Monday, January 18, 2010

Collins Gulf-Unplanned Group Hike

Collins Gulf Rim Trail to Stage Road Campground 7.4 Miles
Stage Road Campground down Stage Road to exit 7 Miles
Total 14.4 Miles

This is the story of curly locks and the three bears. Millette has made many trips to the Smokey Mountains and has yet to see a bear. As another attempt to see a bear in the wild, she took Marco, Lora, and I out to Collins Gulf where there are suppose to be three bears living in the area.

We met after shift and head out. We met Lora at the Savage Gulf visitor center to sign in, then we headed to the Collins Gulf trail head. We got on the trail around 9:30am. We hiked to the split and then we headed East across the swinging bridge and up to the rim trail.

I had practiced my bear call with a couple of whistles and then "Here Bear, Here Bear". I tried it numerous times while we were hiking with no luck. I think that the bears got tired trying to keep up with Millette as she smoked down the trail. She even tried to starve me to death, until I finally caught up to her and begged for a lunch break.

Anyway, it was a beautiful day for hiking and once you get across the bridge and up on the rim it is easy hiking.

We hiked into the Stage Road campground and made up camp. We got a pile of wood collected for the night and then set in to burning it. Some stories were told as cough medicine was taken. We were talking about the bears when I heard something coming up behind me. I turned around to see Ranger Litefoot walking up. He didn't say anything until he saw me looking at him. He had walked up with his light off and not letting us know he was coming. Good thing we don't get excited! As always in the Salvage Gulf, the rangers were extremely friendly and we had a good visit.

We just happened to carry in three stuffed bears for Millette and waited patiently for her to take a potty break from camp so we could plant them in her tent. She got a bit of a surprise when she went to bed.

The next morning we got up and Millette fed her new friends and attached them to her pack for a nice hike. We hiked down Stage Road and took a break at Saw Mill campsite. The trail through the Gulf was very pretty and a nice hiking trail. As you get toward the falls the trail gets more difficult with a lot of uphill. There are bluffs and water crossings before you get to the falls.

The ice formations get better as we reached Horsepound Falls. When we got to Suter Falls we were almost overwhelmed by the sight of the frozen falls and all the ice. It was a bit challenging to get to the trail here let alone make it along the trail covered with ice and having to go around large icicles.

We never did get to look at any real bears, but I think that Millette was happy to see the ones she did.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Sheltowee Trace Part III

Day One.......4.3 Miles......Easy.........................Outcast Total:792 Miles
Day Two......11.1 Miles......Difficult
Day Three.....8.4 Miles......Difficult
Day Four.....8.15 Miles......Difficult
Day Five.....1.75 Miles......Easy
Total........33.7 Miles

Crazy, Insane, Lost your mine, what the h___? Just a few of the things we heard as we carried our packs out through the snow to the truck. Yes, there were two inches of snow on the ground in Kentucky and another inch falling while we drove to the trail head. Troy, Greg, Marco, and I headed out. Shadow was left behind because of the snow, which would mean wet dog for five days. She made her point as she tore something up every day that Troy was gone. Shoes, trash, another shoe, something every day.

Well on the way to Kentucky I had to explain to the guys that they had nothing to worry about. Yes, we were driving through snow, but the further north we go the warmer it gets. I told them that we would be driving out of the snow. Well when we got to Corbin, the snow had stopped. We went to a Wendy's for lunch which was a mistake. The guys saw that Corbin had a Holiday Inn Express. So every time the trail got hard they reminded me that they had a blue card and platinum card and Corbin had a Holiday Inn Express. Yes, I heard that alot.

We drove up to Holly Grove Marina to start this hike. Randy, the manager, was planning on picking us up and bringing us back to the Marina on day five. There was plenty of snow when we got there and the lady at the office was very polite as she never called us nuts to our faces. We dropped off the truck keys, picked up our packs, and started hiking.

The scenery was beautiful with the fresh coat of snow on the ground. We made it North of Laurel Lake by Road 775 when we called it a night. The snow fell as we made camp and got a fire going. The trail up to this point had been gentle rolling hills and well marked. Make sure that you take a left and the North end of the lake and don't go over the earthen dam. It's not marked.

We got done with dinner and tried to stay warm by the fire. The guys made fun of me for sitting barefoot by the fire. They were still in the learning process of becoming Outcast tuff. Some lies were told and cough medicine was taken.

We were woke up at one point in the night by a couple of coyotes that were celebrating a kill. Everyone but Marco got to hear them. It brings one to immediate attention even from a dead sleep. During one of those many bathroom breaks in the middle of the night, I saw a million bright stars shining down on the new inch of snow that had fallen.

Greg had gotten up first and got the fire going. It was going to be another beautiful snow day to hike. We hiked into the Cane Creek Wildlife Management Area, which is a beautiful area to hike. One of the prettiest areas on this hike. It was especially cool to see all the snow on the evergreens. We got pictures of the frozen solid Van Hook water fall.

You really need the map when it comes to the road hiking sections of this trail. They are not marked very well at all. Especially when you get to a spilt in the road or have the option to go either way.

We met one of those "Road Hunters" while we walked down the road. He said that he was hunting coyotes. We figure that he was hunting anything that moved and that might also include hikers. After a short visit, we hiked down to the Big Dog Branch and camped at the campsite there. Another wonderful campsite along the creek with icicles hanging all along the other side.

We had a little trouble keeping the fire going as the wood was damp and the temperature was dropping fast. Marco impressed us again, by picking another dead branch for the bear bag. Yes, it broke again. Greg gave up and just hung his on the tree by the fire. I know it was a good five feet in the air. If a bear would have come into camp, it would have hit him on the head. His reply was that if the bear ate his food he would go to the Holiday Express.

We did some visiting and took a little cough medicine for health reasons. This was one of the 0 degree nights. When I woke up to my face hurting, I knew it was cold. I zipped up the old bag and went back to sleep. Sometime in the night, Troy heard a four legged visitor heading through camp.

We woke up to some very cold temperatures. It didn't take long to get the fire going, but it sure took a long time to get the guys away from the fire. We got a late start this morning. We started with a couple of good water crossings. One right at the camp. Luckily we didn't have to get wet. We did a little bridge building and rock placing to get us across. As soon as we crossed the first one and figured out which way to go at the split in the trail, we came to the second. This one was wider and deeper and frozen over. A little exploration and talent and we got across.

Just after the bridge on Sinking creek there is a campsite where we got a fire going for lunch. It was the longest lunch we had on this trip due to us freezing every time we stopped. The trail involved some road hiking and then headed down to Pine Creek where we had to break the ice and do some old fashion foot washing. While we were figuring out how we were going to cross, Marco changed into his crocks. I was so proud of his training. Couldn't hop this one. It did build some character. We made camp just on the other side.

We got flurries while we sat by the fire. This was one of those fires that put Marco on the second row. The tree we were sitting on had two branches. Every time the fire got up, Marco moved to the other branch because it got so hot. This was also the night that Greg made the mistake of hanging his hammock on the same tree as I did. Yes, he got to enjoy my snoring and breathing breaks. He didn't sleep all that well for some reason.

Today we had a lot of hills to climb. Just to add to the spirit, it snowed all day. We crossed the Poison Honey Fork and Hwy 80. We had a short but cold lunch on the other side down in a valley.

When we hiked down to Hawk Creek, we got to see some things! On one of the hills, we stopped for a break. Troy walked by us repeating over and over "My name is Troy, there is B shift tuff and then there is Outcast tuff!" He always comes up with something. The ice formations were wonderful as well as the frozen water fall. We also got to see the chimney rock formation.

Once you get past Hawk Creek you start doing some "road hiking". I use this term loosely cause it is mainly four wheeler trails across the top of the mountains. No sooner did we get on the road, I turn around and Marco has his pants off. I guess his zipper broke, but he wasn't scared of the cold!

There is no water there so make sure that you fill up before you leave the waters of Hawk Creek. We camped somewhere where the map shows a Laurel Branch off to the west. We never saw this branch but assume that it was down at the bottom.

Another very cold night around 0 degrees. The same guys that were making fun of me on day one about being barefoot around the campfire all had their shoes and socks off. I guess it's something that Outcasts do for comfort.

Marco entertained us with holding up his cup to wipe the snow off the bottom. When he did, he tipped it and spilled water right on top of his stove putting it out. That brought on some horse laughter. Then he tried to light it again. He ended up having to dump the water out first. We all stayed up late that night just having a good visit.

Over all our campfires claimed more equipment than ever. All of our clothing got burn holes in them. The prefilter of my water filter fell off into the fire. Greg melted the leg darn near off one pair of pants. A water bladder had a hole melted into it. My inflatable seat got two holes in it. And at the end three out of four pairs of shoes were shrunk. Guess who's wasn't......HEE HEE HEE! Oh yea, Marco caught Greg when he lost his balance and almost fell into the fire himself.

The next morning we hiked to I-75 and stopped at Spur Oil RV Park. They have a really good restaurant there where we could get some good old fashion burgers. It is a clean place that offers showers along with the fine cooking.

Arron from Holly Bay Marina picked us up there and took us to our truck. What a wonderful hike. At the end, I proved my point. The further we hiked North, the warmer it got!


Monday, January 4, 2010

Hobb's Cabin III, Savage Gulf

North Rim Trail to Hobb's Cabin...8.2 Miles....Easy........Outcast Total:758.3
North Plateau Trail to Office.....9.4 Miles....Easy
Total: 17.6 Miles

Troy, Shadow, Marco, and Craig were able to make this hike. Yes, they were calling for snow. Yes, they were calling for a 11 degree low and highs in mid twenties. WE AIN'T SCARED! We were trying to decide if we should bring both sleeping bags or just one.

After work we headed out to do some hiking. Originally we were suppose to hike Virgin Falls and Bridgestone/Firestone. The river is over four feet deep right now and flowing fast. So, this brings us to plan B. Where do you want to hike? Marco had never hiked to Hobb's cabin so here we go.

We got on the trail by 10am. We decided on the way in to hike the Rim Trail to Hobb's cabin and hike out on the Plateau trail. On the way in we met a couple of new hikers that were just getting into backpacking. We like to see more people get into backpacking. It's a great sport and there is so many places in Tennessee to see. We can take pictures, but you don't see the true beauty unless you are standing there.

Shadow was so excited on this hike she just kept running back and forth between us. I don't know if it was the cold weather or just her love for hiking. We did have to use gloves and some face protection from the temperature. The views were beautiful as always out here. The guys pushed me on past my lunch time til we made it to the next overlook. When I refused to leave the overlook until I ate, they gave in. Marco had brought some baked chicken for our lunch and dinner.

We past three hikers that had been at Hobb's cabin for the last two nights. They were heading out. They said that there was still some firewood left.

A few miles before we got to the cabin, we had another couple of guy's pass us heading to the same spot. We would meet them at the cabin.

We arrived at Hobb's cabin around 2:30pm. Our camping partners were there and already had smoke coming out the chimney. That's always a good sign. After introductions we started the collecting of wood. This area had been cleared out pretty well.

After we got a good stack of wood and collected some drinking water from the creek, the decision was made to have an outdoor fire as well. We needed to burn some of the longer wood in half so we could use it in the cabin. Also, the fire warmed the cabin up, but we needed something to warm ourselves up a little faster. This provided some entertainment as the wood, leaves, and twigs were all frozen and did not want to burn.

After the fire started, Marco and I set up our hammocks. Troy, Shadow, and the other guys were going to stay in the cabin. Marco and I are the stupid, I mean diehard backpackers. We came to camp!

First things first. Dinner! We got our dinners going and Marco boiled his water twice as he used his first cup to wash down the table top. Always cleaning! After dinner we gathered around the multiple fires and started taking cough medicine. The temperature dropped as we looked at the extremely clear sky filled with an amazing amount of stars. Lies were told and the fire building class was entertaining as ever. I have never seen a fire rearranged and rebuilt as many times as this. Sometimes you just have to stand around a say WOW! We had multiple fire designs with rolling logs and gear burns. Yes, I had plenty of laughs.

After the last killing of the outside fire, I went in to watch Troy working the inside fire. It was bed time and out to the hammock I went. I asked Marco if he was warm enough as I passed his and he said yes. He was snoring by the time I got in my bags.

We woke up to snow. What a beautiful morning. Marco had gotten up and got the fire going in the cabin. The water in the back of the cabin was frozen, but our bladders that we left by the mantle were not. We thawed our water and filter while making breakfast and packed up for another day of hiking. Our new friends never stirred so we left them with a warm fire.

The snow that was falling was so cold that when it landed on your clothes, you could see the individual design of each. It was beautiful. Our trip out was pretty much non eventful. We saw the rangers driving through the woods, but that was it for other people.