Tag Archives: hiking

Girls Gone Wild…SB2014

Multi day backpacking trip discussions for Spring Break began in February. Freezing temperatures, multiple cold, gray rainy days, snow and ice storms increased the longing for warmer days on the trail. My friend and outdoor junkie, Harriett of She Moves Jewelry,  came up with a plan to head to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and the Big Creek Loop via Mount Sterling. Despite a trail description that this was one of the more strenuous hikes in the park, it sounded good to me…

DAY ONE: Walking in a Winter Wonderland

Leaving early Sunday morning, while the rest of the world slept, we rolled on to our destination, happily chatting about life, gear, and past and future trips . As we neared the park,  the top of the mountains were dusted with snow. We wondered if we would see any… Checking our weather apps, snow had been forecasted the night before  but the next three days looked warm and sunny.  Perfect.

6.2 miles to go!So it began, once in the parking lot, we loaded, tweaked and adjusted our packs and crossed the bridge to begin our ascent 6.5 miles UP the Baxter Creek Trail toward Mt. Sterling and campsite 38. There are several routes that will take you to the summit of Mt. Sterling; however, the toughest route to the historic fire tower is the Baxter Creek Trail. In fact, the Baxter Creek Trail to Mt. Sterling is one of the toughest day hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains.  The trail climbs roughly 4200 feet in just 6.2 miles. Its important to emphasize our reasoning here. The STRATEGY (a word that should be removed from backpacking vocabulary)was to take on the toughest part of the trail FIRST and CLIMB UP to prevent the pounding our knees would take coming  DOWN such a steep descent.

Silly girls…..

The green mossy beauty so a part of the GSMNP greeted us almost immediately with an early crossing of Baxter Creek. Numerous wildflowers had already braved peeking out of the ground and the trillium were unfolding all around us. We climbed…rewarded early by a view of the layered mountains old as time and serenaded by birds calling back and forth.  Life is good.

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About a mile in we saw our first dusting of snow and wondered what would be ahead. We climbed…passing huge rock formations, just soaking in the morning and warming up our legs. More snow…truthfully, I was almost giddy, giggling and laughing at our good fortune to actually get to see snow on the mountain…

As we climbed higher, the temperature began to drop, the wind picked up and the amount of snow significantly increased, slowing our pace. Wet snow blowing and falling all around us glistening in the sunlight. Soooo pretty, deceptively beautiful. Did I mention we were CLIMBING? Downed trees and limbs to cross, along with a combination of frozen slush, deep pockets of snow and increasing incline started a number of thoughts running through my mind. Mileage was impossible to calculate but we had been on the trail around three hours when a trio of wild eyed, very wet, snow covered young people came around the bend with their gear haphazardly hanging off of their packs.DSC_0040

As we later reflected on this meeting, they most likely were in shock and possibly early stages of hypothermia (which can KILL you) . Asking about their night, they told us the winds had reached SEVENTY MILES PER HOUR and that there was TWENTY INCHES of snow on top of the mountain…. We wished them well and continued trudging UP the mountain toward the prize. The top of Mount Sterling. (small voice… “are you insane?!)

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Now we were stepping into the trios footprints, several inches deep into the snow piled high on the sides of the trail. Huge wet masses of snow falling off the trees in the wind began to soak us and our packs.  The trail narrowed by the drifts and nowhere to stop, we continued to plod along , alternately amazed by the beauty of the Christmas card scene surrounding us and seriously wondering how much more snow was on TOP of this mountain, how much longer I was going to be CLIMBING this mountain, how WET my feet were, how COLD my feet were, HOW MUCH snow there really was, how COLD would it get, WHY did I swap my beloved 0 degree Ethel for the 15 degree Lost Ranger because it was lighter and if I was going to DIE (okay, so I am dramatic but those were my thoughts)

Climbing around a fallen tree and sliding on my fanny, we spot an abandoned cotton sleeping bag. The kind that would not keep you warm in your friends basement. (NOTE: If you are going to backpack into the mountains, NEVER carry or wear COTTON. It is not your friend. It will kill you.) Tossed to the side of the trail, we figure the trio had dumped it. Following the drag marks in the snow up we continued into the snow bombs and wind. We will never truly know how far we went up the mountain. We have been hiking five and a half hours so our closest guess was five to five and half miles. All I know is we were grinding down to the slowest pace possible trying to keep our footing in the deepening snow and the frozen footprints and ignore the burning, now exhausted muscles in my legs.

DSC_0041After a particularly deep stretch of snow sinking up to our mid calves we stopped to strategize. Neither of us wanted to call it.  AND neither of us wanted to go DOWN that mountain. We tossed out pros and cons, trying to hang on to common sense and let go of pride, trying to determine how far we had to go, when suddenly a huge mass of snow drift drops off of a rhododendron above us and plops right in the middle of my head. It’s a sign….. So reluctantly and relieved the decision has been made, we turn around and even the though the STRATEGY was to AVOID going down this steep mountain…. DOWN we went.

Slipping, sliding, twisting and of course, falling in the SAME SPOT, making our way back toward the parking lot we go. Neither of us talking, focused on one step, one step, one step until we reach the other world of brown trail, slush turned to mud, mud turned to dirt, stones and sticks and normal trail. And after seven hours of hiking, climbing, clinging, slipping, sliding, sinking and falling we finally stop for a break on a rock in the sun. Did this just happen?DSC_0032

We cross the bridge back to the parking lot near five o’clock, the sun dropping behind the mountains as we crank up the car heater attempting to dry our socks and shoes. The nearest open campground is Smokemont over an hour and a half away so we decide to stealth camp in the campground which was still closed for the season. (don’t judge,  a donation to the GSMNP is already on its way and we left no trace. Desperate times call for desperate measures) After a warm dinner, a cup of hot tea, exhausted, I crawl into my hammock, relieved that I did not die, (grateful that I am not 4200 feet above ground surrounded by 20 inches of snow in 20 degrees), nested by down and fall asleep to the sound of the creek rushing beside me.

Day Two: Redemption, Big Creek Trail and GSMNP Fitness

26 Years and Still Getting Lost Together……

DSC_0029January 11th, marked 26 years of marriage for Big Yahmo and I. We celebrated the evening by going to Lowes and looking at a dishwasher and  a garbage disposal to replace the ones that conveniently exploded two days before Christmas.. (Of course, being married 26 years allows those kinds of things to just roll off your back.)

For the weekend, however, I had other plans. Our dear friends, Chris and Patti Leppo, graciously shared their sweet cabin located outside of Blue Ridge on Fighting Town Creek. So, Friday after work, we loaded up and headed to the hills. By sunset, we were sitting in front of the fire, eating tortilla soup, with a glass of wine, listening to the water roar below.

IMG_0232Morning came quickly and after some hot tea  and blueberry buckwheat pancakes , off we went. The plan was to head to Section 5 of the Benton MacKaye Trail. While the temperature was reading around 27, the sky was brilliant blue and cloudless as we neared the pull off. . .Now, this is where the story gets kind of interesting.

According to Tim Homan’s North Georgia Trail Guide, the trail began at an old logging road across from the gravel parking space. Now I have never hiked the Benton MacKaye and really didn’t  know how it was blazed, if it was blazed or anything about it.  Right at the logging road entrance we saw two girls with backpacks getting organized, so we took off ahead of them.

 IMG_0244The trail started as described with a reasonable climb and before long we had glimpses of the mountains beyond and the valley below. Little sparkles of water, assumed to be Lake Blue Ridge mentioned in the trail description were visible. After the first two miles, the trail became rather challenging. Many blow downs, several overgrown patches made us call laughingly call it the “Duck and Bob” trail. (we should have called it the Dumb and Dumber Trail, but more on that later…)

IMG_0235At the 2.5 mile point according to my trusty FitBit,we came to a hard switchback….. just as described in the book….(Due to the overgrown nature of the intersection, we left a couple of good sized sticks to point us home on the way back.) Have I mentioned that we are not known for our navigational skills?
 
We followed this along the ridge wall of the mountain crossing a dry creek bed a couple of times for another mile and suddenly there was nowhere else to go……. We should have been in full view of the fire tower but truly, there was nothing that even resembled a trail…

After scratching our heads, consulting our trail guide, taking a  break, making some tea and eating a bite weIMG_0246 decided to turn around and and call it a day. Seriously, I was wondering who, if anyone, maintained the Benton MacKaye Trail and how was anyone supposed to find their way around…So we made our way back, over and under and through the overgrown trail. Soon we caught sight of the road and as we walked around the gate over the logging road I looked to the right…..

OH, there is the trail!!!The starting blaze...

On a tree…..up the hill….to the right of the road…..in the woods…. was a small brown sign , as I looked up from the sign, I caught a glimpse of a post with a small familiar sign about 20 feet up the TRAIL. Yep, Section 5 of the Benton MacKaye………

We had just spent the last 8 the blazemiles hiking on what is most certainly NOT a trail and who knows where we were heading!!! In disbelief, we hiked up the trail a bit and then saw the prominent white diamond blazes on trees beyond.

Now I am pretty sure that this confession would qualify for being evicted from the Trail Dames, Southeast Women Backpackers and the O.G.G. ! However, this is a pretty typical adventure for David and I. We have a long colorful history of dirt roads, leaking tents, flooded trails and worm attacks. We have stumbled upon cult families in the woods, had equipment malfunctions and have experienced a few “Deliverance” type moments over the 30  plus years we have been exploring life AND the woods together.

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But through it all we have persevered, found the humor and leaned on each other to weather each storm and trial. Getting lost on a logging road is not life threatening but could have ruined the weekend for some. After our hike, we retreated to the cabin, showered, gussied up and had a fabulous dinner at Harvest on Main in downtown Blue Ridge. (Thank you Teresa for being an outstanding server) We came back to the nice warm cozy cabin appreciative of the opportunity to spend time together.

Sunday morning, bright, cold and blue came and we headed back once again to the Benton MacKaye Section Five trailhead. IMG_0291Lake Blue RidgeIMG_0311
This time, we chose the right path and enjoyed a spectacular hike. The sky could not have been more blue,  a dusting of snow on mossy green logs, gorgeous sculptures of trees not visible during the summer months and the deep blue reflection of Lake Blue Ridge kept us company as we hiked.

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Fabulous 360 degree views from the top of Tipton Mountain, a mysterious rusted bleacher surrounded field and Brawley’s Mountain  fire tower (in a scene straight out of Lost, complete with mysterious radio transmissions..) made the second attempt more than worth our efforts. It was a perfect winter day, filled with the quietness that comes with the season and we had it all to ourselves..
 
IMG_0338the trashman...
Satisfied that we had finally actually hiked Section Five of the Benton MacKaye , we turned and headed back to the car victorious. We ended our more than fabulous weekend with a stop at the famous Panorama Apple Market, where we picked up a bag of Pink Lady’s and went around the sample table a couple of times before heading back to reality…….…

Happy Twenty Sixth to us!
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Tray Gap to Dicks Creek Gap and Type Two Fun…

The first day of October proved to be perfect for another Trail Dames Adventure! Greeted by temps hovering around fifty with a brisk wind we gathered in the parking lot of Dicks Creek Gap to begin the shuttle. After a few glitches involving lost dames and me leaving my hiking boot insoles at home, we eventually made it to the Tray Gap trailhead by mid morning.

We had three Dames new to backpacking, LaCelle, Jay and Indra,The Trail Dames Crew (who was also trying out a hammock!) so everyone pitched in making sure their gear was secure. With the first freezing temperatures of the year predicted, I was anxious to try out my new full length under-quilt and silently prayed that the wind would subside.

With brilliant blue skies overhead, we all headed down the trail. Finding my hiking rhythm climbing the first mile, my thoughts drifted to just how much I loved Fall. The colors were so vibrant and rich, with leaves already changing in these mountains. Reaching the top of Tray Mountain, we stopped and enjoyed the 360 views before moving on for a short stop at the shelter to readjust equipment.
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Leaving the shelter, we crossed paths with a couple of young guys, one of who was carrying a large wooden SPEAR!! When asked what it was for, he explained “It was for the bears…” We would meet up with “Spear Boy” later at our water hole and again at the end of the trail. The entire time he carried his spear, but apparently had no occasion to use it!
HighLife, 2 time Thru HikerIMG_3726Speer Boy....
Kristen and I then came across “High Life”, a South bounder wrapping up his second Appalachian Trail journey. We had passed him hitching a ride in Hiawassee earlier but had no room in our vehicle for him. He was anxious to finish up and get home to a real bed and refrigerator. I really don’t think I could imagine spending from May to October on the trail… His photos from flickr are located here.

IMG_3738IMG_3745IMG_3746 We continued on, enjoying a good pace, stopping occasionally to take photos, catch our breath or drink a little. Our plan was to get to camp and hike the extra 1/2 mile down and then back up to filter water and gather some wood for the fire that we knew would be needed! Monica and Carrie soon joined us and we stopped for a break at the “Swag of the Blue Ridge”, which amused me for some reason and took a few photos.
My “miracle foot inserts from Rite Aid” were beginning to make my feet feel like they were on FIRE, so I was more than happy when we made it to Addis Gap.  Scouting the site, we were comfortable that it could handle the Hubba City that was on it’s way and we headed into the woods to find a place to hang our hammocks. We selected an area and were hopeful that the trees would break some of the gusts of wind that had persisted all day and seemed to be getting stronger.
Our CampIndra's Flying Squirrel...Aprils Luxury Item...Carrie and her HubbaPlus 1 and JIMG_3766
After filtering the water, the rest of our group began arriving at camp and the work of setting up began. We found trees that would accommodate Indra’s Eno and the “Flying Squirrel” tarp. One more hammock in the north forty, Four Hubba’s, a Big Agnes, Coleman and REI tent later and the Dames had made Addis Gap their home. Kellye, our firemaster, soon had a nice fire going and everyone started gathering with a variety of meals soon in progress.
With darkening skies and the relentless wind, the temperature dropped at a steady pace. I added another layer of fleece and my smart wool long johns and still felt the chill. Hanging bear bags, taking care of business and chatting around the fire filled the rest of the evening.
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After making it to hikers midnight, everyone soon retired to their sleeping quarters. This would be my first real trial for my new Incubator under-quilt, which was hanging beneath my wbbb hammock. I crawled in, pulling my Big Agnes Ethel sleeping bag around me, adjusted the hood and chicken cutlets (LOL), assumed the position and quickly fell asleep.

ONLY to be abruptly awakened around midnight to the sound of freight train winds that were moving the base of my trees back and forth and whipping around my tarp. Laying still, tensely absorbing the power of that wind all around me, I felt a slight chill in an area beneath me. Slapping one of my body warmers in place until it moved to another spot and then moved it again, I played a checkboard game with the cold for the next few hours. Around 3:30 the wind subsided a bit and I drifted back to sleep until daylight. (After consulting with Adam from Hammock Gear, I concluded that I had cinched the ends of my under quilt too tightly, causing an air pocket keeping the UQ away from my body and allowing the cold air in.) Its all on the job training with a hammock!!
The good news was that everyone survived, despite some gear deficiencies. Spirits were high and the day proved to be just as blue sky as the one before it. Breakfast was made, stoves and fuel shared, camp was packed, keys exchanged for vehicle retrieval and we hit the trail heading to Dicks Creek Gap.
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Ratchet, Salt, Carrie and myself kept a brisk pace as we climbed out of the Gap, followed closely by April and Nancy. We stretched out a bit enjoying some quiet hiking time on another beautiful day.
Spotting a IMG_3817Vista” sign, I veered off for the view and it did not disappoint. (Of course, dropping my hiking pole off the ledge gave me a small heart attack…)
I caught up with my hiking buddies a couple of miles out and after shedding my long johns and mooning Kellye, enjoyed the rest of the trail, talking and laughing about our trip. IMG_3845After piling into the parking lot and having a snack, we drove the forty five minutes back to where we started and turned around and brought all the cars back to the Gap.
Our timing was perfect, arriving just as the last of our spear boygroup finished.
(and there was Speer Boy!!)
As usual the Trail Dames with their great camaraderie, giving spirits and encouragement were a joy and special kudos to our new backpackers and to Ratchet and SHOE for leading the trip.
Until next time, Happy Trails……



 

It May be Hot, but the Trail Still Calls….

It had been a busy week and I just needed to get in the woods. After checking the short list of candidates to go with me, Tanner, nope, going to the gym…..Alyssa, no, having lunch with Lindsey,and David, laying on the bed chillin’ ……I filled my platypus, stuffed my hammock in my day pack, grabbed my sticks and boots and left.
Pointing the car in the general direction of Red Top Mountain State Park, I considered hiking a trail I had recently heard of off Bethany Bridge Rd but as I neared the little log cabin Trading Post at Red Top made a quick decision and turned in.  Quickly gathering my things I head into the woods, anxious to distance myself from the noises from the road.

IMG_2808Just stepping onto the trail immediately affects me in a positive way, the dark shade and shadows of the summer leaves give an illusion of a coolness, (trust me, it was only an illusion!) The sharp staccato sound of katydids  start to muffle any other sounds. Tiny trickles of water slip through the creek crippled by such a dry hot summer.

I enjoy these first steps, familiar as the back of my hand. Having always lived near Lake Allatoona and having walked these well worn trails hundreds of times, it is comforting to see familiar landmarks. The ridge where a gaggle of wild turkeys scared my husband as they took flight, the tree with a hole that Tanner always used to climb in, the part of the creek where you can hear the water on both sides…..  Red Top Mountain State Park has over 12 miles of trails, miles of which hug the lake coves and offers beautiful views much of the year. Only 15 minutes from my home, make it my “go to” spot when  a quick trail fix is needed.
About a mile in I catch some movement out of the corner of my eyeIMG_2807 and spot a handsome Eastern Ribbon snake about 4 feet in length. He stops for a moment seeming to look in my direction as a couple of quick photos are shot. He is swift and graceful as he departs and I marvel at how quickly snakes can move with seemingly little motion.( I am glad he is going in the opposite direction!)

Continuing on, there are no other hikers as the trail climbs the ridge and curves around heading to the beginning of Homestead Trail.  This is a sweet little loop and the decision is made to hike it from the left as opposed to the more popular right route. This lets me see oncoming hikers and while it has a few more climbs, will reward me with a cool green lake cove and fern filled creek ending. (It is also the direction less traveled )IMG_2828
As I climb and dig my poles into the hard thirsty earth, the trail briefly leaves the cover of the trees and I feel every bit of the 95 degrees that the day has delivered. Topping the ridge and starting down toward a cove, the blue green water of the lake is visible with a bright ribbon of red Georgia clay around it. Little horned lizards camouflaged by the leaves rustle on both sides of me and teeny tiny frogs cross the trail.
Butt Crack RockReaching my halfway and favorite point, the lake can be viewed in almost all directions and a slight breeze is detected. This was the perfect time to pull out my hammock and take a break. Stepping off the trail a bit, it only took me a few minutes and there was the perfect place to enjoy a snack and cool my feet. Swaying between two trees with the lake to my side and the trees shading me, a nap was a strong possibility!

IMG_2816After a sweet rest and a pint of Rainier cherries, the hammock stowed and my feet happy, the journey continued. Nearing a piney forest area with soft needles to cushion the trail, five young deer were spotted  searching for food. Four took off, white tails flashing but one just stood and watched me until bored, he took off too.
As anticipated the loop made a nice green and shady end and I crossed the road to pick up Sweetgum Trail to finish up my route.

On the way, I disturbed an immense black racer, saw two more deer and a nice family camping with their kids.  As always, I had to sit a spell on the now lone rocking chair on the front porch of the Trading Post to end my hike.
So, life balanced,(maniacal laughter) worries shed and with a peaceful spirit, I headed back home ready for the week ahead…

Smoky Mountain Backpacking Trip

This three day trip started with a bang, literally, as I was making the trip to Clarkesville to pickup Kellye to head to the Great Smoky Mountains for a three day backpacking trip with SHOE and Turtle. I had to make an emergency pit stop in the dark, under an interstate bridge pylon and  sacrificed my favorite pink bandana…
When I get to Kellye’s I realize my camera is missing and we have to backtrack to the scene of “The Incident” where I find it laying next to my pink banadana…

Hopeful that this was not going to be a theme for this trip, we headed to the hills.
We met our hiking buddies, SHOE, (slowest hiker on Turtle, Sassafras, SHOE and the newly named Ratchet.....earth), and Turtle at the Smokemont campground dropped my car at the Mingus Creek Trailhead and headed to the Thomas Divide Trailhead. Thomas Divide is named for William Holland Thomas (1805-1893,) who gained so much favor with the Cherokees that he became the only white man ever appointed Chief. This self-educated lawyer lived with the Indians, learned their language and ways, and defended their rights in Washington. He helped purchase much of the land known as the Qualla Boundary. He was a Confederate Colonel and the bravery of his Thomas Legion of Cherokee Indians and Highlanders is legendary. (Sorry for the history lesson, but I found this interesting)

IMG_2461The trail was moderate with some decent climbs and rewarded us with the diversity of flora and fauna that makes the Smokey Mountains unique. The rhododendrons were abundant and still in full bloom. Yellowish brown cobs of squawroot poked through the leaves. I couldn’t remember what they were called but found out that this is a favorite food of black bears. (We saw much evidence of bears but figured that four chattering women would be enough to scare any bear off!)
We took our time on this warm, sunny day, catching up and taking turns leading the hike. As elevation changed, so did our surroundings. The ghostly silhouettes of hemlocks ravaged by the woolly adelgid against the sky, numerous coves of hardwoods  and always the forest floor was alive with fungi and wildflowers.
Arriving at Campsite #52, at Newton Bald, we found a solitary camper who had set his five manIMG_2506 tent up in the center of the fire ring area! Kellye scouted the area and found the perfect ridge top spot to spend the night.  While we searched for the perfect hammock trees and Lesly and Melissa looked for a flat spot for their tents and we began the ritual of setting up our temporary home for the night.
Our first “excitement” of the trip occurred when Kellye wandered off to take care of some personal business and interrupted a bear! The bear grunted a warning to let her know he was there and they both took off in opposite directions. She quickly came back to home base, eyes wide and put us all on alert that we were not alone!! Needless to say, I did not wander far to take care of my personal business after that!
IMG_2531Dinner was cooked and we spent an inordinate amount of time coaxing flames out of a stubborn fire, night fell, the temperatures dropped into the upper fifties and we all retired to our sleeping quarters. I listened to a little bit of Pat Conroy’s latest and drifted off to sleep only to be jolted awake by the sound of what I was sure was a BEAR climbing the tree that my hammock was attached to!!! The commotion continued as everyone scrambled out of their tents asking Kellye if she was okay, so I rolled out and found her hammock had “ratcheted” DOWN the tree!! Fortunately, she was fine and we all went back to bed. (We think she might have a trail name, Ratchet!)
Day 2, we took our time with breakfast and breaking camp, enjoying the cool IMG_2497temperatures before beginning our hike. We continued on Thomas Divide heading to Deep Low Gap, again enjoying the diversity of the trail. Excitement came when Lesly and I spotted a small creek off the trail. She needed water and I dropped my pack and went off the trail to capture a photo of some red bee balm.  Immediately what felt like needles on my legs caused me to scream, as the realization that yellow jackets were swarming around us! Needless to say, we both moved quickly but not before  I had at least 12 reminders of why I never want to step in another yellow jacket nest. After retreating a safe distance we took a break where everyone contributed Benadryl cream, anti-itch and Neosporin to ease the sting. (Truth be told I wanted to cry, but satisfied that urge with talking with my trail mate.)
IMG_2585As we began our descent into the lush green forest, crisscrossing small streams, it occurs to me that we have been going down a looooong time and that we will be backtracking up this haul tomorrow morning…….We reach our destination, the very slanted world of campsite #51. Being in the Gap, there is little breeze and the temperature and humidity have increased. Again, we repeat the camp setup ritual spreading out due to an absence of flat areas and spend the rest of the day, chatting, sharing stories, laughing, eating and daydreaming.
As night falls, I gratefully climb into my hammock and quickly fall asleep, only to be awakened around 3:00 am to thunder and rain. After assuring myself that my tarp was secure and all my belongings were underneath and dry, I slipped back to sleep until dawn. Our plan was to leave early, due to the number of miles and difficulty of the trail for the day, so I packed my hammock and gear and sat under the tarp drinking my coffee and eating a builders bar. (a nice perk of having a hammock means you can pack everything up underneath the tarp, leaving it for last)
We all begin the slow tortuous climb in the rain to the intersection that will takeIMG_2610 us to the Mingus Creek Trail and our car. Seriously, even though I have eaten most of my food, my pack feels just as heavy as when I started and it takes me a bit to find my trail rhythm.  Unfortunately a couple more yellow jackets find my rhythm and get between my pack and back delivering more stings!! We space out a bit, each hiking our own hike and meet sweaty and tired at the top of the climb. A downhill stretch follows along the creek and takes us to 90 foot waterfall. It is still IMG_2628raining, so the photo op is cut short as we slip and slide across a narrow bridge crossing and continue down to the trail intersection, where thankfully the rain ends and the sun starts to stream through the trees. After consulting the trail map, we take off on the Mingus Creek Trail. The trail starts innocently enough, absolutely beautiful and follows and crosses the creek for some time. As the temperature and humidity increase, so doesThank the Lord we are at the top! the climb. Kellye and I hike together, stopping periodically to curse the trail and sip some water, even taking a break or two for a gu and bar break. As always, about the time, I think I can’t lift my leg another step, we reach the top and collapse for a well deserved break!  This was a tough trail!  Spotting the trail sign for Newfound Gap Road at 2.9 miles made us very happy!!
However, that happiness was short lived as we began the trek over a jarring, rocky, mossy, slick downhill!! BUT it was sooooo beautiful. If we had more time, I would have loved to linger at the many creek crossings and moss covered logs that called my name! But at that particular moment the lure, of my dry clothes and a burger at the NOC were a motivating factor! As we got closer to our destination the trail widened and we were able to walk side by side, recapping some of the highlights of the trip. The aching shoulders, legs and blistered feet were replaced by the pure joy of spending time outdoors and conquering
YIPPEE!! I MADE IT!any difficulties that came our way.
As we burst into the parking area and into reality, I contemplate offering the nearby picnickers a $10.00 bill for a cold drink.
NOTE: If you ever see dirty, sweaty,  smelly people piling out of the woods with their life on their back, offer them a cold drink, they will never forget you!
The reward for this journey ends at the Nantahalah Outdoor Center or the NOC. I have been hearing about the Flamethrower Burger and the HOMEMADE chips for the entire trip and satisfy this fantasy with my friends. A berry cobbler topped with ice cream is the icing on the cake. Sitting on the river with my feast and friends, I count my many blessings and dream of the next adventure…..
The best burger EVERIMG_2691Berry cobbler....Don't judge we just hauled our life on our backs for three days!!IMG_2698

For more photos from this trip, click HERE

 

Backpacking with the Bieber…

Backpacking was on Tanner’s summer bucket list, so we planned an overnight midweek trip. I chose the Cohutta Wilderness because it is my absolute favorite Georgia spot to backpack.
Meals were planned, maps consulted, the packs were loaded and off we went. The morning was sunny and warm as the Yaris took the rutted labyrinth of forest service roads like a champ and after what seemed like a hundred miles, we came to the Hickory Creek trail parking area. Not one soul to be seen… I checked the board for bear warning and nothing was posted which was a bit of a relief.
Perfect DayHickory Creek Trail HeadTanner and I adjusted our packs, locked the car and took off down the trail. The first part of the Hickory Creek Trail was rocky and weathered with evidence of the spring storms and  all downhill as it wound its way to the creek.  We hear the water before we can see it and soon get glimpses of the creek before our first crossing. Crystal clear, with plenty of water, it keeps us company as we continue down the trail. Soon we hit the intersection of the Conasauga River Trail and Hickory Creek Trail where we turn right and begin looking for the perfect campsite.
Before long we come to the perfect balance of trees for my hammock and a niceIMG_2147 flat spot for the tent. The entire length of the site is situated directly on the Conasauga with a combination of deep pools ,little falls, huge boulders and the constant melody of the river. A covering of hemlocks, a nice big fire pit and a makeshift bench make it the unanimous choice. We go about the business of setting up camp, unpacking, gathering wood and having lunch.

IMG_2123After a short rest, we leave our site and head down the trail to explore.. We pass ginormous boulders, falls and swimming holes, a huge beaver dam which has turned into what must be a diverse mass of frogs, toads and Lord knows what else and come to the opening and intersection known as Bray field. (This used to be an old homestead but is now mainly used by backpackers.) We take off our shoes and wade across the Conasuaga River before I realize, we really don’t want to hike the entire Hickory Creek Trail, so we cross again and travel a bit down Tearbritches Trail, rockhopping the creek and wander along this beautiful easy section of the trail.
As the day turned into late afternoon, we head back to camp and take a swim in the cool clear river . We both enjoy some quiet time, then get to the business of preparing for the evening. We break up our wood, filter our water and settle down to cook dinner. Tanner is a great student of the outdoors, watching my every move and made my day when he tells me, “Mom, I can’t believe you know how to do all this stuff!!” After a satisfying, (although bland) meal of beef stroganoff and pudding, it starts to cool off and we get down to business Tanner and MomAwesome fire!and start the fire. For years, I have watched my best friend, Leslie, THE FIREMASTER, start epic blazes. I have always been content to gather kindling and drag logs to the pile but she was not on this trip! Apparently, I was able to channel her talent and build one big honking fire!
We roasted a small bag of marshmallows, talked and stared into the fire (aka Hikers TV), until it got pretty late.  The moon was new, so the night was DARK.
We made our way to our shelter, Tanner on the ground and me hanging in my hammock nearby and dozed off to the sound of the river. I woke around 7:00, rolled out of my warm bag and started another little fire. (Leslie, are you so proud?!) Sitting and drinking coffee and enjoying the beautiful cool morning, I counted my many blessings, one of which was laying in the tent next to me.
Tanner slept a little longer and finally crawled out, ate his bacon, cream cheese bagel and we reluctantly started to break camp.
IMG_2119Morning firePacked up to head homeDay Two

We climbed out of Hickory Creek around noon as the day warmed, IMG_2222taking our time while I told Tanner funny stories about David and our many adventures in the woods, pre-kids. An occasional stop for water, a view and to admire a little red salamander made for an enjoyable although, hot hike out.
On a funny note, as we reached the trailhead, I  noticed that the BACK side of the information board was COVERED with bear warnings and information underneath the engraved message: WELCOME TO BEAR COUNTRY……LOL THIS was the BACK side of the trail head sign....
We loaded up our gear and took the rutted forest service road back toward 411 and after what seemed like fifty miles bouncing from bump to bump, popped out in the middle of nowhere . After consulting the map, we found our way to 411. A quick stop at a convenience store for icees and beef jerky and made our way back to Woodstock and civilization.
This trip will always have a special place in my heart and I will cherish it’s memory. My son,natural backpacker Tanner, is an incredible young man. He has been through adversity and difficult times but has emerged strong and confident with a natural, loving, unshakeable faith in God. I am proud of him and grateful for the time spent.
For more pictures from this trip CLICK HERE

Pine Log Creek Trail….has it ALL!

Total distance: 4.6 miles
Parking lot Lead Trail: .46
West Loop : 2.12
East Loop: 1.54
Quarry Trail .03

After a friend at work told me about this trail, I put it on my short list for spontaneous hiking.(Also while searching for information about this trail, I read of a stray nude hiker that appears on it but this did not in any way influence my decision….) Friday morning started cool compared to the inferno heat we have been having so David and I packed it up and headed off to try it out.

Pine Log Creek Trail is located in Bartow County only 25 miles from our doorstep. We arrived early to an empty parking area, strapped on the pack and after viewing the faded out map posted, took off to the sounds of birds chattering and a neighboring rooster going crazy. Shortly after crossing a dry creek bed we came to a cool running bend in the creek with a beautifully built wooden bridge crossing. There are actually seven rustic footbridges over Pine Log Creek throughout the well maintained 5 mile hike. The trail includes two loops east and west and a short side trail to an old CCC quarry pond.
We opted to take the east loop first which took us over the creek and through a series of switchbacks to peaks of views of Pine Log Mountain. (Winter will be spectacular!) This trail overlooks a pastoral valley that was once home to the Cherokee village of Pine Log before the native people’s removal west on the Trail of Tears in the 1830s. There are numerous large rock croppings and boulders. The black eyed susans, several varieties of fern,( some HUGE), many giant very old trees along with the winding creek made this a very diverse beautiful trail. We saw traces of the stormy Spring in the form of someones chicken house roof scattered throughout the forest and brush.
The jewel of the trip was located a short distance off the trail in the form of an old quarry pond. David quickly identified several large mouth bass, brim and a stray catfish in the clear water vowing to bring a fishing pole the next trip. (NOTE: There is a large sign that prohibits fishing and overnight camping at the trail head) This was a peaceful beautiful treat and great spot for a lunch or a quick swim.
After exploring the quarry we picked the trail back up and came to the west loop junction continuing over the creek and up the ridge for more views. We took a short stop to hang my hammock for David to tryout and discovered a little box turtle who watching our efforts. One thing to be aware of with this trail is someone has removed the trail loop signs. The posts are there but no signs. We found ourselves taking the east loop again before catching our mistake.
We ended our hike by cooling our feet and wading in the creek under the entry bridge. We both commented that it reminded us of childhood locations where we were free to play and explore. The only “excitement” of the trip came while we were drying off and observed a snake drop off the bank and swim right into the area we had been in. Of course I identified it as a copperhead or water moccasin but really think it was a red rat snake…
This trail is most definitely a jewel and will be on our list of backyard favorites.

Difficulty: Moderate-Some parts are listed as strenuous but not really
Directions
from I-575 in Canton: Take Riverstone Pkwy exit 20, head West for about .5 mi. Take right onto Reinhardt College Pkwy and continue until it dead ends into Hwy 140. Take right onto Hwy 140 W (still also Reinhardt College Pkwy) and go approximately 12 miles. Trail head will be on your right.
From I-75 in Cartersville: Take exit 293 and head North on Hwy 411 for about 7.5 mi. Take a right onto Hwy 140 East and go about 3.2 mi, trail head will be on your left.