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Mountains, Snow, Moonlight, and Friends

So, as you guys know from Patman's excellent report, he, Tipi, and I met up last weekend on Bob's Bald in the Unicoi Range of the Appalachians.  I haven't gotten out nearly as much as I would like this fall, so I was stoked to be getting up into the mountain, especially since I knew there would be snow!

I had a few unexpected phone calls from family on Saturday morning, so I was a couple hours late getting started, but I arrived at the Beech Gap trail head on the Cherohala Skyway at about 2pm. 

Sure enough, there was still snow around from the storm on Wednesday! So I mount up and hit the trail. 


Ah, the glorious snowy trail climbing through the rhododendron! 


A steady wind from the north gathers fog as it pushes up the highlands. Hiking though the fog in the snow was enchanting. It's about 3+ miles from Beech Gap to the Bob, and I know I am getting close at this point. 


As I break out of the treeline, I see a tiny tent, perched like a tropical bird on the summit. It is Patman's 2lb wonder, the BA Fly Creek!  So I know Patman must be close....


And so he was, with Tipi nearby, having just finished setting up his mighty palace, le Chateau Keron :)


I think Tipi is wondering if he's gonna' have to put up with these two grinning idiots the rest of the weekend...


About half way up the mountain, I realized I had made a total newb mistake: I accidentally left my sleeping pad at home. At this point, I am not going to bail, but I was quite annoyed with myself.

So I found a bare spot without snow, though it wasn't much help, as the ground was still frozen solid. One order of cold night, coming right up :) 


After setting up the tent, I head down to the rest of the group to fix dinner. Evening comes on quickly, and the light is beautiful.


Also on the bald with us were John and Sean, two backpackers from Nashville whom Tipi had met before.


After Dinner and night falls, everyone heads off to their tents to retreat from the fast descending cold. It is a full moon out, so I decide to wander for a bit. I couldn't resits taking some photos by just the moonlight


In this one, you can see I captured a falling star to the left of the tree!


I've always wanted to get one of those cool "glowing tent in the snow" pictures, so I tried my hand at it before I head off to sleep. 

To stave off the frozen earth, I laid out every piece of clothing, dry bags, jacket, and shell pants in a "pallet" on the ground. This worked ok until the temp hit 18F around 2am. At that point I put on my down jacket and fleece pants, then wrapped my improvised ground pad in my emergency blanket. Though a bit chilled, I slept alright from there on out.


Morning arrived early for me, and I do not linger in my cold berth. 


Dawn steals in, pale and cold. 


I really like this shot of Tipi's Keron


Patman peeks out at me as I intrude on his morning solitude. 


Love the atmospheric light in frozen morning air:


 John and Sean set camp on the south slope of the bald; these are their tents and dogs. The tents are MSR (not sure of the model) and a Big Agnes Copper Spur.


Because he rarely lets anyone see his feet many do not realize why Tipi wears such large boots . In truth, he has suffered since birth with a condition called Phalangeal Distal Expansion. Though it was a source of ridicule in his formative years, such malformation has provided wonderful traction in the mountains


Patman couldn't quit staring and repeating "T..t...t..toes! Toes!"
It was really quite mortifying.   ;)


Here we see the rare but violent event when a Hilleberg turns on its owner. Fortunately, he was able to escape and only required a few stitches. 


Tipi and Patman compare their guns. You'd think they'd have heard here on trailspace: you don't need to carry that kind of hardware ;)


Watching this 90lb beast mount it's owner is not for the faint of heart. Parental discretion is advised. 


Though the sun had been burning off the snow for a couple days, it was nice finding a few deeper drifts


Here I am at the trail junction for Naked Ground and Wolf Laurel. To my right is back toward the bob, to my left Wolf Laurel, and behind me is the drop that takes you along Naked Ground.



re there be turky! lots of turkey :)


But these tracks, now, they are NOT turkey. Here there be Black Bears as well. 


We go THAT way! 


Here you can really see how dramatic and lovely the trail is. The land falls away dramatically on both sides, and is like this almost all four miles between the Bob and the Hangover. Love it!


Don't trip here :) you won't stop for abour 500 or 1000ft, LOL!  The Hangover is the prominence in the upper right.


I make it to the Hangover around 12:30pm, so I stop for a bit of lunch and to enjoy the view. 


The solitude and expanse is tangible. Being the only person in these winter mountains for many miles around is a wondrous thing

I started the day a mile back on the other side of the peak in the upper right, and followed the highland ridges to here. 


On the way back I come across a second set of Bear tracks. This time they are from a very large, mature Black Bear. I am almost certain I did not miss these on the way in, and he/she came through in the hour or so since my first passing this spot. I really wish I'd seen it. 


Yeah, this is no spring chicken:


As I pass back by the Bob, I grab this parting shot. 


Hello! and third set of Bear Tracks! There are thousands of them in these hills, so it really shouldn't be surprising, but it is still exciting to see they were just here and you just missed them. 


Well, it was a long day of snowy hiking, with 10+ miles bagged, but and I arrive back at Beech Gap and head home. Good times!


Nice Caleb! Great report! As I suspected, your pictures are awesome…

Clearly the gap at Naked Ground is the nexus of the universe as can be seen by that sign post.

Based on that photog of Tip's hooves, I'd bet those bear tracks are him funning with you.  So there were no comments on The Most Interesting Man In The World's entourage?  (Why else do you think his load is so heavy, tent so large, and he "retires" so early?)


Another trick to stay warmer sans sleeping pad is to slip your lower body into your backpack.

Great TR and photos!!  I especially like the photo, "Dawn Steals in, pale and cold...".

The first night shot is incredible! Thanks for sharing.

Love the photos Caleb. Looks like a good time.

I bet Tipi can really climb trees well with his extended T-T-T Toes. 

Who knows, maybe in the not so distant future I may make my way down there and you guys can show me around your stomping grounds.

Granted I love the areas up here that I frequent but at the same time I love new areas all the same.

If I do I will make sure to pack an extra sleeping pad ;)

Thanks for the great comments, guys :) 

It was good hike and a great time, sleeping on the cold ground included, lol! 

I guess leaving your pad is one of those things you never think you'll do, and probably a mistake you're not likely to again. 

Nice report gonzan. Love those moonlight pics..

Its cool to see members meeting up out there.

I dont know about you, but when I see fresh Bear tracks it kinda makes the hair stand up on the back of neck. I mean, I know their always out there but when ya know their so close but unseen......... kinda gives me the willys!

Thanx for posting

Great trip report Caleb,

I appreciate your delineation of the Unicoi sub range, I haven't been to that particular area, but I have always liked the Unicoi's.

I'm glad you guys got to hang out and spend some time enjoying the area.

I really enjoyed the humor & photos!

The last figures I looked at stated a ratio of 2 black bears per square mile for the Unicoi mountain range. The numbers came from a national park or national forest website, I can't remember which.

Thanks, Trout & AZRhino :)

as for getting the willies from seeing evidence of bears close by, it used to make me feel that way, though not anymore. The only time I get nervous is when I am in my tent at night, and hear something walking around outside. It think it is not knowing what it is, and all the scenarios that run through my head of what might happen if it is a bear and wants in, LOL! I guess I have an overactive imagination :P

Keep a small air horn in your pack(the kind they use at spoting events(hand size.)

If ya encounter a bear its alot louder than banging on a pot or yelling "hey bear." Also may come in handy if ya end up in a precarious situation and need located.

I do suffer from distal cranial expansion and fluxed ego-inflammation but isn't it normal to have eight fingers and two thumbs on my feet?  We were lucky this time with the snow and I only hope January has more of the white stuff.

My tent does eat humans and especially their wallets---the cash goes first and then the whole body is swallowed, as noted above.

I hope to see you back in the mountains as I have a grand plan to start a January trip on Huckleberry Knob?  Ever camped there?  It's off the Skyway by Hooper Bald.

FOOTNOTE:  Little Mitten points out that in your picture of my fingered-feet that they seem to be bloody and bleeding around the heel portion and it's cause for some concern.  Sad fact is, those are NOT socks below the "gloves" and so the red can only be frothy copious blood flow, etc.  At least I'm off my feet now.

Haha, my wife saw the red socks as well, and she was worried for you for a minute that your were injured :)

I am hoping to make one trip in January, and another in February. Just let me know what dates you are planning to be out there and I will try make my trips overlap. My thought would be to watch for a forcast of snow on or close to a weekend and go then :)

I have been up to Huckleberry Knob many few times. It is one of the most beautiful places I've been, and it is only a short hike in from the Skyway, which makes it a fantastic introductory place to take family and friends. It is about 1/2 a mile from the trailhead to Oak Knob, the first large meadow, and then another 3/4 on up to the top and Huckleberry itself. I would highly recommend at least hiking out to Little Huckleberry, which is about another 3/4 of a mile off the north side of the bald. There are some exquisite spots to set up camp along the way, and almost no one goes out to little huckleberry, so it is pristine. Of course, the high main bald is amazing itself, being so high, and offering 360 views. The only drawback to Huckleberry is that is it so accessible, so you get a quite a few day hikers during 3 seasons, but I doubt that many in Jan and Feb. 

Nice trip report Gonzan. Have to agree seems you have the magic touch when it comes to photo's. thanks for shareing.

Great photos and report Gonzan, Sorry "Stealthy Ninja".  To bad about missing the bears, they probably heard you in the snow.  It's hard to be silent, even for a ninja with the ground frozen like that. :)  

Also thanks for explaining the situation with Tipi's feet, so many things are now explained!  Got to admit that that old goat can really move!  And that monster he caries around!!!!  I think we need to have a intervention party for Tipi and his pack!  Everyone is required to bring something UL for him!!!  :D  And I though I carried a lot back when I was 20 with a 70lb pack! 


That area looks beautiful. Is there anywhere online I could get or see a map of the trails in that area. I'm a map nut!

Not to answer for Gonzan but I use the National Geographic Trails Illustrated version for this area. Here is the link:


The edition I bought has one major error that I've found so far on the Joyce Kilmer side : it's missing a connector between the Hangover Lead trail and Jenkins Meadow Trail but otherwise seems very accurate.


I would also caution that trails themselves are poorly marked in many cases. Last year one section turned in to a near "route finding exercise" for me.

The Natgeo map is a pretty good one, especially if you are looking for something that shows the whole region. Personally, I do not like the small scale, it just doesn't give nearly enough info on the terrain for my liking. 

By far, the best map of the Citico and Slick Rock wilderness area is the old Forest Service Map  published in 1996. They are no longer printing them, and are impossible to find retail. However, they are still available online or by phone from the NFS Map Office:

I just bought a few, and will be making sure I keep at least one in good condition as a backup reference. 

I REALLY hope the Forest service publishes and update soon, as there is no other source for current trails on the 1:24,000 scale. The USGS quads are good for the TN side, but not for the Tapoco quad on the NC side, which is horrifically out of date. It does not show current trails or even the skyway. 

I love my subscription, but it is useless for places where the quad is out of date. 

i will probably buy one of those. i definately like the larger scale, but i also wouldn't mind one for the whole region. no one understands my obsession with maps. unlike my other hiking friends, i am a planner.

Did anyone tell Tipi they have doctors that can cure that ailment? This is the modern era, after all.  OR he could join a freak show and do card tricks with his feet. Can he shoot 4 guns at once I wonder? Little Tipi Oakley?

Such a nice trip report Caleb and looks like ya'll had a great time. Really seemed to capture the atmosphere and the beauty.


Yeah, relate- my younger brother's friends all think I overplan trips. Last time I went with a group of them I sent an email out beforehand letting everyone know the route, a short trail description, what to expect terrain wise, and that they needed to carry plenty of water.  I found out later they thought I was "turning a fun hike into an expedition." Yet, they were the ones with blisters and painful bruising from ill fitting boots, backpacks without lumbar belts, and headaches from not enough water. We had a mile or two left when it got dark, and sure enough, I had to lend my lights to those who didn't bring any. I guess I tried, LOL!

Gift, Thanks, it was a good time. I am hoping to get back up there in some snow once or twice more before winter is passed. 

January 24, 2021
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