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  1. #1

    Default 18 Day Journey to Black Cave

    On this backpacking trip I decide to spend all of my time in two distinct areas of Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee---the Brushy Ridge backcountry and the Bald River/Upper Bald River wilderness.

    What's most amazing about this trip is I didn't see a single fellow backpacker in 18 days.

    All trip pics can be seen here---

    https://tipiwalter.smugmug.com/Backp...to-Black-Cave/

    18 DAY
    JOURNEY
    TO
    BLACK CAVE
    Trip 201
    November 24-December 11, 2019

    HIGHLIGHTS
    ** 31 CREEK CROSSINGS
    ** NO BACKPACKER SEEN IN 18 DAYS
    ** BIG LIGHTNING AND THUNDER AND RAINSTORM ON BROOKSHIRE CREEK DAY 7
    ** SNOWSTORM IN SLED RUNNER GAP ON DAYS 9 AND 10
    ** THE COLD FEET OF KIRKLAND CREEK DAY 12
    ** THE HELL SLOG UP SKULL MT AKA HENDERSON TOP ON DAY 14
    ** 12 MILE DAY ON DAY 15
    ** 4 DAYS IN BLACK CAVE CAMP
    ** HITCHING FROM BALD RIVER FALLS TO TELLICO BEACH DRIVE IN AND OUT

    TRAILS (** denotes overnight camps)
    Entrance at Top Trailhead to Flats Mt
    Flats Mt Trail 1.5 Miles Up
    **Camp Hope**
    Flats Mt Backtrack to Skyway
    Skyway Roadwalk to Long Branch
    Long Branch Trail Down
    **Turkey Feather Camp**
    Long Branch Down
    North River Roadwalk Up River
    Hemlock Creek Trail Up 4 Crossings
    **Lost Valley aka Hemlock Creek Camp**
    Hemlock Creek Backtrack to North River Road
    North River Roadwalk Down River
    Hitchhike Down Tellico River Road to Cow Camp Trailhead
    Cow Camp Trail Up and Down
    Bald River Trail
    **Rock Ledge Camp**
    Bald River Trail Heading South
    **Cascade Winter Camp**
    Bald River Trail Out to Bald River Road
    Bald River Roadwalk to Brookshire Trailhead
    Brookshire Creek Trail Up to BMT Junction and Beyond
    **Fern Camp(2)**
    Brookshire Creek Trail Up
    **Little Sled aka Iron Ring Camp(2)**
    Brookshire Up to Sled Runner Gap
    State Line Ridge aka BMT Heading West
    **Round Top Mt**
    State Line Ridge to Sandy Gap
    Kirkland Creek Trail Down
    **False Sandy Gap**
    Kirkland Creek Trail Down 11 Crossings to Bald River
    Bald River Roadwalk Heading West
    Bald River Trail #88 Heading North
    **Big Pine Camp(2)**
    Bald River Trail North
    Cow Camp Up
    Henderson Top Trail to Logging Cut 40832
    40832 aka Maple Camp Lead Road
    **Panther Camp**
    40832 Hike to Sugar Maple Gap
    Bald River Roadwalk West to Bald River Trailhead
    Bald River Trail Heading North
    **Black Cave Camp(3)**
    Bald River Trail North and Out
    Tellico River Roadwalk and Hitchhike to Tellico Beach Drive In and OUT.


    Here's a map of my trip with the route marked in red. Double and triple lines indicate repeat hiking on the same trails. My trip started up north near Lake View on the map---and descended into the Brushy Ridge area with the 6 trails running West to East. Long Branch is #103 etc.


    The trip starts with a shuttle ride and drop off at the top Flats Mt trailhead at 4,000 feet and around 34F. On the map this spot is near Eagle Gap. Pack of choice is a McHale load hauler with about 90 lbs of crap.


    After my first night atop Flats Mt on Day 2 I backtrack off the mountain and roadwalk the Cherohala Skyway down to Long Branch trail and set up here at a place I call Turkey Feather Camp---because it has water. This trail is not maintained so I have to do alot of trailwork to get thru.


    After I punch out Long Branch trail I hike up North River to another Brushy Ridge trail and it's called Hemlock Creek---so I climb up past 4 creek crossings to my CS. This is crossing #1. And of course they all must be down in bare feet and crocs.


    After a 4.5 mile day of backpackaging I reach Hemlock Creek Crossing 4 Camp and it's a fave. Tent of choice? Hilleberg Keron 3---a perfect solo tent at 8 lbs 10 ozs.


    I leave Hemlock Creek on a backtrack and follow North River down to where it junctions Tellico River and hitchhike Tellico River road to Cow Camp trail and take it up and over a ridge down to Bald River in the BR wilderness. I set up camp next to this river scene. And it's cold in the high humidity cold tunnel of river air.


    Hanging out along Bald River and wearing my all important down parka for in-camp warmth. It's a Feathered Friends Icefall parka with 15.3 ozs of goose down.

  2. #2

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    I head south on the Bald River trail and pass the Cascades waterfall which is a major landmark in the wilderness. Once past it I enter the Upper Bald wilderness---the two wilderness areas divided by Holly Flats campground and Bald River gravel road.


    After a short 1.5 mile roadwalk I cross Henderson Creek and start up the Brookshire Creek trail #180 and find this new sign.


    About a half mile up Brookshire trail I reach a major ford across Upper Bald River and so out comes the crocs and off come the boots. It's an easy ford.


    I got some new boots for this trip---Zamberlan Trail Lite Evo GTX and there are great---and light too.



    About 2.5 miles up Brookshire trail I stop and camp and get caught in a Hellstorm with 7 inches of rain in 12 hours and tremendous lightning bolts which should've killed me but I survived. This would be November 30, 2019. After the huge storm I continue up Brookshire Creek trail (which is now the Benton MacKaye trail) and reach this swollen ford---so out comes the crocs. One of 31 total creek crossings.


    Near the end of Brookshire Creek trail I find a squat station and set up next to a usually tiny spring feeder creek which is now swollen with rain water. This camp is right below Sled Runner Gap so I call it Little Sled Camp.


    On the night of Day 8 and into Day 9---December 2---I get a wonderful little blizzard and decide to pull a zero hunker day here to enjoy the cold and snow. This camp is just below 4,000 feet.

  3. #3

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    During my Day 9 zero I do ranging dayhikes up to Sled Runner Gap and check out the scene. Fully decked out in OR rainpants and Mt Hardwear Nilas down mittens etc.


    On Day 10 I leave Brookshire Creek and reach State Line Ridge and the highest point here on Rocky Top Mt at 4,000 feet. I'm on the BMT but of course I see no one hiking it. I call this day my Revenant Moment---trudging with a heavy pack up and down some serious hills thru the cold and snow with a head full of greasy hair---and totally alone. Hain't washed my hair or nothing else in 10 days. But my Arcteryx rain jacket saves my butt and keeps the warmth inside around my core.


    I stay in the snow on State Line Ridge and camp on Round Top Mt and on Day 11 descend to Sandy Gap and get off the ridge and the BMT by taking Kirkland Creek down to Bald River and freeze my bare feet off BAD---cuz Kirk has 11 major crossings and they all have to be done in crocs.


    I reach the bottom of Kirkland Creek trail and have crossing #11 to pull---across the mighty Bald River. It's mid thigh deep but I get across with frozen feet and quickly dry them off and put on my wonderful smartwool socks and Zamberlan boots.


    Once across Bald River I re-enter Bald River wilderness and set up in Big Pine Camp for a breather before tackling the hellish Henderson Top trail aka Skull Mountain.


    On Day 14 I take the Bald River trail north to Cow Camp and up to Henderson Top trail and notice all sorts of new ribbons. Probably getting ready to log out my mountains. Henderson Top trail is a series of nut climbs and one in particular is VERY STEEP and as steep as any trail I've ever backpacked.


    After I finish Skull Mt I get on Maple Camp Lead trail 40832 and in about 3 miles reach Bald River road which swings me back down to Bald River wilderness and I have to pass the Cascades waterfall to continue north on the Bald River trail. This is my longest day at 12 miles.

  4. #4

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    As I head north thru Bald River wilderness I finally reach THE BLACK CAVE and so I set up camp and get ready for a couple cold nights with sleet and rain.


    As I squat in the Black Cave Camps I do ranging dayhikes in the gorge of the wilderness and get to check out the big rocks and the big waterfalls.


    Here's the switchbacked trail in the Bald River gorge area.


    On the night of Day 17 I get a little sleet storm but it amounts to nothing except cold night air and a frozen tent.


    I end the trip by exiting Bald River wilderness and checking out the Falls. Afterwhich I hike about 2 miles while hitchhiking and get a ride the next 15 miles for my exit point at Tellico Beach Drive In---hamburger stand. So ends another great trip.

  5. #5
    Registered User ldsailor's Avatar
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    Cool. Love the pictures. That's a lot of snow you got.
    Trail Name - Slapshot
    "One step at a time."
    Blog - www.tonysadventure.com

  6. #6
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    Nice tipi, some beautiful water falls. I have to get me a good pair of winter boots like them. Love that tent maybe one day. As always great picture's and trip reports. Thanks for sharing.

  7. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by ldsailor View Post
    Cool. Love the pictures. That's a lot of snow you got.
    Not a bad snow event for December in the Southern Apps.

    Quote Originally Posted by JNI64 View Post
    Nice tipi, some beautiful water falls. I have to get me a good pair of winter boots like them. Love that tent maybe one day. As always great picture's and trip reports. Thanks for sharing.
    You should check out the Zamberlan Evos and they are very light for a full leather boot. Sadly they don't come in size Wide but leather stretches over time and they work for me.

  8. #8
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    I have to say and I don't care what you or anybody says, that's hardcore,badarse trips you're pulling at your age. I can only hope I'm in that good of shape at, 70 I think you said? You truly are a inspiration for us aging hikers. Hats off and respect brother.

  9. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by JNI64 View Post
    I have to say and I don't care what you or anybody says, that's hardcore,badarse trips you're pulling at your age. I can only hope I'm in that good of shape at, 70 I think you said? You truly are a inspiration for us aging hikers. Hats off and respect brother.
    Much thanks for the positive input. Backpacking has always been used as a Health Barometer to measure my current physical fitness. Most especially so in my "twilight" years. Simply put, if I don't go out backpacking on a frequent basis and instead just stay home and Vegetate I feel like I'll be dead in about a month. Weird metrics.

    But cold affects me much more now than in my youth. Something to do with internal heat generation and/or metabolism. I just don't generate core heat when in a sitting state like I used to---SO---I have to carry more geese items and beefier jackets---and even a half dozen Hot Hands packets for those very cold mornings. I NEVER used to carry Hot Hands until last year---in fact I cursed them because they always seemed to be discarded as litter by other hikers.

  10. #10
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    Yeah I hear ya, my job is not very physically challenging for the most part so I go to the gym 3,5 days a week and I work alot of weekends for the moment. A body in motion......... I remember one of dixies videos she said " when you're born there is a grim reaper asign to you chasing you down, she said I'm gonna make mine work for me chasing me 1,000s of miles " .

  11. #11
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    What a report and fantastic photos. Thanks for taking the time to share.

  12. #12
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    Thanks for sharing your trip with us. Great pictures.

  13. #13

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    I always enjoy looking at your pictures Tipi.

  14. #14
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    Ditto here. Enjoying your adventures vicariously. Mine are too mild and ordinary for the reverse to hold, but still, I have a measure of hiker hunger and soreness today, so that's good.

  15. #15

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    Quote Originally Posted by jgillam View Post
    What a report and fantastic photos. Thanks for taking the time to share.
    Thanks for the comment.

    Quote Originally Posted by SkeeterPee View Post
    Thanks for sharing your trip with us. Great pictures.
    Quote Originally Posted by Cedar Tree View Post
    I always enjoy looking at your pictures Tipi.
    Taking pics and keeping a trail journal is half of the fun of going out.

    Quote Originally Posted by Time Zone View Post
    Ditto here. Enjoying your adventures vicariously. Mine are too mild and ordinary for the reverse to hold, but still, I have a measure of hiker hunger and soreness today, so that's good.
    Soreness is a neato part of backpacking---most especially when getting to stretch out flat at the end of the day.

  16. #16
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    Love your trip reports, Walter.
    Very inspiring!

  17. #17
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    Another great trip report ! Appreciate the pics and clothing/gear/footwear recommendations. When u have a chance, would love to see your latest clothing listing, you posted it a while back here, curious what you're using now.

    Defcon 1
    Defcon 2
    Defcon 3

    TIA and happy trails!

  18. #18
    illabelle's Avatar
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    I'm curious about you're carrying for your dayhikes. If the bulk of your 90 lbs of food and gear is at your base camp, are you concerned about getting lost/injured or otherwise separated from your gear?

  19. #19

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tipi Walter View Post
    But cold affects me much more now than in my youth. Something to do with internal heat generation and/or metabolism. I just don't generate core heat when in a sitting state like I used to---SO---I have to carry more geese items and beefier jackets---and even a half dozen Hot Hands packets for those very cold mornings.
    Maybe you should get some pants!
    I've been curious for awhile now about whether anyone else runs warmer as they age, but it doesn't seem to be the case. 'Course I'm not 50 yet, but keep running, particularly sleeping, hotter and hotter over the last several years, even noticeably more so in the past few months.
    That's saying a lot, considering I was much warmer than average to begin with. People would probably have a hard time believing how little insulation I need for a given temp, it's such a huge difference from "normal".
    But I see you guys that wear shorts in cold weather, some even wearing a puffy while hiking in shorts, and don't see how you do it. They don't have to be thick pants, but even when just wearing a t-shirt up top at 40F...I gotta have pants!

    18 days of total solitude is just plain awesome.

  20. #20

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    Wish more people would post things like this. Instead of bellyaching about everything.

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