Category: Camping


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By Trent Tibbitts

Growing up on the banks of the Raccoon Creek,  I had often wondered where the waters went. I knew that they flowed north and entered the Etowah River some 10 miles away.  But how did they get there and what was it like along the way.  From a young age I wanted to make this trip.  I have made it a goal to travel the entire length of the Raccoon Creek and to eventually follow the waterway to the Gulf of Mexico.  But one step at a time.  I have covered most of Raccoon Creek, only needing to complete the uper most section of  a few miles.  However, I was able to complete a large portion of Raccoon Creek with a canoe trip from our property at the Ford, all the way to the Etowah River.

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It was Saturday  May 28, 2016, Memorial day weekend. We had a party at the creek  for Wyatt who had just graduated from North Paulding High School. Being a three day weekend,  I wanted to take advantage of the time I had. John had been at the party all day and had helped setup.  His wife and kids had plans for the night so he was free to do whatever. I told John that I wanted to canoe down the creek to the Etowah.  He was up for it. The party wrapped up around 7 PM. It took about an hour to get everything together and in the boat. We both keep our backpacks packed and ready.  John gathered his supplies, emergency food and clothing. I took an extra MRE. We weren’t sure how long we would be gone. I then loaded a cooler with leftover ice, drinks, uncooked  hamburgers and hotdogs. I had the bread, pop tarts for breakfast, candy and a few ofher things in grocery bags under the seats. I put my portable gas grill in the back of the boat. I was sitting in the back with the cooler between my  legs.  Both packs were in the middle and John was in the front seat. I was trying to video document the trip,  so after a short video, we were off.

We launched at the camper right below the Ford.  I quickly realized that I didn’t have my sunglasses. We stopped at John’s Pavilion and I ran back to get them. Good thing, I had left the camper door open. I ran back to the waiting boat and we were off again. The creek water level was down some. One indicator of how much water is flowing is if any water is running over the road or not. There wasn’t any water flowing over the road, all of it was going through the pipes. This made the shoals difficult to navigate.  We were able to push our way through some if the waters were to one side of the creek. Often this ment we were right next to the bank and the low hanging tree limbs. John cleared the spider webs out for me.  If the waters were wide going over the shoals,  it would only be a few inches deep and we would have to get out and pull the boat along. Most of the time we would keep walking until the water got up to our knees. Just below John’s Pavilion is a small stream flowing into the creek from papa Hollis Tibbitts original Lake.  The stream forms the land line between John and Carlton. We paddled past Carlton’s place and to the Poky hole.  A favorite swimming hole of my youth.  It is a small rock ledge named after a female slave of the McGregor’s who were the first white settlers to live here. Papa Hollis Tibbitts was baptised here. A few hundred feet on down is the remnants of a cable Crossing.  The inspiration for my zip line across the creek at the camper.  Only a few dozen feet on down is the Mill Branch.  It is a good size branch with lots of water. You can read about it in my other post. It does drain a large area of the Sheffield WMA. The old Tall Pine road comes down the ridge here. It comes from Dent Myers Camp. Dent owns Wildman’s in downtown Kennesaw Ga. I’m not 100 percent sure of how the story goes but I believe he bought that land from Alton Cates, or papa who bought it from Alton.

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Poky Hole

 

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Mill Branch

 

Side note about Dent,  he was hired to be in a commercial for Canon Ball Tobacco. The seen was Dent and other Confederate reenacters charging across a field and a Canon being fired. This was in the 1960 and was being filmed in the pasture where the sub station is now on Tibbitts road. A lot of people gathered to watch the filming. When the canon was fired, it blew off the wheels. Dad said Papa got a big kick out of that and would tell the story often and laugh about it.

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The Tall Pine road used to follow the creek down stream before crossing it just before where the power lines cross now. The creek has washed away the bank and the is no longer room to walk in some places, much less have a road. Once across the creek, the road is the same one that comes up by Carlton’s and then on by Fed’s house. When Papa bought this land it was a public road. He had to put a fence on each side.  During  WW2 War years, when Papa and his three oldest sons and his brother Maston with his sons were cutting lumber, they would haul lumber out of the mountains on this road.

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Below the Mill Branch,  the creek makes a hard right against a big Boulder and travels East. Then in a few hundred yards goes under the power lines for the first time for this trip. One of only two times it travels on the east side of the lines before Crossing a final time in Taylorsville.  As we cross under the power lines we are on the lookout for deer and jump one on the North shore.  A King Fisher then flys by. We didn’t go five minutes the whole trip without seeing a King Fisher.

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Cliffs

 

Just past the power lines is the area known as the cliffs.  Not sure how tall they are, maybe 70 feet or more. On top of the cliff is the Copper mine.  A shaft that goes into the mountain about 30 feet and then has a shaft that goes down who knows how deep. The well part stays full of water.

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Copper mine

A little ways down is some bottom land, the old Charlie Burt farm.  The farm was bought by Jim Grant, he operated Lama’s of Atlanta from this farm.  Jim keep exotic animals on the farm.  He would have several types of deer, Elk, ostrich, zebra, I’m not sure what all he had. The watershead from my land ends up in the stream that flows through his farm. Along with everything between mountain Road, the top of the mountains at the water tower and Burt road. The creek makes a U turn at the Grant house that is on a bluff just above the creek.  We are now going in a northwest direction.  It is starting to get noticeably dark. We spook Wood Ducks a few times.  Once being right in here.

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Camp

We pass our last home sight before going into the WMA section of the creek.  We get right to the edge of the power lines before the creek U turns back to the northeast. It makes a big upside down S shape here and as we enter the top of the upside-down  S,  on the left is a flat area about a 3rd of an acer. The creek is on three sides and a large hillside is to the back. It is truly dark now. We have been using flashlights while padding for the past 15 minutes.  We beach the boat. A good bit of water is in the boat and several of our items are wet, including what we are waring.  We pick out our campsite and start a fire. John gathered most of the wood while I started the fire. Once we had a good fire going, we hung our hammocks. Luckily none of our sleeping gear got wet. One of my pads did but no big deal.  We got out the grill and cooked up two hamburgers each. While the burgers cooked we stripped off our wet clothes and dried them by the fire. I had a pair of dry pant and a long sleeve shirt to sleep in. We had a armadillo come through camp. John has a crank radio and we enjoyed country gold to midnight, then went to sleep shorty afterwards.  I had set out a crayfish trap that night and in the morning had caught, with out any bait, 3 crayfish,  two small fish, and a small turtle. No bigger than a 50 cent peace. We keep the turtle for a collection to the Aquarium. It made the trip to the end, not sure from there what happened to it. Packing up was uneventful.

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Hill Climb at Forsyth Shoals

We may have gotten on the water around 930 or 10. John was now in the back seat. Just above our camp was a small stream coming in on the left. It drains a small Valley in the WMA. There is a old home place there but I am not sure who lived there. Could have be a Forsyth because not far from there is a shoals on the creek called Forsyth Shoals. It is just below our camp and is under the next power line crossing. The creek has a good rock bottom here and was used as a place to ford the creek for many years.  On the North side of the creek is what was once a hill climb for motorcycles in the 60′ and 70’s. Several organized races where held here and covered in dirt bike magazines of the time. At the shoals,  the creek turns a little and is running west. As we go over the falls, John sets up his camera and gets a good action shot of us.

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Forsyth Shoals

Past the Shoals,  the creek stays straight for 1/8 of a mile and then turns North and to the right. At this point is where the wildcat den is supposed to be.  I have yet to find it. It may have be filled in with debris over the years.  I think Joe built a box and put down in it an caught a bobcat.  Just a few more yards down is the stone fence / rock wall that no on knows who built.  We believe it was built by Indians. Papa Hollis Tibbitts said he played on it as a boy and no one at that time knew who built it. It serves no purpose that I can tell. It runs up the side of a steep embankment about 100 feet. It would have been 3 or 4 feet tall when first built.

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Stone fence

We saw a lot of different types of fish in the water as we went. The water was clean and clear.  Very little man made trash was in the water. We only saw a few cans and a few tires the whole trip, and most of that was closer to Taylorsville.  We saw lots of big turtles fallin off log as we would turn a bend in the creek.  We only saw 3 snakes.  We also saw a Blue Heron and a few Red Tail Halks. The health of the creek is very good. The best part of the trip for me, was to know how well the creek is doing and how natural it is.

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About a 1/4 mile on down from the Stone fence, is the Murray branch coming in on the right.  This is the largest amount of water to enter the creek below the Ford.  It has a larger watershed;  From Blue hole road to Burt road to Braswell  Mountain, to HWY 61 to the north end of Narroway Church Cr., to Clay root Rd. The branch was once know as Gold Creek and a few gold mines we operated at its headwaters.  I have seen gold come out of it before and one good nugget.  Narroway once conducted baptisms in the branch below the Church.  Many of my family,  including myself was baptised there.

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Not to far on down the creek is where Clay Root Rd cross the creek.  The road one ran the ridge top from the city of Braswell,  through the Braswell Mountains,  past Iron Stob, past Clay Root,  past Pine mountain,  crossed the creek,  crossed the power lines and ended on Narroway Church Cr.

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We then passed several cabins along the creek belonging to the Cochran family.  The Grindstone Branch enters the creek in this area on the left. The last large branch to do so while in the mountains. The branch gets it name from a mill that once was on this branch.  From the top of Pine mountain there was a road that turned south off of Clay Root Rd and followed a ridge down to Grindstone Branch.  The mill site was just upstream from where the road crossed the branch in a small Valley.  When I was young,  beavers damed up the branch and a good size pond filled the valley.  Dad and I counted 17 dams in that area at that time. The road was blocked by several piles of dirt dumped between the high road banks. This made great four wheeler jumps and mud holes for me to play on. Brandon and I spent a lot of time there. He and I hiked there not to long ago.

Just before the creek exits the mountains there is one more noted area. Harris Bottoms or Sand Bottoms is another area we used to ride four wheelets. There was a large sand bar that had a bowl in it from all the four wheeler that had done donuts in the same spot. It was always a fun destination.  Once I rolled my four wheeler in the creek there. It took several hours to get it running again after getting the water out of the engine.  Another time I came up on Jason Tibbitts walking out. He had run out of gas. That is a long walk so I gave him a ride home. John and I hiked this area last year. Part of the  Union army crossed Raccoon Creek here on their way to Burnt Hickory then onto New Hope and Dallas.  It has a hard rocky bottom for a good long ways.  We decided to stop here for lunch. We grilled the last 3 hamburgers and 2 hotdogs.  We had a nice lunch on the gravel bar. Up to this point we had a tough time with shoals . A lot of dragging the boat. I was hoping that from here on we would be in deeper water.

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I was right about having deeper water but the number of logjams exploded. Up to this point we had only gone under 3 trees. From here to the river, must have been 20 or more. Two of them we cut our what thru,  two we carried the boat around, several we lifted the boat over and some we got out and floated the boat under. The rest we navigated. If the log looked like we could clear under it, no matter how small the space,  John though it fun to gain as much speed as possible and see if I could duck to the bottom of the boad before being decapitated.

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Last Crossing of the Power lines.

We were now in the Etowah River Valley and out of the Braswell Mountains.  The creek travels through hay fields,  cow pastures,  cotton fields and small patches of woods. We cross a few field roads and got out at one to make contact with the rest of the world, having been cut off in the wilderness for atleast 18 hours. John made plans for Linsey to pick us up and we were off again. This was the toughest part of the trip. The logjams really wore us down.  We only saw two other people while on Raccoon Creek and it was a man and woman hanging out on a sand bar in this area. We said hello and kept moving

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Not much to report in this area. We did see one more deer in the creek. About the only history I know is that about half of the Union army crossed Raccoon Creek in this area also on their way to Dallas. (Different from the aboved units)  I read just yesterday about the men bathing in the creek and watering livestock.  May of 1864. We did travel about a mile or more along a farm where the owner had lined the banks with old concrete. We did pass one more cabin and just before the 113 bridge there was a house on the right.

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Once at the bridge we called Linsey again to give her a up date. From Harris Bottoms to the bridge was a longer distance that I thought it would be.  From the bridge to the rive is about a half a mile. We only had one difficult log to cross. We went under the old Railroad bridge for the line that travel from Cartersville to Rockmart.  People used to take the train out to Rockmart and the on over to Van Wert to hear Sam Jone Preach at Van Wert Methodist Church. It later became a Baptist Church. I have direct ancestors buried there on the Johnson side.  We went under the Railroad bridges that supplies plant Bowen. Coal is delivered via train. It is one of the largest Coal fired plants in the country.  Just passed the last Railroad bridge is the Etowah River.  Several people were taking a break from kayaking and on on the left shore.

We enter the Etowah River feeling a real sense of accomplishment. I don’t know of anyone else who has made this same trip.

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Confluence of the Raccoon Creek and Etowah River

From Raccoon Creek at river mile 128 to the Euharlee road bridge at river mile 132 it is an easy 4 miles. The river looked to be up but did not seam to be moving that fast. We quickly pass by the Etowah Cliffs, an antebellum plantation.  At the base of the bluff is a spring coing out of the rock face.

At mile 129.8 is one of dozens of fishing weirs along the river. This one is a little more impressive. It is in a very wide part of the river and is a double V. Lots of nice homes are on this section of the river.

At mile 130.8 is the water intake and discharge for Georgia Powers plant Bowen. The plant takes out 40 million gallons a day and returns half.  The rest is evaporated.  The returning flow is the size of Raccoon Creek and is hot to the touch.  The plant produces 20 percent of the power Georgia Power sells.

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Milam Bridge

At mile 131.2 is Milam bridge. Only the iron skeleton remains.  This is where in 1955, Grady Cochran, who was working for Green Tibbitts at the time sawmilling,  dumped the body of Patricia Cook, a 13 year old girl who he had murdered.  He used chains belonging to Green to weigh the body down. Grady was arrested at the job site. A relative who was a GBI agent was able to get a confession and the location of the body.  He was coveted and died in the Georgia Electric Chair. During the War of Northern Aggression, and before the iron bridge was biilt, half of the Union army crossed the river here. The Confederate Soldiers burned the wood bridge but the Union built a pontoon bridge in its place.

At mile 131.5 is the Euharlee creek. Only a half mile up the creek is the old covered bridge and the old mill. The sisters who ran the mill last had some type of dealings with papa Hollis Tibbitts about timber they owned. I believe he gave them advice on its value. Euharlee is rich in history and has a good little Museum. Well worth the trip.  You can tube the creek down to the river from the town.

Only a half mile more is the Euharlee road bridge at river mile 132. We ended our trip here. Linsey came and picked us up in my truck with in 10 minutes of our arrival.

Very tough adventure.  A little tougher than I thought that it would be.  But very rewarding also. I am very happy with the health of the creek and the amount of wild life we encountered. This completed a live long goal and a bucket list item for me. Raccoon Creek is a channel that I can take to my past, my history,  my family history, history of the land but it is always flowing.

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At the north west end of Florida’s forgotten cost is the 20 mile long St. Joseph Penniscla. From Port St. Joe, travel south then turn right on to a 5 mile cause way at Cape Sand Blast that takes you to the penniscla that turns sharply 90* back north. Where the causeway meets the penniscla, it is only a few yards wide. Just enough room for two lanes of traffic. With the sea threating to make an island out of the pennisclea, the DOT has added huge boulders at the turn and at high tied the waves crash into them. You wont find any high rise condos here like at other beaches. There is not even a hotel. Maybe around 100 homes, one gas station with a store and one icecream shop that serves sandwiches. No restrants, No Bars, No nothing. Just the way we like it. The state park takes up half of the Penniscla. The first three miles house a public beach, a boat ramp into the bay and a campground. The last seven miles are left to nature with one primitive sand road down the center. Closed to auto traffic. The park boast of the tallest sand dunes in the state.

Growing up we would visit Panama City Beach Florida every year. I didn’t know there were other beach for a long  time or that there were roads that could take you there. PCB was the default beach for most people in north Georgia. It was the closest and was cheap. Back then it was local mom and pop, small two story hotels with maybe a small pool. My favorite place to stay was the Page Motel. It was an old two store cheap place but it was right on the beach. We would walk from the living room out the sliding glass door and be on the beach. This was before anyone was building dunes, installing fencing to catch sand or building board walks. The unit had a kitchen, living room and two bed rooms. A lot of times two families would share one unit. Adults would get the beds and kids on the floor. We didn’t care.

The Page is where my younger cousin “only drowned once”. We were swimming in the pool and Jody was around three or four. We had been diving, swimming under water, through in a coin and dive down and get it. Remember there was no pool toys back then. If they were we did not have them. So we made our own. One thing we did have that you wont find at any hotel pool today is a diving board. After a good time swimming we went back in the room and dad asked if we had fun swimming. That is when Jody said he “only drowned once”, meaning he had only went under water once. We all got a big kick out of that.

PCB had a water slide, not a water park with hundreds of different slides and pools and stuff like it has now at Ship Werck Island. This was just maybe two slides. One tall one and one not so tall. The teenagers got to do those, I may have done it once. PCB also had a amusement park called The Miracle Strip. It was more on the lines of a carnival. It did have a wooden roller coaster, a faris wheel, bumper cars, swings, old timie cars, a train, haunted house a lot of the rides you see at carnival and the mid way games too. The ride that got my attention was the one I now know as the himalayon, it is where you are sitting in cars on this big disk and it spins around and around very, very fast going up and down while playing loud rock n roll muice. Well this one was housed in a big iglue with a huge abonable snowman standing over the entry. Very intemadaing for young boy. The other cool thing PBC had was Alvens Island. This was a beach wear, gift, t-shirt supper store inside a volcano. The interior looked like a cave. They had a alligator pit, and you entered through a great white sharks mouth. A must see and still there today.

One trip to PBC was with a large group, as always. In our  ford LTD on the way down was dad driving, mom in the passager set, Tammy my sister in the rear and her friend and cousin Kinda on the other side. Also in the car was my friend and cousin Chris in between them and I was riding on the arm rest between mom and dad, called the hump. Chris was a year or two older than me and we were between the ages of 5 and 7. Chris was a talker and about half way down on our 6 hour plus drive, Kinda offered him five dollars to not say another word till we got to the beach. Well Chris would stay quite for a while and then he would say something. He would want the money and would promise not to talk so Kenda offered him four dollars. This went on until he was down to his last dollar. He stayed quite for a long, long time, until at last he said “you can keep you money, I wished I had talked way before now”. It was on this same trip that we were all at the Miracle Strip, Chris and I were riding on the train. Two teenage girls sitting behind us said hey Chris remember me. Well of course not. We had never seen them before in our lives. They told us that they were his kindergarten teacher. To a 6 year old they looked old enough. They were having fun with him. We knew we did not know them but how did they know Chris’s name? Well by the time the trail pulled in to the station they told us they had read his name off the back of his air brushed shirt and made up the story.

The only time I ever road in a hellocopter was at PCB. This trip it was just me, mom and dad. Dad and I took a hellocopter tour down the beach in one that has the big glass bubble around the cockpit and no doors. Yea that is the one. Being little I was between the pilot and dad. We were half way down the beach, flying along, everything going good when the pilot asked me if I wanted to go on the roller coaster . I remember very distantly saying NO. He didn’t take no for a answer, We went on a roller coaster ride. Strait down to the ocean, strait up to the sky, back to the ocean, back to the sky. We did that three or four more times. Mean while back at the helipad where mom is waiting, a little boy runs up and says that “they went down”. I am surprised mom didn’t have a hart attack right then. She thought it was us. In fact it was the paraselers being pulled by a boat. I am sure it was normal operations for them. But mom didn’t know that at the time.

We had a lot of fun over the years at BPC. I knew it like I lived there my whole live.   More and more condos were built. All the little hotels sold out. We started staying in high rises where it took a lot of effort to get to the beach. You have to walk to the elevator, wait forever on it to get to your floor, it then stops on every floor on the way down, then you have to walk through the pool area to the board walk and finally get to the beach 10 or 15 minutes latter. It soon became the spring break capitol of the world. When Wyatt and Sarah were very young we were staying at a hotel that allowed a church group play loud muisce till midnight in the pool area that our room over looked. None off us could sleep. I complained several times to the front desk but got no satisfaction. That is when we decided we would not be going back to PBC on vacation. However we have going to ship Werck Island and other places there while staying at St. Joseph.

Going to St. Joseph adds another 45 minutes to the PCB trip but it is well worth it. From PCB you go south east down the coast. Most of the trip is the 17 miles through the Kendale Air Force Base. Then the beach community of Mexico Beach. There are a few small hotels and beach homes. Next is Port St. Joe. More of a fishing town because it is on the bay created by St. Joseph Pennicial. A few hotels and small restraint. There is one fast food restraint and grocery store. These is were we do out shopping when staying at the park. Further south down the coast is Apalatchacola, Apalatchacola bay and St. George Island. All the water from Atlanta ends up in Apalatchacola bay via the Chataloochee river, Atlanta’s river.

We have camped at St. Joseph at least four times. The kids have grownup going there and know it well. When they were younger it was easy to keep them entertained with the beach and ocean. As they have gotten older they want more things to do. Wendy and I are beach bums and love to site and just watch the waves role in. We would build sand casels, throw a football or baseball, play with frisbys, fly kits, feed the sea birds, catch crabs and play in the waves. The lay out of the beach is first the privet homes before the park, then the public beach, then the beach for the first campground and finally the beach for the second campground over a three mile span. This makes the beach not  crowded at all. It’s hard to count more than 80 people in eye sight. So there is plenty of room to spread out. The first campground is open with no trees and is just a little closer to the beach. The other campground is very wooded and has a boardwalk leading to the beach. We have stayed in both areas. I think I like the wooded lots better, they offer a little more privatsy. The campgrounds have very nice bathhouses with hot water for showers. We have a shower in the camper but it is easier to go to the bathhouse. Taking showers for a week in the camper with four people would fill the grey water tanks on the camper. Some Campgrounds have swear connections at each site and there is not a problem with taking a lot of showers.

The first year we were there Wyatt and I took the kayak out into the bay. We tried fishing but ended up collecting shells, clams, crabs and scalps. The bay is around waist deep for a long way out and full of sea weed. This was the first time we had caught live craps and scalps.

Wendy’s mother, Hellen spent some time with us on one trip. Another trip Wyatt took his buddy Jona and Sarah took her friend Mikenzy with her for the week. They were between the ages of 12 and 15. As a side note we had a flat on the trip down and the under pinning of the camper started to come off. If you have read more of my post you know these things happen to me. I used straps to hold the underpinning in place. Once at the campground I went back to town and bought a drill and some self-tapping screws. I reattached the underpinning and it is still holding today. Wendy drove the Thaho with the girls and the guys were in the truck pulling the camper. The six of us had a lot of fun. The kids had their bikes and were able to come and go on their own. We spent a lot of time on the beach and in the ocean. We got them mask and snorkels. They explored the bay side of the park. We caught all kinds of sea creatures. We did do a few day trips and one was to a spring that is a state park. It was about an hour or so south east. A very nice place. Once was a private hotel on the site.  1930 . The park runs the hotel now. I was hoping to ride the glass bottom boats like they have at Silver Springs.  But the water quality was poor and the boats were not running.  Here comes the side note. I have been to Silver Springs three or four times. All but once was when I was young.  I remember going with mom, dad, Emily, Turrl and Brandon.  We went on lots of trips together.  We stayed in a hotel outside the park and I remember swimming in the pool.   once with Wendy,  Wyatt and Sarah.  Sarah was just a baby.  That was a fun trip. Silver springs was our first stop. We did it all. The glass bottom boats the petting zoo and gardens. It is a very nice park. We then went to another spring called Juniper Spring. A state park. It had a nice big pool to swim in where the water springs up. The water is very cold. We walked a little was down the creek that was formed by the spring.  This is where Wyatt got into “quick sand” it was where more water was bubbling up and the sand looked as if it was bolling. He sunk down a little.  This same trip we to Bush Gardens. Back to the Spring at St joe. This water was cold too. There is a real big swimming area where the water spring up and create a river. Like Silver Springs.  They have two docks you can swim out to and jump off that are just a foot or two out of the water. All the kids hang out there. Then there is this three story tower that you can jump off. Me and the boys did it at least once. We all took the jungle boat ride and got to see a lot of wildlife up and down the river.  We ate dinner at the hotel in there super nice dinning room. The kids had fun.

Cramping on the beach. I brought my backpack with all my gear with plans to hike the seven miles to the tip of the island.  I headed out in the late afternoon first on my bike. I rode it to the last board walk on the beach and left it there. I hiked on the hard packed sand of the surf just out of reach of the waves. I had only sandals on. I didn’t know it at the time but that was a big mistake.  I passed a few beach goers who were packing up to go in for the night.  The futhur I went the more man made trash there was. Little pieces of plastic,  ropes,  flotation equipment and you name it.  It started to get dark and I had not made it to the tip. I need to find a place to hang my Enos Hamrick. It took a little doing but I found a spot on top of a sand dune that had some small pine trees with a view of the sea. I did have to scavage some rope from the beach to rig up my tarp. I made a small fire and had a frieze dried dinner.  I was really hoping to see a sea turtles come to shore and lay her eggs. They had been nesting all up and down the beach.  Volunteers checked the beach each morning and documented each new nest. They dig up the eggs and count them.  Then the eggs are buried and the nest is marked with a wire mesh to keep predators out and wood stacks to mark the corners.  The date is written on the stacks. There are dossens of nest that I pass. I checked the beach during the night but not turtles.  I did see a dune fox though.  The moon was full and the sea was calm. I made a lot of good photos. The next morning after packing up I explored the sand dunes. From the ocean to the tree line of tall Pines, the dunes extend inland about 300 yards.  It is a very different landscape that I had experienced before. I didn’t make it to the tip,  I came across a four wheeler trail and thinking this would be a good way to cross over to the other side of the pennisclea, I took it. I made it to the bay side by following the trail.  There is no way to walk in the woods here. The undergrowth is way to thick.  A lot of small palms. The bay side wasn’t that fun of a walk. The “beach” was only a few feet wide and on a steep slop.  I walked several miles and decided if I could I would take the next trail to the interor.  The bay side was not a straight line like the ocean side, it had a bump out into the bay. This would have added to the total distant I would have traveled so I wanted to avoid it.  My chance came and I took it.  I would regret wearing sandes to hike in on sand. At first the road out was hard packed but the last mile or so was very loss dry sand. My ankles rolled with each step.  It was about noon. There was no fresh water to filter so I packed all my water in with me. I was about out and it was getting hot. I made it back to my bike for a successful trip.

The kids had seen a vollyball net on the drive in. It was nearly on the mainland a out 10 miles from the camp. With out a since of distance,  they headed out on their bikes to play. They got to the icream shop before stopping.  Lucky that they had a few dollars they were able to buy some drinks.  Even more luckily they were spotted by Wendy on her way back from the laundry mat in town.  She stopped at the store and bough them icream and drinks.  Then gave them a ride back.

Lots of fun at St. Joseph Penniscla.  I am afraid that it to is starting to get developed.

“The Builders” by Charles Elliott. It appeared in the February 1952 Edition of Outdoor Life magazine.

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The hunters made camp in a mountain glade and sheltered it from the weather with a emerald backdrop of massed hemlock and Rhododendron. They could hear the wind screaming through the leafless winter branches of the trees high on the ridge. Scattered flakes of snow whirled through the clearing and died in the heat of the campfire.

They were a discourage group of men. For two days they hunted the hillside and crouched near game trails through tense, frozen visual. They had flushed doe deer and found Bucks signs, but no one hand sighted a worthy trophy.

E.F. Corley threw a green oak log on the blaze. When the Cascade of spark subsided he kicked a stray firebrand into the flames and sat down again.

“Fellas”, he said, “I did some thinking out on that ridgetop today. Every year we come up here in the Blue Ridge for deer hunting. We could do the same thing a lot near home.”

“We could sure do as well,” one of the hundred snorted. “We ain’t got deer at home and we can’t find none here worth shooting.”

“What I’m figuring”, Corey said, “is stocking deer in the hills behind home. Our country in Georgia isn’t much different from this, only smaller and not so high.”

“You ain’t got a chance of starting deer in there”, the hunter said. “Town people and farmers too would shoot’em before they could be put out of a truck.”

“The six of us here,” Corley persistent, “represent a sizable chunk of land – maybe 12,000 acres. That’s a start. And there’s twenty times that much wild land in the corner of Polk, Bartow, Paulding counties. That’s enough to grow a fittin’ deer herd.”

“Even if everybody agreed, which they won’t, where you gonna get the deer?” Another hunter asked. “How’ll you protect’em? What authority-”

“I don’t know all the answer”, Corley admitted, “but I reckon findin’em out might be worth a try.”

The men around a campfire were sons of the soul. Most of them made their leaving from the Earth from cotton, milk, bottom lane corn, and livestock. Corley himself was a farmer, saw mill, trucker, contractor, and, to take up his unused hours on Sunday, an ordained Baptist minister. Two were dairymen who sold their milk in bulk to the nearest processing plant. For a week each year the men went hunting deer together.

That night the men laid out there new idea just as they might plan next season farming operation. They realize that there wasn’t a chance in starting a game refuge until all their neighbors and acquaintances favorite one. Half a dozen hunters could blast deer out of the woods faster than they could be put in. In many ways Paulding was then a typical backwoods County. The courts regarded cases brought in by the local game warden as annoying and frequently pigeonholed such complaints. Any man who wanted a fish dinner simply seined for it, and everyone knew that squirrels were fatter  and quail easier to kill weeks before this season open.

Quietly and without fuss, preacher Corley, Hollis Tibbitts, Gene Colbert, Bennie Jones, Joe Mathis, O. N. Black – the men around the campfire – begin to sell a program which has improved the status of their county more than anything since the Civil War ended. From an idea that started as a game project, it has blossomed into a county wide system of soil conservation, forest protection, rural electrification, and better schools and roads.

It didn’t come easy. Testimony to that may be found in the rough, forest clad hills that rise to 1,700 feet on both sides of state highway 61, North out of Dallas. For almost 80 years since the Yankees storms  around Kennesaw Mountain and turned southward to the Battle of Atlanta, the farms scattered widely through this rugged terrain remained about the same.

With the help of the county agent, Corley, Tibbitts, and Corlbert made up a map showing ownership of every tract of land in the area. The territory consisted of  150,000 acres lying roughly in the triangle between Dallas, Cedartown, in Cartersville. Then they went to work selling their plan to neighbors.

A hunting committee was organized, and it prepared an argument whereby each land owner who signed pledged himself to bar hunting of any kind on his property for 5 years. He also promised to help keep down forest fires and to help control predatory animals either by his own efforts or through the Paulding County Conservation Club, in which he automatically became a non-dues-paying member.

The committee made several trips to surrounding towns, to the State Capitol at Atlanta, and even crossed the line into Alabama to get signatures. Non-resident owners sign without hesitation, for it ment protection of property some of them had hadn’t seen in years but a few farmers close to home couldn’t see any sense in “turning good laying back to the varmints.”

“What’ll I do for a mess of squirrels in Hickory Nut cutting time if I agree not to go busting no cap for five years?” When asked.

“If one man shoots,” Corley argued, “everybody’ll want to, and some aren’t as honest as you. It’s only a couple of miles from your place across the highway into the Hickory Nut bottoms on the other side. You can get your squirrels the there.”

Nevertheless ,this farmer didn’t put his +name to the document into the members of his parish corners him in the the church Grove for four straight Sundays in a row and kidded him into it.

Two or three signatures made their marks willingly but with glints in their eyes as they visualize the prospect of a private hunting area at their back door. Canvassers made mental note of this. A local businessman who owns a small forest track on the edge of the preserve read the agreement carefully and send it with a big smile. “First time I ever put my name to something that I didn’t cost me money,” he said.

The businessman was only partly correct. Getting folks to sign the pack, which took more than a year of Education, and checking, and pressure was only the first step in the long range program. The second step call for raising money for the initial stocking program. The hunting partners made a list of how much each member could afford to donate, and then issued invitations to that infallible southern crowd-collecting affair, a barbecue with Brunswick stew and m(meat cooked over Hickory coals.

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At that first “formal” meeting of the Paulding County Conservation club, Corey outline the whole plan. It wasn’t new by then. For more than a year it has been discussed and cursed around those at Crossroads, Country stores, in church groves, and across plowstocks. But Corley went over it again, and ended by donating $200 to be used for the stocking program. When each man present had made his pledge, the treasure added up the subscription. The total came to $1,400, some $400 more than the committee anticipated.

” We hadn’t figured on spending but $1,000 for dear”, the preacher said. “We got too much money for that”.

.”Them creeks are mighty cold,  maybe they’ll take trout, ” Another suggested.

We’ll need something for fire protection, ” a farmer cautuoned.  “We can put out the fires ourselves if we can find out when they start and where they are.

The committee gathered the newly hatched proposal under its wing and went back to work.  The telephone line stopped at Dallas City limits,  so the committee applied for an expansion of phone service and then signed up potential subscribers.  Committee members spent hours away from home during the hot summer months,  taking the temperature of the streams to determine whether the water was cold enough to support mountain trout.  They talked with the county agent and the county commissioner about setting up funds to provide for forest protection. The agent was willing.  The commissioner had only one brief comment: “Costs too much”.

At one time or another, uncontrolled fires had burned every acre of woods thereaout. Why waste money and manpower to stop them now? Trees grew in spite of annual burns. It would be an extravagant use of taxpayer’s money. That was that. But it didn’t stop the committee. The group inquired into the cost of pumps, axes, shovels, hoes, and other fire-fighting equipment which could be keep handy at strategic points.

Laying the groundwork for good fishing and hunting near home took the better part of two years. Now the club members were ready for the first real test – getting the state to help . A committee of four called on the State Game and Fish Commission in Atlanta and laid the club’s plans before it.

“We got the money and the land,” Corley explained. “All we want is information on how to legally set up a refuge, and where we can buy a stock of deer”.

“How do you propose to protect it?” the commission director asked.

“We got that figured out,” a committee member put in. “If you’ll deputize five or six of our members as game wardens they’ll do the job with help from your local officer.”

The project was approved at the next game-commission meeting. Though a little skeptical that this was on the up and up, or could succeed in a county where game protection had long been a joke, the commission located a herd of twenty deer for sale on a private estate in South Carolina.

The price was $1,500. Corley got them for $1,000. In February, 1944, deer went bounding into the hills of northwest Paulding County for the first time in more than half a century.

Before fall that same year 100 wild-turkey eggs were purchased from an Eastern game breeder, hatched at the state quail farm with unsatisfactory results, and reared to stocking size with still unsatisfactory results at a farm on the edge of the project. Against the recommendation of the game technicians, the club purchased fifty half-domesticated turkey hens and gobblers and turned them out with the wild poults.

That fall club members also hauled 20,000 fingerling rainbow trout from the Summerville hatchery and released them in the headwaters of the creeks rising on the project. The club applied to the State Department of Forestry for a county-wide fire-protection system, and was promised assistance if the county commissioner would agree to co-operate financially. From then on the commissioner couldn’t walk down the street without being pestered by his constituents for the forest-fire unit and for better roads to make the project more accessible to those engaged in protecting its trees and game. He never did give in but his successor was won over.

Thus the refuge, so carefully nurtured thought its think and theory stages, at last became a reality. Corley and his associates had thought that when thy reached this point most of the work would be  behind them. Instead their headaches and heartbreaks had just begun.

One buck in their first truckload of deer suddenly turned into a man hunter. Raised in captivity and unafraid of humans, he developed a propensity, as big bucks sometimes do, for stalking men and nudging them in the seat of the pants with his antlers.

He hooked a railroad worker who was walking down the side of a steep embankment, and then attacked an old man who was hoeing his garden. A clamor went up for his head. Who ever heard of wild animals being allowed to run loose and hurt people/ So the first hunt of the project was organized, but not for game. Men with specially loaded shotgun shells peppered the offending buck with peas and rock salt and drove him back into the woods.

Then the poacher problem came up. The violators were not town people or nonresidents, but several natives who lived within the boundaries of the preserve and who had signed the agreement.

The worst offender, from all reports, had just added deer slaying to his other crimes. He made bootleg whisky and to help hide the smoke from his still, set forest fires. He also stole automobiles, stripped them, and sold all non-traceable parts.

The committee decided that this character was beyond reform, and that the only way to get rid of him was to buy him out. With the sheriff and state patrol on his trail, he was persuaded to sell his place and move away.

The other known poachers had no bad habits other than stealing game occasionally. As an experiment, the club hired some of these men and assigned them to keep down game-law violations and control predators.

Typical of these good-natured hill men was on who raised only enough crops to feed his hogs, chickens, mule, and family. This didn’t take too many weeks out of his year. He spent the rest of his time ranging the slopes and ridges with his single-barreled shotgun. He took a heavy toll of wild creatures within a ten-mile radius of his home. Corley and Tibbitts went to see him in September. They found him barefoot on the steps of his weathered house.

“We’re looking for deer sign,” Corley said.  “Seen any of he bucks we turned loose over in the valley?”

“Some,” he admitted. “One’s been in the pea patch, an’ I seen several hoof tracks where they crossed the ridge.” He led the two farmers over a narrow mountain trail to show them the tracks in the next gap.

“Aren’t you afraid you’ll get bitten by a rattler, going around like that with no shoes on?” Tibbitts asked.

“Been doing it fifty year, I reckon,” the hill man said, “an’ ain’t never been bit but twicet.”

He agreed to take the job as deputy warden and protect his side of the refuge from hunters. The club bought him some steel traps and set him up in the fur and varmint business. He took his job seriously from the beginning. He visited neighbors with whom he had hunted in the past years and explained his new status. They agreed to keep their guns and dogs off the preserve.

Other trappers scattered around the preserve warred on the wildcats, skunks, opossums, and foxes which had played hob with the attempt to restock turkeys.

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Meantime the state game officials, realizing that the club’s venture might succed, let a helping hand. Charles Pierle, co-ordinator of Pittman- Robertson projects sponsored jointly by the state and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, arranged to have a truckload of big Wisconsin white-tails released in the mountains. Two additional loads of surplus deer from Texas were turned loose in the bottomlands of Raccoon and Peggymore Creeks, where the larger northern deer were not ranging.

This herd immediately started to feed on a hay bottom belonging to the brothers Harvey and Bob Crews. When they casually mentioned this fact to Hollis Tibbitts, he brought it up at a meeting and was instructed to use club funds to pay for any damage done. The Crews boys allowed that they’d rather have the deer than the hay, but the club paid them anyway for an estimated two tons of feed.

As for the 20,000 rainbow trout, most disappeared. No on knew why. It may have been a change in water, or maybe the fish traveled downstream to look for larger pools, only to be trapped the next summer by the warm, muddy rain water that flowed off the fields. After a second stocking also failed, Corley and his associates thought up another idea.

Bennie Jones furnished the land and ten club members pledged the money to build a fifty-acre lake at the head of a tributary flowing into Peggymore Creek. Wartime lack of labor and materials put a halt to the plan, but Bennie later built the lake himself.

Corley started the construction of a 100-acre lake on a creek immediately below. This set off a chain reaction that within two years saw a dozen manmade lakes thereabouts. Corley’s lake, built out of concrete and earth, was completed and stocked last fall-with largemouth bass, smallmouths, and bluegills – and will be ready for fishing in another year.

But the club’s main interest centered around the deer. A total of 107 animals were stocked on the rugged mountain and in a six-year period. The herd was seriously threatened a couple of years ago when hunters slipped in from neighboring towns and for a month took pot shots at any animals they saw from the roadside between Remus and Beatty Switch. Deputy game wardens found two dozen cripples that had gone into the woods to die. The club increased the number of men assigned to guard the area, and went to see the judge. Word got around that the court was prepared to jail anyone caught with a loaded rifle on the refuge. The malicious practice soon stopped.

The club plans to hold its first buck hunt next fall, when perhaps a dozen bucks-mostly those that have been hanging around the farms and nipping at the crops – will be harvested. The area will be open to the pubic, with shooting by permit only, and it’s hoped that the meat will be divvied up so that all hunters can have a taste of venison. Meantime, club members estimate that their original stock of 107 deer has increased to perhaps 600 animals, spreading from east of Cartersville clear across the Alabama line.

The club has big plans for the future. More landowners have requested admission. Now that the predatory animals and stray dogs are at an all-time low, the gobbler committee is again looking around for a stock of wild turkeys.

And in the meanwhile the quail – which haven’t been shot since the preserve was set up – are doing fine. Men have jumped coveys all over the place, and there should be some swell hunting when the lid goes off.

The spirit has spread into other community affairs. When the district schoolhouse burned down, the club members got local suppliers to sell them construction materials at cost, then pitched in and erected a new building with their own hands. It cost around $ 15,000 and is valued at $75,000.

Paulding County now has complete forest-fire protection – trucks, jeeps, radios, and fire-fighting equipment. The unit co-operates  with  neighboring setups when fires break out anywhere in that part of the state.

“You can hardly strike a match to light your pipe but a fire truck skids to a stop behind you and a patrolman jumps out with a hose in his hand,” Corley says.

The roads around the area and one that runs through it have been improved and made part of the county highway system. The area got R.EA. electric power in 1948 to improve living conditions on the farms, and the telephone company expects to service the whole north end of the county within the next few months.

Corley and his associates are planning big thins ahead. Their community is fired with the spirit of progress, and its list of achievements grows month by month. But most important to the sportsmen who sat around the campfire on that cold winter night in the mountains, big-game hunting has now been brought to their very back doors.

The conservation idea is so firmly implanted in the minds of their neighbors that it will be a long time before those parts will again be as barren of game and fish as they were only seven short years ago.

The End.

 


By Trent Tibbitts

Note. See post “The Bob – Montana ” before reading this post.

After much anticipation and preparing, it was finely time to Go West. Todd and Toni picked me up at 5 AM on the morning of September 10th, 2015. We saw two doe deer on the way to pick up Keith.  We arrived at the Atlanta Airport around 6 for our 8:10 flight  to Los Angeles,  California.  We got through security and to our gate without delay.  When boarding the  plane,  I noticed the gate attendant said “Highly  Favored ” When asked “How are you?”. I thought that was a great response.  Flight DL110 took off at 8:30 for its 4 hour and 5 minutes flight to LAX.  I didn’t 20150910_083417have a window seat and it was mostly  cloudy so I  couldn’t see much on the way out. In fact,  I was in seat C of a plane that had window, seat A, seat B, Isle, seat C, seat D, seat E, isle, seat F, seat G, window. No one was in seat D, that gave me some room. There was a monitor in the back of the seat in front of me that displayed our flight and what part of the country we were flying over. We landed at 9:35 Pacific time in sunny  California and I got my first look at the Golden State. Yes, palm trees. After getting off the plane we had time to grab lunch at 10 o’clock. 20150910_095307

After lunch we didn’t have much of a wait before we got on our next flight. We stared boarding at 11:05 for our 11:45 flight.  This time I did have a window seat on the left side of the plane.  I enjoyed it very much.  I think I have a photo of every inch we flew over from LA to Salt Lake. The airport is right on the coast, as we took off, we flew west out over the Pacific Ocean.  I was looking south down the beach for my first view of the other Shining Sea.

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We made a big circle out over the water as we turned North East to Salt Lake. We could see a lot of the coast, boats, ships and the harbor.  From the beach to the mountains was very densely populated.  Not a very wide area. But, on the other side of the mountains, little to no evidence of man’s footprint could be seen from the air until we flew over Las Vegas, where we turned north to Salt Lake.  The Landscape looked mostly desert and some mountains.  I had never seen anything like it.  I was taking a photo about ever minute.  One thing that I noticed the most was the drainage of the land that was so evident.  We flew over small towns,  mountains and sand. Over Las Vegas,  I could only see the North West urban sprawl and the Red Rock Mountains.   From Vegas,  the flight took a Northern course.  I continually was amazed all the way to Salt Lake City.  Just before landing,  we could see salt flats and the world’s largest copper mine. After landing,  it was a short lay over before we boarded a small airplane at 2:35 Mountain time for our last leg of the flight to Kalispell Montana. As we took off we could see the city of Salt Lake. I was not impressed.  Once air born,  we could see the Great Salt Lake.  Again, I was disappointed.  The water looked very uninviting.  Soon, the flat desert gave way to mountains.  Some snow was visible on the North slopes that were shaded. By chance we were on the plane with a man from Rome Georgia,  just a few miles up the road from Dallas,  where we live. His parents live next to the Bob and he was up to visit them. Our landing approach was over the flat head river. Very beautiful country.

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We meet Brett at the baggage claim of this very small airports.  I  have seen bigger truck stops. From the airport we could see the peaks of Glacier National Park. Todd Hunter arrived shortly to pick us up in his four door flat-bed Dodge truck.  After handshakes and greetings, we drove the nearly two hours to Todd’s house just outside Eureka, Montana.
He is only nine miles from the Canadian border, and you can see the Canadian Rockies very well from his home. It is a two story log cabin built in 1895. It has large windows with great views that were original to the design.  Todd and his wife Sarah did all of the renovations themselves and it is very beautiful.  They live on a large cattle farm where they help with the operation.  A  farrier was shoeing several of Todd and Sarah’s horses when we arrived. We saw tons of whitetail deer on the way in and a good many were in the alfalfa hay fields around Todd’s house. We took the side by side buggy out before dinner to see the farm and look at the deer. Todd had been seeing some Elk a few days before our arrival,  but no luck this night. Sarah cooked a great meal of chicken and dumplings with  zucchini squash. Todd and Sarah have a three year old daughter named Bella. She is a little cowgirl.  She has her own pony, Biscuit, that she rides. She loves to ride her mother’s horse, Cisco, and can name all the other horses and mules. It’s amazing to see a little three year old girl lead a horse by herself. She will grow up to be a fine young lady someday.  Todd and Sarah have two spare bedrooms.  Keith took one and Todd Tibbitts and I took the other.  Brett took the couch.

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Day two. September 11, 2015.

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I  woke up at sunrise.  Todd Hunter,  Brett and Keith were up. Todd Tibbitts  got up a little later.  We all had a cup of coffee, and we were standing at the coral looking at the whitetail deer in the field.  I had gone in the house to put my camera away,  as i was coming back out, a huge Elk appeared on the ridge line behind Todd’s house. He was maybe 100 yards at most away from us. He was silhouetted against the morning sky. It would have been an award-winning photo. Field and Steams eat your heart out type of setting. I ran back inside to get my camera.  When I got back outside,  I saw him jump the fence at the bottom of the hill. He turned and headed away from us. I got a few shots of him as he trotted across the field, but he was a long way off. It was one of the biggest Elk Todd had seen on the farm. With binoculars we could see him cross the road about a mile away. After all the excitement,  we all loaded up in Todd’s truck, Todd H, Sarah,  Bell, Todd T, Brett,  Keith and myself.  We went to downtown Eureka to eat at Jacks Cafe.

house point

cow saha

We came back to Todd’s house and saddled up five horses for a cattle drive. First we went down the road and meet Joe who runs the farm. He was installing pipe for a center pivot irrigation system. We rode the horses down the road pass the hay barn. Sarah was on a 6 year old that she was training.  Todd Hunter was on Cisco. Bell rode with him on the way out. Red was on a wild mair that Todd had borrowed for the trip. Brett was on his horse and I was on Little E. Todd Tibbitts and Keith rode the side by side buggy. They opened the gate for us and took Bell. We rode up a little hill to were the cattle were. The goal was to cut the bulls from the cows and drive the cows to a new pasture.  Todd and Sarah cut each cow a we helped to block them from mixing back together.  Once they were separated we drove the cows and calves down the hill and through the gate.  The push across the field was nice and easy.  We turned them down by the corn and out the gap to the road.  Todd and Keith were waiting for us a little ways down the road.  They had the gate open to the other field and the side by side buggy in the road to block the way and to turn the cows. After a successful cattle drive we had to go on another round-up. A yearling had gotten into a neighboring pasture. The pasture had a heard of Black Angus Cattle that was in the corner of the pasture. The yearling was along the fence next to the pasture he should have been in. We entered the field and had to pass the Black Angus to get to our calf. After we had passed them , they started to follow us. Sarah,  Red and myself turned our horses to face the cattle, while Brett and Todd drove the calf to a small gate where Todd and Keith were waiting.  Once the calf was in the other field,  the Black Angus turned and headed back to their corner.  We then rode over to the gate and joined everyone there. We had a quick ride back to the barn and put the horses away.

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After getting back and putting the horses away we loaded some things into the nose of the horse trailer. We then went to a little fishing village to eat dinner.  We saw several Mule Deer roaming around town.

cowgirl                 20150911_135750 shoe

September 12, 2015

In the morning we saw several cow elk on the other side of the pasture.  We glassed them on our way to breakfast at Jack’s.  When we got back there was another cow out. We herded this one with two side by sides. Once we got it back in the fence,  we saw a coyote crossing the field close to where the elks were. We couldn’t get a shot off. We then packed several bales of hay into the trailer.  Each one around 80 lbs.  Up to this point we had not heard from Cameron, Todd H. friend who was to help pack us into the wilderness.  The other dilemma were the wildfires. The areas we were wanting to go were still closed and we had no idea when or if they would be open. We checked the website each day for updates but our area remained closed while others were opened. We were itching to do something,  so we decided to go to Cabelas. It is in Kalispell, over an hour away.  We all bought fishing license and Todd,  Keith and Brett bought their hunting license.  We loaded up on fishing gear.  I bought a box of bear load for the 44. I also bought a extra battery pack for the solar charger that I had borrowed from John. We then went back to Todd’s house to shot our guns.

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20150912_193908      bell

The hunters shot their rifles.  I shot a few rounds of the bear load in the 44. After the target practice, Todd H walked to the hay barn about 80 yards down the field road. He Spotted a skunk and yelled for one of us to come kill it.  I was elected and Randall handed me his pistol.  We rode up on the side by side. By this time the skunk is in the field.  I take aim and fire from just a few yards. I see a little blood splatter and I go to the skunk.  Well, it keeps going.  So, I shoot at it again and miss this time. It’s moving faster in the field so I run to get in front of it. I shot it a few more times. I know I am hitting it. I can see the lead lodged in its fur on its chest.  It is bleeding from a few good shots but it is still going strong.  I eventually unload the whole magazine, 8 to 10 rounds. Everyone is laughing at me from a safe distance.  I didn’t know it at the time but the pistol was a .22. I thought it was a 9mm. I went back to the side by side and retrieved the 44. One shot of bear load stop the unstoppable skunk.  I am not sure when I got sprayed, but I did. To me it wasn’t that bad, but everyone assured me that it was.  I went to the barn and stripped down. My bag was still out there so I got a pair of house pants out and put those on. I hung all my clothes up to air out. The worst was my belt and wallet, that were leather.  Keith had a bottle of scent blocker. I sprayed it on everything several times.  I then took a shower and got 90% of the smell off. I was now dinner time, we left Todd H picking up hay and we went to Four Corners for dinner.

September 13th. Sunday

We had decided to go to Cameron’s place so we would be ready to head into the Bob once it was open. We packed up our personal items before going back to Four Corners for breakfast.  We finished packing up all of our gear and loaded the horses.  We had two trucks and trailers.  Todd Tibbitts,  Keith, Brett and Red was in one. Sarah, Todd H, Bell and me in the other.  We stopped for lunch, gas and groceries in White Fish.  Then from Hungry Horse it was a 52 mile trip down a dirt road in the national forest to Cameron’s place, Wilderness Camp.

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Back in the 1960s, when the Flathead National Forest was founded,  there were three sites for lodges sold.  Cameron’s father bought one and named it the Wilderness Camp.  It has maybe 15 little cabins and one lodge for gathering and dinner.  He runs his hunting outfitter business from here. A little background on Cameron, he is in his early 60s I would guess. One would call him a drunk if they didn’t know him. Tough as nails. A big man that can more than hold his own. Before the fires, he had a tent setup in the woods where he sleep each night. The firefighters, when making a fire break, cleared all the trees around the camp and exposed his tent site. When we were in the wilderness, he would sleep on the ground each night by the fire. If he wasn’t cussing he wasn’t talking. He was a rough old mountain man but he was nothing but kind and he opened up his place to us .

beer coral

When we got here several fire fighters were staying in the cabins. As we were just setting up,  a fire fighter drove up and talked to us a little.

20150913_172129   highline

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We then put the horses on a  high line in an area of the camp that had been cleared by fire fighters just a few weeks before to help protect the Lodge from the wildfires. All but a very few scattered trees were cut. The high line is a rope that is hung about 6 or 7 feet off the ground from tree to tree. The horses are tied to it. Cameron had a large coral but we did not know when he would show up with his horses and did not want them in with his. The forestry service had Cameron to take his horses out of the forest and away from the fires. At first he did want to take them off but rather take them down to the lake in the delta like area where the river comes into it. We fished down there and it would have been a great place to protect the horses. The head ranger for this area is a lady and she had a meeting with Cameron where she offered a 5th of Jack Danielle if he would take the horses away. He took them to his father’s house. At this point in the trip we still have not heard a thing from Cameron and expected him at anytime.

fire-sign sign

After feeding the horses, Red, Keith and myself walked down to the river at the bridge that was just a mile up the road. I had the big iron on my hip in case of a bear encounter. We walked around until about dark. Then headed back. We had made camp next to the coral and an old horse trailer that was on our East side. We put up a few tarps over a fire ring and setup the kitchen there. Brett and I hung our hammocks to the north of camp. Todd H. and family sleep in their horse trailer, Red, Keith and Todd sleep in Red’s trailer, south of camp. The high line horse were on the west side. We had a good dinner, some of the fire fighters joined us.  We had guitar playing and singing by Todd T. And Red. The fire was good and warm as the night temps stared to drop. The Corral had water and we needed to water the horses before going to bed. We each took two at a time and walked them over to the corral. It was good a dark by this time. I still was not that familiar with handling the horses. I had a lead rope in each hand and was about half way to the corral when something spooked both horses and they both reared up pull my arms up and apart. I had to let go of one rope. I  started yelling for help. The horses never started to run and I was able to grab the other lead rope. Help arrived and took one of the horses for me.

river                  stock-sign

September 14th,  Monday

It rained during the night but not to much.  I was warm dry and happy in my hammock.  We restarted the fire and had breakfast.  This is when Dugan came up to met us. He works for Cameron packing horses.  He is a young man in his 20’s, Tall and skinny.  He really didn’t know where Cameron was either.  We sat around the fire eating breakfast and getting to know Dugan.  As we were talking he told us about his friends who are Blackfoot Indians that lived on the reservation not to far away.  He told us about Indian days,  kinda like the Indian Olympics. Apparently the reservation is a good place to buy horses.  His Indian name is Dances with Pigs. He earned the name after his friends family were going to kill and cook a hog. They tried to do a ceremonial slaughter but they had difficulty killing the hog. With the hog wounded,  screaming and running around.  Dugan caught and killed the hog. As the wind would change the smoke would blow on someone else and they would move.  That is when Dugan asked if we knew why Indians dance around the fire. Answer;  to get out of the smoke. He got us on that one.  We were ready for some inside Secret Indian knowledge.  We would learn that Dugan was a hard worker and good at what he does. In fact he had been working for the forestry service packing in supplies for the fire fighters these past few weeks.

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lodge

fire  flowers.jpg

After breakfast and feeding the horses,  we explored the lodge. As you walk up there is a small porch with a bench against the wall.  Big uncut lodge poles were used for the post. When you walk through the big heavy door you enter the dinning area.  The end of the table is 8 feet from the door. You can sit about 20 people around the table.  There is no electricity.  A battery operated radio is playing. Someone had left Cameron a six-pack on the table.  There are gas light s above the table and a few on the wall. To the right is a large kitchen.  Next to the door on n the right was a desk that served as the office of the operation.  To the left was a couch along the front wall. A wood burning stove was along the next wall and a big chair was in the corner with a book shelf behind it. The building was an upside-down”T” shape.  On the one side was a bedroom, bathroom,  living room then the dinning area with the kitchen on the other side.  Past the table is a steep down to a landing just big enough for a couch on each side.  Then it goes down one flat of steps.  From the front door to the back wall is one long room.  The back wall had a river rock fire-place. I am sure the whole place was built from material found on site.  The back wall being two-story high was full of Elk, moss, deer and all kind of trophies.  Didn’t look like much had changed in the past 50 years.

stove table

Todd T and I joined Todd H, Sarah and Bell on a trip up to the Spotted Bear Ranger Station to try to get information about trail opening.  It was only 2 miles up the road.  We passed the two other outfitter camps. From what I could tell,  I liked Cameron’s place better.  His is close to the Flathead River and they are next to the Spotted Bear River.  A lot of fire fighting equipment was around.  Each building and cabin was protected by a sprinkler system.  The office was new and the old station looked as if it was being turned into a museum.  We didn’t get much information.  Where we were going the fire was out but the road and trail had to be cleared of dangerous trees. We seen a fire fighting airplane and a helicopter off and on.

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We spent most of the day fishing the river just above the lake. We drove down from camp,  all in one truck. Some of us sat in the back.  It was just four or five miles down the road.  We passed the Spotted Bear Air Strip and the area that was currently being logged for timber.  They were doing a great job of clean up.  It was a heavy thinning operation but it was not clear cutting.  All debris was picked up and moved to one location.  We passed or was passed by logging trucks often.  They tried to make two loads a day. One trip was over hundred miles just inside the National Forest.  No one had any luck fishing.  I spent my time talking photos and exploring.  Where the river meets the lake it is a large flat grassy delta. Cameron’s horses would have been very safe here if this area had burned.  We did see moss tracks in the mud.

On the way back, close to sunset, we stopped at several area overlooking the river where we could see the mountain sides. We searched each one for Elk. We passed the airstrip right at dark and saw a few whitetail deer.

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Back at camp we had another outstanding dinner.  I think we had hamburgers.  A few of the fire fighters joined us again and we enjoyed Red and Todd playing and singing.  I am sure we watered and feed the horses at some point.  I explored taking time laps photos of the stars.

September 15th,  Tuesday

After Breakfast, we set up a electric fence to keep our horses in so they would not be in the same coral as Cameron’s horses. It was a team effort, everyone had a job. The location that was chosen was in an area next to camp that had just been cleared as a fire break. 95% of the trees had been cut but there were just enough left that we could use them as fence post. A small stream was close by and we incorporated it inside the coral. That would keep us from having to water the horses. The fence consisted of two wires that were attached to the trees with insulators that we screwed into the trees. It was electrified with a battery.

Then Cameron showed up with a load of hey. We all started to help unload the 80 lb bales on to a large stack of hey that was already there that was keep under a tarp. We all got introduced to Cameron. We then unloaded all of the pack saddles that he had taken with him due to the threat of the fire.

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Todd T. Brett and myself decided to hike up the mountain behind the Lodge. The trail was Stony Hill Trail. We were hunting Western Rocky Mountain Rough Grouse. Cameron loaned us his .22 rifle and Todd H. his .22 pistol. We took a lunch and stopped about halfway up where there was a great view of Silvertip Mountain. We continued on up the trail but did not summit. One the way back down and close to the bottom we spotted several Grouse. Todd shot at them several times with the rifle and missed each time. He then pulled the pistol and killed one Grouse. We hunted the cut timber between the base of the mountain and the road back to camp. When we got back to camp, we did some practice shooting with Cameron’s rifle. Turns out it was shooting way to the right, about one foot at 30 yards. I mean it was way off. We learned to adjust our aim. Todd showed Brett and I how to clean the Grouse by standing on its wings and pulling its legs back towards the head to remove the breast meat. Todd then cooked it over the fire. It tasted very good.

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While we were hunting, everyone else went fishing. We had another campfire dinner. Life was really slowing down for me.

September 16, Wednesday

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Todd H., Sarah, Bell, and Red went with Cameron back to his dad’s house in Hungry Horse to get Cameron’s Stock. Todd T., Keith, Brett and Myself went back to Colombia Fall to get more supplies and to change our flights to a later day because the fires had keep us out of the wilderness. On the 52 mile dirt road in the national forest we saw a lot of Whitetail Deer. On the way back in we saw a Black Bear and her two cubs.

bear

We moved Todd’s stock from the coral to the hot wire that we had put up the day before. It was the first time that I caught and bridled a horse on my own. What you do is ease up to the horse and lay the long end of the rope over the neck of the horse. He then thinks he is caught. On the more tamed ones you could then slide the bridal over their head and buckle or tie it. On the more wild horses, I would hold the rode around their neck with one hand while putting on the bridal with the other.

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Cameron and Todd showed up late in the afternoon with Cameron’s stock. You could tell they were happy to be back home. We had dinner in the Lodge and a big fire in the fire ring at the pavilion in-front of the lodge. More singing and star gazing. A little bit of snow was falling on the mountain top.

September 17th, Thursday

The morning low was 25 degrees. Remember, we are camping. This was our fourth night sleeping outside. Me and Brett were in Hammocks. Todd H, Sarah, Bell were in one horse trailer and Red, Todd T and Keith were in another.

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Some of the guys got up early and went riding the roads looking for bear. Some of them had a bear tag. Later on after breakfast  we rode up to the trail head that we would be taking into the wilderness. It was the first time we saw where the wildfires had been. We saw the parking area and the temporary corals they have there. On the way I shot a Grouse with the .22 rifle of Cameron’s. I aimed about a foot to the left and killed it.

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It was Todd T. birthday. We had his birthday dinner in the lodge and like on his last trip, Sarah made him a birthday cobbler in the dutch oven.

diner cob

September 18th, Friday

Mule shoeing day. Todd had his stock shoed on the day we arrived. The young man that did it was very good. The same guy came out to Cameron’s to shoe his horses and mules. He also shoes the National Park’s horses. He did the horses with out any problems out in a grassy area just out side of the coral. The mules were a different story. Cameron had build a stale he called the Iron Maiden out of 6 inch steal pipe, with 4 or 5 pipes on each side about a foot apart. It stood about 6 feet high. One the front was a wall of 2 x 12 boards just as high. Each leg of the Mule was tied tight to the steal pipes. The Mules would buck up and slam their heads against the boards and knock themselves silly and buckle their legs. It was a fight for the young man to shoe those Mules. Most of the day was spent tending to the livestock. After all of Cameron’s stock had new shoes. He and Dugan carried them up to the corals at the trail head. We moved Todd’s Stock back into Cameron’s coral and took down the hot wire. We learned that Cameron had shot at a bear on his way up to the trail head. We packed up camp. I took a shower for the first time in a week. We had ribs for dinner and we all stayed in some of Cameron’s cabins for the night.

September 19th, Saturday

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We were up before the sun. Loaded the stock into the trailers and was at the trail head at daybreak. Cameron and Dugan were already well on their way packing their stock. They would go ahead of us. Dugan led a 10 mule train.

train

It took us another hour or so to get packed. We had 6 riders and 4 pack mules in our group. It was a 16 mile ride into camp. It took all day. I was on a mule called Hot Sauce. With this fire and other fires a lot to trees were down. So many, that the trail cleaning crews only cut up the ones that could not be crossed by the mules and horses. In the wilderness, not gas powered tools are allowed, that means no chain saws, only hand cross cut saws. So that keep a lot of down trees from being cut too.  As we came to down trees, my mule would jump the logs instead of stepping over them. I lost my hat twice. I final figured out how to pull back on the reins enough to keep him from jumping. We got on the trail at 10:30 and got to camp at 4:15. We had not gone very far when one of the pack mules was biting at another and it bucked, losing it’s load. This is called a wreak. We had to stop and repack. Sarah carried Bell the whole way in. We lost Red at the trail head. He could not make the ride in with us. We saw a little doe deer at the trail head and a few Grouse on the trip in. We rode by mountain top cliffs and through areas that had burned in years past. We followed the Spotted Bear River up and had several stream crossings.

cb               clif

creek

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ride

When we got to camp, an area the National Parks has designated for outfitter to camp. Each outfitter has there own locations. This is a very nice area along the Spotted Bear river. There is a large meadow and we camp on the east end. Dugan has unloaded Cameron’s mules and is headed back to the truck with most of the stock for more supplies. He had a 32 mile ride that day. Most of what we pack in is hey for the stock. During the off season every thing must be disassembled. We are the first group in, so we have to reassemble the camp. First order is the coral. Lodge poles are used for fence railing and hay bale string is used to tie them to the trees. The poles are in place around the coral, all we have to do is pick them up and tie them to the trees. In just a few minutes we have built a coral. We put Todd’s stock into the coral and Cameron ties his horse up and lets his mules roam free. The horse is the leader and the mules will not leave it. Plus the mule will keep the bears away. Cameron’s mules are huge. They were breed from Belgium Horses. Everyone is dead tired, it has been along day. We just do hamburgers for dinner. Brett and I find a place for our hammocks, Todd and Sarah put up a Tee Pee tent, and Todd T. and Keith set up a lean-to. That evening, two guys come into camp. They are friends of Cameron’s. One of the guys named Lawrence had killed a 5X5 Bull Elk. We all enjoyed seeing his trophy and hearing about the hunt. It was opening day and the first kill of the season. We also had fresh meat in the camp. The Elk meat was hung on a pole to air out and covered with a pack mantie. Time to watch for bears.

coral           elkhammok          lean-to

September 20th, Sunday

I sleep to 9 AM. Todd and Brett had taken the advice of Cameron and went out Elk hunting on Pivot Mountain. The two hunters who had came into camp had gone to the continental divide to Goat hunt. After a banana for breakfast we took the stock down to the river for water. Keith, Todd H. and I set up the big Cooking Tent. No one sleep in it. We only used it for the kitchen. It would have be a shelter if we had gotten bad weather. Cameron would use it for the rest of the hunting season. Like the coral, the poles were left behind, we just had to figure out he right combination.

camp

I had one of my MREs for lunch. I had been sleeping on Keith’s air mat and he was on mine while they camped on the hey in the horse trailer. It had started going flat on him so I swapped back. His was nice and conferrable. We cut wood for fire wood with a cross cut saw. We put up a high line for the horses if needed. We worked on Keith and Todd’s lean-to tarp some more. We cut brush to put around it to help block the wind and placed a pole under the tarp to help hold it up. I heard a gun shot around 4:40 and 5:30 in the direction that Todd and Brett were hunting. We had fresh Elk steaks for dinner from Lawrence’s Elk. The term “It’s Getting Western” started to get kicked around. Todd and Brett came in after dark with the story of how Brett killed an Elk. Then the two other hunters came in with their kill of a Goat. In Brett’s excrement of telling his Elk story, he triggered his bear pepper spray in his pants. Everyone scattered when they heard the can go off. I think Brett took a dip in the river. We had high winds all night long and we keep hearing trees fall. We knew the trail would be a mess for Dugan who was bringing in more supplies the next day.

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gaot elk-goat

September 21, Monday

We were all up early to go pack out Brett’s Elk on Pivot Mountain. We were on the trail by 9:30. We took one of Todd’s Mules that he had borrowed from his boss and left the other on a high line at camp. It was a two and half hour horseback ride to the top of Pivot mountain. We ate lunch at the summit. It was just a little walk to an area where you could look north into Glacier National Park a 30 miles away. After lunch, we hiked down the side of the mountain for an hour. That tells me it was about 3 miles away to Brett’s Elk. It took two hours to dress it. Then it took two hours to hike the meat back to the the horses on the top of the mountain. We all were packing about 50 lbs. Except Sarah, she had been carrying Bell the whole trip. We packed the mule with the Elk meat and head. It was another two and half hour ride to camp. The last hour was in the dark. The Horses knew the way. We rode with out lights.

cabin                 keith

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lunch        walk

hike

head         ride

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When we got back to camp from a long day of riding and hiking. We unloaded the horses and mules. We put them in the coral for the night. The stock we had with us drank water when we crossed the river at camp. Todd H and Keith went to water the stock that had stayed back. This is when we learned of the first fatality of the trip. Todd’s bosses wife prized mule that he had to basically beg to take with us, had died. The Mule is dead. It just got Western. Several things led to its death. First it had a halter on that is like a choke chain. Used in pack trains to keep mules moving. If the mule stops, the lead rope will pull on the halter and will close the mule’s air way, making the mule move on. Second, the mule was tied to a high line. Third, the mule stared going wild when we left with the horses and the other mules. It started pawing the ground and acting up. Forth, Cameron wanted to stop the mule from pawing. So he tied one of the legs of the mule up. At some point the mule fell on the ground, cut off his air supple, could not get up on three legs and died. Nothing like a death to put a depressing mode on the camp.

September 21st, Tuesday

I sleep late dreading the deed of removing the dead Mule. I believe the proper thing to do is to notify the park ranger and have them come in and blow up the caucus so bears will not get to it and develop a taste for stock. Cameron is not the type to call in the park rangers. They get along but I think they leave him alone and he leaves them alone.  I didn’t know what we were going to have to do. I didn’t want to have to gut a mule and quarter it up to remove it. Then there are the bears to worry about. We had a breakfast of fresh elk tenderloin from Brett’s Elk, before removing the mule. What we did was to take a rope and tie it to the mules neck and then we used Cameron’s big horse to pull it father into the woods. We also tied ropes to the mules front legs and we help to pull. We tried to get it away from camp, because we knew in a few days it would begin to smell.

I took a “bath” in the river with wet wipes. I got in but it was to cold to wet my head. Sarah fixed a pot roast in the dutch oven and let it cook all day. We saddled up and went down river a few miles below the falls to fish. Because no fish could get above the falls.  The trail was littered with down trees from the wind storm. We saw where Dugan had cut his way through. He said he ran out of gas in the chain saw before he go to the Wilderness. It took him almost twice as long because of the down trees. Cutthroat Trout was what we were fishing for. We did not have any luck. Back at the camp Todd T, Brett and myself were preparing for a trip up to the Continental Divide for a overnight Mule Deer Hunt. We would spike camp just below the divide.

September 22, Wednesday

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Cameron lead Todd T, Brett and myself up into the Hart Basin and on to Hart lake. Base camp was at 4800 feet about sea level and Hart lake is at 5700 feet. It was a three mile ride. We passed an area on the trail that Cameron told us to be on the look out of Grizzles. It was the spot that Lawrence had killed his Elk just 4 days ago. We were too late, the Bears had already taken the carcass away. Only a few Ravens flew up as we passed by. The natural lake is feed by snow melt and was close to being dry when we arrived. It is the only water for miles. We brought our own water to drink but the stock needed water. We dismounted and walked them out to the water. We passed several sets of Grizzle Bear tracks in the mud. After Cameron showed us the trail-head for the top of the Divide was, he left us in the wild and headed back down tail to camp. We watered the stock and rode on up the trail.

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bear.jpg hot.jpg

lake

After leaving the lake, we starting riding through areas that had burned in just the past few days. As we got higher the view got even more fantastic. We were reaching 6500 feet above sea level and was looking for a place to make camp. Once above about 6500 feet the trees started to thin out and more large alpine meadows appeared. We found a spot we liked in the shadow of Table Mountain. We could tie up the stock and make a lean-to shelter in a few trees. After we got the shelter up, we took a little nap before a afternoon hunt just up from camp. We each took a section of the hillside meadow. I watched a coyote work his way up the draw. Very Western and Wild.

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trent.jpg  s2.jpg

prep.jpg    inside.jpg

coyote                         deer

Last Two Photos are not mine.

With the fires and all the trees being conifers, it was hard to find fire wood. We were also a little concerned with starting a wildfire of our own. We found a hole where a stump had burned out and made our fire pit in it. For dinner we had brought fresh Elk steaks from Brett’s Elk. It had gotten dark on us while hunting. We had the fire going good. I had cooked steaks over open fires before but like I said earlier there was very little wood and finding forked sticks to support the steaks was impossible. We decide to cook over hot coals. The way the stump burned where we had our fire, there was a small ditch where a root once had been. We drug hot coal into it. We then made a grill from small dry sticks by laying them over the coals and the steak on top. It worked and I have used that idea on trip since then. We had a few Doe Mule Deer that came around the camp that night and I took a lot of night photo with my SLR camera. I was able to take a lot of really nice shots.  It was going to be cold and we went light on the supplies. No one had a sleeping bag. I did bring my sleeping bag insert made of silk. Not much but glad I had it. Brett and Todd didn’t want the fire to close to the tent. I think they regretted that decision by morning. We sleep on top of the saddle blankets for a insulator from the cold ground. I don’t know how cold it got, but deferentially the coldest I have ever been while sleeping. I just turned on my stomach and pulled my arms in and prayed for sun up.

September 23rd, Thursday

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Todd and Brett headed out at just before day break hunting Mule Deer. I stayed back and grazed the stock around camp. I would keep moving them from one small patch of grass to another. Keeping them untangled from there lead ropes was another chore. While I was breaking camp and tending to the stock, several Mule Deer came in and around camp. Two fauns nursed near by. Then a young buck spared with a more mature buck. I could have easily shot the big buck. I didn’t for several reasons, one being I didn’t have a tag, I also didn’t want to disturb Todd’s and Brett’s hunt, and I didn’t want to have to deal with it.

After the Mule Deer moved on and the horses were feed, I took a pack and hiked up to the Continental Divide. Our camp was at 6800 feet and about a mile from the Divide. We  were about 1500 feet in elevation lower than the divide. The highest peak I got to was just over 8300 feet. I had never hiked in this high of elevation before. Quite different than the 5000 to 6000 feet summits of the Appalachian Mountains back east. From the camp to the summit was a 45 degree slop, very steep. It was one of the most strangest landscapes that I have every been on. Running horizontal were mounds of loose rock. One the uphill side of these 15 to 20 feet high mounds were deep ditches. Then a patch of trees. This repeated several times. Once I was passed the last group of trees, it was bear rock and low grass to the top. All I could see in front of me was this slop and sky. I had know idea what was waiting on me at the top. If every I had a view take my breath a way, this was it. Imagine walking for up and not knowing one moment and then the next seeing the view in the above photo all at once. It fells your whole area of sight at once. I was on the edge of a 1200 foot cliff. Lake Levale was Glacier Blue below me. Strait ahead was 20 miles of mountains in the Lewis and Clark Nation Forest. To the left and north 30 miles away was the high peaks of Gracie National Park. To the right and south was the Great Chinese Wall. In the shadows and crevices of the wall was patches of snow that had lasted the summer. Totally amazing. I ate my MRE for lunch. As far as I could tell I was the only person on earth. During lunch, I saw a few Grouse. I then walked to a high point the jutted out along the Chinese wall. I was about half way there and realized I had forgot my phone. I had to turn back to find it. I was able to make it to the very high point. What a grand sight.

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The last Three Photos are not mine.

Not wanting to go back but knowing I needed to hike back to camp to check on the stock and see if Todd and Brett were back, I left my Rocky Mountain High.

It was more of the strange landscape on the way down. On the way up I was hiking at an angle so not to go strait up the steep slop. Now I was making a strait shot to camp. My loop hike was about 3 miles total. When I got back to camp, Todd and Brett were there packing up. They did not see any Mule Deer but did see four mountain goats in the same area I was in. I told them about the camp deer and they both said I should have shot the big buck. Not what I was there for. We saddled up and made the easy 5 or 6 mile ride back to camp. The rest of the crew had been fishing and had a lot of luck catching Cutthroat Trout. We had fish for dinner.

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September 24th, Friday

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A little about Bell. She is 3 years old and went everywhere we did. She was a ball of energy and keep all of us running and on our toes. She did very little fussing.

Our last day in the Bob. We had Eggs and Bacon for Breakfast. We spent the morning packing up camp. It always seamed to take a long time to get everything loaded up. We set up Todd’s electric bear fence around the tent for Cameron. He would be there alone with a dead mule in camp. He wanted a little extra protection while he sleep. We heard after we got home that two Grizzly Bears did come in and were fighting over the mule. We were down one mule and need another to pack out the meat, so we used two of Cameron’s. We packed ham and cheese sandwiches to eat while riding. It was another long ride out. At one point during the ride, we met another hunter and mule train in a tight area of the trail. Todd lead us in to the woods and we let the other party pass. Todd knew the man, he was the county sheriff. We also met three people hiking. It was late when we got onto the trail and we spent a good bit of time riding in the dark. Sarah was leading and was the only one with a light. Too many light would confuse the stock so it is best to only have the one. We were still several miles from the end of the trail and riding in the dark when we came to a stop. I was in the back of a 60 yard mule train. We could not tell what was the problem but after a few minutes we started moving again. We found out the next day that Sarah had heard a strap snap on one of the mules. She heard it and knew what it was. Then stopped us and had Todd fix it. Her skills with the stock was amazing the whole trip. The moon was almost full and we could see the outlines of the mountains. We got back to the trail head at 11 PM. The sheriff told us about a pizza that he had in his truck. That was a nice bit of Trail Magic when we got there. Another hour to unload the packs, take off the saddles and pack the trailers. We got back to the wilderness lodge after midnight. We turned the horses and mules into the coral and spent the night in the cabins again.

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September 25th, Saturday

We loaded the stock up for the last time, said good by to the Wilderness Lodge and drove the long the 52 mile dirt road out of the Flathead National Forest. Once in Colombia Falls we stopped and ate breakfast at the Night Owl. We then stopped at a bar called the Blue Moon to see the owners big game trophy collection of Polar Bears, Grizzly Bear, Big Horn Sheep, Elk, Deer and so on.

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Back at Todd’s house, we unloaded the stock and supplies. Processed the meet of Brett’s Elk. Showered and repacked our bags that we would ship home. We then wanted to take Sarah out to dinner, to thank her for all she did while on the trip. We went to the nicest place around, On The Rocks. We pulled up and there were like 10 cars in the parking lot and Todd and Sarah said it was packed. We had to wait 10 minutes for a table. Apparently that was unusual. I think we all had stakes. Mine was delicious.

September 26th, Sunday

One more breakfast at Jacks in the little town of Eureka, Montana. Todd then showed us his old house on the way to the airport. We all said our good byes. Brett was on the same flight to Saint Paul, Minnesota as we were. We ate dinner together at the airport, then he went on to D.C. and we made it to Atlanta by midnight, where Tony and Sonya were waiting to pick us up.

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Some closing stats from the trip.

Miles Traveled:

Air miles – 4950

Paved road miles – 630

Dirt road miles – 322

Miles on horse back – 68

Miles on foot – 18

Animals Killed:

5 -Mountain Grouse

2 – Bull Elk

1 – Skunk

1 – Mountain Goat

1 – Mule

Several Cutthroat Trout

Animals Seen:

One Black Bear with two cubs

One Big Bull Elk at Todd’s and several Cow Elk

Countless White Tail Deer all over

Several Mule Deer

Mountain Goats

Two Coyotes, one at Todd’s and one in the Bob

Golden Eagle

Bald Eagle

Osprey

Ducks

Blue Jay

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Google Earth photo of the Chinese Wall Continental Divide where we made our Spike camp. The Lake in the foreground is Levale. Lake in the background is Heat Lake. Spotted Bear River is top right. Our Spike camp was almost center of the photo. Point on the left of the lake is where I walked to, 8300 feet above sea level. Just as high as Table Mountain in the top right.

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Google Earth photo of Pivot Mountain where Brett killed his Elk. The location was down the ridge to the right of the Pivot Mountain Summit in one of the clearings about low center of the photo. Our Camp was about dead center along the river, but we had to ride up the ridge line of the mountain to get to the hunting spot. Table Mountain it top left. Spotted Bear River runs down the photo.

This was a great Western Adventure.

Montana – The Bob

Montana – The Bob

By Trent Tibbitts

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Part one. – Introduction

I was invited to join my brothers on the same trip they had taken a few years ago to the Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana.  The  Bob is a one Million acre Wilderness in the middle of 4 million acres of national forest. It’s northern border is the southern border of the Glacier National Park.  It is a 14 day trip with 10 days in the Wilderness.  For those who may not know,  a wilderness doesn’t have roads and mechanized equipment is not allowed.  Bicycles are not allowed much less gas-powered equipment.  The group will be Todd, Keith, Brett, and myself who will join Todd Hunter along with his wife and three-year old daughter.  On day one we will fly out to Salt Lake with a layover in  LA before flying on into Montana.  Todd will pick us up at the airport.  We will spend the next day gathering last-minute items and packing. We will ship most of our supplies days early and have a mule team pack our gear in for us before we get there.  What we will be carrying will be our clothes and small items.  On day three we will get up early and load up the horses and drive several hours to the national forest that surrounds the Bob. Then a few more hours on the dirt roads to the trail head where we will unload the horses and pack them up. It is a 20 mile ride to the campsite on the Flathead river.  Day four will be cutting firewood and finish setting up camp. Day five will be the opening of Elk season.  Todd and Brett will be hunting.  I plan on doing a lot of fishing and hiking.  We will pack out on day twelve and fly home on day fourteen.

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I have started to gather the items that I will need on the trip.  I have to get it ready to ship out. I bought an air mat, ordered a hiking guide-book,  ordered a case of MREs, and ordered hip waders.  I am in the process of going through my supplies and packing.  But first I was thinking of a survival kit.  We will be in very remote county and you never know what will happen.  While the camp will be well stocked with anything we need, I want a pack that I can carry with me anytime I leave camp. Here is what I came up with.  A 7 by 9 tarp for a shelter.  Water filter life straw with bag. First aid kit stocked with 6 band aids,  2 butterfly bandages,  4 small band aids, 2 round small band aids, 2 gauze Triple Antibiotic, Sting relief,  antiseptic wipe, razor, med tape, candle, and water proof matches all in a ten box. In a 32 oz water bottle that has measurements marked on the sides I put a saw, several fishing hooks, 20 feet of fishing line, artificial bate, lighter,  Swiss Army knife,  whistle,  compass,  2 packs of peanut butter, hand warmer, light stick and cord. I lashed the bottle to the bag with the tarp and first aid kit. Then added a carabiner.  All together it is less than 5 pounds.  This will help me survive a few days if need be.

Part 2 – Packing

The following is a list of the items I will be taking from home to the Bob. We will pick up a few items once in Montana like more food and bear spray.

This is my ENO hammock system. It includes the 2 man hammock, 2 Slap Straps, Rain Fly, 7 sections of 5 foot each paracord, 2 carabineers, 2 quick tie carabineers and bag that it all goes into.

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This is my 30 degree sleeping bag, air pillow and silk sleeping bag insert. The silk increase the warmth of the bag.

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Odds and Ends Bag. 2 pair of Hand warmers, Tooth Past and Toothbrush, large knife, Compass, Leather Man multi tool, pocket knife, AA batteries, Candle, Lamp, Head Lamp, Flashlight with lamp, 2 glow sticks, 100 feet of paracord, battery charger for phone and bag.

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This is to show what is inside a MRE (meals ready to eat). Gum, Salt, Seasoning, Most Towel, Toilet Paper, Drink mix, Energy bar, Applesauce, Crackers, Main Meal, M&M, Spoon, Peanut Butter. You put the Main Meal in the green bag, add a little water, fold over the end and place it in the box. A chemical reaction takes place and heats the Meal.

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This is the camera equipment I will be taking along with my phone. Camera Bag, mini CD for the camcorder, Camcorder, utility knife, extra memory card, tripod, bag for extra lens, 35 mm to 55 mm, camera with 55 mm to 110 mm zoom with and a polarizing filter.

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Binoculars with case.

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Three Blue Jeans, Two Camouflage Paints, One Weather Proof Paints, Six Long sleeve shirts and two short sleeve shirts.

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Survival Kit. Saw, Glow Stick, Artificial bate, Hand Warmers, Whistle and compass, cord, two Peanut Butter, Swiss Army Knife, Lighter with 20 feet of fishing line, two different size fishing hooks and a water bottle with measurements listed on the side.

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Orange Vest and hat for Hunting. Fishing Vest. Two pair of gloves, Rain Paints. Rain Jacket, two different toboggans.

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High top water proof boots, Hiking Boots, Cowboy hat, tracking poles. 9mm pistol with holsters and extra clips.

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Nine MREs and 4 Mountain House dinners with one desert. Two water bottles.

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Four pair of socks (I added 4 more pair), 4 pair of underwear.  Fleece Vest, Fleece pullover, two tee shirts, three under paints, 4 long sleeve under shirts.

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Three sets of insulated underwear and one long sleeve under armor and one short sleeve under armor. Air Mat.

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Hip Waders.

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I updated my first aid kit to this one that had a lot more items. Everything but my food, Camera and a few items in my day pack.

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This is all I am taking with me. I was able to get the air mat into the duffle bag.

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Part 3 – Forest Fires

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Update.  August 23rd.  T -18 days. Several wildfires are burning in the western states, including Montana. It has been very dry there and it has been a bad year for fires. They have claimed the lives of firefighters, burned homes and thousands of acers of land. Todd got word from Todd Hunter that a 400 acer fire grew to be a 10000 acre fire over night on Friday. It burned the parking lot of the Meadow Creek trail head where we were to start our ride into the Bob on houses.   Trucks and trailers belonging to people who were in the Bob at the time were destroyed by the fire.  Todd Hunter was helping with the evacuation.

From the National Forest Web Site on August 24th.

FIRE SUMMARY: Two large fires are being managed by the Northwest Montana Type 3 Incident Management Team Bear Creek Fire and Trail Creek Fire. Management objectives and priorities for the fires are: Firefighter and public safety, minimizing the impacts to recreationists, local outfitter & guides and resorts, and protection of the Spotted Bear Ranger Station facilities.

FIRE STATUS:

Bear Creek Fire – Size: 19,595 acres. The fire burned today with moderate fire behavior and moved toward the east onto Meadow Mountain and is moving down Larch Creek to the north. Firefighters mopped up hot spots at Meadow Creek Trailhead and completed structure protection (wrapping with fire resistant material) on the recreation facilities loading ramp, hitch rails, bulletin boards and the Meadow Creek Gorge Pack Bridge.

Trail Creek Fire – Size: 9,500 acres. The Flat Creek Fire and Trail Creek Fire have joined and will now be managed as the Trail Creek fire. A management objective for this fire is to keep the fire to the north of the Spotted Bear River Road.

CLOSURES:
– The Spotted Bear River Road #568 is closed, as well as the trailheads and trail systems which start from this road.
– An extensive area closure for the Trail Creek Fire is in place in the upper Middle Fork from the Spotted Bear River Road and the Eastside Reservoir Road around Upper and Lower Twin Creek, eastward to Dolly Varden Creek.
-A large area closure is in place in the northern portion of the Bob Marshall Wilderness. The Meadow Creek and Gorge Creek Trailheads are closed. The Eastside South Fork Trail #80 is closed from Meadow Creek Trailhead south to Damnation Creek. Access to the Bob Marshall Wilderness is via western and southern trailheads.

See the map above. We were to camp on Black Bear Creek just above Black Bear Cabin. We were to enter on the yellow road that is now closed and come down the yellow trail that is now closed. Maybe the area will be reopened by the time we get there. Todd is looking for other locations for us. We may have to come in another way and camp closer to the Salmon Forks Cabin as I understand it.

News update.

Two fires in the remote Spotted Bear Ranger District of the Flathead National Forest on the edge of Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness exploded late Thursday, prompting emergency evacuations of outfitters and more than 70 head of stock and the closure of a major wilderness trailhead.

The Bear Creek fire, about 55 miles south of Hungry Horse, exploded from 465 acres Thursday morning to 17,755 by evening, driven by high winds. The Trail Creek fire grew from 3,500 to 8,463 acres, consuming a smaller fire as it moved through the heavy timber.

Al Koss, a public information officer, said even computer modeling couldn’t predict how fast the fires would move.

“It was just a very unusual situation that occurred yesterday,” Koss said.

With the fire headed toward the Meadow Creek Outfitters, which has five corrals used by outfitting businesses, Forest Service personnel teamed with outfitter employees to round up 70 mules and horses. Halters had to be put on the animals, which then had to be loaded onto trucks.

The evacuation, which was occurring at about 6 p.m., proceeded efficiently, Koss said.

“People knew what they needed to do and they got on it and it happened,” Koss said. “It was a little bit chaotic, but the district here is used to working with stock.”

The remote U.S. Forest Service ranger district is on the southern end of the Hungry Horse Reservoir. Employees arrive in May and move out in December. It includes homes for employees, bunkhouses and a warehouse.

There wasn’t room to fit all of the animals in the trailers, so some were let loose. A person on a horse moved them down the road and out of the fire’s path, Koss said.

No injuries to people or stock animals were reported, and no structures were lost, he said.

As the operation was finishing up, the fire was moving down the hill toward the trailhead, Koss said. Once they were out of danger, forest personnel and the outfitters watched the fire roar through. After it passed, they went back in and started putting water on the Meadow Creek Gorge Pack Bridge so it wouldn’t burn.

However, a few outfitter vehicles and trailers were burned, as well as some hay.

The two major fires are just two of more than 20 burning in the Spotted Bear Ranger District in the Bob Marshall Wilderness and the Great Bear Wilderness.

The fires were sparked by lightning storms that passed through on Aug. 12 and Aug. 14.

A type III incident management team has been assigned to two major fires.

“We’re finally starting to get a few more resources in, some crews, some engines,” Koss said. “That’s helping.”

Given how fast the fires moved, structure protection is now occurring at the Spotted Bear Ranger District compound, which is 10 miles north of the Bear Creek fire.

The high winds pushed the Bear Creek fire east down Bunker Creek and across the South Fork of the Flathead River. The fire moved through the Gorge Creek and Meadow Creek trailheads and the Meadow Creek Outfitters Corrals.

Heavy winds drove the blaze through heavy fuels and it built up energy as it moved across the landscape, faster than computer modeling had predicted it could move, Koss said.

Thinning of fuels that occurred in the area over the past few years helped to reduce the severity of the burning through the trailheads, he said.

The Meadow Creek trailhead, a major trailhead into the Bob Marshall Wilderness, has been closed. With the trailhead closed, the wilderness will now need to be accessed from the west or southern sides.

News update.

The Bear Creek Fire near Spotted Bear swept through about eight miles of forest, jumped the South Fork River and grew from 465 to 17,755 acres in just a few hours Thursday afternoon.

The fire’s rampage torched vehicles, sheds and trailers at the Meadow Creek Trailhead, although livestock were rescued from the fire area.

The fire was sparked by lightning Aug. 12 and by Thursday morning had only burned about 465 acres in the Flathead National Forest several miles south of the Spotted Bear Ranger Station.

Then it erupted on Thursday, driven by rising temperatures and wind.

No one has been injured in the fire’s expansion, and the only threatened structure, the Meadow Creek pack bridge, has been outfitted with sprinklers and was untouched — despite the fire burning on both sides of the creek.

“What protected the bridge, it’s open around there, and as soon as crews were able to get into that area they started wetting it down with water from the engines,” fire spokesman Al Koss said.

The Trail Creek Fire, another lightning-caused fire south of the ranger station,  also was stirred up by the windy conditions Thursday, more than doubling to 8,463 acres from 3,500 acres.

Koss said firefighters were able to get about 70 livestock out of the Bear Creek Fire area unscathed, and wilderness rangers swept through trails to guide eight to 10 visitors to safety.

The fire has since slowed down but had still seen some activity Friday afternoon as it continued to move east.

“As the humidities dropped and the temperatures went up, the inversion broke,” Koss said of the fire’s run on Thursday. “It started building energy, it crossed Bunker Creek to the south and actually got into a place where the Late Creek Fire was burning and started burning in very thick timber on a north-facing slope … As the fire started building and gaining momentum, it got more energy and started to move fast, and those winds really pushed it through that timber.”

Winds were gusting at about 30 to 35 miles in the area on Thursday.

Koss said no suppression activities are being conducted aside from point protection, assessing where the fire is headed and what structures may be threatened. About 10 miles north of the fire front sits the Spotted Bear Lookout, and the Black Bear Cabin is about 10 miles south.

No structures are currently threatened, but forest officials are planning to wrap both structures in fire-resistant materials in the next couple days.

While the fire tore raced through the densely wooded area, Koss said that fuel reduction around the Meadow Creek outfitter corrals and Gorge Creek helped keep property damage to a minimum.

“There were approximately 15 vehicles from people recreating and all of those vehicles were spared,” he said. “That’s kind of neat to be able to see that that really worked — it met its intention of fuels reduction right there.”

Update Aug. 26. The Bear Creek Fire east of Swan Lake continues to be the largest blaze in the state, chewing through more than 28,000 acres. On Wednesday, fire crews were mopping up the area around the Meadow Creek Trailhead that burned late last week when the fire grew from 465 acres to more than 17,000 in just four hours. Fire crews are also working on protecting various backcountry structures in the area.

Fire Tower being covered with fire resistant material.

News Update.

Posted: Wednesday, August 26, 2015 8:06 am | Updated: 5:21 pm, Wed Aug 26, 2015.

Frustration, awe and relief. That might best describe the mood at the Spotted Bear Ranger Station as fires burned both to the north and south of the remote outpost on the north end of the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

The Bear Creek Fire struck awe Thursday afternoon, defying the best fire models as it burned more than 17,000 acres in just a few hours.

The fire had skunked on the slopes above the Bunker Creek Road for several days but appeared to be in check. But on Thursday afternoon it burned down the slope, crossed the Bunker Creek Road and got a head on the north slopes, explained incident commander Andy Huntsberger.

The north slopes in a normal year are wet, but in this historic dry year the fire took off and raced down the Bunker Creek Road and across the South Fork of the Flathead in a matter of hours.

Both private citizens along with Forest Service and fire crews were able to get about 70 head of stock out of the outfitter camps before the fire blew over. No animals or people were injured but three vehicles burned – two older trucks and a newer Subaru as well as some stock trailers, a tack shed, an outfitter tent and some hay, said public information officer Al Koss.

The fire is now more than 28,000 acres.

But despite the fire’s intensity, it laid down when it got to the Meadow Creek Trailhead and campground, where the forest had been recently thinned. Other thinned areas along the Meadow Creek Road had spot fires, but were not actively burning. By contrast, the unthinned areas were a moonscape of fried trees. The Meadow Creek pack bridge was unscathed by the blaze, though a bridge in the upper end of Bunker Creek did burn.

Huntsberger said the fire defied the models. He said their fire analyst has run the scenario through computer models several times and it still doesn’t do what Mother Nature cooked up.

There was also sense of frustration among Forest Service personnel from the Trail Creek Fire.

The fire, burning 9,500 acres north of the Spotted Bear River Road, had burned through timber sales – sales that would have likely been harvested by now had they not been held up by several years of litigation – litigation that the Forest Service prevailed on. The sales were designed to thin the forest and restore historic Ponderosa pine stands in the area that had been overcrowded by fire prone species like lodgepole pine.

The Bear Creek Fire is now listed at more than 28,700 acres and is moving to the east in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. It’s about four miles from the Spotted Bear Ranger Station. Protecting the ranger station and nearby outfitter camps is the top priority for fire managers.

A host of trails, including the Spotted Bear River Road, Spotted Bear Campground and the Meadow Creek Road and campgrounds area are all closed.

A contrast

A contrast

Al Koss looks over the Meadow Creek Trailhead and camp where a previous thinning project stopped the Bear Fire from destroying the campground.

New Update

Posted: Thursday, August 27, 2015 5:24 pm | Updated: 1:30 pm, Fri Aug 28, 2015.

As fires bloom, the options to recreate in the Bob Marshall Wilderness are rapidly diminishing.

The Spotted Bear Ranger District will shut down the entire wilderness portion of the district because of fires and fire danger beginning Friday morning, fire information officer Al Koss said. That includes lands in both the Bob Marshall and the Great Bear wilderness areas.

 The closure includes the Schafer Meadows Airstrip.

The nonwilderness portion remains open although Spotted Bear Campground is closed. Koss said wilderness rangers are giving people already in the backcountry a few days to get out of the area.

The decision came as at least 20 multiple fires burn in the district east of the Flathead Valley. One new fire, detected Wednesday is near Lena Lake in the wilderness. That fire is now 40 acres, forcing the closure of the Holland Lake Trailhead.

The Meadow Creek Trailhead also is closed due to fires.

On the other side of the mountains, meanwhile, the Rocky Mountain Ranger District has closed the Benchmark Trailhead as well as several trails up and down the Rocky Mountain Front due to fires.

The Benchmark Fire is about 50 acres, according to public information officer Wendy Clark. The Benchmark closure means three of the most-used trailheads into the Bob Marshall Wilderness are now closed.

The Benchmark Road is closed from the Benchmark Wilderness Ranch to the trailhead. An evacuation order is in place for dwellings in the area.

In Spotted Bear, outfitter ranches in the area have been fitted with sprinkler systems and a line was put around the Wilderness Ranch on the Meadow Creek Road, Koss said. The lodges in the area are privately owned but are on land leased from the Forest Service.

The Bear Creek Fire, the largest in the state at more than 28,000 acres, is working its way down to the Meadow Creek Road near Jungle Creek. Crews have created a shaded fuel break in the area to keep the fire from spreading east toward the Spotted Bear Ranger Station as well as the Spotted Bear Ranch and Diamond R Ranch.

The fires could gnarl hunting season in the backcountry.

Archery season starts Sept. 5 and general hunting season starts in the wilderness Sept. 15. Many outfitters rely on the hunting season for their livelihoods.

Spotted Bear closures Aug. 28

This map shows closed areas on the Spotted Bear Ranger District due to 20 fires burning on the district.

I think this latest closure got our back up plan.

News update.

Just to give an idea of what is going on in the wilderness.

Mother Nature threw up a long detour for a group of friends turned away last week by the Bear Creek Fire in the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

“We could see the trees torching,” said Luke Kantola of California. Kantola and his friends Charles McGrail, Clara Hanson, Vinnie Inzano and Colin Arisman had hiked in the Bob Marshall Wilderness down the South Fork of the Flathead to the White River junction.

Once there, they floated in pack rafts to just a couple of miles above the Mid Creek takeout. They made camp and could see the smoke and a glow in the distance but didn’t know how far away the fire really was.

A wilderness ranger came into camp told them they had to turn around. They hiked back to Black Bear Cabin, arriving at 2 a.m. They spent the next day at Black Bear and rested up a bit.

Smoke and ash from the fire rained down on camp, but the Forest Service crew there made sure they fed well.

The next day they hiked out via Smith Pass, 32 miles in one day. Once there, they were met with the kindness of strangers again. It was about 10:30 p.m. when they got out, but a crew from Swan Mountain Outfitters got them food and gave them a ride back to Spotted Bear.

The group gave a big thanks to the Forest Service, including wilderness ranger Rich Owens, and Swan Mountain Outfitters for all their help. On Sunday, they were reunited with their vehicles and were making phone calls back home from Spotted Bear, to tell family members they were OK.

Save for a few blisters and a good coating of dirt and soot on their clothes, they were no worse for the wear. The group has plans to return next year so they can complete the trip.

News Update 9-1-15.

Basic Information

Current as of ‎8‎/‎31‎/‎2015‎ ‎5‎:‎49‎:‎34‎ ‎PM
Incident Type Wildfire
Cause Lightning Strike
Date of Origin Wednesday August 12th, 2015 approx. 01:35 PM
Location 3 miles SW of the Spotted Bear Ranger District, 57 miles from Hungry Horse.
Incident Commander Reed ICT3(t)

Current Situation

Total Personnel 83
Size 67,594 Acres
Fuels Involved Timber (grass and understory); Timber (litter and understory)
Significant Events Active; Crowning; Wind Driven Runs; Group Torching

Outlook

Planned Actions Assess Bear Creek Fire outside of wilderness for opportunities for direct suppression to reinforce point protection priorities. Implement suppression tactics with limited resources to protect improvements and infrastructure.
Projected Incident Activity 24 hours: Humidities are expected to increase although winds will become breezy during the day. Precipitation possible.

48 hours: Winds will become breezy during the day. Seasonal temperatures. Rh dropping.

Remarks IMT3 is also managing the Trail Creek Fire (21,100 acres). The Lake Creek Fire was consumed in the Bear Creek Fire.

Spotted Bear Ranger Station

Bear Creek Fire Update – 9-3-15

Incident: Bear Creek Fire Wildfire

With a cool and rainy weather pattern in place, the focus on the Bear Creek Fire turned from fire management and suppression to safety considerations, trail rehabilitation and preparing wilderness access for the upcoming hunting season. The fire burned through a small area impacted by a previous wildfire on its southern flank, but made little other movement. While smoke could be seen from Black Bear Cabin, the structure was not threatened by the fire’s expansion.

Current and forecasted weather will provide firefighters with a window to finalize containment efforts on spot fires and work on removal of hazard trees and slash associated with the shaded fuel break on the Bruce Creek and Meadow Creek Roads. Selected heavy equipment used during suppression activities is being demobilized, while sawyers are being brought in to handle technical hazard tree falling needs. A trail assessment crew from Spotted Bear Ranger District will be mobilized to assess trail clearing needs, with a focus on reopening access points and trails as soon as it is safe to do so.

Structure protection (hoses, water pumps, and sprinklers) remains in place at the three guest ranches – Diamond R, Spotted Bear Ranch and Wilderness Lodge as well as the Spotted Bear Ranger Station itself. Most structure protection personnel have been re-allocated towards helping with hazardous tree removal operations on the Bear Creek and Trail Creek Fire areas and surrounding access roads.

Bear Creek Fire Update – 9-4-15

Cool and rainy weather continues at the Spotted Bear Ranger District in the vicinity of the Bear Creek Fire. With fire activity significantly reduced and debris associated with construction of shaded fuel break removed, selected crews and machinery assigned to the fire are being demobilized. Sawyers are focusing efforts on felling hazard trees along roads. A trail assessment crew from Spotted Bear Ranger District will assess trail clearing needs today, with the dual objectives of evaluating work needed to provide access to backcountry administrative sites and assessing work needed to reopen access points and trails. Preparing the wilderness for the upcoming hunting season remains a priority.

Structure protection (hoses, water pumps, and sprinklers) remains in place at the three guest ranches – Diamond R, Spotted Bear Ranch and Wilderness Lodge as well as the Spotted Bear Ranger Station itself. Protective wrapping (i.e., fire-resistant wrap) will be removed from selected structures, such as bridges surrounded by burned forest. Most structure protection personnel have been re-allocated towards helping with hazardous tree removal operations on the Bear Creek and Trail Creek Fire areas and surrounding access roads.

Update 9.6.15

Last updated on the Bear Creek Fire.  The area has received  rain and the fires are contained or out. Higher elevations have received snow.

Part 4 – “When the Woods Were Wild”

In Preparation for the trip,  Keith gave me two books to read.  The one I read first was “When the Woods Were Wild ” by Stephen Hawkins.  Stephen is who Told Hunter bought his outfitter business from.  Todd no longer has the business.  The book gives a back story of Stephen’s childhood and how his love of hunting grew into a very good business. The book gives a insight into the world of an outfitter.  There is a lot of work that goes into each trip.  Transporting supplies into and out of the wilderness is a large task. A normal hunting or fishing party would be 6 to 8 people.  Then it would take another 4 or 5 guides, wrangler and cooks to support the group.  There maybe 12 people or more that needs food, shelter and clothing transported in on horseback and mule.

A large group may need 15 to 20 pack animals plus the horses for the people to ride. That is a lot to keep up with.  One thing I learned is that a line of mules tied together is called a pack string.  The other thing I learned is that mules and pack strings have wrecks.  This is why a small rope is used to tie each mule to the next. If a heavy rope is used and a mule wrecks, I will take the whole pack string with it. But with a small string it will break and only one mule would be lost.

The other book I read was by Howard Copenhaver called “They Left Their Tracks”. He and his brother started  guiding before  World War II and continued after the war, some 60 years as an outfitter. He tells short stories of trips and interesting adventures with  guest and crew. He is a bridge from the old west to the present. In fact one of his hands rode with Butch Cassidy.

Reading these books about the Bob and Outfitters has given me a little  insight into the Bob Marshall Wilderness and what to expect.

Part 5 – Bears

The Bob Marshall Wilderness has the largest concentration of Grizzly Bear in the lower 48 states.  The Bob is home to more than a thousand. Though a concern, I am not to worried about them.  I have camped and hiked in Black Bear Country many times with out fear. I have had several bear in counters and all have ended with the bear running away.  However I don’t to sound aragonite or foolish,  I  will be carrying bear spray and a 44 pistol with me. Most Grizzly  Bear attacks happen to solo hikers. So rule number one is don’t go alone, take a friend. That is a hard rule for me because I do like to explore  on my own. I think me and Keith have the same adventure spirit and we can explore together.  Bears don’t like to be surprised, so a group will make more noise than a solo hiker. Rule number two, don’t hike alone, take lots of friends . So that’s two rules I don’t like. If you do come up on a bear and it doesn’t run away.  Try to make yourself look bigger. Raze your  arms  over your head. Hold your jacket out to make yourself look bigger.  Do not turn and run. Back away slowly. We will be on horseback and will look bigger.  So rule three is don’t hike alone, take a horse. If you are charged by a bear, throw something at it. I prefer lead. So rule four is don’t hike alone, carry a big gun. There have been reports of men killed by bear after unloading all their rounds into the bear from a small calaber handgun. If the bear gets through all the lead and spray, and you can’t get away, cover your head and curl up in a ball. Then hope your budy is a good shot. Rule five is don’t hike alone, take a marksman with you. So I will be going everywhere on horseback with someone out of the group,  they are all good marksman.

Along with the Grizzly Bears are the Mountain Lions. I don’t know the concentration of lions but they are also a concern.  They will stalk you and attack from behind  and above.  I think the same five rules for Grizzlies  will apply for Lions.

Next on the list would be Black Bear, Wolfs, Wolverine and and maybe a Badger. Not really much to worry about.  There are no poisonous snacks in the Bob. I think we will have to be more careful about slips and falls than the wildlife.

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Upgraded to a 44.

Part 6 – MovingCamp

The original plan was to enter the Bob  at the Meadow Creek Trailhead and camp at the influx of the Black Bear Creek and the South Fork of the Flathead River. The Bear Creek  Wildfire put an end to that. From what I can tell on map, the entire area we would have been hunting,  camping and fishing in was buried.  The trailhead most definitely burned.  Even if that area was opened back up, the hunting would be terrible.  With nothing to eat, the wildlife that was puhed out will not return this year. A new hunting area is needed.

See post “It’s Going To Get Western ” for the rest of the story.

 

LINVILLE GORGE HIKE

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By Trent Tibbitts

The toughest, roughest, most demanding, most rewarding hike per mile I have ever been on. Located in the Pisgah National Forest north of Ashville, North Carolina. The Linville River cuts between two mountain ranges. Creating a 2000 foot deep gorge with step hillsides topped with a cliff face.  It doesn’t look very intimidating when looking at a map.  In fact we blow it off as child’s play a the beginning of the hike. By the end we had full respect for the wilderness we  had endured.

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It was February 2015, Brandon and I were just20150116_115746 off a Hike we had done in late January 2015 in the Smokies when he started planning another adventure.  We had hiked from Twenty mile ranger station to Gregory Bald where we had camped the first night.  Then to the AT and camp site 113 for the second night before hiking to Shuckshack fire tower and back down Twenty mile creek. It was a 22 mile loop. The first day was all up hill after the first mile. 20150117_113048This is the Smokies and its a steep climb. This was one of those trail that you keep thinking you’re at the top but it just keeps going. I was out of shape and my pack was over weight . I had met Brandon that morning at a local Wal-Mart where I bought my food for the weekend.  That was not the best idea. But I didn’t prep and I need food.  I was grabbing what I thought I needed. Like; a 20150117_113002potato,  ribeye steak, rice, trail mix, pack of flour tortillas,  thin cut steak, can of tuna,  crackers and other things that were heavy.  The one pound of trail mix was the first thing I left on the trail. We arrived at the trail head around noon. By the time I made it to camp it was dark and Brandon and Mike had been there about 2 hours.  I’m glad I saw them first because I was camping with whoever I saw first. There were two or three other groups near by. I set up my hammock and not expecting any rain, I just had my rain fly tied lousy.  I grilled my steak over the open fire and cook the potato in the hot coals.  I could not eat it all and shared the rest with Brandon and Mike.  My pack is now 3 pounds lighter.  But it’s not that much help. It was cold but we were dressed for it. We all climbed in bed for a well deserved and need sleep. Around 2 AM the wind started blowing and didn’t stop. We were camped in what’s called a saddle.  The low point between two high points. So this meant we were where the wind had the easiest place to cross. The valley funneled the wind straight through our camp. My rain fly was going crazy.  I had to tie it down and wrapped it around my hammock for more protection.  I then put my parka over my head and chest and got into my bag as much as I could.  I slept good. The noise was the worst part. 20150117_114903The next day after packing up it was a short up hill hike to the bald. The wind was still going strong.  We were late getting out of camp and people were stating to arrive from hiking up for Cades Cove.  The views to the South were great 20150117_114847from the Joyce Kilmer over to Clingmans Dome. You had a good view of Fontana lake. It was mountains after mountains.  To the north was Cades Cove with a great view of the layout.  After 40 year of visiting the cove it was nice to see it from this position. Past the Cove was the foothills Parkway and the Tennessee Valley.  Maryville  was very clear and you could make out Knoxville. We could see all the way across the Tennessee Valley to the Cumberland Mountains. That is when I noticed 20150116_122820two little gaps in those mountains.  It couldn’t be what I thought.  I pulled out maps and sure enough,  it was.  Cumberland Gap.  I could see Cumberland Gap 90 miles away.  Wendy and I had been there two or three years ago.  To pick out a landmark 90 miles away with my necked eye was wild to me. I’m sure you couldn’t do it in the summer.  The bald is covered with grass and blueberry bushes.  We hung out as long as we could stand the wind and then headed on. Mike was still at camp. I keep up with Brandon until we got to the AT. I stopped to rest and he pushed on. Mike caught up to me just as Brandon got out of sight. He pushed on and I brought up the rear. The wind seamed to die down some. We made it to camp with daylight left. It was off the trail down in a small valley.  A lot of protection from the wind.  There was a nice place for their tents and a good water supply but I had to venture up a way to find a good spot for my 20150117_171145hammock.  We had a great night by the fire cooking the steak strips and making steak tortilla. We went to bed looking forward to a good night of sleep.  Well, it started snowing around 4 AM. Then turned to light rain. I put my boots in the hammock with me and covered my pack as best as I could.  20150117_202437It never got heavy but I was not sure what was coming  so  I packed up my wet camp and hit the trail around 7 AM. Fog had set in and there was no view. The trail to the tower was a mile down trail and when I got there knowing there was no view and it would add two miles to my trip, I turned onto the Twenty Mile Trail and headed down to the truck.  The weather improved fast. I lost a lot of elevation on the steep descent.  I could now see the old fire tower but I wasn’t going back. I made good time going down hill and a somewhat lighter pack. Brandon had driven,  so once at the truck I couldn’t get in. I napped in the bed. I then unpacked and dried all my gear. I explored the ranger station then packed things up as they dried. It was about 3 hours before Brandon showed up. Mike was not to far behind.  They got some great shot of the tower.  We drove to the base of Fontana Dam before heading home.

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Brandon was wanting to hike the AT north from newfound gap to Charlie’s Bunion.  Stay at the Ice Water Spring Shelter.  Hike the Boulevard to Mount LeConte for the second night and down the Alum Cave Bluffs trail to Newfound Gap road. This would have been great.  You start at a very high point with out a lot of climbing.  Day three is all down hill.  Great views. Stay in the shelter,  so no hammock to carry.  The Boulevard is a tricky hike so there is a challenge.  Mount LeConte is the second highest peak in the Smokies.  Alum Cave Bluffs trail is the best trail in the park.  It would have been a great trip. The only problem.  Everyone else thinks that way too. The shelter was booked when we tried to make a reservation.

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20150307_103038That is when Brandon asked for a backup plan.  I had been interested in the Linville Gorge for some time. I  have seen it in the Blue Ridge Outdoor magazine a lot. I told Brandon and he had been interested in the gorge for sometime too. Now we had to find a hike. I had the Linville Gorge Mount Mitchell National Geographic Map.  It has a lot of information but cover a much larger area and does not give detailed information on the trail we are looking at. Next stop is the internet. We don’t find a lot of information. One site gives a loop in the south part of the gorge but the information is loss at best. All the post we read talk about how this is the toughest hike they have ever been on, we got lost, we almost died, maybe not the dying part but they were making a big deal out of it. Brandon and I just said they haven’t hiked with us. I mean come on we just got off 22 miles in the Smokies. We hiked the Art Lobe Trail. We Climbed Pilot Mountain and hiked 16 miles that 20150306_122954day. We had been on the toughest sections of the BMT. We had done the AT in Ga. We had been up and down mountains in the Smokies. We had done all these things and more. We were experienced. We could take care of ourselves. What were these people talking about? We got this. With very little information we planed our trip and started the invitations. Everyone always wants to go hiking but when you start asking they can’t make it. The crew was four of us; Brandon, Jason who is an experienced hiker and has been with us before on the BMT, Russ who is an all around expert, and myself. The trip was set for March 6th 2015. We would drive up Friday morning and come home on Sunday. It was Monday and we still had not gotten much more information. As a last-ditch idea I searched Face Book for a page on the Gorge. That is when I found Linville Gorge Adventures and Phil Phelan. I read his web page and sent him a message telling him about our hike. He sent back a pumped up message about the gorge and got us excited. We exchanged several messages and he told us where we could get his book and a better map of the gorge.

20150306_115920Friday came and we were to meet at Brandon’s office at 5 AM. I was out the door around 4:20. About half way there I couldn’t find my phone.  I thought I had grab it but it wasn’t where I normally put it. It had the address to Brandon’s office, GPS and Brandon’s cell number.  So, I was lost. The only choice was for me to go to my office and look up Brandon’s number from my contacts off my email.  Luckily our office are very close. I get to my office and call Brandon.  He gives me directions and I grab my tablet so I would have something to take photos with.  Once at Brandon’s office,  I unloaded my pack and find my phone. That saved a pound from not having to carry the tablet.  The message I missed from not having my phone handy was everyone was running late.  Russ and Jason were there but I beat Brandon even with my delay.  Once Brandon got there, we loaded his truck with our packs and hit the road. A few hours and stops later we were in Morganton NC. With directions from Phil, we went to the CBS sports store to get his book and a better map,  The Linville Wilderness.  I also got another Map of other trails 20150306_144552close by. Russ got a set of Tracking poles. This would be the first time I ever used tracking poles also. I bought some at REI a few weeks pyro. I filled my water bladder at the store and we stopped at Subway before heading to the trailhead. We had seen this crazy looking mountain on the way into Morganton.  Turns out its Table Rock where we are going. It looks like a monolith sitting on top of a mountain range. Like a small Devil’s Tower.

20150306_112452The trailhead is on Wolf Pit Road and we get there in short order.  We are excited to get on the trail.  We grab our gear and hit the trail.  One thing I like about backpacking is that you have to bring everything you need for survival with you.  Total self-reliance. A few hundred yards up the trail and we find a good spot for a 20150306_11485420150306_121501group photo.  It’s still cold but the heat we produce as already got us losing layers. The trail from Wolf Pit to the Mountains to Sea Trail is all up hill. It’s not a bad climb at all. There are plenty of switch backs and steps cut into the trail. The area was hit by the 2013 Table Top wildlife and is wide open. Young pines are just starting to grow back. These affords us the opportunity to have great 180 degrees views. We can see Lake James very well. As we make our way up we are still wondering what all the fuss is over this trail.  By all measures, this is an easy climb. Where we are climbing is the south end of the gorge on the east side, Shortoff 20150307_105641Mountain. The Wolf Pit trail intersects the Mountains to Sea Trail a little over half way up. We turned right on it. Once we reach the top we start to see the rock face of the gorge.  It has only been an hour’s walk from the parking lot and 1100 foot climb to a different world.  We drop our packs and explore the cliff edge.  We take more and more photos as the views get better and better. Large ice sickles fall from the cliff face in the warm afternoon sun and crash down hundred feet below.  We pack back up and keep exploring each side trail to the gorge edge as we make our way to the top. We then find a nice over look that gives up a clear view up the gorge. We can see the Linville River cutting its way through the gorge.  This area was named for father and son setters who were scalped by Cherokee Indians. The upper gorge is very narrow.  Closer to the end it opens up and there is some room on the side of the river. We take a break here and eat a snack. We could see Table Top in the distance,  our goal for the day.  The map shows water there and 20150306_13064820150306_121642we were told by fokes at the sports store that it was the only water source for this part of the trail.  After the break,  we passed a small pond. The last water source, not a place you would want to get water from. We were all still good with our Water supply and with the promise of water at Table Rock we keep going. The trail pulled away from the rim’s edge and continue up a rise that did not get burned. We emerged from the woods to more fire damaged landscape.  We follow the Ridgeline with the gorge on our left and Lake James on our right.  It makes a large sweeping curve to the left.  It was down hill for the first time then right back up to a point and trail junction where the fire did not touch. The trail turns right and starts an almost straight down hill decent. We loose 500 feet of elevation, close to half what we had gained through out the day. I hated to lose it because I knew we would have to make it back up. Chimmeys gap was the20150306_141134 low point at 2500 feet.  Then came the climb back out of the gap. This side of the gap was pines that were 6 to 8 inch in diameter and 15 to 20 foot tall. The fire had 20150306_144552come through here but the timber was still standing dead and black with soot. In area trees blocked the trail. On the decent, I had been eating trail mix and had fallen behind.  The rest of the crew was now out of sight in the thick dead forest. It was a steep incline and I could hear them often over head. It was a 1000 foot climb to the top. I caught back up with everyone at a nice rocky over look. We had a good view of the Chimmeys and Tablerock. I took off my pack a rested for a minute while taking photos.  Then it was back on the trail and more climbing to the top.  It wasn’t any worse than anything else I have climbed. In fact it was a short climb compared to the climbs in the Smokies,  but it was late in the day, a day that had started at 4 AM. So when we got to the top and found a camping spot I was all for stopping here for the night. We did a quick survey of the area and pick our spots. Next order of business was to go find water.

20150306_163341 I took my head lamp just in case it got dark and a pullover if it got cold. Plus I had my water bladder. We had only seen three people on the trail and that was at the start. We came across a man and his daughter making camp. We asked about the water we had seen on the map. The map showed a blue diamond,  bathrooms and a parking lot all right together.  He told us there was no water there. The bathrooms were just privies. No running water. He said he and his wife ran into the same problem last summer and went 24 hours without water. He suggested that we check the tops of the rocks a long the Chimmeys for pools of water or ice sickles.  We split up in search for water. I stayed on the trail and everyone else checked the top of the rocks.  I came around the corner of the trail and had a great view of the gorge.  The trail is narrow here with some rock hopping. I found a rock slide and see ice sickles above. I made my way up and started harvesting ice. Putting it 20150306_171036straight into my water bladder.  I made my way to a large cave like over hang.  Would have been a great place to make camp. Had a wonderful view of the gorge.  I got as much ice as I thought I needed. Then headed back to camp about a quarter-mile away. I stopped to talk to the guy who told us about the water. He said he and his wife had done the same loop we were doing. When they ran out of water. He told us of the next water being about 4 miles away on the trail down to the river.  He said the bridge was out and they waded across. He said the trail was real rough and the climb back out was awful hard. He hadn’t eaten well and it was very hard for him. I asked if it was harder than the hill we just climbed up20150306_115755 out of the gap and he said yes. I wasn’t to concerned about him saying that the bridge was out because Phil had said there was a new bridge at the top of the loop. We knew we would have to wade the river at the down stream crossing.  This trail still hadn’t shown us anything that tough and rugged. What were these people talking about? Back at camp we prepared our dinner.  As the sun set. I used my new alcohol fueled stove to cook Mexican rice and pan fry steak strips for camp fajitas.  The camp fire was over looking the east and we had a clear view as the moon came up over the horizon bright red. It was big and was a grand sight to see. The wind was picking up and the temperature was dropping fast.  Water in my water bladder was already freezing.  Some of the guys boiled water and put it in a water bottle and slept with it. One, it helped to keep them warm and two, it kept the water from freezing over night.  I set up my hammock and made sure to tie the rain fly down good. I didn’t want a repeat of the night in the Smokies a few weeks back.  The wind was strong during the night but the rain fly did the trick in blocking it. Over night temperature was around 15 degrees. Everyone survived.  I was warm all night.

20150307_095637The next morning,  I was up first and got my things packed.  It was cold and I didn’t want to spend too much time in camp. I did get the fire going and made a cup of hot chocolate. I had lost my head lamp the night before while looking for water.  I needed time to look for it so I headed out before everyone else. I searched the trail as I walked but I had an idea it was where I had gathered the ice. Having not found the light on the trail,  I stopped at the landslide area where I was the night before and dropped my pack.  I back tracked my path and found the head lamp at the point where I had turned back.  Once I got back to my pack,  Brandon had caught up to me. The view up the gorge was fantastic from the trail.  We took our time and made a lot of photos as we explored the rock formations along the trail.  Jason and Russ caught up to us.  We passed a group of campers and asked about trail conditions.  They too told us that the bridge was out.  Last summer they had cross with a use of a rope up river and the rope may still be there. We walked on to a rocky over look that gave us a 360 degree view.  The discussion of what to do was intense. 20150307_101730 Was the bridge out or not? Did we want to hike down and see? If it was out,  then what?  Would we swim?  Would we hike back out?  Do we call a shuttle and leave from the parking lot at Table Rock? We text Phil and asked him about the bridge.  Yes that bridge is out, he said.  The new bridge is at the top of the gorge. With the winter flow and the added water from rain earlier in the week,  we would have to swim.  But we still didn’t think we would have to swim.  Surely we could find a way to cross. Maybe we could rock hop or find a down tree. We decided to go take a look.  We scrambled over more rocks before leaving the Chimmeys and entering the camping area next to the parking lot. Unfortunately the restrooms were locked. We stopped to rest and check the map. The Table Rock was right in front of us.  We took more 20150307_103149photos.  Then we climbed up the trail from the parking lot on the North West side of the mountain with great views of the gorge.  We passed two guys collecting water from a wet weather spring on the side of the trail. They gave us more advice on how to cross the river.  On up the trail where we were to leave the Mountains to Sea Trail,  we met a large group of Boy Scouts.  They to had done our loop last year. More advice on how to hike the trail. We started our decent to the river. It was straight down hill, no switch backs.  I was getting a little hungry so I slowed down a little to eat a snack while walking.  We started to hear water and was soon at a small creek and our first fresh water on the trail.  I used my new life straw filter for the first time.  From here it was up and over several ridges till we got to a camping area. We stopped to check the map. There was the trail we walked in on and it looked like it went straight ahead. There was a trail coming in on the right down the crest of the hill and a trail to the left. After looking over the map,  we went straight ahead.  After a few hundred yards of down 20150306_170514hill hiking the trail disappeared.  More map reading and discussion of what to do.  We turned back and bushed wacked our way up the draw to the trail junction. More map studying and up the hill we went. It was a short climb.  We passed a young lady hiking by herself.  I thought how dangerous it  for her to be alone. We soon came to another trail junction.  We turned left and started our decent to the river.

20150307_140240We got to the river at lunch time.  There were a few people hanging out on the rocks.  Two ladies with a dog were finishing up their lunch.  A couple was sitting on a large boulder that was once the landing of the now missing foot bridge.  We dropped our packs and began exploring the area for a way across.  Where the bridge once stood was a gap much to wide to jump.  There was a boulder below that we might could have jumped to but if we didn’t make it we would have been swept 20150307_141053down river in the raging white water.  The river was up due to rain just two days before our trip. There was a row of smaller boulders below a pool that looked like we could have rocked hopped across but again it was to big of a gap. I made my way up the river looking for a way to cross.  The gorge is very narrow and the hillsides are like walls.  I could only crawl and climb over rocks for a short distance before coming to a point that could not be traversed.  I made my way back to the trail and reported my findings.  Jason and Brandon tried a route a little higher up the hillside with the same 20150307_144354results.  I ate my lunch of tuna with crackers.  The talk of swimming the river came up again.  The air temperature was in the 50s. Remember it had been a low of 16 degrees over night. There was a very deep pool of water just above the spot where the bridge once span the narrow slot of swift water that funneled all the river. Not a place you would want to get caught up in.  The plan was evolving.  We looked where to enter and where to exit. What would be the easiest and fastest way across without getting caught the current and be pulled into the rapids.  Russ was the biggest supporter of this plan.  Jason was up for it too.  Brandon and I had not fully committed.  That was going20150307_140311 to be some cold water.  Part of the plan was to ferry our packs across on a rope.  Two of us on one side and two of us on the other to handle the rope and packs.  We stripped down to our underwear and put our clothes in our packs. Brandon and I were still not sure if this was what we wanted to do.  While discussing our options and had almost decided to bail out and head back,  we heard Russ splash in. There was no turning back now.  Jason quickly followed with a dive into the clear frigid waters. They were across in about 15 seconds. That doesn’t sound long. But believe me you couldn’t stand much more than that. After they caught their breath, Russ took a position on the lower bolder.  It had a 30 degree angle into the water and was not that good  a base. I think Russ may have swam with the rope.  We had found a big carabiner on the old bridge foundation. We used it to attach our packs to the rope. The upper end of the rope was looped around rebar that was part of the old bridge and I anchored it.  Russ ran the lower part of the rope behind his back while sitting and Jason anchored the end of the rope. Brandon loaded the packs and send them down to Russ who caught them and passed them to Jason.  Talk about a team building exercises. It was now mine and Brandon’s turn to swim.  We waded in until 20150307_144400the water was waist deep then started our swim.  I made the mistake of keeping my sandals on thinking they would help me walk over the rocks.  They were pulling me down a little and slowing down some too. I was almost to the other side and was at a point where I thought I should be able to stand up but to  surprise I could not touch.  I felt that I was in a fight for my life.  The cold water had taken my breath.  I was trying to take in deep breaths. I was getting encouragement from the guys on the shore. It was the most primeval feeling of survival I have ever had.  One on the back of the river I collapsed with deep gasping for air. After the shock wore off and I regained feeling,  I was the most refreshed I had ever been.  I also had a huge sense of accomplishment.  We got out of our wet short, got dressed and got back on the trail.

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20150308_092534The trail now followed close by the river.  Never losing sight of it. We were still in the narrow upper part of the gorge.  The trail was narrow and climbed up and down the side of the hill.  It really was a goat path. Large trees littered the way. This was becoming the worst part of the trip. More people were on this side of the river. There are a few trails coming in on this side and more camping opportunities. Most  If not all possible camping areas were occupied.  We made our way down to below the chimneys before we made camp.  Almost even across the20150307_171408 river from where we had camped the first night.  The sun was low in the west and its soft light painted the cliff face above on the east rim of the gorge. It was a sight worth the efforts of the day.

20150308_113040Our camp was a spacious area. We had plenty of fire wood and room to spread out.  Brandon pitched his tent and the rest of us hung our hammocks. We cooked dinner,  I had a setak cooked over the open fire.  Then it was a relaxing evening around the fire.  The night was not as cold as the night before.  The next morning I cooked eggs for breakfast.  We had a big day ahead of us. We broke camp and we all hiked together, getting back logged at each down tree we had to cross.  Some 20150308_115634were quite tricky, like a puzzle you had to solve before you could pass. The morning trail was much like the afternoon before.  It was a goat path on the side of the hill.  We took lunch at a campsite that was just passed where the gorge started to open up.  After lunch we hiked in the flat flood plain of the river for about an hour until we could go no further.  The river cut into the steep mountain side blocking our path.  This would be our second river crossing.  The river was very wide here and didn’t look to deep except right next to the bank on our site. We looked for a spot that wouldn’t be too deep. Again we stripped down to our underwear and I put my sandals on.  This time they worked as planned.  The river20150308_134841 turned out not to be too deep.  My shorts didn’t get wet. The water was cold but refreshing.  Jason took the opportunity to soak his knees for a while.  This is where the trail ends and your own your own.  After gearing up we wander and bushwhack our way down river.  We found a road a little inland and took it out of the national forest onto to private land.   About a mile on down the road it crossed the river and there was no way to continue down the river without crossing. We studied the map and decided we had to climb out up the mountain to the east. We were looking to hit the Mountain to Sea Trail on the ridge top. The mountain side was steep. I believe it was a 1100 foot climb.  We did not have a trail to follow.  It was get to the top.  We were soon on the west slop where the fire had burned all the trees. We were without protection from the afternoon sun.  It was slow going.  My tracking poles helped a lot. We had to take several stops.  20150308_135306We found the trail and took a left and continued to climb the mountain along the ridge line. This trail intersects the trail down to the truck almost at the top of the mountain so when we found a side trail that looks like it cuts a  cross the side of the mountain we take it.  It goes up and over several ridges but it was a shorter route.  The guys turned on the over drive and left  behind.  Once a Wolf Pit trail I turned right and it was all down hill to the truck.  It took a little longer to get down than I thought it would.  The small parking lot was packed.  We loaded up and headed to the nearest waffle house.  Great trip.

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John RR.Here is a quick story of a hike John Rakestraw and I did May 26 & 27, 2013. It was already about 6:30 PM when I saw the text from John asking if I wanted to go camping that night down at Raccoon Creek, close to our house on dads land. John and another friend of his had camped there on Friday night. Temps were in the mid 40s, very cool for May. The state stocks the creek with trout, John and his friend had caught some and grilled them for dinner. His buddy had to leave early and he text me on Sunday afternoon before Memorial Day. After a few texts back and forth and a call to Wendy, I was ready to go. I got my bag together and out the door I went.

Once I was at Johns, I proposed a deferent destination. It was still on Raccoon Creek but several miles up stream in the WMA behind Friendship Church, a small church in our association of churches. I have wanted to do more exploring of the forest around the house and thought this would be a good opportunity. I have a map of the area and have been studding for some time. I had seen a spot on the map with what looked liked big flat bottom land next to the creek. Looked like a good place. Looked easy to get to also. There is a road from the Church to a branch that we could follow to our spot. John was up to it so we were off. We parked at the gate next to the church, grabbed our packs and the map and hit the dirt road.

Trent trainThe forest had been cut for timber about 15 years ago and just a few years ago the planted pines were thinned by cutting about 60 percent of the trees down for pulp wood. So the road we were walking was in good shape and open go the sky. We saw two hen turkeys right a way. We took a side logging road to the right that leads to a set of two rail road tracks. I had been to this area once before when I wad very young with dad. I remember walking down to the tracks from the Church and putting pennies on the track. I don’t know why we did it there. John and I had fun exploring the track. After a few minutes of walking down the track a train passed us and we got some good photos. The tracks crossed our branch we followed down to the creek. So we left the RR at the crossing. As we got to the bottom of the hill we fount a huge tunnel that our branch flowed through under the RR. It went back about 70 feet then turned to the left so we could not see the other side. It was big enough to dive a truck through.

We stated following the stream down. It was very pretty with rock cliffs and out cropping. Then it would open up to large bottom land. Light was fading as we scared up a groundhog. We made it to the creek just as it was getting dark. The stream we were following had gotten bigger and was not so easy to cross. We thought we needed to cross one more time. There was a log that went most of the way so I took a few fast steppes and jumped the rest and made it okay. John did the same.

John TunnelWe now needed to cross the creek. No easy way was seen. John tried to wade it but it would have covered his boots. We walked up steam a little way but the hills quickly got too step, falling into the creek, so we turned back looking for some way across. We saw a tree with munity trunks leaning over the creek. The idea was to use one of the smaller ones as a way across by hanging from it and walking our hands up the trunk and the tree would then bend over and when we cleared the water just drop off. I started across and didn’t get going good before my hat fell off. I had already lost one $50 hat on the lake when we had rented a boat for the day. I was taking photos of Sarah driving the boat and the wind took it. It had sank by the time we got back. So I did not want to loss this one. I dropped and hit the water. As fast as I was in, I was out looking for my hat. I dropped my pack on the sand bar and started down stream. I got my flashlight out and saw the hat on the bottom in three feet of water. Shoes off, socks off, paints off, underwear off and into the creek after my hat. Got it. While getting dressed I heard a big splash up stream. John got tangled up with some roots and went down in the creek. He was total wet.

clothsI finished getting dressed and John fount a good spot to make camp. I gathered wood while he got his wet cloths off. We set up a line to dry our cloths next to the fire. We set up out hammocks, John sported his Eons Christmas lights. There was an old deer stand close by and I borrowed the set cushion. John had his camp chair. We ate our Mountain House meals and keep the fire feed. Most of John’s cloths were dry by the time we went to bed. My paints were a little wet so I let them dry over night along with my socks and shoes. We woke up around 5 AM to the sound of something walking in camp. When I asked John if it was him, we heard a deer blow at us. I went back to sleep and did not wake back up until 8 AM. I got up and got the fire going again. I ate my Pop Tart and John shared some coffee. We broke camp and I returned the seat to the deer stand.

We used an old ladder that was a deer stand at one point to make a bridge back over Raccoon Creek. We followed the smaller branch back up stream to an old logging road and took it up hill. It was a real clime out. Once on top of the hill we were in the cut and the sun was already hot. It was a 50 minute walk back to the truck. Turned out to be a good little hike that was only about 5 miles for our house.

By Trent Tibbitts

The Jack’s River, Penitentiary Branch, Hemp Top Loop is a 13 mile loop with no backtracking in the Cohutta Wilderness of the North Georgia mountains. It can be done as a day trip or a easy one night back packing trip. I did this trip on July 20 and 21 of 2012. The trailhead is at Dally Gap, a easy drive from Blue Ridge Ga. I got on the trail around 7:30 Friday night and started up the Hemp Top trail. This trail runs the true “Blue Ridge” that divides the Blue Ridge mountains. It is an old road, as is so many of the trails in the Cohutta. It was an easy, up hill,  uneventful, 2.3 mile walk to Penitentiary Branch Trail, that falls away to the left for 3.6 miles. A lot of storms had come through the area over the past few weeks and there were a lot of blow downs on the tops of the ridges. Penitentiary Branch Trail is a wide trail and it is a steady down hill walk. I made it another mile or so before making camp at the first small camp site I came to. It was now 9 PM. I sat up my Enos hammock, inserted my air pad, put up my rain fly, and got to work building a fire. Not that it was cold but when you are alone in the middle of nowhere, it helps to calm the soul.  It was also a personal challenge for me. It had been raining and I love to start fires in wet condition. Like I said it was a challenge. I collected dry sticks that had not been on the ground, along with dry pine needles and worked my way up. The wet wood was really smokey. So much so I had to but it out because the smoke was collecting in my rain fly and I could not breathe. After that I hit the sack. There was lots of lighting around and two owls who keep on hooting. Could have been spooky if you didn’t know what they were. The next morning I was up and back on the trail by 9 AM. The rest of the trail was easy and down hill. A total of 5.9 miles from Dally Gap to Jack’s River. From here back to Dally Gap there are 18 river crossings. So many that you can’t keep them strate. Once on the JRT the first thing you do is wade the river. I hit the water at 10:30 Am. Jack’s is a wild river. All of it is in the Wilderness. Very amazing place. I would stop in the middle of the river at each crossing and take in the glory of the Lord. It wasn’t after to many crossing it started to rain. I started to sit it out but after about 20 minutes of hard rain and when I noticed that the river was rising, I decided that I had a lot more ground to cover and “Flash Flood” came to mind. I had changed in to my sandals at the first crossing. I now had on my rain jacket and cover over my pack. Even though the rain was coming down in buckets and lighting was flashing, I truly did enjoy the hike. I felt more connected to nature. The rain slacked off around 1:30 PM and I stopped to eat at the best camping area I have seen in the Wilderness. It was in a curve of the river and opened up into a large area of big trees with no under story trees. There was a water fall on the opposite side of the river. It was really flowing good with the water from the rain. While eating I watched the river rise four inches in 20 minutes. After eating, I passed a group of three girl, one guy and two dogs going down river. I really worried about them. They had a lot of crossing to make and the river was getting worse. I made the next crossing and noticed that the water was flowing a lot faster than before. The water was now brown and I could not see the bottom. I felt my way slowly across and really used my walking stick. I then entered the Jack’s River Gorge. It is over a mile long and with all the rain it was one long white water roaring rapid. I just knew that I would not be able to make the next crossing. So when I came to a hill-side that had washed away in one of the last rains, I took a nape on the exposed rock face over the river. 1/4 mile up the trail was the next ford. When I got there the river was racing and foaming. No way to cross. Much to fast. Much to deep. If you went in here it was a mile of white water before you could even think about getting out. What to do? I decided to follow the river up, off the trail. No way to get lost, just keep the river on my right. After changing back into my hiking shoes, I bushwhacked about a half mile or more. I fount a foot log and crossed there. I was now above where a major creek feed into the Jack’s and it was not as wild as before. It was still running fast and deep. I made it across with no problem. It was not but 100 yards and I came to my last crossing. I changed back into my sandals. Even though I was at the head waters, the river was still very fast. This was the toughest crossing yet. I had to lean into my stick and feel my way across. Once across it was a easy 2.3 miles out. I was off the trail at 5:30. One of the best and most rewarding hikes I have been on.

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