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9 Days With An Old Dog

On this trip I was dropped off at Bald River Falls and went into the Bald River wilderness in Tennessee. Later my 15 year old dog Shunka had a stroke and I spent several days at one campsite 10 miles in nursing him thru his struggle. These photos are about the trip. (Trip 110--May 7-15 2010).

On the first day I enter the wilderness and pose above the mighty Bald River. My load is for a long trip and so it's big. Here I'm wearing a Cabelas sheer silk baselayer under a nice Icebreaker merino t-shirt.

Shunka and I make it to our first tentsite of the trip, Big Pine Camp, and Bald River is to our left about 25 feet.

The next day we hoof it up river and take a break by the Cascade waterfalls in a little canyon of big rocks.

After several miles we get on the Brookshire trail and cross the mighty Upper Bald and tie into the trail junction with the Benton MacKaye trail. Here the trail either goes left across Brookshire Creek(behind me)and north, or right up a sidetrail and south. We decide to head south.

FERN CAMP: This is a campsite I found on the Brookshire trail and is in a big shady field of green ferns. It's here that old Shunka dog gets real sick and so we have to sit put for 4 days while I try to nurse him back to health. He can't eat or drink or walk and so we wait.

Shunka sits in Fern Camp mostly immobile and weak. My ride wasn't scheduled to come back to the Bald River trailhead for 7 more days, so I had to hang out and try to get Shunka thru his struggle.

Another view of Fern Camp.

This shot makes Shunka look like a black bear. He spends 4 days sitting in one spot and can't get up without falling over.

CARRYING SHUNKA OUT: I didn't know how far I could do this(since he weighs 50lbs)but I wanted to cover half of the 10 miles out so we'd be closer to the trailhead when our ride came. We made it back to a closer camp and called it a day.

Shunka improves enough to eat grass at the Brookshire trailhead reststop. His sense of balance is gone but he improves enough so I can get him to walk very slowly with a guiding hand on the fur behind his head.

We make it back into the Bald River wilderness and I set up a much needed camp(by the Cascades) after a rough 5 mile day. Shunka is slowly starting to eat pieces of bread and drinks water, a dang good sign.

We leave the Cascade camp and go downriver on the Bald River trail and run right into this pretty banded water snake. A copperhead-wannabe, it sobered me up for a minute or two. Shunka weaves and wobbles around it and we're on our way.

We make it to the sweet relief of Rock Ledge Camp(see the rock?)in the Bald River valley. By this time Shunka is able to be led by a leash and can walk on his own, though lopsided.

We leave the rock ledge and make it to our last camp of the trip, a place I call the Black Cave. We stay put for two days and wait for our evac ride, about a mile from camp. You can see the river in the back.

Here's a shot of my Hilleberg tent in the Black Cave Camps.

A simple view of the mighty Bald.

On the last day I take down the 3 poled dome tent and it's a quick process. We're ready to head thru the gorge section and pass the falls.

We make it to the falls and hang out before heading to the trailhead for a 12 noon pickup.

Shunka surveys the falls and waits for the final moveout. It was, all in all, a stressful trip.

POST REPORT: After I got back from this trip I took old Shunki dog to the veterinarian and during a check-up it was determined he had a misfire with his cranial vestibular nerve. It caused stroke-like symptoms and temporary collapse. He's improved considerably since Day 5 and now he's a little lopsided but eats and drinks and gets around okay.

Hi Tipi,

Thanks for the photos, I especially like Fern Camp, that looks like a cool, shady, place to camp. The Bald and Tellico rivers are a couple of my favorites to hike and camp along. Are there actual caves in Black Cave Camp?

As someone who has backpacked with an older dog I understand what this is like. I think the positive side of this may be that your dog, although older, is probably in excellent physical shape when compared to many dogs who don't get that king of exercise.

I can understand the friendship you must have with your dog. When a dog follows us, hangs out with us, and visibly wants to be part of the "pack" we realize what their level of enthusiasm & loyalty is. At least that's my take on it. All I ever had to do was get out a backpack, and my dog was instantly ready to go. No scheduling conflicts, no excuses, just pure enthusiasm. It was kinda addictive, his enthusiasm made mine stronger.

I hope Shunka is doing even better in the coming days.

Glad to hear your dog made it out ok, and I certainly do hope he gets back to being in good health!

Give him a hug for me.


Oh my......

I would have been stressed out to the max. Glad your pup is okay and here is to a happy healthy companion.

Regardless it was a great TR to read and enjoy seeing country that I have never been in. Closest I have come is AK.


Thanks for the sentiments. Since this trip Shunka has improved enough to go on another 16 day trip which I will post too, eventually. Of course, he can't carry his pack anymore(he could I guess, I just don't have the heart to make him), so my usually heavy pack is now loaded down with all of his food. 16 days of dog food is heavy! Actually, I had two BearVaults in a cache with an emergency Thermarest which on Day 14 I visited to restock his food. The cache pickup went well but on the day to leave I went to retrieve the cache and food and found a black bear had chewed up my thermarest and the two vaults. Full report coming.

I also went and got a electric dog clipper and cut down his thick two layer coat enough to keep him cool in the summer heat. He looks like a Wolf Poodle but appreciates the thinner fur. He pulled the last trip(June)in fine style and we kept our mileage down to reasonable lengths(except for one day when we had to get from one side of a wilderness to the other). The vet said to just go ahead and keep him moderately active and on the trails if I want and so we'll try to get thru the summer months camping by rivers and swimming alot.

I am so glad to hear he is doing better. I read your more indepth report over on trailjournals, and was just praying he would be ok though the whole thing.

I hope I get to run into you both out there somtime soon. If you are out next weeknd, I will be taking one of my younger siblings on an easy trip on the Whigg.

Where is the Whigg? I've heard that name before, but have never been there I guess.

Whigg Meadow is one of the old farm sites in the Cherokee NF just of the cherohala skyway. The meadow itself is located just on the TN side of the state line. If you were coming from Telico, the trail head is on the right at Mud Gap, about 1.5 mi after you cross into NC. The trail is about 1.75 mi from the Mud Gap trailhead to the meadow. I understand you can also access the Whigg from the south via North River Rd, though I have never been that way. N River road turns off of the skyway back near the TN/NC border, then you turn left onto Sycamore trail, and hike or drive up one of the old NF roads. Apparently the gate didn't used to be locked very often. Hopefully that has changed in recent years.

If you Google Whigg Meadow you get some helpful info, though some of it is old and give different conflicting info about how to get to the southern access.

I am sure Tipi could tell us anything about it with exactitude :)

The Whigg is a great place to camp, especially in the winter. It can be accessed in two ways as gonzan said, either up the Skyway to Mud Gap and getting on the Benton MacKaye trail to the bald, or by driving up old forest service road 61 which turns off of the North River road and climbs to the top near the actual bald where the road deadends. In the dead of winter this road is usually gated, thank god.

Here are some various fotogs of the Whigg in all its glory:

Here's a pic of the Whigg during the winter. The very top is straight ahead, and the Whigg pond is located at the top and then down to the right, or directly to the right of the tree and down to a little spring creek which feeds the pond. It's a good place to get water.

When you get to the top of the Whigg, this is the view you'll get in the winter. The Whigg towers over everything except Haw Mountain and it's at 5,000 feet.

When you leave the Whigg going north and away from the old gravel road, you get on the Benton MacKaye trail and descend 500 feet on this trail to Mud Gap. The BMT comes up from the Fish Hatchery on Tellico River and climbs the old Sycamore Creek trail for 7 miles with a gain of 3,000 feet. It's fun.

After following the BMT to Mud Gap, you come out to this sign and the place where the BMT turns to the left(right in the picture)and skirts up to the Rock Quarry and in about 3 miles to the entrance to the Citico wilderness.

Here's a neat fotog showing my red dome tent atop the mighty Whigg. It's a great place to camp.

This is an important picture of the Whigg as it shows big Haw Mountain behind the Whigg, which is 5,500 feet high. There's an old sidetrail up to the top of this mountain and you can access it off the Mud Gap section of trail and it climbs up the gradual shoulder in the left center part of the picture.

Sometime's the Whigg is socked in with fog and wind and snow, other times it's greeted by calm mornings and the full sun.

If you go over to the right side of the bald and look down, you'll see this pond. This shot is sort of unique as it shows the pond at around 5F and totally frozen with a layer of snow on top.

On an earlier trip I set up my green tent next to the pond again, and it was frozen too.

This fotog shows Haw Mountain. I recommend any backpacker who has some time to try and find the sidetrail up to the Haw and spend the night on one of the highest hills in the whole area. On one trip I set up atop the Haw in a vicious windstorm and my Staika tent got all walloped and occasionally flattened, but it survived.

This great pic shows the very top of Haw Mountain, and if you're brave enough you can continue down the OTHER side and hit Big Junction where you can tie into a high trail of the Snowbird Wilderness and descend to Mitchell Lick and Snowbird Creek. Good luck.

This is a view you won't get without some effort and it shows the Whigg bald from 500 feet above from the top of the Haw.

I don't wish this view on anyone but it shows the Whigg from the Hemlock Creek trail, a godawful exercise in backpacking torture. You want to test your backpacking motivation? Do the Hemlock Creek trail.

And finally, a fitting end showing my pack atop the Whigg.


Looks like a great place to explore.

Glad your companion is doing better.


Thanks that's cool!

August 5, 2020
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