BACKPACKING THE BALD RIVER WILDERNESS
May 6-14 2009
DUSTY AND WILBURN: 5 WEEKS IN THE CITICO/SLICKROCK
WALKING IN A DELUGE
TWO SPEED AND AUBURN BREEZE ARRIVE
PRETTY PINE GAP CAMP: Welcome to a rainy day of outdoor exploration with a massive pack on a small back over two stout legs and a willing heart. Like on my previous trip, I parked at the fish hatchery and I'm climbing to the top of Sugar Mountain where I sit now resting on switchback #10 by the Little Conehead springhead to get two liters of cold fresh water for tonight's camp. The biting black flies are bad here so I'm gonna keep moving.
A TEN STAKE TENT
Just as I pulled into camp, the sky opened and I quickly set up the tent in a little windy col I call Pretty Pine Gap. The clouds mercifully held off until I got inside the nylon shelter and so here I sit in dry clothing and pretty much dry everything else, in a tent held down in the the wind by six perimeter stakes and four guyline stakes.
A FIERCE THUNDERSTORM
Day 2 is birthed in a fierce thunderstorm with buckets of rain and the loud cannon fire of thunder shots lighting up the night sky with savage reports and some hot white flashes. I don't want to be anywhere near Luttrell's Ridge or zinging bullets, but here I am on a mountain ridge above the raging waters of two swollen rivers, the Bald and the Tellico. The seemingly random zaps of Momma Nature's bolts light up my pissant world under green nylon, and there's really no place to hide this far into the game.
I'm on middle ground not too low and not too high, and what comes is a spring mountain thunderstorm, all flash and noise and wet. A certain faith must be retained otherwise I'd run off this mountain in a panicked fright. What comes in hard, fast, loud and crisp leaves also fast but quietly. But here it comes again, another round of thunder overhead and this velcro ripping horizontal rain tearing into the sides of my guyed out tent.
I packed and pulled the last hill up to the Sugar Mt Lead Cut, an old road now gated and turned into a foot trail(see above fotog). I turned right onto it and after two miles mostly downhill I sit resting and waiting to reach the gate and the end of it to junction with the Holly Flats road, where I'll take another break to don my radio headphones for the long section of the gravel road walk to the back entrance of the Bald River wilderness.
After pulling the old logging cut road, I turn onto Bald River Road and pass by this pretty falls on Henderson Creek.
LUNCH BREAK AT THE SKY RANCH HORSE CAMPS
I'm really taking a "Sgt Rock" style break by pulling out my food bags, stove, pot, spoon, and fuel to cook up a midday meal of a Tasty Bite pouch with fresh broccoli, goat cheese and brown rice. The Sky Ranch area is located at a car camp next to the Brookshire Creek trailhead and has enough shade and grass to make it a suitable place to relax before I finish the last 1.5 mile of road walking to the wilderness entrance.
As I sit eating lunch, a swarm of butterflies come to keep me company.
Here's a blowdown on the roadwalk between the Brookshire Creek trailhead and Holly Flats campground. Oops.
Holly Flats campground is entered over this pretty bridge, while Bald River flows beneath. I pass it on my way to the back entrance to the Bald River wilderness.
On Day 3 of the trip I am passing thru Bald River wilderness and get caught in a heavy downpour and deluge, the heaviest in a long while, so my pack gets wet even with the pack cover over it. I take refuge in the cave at Black Cave Camp, and all around me the river is raging. From the journal:
DAY BECOMES NIGHT
As I was packing up early in the morning, thunder exploded with white lightning and the day grew dark. I hurried to pack and got on the trail clothed in shorts, t-shirt and rain jacket. Past Papaw Cove Creek I ran into a camper in a tarp packing up and we talked for a minute as the day darkened ominously. Then the rain hit me hard and the sky blackened so bad I thought I might need my Petzl headlamp. I got walloped by bucketfuls of rain and drenched from head to toe, despite the fancy rain jacket, and reached Black Cave in the worst of it.
Shunka and I sat in dry comfort and watched the world around us turn to liquid feces before our very eyes. The backpacker passed by on his emergency exit and we waved and then it let up, so I pulled out the tent, poles and stakes and went to my favorite high spot in the pine needles to set up camp. I'm back in the cave and about ready to transport the rest of my gear over to camp. If Two Speed and Auburn Breeze makes it later today, they are two stout dedicated backpacking souls and will be included in my wilderness hall of glory.
I got back to my tent with my pack and found the bottom sleeping bag compartment full of water though the bag was dry in its stuff sac. So much for the Outdoor Research pack cover or a waterproof Mystery Ranch pack. You'd think after 100 years of pack technology we'd come up with a fully waterproof backpack. Cars drive thru rain at high speeds without leaking, silnylon tents like the Hillebergs don't leak no matter how hard it rains, so why can't a company like Mystery Ranch make a totally waterproof backpack? Too many seams? Crappy leaky materials?
Here is my wet tent set up in the Black Cave Camps along the mighty Bald River.
A TYPICAL SCENE: And this one shows the Staika tent with the Thermarest pad and the Marmot bag. Let's stay dry and relax.
THE RAGING WATERS ALL AROUND ME: There's nothing better than to be camping right next to a loud series of waterfalls, and here is some rock cascades on the mighty Bald.
UNCLE FUNGUS WATCHES THE SKY CHANGE: And yes, the rain stopped and the forest is happy, and so am I.
On Day 3 I leave the Black Cave Camps and take a dayhike downstream to the big falls and wait for a couple backpacking friends to come in and join me. Here is the top lip of Bald River Falls.
THE TWO SPEED CONNECTION
Last week a Whiteblazer named Two Speed messaged me about meeting up somewhere in my neck of the woods and backpacking for a few days with me. I recommended Bald River wilderness as an easy destination for hiking and so to tie in with him by Friday I went to the top of Sugar Mt and went thru the wilderness back door by way of the Brookshire/Holly Flats route.
THE ARRIVAL OF AUBURN BREEZE AND TWO SPEED
I walk all the way out to the big falls and the wooden footbridge and in about 30 minutes two backpackers walk up on the trail across the bridge and they are Auburn Breeze and Two Speed. We exchange hellos and I take them back about a half mile to camp where we arrive in the dark and they set up by headlamp. Auburn Breeze has a nice Akto-like REI tent with one middle hoop and Two Speed has an Etowah silnylon 8x10 tarp he configues in an A-frame between two trees.
We sit and talk for two hours and at around 11pm we go to our separate tents. As soon as we arrived in camp, Two Speed went into his pack and pulled out a gift for me, the book SAILING ALONE AROUND THE WORLD by Joshua Slocum.
Here is Auburn Breeze setting up her tent as night falls in the Bald River wilderness.
On the morning of Day 4 I pass by Two Speed's tarp camp and say hello. We eventually pack up and stay to the Bald River trail upstream.
The day begins by backpacking! And so here is Auburn Breeze and Two Speed on the trail.
There's a cluster of blowdowns on the trail and here we negotiate thru it.
Midway thru our hiking day, the sky opens up again and pounds us so bad that Two Speed has to pull out his tarp and string it out for temporary shelter from the deluge. Here is Auburn Breeze relaxing and waiting for the rain to stop.
Shunka stays partway in and partway out as we all wait for the rain to stop.
A friendly newt comes in for a visit.
After the rain stops, we pack up the tarp and take off upstream and reach the Cascade Winter Camp where we run into these two backpackers pulling a 30 day trip into the wilderness areas of the Cherokee National Forest. Journal:
DUSTY AND WILBURN: 30 DAYS OUT
Not long after stopping on Day 2, a curly headed youth with a hiking stick walked up to me and told me his name, Dusty Davis, and said he and his backpacking buddy Wilburn have been out for 30 straight days and I really blew a gasket. They started around April 9 at the Calderwood Lake in Tapoco NC and came in over Ike Branch/BMT and camped near Slisgah Camp for their first night, then they crossed a high and swollen Slickrock and went up the Stiffknee trail to Farr Gap and camped at Crowders on the Fodderstack.
Then they went down Pine Ridge trail and did the North Fork/South Fork loop and points everywhere else, eventually tying into the Snowbird backcountry, Whiggs Meadow, Waucheesi Mt and now here in the Bald River area for several days. After I left Dusty at the Cascades, I pulled into his camp where Wilburn sat in a hammock(at the Cascade Winter Camp), and I checked out their semi-permanent tarp camp. I depacked again and we talked extensively of area trails and then Dusty returned with three other backpackers in tow for the weekend. Their five week trip will end by May 16, just about the time I end this short 9 day trip.
HOW DID THEY DO IT?
They resupplied occasionally with their old pickup truck and cached their food in the truck for loop and swing arounds. As the three guys and two girls unpacked and said hello, I thought of the big Pisgah gatherings Johnny B and I had in the summers along Upper Creek, so I wanted to stay in their camp and horn in on the conversation but I knew better and reluctantly saddled up and took the last mile of a 9 mile day to my present site at Big Pine Camp.
We leave Hiipie Camp and I want to show Two Speed And Auburn Breeze the high cascades and here it is. We turn around and head back downstream and set up camp past the "hippies" at a place I call the Hill Camps.
As night falls we are sequestered comfortably at the Hill Camps and I'm anticipating the start of Day 5.
On the morning of Day 5 I hang out with the crew and we pose for a fotog next to Bald River and in the Hill Camps.
Auburn Breeze and Two Speed are finished with their trip and they pack up and we say our goodbyes. They head downstream to the Falls and the exit, while I head upstream and into the Upper Bald River area.
After I leave Two Speed, I pull a long backpacking day thru the wilderness and into the Upper Bald area and go all the way to Sled Runner Gap where I set up the tent near the gap at Iron Ring Camp on the upper Brookshire Creek trail.
A HAPPY FUNGUS: Yes, it's always fun to start the day again with a full load on my back, and here I am climbing to Sled Runner Gap and beginning a full day of backpacking on the BMT along State Line Ridge.
If you follow the BMT along State Line Ridge, you will reach Moss Gap and near it is this fine campsite in the soft weeds. It's another favorite spot of mine.
After leaving Moss Gap I reached Sandy Gap and fell all the way down Kirkland Creek trail to end up having to ford Bald River again near the Holly Flats campground. Here is the crossing.
I cross Bald River and get back into the wilderness where I set up camp midway at a place I call Big Pine Camp. Bald River is behind the tent.
The next day I leave the wilderness and pass Holly Flats and get on the Brookshire Creek trail where I throw off the pack at its trailhead.
Since I have to go over Sugar Mountain again, I hike the Brookshire trail and cross Brookshire Creek to reach a nearby tentsite I call Tony Camp, shown to me by a fellow backpacker named, uh, Tony.
On Day 9 and the last day of my trip, I climb over Sugar Mountain and descend to Tellico River by the fish hatchery. Here I am on some part of that section.
THE TRIP ENDS: And it ends at the Fish Hatchery picnic area called Pheasant Fields, a good name. So ends another trip.