19 Days In A Tropical Storm

2:37 p.m. on September 19, 2011 (EDT)
Tipi Walter
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Should I name this trip "19 Days with the Rattlesnakes and the Heat"?  Or "19 Days with Johnny Molloy"?  Or "19 Days In the Autumn Cool?"  Tropical Storm Lee pounced while I was out so I think I'll just go ahead and leave the original title.


August 31-Sept 18  2011


On Day 1 my GF Little Mitten and her son Blade drive me up to Beech Gap in the Tennessee mountains and drop me out for another long trip with the Anvil Pack.  Here is Blade injuring himself as I get him to try on my pack and it takes three people to get it up on his back.  Here he is right before he starts bleeding from his eyes and ears.


Blade hands off the pack to me in an intricate series of docking procedures we learned from moving locomotives around in the Chattanooga rail yards---and here he is keeping me from tipping over.


Little Mitten makes her appearance and so the whole crew says their goodbyes.  Behind us awaits the trailhead into the Citico backcountry.  (Editor's note:  15 feet behind us and to the right was a very active yellow jacket nest which we found AFTERWARDS).


After only around 3.5 miles I make it to Barrel Gap and set up my favorite tent of all time: the Hilleberg Keron 3.  Oh, btw, I passed two active hornet nests on the way in but thru careful eyeball work I saw each one and moved accordingly.


Here's the inside of the aircraft hanger I mean the Keron tent with the required inside tarp and the Prolite Plus pad.




Day 2's breakfast starts out as dried egg powder mixed with water and olive oil.


And then scrambled!  The eggs are from Frontier Herb Co-op and highly endorsed by the Uncle Fungus Association of Recipes and Tents, or UFART.


On Day 2 I have to pull a seven mile hike on Fodderstack Ridge so it's easy to stop and pull out the fresh fruit.  Gotta lighten the load, boys.


RATTLESNAKE ON THE MILL BRANCH TRAIL---I drop off the ridge and go about a hundred feet to a spring source and circle around a likely tentsite in the weeds when I stumble on this pretty specimen of the pit viper family.  Since he wants my spot I give it to him and climb a steep pitch and go a mile further to old dependable Crowder Camp where I set up the tent.


Here's the tent at Crowder Camp.  Ya gotta give the reptiles their due.


On Day 3 I leave Crowder Camp and lose about 1,500 feet on the Big Stack trail which takes me to Slickrock Creek and Wildcat Falls where I set up camp. 


After getting camp set and the food hung, I go to the falls for a much needed sheepdip and swim.


Day 4 begins with a toad visitation and so we spend several minutes talking to each other about the condition of our condition.


The Slickrock Gauntlet---On my last trip I had to hike very slowly to avoid six active hornet nests, and here is what one of them looks like.  If you see such a thing, stop, weep, adjust protective cup and go around.


I make it to the swimhole at Butterfly Rock where I jump in to cool off.


My hiking day is nearly over as I pose for a shot on the BMT by the Stiffknee jct on Slickrock Creek.  One more crossing and I'll be at my campsite.


Day 5 begins with boiling up a near liter of creek water for nettle tea with honey as I bring my MSR titanium pot just for this purpose.  Stinging nettle tea?  Yup, it's good.


I decide to pull a zero day at Sgt Rock Camp (named in honor of the guy who maintains this part of the BMT and who camps here often).  Here are my foodbags and the tent buttoned up so I can pull a three mile dayhike downriver to leave a note for two backpacking buddies coming in from the Lake.


There are two more Slickrock crossings and here's what the signed crossings looks like.


I reach a large area on the lower Slickrock I call Pisgah Canyon Camp and find Bryan DeLay set up and waiting for his friend and author Johnny Molloy.


Johnny Molloy pulls into camp and we meet for the first time.  He's written many books about backpacking and hiking trails thruout the country and probably backpacks and canoes more than anyone I know.  He gets to camp and starts unloading his big CampTrails pack and shows off each individual food item.  He's old school.  Here's a 28 oz box of Hungry Jack pancake mix.


Johnny's camp after arrival---a common sight for all backpackers.  I call it the "Cessna crashes in the mountains" look.  Both Bryan and Molloy are tarpists.


I rush back to my camp and get overheated so I take a necessary sheepdip just before the sky opens up in the first salvos of Tropical Storm Lee as it hits the mountains of NC and TN.  Before I leave Bryan's camp we plan the next day's hike as they will pass my camp going upstream and pull all twelve crossings to Big Fat/Slickrock camps unless the rains make the crossings impassable.  So . . . .

On Day 6 I leave Bryan and Johnny a note on a tree which reads "I got an early start---see you at Big Fat", and then I was gone and hiking in the rain all day.  I pulled ten crossings and got to a place to make my tropical storm stand at Bee Camp in the Big Fat/Nichols Cove/Slickrock area.  Every backpacker needs to know where he's gonna make his "last stand" in a bad storm, whether a rainstorm or a blizzard.


I wait all day but the boys seem to have bailed so I take a picture of the rising creek.  It rains hard all day and all night.


On Day 7 after 40 hours of rain I get a break in the clouds and pull another recon and find the water high.  This is a pic of Slickrock Creek from my campsite.


In-Camp Bearline---I return to camp and hang the stuff that needs it while I see patches of blue above.  It can't be!


The brief break in the rain causes me to pack and gain a thousand feet in 1.5 miles and pull into Big Fat Gap.  A side trail called Windy Gap pulls into Big Fat Gap from the west and so I go down it and find this great grassy site with a spring. 



8:34 p.m. on September 19, 2011 (EDT)
Tipi Walter
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On Day 8 the rain returns and I pack and tackle the Hangover Lead South trail which climbs 2,000 feet to Four Mile Ridge and Hangover Mt.  My goal is halfway up to a level place called Grassy Gap on the map but I call Elysium Fields for the "golden fields" of grass.  It rains on me all day and the temps fall to 50F, a real change O pace.

It's a tough hump but when you get to this "cave" you know the worse is over.  I throw in the pack and take a break out of the rain and start to chill so I throw on my rain jacket---a piece of gear you may never need during a trip but when you do it will save your butt.


By the morning of Day 9 I'm into my 65th hour of rain and if it gets much colder it'll turn to sleet ha ha.  I'm glad I brought my partial winter kit:  Icebreaker merino bottoms, IB 260/320 zipneck tops sandwiched together.  No balaclava, no gloves, no down jacket---yet---these come in October.

On Day 9 I prepare to gear up and pull my last thousand feet to Hangover Mt and the ridge running four miles to the southeast.  It's hard to leave a warm sleeping bag and put on wet socks and wet shorts and a wet t-shirt and then cover up with the rain jacket to conserve some torso heat to start the day but it must be done.  The rain stops for awhile and a foreign object pokes out from the sky into the tent.


I leave camp and pull the rugged thousand foot climb to Hangover Mt.  Here I am resting somewhere in the forbidden forest.


I get to Naked Ground gap after passing over Hangover Mt and Haoe Peak and set up camp in the rain at nearly 5,000 feet.  Remember Johnny Molloy?  He's day hiking from Wolf Laurel to the Hangover and back and will include it in his book The Best Hike In NC.

He goes by my tent and he relates his last several days struggle down on a raging Slickrock where he spent three days before being able to bail out on the Ike Branch trail.  After he leaves I know I'll be alone again in an empty camp.  The cold rain is miserable.


Here's the view from my campsite at NG Gap.


Hot tea and toast starts Day 10.


On Day 10 I leave NG and hike up a short hill and set up the Keron tent in the open bald of Gorak Hill.


What's for supper?  Fried tofu and goat cheese.


As night falls I catch the moon between two trees near my campsite at 5,300 feet.


On Day 11 I leave the hill and run into Rick Harris and the Cherokee Hiking Club seen here leaving Hangover Mt, my destination.


Top O Hangover Mountain---good views here.


On Day 12 I have a big 9ish mile hiking day off the mountain and I will end up camping in the gap between the two above mountains.  It's a fall of 3,000 feet and a climb of 1,500.  Here's a view high on the mountain as I make my descent.


The knob in the top center is where I started my day and I'm making my way up Big Stack trail to the spring and horse camp on Crowder Branch.


Here's my campsite by the creek on the Crowder Branch trail.  I never camped here before.


On Day 13 I fall down the Crowder Branch trail and this is it.  The trail crosses the branch 19 times.


The Crosscut Mountain Boys completely cleared the Crowder trail and then apparently left this hanging cairn 15 feet off the ground to impress me and it does.


Crowder Branch trail ties into Rocky Flats trail and it passes thru this old homestead where I find a place to put my tent.


In the late afternoon this box turtle knocks on my tent door and wants to say hello so I go out and we talk for 30 minutes.  He's pulling his usual circuit thru the cove and my tent is on his trail.


On Day 14 I pull the rest of the Rocky Flats trail and connect to the South Fork trail where I rest before crossing to the other side to set up camp by the trailhead to the Brush Mt trail.


The trailhead to Brush Mt trail has many campsites and here is the tent set up in the main one.


ON THE NUTBUSTER OF THE CITICO:  Brush Mountain!  This trail is the most remote and most rugged trail in the Citico wilderness and you know you're on the right track when you pass an old engine block.  You climb steadily for 2,000 feet and parallel the Brush Mt creek part of the way.  This interesting tree is right next to the trail.


Uncle Fungus somewhere in the middle of the Citico Nutbuster.


In the middle the trail uses the creek as the trail and then past this spot I get lost for 15 minutes before backtracking and finding the route.  After this the real hump begins.


I make it to the top!  The Brush Mt trail is a long exercise in gaining the beady lizard eye---that state whereby a backpacker gets focused and robotic and impervious to pain thru constant hard movement carrying weight up a long and tangled mountain trail.

The eyes get beady and the mind reacts only to what's immediately in front and you're running partially on adrenaline and partially on endorphins.  The lizard eye state sees things but doesn't judge them or even think about them, it's a reptilean state useful for backpackers on occasion when the going gets tough over a period of hours.  It's a good feeling but hell to get to.


After the Brush Mt haul I go about two more miles on Trail 149 and down into the "wedge", a neat place off the map and close to Bob Creek.  I zero out Day 16 due to a cold all day autumn rain and take this shot of the tent providing it's most important function:  Shelter from the storm. 


On Day 17 I leave the wedge and climb a thousand feet again to Gorak Hill and can now smile since my pack is so light---I need a shave.


Yes, I return to one of my favorite camps up on Bob's Bald.  Here I zero out my last couple days.


On Day 18, eighteen scouts arrive (!) and I get to talk to the leaders.


At night the cold fog moves in and it's a message to get ready for winter.


On the last day I fall off the mountain and run into my old backpacking buddy Hootyhoo and his dog Rooty both in their mountain man phase. We jaw for an hour and then I'm off to meet my ride.


So, all trips must come to an end.  


9:20 p.m. on September 19, 2011 (EDT)
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I just have to say your trip reports are truly an inspiration to me.


10:08 p.m. on September 19, 2011 (EDT)
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Always great to read a look at your reports. Thanks for posting them!

7:57 a.m. on September 20, 2011 (EDT)
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Great, great report Tipi!

I love the “beady lizard eye”! That perfectly describes my state when pushing up 54A and down 42 on my first trip to Slickrock last month! That is some rugged stuff out there for sure.

That rain was spectacular in Knoxville. I have some roofing repairs on my hands now because of it. I bet it was a “beat down” in the back country…

Small world, I was camping near Coker Creek last weekend with one of the other Scout leaders I think from the same group you met who told me the rest of his troop was up at Stratton Bald.

8:36 a.m. on September 20, 2011 (EDT)
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Did you happen to see a small orange bag with tent stakes at this site near the tree to the left?



11:16 a.m. on September 20, 2011 (EDT)
Tipi Walter
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Patman---Nope, probably long gone or lifted by dayhikers.  I almost lost my nice fancy hiking pole on Day 10 of the trip when I was at Naked Ground and went to burn some trash several feet from my tent and then left my hiking stick at the firepit to go and pack up camp.

A dayhiker came thru, didn't see my camp or my tent, and LIFTED the pole and took it with him on his trek.  By the time I was packed and moving I went to get my stick and it was gone so I started making big circles around the gap thinking maybe I misplaced it. 

Luckily the dayhiker took the same route down that he went up and we met and I eyeballed the pretty little stick in his hand.  "Is this yours?" he asked and I got it back.  I didn't know whether to be happy or steamed.  Funny thing is, he changed both lengths on the pole and I couldn't remember my "favorite numbers" on the adjustable sections.  Minor point.

12:08 p.m. on September 20, 2011 (EDT)
Hoppin John
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Thanks for another outstanding trip report with great pictures.

4:48 p.m. on September 20, 2011 (EDT)
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Great trip!! Thanks for posting!!!

5:12 p.m. on September 20, 2011 (EDT)
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TW,  It seems that you waste your money on rent...You are outdoors way more than you are indoors.  Another great report.

2:16 a.m. on September 21, 2011 (EDT)
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What a great way to end a journey, to spend it with an old friend and his dog, "jawing."  I appreciated the "!" on day 18.  Thanks for taking so many pictures; makes it real.  If you have a minute, I'd like to know what attachment you might have (and the camera) to get such a great close-up of the frog and the turtle?!  Welcome back, Tipi, good to hear your voice again!

9:59 a.m. on September 21, 2011 (EDT)
Tipi Walter
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Bunion said:

What a great way to end a journey, to spend it with an old friend and his dog, "jawing."  I appreciated the "!" on day 18.  Thanks for taking so many pictures; makes it real.  If you have a minute, I'd like to know what attachment you might have (and the camera) to get such a great close-up of the frog and the turtle?!  Welcome back, Tipi, good to hear your voice again!

 Here is the camera I use, now a little outdated:


Panasonic Lumix LX3.  It's heavy but not as heavy as the old Canon G10 or G11---a popular point and shoot.  Now I didn't use a tripod, the camera is heavy enough w/o extra gear---plus I carry a total of six batteries with this thing and use three to four on a typical 18 day trip in the summer and the full six for the same time in the winter.

10:19 a.m. on September 21, 2011 (EDT)
Tipi Walter
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Patman said:

Great, great report Tipi!

That rain was spectacular in Knoxville. I have some roofing repairs on my hands now because of it. I bet it was a “beat down” in the back country…


 Slickrock Creek got high enough to keep hikers away, and for a while the crossings were impossible.  Here's some before and after shots:


Here's Slickrock at usual levels.


Doesn't look all that bad after the storm.


Luckily I didn't have to cross this.

1:14 p.m. on September 21, 2011 (EDT)
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Wow…that could be a bad situation. High water in river gorges is serious stuff. I would not want to try to bush whack out of some of those gorges. I was hiking up Bald River trail last Sunday and looked up at the high gorge walls and had the same thought.  

7:57 a.m. on September 23, 2011 (EDT)
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Again, Small World...

Mr Molloy got some pub in the Knoxville News Sentinel:




11:36 p.m. on September 23, 2011 (EDT)
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Nice TR Tipi. I always look forward to your reports, definitly inspiring.

THANX for sharing your adventures.

12:50 p.m. on September 24, 2011 (EDT)
Tipi Walter
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You guys are welcome.  Soon October will be here and I expect everyone on Trailspace to be outdoors and backpacking.  And if you get "high" enough on a mountain you may see snow or at least a sleetstorm.  Say goodbye to the yellow jackets and a good portion of the pit vipers.

4:44 p.m. on September 24, 2011 (EDT)
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I know I can't wait Tipi. I am actually hitting the trail around the 26th(Sept) for a 160 mile jaunt...

For me as far as favorite seasons Fall/Winter is a toss up. Love this time of year.

June 6, 2020
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