20 Days In The November Rains

10:33 a.m. on December 2, 2011 (EST)
Tipi Walter
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November 9-28  2011












Okay boys, this time I start a trip at the trailhead to the Bald River wilderness in Tennessee.


A whole crew of people drive up the Tellico River road with me and we say our goodbyes at the trailhead into the Bald River backcountry in TN.  It's a fine place to start a trip as the first couple days can be spent in a pretty mountain river valley along a near level trail---with no creek crossings.  This pic shows Little Mitten trying to support me and keep me from toppling over with a ginormous pack rated around 90+ lbs.  Exact weight is uncertain as no one is dumb enough to weigh it.


Little Mitten's sister and Mom hold me up and we say our goodbyes at the trailhead.


Looks are deceiving (or maybe not) but my pack is a nylon anvil coming in at 90 lbs.  It's my own fault since I'm hauling 20 days worth of supplies including around eight books (the black stuff sack on the back), four candles, 45 lbs of food and the "usual accoutrements of idiocy."


I find a nice campsite next to Bald River and here is the river and below is the campsite.


Three miles in I set up at a place I call Big Pine Camp next to the mighty Bald.  Tent of choice of course is the Hilleberg Keron 3---a palace.


Morning comes with the glint of sunlight thru the trees and so begins a fine day of backpacking.  Several miles up the trail I set up camp at a place called Cascade Winter Camp.  It's the last decent campsite before reaching the falls at the overlook rock.


I leave camp on Day 3 and head up river and pose by the Cascade falls, a good place to rest.


Several miles later I get on the Brookshire trail and have to cross the Upper Bald as shown.  This route takes me into the Upper Bald wilderness of about 10,000 acres.


Past the crossing there's Horse Camp where I set up camp in the fine Hilleberg tent.


On Day 4 my backpacking buddy and fellow Trailspacer Patman shows up so we pull out the map and see which route we should take together for a couple days of backpacking.


Somehow I convince Patman to try on my Mystery Anvil and he swears it's over 90 lbs and I beam like a red-headed hominid.


Patman and Uncle Fungus on the Brookshire trail by the creek crossing.


Here's a good view of Patman's MR pack, the Trance.  We're slowly climbing up Sugar Mt.


We get on the BMT and cross the Brookshire and climb to the near top of Sugar Mt where we find a fine campsite in the wind.  Patman gets set up and prepares to fix supper.  He's using a Big Agnes Firefly tent (2 lbs!).


On Day 5 Patman packs up his gear for an ambitious trek off the Sugar and up the Brookshire to Sled Runner Gap and west along State Line Ridge to Sandy Gap and the Kirkland Creek trail.


The Trance pack.


Patman is packed and ready to head south while I get packed and head north towards the high ground of Whiggs Meadow.  We say our goodbyes and plan a rondezvous after Thanksgiving on Bob's Bald.


I fall off Sugar Mt and cross the Tellico River where I take a break at the fish hatchery and the Pheasant Fields picnic area.  Close to a mile up Sycamore Creek trail I pull off and set up camp at a favorite spot.  Is my tent two pounds?  Naw, it's 8.10 lbs.  Ow.


On Day 6 I haul the kit up Whiggs Mt in a cold November rain and near the summmit (okay, a thousand feet below the summit) I get to Hobo Camp where the big tent fits easily and so I'm all set for the forecasted "three days of rain" called for by the TN wee'tards.  Weathermen.


The Keron tent has a laundry line running across the inside top and it's used here to "dry" out my damp Icebreaker merino t-shirt.


Hobo Camp is located behind this trailsign on the Sycamore Creek trail and sits around 3,500 feet.


On Day 7 I swab down the tent and pack the kit and leave Hobo Camp for a 3.5 mile climb to the top of Whiggs Meadow and a gain of 1,500 feet.  The orange rain jacket saves my butt again.  It also alerts the hunters.  Here I am on the climb to 5,000 feet.


The Keron tent on Whiggs Meadow.  I bolt it down with all 16 stakes as there's a November wind and pelting rain as I enter my 24th hour of the wet stuff.

11:05 a.m. on December 2, 2011 (EST)
Tipi Walter
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On the morning of Day 8 I'm in my 40th hour of nonstop wind and rain and in the brunt of the November storm---the she-devil of Whigg Mt.  It's so bad I can't go out to check and adjust the guylines and pegs, but it's the first thing on the day's schedule. 

A storm like this is rough anywhere but at 5,000 feet on a bald in the mountains of Appalachia it's especially fun.  Here's how it's done:

**  Pick a place you want to make your "last stand"---the spot you want to hunker and fight.  Stay put and don't panic.

**  Have the right shelter and pegs for the "fight"---a Hilleberg comes to mind---and not a tarp or a hammock or even a three season tent that can't handle strong wind gusts and pelting horizontal rain slaps.

**  Perform frequent adjustments when needed: tightening guylines, reseating pegs, putting rocks on top of pegs, swabbing out condensation, etc.

**  A zero day in the worst of it must sometimes be done, no matter if you're in the habit of moving every day.  It's called therefore the "last stand".

**  Twiddle your thumbs, listen to your radio, write in your journal, snack on fresh almonds and dates, sip water, boil tea, look thru your camera pics.  Miss Nature will eventually throw you a bone.  She's not out to eat your tent and you're not out to do something stupid so relax, take a nap, read a book.


A WINDOW OF RELIEF:  Okay, the rain stops long enough so I pack and get off the mountain and in 1.5 miles I'm at Mud Gap for a reststop.  South of Mud Gap I climb several hundred feet and reach the Rock Quarry at around 4,800 feet and get water and set up camp just as another bout of rain hits a new camp.


Day 9's route leaves the Quarry and reaches Beech Gap and the entrance to Citico wilderness.  But surprise surprise!  At first light I go out in cold temps and find snow!  Not much, but it's the first snow for me on a trip since last March.  Here's the great white Keron on the morning of Day 9.  It's just a dusting, folks.


Uncle Fungus hits the trail but getting to this point was a struggle. Since the tent and poles were once wet and then frozen, I had a nasty time loosening the tent pole tensioners (frozen webbing in a metal ladder buckle), and pulling the poles apart (all sections frozen together requiring warm-mouth-to-pole placement).

But wait.  The worst part was trying to stuff the stiff frozen icy tent into its stuff sac---crudely tortuous.  Welcome to winter.


After several miles I make it to Cold Gap where there's a bitterly cold wind coming across the gap but I get the lodge set up quickly and scoot inside.  So ends Day 9.


It's a mean cold wind but the tent is up!


OPEN FLAME CANDLE---It comes in very handy for in-tent hand warming.  Don't let the worry warts tell you to not have or use an open flame candle inside a tent---it works great and it's the only easy way to keep the fingers thawed inside a tent at 18F.  Keep the thing small, three inches max, have a good base holder for the thing, and only use it on a flat surface like a book which is placed atop your sleeping bag as you are sitting up.

Try not to place the candle on the floor of the tent where it could tip over or be part of the cluttered mess of gear.  All attention must be with the lit candle on your lap, and all attention will be so focused when your hands are cold and need warmth.  No sweat.

A lit candle works wonders for warming cold fingers, and here's my simple set-up:

**  A blue Blistex screw-lid lip balm base.

**  A Manischewitz shabbat three hour candle---"pure", dripless and smokeless.  These babies burn clean and hot and are short and sweet.  Five or six in a ziploc with the base will provide 15 to 18 hours of in-tent hand warming, just remember to not blow the thing out but pinch it out with two wet fingertips, otherwise you could blow a hot ember onto your bag or Exped pad.  Not good.

**  When the candle gets to be a stub and nears the inch level of the Blistex container, take it out and glue-wax it onto the surface of the book and use the rest of it up, being careful to snuff it out before it could light the book page on fire. 

**  It's all common sense 101 and works well for in-tent usage with the solo camper.  Having two people in a tent though greatly increases the risks so I do not recommend using a candle when your tent is shared with another.

People who rail against an in tent open flame must be all thumbs with the IQ of a biscuit, or they think idiot newbs will hear my advice and do something stupid.  But then, the same thing could be said for any advice given on winter backpacking or sweating out layers or postholing or icy trails and falling or white gas usage or water treatment or boot placement and falling, etc.

Like a candle, all these facets of backpacking should probably not be talked about or ever condoned because something bad could happen.  When someone says "never use an open flame candle in your tent", they could also warn "never backpack in the snow because you could slip and break a leg or arm", or "never go out in the winter cuz you could freeze to death", or "never drink water in the woods cuz your treatment could fail and you'll get very sick."

In other words, their candle warnings are no different than a slew of other warnings of engaging in activities that could end in disaster.  So, don't get on the worry wart bandwagon and end up shelving a trip because the ghost of a henpecking Mom is on your shoulder shouting "What If" worries into your ear.  Winter backpacking has many risks but an open flame candle is the least of them.  END O RANT.


BACK ON THE BOB---The cold night at Cold Gap turns to a warm day of hiking so I hoof it up the mountain a thousand feet and set up in the open meadow of Gorak Hill.


At dusk on Day 10 two backpackers come in from NC and decide to set up in the wind on Raven Top, the highest and windiest camp on the mountain.  They quickly layer up and set out their three man Black Diamond 3-poled single wall tent with the needed guylines and I visit and get to watch them arrange camp.  They are Peter Rives and his friend Tim.

Peter is a writer for Backpacker Magazine doing a trip report on the NC Slickrock wilderness and the trail running from Beech Gap to the Bob and to the Hangover and down into Slickrock and back up Big Stack to Fodderstack and out. 


Another Windstorm---Funny thing is, by 2am on Day 11 we're hit with a real tent-eating gale sphincter-puckering windstorm and I go out at 4am to retighten the guylines and add the final two pegs for some perimeter help.


At first light on Day 11 I go around the mountain snapping the needed fotogs.  The morning turns pretty and Tim and Peter pack up their kits.


Peter goes into Tim's pack to retrieve some gloves, and so they hit the trail on a long loop thru Slickrock and up to Fodderstack Ridge and out the next day.  I wonder if I'll ever see their trip report in Backpacker magazine?  I decide to pull my first zero day atop the Bob.


On the morning of Day 12 I wake up to the usual wind and a wet tent due to a thick fog which burns off as I hit the trail.  You always know someone's been camping by the tent print they leave in the grass.


Here I am falling off Gorak Hill and losing a thousand feet to a new campsite I discovered on my last trip along Trail 149 in the Citico wilderness.


DEAN CAMP ON TRAIL 149---I was first set up further down but it was under a problem tree so I moved camp for safety.

12:14 p.m. on December 2, 2011 (EST)
Tipi Walter
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On Day 13 a three day rainstorm is upon me but I find a window of opportunity and leave Dean Camp on Trail 149 which jcts with the North Fork Citico and so I climb up to Snake Mt Camp and decide to pull the tou8gh hump to Cherry Log Gap on Fodderstack ridge where this pic was taken.


400 yards of Cherry Log is Snow Camp, another favorite high elevation camp.  And yes boys, the rain hits hard around midnight and at around 4,500 feet the lightning bolts come close and fast.


Day 14 begins by a rare early morning pack-up and hitting trail by seven in the morning to pull a four mile hike to lower ground to prepare for the big storm headed my way.  Here is Little Cove Camp in the wedge---this campsite is below the ridge and out of the worst wind and lightning bolts and it's where I spend the day.


Next to camp is Bob Creek, a full flowing stream where I get a platypus bull of water.  in seven hours this creek will be in flood stage and impassable.


Here's the tent in Little Cove on Day 15 after an all-night storm.  We survived.


From the wedge to Naked Ground Gap happens in a miserable cold foggy rain but I make it to the 4,800 foot gap okay.  The tent is up fast and I eventually layer up in goose down.


On Day 16 I leave Naked Ground under a fantastic sky and on the other side of Haoe Peak I hear voices and find two packs left in Saddle Tree Gap as shown.  It turns out the packs belong to two old backpacking friends I saw on a recent trip, Slade and Cole.


The day's too fine and the opportunity too great to NOT camp on Hangover Mt in the clearcut opening at 5,000 feet.  Here's the tent . . . .


And here's the view from the tent door.  It doesn't get much better than this.


MARK AND ROB ON FOUR MILE RIDGE---I first met Rob on a long-ago backpacking trip, and then we met on the Bob last March and now on Day 17 I run into him and friends again---he's on the right with his buddy Mark.


Watauga Camp is a good place to be and still stay at 5,000 feet on the ridge between Hangover Mt and Cold Gap.  Camp is set for another day.


A new day dawns and with it continues an all-night wind.  Since I know Rob and Mark will be getting a slow start at the Hangover, I decide to pack and backtrack 1.5 miles to their camp and take this shot of Rob gearing up for the hike to Naked Ground and past the same spot I camped.


Rob has a pack even bigger than mine and it's an old DD Astralplane with about 70 lbs. 


We reach the top of Haoe Peak where Rob takes a break with his kids.  They can hike!


We hike up 700 feet to Bob's Wall and Rob's group heads down the mountain to Wolf Laurel jct for the night to get away from the high ground windstorm that is headed our way.  I continue on to the Bob where I set up this camp in the wind.  South Col Camp.  And does it get windy?  Yes, 70mph gusts.


The last big November storm hits me right at the end of my trip and with it comes tremendous wind gusts tearing across the mountain.  Luckily I'm camped in the protection of the small trees and brush off to the side of the open bald.  I do a recon run around the bald and get walloped by 60mph gusts which nearly launch me off my feet, and notice some of the fir trees behind me have snapped in half.


I get a window of no rain so I pack and fall off the mountain on a ridge trail which goes into the brunt of the storm and it's the worst wind I've seen in several years, but I eventually lose a thousand feet and end up here at a camp with many names:  Just In Time Camp, Shelter From The Storm Camp, Sheltered Cove Camp, Give Me A Wedgie Camp.  Thank Odin Camp, aka Little Cove Camp in the wedge---again.  It's where I spend all day and night in a cold rain.


On the morning of Day 20 I'm presented with a crappy choice:  To pack up and haul butt out in a never-ending cold rain.  Gotta catch my evac ride.


I bail out of the wedge in a butt cold rain and hike around five miles to a place Little Mitten can see me and pick me up.  So ends another fine trip.

2:51 p.m. on December 2, 2011 (EST)
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Awesome report! I was wondering if you went ahead to Sycamore after I left. Man, I don't know if I could have endured that much rain in my little tent.   

I really love that shot on Hangover MT in the clearcut looking through the tent door.

I was a litte suprised that you saw some other folks out there. When I went to Bald River and then to Citco, I never saw a soul. And actually I only saw two backpackers when I went to the Smokies that week and that was near a trail head.

I guess the human encounters will decrease from this point forward huh?

2:54 p.m. on December 2, 2011 (EST)
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Hey Tipi, nice report. I see you have you UL(uber large) pack on. Snow is sooo much fun. 

Question for ya, is your pack a 5000 or a 6000? I can't remember. The reason I ask is I am trying to figure out what size OR pack cover will fit my pack and I have the OR cover in my sights. 


Oh, one last thing. You have an open flame in your tent? Are you insane? 

....Sorry I just had too. :)

4:13 p.m. on December 2, 2011 (EST)
Tipi Walter
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Rick-Pittsburgh said:

Hey Tipi, nice report. I see you have you UL(uber large) pack on. Snow is sooo much fun. 

Question for ya, is your pack a 5000 or a 6000? I can't remember. The reason I ask is I am trying to figure out what size OR pack cover will fit my pack and I have the OR cover in my sights. 


Oh, one last thing. You have an open flame in your tent? Are you insane? 

....Sorry I just had too. :)

 After reading thru the report I discover I actually wrote "mouth-to-pole placement".   Uncle Fungus has become Uncle Pungus.

I'm using the G6000 and with it I use the OR extra large pack cover which is huge and adjustable and will work for anything around 7,000 cubic inches.

4:13 p.m. on December 2, 2011 (EST)
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Man, I spent one day out in that rain doing some canyoneering. An afternoon of soaked to the bone cold water is fun if you know that's what your getting into, and if you've got fire back at the house. I don't know how much I would look forward to two weeks rain while backpacking, though.

That was an interesting route for the whole trip. The Whigg ans Haw Mountain threw a tantrum at me when I was there last, but it wasn't in the chill of november :)  Go you know if they have closed the road gate yet?

Where exactly is the Quarry? I cannot figure out where your description of 4800 elev., south of Mud, yet on the way to Beech Gap gap could be

Patman said:

And actually I only saw two backpackers when I went to the Smokies that week and that was near a trail head.

I guess the human encounters will decrease from this point forward huh?

 Hmm..it sounds like I need to get up to the GSMNP in the lat fall-through-winter-months :)  I haven't felt too anxious to get up there, as I just don't want to deal with the crowds of touristy hikers. But in light of your gloriously solitary trip, I might have to try to get up there soon, LOL!.

4:45 p.m. on December 2, 2011 (EST)
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Well.... I'm not sure how many folks want to do waist deep creek crossings this time of year so that might have had something to do with it on that particular trip. :)

But yeah there are many places to find solitude in the Smokies but they often require a lot of hoofing.


I know you didn't weigh that pack put I'm quite certain that it was over 90lbs. I think I'm a little shorter now for trying it on (tsk tsk..not good when your 5’7 like me).

This is hilarious: "usual accoutrements of idiocy." But after I quit laughing I remembered that your meals put mine to shame. And your tent is a dang mansion in the backwoods. And a only a slight risk of hernia really.

8:52 p.m. on December 2, 2011 (EST)
Tipi Walter
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Gonzan---The Quarry is slightly southeast of Johns Knob which comes in at 4,900 feet.  I put my camp at around 4,800 feet.  Locating it on a decent 1:24,000 map helps.  Have you ever hiked to the top of Haw Mt?  At 5,500 feet (and 500 feet higher than the Whigg) it can get walloped by high winds---but there's an old logging cut to the top from the Whigg and it's an easy hike up where there's an open meadow with level tentsites.


Here's a pic on Haw Mt before the big windstorm in December '08.


Here's a view of the Whigg in snow taken from the top of Haw Mt.


Here's the Staika tent in the brunt of the windstorm atop Haw Mt.  It looks calm enough but it ain't.

11:08 p.m. on December 2, 2011 (EST)
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Yes, I hiked up there with my little sister in the summer. I have never seen the likes of the insanely thick Laurel thicket near the top.

I was thinking that the Peak of Haw probably gets hit as hard or harder than some of the other peaks around, as it is one of the leading western peaks. On top of that, it is at the eastern convergence of that huge gulf to the west, which will funnel wind back right at Haw. 

5:39 p.m. on December 10, 2011 (EST)
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amazingly detailed and fantastic. Thank you.

June 5, 2020
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