18 Days In A February Thaw

8:36 a.m. on February 23, 2011 (EST)
Tipi Walter
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1,436 forum posts

Here we go boys, strap on your packs for a long trip into the freakish weather twists of February 2011.  On this trip I enter into the Citico Wilderness at Beech Gap in Tennessee and end up in the Slickrock, Brushy Ridge, and the Bald River wilderness areas.

February 4-21  2011













No way!  I don't return to the same nightmare place I spent seven days in a series of January blizzards on my last trip do I?  Yes, but this time in much better conditions---if you call hiking in a butt cold rain at 40F much better.  I'm at Cold Spring Gap on Day 1.  I hate starting a trip in the rain.

On Day 2 I repeat the same cycle and leave Cold Gap for a thousand foot climb to the high frozen shoulder of Gorak Hill and at the trail Tee run into a huge patch of the dreaded white stuff, leftover from the last trip.  It's 10-12 inches deep but this time hard as a rock though I sink in repeatedly due to my combined weight of around 240 lbs.  Yikes!

Here's a good fotog of the Tee trail in snow, and it's a half mile to the top of the bald, Bob's Bald.

I get to the high ground and find it mostly clear of snow but very windy, so I set up the Keron tent in the protection of trees in a place I call the South Col Camps.

A couple hours after getting set up I hear voices(it is a Saturday after all)and find Carol and her husband passing thru and setting up here at Raven Camp, a high unprotected spot where they discover a secluded place for their North Face tent inside the treeline.  Here they are getting dinner ready.

On the morning of Day 3 I survey the bald and take a few shots of the low clouds in the mountains before packing up.

I leave the South Col and follow the Wall a mile and pass the Horse Cove/Naked Ground trail jct where I left a whiteout winter note for Wisenber on my last trip and dang it after 31 days the note is still here.  It's litter now so I take it down and burn it. At the trail jct I take a needed break and rest on a rock in the snow before shoving off.

If you stay on Four Mile Ridge past Naked Ground you'll climb four hills to Haoe Peak and on top there's a trail turning right which drops off the ridge into the Kilmer valley.  I decide to lose a thousand feet and continue my hiking to a favorite camp I call Toad on a long level ridge once called Jenkins Meadow.

On Day 4 the sun clouds over and a moderate wind blows across the ridge so I pack and climb back to Haoe Peak and turn right on Four Mile Ridge and nearly get killed falling off the Peak on a series of rock faces covered in ice and snow.  Here's how you do it:  On your butt using your hands and feet for brakes and steering.  It's called the Bung Abseil.  Past the worst of it and grateful to be alive, I get to the Hangover Lead South trail jct and turn left down the mountain for a thousand feet and stop at this watering hole where I load up two liters for my night's camp.

Here I am resting by water on the rugged South Lead trail.

The trail down off the Hangover and Four Mile Ridge is fantastic and it levels off in a long open ridge I call Elysium Fields, and so I set up the Keron at around 4,400 feet and prepare for another windstorm with sleet and snow.

The storm begins and I'm as giddy and as excited as a six month old puppy with a chew toy. (I am writing this picture's comment while sitting in the tent and listening to the snow and sleet pelt down on the tent).

Night pics of a snowstorm are always good and so I get up around midnight on Day 5 and take a couple fotogs of the tent in full splendor.

Here's another night pic using the flash.  It's also very windy.

In the morning I get up to a frozen landscape with a light cover of snow and survey the tent in the high gap of Elysium Fields on the South Lead trail.  Notice the low food bags on the bear line.  They are too heavy to pull any higher as the triptease cord binds too much.

The gear is packed and I'm about ready to lose two thousand feet and fall off the mountain to Slickrock Creek.  It's always hard to pack up on a cold morning.

Here I am dressed in my usual cold weather kit but the jacket gets too hot so I chuck it a half mile down the trail.  It's called Sweat Discipline and ya gotta do it if you expect to keep your baselayers dry.

I reach Little West Camp which is right next to Slickrock Creek and it feels good to be by water for a change.  Slickrock has the cleanest water in the Southeast.

I gotta include a picture of the creek, the mighty Slickrock Creek.

I begin Day 6 by heading down the Slickrock Creek trail and pass by these pretty icicles on a rock wall.

Not far down the Slickrock Creek trail near the Wildcat Falls crossing I reach the Big Stack Gap trail which turns left and climbs about a thousand feet up to Fodderstack Ridge and comes out at a flat grassy place on the BMT called Crowder Camp.  The trail up there has several steep pitches and here I am taking a break at the rock overlook after the five switchbacks.

I finally reach Crowder Camp with an extra five pounds of water I got right below camp.  There's more snow!

Of course the Keron looks good and fits well in Crowder Camp and so I take the necessary photo.

Wouldn't you know it but on Day 7 I get another nice nighttime snowstorm shot but this time it's at Crowder Camp.

I leave Crowders and climb several long tough hills and gain about a thousand feet where the snow gets to about 5 to 6 inches deep, and I finally set up at an open camp near Cherry Log Gap, called Snow Camp.

Here I am on Day 7 getting squared away and preparing for another cold night in merino wool at around 12F.





12:17 p.m. on February 23, 2011 (EST)
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25 forum posts

Love reading your trip reports and seeing all the great pics, it's inspiring! Maybe you have before (I'm new here), but I'd be interested to see a few pics and explanation of all the gear you bring along on a trip like this, and the food you take with you for 18 days out there! Maybe if you get a chance. =)

3:07 p.m. on February 23, 2011 (EST)
Hoppin John
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8 forum posts

Looks like another great trip.  How did the exped downmat 9 work out for you?  We went to the Bald River for 3 days and thought about you.  Pretty country.


8:18 p.m. on February 23, 2011 (EST)
Tipi Walter
295 reviewer rep
1,436 forum posts

Back to the Trip on Day 8:

Morning comes to Snow Camp and Day 8 in cold temps so I prepare to pack and move down the trail.  There is a great section of trail that connects Snow Camp on Fodderstack Ridge to Trail 149 and here I am on it.

Once again I set up at Cold Gap as I did on Day 1.

In the afternoon a cross country skier/dayhiker pulls thru and we talk about pulks and skins and backcountry skis and all else.

Five backpackers pull into Cold Gap at Three in the morning of my 9th day and they decide to set up near me at Cold Gap.  I help them set their tents and play with their dog.  Here's a woman pegging down her new MHW tent.  I like this shot and the parka girl standing looking on is neat.  It is very cold due to a stiff wind coming across the gap.

Here is the woman with her new tent and gear laid out ready for stowage.

Another couple sets up their REI tent in the cold wind and by 4:30 everyone is inside their separate tents getting warm, including me.

A cold windy morning arrives in full sunlight so I go out and fotog the tents of the five backpackers.

I leave the crew at Cold Gap and climb slowly up the mountain(again)and near the top I dump the pack to delayer and have a bad hair day on the trail to Gorak Hill.

On top of the mountain who do I see but Chattanooga backpacker Chris Phillips who is pulling a long loop thru the Slickrock wilderness.

Here's the mandatory shot of the Keron tent at a windy Raven Camp on Gorak Hill.

It's hard to believe but I have the bald all to myself and so at dusk I go to a lower camp and fotog the end of Day 9 in the form of a pretty sunset.

On the morning of Day 10 I leave the hill in the snow and move quick cuz I'm in my favorite hiking shorts---cool but warming up fast.  I'm headed down 54A North and Cherry Log Gap and the start of the North Fork trail.

This pic has an interesting story.  I left the Bob and tied in with Fodderstack Ridge where I took the North Fork Citico trail down the mountain on a poorly maintained(i.e. crappy)trail.  Near the top there is this rock ledge covered in ice which the trail goes over and I couldn't do it without certain death with the pack on so I got out my bear line and lowered the pack to the bottom and then easily climbed-slid down myself.  Pack belay.

After 21 creek crossings(and some of them were ice cold), I reach this campsite near the second crossing at the bottom of the North Fork trail.

On Day 11 I leave the North Fork and cross this excellent high footbridge which crosses the merging of both the North Fork and the South Fork Citico.  My goal is a long day of backpacking up to Beehouse Gap and a return to Flats Mountain.

Here's a neat leaf on a rock I saw on the Flats Mt trail.

As you climb higher on Flats Mt you get to see the Slickrock from another direction.  The far mountain up in the right corner is the Hangover and the same place I was on Day 4.

I find this excellent campsite on Flats Mt after climbing around 1,500 feet.  It's in a high elevation hollow with a creek and about 100 yards off the trail.

On Day 12 I leave pretty and secluded Flathead Camp in a hollow of Flats Mt and climb the 13 switchbacks up to the top.  The path pulls thru numerous dry ridgetops with scrub pine and trailside brush.

At the 13th switchback you reach the highest point of Flats Mt and Camp Hope, the same place I was at on my last trip in a snowstorm.

On the morning of Day 13 I leave Flats Mt and connect to the Skyway "trail" and swing thru Eagle Gap and descend to Grassy Gap where I dump the pack and check my emergency Thermarest cache.  Then I go back to the gap and find the McNabb Creek trailhead and descend it into the Brushy Ridge valley.  Near the top I pass the Poison Water sign due to iron pyrite pollution.

Am I on the Appalachian Trail?  Naw, this is a blaze on the McNabb Creek trail.

I finish all of the McNabb trail and tie into the Hemlock Creek trail and go up past four creek crossings to arrive at this excellent campsite next to Hemlock Creek.  I call it Lost Valley.

Here's another shot of the Lost Valley campsite on Hemlock Creek, another new favorite.

On Day 14 I leave Hemlock Creek and pull a four mile roadwalk along two rivers, the North River and the Tellico River, and take a sidetrail into the Bald River wilderness and get to a favorite camp called Big Pine Camp.

On Day 15 I follow Bald River upstream and pass the Cascades where I take these pics.

The Cascades on Bald River.

After a long day of hiking and after crossing the swollen Upper Bald River on the Brookshire trail, I reconnect with the BMT and camp not far past the trailpost at Fern Camp and the same place I nursed a sick dog on a last year's trip.

On Day 16 I retrace my steps and backtrack about six miles and re-enter the Bald River wilderness and set up camp near the Cow Camp trail jct at Rock Ledge Camp.  This is a nice private campsite with the river to the right and the sound bounces off the rock wall by the tent.

I pull a zero day at the Rock Ledge and run into three backpackers from Chattanooga.  This is Brian and Joseph.

Here are the three backpackers, Brian, Joseph and Rob.

On Day 18 I pack up the gear and take the trail out of the wilderness.  Bald River is behind.

Coming out at the wilderness trailhead.

I pass Bald River Falls on a long roadwalk to just pass the time before my ride out.

The final shot of the trip shows an old footbridge washed out in a Tellico River flood from about 15 years ago.  I catch my ride out and so ends another fine trip.



8:34 p.m. on February 23, 2011 (EST)
denis daly
273 reviewer rep
1,962 forum posts

Thanks for shareing TIPI! You have the best rip reports...Can't wait to see Tennesee from a trail..

7:14 a.m. on February 24, 2011 (EST)
Tipi Walter
295 reviewer rep
1,436 forum posts

Bccarlso:  My gear list is heavy but here it is:

Mystery Ranch G6000 backpack

Hilleberg Keron Tent

Exped Downmat 9 Pump

WM Puma sleeping bag

Sigg liter water bottles

MSR Simmerlite stove with between 32 and 44 oz of fuel

Clothing: silk long sleeve turtleneck top baselayer---Icebreaker t-shirt---Icebreaker midlayer tops---Arcteryx Delta SV fleece jacket(also used as pillow---Feathered Friends Icefall down parka with hood---WM Flight down pants and booties---Smartwool Mountaineer socks(2)---NF shorts---Icebreaker long johns---Asolo 520 boots---misc gloves---OR goretex rainpants---Icebreaker balaclava---cheap poly watch cap.

Food:  A wide variety here, and a lot of it.  The list would be long and boring, but it includes apples and pears and loaves of whole grain bread and rice and beans(Seeds of Change pouches), and rice cakes and almond butter with jelly and rice crackers and eggless mayonnaise(good on the rice), and whatever I feel like taking at the time.  Probars, larabars, clif bars, granola, oatmeal, Mary Jane's Farm stuff, Tasty Bites, etc etc.

Hoppin John:  The exped works great and is the most comfy pad I've ever used.  It is warm in the winter and ups the rating of any bag about 15 degrees.  Is it a pain to inflate?  The old ones used to be, with the external bellows bag, but the new ones have an built-in hand pump which works okay, though it's harder than just topping off a Thermarest with blowing.

If the Exped deflates, though, like with a pinhole, you'll have nothing underneath you like you would with a deflated Thermarest Base Camp or Prolite 4, however small and thin that would be.  The Exped deflated is nothing more than a ground cloth.  No foam.  Then again, I always have an emergency Thermarest cached somewhere within a two or three day hike if it's needed.

10:14 a.m. on February 24, 2011 (EST)
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Thanks for sharing, Tipi. I haven't been up that way since october on Gorak, and your reports are making my ache to hit the citico. Alas, I am fully covered over with work deadlines for the next month or two. Gonna have to figure a way to getout of the corporate grind someday soon...

Ive never spent any time out in the Bald river area, I like the look of the areas you camped alot.

10:51 a.m. on February 24, 2011 (EST)
Tipi Walter
295 reviewer rep
1,436 forum posts

Gonzan old buddy---The Bald River wilderness trail is a perfect trail for beginning backpackers and for experts alike as it ties into the 10,000 acres of the Upper Bald River wilderness area and so a person could stretch a Bald River entrance into a long trip along Brookshire Creek trail, State Line Ridge trail (with a lot of great camps), Kirkland Creek trail, and of course the BMT going south to Hiwassee River and the old John Muir trail.  Thing is, nobody knows about the Bald River area, much.

1:13 p.m. on February 24, 2011 (EST)
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I haven't talked to anyone other than yourself and my brother who are familiar with the Bald River Wilderness. It's like the undeservingly treated stepchild of the big regional wilderness areas ;)

June 2, 2020
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