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16 Days Alone

GOODBYE TO SHUNKA---On November 12th I lost my best backpacking buddy and faithful friend, so on November 16th I left on my next outing into the Citico Wilderness without him.  Here is the trip report.

TRIP 116  Nov 16-Dec 1  2010









As you can see I'm in my full winter kit and testing out the parka and the down pants.  I entered the Citico wilderness at Grassy Gap and got caught in a mean wind and rainstorm so I set up camp after the first crossing.

Hiking down Grassy Branch involves 9 creek crossings and here at number five I take a break with a fully loaded Mystery Ranch pack.

On Day 3 I leave a couple camps along the South Fork Citico and begin the 5 mile, thousand foot climb up the SF valley to a higher camp.  Crossing the creek behind me with a loaded pack was a bit of a challenge but I made it.

I make it to Iron Camp near the headwaters of the South Fork and settle in for the night.  It's a good place with clean water.

On Day 4 I leave Iron Camp and climb another thousand feet to a place called Cold Spring Gap.  I found water on the way up and only about 100 feet down the South Fork trail.

Around 3pm several horseback riders pull thru Cold Gap and I jump out of the tent and mention something stupid about Tom Berenger and Barbara Hershey.  Mullet-headed idiot motard, but it was all I could think of saying.  The leader thought they could pull a 6 or 7 mile ride down to Warden's Field but at around 6:30 they swung back in the dark and bailed.  The horses and the people were spooked. They should of just camped somewhere and finished their ride at first light.  Day Use Only types, I guess.

On this trip I brought out the Exped Downmat 9 and it was a vicious impediment to a healthy backpacking trip as all I wanted to do was sleep on the thing.  Very comfy but around 4 inches high so it pushed me up too high in the tent whereby my head and feet were easily touching the angled sides of the tent.

On the morning of Day 5 I run into a couple hunting dogs and they remind me of my old friend so I feed them some bread and we talk.  Later their hunter-owner came up and told me this particular dog did not like people and would not tolerate petting.  Uh, I spent about 20 minutes petting this guy.

On Day 5 I leave Cold Gap and pull another thousand foot climb to the top of Bob's Bald where I set up the old Hilleberg.  Check out my Icebreaker merino tops.  (But don't look at the Kleen Kanteen---trying them out and they are TOO HEAVY!)

Near my Bob camp I hear some ruckus and go over and find Chris Phillips and his buddy Rich.  I first met Chris near the Hangover on a previous trip and so we jawed for awhile.  He's from Chattanooga.

Little Mitten likes this shot of a sunset on the Bob at Raven Camp.  While peaceful, this exposed spot can kick your butt.  I've had my buttocks kicked many times here with high winds and blizzards.  Best Tent-Testing Facility in East TN.

On Day 6 I go over and say goodbye to Chris and Rich.  They came up the North Fork and I convinced them to head back out on the Brush Mt trail---oops!  It's the wildest and most rugged trail in the Citico.

I leave the Bob on Day 6 and head over to the Hangover rocks where I dump the pack and check out the view.  The back ridge is the Appalachian Trail and Cheoah Bald.

Near the Hangover rocks there is this place I called Airjet Camp after visiting some friends camped in at 7F in a Mt Hardwear Airjet tent.  We're at 5,000 feet now.

On Day 7 I drop several hundred feet on the Haoe Lead trail and reach another favorite site, Toad Camp.  It really reminds me of the Stillwinds Tipi ridge I lived on in NC for many years.

Old Uncle Fungus at Toad Camp.  "Waugh!  What yer lookin' at citified couch potatoes?!  I be dining with mountain lions and sleeping with griz!"  etc.

On Day 8 I take Haoe Lead trail to the Jenkins Meadow jct and fall about 3,000 feet to the Kilmer valley and Little Santee creek.  It rained all day but the trail eventually got me down.

Here's the Little Santeetlah Creek and it's in a never, ever logged valley of the Joyce Kilmer forest.  You hardly ever see this creek when you humping the trail up the valley, the Naked Ground trail, but there are some nice campsites along the way.

On Day 9 I leave the "Low Dog Camps" and start my 3,000 foot climb up the Naked Ground trail.  You pass right by this hollow poplar tree.

Along the way I get to meet this toad buddy and we hang out for awhile.  He's says he's damn happy to be out.

Here's a detail of the Exped pad with the built-in hand pump, much easier and better than the old stuff sack pump.

On Day 11 I climb up to Naked Ground and meet these two backpackers, Steven and John Paul, friendly guys with a Big Agnes tent.

Naked Ground gap is around 5,000 feet and the valley I climbed up the day before is below.  It's the Little Santee watershed.

Here's a fotog of Steven getting ready to hang his food sac.  Friendly guy.

Steven and John Paul prepare to leave NG and descend the dreaded Nutbuster trail to Slickrock Creek.

I leave Naked Ground and climb back up to the Bob where I take this shot of this high meadow tree.

Avid backpackers John and Sean on the Bob.  These guys knew me from Trail Journals and really uplifted my spirits.

I finally leave the high ground and fall off the Bob and where am I headed?  Down the vicious Brush Mountain trail.  Everyone should hump the Brush Mt trail.

As I fall off the mountain I use a small portion of the BMT and cross Birch Creek where I check out the frozen water and the ice.

This is a rare shot of the middle of the Brush Mountain trail as it descends steeply along Brush Mt Creek, a remote place.

I find a campsite near the bottom of Brush Mt and burn all my trash from the last 14 days.  It looks like a cobra getting ready to strike!

Brush Mountain trail hits the South Fork Citico where you have to cross and then you can set up anywhere.  Here I am at White Rock Camp.  I wander around and discover a neat lean-to nearby.

I notice a big firering and then this lean-to jumps out at me.  Somebody with a wannabe Tom Brown fixation comes out to play.

Somebody spent a lot of time killing small trees and rhodo to build this mainly nonfunctional thing.  They should of put a tarp down first and THEN the rhodo.

On Day 15 I get caught in a nasty rainstorm which floods the creeks and go up the Grassy Branch trail for my next day exit. 

The usual placid Grassy Branch gets into flood stage.  My tent is right close to this fotog.

The next day, as usual after a strong rain, the air temps drop and it starts snowing.  Here I am on Day 16 and about ready to reach Grassy Gap and my exit.

And so here's the last shot of the trip and it's where I wait for Little Mitten to come and pick me up.  So ends another backpacking trip, a trip with a few tears.


Nice trip report Tipi Walter, sorry about your dog. I bet the hunting dog you met could sense your pain and was happy be there there for ya! I have'nt had a pet since 1996 when I was married, had a Samoyed. My landlord has a couple Chow chow's and the female had pups about 2 and 1/2 weeks ago. I will be posting a video I shot this morning under Off Topic if you would like to see later, its still downloading to Youtube.

My old forever friend died when I was in college, she was a Beagle I got when I was 5 years old. We played together along with her brother who belonged to my best human friend back in upper state NY where I grew up. I named her Rebel as the first thing I guess I could come up with at 5 years old. I still miss her to this day especially now that I am talking about her. She was a car chaser and lost one of her back legs when she was about 2 years old. But as soon as she got to where she could run again those car's were back on her chase list. She also loved to chase squirrels and rabbits in the woods near our home.

Thanks for sharing!


Thank you for sharing the report. I saw some of the trip over on TrailJournals earlier when you posted them there, and wished I'd had a way to send you a personal message then.

I hated to hear that Shunka passed on, and very sad for your loss. I feel fortunate that I had the chance to know Shunka a least a little, and very glad I was able to meet up with you both at the Bob back in October.

I can't wait to get back out there, and hopefully run into you on the trail, too.

Were you out in the blizzard over the 11th? On that MOnday night, Jesse and Aline drove up the Cherohala to that wind ravaged ridge between Hooper and Hucklberry, where they could get no further.  He said is was one of the most beautiful nights he had ever seen, but also one of the coldest. That stretch between the parking areas  for the two balds was an 6ft deep drift, jesse told me, and he is not one for hyperbole. Our estimate was that it was probably around -5F up there that night.


Gonzan---Yeah, while Jesse and Aline were driving up the Skyway into O Canada, I was on the Bob Bald stuck in my tent for a 10 day trip.  Just got home yesterday.  I'll post this newest trip as soon as I can.  I just want to include a few vids of Shunka I downloaded about 10 minutes ago.



That last video caught us in a bad snowstorm back in 2009 and I think I posted a trip report of it here.  See below fotog.  It was so hard for Shunka that I had to haul his pack so he could walk.


And thanks GaryPalmer for the dog vid as it inspired me to include a few of my own.

Was it difficult to train Skunka to carry the dog pacK? Have been cudious about doing this with my dog when he's old enough. What age did you start him(?) at?

How old was he when he passed on? Did you raise him from a pup? What kind of dog was he?

Shunka was a chow mix and he was 15 years and 5 months old.  He took to the pack easily and without complaint, in fact when strapping it on he stood up ready and still---just throw it on, boss.  He most especially loved the snow, and for years at the Tipi on the NC ridge he would sit facing into a blizzard and just sit there staring out.  He was one of a litter of six that showed up in '95, and started following me to the tipi on a foottrail at an early age.  He chewed up a nice North Face tent I had set up by the lodge back in '97.  Ate the floor in two.

@Tipi: Also my deepest regrets for the loss of that good friend you had. The first pic was really touching. But after a while you'll remember the funny things and the good things, and also the nasty things like chewing the tent. But if I were you I'll start looking for a new pup. You are such an dedicated outdoorsman that will go camping for many more years, and having the companionship in a dog is just fantastic.

@Gary: The time for starting pulling pulk is here in Norway considered to be about two years for most breeds, for the polar breeds one and a half. The time for carrying a backpack is half a year later. The first year we recommend low weight both in the pulka and in the backpack, say half of what is considered normal for the dog. We have about the weight of the dog in the pulka (including the pulka). In the backpack we have about 1/3 or up to 1/2 if the dog is very trained for carrying. Dogs with some defects or diseases are usually not encouraged to carry or pull a pulka.

For training in the dog for carrying it is easy to have a plastic soda bottle with water (one pound) on each side and increase gradually to 1/6 of the weight of the dog (first year). IMO most dog gets the message easily if you just praise enough when they do right.

Whats a pulk/pulka?

Oh, I'm so sorry you lost your dog, Tipi. I hope he had a full and happy life and that you have many happy memories of backpacking with him.

Thanks for sharing the trip report.

Gary, a pulk is a sled you can pull in the snow using a harness around your waist. You can make or buy one and rig it up to pull your gear (or kid) as the case may be.

Oh, okay a friend who climbed Denali used one and he said it was hard to haul gear up that way.

Exactly Alicia. And they also are pulled by dogs. More info here and also have a look at my photos on

The sled have the hull elevated from the runners, but the pulk has them fastened directly on the hull. This makes the pulk float easier in loose snow.

Tipi, I'm very sorry to hear you lost Shunka. Thanks to you, your dog led an adventurous life as a dogs life should be. I have always enjoyed reading your trip reports and seeing photos of Shunka along on the trip.

I lost my dog in April of this year, my first trip back to the mountains without him was difficult, but I'm sure he would want me to keep it up, and I'll bet Shunka would feel the same way.

Thanks for the trip report & videos, I'm glad you had a safe trip.

That one shot of the hunting dog you met looks like just his head looking up at you laying on the ground.

Ah Walter, my heart hurts for your loss. I wasn't expecting that first picture; it shows a certain sentiment not often lain exposed. Your honesty is incredibly admirable.

Thank you everyone for the kind sentiments. 

Wishing you a most wonderful and blessed Christmas, Tipi.

Tipi  hope you have a wonderful christmas.

Sorry to hear about your loss Tipi. I know that losing such a companion can be very hard. It looks like yall were able to spend alot of quality time together, there arn't too many dogs out there that get to go on multiple lengthy adventures a year!

I hope you and everyone else for that matter have a wonderful christmas!

Tipi, do you plan to get another dog to accompany you?

Big Nick is very happy today as it's a white Christmas in East Tennessee and the best time if you're not actually out to put a tent in the backyard and see what the thing looks like in the snow.

TheRambler:  Naw, I won't be getting a dog anytime soon.

Just a quick note to say how sorry I am about your " best friend" . I have a yellow lab and am hoping for many good years of joy and friendship. Smoke & prayers sent your way-Hang in there

I am not a dog lover, but I see you are. Sorry to hear about your beloved pet....

August 10, 2020
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