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  1. #1
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    Default Loop (or "lollipop loop") Itineraries

    Greetings,

    I lead a large group of young folks on a 4 day, 3 night backpack trip every February. Typically, we do 30 mile sections of the AT (about 8 miles a day).

    We've pretty much done from Springer to Fontana over the past five years. I'd love some loop options to make shuttling easier. The Standing Indian loop was perfect of course, but we've done that twice now. The Duncan Ridge loop is a bit too long.

    I need some creative suggestions from you fine folk! Here's my thinking/problems:
    1) Cohutta has options, but river crossing in February... yikes.
    2) Smokies would be great, but they cap group sizes at 8. We have 12-14. Anyone know if they grant exceptions? Especially in the off season... fingers crossed. Gregory Bald or other loops would be great.
    3) Maybe Grayson Highlands, but that could get super cold. Also, I'm hoping to stay within 3-4 hours of Chattanooga.
    4) Maybe Bob Bald / Hangover / Citico Creek?
    5) What about creative treks that aren't exactly loops. As in, we could do a ten mile loop with a "stem" of the lollipop that we re-trace our steps on for a total of 25-35?
    6) Joyce Kilmer? Pisgah? What am I missing?

    Thanks for any ideas.

  2. #2
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    Great Smokey Mountains
    GSMNP has enough trails that there can be many options for 3 night loops.

    But their Compendium of Rules and Regulations limit party sizes to 8. There is an exception for campsites #12, 20, 46, 60, 86, & 90, but these are not located in positions that are conducive to 3 night loops, and even then you're still limited to a maximum party size of 12.

    Exceptions for parties of greater than 12 are pretty much out of the question because there are only a dozen back country sites that have a capacity greater than 12 (most are 8 to 10).

    Could you break up into two separate groups on different itineraries?
    I assume with a group that size you're not all in one vehicle which would open up options to shuttle yourselves (such as two groups hiking in opposite directions with a car-key swap in the middle)?

  3. #3
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    your best bet for the smokies is to break up into two groups........actually, this is probably true for any place you go....

    i have run into scout groups in the smokies who break up into two groups and have the groups either be based on age or on experience.....

    and then base the hikes around the groups (as in, dont have the lesser experienced kids pull heavy mileage and/or elevation)

  4. #4
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    Here's a figure 8 loop that I think is about 26 miles:
    Out of Vogel State Park, take the Coosa Backcountry trail, it is a loop and take the counter-clockwise side. It joins the Duncan Ridge trail about 2/3 around the loop.
    Take the Duncan Ridge to the AT just south of Springer (Slaughter Gap). Continue south to Jarrard Gap. Take the Jarrard Gap trail north to Lake Windfield Scott. Then go up the Slaughter Creek trail, (it parallels the Slaughter Creek road) to Slaughter Gap. Then back north on the Duncan Ridge Trail until the Coosa Backcountry Trail/Bear Hair Gap trail turn off. Then Coosa Backcountry trail back to Vogel.

    You could add the Freeman trail and loop around Springer if you need an extra 4 miles or so.

  5. #5

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    Quote Originally Posted by madfarmer View Post
    1) Cohutta has options, but river crossing in February... yikes.
    I'm hoping to stay within 3-4 hours of Chattanooga.
    4) Maybe Bob Bald / Hangover / Citico Creek?
    5) What about creative treks that aren't exactly loops. As in, we could do a ten mile loop with a "stem" of the lollipop that we re-trace our steps on for a total of 25-35?
    6) Joyce Kilmer? Pisgah? What am I missing?

    Thanks for any ideas.
    I highlighted my neck of the woods---Cohutta, Big Frog, Citico, Slickrock/Kilmer, Pisgah.

    First, let's start with Big Frog/Cohutta---which I can't believe you haven't already done since it's so close to Chattanooga.

    Loop opportunities in Big Frog/Cohutta are awesomely great---You could park at the "safe" area at Thunder Rock campground on Ocoee River and take the BMT south to Big Frog Mt and do loops from there---like Wolf Ridge to Pace Gap and up Big Creek to Grassy Gap trail and over to Low Gap for a night---etc. Pull all your trip in Big Frog---including Licklog Ridge etc.

    And Cohutta has some great loops---park at Beech Bottom trailhead and go to Jacks River and visit the falls and then cross one Jacks crossing to Rough Ridge trail and head south to East Cowpen and go north to Panther Creek and down to Conasauga and cross Connie once to Hickory Creek up to Rice Camp and down to Jacks for one crossing back to the Falls and up to Beech Bottom.

    Citico/Slickrock has sorts of loops---and more difficult than the Frog/Cohut area. One is park at Citico's South Fork 105 trailhead and head up the South Fork trail to Cold Spring Gap (9 miles) and take Trail 149 up to Cherry Log Gap and head north towards Farr Gap and take Big Stack Gap trail down to Slickrock Creek and go up the Nutbuster trail to Naked Ground Gap and swing over to the Hangover and then pass over Bob Bald and take 54A (North) to Cherry Log Gap and head down North Fork trail and out etc.

    Or just get some good maps and figure it out. I won't even touch my old stomping grounds in Pisgah/Wilson Creek area---which is full of awesome trails like Upper Creek/Steels Creek/Harper/North Harper/Lost Cove Creek etc.

  6. #6

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    One time I was backpacking up Crowder Branch on the Citico side and ran into 17 or 18 Mormon backpackers pulling an intricate loop---


    Their route? Beech Gap to Bob/Hangover Mt down to Slickrock Creek/Wildcat Falls and up Big Stack to Crowders (this picture) and south on Fodderstack Ridge to Beech Gap.


    Filling up their water bottles at Crowder Spring. Obviously this group is too big and outside wilderness limits.

  7. #7

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    nm, noone I recommend the place to ever goes there, either!
    Last edited by OwenM; 11-20-2019 at 15:13.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by glenlawson View Post
    Here's a figure 8 loop that I think is about 26 miles:
    Out of Vogel State Park, take the Coosa Backcountry trail, it is a loop and take the counter-clockwise side. It joins the Duncan Ridge trail about 2/3 around the loop.
    Take the Duncan Ridge to the AT just south of Springer (Slaughter Gap). Continue south to Jarrard Gap. Take the Jarrard Gap trail north to Lake Windfield Scott. Then go up the Slaughter Creek trail, (it parallels the Slaughter Creek road) to Slaughter Gap. Then back north on the Duncan Ridge Trail until the Coosa Backcountry Trail/Bear Hair Gap trail turn off. Then Coosa Backcountry trail back to Vogel.

    You could add the Freeman trail and loop around Springer if you need an extra 4 miles or so.
    I'm pretty sure you mean Blood Mountain instead of Springer...

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    Walter, regarding Nutbuster: is that the one that used to (and perhaps still does) have the line from Dante (Abandon All Hope...) carved on the trail sign? Thanks.

  10. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by Paleolith54 View Post
    Walter, regarding Nutbuster: is that the one that used to (and perhaps still does) have the line from Dante (Abandon All Hope...) carved on the trail sign? Thanks.
    The Upper Slickrock #42 trail aka Nutbuster used to have this sign---

    Trip 73 020-L.jpg
    But someone ripped it off.

    50-10-L.jpg
    It also had this "Ballbuster" craved into a tree---until someone came out and hacked it off with a hatchet.

    The sign you're probably thinking of is the very steep (not as bad as the Nutbuster) trail called Hangover Lead North---running from Yellowhammer Gap to Big Fat Gap. "DO NOT TRY" and YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!!" the pertinent messages.


  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tipi Walter View Post
    The Upper Slickrock #42 trail aka Nutbuster used to have this sign---

    Trip 73 020-L.jpg
    But someone ripped it off.

    50-10-L.jpg
    It also had this "Ballbuster" craved into a tree---until someone came out and hacked it off with a hatchet.

    The sign you're probably thinking of is the very steep (not as bad as the Nutbuster) trail called Hangover Lead North---running from Yellowhammer Gap to Big Fat Gap. "DO NOT TRY" and YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!!" the pertinent messages.

    Thanks. It's been a LONG time. Yeah, the last pic looks like the most likely one. I went downhill on it to Slickrock Creek, and all I remember is a long struggle with gravity.

  12. #12
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    Near Charlotte is the Kings Mt. State Park/National Park perimeter trail combined with the Crowder's Mt. trail is a great lollipop hike mid-30's mileage. It is always a little warmer there than in the mountains and it is something a little bit different.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by glenlawson View Post
    Here's a figure 8 loop that I think is about 26 miles:
    Out of Vogel State Park, take the Coosa Backcountry trail, it is a loop and take the counter-clockwise side. It joins the Duncan Ridge trail about 2/3 around the loop.
    Take the Duncan Ridge to the AT just south of Springer (Slaughter Gap). Continue south to Jarrard Gap. Take the Jarrard Gap trail north to Lake Windfield Scott. Then go up the Slaughter Creek trail, (it parallels the Slaughter Creek road) to Slaughter Gap. Then back north on the Duncan Ridge Trail until the Coosa Backcountry Trail/Bear Hair Gap trail turn off. Then Coosa Backcountry trail back to Vogel.

    You could add the Freeman trail and loop around Springer if you need an extra 4 miles or so.
    This sounds intriguing. I never noticed that figure 8 possibility. Are there campsites large enough for 3 - 4 tents along the Duncan Ridge, Jarrard, and Slaughter trails? Also, other than Blood Mtn, are there other note-worthy views? It's all nice to me, but the young ones like a "payoff" after long climbs...

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tipi Walter View Post
    I highlighted my neck of the woods---Cohutta, Big Frog, Citico, Slickrock/Kilmer, Pisgah.

    First, let's start with Big Frog/Cohutta---which I can't believe you haven't already done since it's so close to Chattanooga.

    Loop opportunities in Big Frog/Cohutta are awesomely great---You could park at the "safe" area at Thunder Rock campground on Ocoee River and take the BMT south to Big Frog Mt and do loops from there---like Wolf Ridge to Pace Gap and up Big Creek to Grassy Gap trail and over to Low Gap for a night---etc. Pull all your trip in Big Frog---including Licklog Ridge etc.

    And Cohutta has some great loops---park at Beech Bottom trailhead and go to Jacks River and visit the falls and then cross one Jacks crossing to Rough Ridge trail and head south to East Cowpen and go north to Panther Creek and down to Conasauga and cross Connie once to Hickory Creek up to Rice Camp and down to Jacks for one crossing back to the Falls and up to Beech Bottom.

    Citico/Slickrock has sorts of loops---and more difficult than the Frog/Cohut area. One is park at Citico's South Fork 105 trailhead and head up the South Fork trail to Cold Spring Gap (9 miles) and take Trail 149 up to Cherry Log Gap and head north towards Farr Gap and take Big Stack Gap trail down to Slickrock Creek and go up the Nutbuster trail to Naked Ground Gap and swing over to the Hangover and then pass over Bob Bald and take 54A (North) to Cherry Log Gap and head down North Fork trail and out etc.

    Or just get some good maps and figure it out. I won't even touch my old stomping grounds in Pisgah/Wilson Creek area---which is full of awesome trails like Upper Creek/Steels Creek/Harper/North Harper/Lost Cove Creek etc.
    Tipi,

    Thanks for the suggestions. I've been to Cohutta a lot both solo and with groups, but I always venture near Jacks or Conasauga areas, so lots of waist deep rivers crossings in February might be a bit much for the young folk (they're softer than they like to admit...). I admit I've never played around much in Big Frog, so I'm checking my maps to see about campsites, daily mileage, water, etc... That might be a great, close option.

    I'm also leaning toward Citico. Last summer I did the loop that was published in Backpacker Magazine. I was hilariously under-prepared for it after getting spoiled on the AT and falling for the magazine's smooth rhetoric. Briars, bees, nettle, blowdowns every 5 minutes. I loved it! I think going back in winter would be nice since long pants are almost required but insufferable in July. We would also plan short miles to account for navigation (we got lost at that tricky switchback near hangover...) and blowdowns.

  15. #15

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    Quote Originally Posted by madfarmer View Post
    Tipi,

    I'm also leaning toward Citico. Last summer I did the loop that was published in Backpacker Magazine. I was hilariously under-prepared for it after getting spoiled on the AT and falling for the magazine's smooth rhetoric. Briars, bees, nettle, blowdowns every 5 minutes. I loved it! I think going back in winter would be nice since long pants are almost required but insufferable in July. We would also plan short miles to account for navigation (we got lost at that tricky switchback near hangover...) and blowdowns.
    Do you have an online trip report or pics of your Citico trip? I'd like to see it.

    It sounds like you got lost on the switchback going up to Hangover Mt on the Hangover Lead South trail from Big Fat Gap to the Hangover (now it's part of the BMT). What's weird is the very first time I went up this trail I too got lost---and turned right at the Tee instead of left etc. But I ended up at this pretty rock so it wasn't a waste of time---

    This pic shows an overlook just below Hangover Mt (and on the "lost" section of the Hangover Lead South trail)--- and looking down into Slickrock Creek valley with Fodderstack Ridge on the left---running from Cherry Log Gap on left to Rockstack Mt and Big Fodderstack Mt as the high teat in the middle of the picture. The ridge continues to the right (north) to Little Fodderstacks and Farr Gap etc.


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    It sounds like you got lost on the switchback going up to Hangover Mt on the Hangover Lead South trail from Big Fat Gap to the Hangover (now it's part of the BMT). What's weird is the very first time I went up this trail I too got lost---and turned right at the Tee instead of left etc.




    i think pretty much everyone gets lost right at that point.........

  17. #17

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    And oh wait---there's another tricky switchback below Hangover Mt too---and it's right below Saddle Tree Gap/Hangover. The trail climbs gradually near the top and then doglegs sharply to the left at a big rock. I know this SB well because on one trip I was coming up from Big Fat Gap in deep snow (2 feet near the top) and dangit lost the trail in this switchback section---so I just bushwacked up the mountain to the top of the ridge and directly reached the Hangover this way. It was a HELL SLOG. Only had the energy and time to take one picture during the terrible trek---me atop Haoe Peak at 5,240 feet.

    It took me 3 hours to go from the Hangover to Naked Ground Gap---about 1.5 miles. In 3 feet of ridgetop snow. TIP: Never wear shorts when postholing up a mountain---ice crystals will abrade the legs and you'll end up with road-rash like wounds.

    TRIP 107 110-L.jpg

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by TNhiker View Post
    i think pretty much everyone gets lost right at that point.........
    Yep, there was a sharp switchback to the right (we were descending from Saddle Tree toward Big Fat) at a rock, so we continued straight on the rock to that amazing view and then saw a false trail leading down into really thick Rhodo/laurel. Real pain in the ass. Had to backtrack and only then saw the switchback we missed.

    Hold up, though. I thought that view after the tricky switchback WAS the "HANGOVER" view? Is it not? I saw something about a spur trail from Saddle Tree that dead ends at a view, but we missed that completely (I don't recall seeing a short spur on my map). I just assumed the Hangover lead trail (#56) was the view.

    Does the Cherohala close in the winter like parts of the BRP? Wondering where to start/end in Feb...

    Tipi, I may have posted about it, but no trip report. I did this loop the last week of July. https://www.hikingproject.com/trail/...ilderness-loop
    Didn't see another person for 3 days. Thousands of bees up on the ridge having a feast on the neck-high purple flowers (joe pie weed?). Bear sighting at the campsite at the top of the Big Stack Gap trail (#139). Amazing campsite. From Fodderstack all the way back to the car on the "old bmt?" there was neck-high weeds, especially bad on the old roadbed sections, and tons of stinging nettle destroying my legs.

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    Does the Cherohala close in the winter like parts of the BRP? Wondering where to start/end in Feb..


    i dont think it officially closes as opposed to be more like---"the snow is so deep, that i cant get through without a 4X4".....


    i have been up there and driving through it with a sedan with 3-4 inches on ground.........

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    Hold up, though. I thought that view after the tricky switchback WAS the "HANGOVER" view? Is it not? I saw something about a spur trail from Saddle Tree that dead ends at a view, but we missed that completely (I don't recall seeing a short spur on my map). I just assumed the Hangover lead trail (#56) was the view.


    that spur trail from saddle tree gap that goes up to the rocks-----that's the hangover....

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