By Trent Tibbitts

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This hike started with John texting me and asking if I wanted to do anything next weekend. I said yes and asked if he wanted to do Friday night and Saturday night or just Friday because of Church on Sunday.  He said two nights and asked what I had in mind.  I said we could go to The Great Smokey Mountains and hike the AT north from newfound gap and stay the first night at Ice Water Spring Shelter.  Then check out Charlies Bunion before hiking the Bulverde over to Mt LeConte. (side note, it did snow 7 inch Friday night on Mt LeConte) Stay the night there and hike down Alum Cave Bluffs trail to Newfound Gap road.  We would then catch a ride back to the truck.  John said that sounded a little more than he wanted to do and didn’t want to go that far from home.  So I said we could go to Springer mountain and make a loop using the AT and the BMT.  John said that was still a little to far and ask if we could check out some of the RR tunnels around the house in the Paulding Forest Wild Life Management Area. I said I would find us a route. I pulled out the map and started looking.  I could not find a good loop so looks like it would be a one way with a truck drop some where. John invited me over on Wednesday night to review our trip and to take a dip in his new hot tub. He pulled out his laptop and using Google Earth we plotted a course. 20140104_083041We decided on starting at the RR crossing on Brushy Mountain road, check out the old RR  tunnel there, hike the tracks down to unnamed branch, camp along the Branch,  follow the Branch to the tunnel where it goes under the tracks, hike the tracks to where Raccoon Creek goes under the tracks in a big tunnel,  follow the creek up-stream to the creek tunnel under the Silver Comet trail (a bike/walk trail that was a RR), hike the Silver Comet to Little Raccoon Creek,  then follow the creek down to our truck at High Shoals Road.  This is about 8.5 miles.  An easy hike, right? Felling good about our plan we hit the hot tub. While in the hot tub we statt to talk about what we would take with us and what to eat. I said a steak.  Then we said we would try a survival weekend and live off the land. We could squral hunt and fish. We would not take any battery operated lights, lighter or matches.  Next was what to do about the weather.  Friday high would be in the mid 30’s, overnight lows in low 20’s. Saturday and Sunday would reach the 40’s and lows back into the 20’s. We usually sleep in a hammock but we thought a tent might be warmer. After nailing down the details I went back home. Thursday John bought a new tent and a crank operated light. I stayed out of work and took Wyatt to get his Drivers license.  At 1 pm,  Wendy,  Wyatt and Sarah left for Kentucky to see her dad. That afternoon I went out for dinner alone and stopped at Wal-Mart to pick up some insulated long underwear and other supplies. IMG_9786 I was looking for a candle lanterns, but they didn’t have any. Back at home I packed my bag with what I thought I would need. I had my old army mommy bag that I have had for 30 years. It is proven in cold weather.  I went through my first aid and survival kit to make sure it was full.  I packed extra cloths and one Mountain House just in case we did not kill any squrals. I had a pillow,  water pump, two water bottles,  camp stove and that is about it. I did have my .22 rifle and a pocket full of bullets.  Friday I had to work but during lunch I went by REI and picked up two candle lanterns. I then stopped in my favorite store,  Gear Revival.  They have second-hand gear and New items at great prices.  I picked up a light weight chair. I left work a little early and stopped at Kroger to pick up two steaks and a bag of Red Potatoes.  I got home and grabbed my bag and headed to John’s. He is just a few doors down from me. There we put our bags in his wife’s SUV. Lindsey then followed me to a friend’s land where we would end the hike. We dropped the truck there and she then took us to our starting point. The RR crossing on Brushy Mountain road.  She took a few photos of our start, then we were off. We had planned on going west down the tracks and hiking through the tunnel back to this spot. Due to the time and fear of losing light we simply walked straight to the tunnel on the old railway.  IMG_9773It is now a muddy trail and soon we are in the trench.  We drop our packs and work our way to the tunnel trying to stay out of the mud. We soon reach the east end of the old tunnel.  This tunnel was abandoned in the late 1970’s due to the height of the train cars getting higher. The other rail road that is now the Silver Comet trail inlarged their tunnel through this mountain. What they did here was to cut a deep trench through the mountain.  We have called it the “cuts”  ever since.  It has been a hang out for teenagers for years. Until recently it was remote.  Guys would try to take jeeps and other four-wheel drive trucks through the tunnel.  Most would get stuck and have to be pulled out.  It’s been over 10 years since a truck has made it through but the mud is still over 2 inches thick on the walls of the tunnel.  The roof is black with smoke.  IMG_9774There are cracks in the bricks and water drips in. This is the start of the branch we will follow down.  The west end of the tunnel has silted in over the years and is much shorter than the other end. As we near the west end of the tunnel,  the ground is dry and ice cycles hang down.  IMG_9778We explore this end of the tunnel and then headed back to the other side. We say dry and get back to our packs.

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We back track to the RR and follow them east for about a half mile and spot a flat area next to the branch that has turned into a small creek. Once in the woods we see a five gallon bucket.  I grabbed it and took it with me. We soon find a flat area to pitch the tent. We remove all the debris and add pine needles back down.  I had a tarp and we put that down next. While John finished setting up the tent,  I started gathering fire wood.  It had been raining and everything was wet. We did find enough dry wood that was not on the ground.  John had an ax that had a fire starter so we used it along with cotton balls covered with petroleum jelly. It was dark when we got the fire started. The wet wood was not drying out and our fire was not doing to good. John found some rich pine that is good for starting fires. It is the heart of a dead pine stump that doesn’t rot away.  If you find a pine stump you can usually find the rich pine inside. Using the ax we chop several pieces up and put them in the fire. We then used the crank up light to find another larger piece of rich pine. We bust this one up and burn it all. The fire is now hot and burning good. We use the ax to strip some larger wood of the wet rotten outer layer.  I pulled out the two candle lanterns and Got them lit. One had a broken globe.  They put off a good bit of light. It was now time to eat. We could only cook one steak at a time on John’s frying pan On His Jet bowl. IMG_9779He was smart enough to bring some oil to cook with. I wrapped the two biggest potatoes in tin foil and put them in the hot coals of the fire. They were done in 20 minutes and the first steak was ready to eat.  We cut it in half and ate our dinner while the other on cookedIMG_9780. We were both full from our meal and decided to keep the other steak for breakfast.  We wrapped it up in foil and put it in a bag with the potatoes.  We then hung the bag from a leaning tree to keep any raccoons from getting to them. We keep the fire going. Then decided to wash our dishes.  We first tried baby wipes but the grease was too much. Then we tried the creek but the water was too cold. We then filled the bucke up about half way with creek water and put the plastic bucket right on the fire. It did not melt. IMG_9781After about 5 minutes the water was warm.  John had some camping soap and he washed the plates in the bucket and I dried them with the baby wipes. The rest of the night was relaxing next to the fire. I stayed warm the whole trip.  I was wearing my new long underwear,  fleece paints and long sleeve shirt, cotton paints and long sleeve shirt on top of that. I added a fleece sweet shirt after dinner.  I had on gloves and  boggin that covered my ears. Plus two pair of socks.  One being smart wool. My boots are water proof.  We got our beds ready by blowing up our mats and putting down our sleeping bags.  I also had a silk insert for my bag. John’s tent was small by design.  It has two doors so we didn’t have to crawl over each other.  We each had a loop to hang items from the roof so i moved the candle lanterns inside.  They burn for nine hours and put off 1900 BTUs. I crawl into bed and in no time I am asleep.  We are just yards away from the tracks a trains run every 20 minutes or so. They wake me several times.  The first half of the night was not to bad but the ground soon became hard to sleep on. The next morning when I woke up the fire had burned up all but just a little bit of the wood.  I was able to dig down and find so hot coils. I IMG_9784had a small fire got in no time. I then went looking for more rich pine and found a good size stumble on the other side of the creek. I chopped up about halfway it and got the fire going good. Then John had the good idea of burning the whole piece.  I put it in the fire and John poured some of the cooking oil on top. That got us a good fire. I got our frozen steaks down and cut us sticks to warm them up over the fire on. It worked good. Phone said it was 24 degrees in Dallas,  so I bet we were around 20 degrees.  We slowly broke camp, stopping to keep warm with the fire. We took a few shots with our .22 rifles at a can. We then put the burning wood in the creek and put out the hot coals. We start to follow the creek down stream.  20140104_111906There are tons and tons of trash in the woods from the railroad.  The mountain on the other side of the creek is very steep.  We make it down to where Cochran branch joins our branch.  20140104_100919We make it to the west side of the tunnel where the branch goes under the tracks. It is  a little windy and we have not seen any squrals. We have decided make the trip a little shorter and hike out today.  We will drop our packs at the raccoon creek tunnel and hike up the creek to the Silver Comet trail tunnel.  Then back to our packs and down the creek to the truck.  John had a pack of beef Jerky and we ate it while checking out this tunnel.  A train stopped while we were there.  We hike the nearly straight up hill from the tunnel to the tracks.

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T20140104_124521he train was still stopped on the nearest track and it was impossible to walk along the tracks while it was there. We were going to cross over to the other track until another train came by. We had to wait for it to pass. Then both trains were gone. From there we walked east down the tracks to the crossing of raccoon creek. We lost time with the trains and decided to Skip the hike up the creek to the other tunnel.  We headed down the hill to the north-east end of the tunnel.  20140104_132510This is the down stream side.  We take our packs off and hang here a while. John tries a little fishing but there was not much to be had. The other side of the creek is a rock cliff. We pack up and head down stream.  The undergrowth is thick and hard to travel in. We move to a little higher ground but soon get where this side of the creek is so steep that we couldn’t pass. We had to take off our boots and cross the creek.  That was the coldest water I have ever been in.  After getting our packs back on we walked just a little ways and hit another wall of rock. The creek had a small rock island that we jumped to then used rocks and a log to cross over. There was an old road where we crossed and we decided to abandon our trip down the creek to take the road out. We didn’t know where it would take us but we would figure that out when we got there.  20140104_132538The road followed the creek for a little way then crossed over a ridge and down to Cochran Branch. We knew where we were then and knew the way out. This Road would take us to Friendship Baptist Church.  We followed the branch up-stream and cross on a rocky small water fall. The road then starts the long climb up out of the low land of the creek.  We take a lot of Breaks On our climb. A few more hills and we area in the  area where the timber had been cut. I called my sister Tammy and she met us at the Church.  She took us to my truck.  We got back home and I took a shower before going to John’s and enjoying the hot tub for a good end of our hike.IMG_9790

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