NC/TN: Slickrock/Kilmer Recon trip (first backcountry visit)

12:01 a.m. on August 16, 2011 (EDT)
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I hesitated to post this report because this area has been so well documented by Mr.Walter and Gonzan but I like the journaling for posterity.

I’d walked the touristy trails of giant trees at Joyce Kilmer several years ago with my wife and realized what an awesome forest that was; during that trip I spied a fellow heading off into the woods with a large external frame pack on.  Since then I intended to go see that backcountry area at some point. Needing to test out some new trail shoes, I decided to check it out.

In my typical fashion I waited until the last minute to plan the outing; I tried to piece together a bit of a plan from TWs trip reports but needed to ask some questions. The district Ranger office was bafflingly ignorant of the trail system so I messaged Gonzan here on TS and he saved the day by consulting on the area; many thanks for the kindness Gonzan!

Amongst various helpful information, G gave me two good approach options; each allowing for a quick access hike to accommodate the Friday evening start.

After vacillating between a Northern and Southern approach, I decided to do a North approach and park at the Cheoah Dam trailhead and loop through the Slickrock area.






I was getting ready to start hiking about 7 PM.







After turning up trail 45 (Ike’s Branch) I came upon this neat spider; he was large (at least 3.5 inches across the leg span) and velvety looking.






Well, this picture is embarrassing because it’s so poor; there is actually an enormous rattlesnake with its tail lifted in the center of the photo (and it’s rattling like crazy at me). This was the largest one I’ve ever seen in the wild. The body was at least as big as the widest part of my forearm! It was truly fearsome. Lol

I wanted to get a good picture of it but I was put on edge by the super loud rattling and kept my distance. Not a good “calmness under pressure” moment for me. Oh well..It's hard to be cool with that rattle in your ear.






Only 20 yards past the snake I came to this campsite. I briefly considered it, listened to the snake still rattling for a moment and kept going.






After another half hour or so I came to trail 42 and Slickrock creek…what a surprisingly beautiful place to camp and I had it all to myself! This wasn’t my actual campsite…I went a little further up 42 and found an even more inviting site.







I was getting ready to splash around the creek in the dark; a nice way to relax and unwind for the evening.






After a quick breakfast, I packed up and shoved off. I wasn’t sure how long the days hike would be (my target was Bob’s Bald) so I was hiking a little before 8 AM. This is the first ford of Slickrock creek on my route.






Friendly little guy didn’t even move when I walked up.






I was stopped for my second (or third?) ford and decided to snap this pic of the shoes I was testing. Montrail AT Plus (supposedly water proof).







Nice random photos of Slickrock creek.



I met a group of Boy Scouts out on a six day backpack of the area and they told me of a “horrible” section of this trail (42) on which they all got stung by bees (one boy was stung 11 times), took several falls and had to fight through brambles and briars. That would be on the day three route for me. It’s always good to have something to look forward to.






After turning up trail 139, I pushed up to trail 95/2 and was greeted by this wonderful campsite. From here I would head South (and up) for quite some time as it turned out.







Trekking South on 95/2 (this is the Benton MacKaye route also). I do so love ridge top trails.






Hmmm, I wonder if the bears know this is the demarcation.






Canopy is a great thing on hot days.






Surveyor-graffiti I suppose.






A funky high altitude plant, somewhere past the intersection of 95/2 and 99.





So this brings me to the intersection of 95/2 and 54A. There are parts of 54A that to call a trail would be insulting to real trails. J

There was a hand scratched label on the sign post stating 54A with an arrow. I followed it but in retrospect I’m not sure that was the right thing to do. I’m not the most experienced backpacker by any stretch but I’m certainly not a new hiker; I lost the trail completely (once) and almost lost it a couple of more times. I would be bush-whacking along and all of sudden realize I wasn’t on any kind of path but just “in the woods”. I retraced my route as well as I could until I found what I thought was the trail and continued. Eventually I came out to the intersection of 54A, 54 and another trail I don’t recall the number for and was quite relieved.







I finally reached my destination: Bob’s Bald!






I dropped the pack and explored the area. Thanks to Gonzans description I easily found the water source.










I think this was the same campsite from a trip report last year where TW and G camped. Very nice spot. I was pretty whipped from the days journey so I laid back in the grass and just breathed it in for quite a while.






Last pic of day 2. (before the rains came).

Well during the night I was awakened by super bright lightning and the rain started coming down pretty hard and there a bit of wind. It was flashing really bad about 4AM and I couldn’t; go back to sleep. I rolled over and felt moisture on my hand. (I later discovered some very small abrasion holes in the bottom of my Big Agnes tent floor;^%$!.) So anyway I couldn’t sleep-in with water starting to pool so I got up and packed up a soggy rig and was hiking by 6 AM.






It was so foggy the morning of Day 3 that I really couldn’t get any good photos. I know I passed some great overlooks but it was just a wall of white fog and misty rain.







Here is the crazy sign post at the junction of 53, 55 and 42. I had some trouble getting started on 42; the sign seemed to indicate the trail was to the left of where I was facing when I arrived on 53 but that trail just went down to a tributary and ended. I thought maybe the trail followed the creek so I slogged down it for a ways before thinking that couldn’t be right. I went back up and tried it again this time following it around through the bush and came out to what I thought must have been the right path. (If I had started down 53 instead of 42 it would have added a considerable distance to my car at the dam).

This trail turned out to be a super fun and challenging route! It was quite an obstacle course with rock faces to slide down and trees to go over and around. A great work out all in all. However, like the scout troop I met the day before I did not escape the bees. One of those little suckers got under my bandana and stung me on the top of my head! I had to fish him out and was so in pain I became angry and squished him in my fingers before dropping him.






Well, I took at lot more photos but it was too foggy and they didn’t turn out. Here was where I made it down to the next intersection of 42, 41 and 44. I decided to take 44 to 49 and then 45 back to back my car.






This is a shot going out 49 from Nichols Cove.






And I finally made it back to the Cheoah Dam!

This was an incredible trip; I can see why TW and G love this place so much. It’s a beautiful but rugged wilderness. This was an exploratory trip for me. I really went too fast to take in such an amazing place but now that I have some idea of the lay of the land I’ll be back!




Post trip record:

There are my “souvenirs” from trail 54A or maybe I should call them “Kilmer tattoos”:





Hats off to the Slickrock/ Kilmer wilderness!

12:46 a.m. on August 16, 2011 (EDT)
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Good trip report.  I just came out of the Slickrock and Citico after an 18 day trip and came out yesterday on the 15th so we just missed each other.  I hiked Slickrock Creek and hiked slowly and avoided all six yellow jacket nests I saw on the trail and the same ones that nailed those boys.  If you go real slow you can see their nests and walk around them.  But I nevertheless got hammered by five stings in the beginning of the trip when coming up the South Fork Citico.  You can't see them all.

I'll post my trip report soon.

This is your route, I think:

**  Slickrock Creek trailhead and up Ike Branch (I call the flat place in the gap where you saw the rattlesnake Wild Bird Camp).

**  Down to Slickrock Creek and the 9 crossings past Wildcat Falls to the Big Stack Gap trail 139.

**  Up Big Stack to Crowder Camp (grassy flat spot) and along the Fodderstack/BMT past Cherry Log Gap.

**  Up 54A North---a true hell slog as I just did it and it's nothing but a wall of briars.

**  Then to the Bob and along the ridge to Naked Ground.

**  Down the Nutbuster trail 42 to Big Fat Gap jct and all the trails there.

**  Out on the Nichols Cove/Yellowhammer/Ike Branch trails---so you passed the little twin gravesite at the Yellowhammer jct.

1:33 a.m. on August 16, 2011 (EDT)
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Really appreciate you making the extra effort to take pictures amidst the briars and bees, even down to the combat "tattoos"!  I remember struggling along that way some years ago (and the gravesite).  Good memories of sacred ground and determination to return!

7:38 a.m. on August 16, 2011 (EDT)
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I was wondering if I'd run into you out there...sorry we missed.

Yep that is my exact route. It seemed a nice loop for a 2.25 day trip. 

So I'm curious, how far was my route? With no mileage markers on the map, I was estimating based on time that my day 2 route from Slickrock creek up to Bobs Bald was around 15 miles. And like wise my day three route out was about 12. Am I close?

Also, 15 minutes before I reached trail 139 (when heading South on 42 on day2 , the creek to my left) I passed what seemed to be a steep trail up the mountain to my right that wasn't marked on the map. Does that just go up to 106?



I'm also determined to return when I have more time to really take in the area. My 2.25 day trip was like rushing through a great meal that should be savored.

8:50 p.m. on August 16, 2011 (EDT)
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Patman said:


Also, 15 minutes before I reached trail 139 (when heading South on 42 on day2 , the creek to my left) I passed what seemed to be a steep trail up the mountain to my right that wasn't marked on the map. Does that just go up to 106?



I'm also determined to return when I have more time to really take in the area. My 2.25 day trip was like rushing through a great meal that should be savored.

 When you're coming south on 42 Slickrock Creek there's a new switchback put in by the Sierra Club back in 2005 or so and it climbs up to the right but all it does is avoid the bad section of trail by Butterfly Rock which has been washed out over the years.  It switchbacks again near the top and returns to the creek near a fine open campsite (and passes one of the six hornet nests I found).

10:24 p.m. on August 17, 2011 (EDT)
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Hey Patman,

Another great trip report as always.  You amaze me with the long miles you put in each day in that terrain.  It is an extremely difficult climb from Slickrock Creek to Bob's Bald.  This is one of my favorite areas, but I have never backpacked there in the summer.  I'm not sure if I am tough enough to endure the heat, spiders, snakes, and bees.  I spent a couple of weekends in Joyce Kilmer this past year and look forward to more trips later this year, I hope we bump into each other.  Suggestion:  On your next trip in this area, try to make to the Hangover Overlook.  I believe that it is one of the best views in the Smoky Mountains.

10:28 p.m. on August 17, 2011 (EDT)
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Another great report, Patman.  I am glad the info I could lend was a help! I am amazed at the mileages you are pulling out there. Impressive.

After reading Tipi's report, it's surprising you didn't cross paths, lol!

I've come back from just about every trip up there with similar "tattoos," I kinda like the feeling of being all scratched up and sore- you know you've had a great trip when you do :)

When parked at at trailhead, if time allows at the end of a trip, a dip in Calderwood lake right there is quite refreshing. Even in the middle of summer the water is almost painfully cold when they release water from the Lake above Cheoah Dam, which is really deep.  It was also the tallest overflow dam in the world when it was built. The scene in "The Fugitive" where Harrison Ford's character takes a "death leap" off a dam was filmed there :)

10:59 p.m. on August 17, 2011 (EDT)
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bobtfield said:

  On your next trip in this area, try to make to the Hangover Overlook.  I believe that it is one of the best views in the Smoky Mountains.

 I agree, the Hangover is an amazing spot. I tried to find pictures from that trip where I ran into Tipi, but it appears I never did a trip report for that one like I thought I had. Here are a few taken there:

On the approach to the point

Eh, the view is ok, I guess ;)


Enjoying the edge

He looks relaxed, but really he's got a death-grip on the rock with his butt cheeks ;)


I think my younger brother is half mountain goat. So don't pee on the trail when he's around.


The ubiquitous boot shot

If you want to see the rest of the photos from that trip, including the amazing flowers on the bob, send my a FB request. I've got a link in my profile here.

11:02 p.m. on August 17, 2011 (EDT)
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Welcome to TrailSpace, Bunion and Bobtfield!

7:37 a.m. on August 18, 2011 (EDT)
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I'm planning on really hitting the trail this fall...I'll give a shout when I know where I'll be (I'm a last minute planner quite often).

Bob and G,

Thanks for the Hangover suggestion (and incredible pics G). I will definitely be going back and making sure that’s on the itinerary…wow.

I really wanted to hang out and explore the Naked Ground area but I got there so early that the fog was just too thick to see anything. Going places for the first time (and with no mileage marked), it’s hard to know how to schedule the time.

8:55 a.m. on August 18, 2011 (EDT)
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You can't talk about the Hangover without talking about the 2007 clearcut when the forest service came in and chainsawed over a hundred old trees inside the wilderness and landed a helicopter.  They ruined saddle tree gap.


Here's another wonderful picture of your forest service in action.  Even wilderness areas aren't safe.


In better times before the clearcut I would backpack up to the Hangover with my dog and survey his kingdom, etc.  This is looking towards the AT and Cheoah Bald.


This is a good shot showing Little Mitten with a backdrop of Fodderstack Ridge, the BMT, and Rockstack Mt and Big Fodderstack Mt.  Glenn Gap is to the left of Mitten's head and Cherry Log Gap is to the left of Glenn.


This fotog shows a frozen Hangover Mt taken from the heath overlook on the Nutbuster trail #42 (Upper Slickrock).


This shot shows the Hangover on the left with Haoe Peak in the middle and the ridge trail (I call Four Mile Ridge) running to the right over to Naked Ground Gap.  The whole thing is around 5,000 feet.


Here's a nice campsite in the clearcut right before reaching the Hangover overlook.  The ridge behind is Haoe Lead as it jcts with the Jenkins Meadow trail.


The highest camp next to the Hangover rocks is a place I call Airjet Camp and it gets walloped in the winter.


Finally, no Hangover picture is complete without showing the Upper Slickrock trail as it climbs to Naked Ground on one of the hardest trails in the Southeast.  I call it the Nutbuster, and several years ago this sign used to be at the bottom approach until some retard idiots tore it off the tree and stole it.

2:21 p.m. on August 18, 2011 (EDT)
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 Thanks for sharing those pics...

G told me about the clear cut when we spoke last Friday before I went. That is mind-boggling especially when the reasoning was just to have a staging area. I don’t want to public smear the Ranger office but they were, shall we say "less than helpful" when was I was trying to get some information from them last Friday.

2:30 p.m. on August 18, 2011 (EDT)
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Thanks for sharing the pictures.  I wondered what that clear cut area on the Hangover was about.  I would have never guessed it was for a helicopter landing!  I would have no idea why they would need to land there???

In the middle of August, those winter pictures sure look refreshing. 

3:02 p.m. on August 18, 2011 (EDT)
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There was a smoldering forest fire several miles away, and someone though having a staging area that far away would be swell, so they humped in and clear cut that spot. Never mind the fact that you could easliy drop some firefighters off on the hangover itself without fully landing, or if an actual landing HAD to happen, Bob's Bald is so darn close it is silly. Oh, did I mention they never even came close to needing to stage from that point? if was just preemptive.  

But ALL that aside, if cutting some trees for a chopper was the only option, they cut at least twice as large an areas could have been even remotely necessary. I truly think 1/4 to 1/8th the area could have serviced a rather large bird.

4:29 p.m. on August 20, 2011 (EDT)
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Nice TR Patman. Never hesitate to post a TR. Always good to see and hear about adventures. Even if its just 1 pic and brief description.

Man, I thought we got torn up by Catclaw here in the deserts but from the looks of your legs we got it easy! 

4:35 p.m. on August 20, 2011 (EDT)
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Good stuff. I am really kind of curious as to what kind of spider that is. Reminds me of a "fishing spider."

11:24 a.m. on August 22, 2011 (EDT)
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I am certain it is a type of Fishing Spider (also called Dock Spiders). I think it is either Dolomedes Tenebrosus:


or Dolomedes Vittatus:


12:05 a.m. on August 24, 2011 (EDT)
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Thanks for the welcome, Gonzan!  I am really enjoying everyone's reflections and pictures, and some great ideas where to go hiking next and find Mother Nature at her prettiest!

11:03 a.m. on August 26, 2011 (EDT)
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You're welcome! 

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