12 Days In The December Snows

8:11 a.m. on December 19, 2011 (EST)
Tipi Walter
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Backpacking the Citico/Slickrock, Brushy Ridge, Bald River and Warrior's Passage Trails.

December 7--18  2011


**  First Snow of the Season.

**  On Gorak Hill with Patman, Gonzan, John and Sean.

**  Patman Shuttles Me to Flats Mountain.

**  Three Days On Flats Mountain.

**  Turkey Feather Camp On Long Branch Trail.

**  Henderson Top Turn Around.

**  Forty Hour Rain on the Bald River.

**  Backpacking the Warrior's Passage Trail.

**  Camping on Wildcat Creek.

**  Hiking Out on Old Furnace Road.

**  Final Roadwalk on Hiway 360 North.


 Here's how it works---
**  Nov 28---I return from my last trip cold and wet after 20 days of hauling weight.  Upon arrival home I dimly prepare a December trip using what peanut sized brain I have left.
**  Dec 1---I project December 9, a Friday, to be a good shove-off date for a short December trip so I plan accordingly.
**  Dec 6 arrives in the doublewide and the television warns about a nasty rain turning to snow in a fast approaching deep freeze so my brainstem gets in an air mass uproar thinking about how my Friday departure may be delayed by snowy roads so Little Mitten and I discuss the route and we make a quick decision to set in motion the wheels of lunacy on December 6 for a departure on December 7 before the ice palace develops.

     And boys, it's a'comin'!!  Little Mitten drives me up the mountain and gets me to Beech Gap in a very nasty butt cold rain which quickly turns to snow.

     I originally fondled a Warrior's Passage trail map as I wanted to mix it up a bit and do something different, then I got on a Snowbird backcountry jag and salivated over a series of topo maps.  Then this nonstop rain came in and kicked open my sac and made all the area streams and creeks and rivers impassable and Warrior's Passage has a very tough ford over Wildcat Creek, and who wants to drive all the way to Mud Gap or Hooper Bald and hike down a long Snowbird trail in a freezing rain?  So here I sit at Cold Gap in the tent on old familiar ground.  It's for the best anyway as Gonzan and Patman are planning to be atop the Bob on Day 4 of the trip so everything's a-okay.


In just a few hours the cold rain becomes snow and with it comes a mean windstorm so I can almost classify my first night as being in a blizzard.


Day 2 dawns white and cold and so the goose down comes in handy---and it helps to always air out your bag first thing in the morning.


I make it up to Gorak Hill and view the white splendor and also get water for a campsite further up the Wall.  Bob's Wall, that is, a long running knife ridge spine with a few excellent campsites.


Here's my Wall camp in the snow.  Right behind the rocks in the background is a 3,000 foot drop into Slickrock valley.


Right next to the tent is the Wall trail and here it is climbing thru some pretty rocks.


How to keep warm on a winter trip?  Hang out your down items daily.


On Day 3 I pack up in fantastic weather in the low 20F's and set my boots on the Wall trail as it winds to the intersection with the Horse Cove trail where I pose for this shot.  The next leg of the journey will take me down the Horse Cove to the Wolf Laurel jct where I set up camp and get water at a nearby spring.

Here I am dressed in typical winter garb---Icebreaker merino longjohns under shorts, Smartwool socks and Asolo 520 boots, IB balaclava, and the all important IB wool zipneck tops (two sandwiched together).  On my hands I have a new pair of light North Face polartec gloves.  My shorts are also North Face.

North Face might've fallen way behind since the 1970's when they made outstanding sleeping bags and tents, but their clothing at least seems top notch and perhaps on par with Patagonia and a couple steps behind Arcteryx.


Wolf Camp at the Wolf Laurel Jct---This is a rarely used though favorite camp of mine and it's not the only fine campsite on the Horse Cove trail as it drops down from the Wall.  Past this camp the trail runs another eight plus miles along a fantastic track and loses elevation pretty much the whole way until you come out in the Joyce Kilmer area by Big Santeetlah River and the Rattler Ford campground.  I'll save that trek for another day.

8:51 a.m. on December 19, 2011 (EST)
Tipi Walter
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Day 4 dawns cold and clear with wispy white clouds in a powder blue sky.  The first order of business is to hang out the expensive down bag.  Here's a warning:  Never wake up at 1am on a cold night and boil up a liter of peppermint tea and drink it and then go back to sleep.  You will get up five times before first light.


The day begins in the snow with a climb back up the mountain on the Horse Cove trail.  Along the way I run into Trailspace member Patman who is doing a recon exploratory hike down the mountain from a previous night's camp on Hangover Mt.  We jaw and then continue up the trail to Gorak Hill---the Bob.


On top of the mountain I set up a cold camp at Raven Top.


Patman sets up nearby on a clear patch without snow.  This just may be my favorite fotog of the trip. 


Old backpacking friends Sean and John from Nashville pop in and decide to camp with us in the high cold meadow.  I give John the trailname Frogman because of his insulated hydration tube (scuba gear?) and his blue top (wetsuit?).


Frogman and Sean set up down at Hutnons Camp where the wind is bitter and the temps never get warm enough for comfort, so we stand around and watch our feet go south.


Chattanooga backpacker and Trailspace member Gonzan shows up and so we end up with five friends all sharing a cold December night on the mountain.


Gonzan prepares supper as the sun sets on a butt cold night.  In the back is Haw Mt at 5,500 feet.


Day 5 dawns cold but the moon's still out.


The old Hiedlestraufsbergen gets frosty but it's home.


Patman wakes up to a cold morning and warm food.  Praise all stoves small or large.


Sean packs his nifty waterproof Arcteryx pack before hiking out with Frogman.


The Wonder Dog surveys a bunch of cold wimps. 


Patman is ready to go and waits for me to saddle up and we hike together down 54A South to Beech Gap.  Gonzan sticks around and does a dayhike to the Hangover and back.


Trail 54A South---On the Nasty Pitches as the trail loses a thousand feet.


I pull a new strategy and get Patman to drive me down the Skyway five miles and drop me off at the Flats Mt trailhead where we say our goodbyes and I hike about 3.5 miles to my secret campsite on the snowy backside of the mountain.  Here's a rest spot at the highest point on the Flats.

9:16 a.m. on December 19, 2011 (EST)
Tipi Walter
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More of Day 5


FLATHEAD CAMP---I found this secret camp last year and it's one hundred yards off the Flats Mt trail by water.  What a great spot!


This is exactly what makes Flathead Camp so dang nice---water on Whale Mountain.


Day 6---In the shadow of the Whale---climbing the north face of Flats Mt.  There are 13 switchbacks to the top from Flathead Camp and on switchback 10 I stop to get three liters for the night's bivouac at Camp Hope.

As you climb up from Flathead Camp on the first seven switchbacks you see the dark towering north face of Flats Mt and where there were patches of snow on the sunny ridges there are hillsides of snow in the shadows of the dark and foreboding Whale.  Eventually you pop out of the gloom on switchback 12 which takes you to the top of the ridge and then the last switchback throws you directly into camp.


How to get water in a mud seep: 

**  Dig a small hole.

**  Let silt settle.

**  Place nozzle atop dead leaf.

**  Use rock weight to submerge nozzle.  Pump.


Camp Hope on Flats Mountain.  Here's a favorite camp at 4,000 feet on top of the Whale.


Day 7 begins in a fog and getting to the high bald where I stop for a fotog.


The Skyway connects Flats Mt to the Long Branch trail in the Brushy Ridge area and it's a great resource when the traffic is light.


Here's another favorite site---Turkey Feather Camp---on the high end of the Long Branch trail as it sits in a neat cove with water, much like Flathead Camp.


Here's the little stream which runs thru Turkey Feather Camp.

9:49 a.m. on December 19, 2011 (EST)
Tipi Walter
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Day 8 begins by leaving pretty Turkey Feather camp and cruising down Long Branch Ridge where I stop to take this fotog of Waucheesi Bald (on the right) and the Six Mile Gap area near Sandy Gap and the State Line Ridge.  I'll be on Waucheesi Mt by Day 11.


Along the way I stop to check out this little skeleton.  Snake?  Newt?  Snow Lizard?


Day 8 includes an eight mile day and part of it includes hiking past Tellico River as above.


There are hunters on the Cow Camp trail (which is a side door into the Bald River wilderness) and so I throw on the bright rain jacket so as not to get shot.


I finally reach Bald River after a long hot slog on Henderson Top trail looking for a way over the mountain to Skull Gap but I can't find the route so I book down the rest of the Cow Camp trail and set up camp next to Bald River at the Rock Ledge site.


Preparing for a two day rainstorm, I contemplate where I want to be to make my "last stand" and it turns out to be a few miles down the trail at the Cascade Winter Camp.  Shucks, I wanted to get to the Warrior's Passage trail but a big rainstorm is coming and I set up and wait for it.  Here I am on the Bald River trail.


Hanging out at the Cascade waterfall.


All set up at Cascade Winter Camp and waiting for the rainstorm.


Day 10 becomes exactly like Days 19 and 20 on my last November trip as it rains all day and so I decide to sit put and hunker in and pull a zero next to the mighty Bald River.  As everyone knows, a zero day of rain is just the precursor to a drastic drop in temperature so everything once wet can freeze solid with snow coming in the end.  It's called Winter in the Southern Appalachians.

10:32 a.m. on December 19, 2011 (EST)
Tipi Walter
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DAY 11


As Day 10 was a socked in lazy day of waiting, Day 11 is just the opposite.  It begins by packing up a wet soggy kit and finished the Bald River trail where I pass the Cascades once again.


I exit the wilderness and emerge on the Basin Lead road which is a couple of miles of steep climbing taking me to Basin Lead Gap.  Here's a shot of the road.


In Basin Gap I turn left and continue the tough climb up the Waucheesi Mt road while keeping an eye out for the jct with the Warrior's Passage trail on the right.


I make it to the trailhead of the Warrior's Passage trail!  This thing is 6.2 miles long and was first designated in the 1950's and then heavily improved by a Boy Scout troop from Knoxville in 1965, afterwhich it went into disrepair until the Crosscut Mt Boys fixed it up in the last couple years.


Since I don't have a map or a trail description or a compass, all I have to do is follow these white blazes and I'm happy to do so.  It's a great trail.


Below the very top switchbacks you enter what I call the "bamboo tunnel", a narrow section of trail surrounded by thousands of small evergreen saplings.


All along the route you run into these WP trailposts and they are a welcomed sight.


Near the bottom of Waucheesi Mt you cross your first ford at Tobe Creek.


Tobe Creek trailpost.


At the first road crossing (with little if any traffic) you have to climb up this recently logged and clearcut hill that was also devastated with fire.  I call it Scald Mt.


Taking a break at the second road crossing (by Wildcat road).


I finally reach the ford at Wildcat Creek and it must be crossed and it's cold.


Right across the creek I find a level camp and set up only a few feet from the sound of water.  So ends my day on the Warrior's Passage.

10:42 a.m. on December 19, 2011 (EST)
Tipi Walter
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On Day 12 I leave the valley of the Wildcat and climb up and thru several other little creek valleys.  Here's one spot on top of a nameless hill.


Here's the last vestige of the trailpost left by the scouts in 1965.


At last!  The final trailhead of the Warrior's Passage trail as it exits on Old Furnace road.


I was gonna pull 13 days but the weather is too nice and the hiking too fine so I decide to hike three miles on the Old Furnace road and end up in Syphilization which is behind me about a hundred yards.  Furnace road comes out next to the Tellico Beach Drive In burger stand and it's a good place to rest and try to call Little Mitten to pick me up.


And so the trip ends on Hiway 360 near Shorty's Market as I wait for Little Mitten to pick me up.  A GREAT TRIP ENDS.

1:05 p.m. on December 19, 2011 (EST)
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Great report as always!

I’m going to have to pull out the map when I get home today and try to figure out where all you went. I’m scratching my head a bit trying to figure out how you wound up on 360.

I’ve read about Warriors Passage before but I thought it ended near the Ranger Station on Tellico River Road.

Man that‘s a great shot of Waucheesi / Six Mile gap too!

Do you know if Lyons Creek Road is the same as Old Furnace?

3:41 p.m. on December 19, 2011 (EST)
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Great trip report and pictures. You sure like to winter camp!

4:00 p.m. on December 19, 2011 (EST)
Tipi Walter
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Patman---I ended up on 360 by walking from Furnace road exit to the 360 jct.  And yes, Lyons Creek road is the same as Furnace---there was an old iron works back in there during the Civil War.  In fact, I think Sherman came thru here and destroyed it.

Warrior's Passage starts high on the side of Waucheesi Mt and ends on Old Furnace road three miles in from hiway 165---the Cherohala Skyway at the Beach restaurant.  The old dirt road across from the Ranger station is called Wildcat road and it merges with the Bald River/Holly Flats road.  Next time I'm bringing a map.

9:23 p.m. on December 19, 2011 (EST)
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Excellent trip report as always Tipi, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Just how many secret campsites do you have now?

I have quite a few secret fishing spots so I have been intrigued by your secret campsites.

Thanks for all the photos and the narration. I really miss being in the mountains.

Mike G.

9:23 p.m. on December 19, 2011 (EST)
denis daly
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Great trip report Tipi. I think you have set the bar on trip reports and the Patman. Love the shots by the flowing river..Awesome.

9:46 p.m. on December 19, 2011 (EST)
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Great photos and play-by-play, Tipi. I was really glad to meet up with you and Patman. 

The history of the Warrior's Passage trails sounds quite interesting. I love hearing about the history and stories for the hills. It is haunting to learn little fragments of forgotten events and families. My brother and I have found a very old abandoned, trail that we suspect must have been established by the Cherokee, and almost certainly would have been utilized in during the Civil War. It is virtually hidden, climbing up from the TN river, up through a cleft in the cliffs, and out onto the top of Signal Mountain. so far, we haven't been able to find any documented history on it, but surely someone has to know more. 

10:41 a.m. on December 20, 2011 (EST)
Rob R
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That dog is bad ass and so is the tent!  Great trip Tipi.  Winter camping = less people, no bugs, no uncomfortable sweaty nights in the tent and hot food always tastes better when your freezing your ass off.

11:10 a.m. on December 20, 2011 (EST)
Tipi Walter
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rob5073 said:

That dog is bad ass and so is the tent!  Great trip Tipi.  Winter camping = less people, no bugs, no uncomfortable sweaty nights in the tent and hot food always tastes better when your freezing your ass off.

 I agree.  The only drawback to winter is that it's too short.  Maybe I should plan a 60 day trip from January 1st to February 28th???  Just stay out.  Wow, I wonder if I could do it?  Not with one food load, of course.  I could arrange drop offs with Little Mitten at pertinent road crossings.  Hmmm . . . . . . . .

11:25 a.m. on December 20, 2011 (EST)
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If you are gonna go for 60 may as well make it 90. :p

I actually want to do a longer trip maybe here towards the tail end of winter thru the spring.  

2:07 p.m. on December 20, 2011 (EST)
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rob5073 said:

..hot food always tastes better when your freezing your ass off.

This is debatable.  I can remember a few trips where unexpected high winds made it difficult to light and keep lit my Svea 123.  On one such misadventure a sumptuous, multi course, repast was planned, but given the situation, we just dumped everything together and prepared the quintessential mountaineer cuisine entrée known as One Pot Glop.  in this case: beef stroganoff, curry chicken, peas, and butter scotch pudding, all in one bite.  Yummm!.  Perhaps you think you could stomach this, but the visual presentation was unfit for polite company, and cannot be described herein due to liability issues, so advises my attorney.  Alas, it ended up being a sundown wind; two hours later we were able to light a pipe with no need for a wind screen.  (Gotta love Mother Nature.)


2:17 p.m. on December 20, 2011 (EST)
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Haha! I think the area of most satisfaction exist on a bell curve :) 

2:51 p.m. on December 20, 2011 (EST)
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Eewww Ed…

That concoction conjures memories of an old sci-fi short story by Keith Laumer (from the 60ies I think) called Cocoon (not to be confused with the 80ies movies with Steve Guttenberg) where humans are completely encased in machines, are represented on-line by avatars, and eat a substance through a tube named “vegi-pap”.

Yeah, ya’ll made vegi-pap.

10:45 p.m. on December 20, 2011 (EST)
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Great to see the third and final report from the trail-trio. :)

Getting the diffrent perspectives and naration from each of you is just awesome. A big WELL DONE and THANX to all three of ya.

I know Dinty Moore Top Ramon and Ritz make a wonderful GOO

11:53 p.m. on December 20, 2011 (EST)
Tipi Walter
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Whatever you guys do, never get so bored on a backpacking trip that you mix up instant mashed potatoes and add brown sugar.

4:04 a.m. on December 21, 2011 (EST)
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I think the worst abomination I ever sampled was a a dish the other half of our foursome purposely conjured on one trip: Richmore spaghetti amped up with a tin of smoked cocktail oysters and a bottle of Tabasco sauce.  It could rust stainless steel, exfoliate your heel calluses, sterilize week old road kill and start fires with no matches, but it could not be ingested.  They proclaimed it a gourmet delight and somehow forced it down their gullets, out of pride, but the noises and stench they later radiated, fireside, betrayed their grim disposition.  I was grateful I had my own nest to sleep on that night, a safe distance away. 


9:20 a.m. on December 21, 2011 (EST)
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ok, Tobasco and Spaghetti doesn't sound so bad; I've eaten pasta with hot souce before. The addition of canned smoked oysters, however, reviles my stomach at the mere thought. 

12:22 p.m. on December 25, 2011 (EST)
Wolfman (Wolfgang Greystoke)
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Great Report Tipi!  Your one heck of a tough old mountain goat!!  :)

I always envy your trips and wish you the best in 2012.  I sure hope I get a chance to get out this winter. 


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