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  1. #1

    Default 21 Days in a Pit Viper Furnace

    I'm in vacation mode on this trip which means the goal is to camp by wilderness creeks for as long as possible and to have as many easy days of hiking as I want.

    The trip takes place in Citico Creek wilderness in Tennessee and a few days above 5,000 feet to the East of the wilderness---on Seven Mile Ridge abutting the Kilmer/Slickrock wilderness in NC.

    To see all trip pics go here---

    https://tipiwalter.smugmug.com/Backp...Viper-Furnace/

    21 DAYS
    IN A
    PIT VIPER
    FURNACE

    Trip 199
    August 22--September 11, 2019

    HIGHLIGHTS
    ** 68 CREEK CROSSINGS
    ** TWO BACKPACKERS ON THE NORTH FORK TRAIL
    ** KATHERINE AND GRAY BUCKLES TRAIL RANGERS ON THE NORTH FORK
    ** TRAILWORKED 149
    ** 7 DAYS ON THE NORTH FORK TRAIL IN VACATION MODE
    ** SOUTH FORK BACKPACKERS KEITH AND JOHN
    ** SOUTH FORK TRAIL COMPLETELY CLEARED
    ** COPPERHEAD NAMED JIMMY ON SOUTH FORK CREEK
    ** ILLEGAL HORSEMEN ON 54A NORTH
    ** SNOWSTORM ON HANGOVER MT JUST KIDDING
    ** SOLO WOMAN BACKPACKER ON HANGOVER MT
    ** 3 BACKPACKERS ON BOB BALD
    ** RATTLESNAKE JOHNNY ON SF CREEK TRAIL
    ** FURNACE INTO FALL: 21 DAYS IN THE TENNESSEE MOUNTAINS


    TRAILS
    Entrance at Grassy Gap in Citico Creek Wilderness
    Grassy Branch Trail Down to Two South Fork Creek Crossings
    South Fork Trail Down
    **White Rock Camp**
    South Fork Down
    **Cable Camp**
    South Fork Down
    North Fork Trail Up
    **North Fork Crossing 2 Camp**
    NF Trail Up
    **NF Sidemeat Camp**
    NF Trail Up
    **Stump Camp**
    NF Trail Up
    **Hootyhoo Camp**
    NF Trail Up
    **Blue Rock Camp Two Crossings Above Old Goat Falls**
    NF Trail Up
    **Rock Ledge Camp**
    Trail 149
    **Barrel Gap on 149**
    Trail 149 into Cold Spring Gap
    South Fork Trail Down
    **Iron Camp**
    SF Trail Down
    **Mitten Camp Next to South Fork Creek**
    SF Down
    **SF Crossing into Brush/SF Camp**
    SF Down
    North Fork Up
    **Blue Rock Camp**
    NF Up to Cherry Log Gap
    Fodderstack Ridge South
    54A North Up to Bob Tee and Bob Bald
    **Fir Tree Grove on Bob Bald**
    Seven Mile Ridge Heading East
    **Watauga Camp near Naked Ground Gap**
    Seven Mile Ridge East
    **Airjet Camp Hangover Mt**
    Seven Mile Ridge Heading West over Bob Bald
    54A South Down
    South Fork Trail Down
    **Iron Camp Creekside**
    SF Down
    **White Rock Camp (2)**
    Grassy Branch Trail Up
    **Woodstove Camp**
    Grassy Branch Up and OUT.



    The trip starts in Grassy Gap in Citico wilderness and my first trail is Grassy Branch which has about 10 creek crossings as it sharply descends a thousand feet to South Fork Creek---all done with an enormous pack weight at about 100 lbs.



    Here's my 95-100 lb pack during a reststop on the Grassy Branch trail. It's a Dan McHale pack in the 8,000 cubic inch range---and loaded with 8 books and about 55 lbs of food and 44ozs of stove fuel etc. The tent is 8 lbs 10 ozs. All the books are burned during the trip.



    After several miles my first night is spent next to South Fork Creek (behind tent) at White Rock Camp. Here's the almost 9 lb tent, a Hilleberg Keron.



    After four days the first backpackers I see are these two guys coming down the North Fork trail. I only see 4 backpackers the whole time I'm on the Citico side.



    I set up camp right next to North Fork Creek and it rises a bit after a late night rainstorm.



    As I backpack up the North Fork trail I run into two Ranger trail supervisors who are out to study both the North Fork and the South Fork trails.



    This map shows my general route from Grassy Branch merging with South Fork trail (far left bottom) and shows SF trail heading north to jct with North Fork trail (footbridge)---and shows NF heading East and UP. It's a nut climb towards the top.

  2. #2

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    On Day 6 I leave my camp and dayhike the Ranger kids down the NF trail and watch them pull the Crossing 5-6 detour on the rock face. Instead I usually wade the creek for the two crossings---as the rock are slick and difficult with a 95 lb pack. Ranger Gray is carrying his trail measuring wheel.



    On Day 7 I keep making my way up the NF trail and pause for this pic at Crossing 7---where I just keep on the boots for the whole trip even though they are heavier when soaked. The whole trip is done in wet Asolo Fugitive boots.



    As I climb higher on the NF trail I set up camp right below the Trail 149 junction and go on a dayhike trailworking run to clear 149 as the Ranger Kids said it was in terrible shape---and here is one of the worst spots---so I take out the folding saw and cut a "rootball express" around the top of the blowdown to create a path for myself when I hike the trail the next day.



    On Day 9 I leave North Fork Creek and take Trail 149 about 4.5 miles to Cold Spring Gap and the junction with the South Fork trail---which drops about 2,000 feet from this trailpost down to the main creek crossing.



    As I'm backpacking down the SF I run into two fishermen camping on the creek and we know each other from previous trips---they are Keith and John---with their Kelty tent nearby.



    After I leave Keith's camp I head down the SF and run into Little Durwood relaxing on the trail and so I stop and we talk. He tells me the trail up ahead is in terrible shape and yes it is. I call it God's Anus---a bad thicket of grapevine and briars and blowdowns.



    I make it thru Satan's Perineum and drop 2,000 feet back to where SF Creek is actually a big creek.

  3. #3

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    I cross SF Creek several times and set up camp near the Brush Mt/SF trail jct and do some bushwacking around camp in bare feet and crocs---and dangit I step four inches from Jimmy relaxing in the Squaw Vine aka Partridge Berry. Just didn't see him. We talk and he tells me there's a rattlesnake nearby so we're all one big happy family.



    Little Jimmy near my Brush/SF Camp. Have fun out there kids and bring some benadryl.



    I finish my descent down the SF trail and decide to head all the way back up the Nut climb which is the North Fork trail and stop at the Blue Rock Gateway just below Old Goat Falls.



    As I climb above OldGoat Falls I reach Death Falls so I lean out to take a few pics. A backpacker many years ago stepped to the edge and fell to the bottom---didn't die but was hurt.



    The NF nut climb punches me out in Cherry Log Gap and I head south on Fodderstack Ridge and climb the thicket path called Trail 54A North and reach Bob Bald Mt and set up here in the Fir Tree Grove at around 5,300 feet.



    I leave the Bob (Raven Mt) and hike 3 miles East on Seven Mile Ridge to Hangover Mt and stop on Haoe Peak at 5,240 feet. The high elevation cool air is nice.



    I reach Hangover Mt with the best view in the Southeast and look off East by Northeast. The small middle ridge going to the right is Yellow Creek Mt Trail and now part of the Benton MacKaye trail. The sharp V notch at the right side end of this ridge is Yellow Creek Gap on the AT. The big ridge in the back is the Smokies and Mt LeConte etc.

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    did the ranger with the wheel say why he is using it?


    updating mileage on maps?

  5. #5

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    What's the Rarest Mammal in the Southeast Wilderness???? A solo woman backpacker. I'm camped atop Hangover Mt and Solo Girl walks by my camp to go to the overlook and the next day I hiked to her camp in the clearcut and get her route. In the last 20 years I've only seen 3 or 4 genuine solo women backpackers. I wonder why?



    I leave Hangover Mt and in 3 miles pass over Bob Bald and 1.5 miles later reach Cold Spring Gap and pull my second descent down the South Fork trail because I want to stop in God's Anus and really clear the thicket path. After an hour of clipping and sawing I get it clear enough to hike through---which will probably last a couple weeks.



    Once I get to the low ground on South Fork Creek I run into SF Johnny and so I dump my pack and we talk. The yellow leaf is the trail btw. Johnny shares some interesting stories of dayhikers and black bears and then I tell him he better scoot off the trail or a human idiot might see him and kill him.



    I convince Johnny to slink off up under some rocks.



    What's for lunch? Rice cakes and peanut butter and honey.

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    The last day of my trip and the McHale pack is about 30 lbs---a normal weekend weight for me. The big tent and the big Trail Pro sleeping pad are both inside the giant duffel bag of the pack.



    My trip ends where it started---at the Grassy Branch trailhead in Grassy Gap. It was a great trip and I got to see my pit viper friends and I didn't get yellow jacket stung one time.

  7. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by TNhiker View Post
    did the ranger with the wheel say why he is using it?


    updating mileage on maps?
    They had alot to say about their intentions---and wanted to "map" out the NF trail and see if there were any erosion issues etc. They tabulated percent trail grade, length with the wheel, if switchbacks are needed etc etc. I hope they're not trying to figure out how to bring bicycles into the wilderness---or god forbid E-bikes.

    I asked them if they were out to make this happen, i.e. bicycles---and they said no---so let's hope they're telling the truth.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tipi Walter View Post
    They had alot to say about their intentions---and wanted to "map" out the NF trail and see if there were any erosion issues etc. They tabulated percent trail grade, length with the wheel, if switchbacks are needed etc etc. I hope they're not trying to figure out how to bring bicycles into the wilderness---or god forbid E-bikes.

    I asked them if they were out to make this happen, i.e. bicycles---and they said no---so let's hope they're telling the truth.
    Sounds like you might have read a part of the thread about NPS orders and E-bikes...
    If so, that thread started with some mis-information... made it sound like the NPS was going to start allowing E-bikes on all sorts of back country trials.
    That order only clarified the status of E-bikes. It basically said E-bikes were to be allowed where ever bicycles are currently allowed.

    Otherwise, what I used to hear in the Mtn Bike community was that it was generally difficult to open up new areas to bicycle riders. Would find it difficult to believe ranger resources would be getting put to use to help Mtn Bikers (I don't think they have that kind of leverage in congress).

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    Sounds like you might have read a part of the thread about NPS orders and E-bikes...



    keep in mind though-----this is Forest Service land and not Park land....

  10. #10

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    I know there's been a big push by the bicycle lobby to open up wilderness areas to rolling traffic---so the concern.

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    Excellent and entertaining trip report as always.

    You have inspired me to start hiking in that area. I am heading out on the Jack's River Loop this weekend. It will be the first time I have hiked in the Cohutta Wilderness.

  12. #12

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    Quote Originally Posted by cneill13 View Post
    Excellent and entertaining trip report as always.

    You have inspired me to start hiking in that area. I am heading out on the Jack's River Loop this weekend. It will be the first time I have hiked in the Cohutta Wilderness.
    Hopefully we'll get a little rain soon, although with no rain the Jacks is easily crossed. Where are you starting your loop? Dally Gap??

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    Quote Originally Posted by TNhiker View Post
    keep in mind though-----this is Forest Service land and not Park land....
    I think the thread in question pointed out that actually the original order came from someone like the Secretary of the Interior directing each department (NPS, Forest Service, etc) to produce such an order. I found and linked to the NPS order... but I'm under the impression that all departments are being told to produce a similar order.

    And yeah, I think Mtn Bike riders have been working for decades hoping to open more lands to bicycles. Fortunately, so far, the thing I've seen is that over time more bike trails are getting opened. Hopefully that's lessening the push to allow bikes on existing trails.

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    A guy carrying a pistol? I've never seen that before, but then I only get to hike twice a year.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tipi Walter View Post
    Hopefully we'll get a little rain soon, although with no rain the Jacks is easily crossed. Where are you starting your loop? Dally Gap??
    I am starting out of Dally and hiking the loop counterclockwise. I read that Penitentiary Trail going clockwise is a beast. I am a little worried about the river crossings only because I heard there were still many downed trees and finding the trail can be tough at the crossings but I will manage.

    Once I hit the P.T. and Jack's River Trail intersection, I plan on maybe hiking down JRT away from the falls to try to find a camping area downstream. I heard there are many spots around the river.

    I notice you seem to spend a lot of hiking time on the Tennessee side of the Cohutta (Big Frog?). I plan on tackling that region this winter. I am a big fan of winter hiking and camping.

    I forgot to mention on my previous post, your pictures are almost as good as the commentary. Snakes are to be respected but not feared. I like the way you personify them. Hopefully it will keep people from killing them on sight in the future.

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    Quote Originally Posted by John B View Post
    A guy carrying a pistol? I've never seen that before, but then I only get to hike twice a year.
    Been seeing and hearing more about it in recent years in GSMNP, from people simply talking about guns they are carrying, to people who had them prominently displayed in a chest harness.

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    Quote Originally Posted by HooKooDooKu View Post
    Been seeing and hearing more about it in recent years in GSMNP, from people simply talking about guns they are carrying, to people who had them prominently displayed in a chest harness.
    I carried a pistol the first time I went hiking on the AT. What a waste of 2 pounds, never again.

    Whenever I see someone with a gun I ask them, "What are you so afraid of?"

  18. #18

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    Quote Originally Posted by cneill13 View Post
    I carried a pistol the first time I went hiking on the AT. What a waste of 2 pounds, never again.

    Whenever I see someone with a gun I ask them, "What are you so afraid of?"
    I remember once running into a recent War vet backpacking with his two kids on Seven Mile Ridge between Bob Bald and the Hangover. He was packing a pistol in a chest holster and a pistol-grip 12 gauge shotgun vertically on the side of his pack. He told me he was concerned for the safety of his two kids---not from bears but from other humans.

    TRIP 173 091-XL.jpg
    The pic shows the pistol and the shotgun on the right side of his head---

  19. #19

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    Quote Originally Posted by cneill13 View Post
    I am starting out of Dally and hiking the loop counterclockwise. I read that Penitentiary Trail going clockwise is a beast. I am a little worried about the river crossings only because I heard there were still many downed trees and finding the trail can be tough at the crossings but I will manage.

    Once I hit the P.T. and Jack's River Trail intersection, I plan on maybe hiking down JRT away from the falls to try to find a camping area downstream. I heard there are many spots around the river.

    I notice you seem to spend a lot of hiking time on the Tennessee side of the Cohutta (Big Frog?). I plan on tackling that region this winter. I am a big fan of winter hiking and camping.

    I forgot to mention on my previous post, your pictures are almost as good as the commentary. Snakes are to be respected but not feared. I like the way you personify them. Hopefully it will keep people from killing them on sight in the future.
    Thanks for the input---especially about the snakes. Gotta love the reptiles. They put the "wild" in wilderness. I call them the Grizzlies of the Southeast---because they are one of the few things that can kill me.

    Regarding the Cohut---I've done the Dally--Jacks--Penitentiary Loop several times. There are 18 Jacks crossings from Dally down to P.T.---but I like doing it clockwise because P.T. going up IS NOT a beast---at least I didn't find it bad even with my ginormous pack. The other advantage going down the Jacks is getting all those crossings over in the beginning in case you're caught in a rainstorm and the river gets too high to cross safely---one of my backpacking fears---High Water Crossings.

    Do you plan on getting to the P.T./Jacks area and finding a campsite below Jacks River Falls somewhere by the Rice Camp crossing? The reason I ask is because there's an awesome secret campsite just down river from the P.T. jct---just hike past the giant campsite and on the left is a higher ledge CS and then beyond you cross a little side creek and up on the right (before you cross the Jacks to the Rough Ridge side) is this "secret" CS. Check it out.

    Trip 197 (242)-XL.jpg
    This is one of the campsites in the big Camping area where Penal Trail jcts the Jacks.

    Trip 197 (245)-XL.jpg
    When I first got to the Penal/Jacks CS this is what the Jacks looked liked---it's the first crossing leaving camp and heading up to Dally Gap. It would be Crossing 18 if you're coming down from Dally Gap.

    Trip 197 (270)-XL.jpg
    Here's the weird part---as I was camping on the Penal side of the Jacks (the correct side if you need to bail out on Pentitentiary)---a big rainstorm hit that night and in the morning this is what happened to the Jacks---the same crossing as my above pic. Watch out, boys.

    Trip 197 (240)-XL.jpg
    Anyway, here's the P.T. trailpost on the Jacks.

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    He told me he was concerned for the safety of his two kids---not from bears but from other humans.


    I've re thunk my stance on carrying while backpacking after having two incidents that scared the poop outta me...

    And both of these were in the bald river area.......

    And both involved other humans....

    I hike alone with a rare exception and these two incidents changed my thoughts on packing.....

    I did have an incident in the Smokies (and it was off trail, right on the border with the reservation) about 13 years ago which also scared me and that kinda put the thought in my head...

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