yet to go hike in Big South Fork this year. The area is beautiful, with lightly used backcountry, but lacks any high elevation spots with which to cool off.

Despite the heat I decided to go for a quick trip (and anyway the hot hiking may be good training for an upcoming Grand Canyon trip which will surely be hot.)

Honey Creek is one of my most favorite hikes anywhere. The HC loop itself is only 5.6 miles but is a very slow and difficult trail. It’s connected to the Burnt Mill loop (a 4. something mile loop) by a noncontiguous five mile section of the John Muir trail. So this entire hike can be done as a 19 mile day hike but I chose to do 1.5 miles on Friday night and the remaining 17.5 on Saturday.

So having Sunday obligations, I did my typical burst to the woods after a Friday at work.

I’m trying out two new things this trip: Aqua-Mira and a new Pentax WG1 outdoor camera.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Not too late a start compared to some of my latest. I parked at the Burnt Mill Bridge parking area and started up the west side of the Burt Mill loop trail.

 

 

 

 

 


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No one was swimming this Friday evening. Can it be too hot to swim? (that is the Clear Fork river).

 

 

 

 

 


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I’ve been hiking so many rocky trails lately I seemed to be flying on this relatively flat river side trail.

 

 

 

 

 


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I stopped at the first large sandy campsite roughly 1.5 miles in. This site was a little trashy (being so close to the road that’s always a possibility I suppose) but still a nice position. I had never hiked the John Muir-connector before and wasn’t sure if there was a good place to camp on the route, so I stayed put.

 

 

 

 

 


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This is the view from the big sandy site.

 

 

 

 

 


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It was sweltering hot that night. I kicked around the area and tried to cool off as best as possible. I had only brought a synthetic tech blanket for sleeping and didn’t even bother pulling it out of the stuff sack.

 

 

 

 

 


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Packed up and ready to move the morning of Day 2.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Pics along the Burnt Mill trail

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Nice white water. I rafted from near here to Leatherwood Ford a couple of years ago; it’s fun in the spring when the CFS is higher….

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Well I did have a neighbor the night before after all (orange Marmot tent was about a mile upriver from me)….they had a big happy dog that barked loudly when it noticed me. Pretty sure I woke them up…

 

 

 

 

 

 


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An old river bed on the John Muir Trail. John Muir had a blue head.

 

 

 

 

 


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I like this spider. He got himself a nice fat cicada.

 

 

 

 

 


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After losing the trail a couple of times I finally made it the Honey Creek loop! I like trails with caution signs.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Starting the loop…

 

 

 

 

 

 


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I like this little fall….got water and tried out Aqua-Mira for the first time.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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The trail passes through many geologically interesting areas…

 

 

 

 

 

 


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This sign has been up for at least five years that I know of. That’s a long emergency.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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This section has large cliffs that I really couldn’t capture well in photos.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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This ladder leads to a nice overlook but having many more miles to go that day I opted to forego the overlook climb….

 

 

 

 

 

 


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This trail is routed in a challenging way. There are sections where it’s not obvious which way the trail goes (even despite the presence of trail markers at times). In this bottom picture the trail goes between the boulders.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Lots of crawling on this route; I went to the right of the tree to squeeze through that crack.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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I just like these pics.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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This is a challenging section where the trail actually follows a solid rock base creek bed (trekking in the creek). The challenge is to not slip and bust your rump.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Made it to the first rock house; This picture didn’t turn out well.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Here is a better picture from 2009 with the wife included for perspective. Hmmm, that ladder was in much better repair back then.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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I went up in and it was a little cooler so I stopped for first lunch.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Relaxing on an outcropping accessed from the west side of the cave.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Another mile or so brought me tot the next big Rock House. This one is huge…

 

 

 

 

 


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More excellent trail routing; You may to enlarge the picture to see the spray painted trail markers directing traffic in the boulders.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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I stopped here at “Ice Castle Falls” (in winter that name is suitable) to take a mountain shower. It helped but man was it hot

 

 

 

 

 

 


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I like the lichen covered stone path.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Took a side trail down to see Honey Creek Falls.

 

There was more to see on the loop but none of the pictures are any good. The new camera was less than satisfactory.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Skipping ahead, I had hiked back down the five mile John Muir connector and picked up the yet-to-be seen side of the Burnt Mill loop. I stopped and had second lunch on that big fine rock in the river.

Really a fine outing all-in-all.

This one was hard to capture in pictures but Honey Creek is a must-see day hike for anyone in the area; I highly recommend it.

Thanks for reading !

11:39 p.m. on July 27, 2011 (EDT)
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Ya know, I gotta say some of my favorite places to get lost are low altitude... Then again everything here in SW Pa. is low altitude.  Well ya have Mt. Davis at 3,213 ft(979 m)... Still by many standards a hill.

Nice pics man. I love the rocks and streams. Really good stuff here my friend. I am borderline dying here to get out again. I hear alot of talk about the temps and what not. That stuff never bothered me. Adapt and overcome ya know. :)

As always, thankyou for posting. I enjoy trip reports.

8:33 a.m. on July 28, 2011 (EDT)
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Big South Fork is on my "futures" list along with Dolly Sods in WV---but my next trip will be closer to home in my old stomping grounds of the Citico/Slickrock. 

The pics seem to indicate a fairly level trail overall, I wonder what the "hardest" or steepest trail is in the place??  Where's the safest place to leave a car for 15+ days??  Any good websites on the Big South Fork with a forum or decent maps and trail descriptions?

9:45 a.m. on July 28, 2011 (EDT)
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Camping in caves and rock houses sounds really cool.  It must be nice too not having to bring a sleeping bag.  You guys back East have got it made with all that heat you are getting!  You must be LOVING not having to bring extra warm clothes and stuff.   We're lucky this Summer if we see 90 F and we are in a semi-desert. 

9:58 a.m. on July 28, 2011 (EDT)
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FromSagetoSnow said:

Camping in caves and rock houses sounds really cool.  It must be nice too not having to bring a sleeping bag.  You guys back East have got it made with all that heat you are getting!  You must be LOVING not having to bring extra warm clothes and stuff.   We're lucky this Summer if we see 90 F and we are in a semi-desert. 

 Lucky? Trust me I would be more than willing to share some of it. :)

10:35 a.m. on July 28, 2011 (EDT)
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FSTS: Actually you aren't supposed to camp in the rock houses. It is otherwise open camping but you are supposed to stay 100 feet from a trail, rock house, or cave to camp. That said, I've seen people do it many times. Big South Fork isn't large ("only" 125,000 acres) or well patrolled. In fact, in all the years I've gone there, I've never seen a Ranger in the backcountry. So poeple do whatever they want for the most part....

 

Tipi: I've never found a good website for that place. The nps.gov site only has a map "set" that comes in "sectors" that are hard to look at without printing them off and taping them together. The best map I've found is the Nat Geo Trails Illustrated one (but it has no description of trails). As far as parking, the most central location would be the Leatherwood Ford parking area or Bandy Creek Ranger office; both would be fine to leave your vehicle at for that long (of course you should check in with the rangers).

With the extended trips you do, you could see most all of it in one outing if you so chose. I recommend (at least day hiking) Honey Creek, seeing the Twin Arches, Slave Falls, Middle Creek loop, The Rock Creek Loop (which uses a portion of the Sheltowee Trace Trail), and The Hidden Passage trail from Picket State Park. The bugs are pretty intense in hot weather (i somehow missed a tiny tic that I pulled off a day later form this last trip). The trails aren't very well marked in all cases; I often get thrown off by criss-crossing old logging roads that aren't on the map. I have yet to see much of the Kentucky side so I can’t speak to the best parts of that.

10:45 a.m. on July 28, 2011 (EDT)
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Oh yeah...regarding steepness....well there really isn't any that I can think of. I guess the biggest climb I can think of is the Angel Falls overlook trail from Leatherwood Ford parking area; going up to the Angels Falls Overlook gains about 500 feet in a quarter mile but even that isn't much. There are many rough trails (not well maintained and ankle twisting rocky types). There are also many mulit-use trails; I try to avid the equestrian ones when I can. Horses can tear up a trail even worse than an ATV in some cases.

 

Edit:

 

There are of course elevation changes through out like anywhere else in East TN but no big mountains up there on the plateau. Another climb I just remembered is coming up from Double Falls on the Hidden Passage trail. I think that's about a 700 or 800 foot climb.

5:43 p.m. on July 28, 2011 (EDT)
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Just messing with ya Rick, it actually sounds kinds miserable.

6:45 p.m. on July 28, 2011 (EDT)
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Another great trip, Patman! I haven't done any hiking out there, though last November a friend and I ran the clear fork and on down the big south to the take-out. It was pretty frigid, but we had wet suits. We actually "rescued" a guy who decided to hit the BSF for his first kayaking trip (WTF??). He lost his paddle, wasn't wearing a wet suit, didn't have an emergency or hand paddles, it was getting dark, the water and air temp were both about 45F, and he had 3 miles to go. Some people just don't know how to plan for contingencies, I guess!

5:23 p.m. on July 29, 2011 (EDT)
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FromSagetoSnow said:

Just messing with ya Rick, it actually sounds kinds miserable.

 No worries. I don't mind the heat. Not a big fan of the elevated humidity though.

7:43 p.m. on July 29, 2011 (EDT)
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Gonzan,

I've also noticed that something about that particular river seems to encourage overconfidence; I’m guilty myself in fact (although I’ve never been in straights as dire, J). Good on ya’ll to stop and help that fellow…

Rick and FSTS,

Really, it’s not too hot to hike; although sleeping well is another matter…..lol.

I just recently caught a blurb on nerd-tv attributing the continental geographic population expansion in theUnited Statesdirectly to the invention and availability of climate control systems (which I’m all for J).  

Hot or not….I can’t get enough of trekking around with my house on my back and the only immediate concerns being the fundamental. It’s totally worth it!

7:49 p.m. on July 29, 2011 (EDT)
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@Patman-It doesn't stop me either. I just wish the humidity levels were a lil lower lol...

11:07 p.m. on July 30, 2011 (EDT)
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That trail and the photos really whet my appetite.  Maybe you can help me with some advice: I live about 3-4 hrs west, so I keep putting off hiking in south fork because i'll be hiking alone, and I'll have to arrive late friday night, and still have time after any hike to return to western ky by the next evening (or when lucky, sunday evening).  can you suggest hikes (like this one) where a short in-hike leads to a good place to pitch a tent?  also, is there any venue where i can find local hikers who might team up with me?  the spiders are cute when photographed but i'm not sure i'd be so sanguine meeting them face to face...

12:27 p.m. on July 31, 2011 (EDT)
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Looks like quite a popular place with all the ladders to get up to places and the wooden slats nailed to the tree at the swimming hole. I have not been back east since 1996. Looks like I need to get back there to hike. (Been hiking the west most of my adult life)

6:29 a.m. on August 1, 2011 (EDT)
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keflex,

Sure, besides this one you could start at Leatherwood Ford and go any of the three directions from that parking lot: south on the John Muir Trail (towards the O&W bridge) has several spots on your right near the river, North on the John Muir Trail (towards the Angel Falls Overlook, has several spots on the river, another near the Laurel Fork crossing and some really nice ones up behind the Overlook itself and then North on the Angel Falls trail itself has various spots along the river. Those are all established sites but it is open camping….

Depending on your access point or subsequent hike, you could start at the Twin Arches trailhead and pretty quickly get toJakes Place(an old homestead –no longer has the home) to camp. Hiking the twin arches loop makes a fine day hike.

There are also two car camping area’s that would allow close access but a fee of course: Bandy Creek campground within the BSF andPickettState Park(area is contiguous and an “imaginary” border on the map).

Gary,

Well likewise many of us Easterners would love to go see your stomping grounds!

8:23 a.m. on August 1, 2011 (EDT)
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keflex,

Regarding a connection to local hikers, I don't have any experiences with those type groups... I've heard of folks that use meetme.com and join Park specific groups like the Smoky Mountain hiking club and of course there is the Sierra Club but I have no personal knowledge. Sorry…

9:50 a.m. on August 1, 2011 (EDT)
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Patman said:

I've also noticed that something about that particular river seems to encourage overconfidence; I’m guilty myself in fact (although I’ve never been in straights as dire, J).

 I am guessing it is because many people just simply don't realize how powerful a river can be when it's flow is not regulated. Much of the time it has a moderate or even low CFS, and doesn't seem like it would be that hungry. But because none of it's tributaries or the main chanel have controlled flow, it regularly sees really high CFS, which reams out the drops and even changes the run. It is not uncommon for the river to see over 10, 000 CFS, and once every while it sees as much as 50,000CFS! That is some knarly shit. Just this weekend it went from 350 to 4,000 in about 8hrs.

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