18 Days In An Endless Snow

9:17 p.m. on January 22, 2011 (EST)
Tipi Walter
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I begin the New Year of 2011 by bringing out the Keron 3, a Hilleberg tunnel tent which I first set up in the yard for a week of bag nights during a Christmas snowstorm.  Luckily we had a white Christmas and so my tent was fully tested for a January trip.

I chose the Keron because of its ample space and vertical head and footwalls as my usual Staika dome I found to be too small with slanting end walls wetting the sleeping bag.  They both weigh nearly the same, with the Keron about 6oz heavier.

I didn't know it at the time but as soon as I stepped out of the car on Jan 5th for the trip I'd be camping and hiking in an endless snow.  So here we go boys, into the Citico Wilderness of TN at the Beech Gap entrance on Fodderstack Ridge.  Jan 5-22, 2011.


Dan 1 begins harmless enough by having Little Mitten drop me off at 4,500 feet at the high entrance to the Citico Creek wilderness at Beech Gap where the Fodderstack trail is shared with the BMT.  So far, so good.

I get to Cold Gap where the wind always blows and set up under a sky spitting just a little bit of snow.

Four hours later after I set up at Cold Gap the first snowstorm hits and covers the tent.  I'm spending my first night out in a new snow and I'm decked out in my all important down parka and down pants and down booties, vital components to a successful winter trip.

Here's a cool shot showing the Keron as the snow pelts down. 

Day 2 beaks after an all-night snow and so I go out and record the event.  The food bags are ready to pack and I'm ready to shove off.

Cold Gap shove off and I'm packed and ready to climb a thousand feet to Gorak Hill(Bob's Bald)where winter is sure to hit at 5,300 feet.  Let's go!

How cold is it?  You can always tell by the curl of the rhodo leaves.

The trail up to the Bob is called 54A and it can sometimes be a living hell of snow loaded brush, briars and rhododendron.  This time though the snow is not deep enough to elicit wailing and belly crawls.  I take a break midway up the sometimes steep path.

At the top I swing around to the Bob Tee where 54A turns left and goes back down the mountain but I continue straight on a half mile track to the top.  It's a winter wonderland.

Check out the new Icebreaker tops!  Yup, my old Icebreakers wore out and so right before this trip I got a new set in brown.  My layering system is thus:  Zipneck large 260 weight top under an extra large 320 zipneck top.  It's a great system and highly recommended for winter backpacking.

Breaking out into the Bald and it's always a good thing to reach the high ground even if it's cold as heck.

I set up the Keron in the middle of Gorak Hill and get caught in my second big snowstorm of the trip so I sit put here for the next three days.

During the night the beginning of another snowstorm comes so I zero out Day 3 and sit tight in the perfect tent. 

I walk around the bald in my down gear and use the booties all day in the snow and my feet never did get cold.

This may be my favorite shot of the whole trip.  The night of Day 3 brings more snow and so I go out and take a quick fotog.  The tent in action!

On Day 4 I wake up to 5F and survey a cold camp.  Since it's a Saturday I'm supposed to meet up with a fellow backpacker named Wisenber coming in on Four Mile Ridge so I decide to pull a two mile dayhike in deep snow and leave him a note.  How deep is the snow?  About two feet along the Wall, the high ridge between the Bob and Horse Cove Ridge.

I get to the end of the Wall ridge and leave Wisenber his note reading, "Wisenber I'm on the Bob, Tipi".

I return to camp and take another pic of the tent and decide to pull another zero day in the snow.

Here's a view of Gorak Hill in the snow with the fir trees encrusted.

Fir trees up close.

Day 5 arrives finally in a bright sun but I hear two more snowstorms are headed my way so I decide to pack camp and lose some elevation and fall back to Cold Gap where I spent my first night.  Wisenber never shows.  Check out the Puma bag.

I layer up in my rain jacket and rain pants and fall off the mountain.

I return to Cold Gap at 4,500 feet and wait for the next big storms.  Each night is around 0F to 10F.

This is starting to get repetitive.  I wake up to frigid temps on Day 6 and survey my camp.

In my vital goose down zeroing out another day.  I end up spending 7 days at this spot enduring a series of butt cold nights and long blizzard days.

Here's the interior of the long green tube tunnel of the Keron 3.  Check out the Exped downmat.

Uncle Fungus peers out like a rodent but safe inside his kerlon nest.

Here I am pointing out the number of days of the trip.

What's the point of moving when the snow is too deep to get very far?  Didn't bring snowshoes, of course.

On Day 8 I wake up to another cold morning in even more snow.  The tent keeps most of the snow off the top.

More snow falls into Day 9 and I sit tight waiting for the storms to pass.  What's the hardest part of winter backpacking?  Packing up in the morning.

Here's a nice view of camp and the will of the two snowstorms have been broken.  Thar's blue up above!

On Day 10 the sun comes out but it gets colder as I stand by the tent.  After 10 days alone I wonder if I'll ever see any other backpackers.  I do!

After 10 days alone, three backpackers from Knoxville pop in and try to get up to the Bob and the Hangover but the snow is too deep so they decide to camp with me.  Here is Jay and Mick setting up camp.

Jay pauses before working on his tentsite.

Jay gets his tent set up.  He had a full bladder of koolaid open and freeze on his tent floor.  Oops.

Jay arranges the firepit. 

Mick has his tent set up.



7:24 a.m. on January 23, 2011 (EST)
Tipi Walter
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Okay, let's keep going.

Day 11 dawns cold and Nick crawls out of his bivy sac.  Ouch.

Morning comes and I surprise Mick.

Mick gathers snow to melt as water's a long way off.

Yes, after seven days in the deep snow of Cold Gap, I decide to fall off the mountain and lose a thousand feet on the South Fork trail, so I say goodbye to Jay, Nick and Mick.

The snow is still deep enough to require a shovel for clearing a tentsite but who brings a shovel in the Southeast?  Anyway, I set up a couple miles down the South Fork Citico trail near the creek.

On Day 12 I leave the high portion of South Fork Creek and spend all day hiking down the trail and set up at the bottom of the trail at a place I call the Donner Camps.  Why the Donner?  Cuz I was stuck here one winter for three days with nothing to read but a book called The Donner Party: Ordeal By Hunger.  All I had left to eat was mashed potatoes with brown sugar---not recommended.

I decide to zero out Day 13 and spend another day on the South Fork as it's nice to be lower and near the sound of a pretty creek.

Here is the mighty South Fork as it cuts thru the Citico Wilderness, one of about eight major creeks that do so:  North Fork, South Fork, Mill Branch, Crowders, Falls Branch, Jeffrey Hell, Grassy Branch, and Brush Mt Creek.

I wander around camp during my zero day and discover the usual Redneck Detritus, half buried in the snow.  A couple chairs and a big China-mart style tent in a bag, a BIG tent.  It's amazing they have the will and fortitude to haul themselves out, if not their gear.

On Day 14 I leave the South Fork and the Citico and hump up the old Citico Creek road, iced over, and get to a place called Beehouse Gap where I tie into the Flats Mt trail.

Here is the start of the Flats Mountain trail and it's a fantastic winter trail.  I go about three miles on it before getting caught in a nasty winter rain so I set up at a makeshift camp best forgotten.

What??  No snow??  Hold your horses boys, it's bound to return.  Here I am climbing the 2,000 feet to the top of Flats Mountain.  What's worse than hiking in a butt cold rain?  Uh, two foot postholing at 0F.

On top of Flats Mountain I find this great site which I call Camp Hope, cuz I was getting tired of following an indistinct trail on a mountain side completely covered in deepening snow.

I zero out Day 16 on top of Flats and get ready for another snowstorm.  Yes, my fourth.  On the other side of the tent and down in the valley you can see Indian Boundary Lake, and the Flats Mt trail follows the big ridge overlooking the lake.

Further on past the tent there are two balds on Flats Mt, and this is the second and higher one.  I walk back and forth to it about ten times on my zero day.

Here's a pretty rock atop the Flats.  Gotta love the rocks.

Thru the night it gets down to 10F and a new blizzard hits, my fourth of the trip, so on Day 17 I pack up and finish the Flats Mt trail.

Packing up is hard so I warm the hands before shoving off with my little candle stub.  How To Warm the Fingers, 101.

I'm at the Flats Mt trailhead at around 4,000 feet and preparing to roadwalk the iced-over Skyway for a couple miles and tie in with a Brushy Ridge trail called the Long Branch.

I get to the top trailhead of the Long Branch trail and descend for a while and reach this great spot I call Turkey Feather Camp.  It even has a little creek.  My new favorite camp.

The bear line comes in handy and ya gotta do this winter ritual:  Hanging out the gear, especially the sleeping bag.

Okay, all trips must come to an end and so I gear up on another frigid morning at around 14F and hike back out on the Long Branch trail to the Skyway and a long roadwalk to meet my evac point. 

I hoofed it many miles down the Skyway on an icy road and knew Little Mitten and my evac ride would not happen, so I stuck out my thumb on the first car that came by in 3 hours and a friendly couple stopped and gave me a ride back into town, where Mitten picked me up.  What?  No snow??  Problem is, they had a pickup truck and I sat in the back.  It was dang cold.  I made it 18 days only to die frozen to death in the back of a truck?  Phew, the ride finally ended and I was ALIVE!

So ends another fine trip.




9:36 a.m. on January 23, 2011 (EST)
Hoppin John
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More great pics.  Love you new tent.  Was condensation any better with this tent?


Hoppin John

10:25 a.m. on January 23, 2011 (EST)
Mike Cipriani
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That is unbelievable, what a report.

12:52 p.m. on January 23, 2011 (EST)
denis daly
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tippi- i really  enjoy your trip reports with the pictures and desciptions...Always a pleasure to read and see where you've been!!

1:51 p.m. on January 23, 2011 (EST)
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Tipi, as always, sets the standard for those to follow. You must have wrote great briefings in your military days...

4:13 p.m. on January 23, 2011 (EST)
Tipi Walter
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Hoppin John--The Keron does get condensation on long winter nights but it's easy to wipe off on zero days or just pack up and clean at the next campsite.  It helps to use a couple paper towels early in the morning for wet condensation, or wait for later on zero days and remove stuff to scrape out any canopy ice.  I didn't try to vent it at all for the whole trip and all in all didn't get much worrisome inside condensation.

And of course there wasn't the nagging yellow canopy draping over the foot of my sleeping bag like on the Staika.


9:35 a.m. on January 24, 2011 (EST)
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Great trip, Tipi! I almost headed up there on Friday the 7th, but I had other obligations, and couldn't get away. I really wish I had been able to, as I am aching to get out in the snow :)

I definitely thought of you a couple nights that week, hoping you were snug in your Hille, as it got down to 5F more than one night at my house on Signal Mountian at only 1600ft. 

I love that vertical shot at cold spring, of the Keron with that patch of blue peeking out above the trees.

10:57 a.m. on January 24, 2011 (EST)
Tipi Walter
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Thanks for checking in, Gonzan.  I just discovered your You Tube vids of the Slickrock and Haw and Whigg and they are great.  Here's one you made on the Bob in easier conditions with Randy and Hootyhoo.


11:00 a.m. on January 24, 2011 (EST)
Tipi Walter
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Gonzan---Did you ever get up to the top of Haw Mountain?  There's a sidetrail that runs there from the Whigg and it's an open bald with a small concrete pad, and very windy sometimes!

1:14 p.m. on January 24, 2011 (EST)
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Yep, My lil' sister and I hiked up to the top of Haw before heading back to the car on that trip. The old road or rail bed is horribly washed out and overgrown. Much of our hike we stayed off the SE edge of the ridgetop, as under the trees the understory is quite open and nice. I love hiking areas like that, where virtually no one else goes, and finding the old remnants of history long past. I posted a trip report here on trailspace that you can find here: https://www.trailspace.com/forums/trip-reports/topics/76001.html#76001

I was amazed by the laurel thicket near the top. I have never seen one that was so dense and expansive. I would really like to go back up there sometime and do more exploring. Mayebe camp in the grass under the trees near the top and spend a day or two following the old trails and road beds. There are bear trails that follow old road tracks both north and south of the peak. I went out a ways on the southern one, and it follows a razorback much like Bob's wall. The veiws and untrammeled vegetation were amazing.

3:59 p.m. on January 24, 2011 (EST)
Tom D
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Great job Tipi.  A few questions-how much did your pack weigh? What camera did you use and how did you manage the batteries-extras or a solar charger?

How's the Puma? I hear it is a really nice bag.

Where you cooking in the vestibule and what kind of stove did you use?

7:38 p.m. on January 24, 2011 (EST)
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No questions from me Tipi. Just love the reports, and the pictures. Thanks. :)

10:47 p.m. on January 24, 2011 (EST)
Tipi Walter
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Tom D -- My pack checked in at around 75 lbs, and I was carrying around 40 lbs of food and fuel along with several books.  I also upgraded to a better point and shoot camera, a Panasonic Lumix LX3, along with several extra batteries as I find the Lumix to go about 5-6 days before needing a new battery.

The WM Puma bag is as good as everyone says, and I especially like the microfiber shell.  And with the Keron tent, and during a blizzard, I quickly learned how to "half" prime my Simmerlite stove inside the zipped up vestibule and kept the pot on the stove to block any high flames.

8:35 a.m. on January 25, 2011 (EST)
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Tipi, that is a great idea. I never thought about putting a pot on the stove to block any high flames. So simple too, haha.

It looks like an awesome fun and snow filled trip. I just returned from a showshoeing weekend in Harriman State Park in NY myself. Oh how I love winter camping.

Thanks again for a wonderful TR!

10:28 a.m. on January 28, 2011 (EST)
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Way cool..literality.  I am glad we meet and Im not going to sue you for using my image in a public forum.  JK   You got some good pics.   Im sure we'll run into eachother again in Citico.  I plan on knocking out some miles up there this year.  Stay good.


2:42 p.m. on January 28, 2011 (EST)
Ghetto Hiker
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Tipi - here are a few photos of you , one dancing I think   --http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=263634&id=516971967&l=118ce0bf8b

Catch you on the flip  Jay

(PS it was only a cup of kolaid not the whole bladder ;)  )

2:57 p.m. on January 28, 2011 (EST)
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Welcome, Mick and Ghetto Hiker! Chances are I'll run into you guys out on the trail someday, but for the time being, glad to have you here on Trailspace :)

9:55 p.m. on January 30, 2011 (EST)
Tipi Walter
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And welcome again Mick01 and Ghetto Hiker.  Thanks for linking up and showing your photos of the snow. 

3:44 p.m. on February 11, 2011 (EST)
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All that trash was left by me. No kidding. That was all the trash that has been at the bottom of Brush Mtn for years. I hauled it across the river when the water was high, no doubt, and colder than dang-it. Then dragged it down the trail. That was as far as I could go with it and had to leave it and turn back for North Fork. I knew that no one would make any effort to carry it the short distance down the Ahoy Matey trail and across to the parking lot. I'll have to finish the job some day when I have time. Good TR.

5:03 p.m. on February 11, 2011 (EST)
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Hey Hootyhoo, Nice to see you around here. There are some nice photos and videos of you and rooty (sp?) in a trail report I posted from when I ran into you and Tipi last october.


3:37 p.m. on February 13, 2011 (EST)
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Tipi - great pics and narratives. Thanks for posting - enjoyed living the trip through your eyes.

May 29, 2020
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