Category: Hiking


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.


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.


Poky Hole



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.


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.



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.




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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Day two. September 11, 2015.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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

September 16, Wednesday


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.


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.

fire gt

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.


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.

stock tg

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


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.


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


trent.jpg b.jpg


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.


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.


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


lunch        walk


head         ride


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


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.

cam            brett.jpg

bear.jpg hot.jpg


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.

fire.jpg  todd.jpg


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


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.





w3.jpg             wall.jpg

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.

fish                                goat

September 24th, Friday


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.


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.


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.


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



Blue Jay


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.


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


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.


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.



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



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.


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.


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.


Binoculars with case.


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



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.



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



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



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


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.



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


Hip Waders.


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.


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


Part 3 – Forest Fires

View image on Twitter

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.


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.

– 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


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.


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.




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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



Section One. Springer to Three Forks.

Mile                 Attraction                                            Miles to next point.                 Miles on BMT

O.0.                 FS Road 42. AT to BMT                    0.7

0.7.                  Southern terminus of the BMT           0.2

0.9.                  Southern terminus of the AT.             0.2

1.1.                  Southern terminus of the BMT           0.1.                                          0.0

1.2.                  Plaque                                                 0.1.                                          0.1

1.3                   Trail turns right.  Winter views.         0.2.                                           0.2

1.5.                  Blue Ridge Eastern Crest                   0.2.                                          0.4

1.7                   Shallow saddle / gap                          0.4.                                           0.6

2.1                   Highest point at 3600 feet.                 0.4.                                          1.0

2.5.                  Side trail to Owen Overlook.             0.05.                                         1.4

2.55.                Owen Overlook.                                 0.05

2.6.                  Back on the BMT.                              0.4                                           1.4

3.0.                  FS Road 42.  Big Stamp Gap.            0.5.                                          1.8

3.5.                  Rock Steps a Branch camp site          0.3.                                           2.3

3.8.                  Top small spur.                                   0.1.                                           2.6

3.9                   Wide rock steps across a branch.        0.1                                           2.7

4.0.                  Cross another branch.                          0.4                                          2.8

4.4.                  Crosses the AT.                                   0.2.                                          3.2

4.6.                  Turn right near FS 42 (3300 feet)        0.4                                          3.4

5.0.                  Summit of Rich Mountain (3450)        0.3                                          3.8

5.3.                  Crosses the AT (3300 feet)                   0.2                                         4.1

5.5.                  Next knob (3360 feet)                         0.5                                          4.3

6.0.                  Slight bump (3160 feet)                      0.3                                           4.8

6.3                   turns right and down old road.            0.6                                          5.1

6.9.                  Turn left onto a woods road.               0.2                                          5.7

7.1                   Spring.  Big Yellow Poplar.                0.2                                           5.9

7.3.                  Joins the AT                                        0.1                                           6.1

7.4                   Bridge.  End Section 1.                                                                      6.2

7.4.                  Section 2. 12.2 miles.                          0.9.                                          6.2

8.3.                  Long Creek Falls side trail.                0.1                                            7.1

8.4.                  Long Creek Falls and campsite          0.1.

8.5.                  Back on the BMT.                              0.1                                           7.1

8.6.                  Bridge over Long creek.                     1.0                                           7.2

9.6.                  Crosses old road.                                 0.1.                                         8.2

9.7.                  The Bald. Army helopad.                    0.6.                                         8.3

10.3.                No name Gap 2860 feet                       0.3.                                         8.9

10.6.                Peak 3170 feet.                                     0.4                                         9.2

11.0.                Long shallow gap.                                0.7                                          9.6

11.7.                Gap 2980 feet                                       0.3                                         10.3

12.0.                West most peak 3130 feet                    0.3                                         10.6

12.3.                Gap                                                       1.0.                                        10.9

13.3.                Bryson Gap 2900 feet.                          0.4.                                        11.9

13.7.                Large rock outcropping.                        0.4                                         12.3

14.1.                Sapling Gap.  2770 feet                         0.9                                        12.7

15.0.                Crosses old road slight saddle.              1.1                                        13.6

16.1.                FS 333 (2050 feet)                                 0.1.                                       14.7

16.2.                Big bridge. Toccoa River (1920)           0.2.                                       14.8

16. 4.               FS 816. Old road to parking lot             0.3                                        15.0

16.7.                Old road bed turn right.                         0.2                                        15.3

16.9                 switchbacks to left off old road.            0.1                                       15.5

17.                   Curls left across a narrow ravine.          0.2                                         15.6

17.2.                Swings to right.                                      0.1                                        15.8

17.3.                Starts Ridge top run.                              0.4                                        15.9

17.7.                Slants to left.                                          0.1                                        16.3

17.8.                Top a small hill.                                     0.1                                         16.4

17.9.                Bottom of small hill                               0.1                                        16.5

18.                   Old road                                                 0.1                                        16.6

18.1.                Top of ridge line                                    0.1                                        16.7

18.2.                Top of knob 2720 feet.                          0.2                                        16.8

18.4.                Bottom of hill.                                       0.2                                        17.0

18.6.                No name hardwood saddle. 2660 feet.  0.2                                       17.2

18.8.                Slight gap 2580 feet.                              0.2                                        17.4

20.                   Crest Tooni mountain again.                  0.2                                        17.6

20.2.                Dogleg to left north west                        0.2                                       17.8

20.4.                Yellow Poplar hollow                             0.3                                       18.0

20.7.                On left concrete catch basin                    0.2                                      18.3

20.9.                End Section 2 at Hwy 60.                       0.3                                      18.5

21.2.                Store and camp ground.                          0.3

21.5.                Beginning of section 3. 2010 feet           O.1.                                     18.5

21.6.                Route swings to the right                        0.2                                       18.6

21.8                 Drops to right below Ridgeline.              0.2.                                      18.8

22.                   Bottom of hill.                                         0.2.                                      19.0

22.2.                Trail flattens.                                           0.3.                                      19.2

22.5.                Wallalah.                                                 0.2.                                      19.5

22.7.                Switchback to right                                 0.1.                                     19.7

22.8.                Switchback to left.                                  0.1.                                      19.8

22.9.                Veers up to left                                       0.2.                                      19.9

23.1.               Top of the fold.                                        0.2.                                      20.1

23.2.               Wallalah crown 3100 feet.                       0.4.                                     20.3

23.6.                Saddle 2730 feet                                     0.1.                                     20.7

23.7.                Low knob 2790 feet                                0.1.                                      20.8

23.8.               Shallow gap 2730 feet.                            0.3.                                     20.9

24.1.                Unnamed knob 3010 feet.                       0.1.                                     21.2

24.2.               Slight scallop 2890 feet.                          0.2.                                     21.3

24.4.               Switchback to left                                    0.3.                                     21.5

24.7.                Licklog crown 3470.                                0.3.                                    21.8

25.0.               Gap water down side path to right east .  0.1                                     22.1

25.1.                Spring.                                                      0.1

25.2.                BMT.                                                        0.3.                                     22.1

25.8.                Gap.       3140 feet                                    0.3.                                    22.4

26.1.               Trail junction Duncan Ridge.                   0.1                                      22.7

26.2.                Rhodes mountain summit 3420 feet via the Duncan Ridge trail. 0.1

26.3.                BMT.                                                        0.3.                                     22.7

26.9.                Top of ridge line.                                      0.2.                                    23.0

27.1.                Virginia pine rest..                                    0.2.                                    23.2

27.3.                Swerves to                                                0.1.                                    23.4

27.4.                To the right off the keel of the ridge.       0.3.                                    23.5

27.7.                Steep down Grade                                    0.3.                                    23.8

30.0.                Trail flattens.                                            0.1.                                    24.1

30.1.                 End of                                                                                               24.2



The Smokies were another childhood vacation destination. We would go to the beach and the mountains at least once a year. When I was younger we would see all the tourist attractions; like Dollywood, the Comity Barn, go carts and shows. While we still like those things, the beauty of the mountains is what I go to the Smokies for now. There is no better way to experience that beauty than to get out in it.  That means a hike.

2010 Hike 066

There are hundreds of trails in the Smokies, from short nature walks to 38 miles on the AT. I have done a few but there is more to see. The first hike I did of any length was the Abrams Falls trail in Cades Cove. The trail is 2.5 miles to the falls for a five-mile total. I guess I was around 12 the first time I hiked it. I was with mom, dad and maybe Brandon but I remember it being a long hike. It was a rewarding hike though. I like having a reward waiting on me some where on the hike. This time it was a high shear falls on a large creek with a swimming hole at the bottom of the falls. We were not prepared to swim but dad let us get a little wet. Years latter Wendy and I did some camping at Cades Cove campground and made the hike together. After we got married I would drag her all around the cove looking for deer and bear. She was a real trooper. We had lots of fun. We even rode the horses.



Water fall 10-16-11

20140125_153941I have camped at the Cove so many times with Wendy and without her it is hard to keep all of them straight. I do remember one trip and I think it was before we were married so I had to be 18. Bobby Watson and I drove up in his straight shift Ford F 150. I drove most of the way but I had not driven a straight shift much, other than the farm tractor, and almost forgot I was driving a stick when I went to get off the highway because I had been in fourth or fifth gear for so long. We had gone up after work and got to the park late. The sign at the beginning of the seven and half mile road to the campground said the campground was full but we went on any ways. It was about 10 PM when we pulled in and the ranger station was closed. We drove the campground and it was full, not a spot was open. We did notice at one of the group camping area that there was only a small number of people occupying less than half the space. We asked if we could use the area they were not and they agreed. We paid them maybe 20140125_153726$20 for the use of the spot. Some how Vance Keys was with us. He must have followed us up in his truck. The next morning we decided to hike up the  Anthony Creek Trail to Bote Mountain trail to the AT at Spence Field, 4.8 miles away. We had no idea what 9.6 miles were in the Smokies. We were very under prepared. We may have had some bottle water, a can of tuna with crackers and maybe an apple. We did not have a backpack, we carried what we did have in our pockets. It was a very nice walk, all up hill as we climbed up to the ridge top. The AT runs the highest ridges of the Smokies, forming the boundary between Tennessee and North Carolina. It was not as steep as other approach trails but a nice grade. We came to some virgin timber. There were trees that it would take three men to hold their arms around. Once we got to back country camp site number 9 we decided to turn back. We had only walked 2.9 miles but that was enough for us. Once we got back to the campground we were able to get a camp site of our own.

2010 Hike 108

20140125_174041The other special camping trip in Cades Cove was Wyatt’s first camping trip. This was in 1998 and we were still tent camping. Wyatt was 6 or 7 months old and we had his play pen set up in the tent. He and Sarah both have camping in their blood. They have been doing it their whole live. Sarah was younger than Wyatt on her first camping trip. She was only four months IMG_2721 old. We did have the pop up camper by this time and we were camping on Raccoon Creek at the Ford. She slept in a basanet on the counter top of the small camper. We now have a 32 foot, double slide travel trailer. We go RVing now, not camping.

Photos 2009 008

Like I said, we vacation a lot in and around the Smokies. For several year we would rent a large cabin that sleeps up to 20. It would be: Mom and Dad, my sister Tammy and her husband David and their son Alex, my brother Todd and his wife Toni and their son Zack, my brother Keith and his wife Sonya and their daughter Ashley, Kaitlin and Hannah, Wendy, Wyatt, Sarah and I. Then there would be a few friends added each trip. Most of the time we would go in September or October. In the fall of 20140125_1708572006, Wyatt, Sarah and I went up early in the day and everyone else was coming up in the afternoon. I had planed on us hiking the Alum Cave Trail. Sarah was six and Wyatt was eight years old. We stopped at the visitor center at Sugarlands and bought us all hiking sticks. The kids had a bell on their’s to keep the bears away. When we got to the trailhead parking lot on Newfound Gap road it was packed with cars and people. I parked on the shoulder of the road. We got out and got our things, locked and shut the doors. That is when I knew I had locked the keys inside. At that time there was no cell phone service 20140125_170936inside the park. I thought if I could get high enough, I might just get a signal. The three of us with our sticks in hand hit the trail. It was not to bad of a climb. The trail follows the small Alum Cave Creek for a mile, then follows Styx Branch for a half mile. The trail then hugs the side of the ridge for a little more than half mile to Peregrine Peak. From there it is less than a half mile to the cave. From trail head to the cave is 2.3 miles and another 2.7 miles to Mount LeConte, the second highest peak in the Smokies at 6593 feet. Not to far up the 20140125_171058trail we came to a surprise, Arch Rock. It is a natural tunnel that the trail goes through. The trail first crosses a foot log over the small branch and straightway enters the tunnel. The tunnel also goes up hill so you exit higher than you entered. Very cool place. We make it to Peregrine point. We have a fantastic view north of the West Prong Little Pigeon River watershed and Newfound gap road. The next ridge over is Little Duck Hawk Ridge and we can see another arch in rocks on top. Our next surprise was at the Alum Cave Bluffs, there was not a cave but high overhanging cliffs. This worked out good for me. 20140125_171411The Bluffs created a huge satellite receiver that collected cell phone signals. I was able to get a phone call out to Tammy. I told her what had happened and where we were. They were going to met us at the truck with a locksmith. After checking out the view for a while we stated back down. Due to no fault of her oun, Sarah’s paints got wet. To keep her from chafed her legs while walking, I carried her the 2 miles back to the truck. Lucky we had the suitcases in the back and were able to change Sarah into dry pants. Tammy, Dad and the locksmith arrived about 40 minutes later. Some years earlier, Wyatt and I tried this trail after a snow storm. The day was warming up fast and the trail became a mess. He had on good shoes and I did want to get them nasty so we turned back after just a few dozen yards. I believe we drover the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail where he fell asleep. A Falcon Guide call the ridge Bluffs trail the best in the park. If you go all the way to Mount LeConte I bet it is, because you will see a little bit of what the Smokies have to offer.


As on all other trips we made our way to Cades Cove. We had a picnic with the whole family.

20140125_171222On the return trip home, Wyatt, Sarah and I drove the Foot Hills Parkway. We drove true the Look Rock camp ground just to check it out and saw this Blake Bear. It made the 20140125_17131513 Bear I saw on the trip. We also stopped at the Looking Rock overlook. We then drove the Dragon Tail on Hwy 129 to Deal’s Gap. From there we went to the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest. A 3,800 acre old growth forest. We checked out some of the big trees. Then it was on to house.



IMAGE_334It was 2008 and Labor day was coming up. Wendy and I had talked about doing some tent camping and getting back where the camper could not go. When it was time to go she had changed her mind and did not want to go. So I decided to go hiking on my own. She had gotten me a pack for Christmas a few years earlier and I had been doing some hiking in Georgia on the AT and around. I had gotten maps and guide books also. I was a much better prepared hiker than before. My pack was setting on go so I grabbed it and headed on the road at 5 PM on a Thursdays. I drove up to north Georgia to a few campground around Blood Mountain that I knew of but all were full. I then decided I would climb the mountain and camp on top. I had been on Blood before and knew where I 2010 Hike 024was going. It was already dark and was around 10 PM before I hit the trail. From Neel’s Gap to the top of Blood is 2.4 miles up the AT and a gain of 1335 feet. I had to park a few hundred yards below the gap so I had to climb a little more. There was a full moon and I climb with out a light. It didn’t take long for my eyes to adjust and I could see extremely well. It was a neat experience. I was traveling west and the moon was behind me. When I got to the top around midnight the moon was high above. I could see the sounding mountains from the rock outcropping where I setup camp. Blood Mountain is the highest peak on the AT in Georgia. There is a shelter at the top but most people camp in the woods around the peak. I was on a smooth granite rock slab with a little slant. I started a little camp fire from a dead pine tree just to settle down. The next morning I saw the sun rise over Cowrock Mountain. I pulled out my maps and guide books to figure out where I was going to hike. I needed to do a loop so I would not have to back track. I found where I could make a loop on the AT in the Smokies, starting at Newfound Gap. I packed up camp and headed back to the to the truck via Neel’s gap and the Walasi-Yi Center where I picked up a few supplies. Then it was down the road to the truck.

2010 Hike 054










After driving to Newfound Gap, I park the truck in it’s large parking lot. It was here that the Park was officially dedicated by President Roosevelt in 1940. It was also here that I would get my photo taken standing on a rock with a hole drilled in it over looking the Oconaluftee river valley every year we came during my childhood. The AT crosses here too. I took it north. There is always a lot of people on the trail near here. People just want to say they have hiked the AT if only for a mile. The crowd thins out after that first mile. Their flip-flops and sandals start to hurt their feet. The first 1.5 miles ascends IMAGE_350to a grass knoll then its 0.2 miles to a junction with Sweat Heifer Creek Trail. This is where I depart from the AT and head down into the Valley. I saw no other soul on this 3.7 mile trail that drops over 2200 feet. In fact it didn’t look like the trail had been used much at all. It was getting dark when I reached the Kephart Shelter. I asked if there was room for one more and there was. I was surprised at how many people were at this shelter, especially since I had not seen anyone in hours. This was the first time I ever stayed at a shelter and had no idea at the time you needed a reservation to stay at shelters in the Smokies. I ate my dinner and it started to rain a little so about all there was to do is to sleep.

IMAGE_353The next morning I pack up, and cross the foot log over Kephart Prong Creek to start Grassy Branch Trail. The trail gains over 1800 feet in 2.5 miles. Looking at a cross-section of the elevation change with mileage of the Sweat Heifer Creek trail and Grassy Branch trail, it is a 45 degree decent on the Sweat Heifer and a 45 degree assent on the Grassy Branch. It looks just like a huge “V”. It was a hard slow climb, but there were great views on grassy hill sides and long sunken Rhododendron tunnels. The blackberries were ripe and I would fill up when I would come to a patch. I only saw two people before reaching the AT and it was a couple on this trail that caught up with me. I told you I was moving slow and that you could find solitude. When I got to Dry Sluice Gap Trail I took a left. From here to the AT the trail runs the ridge and is not as steep. Part of the ridge is like a knifes edge. I had never seen anything like it before but the ground dropped off on both sides of the trail. I have seen other areas like this since but none have been this narrow. I stopped and ate lunch here and one of  my cans dropped and was gone. I could here it bouncing a long way down. The trail was only a mile long and I turned left back on to the AT. From here it is 0.4 miles to the side trail to Charlies Bunion.


IMAGE_380This is the coolest place in the park. It is a short half mile long ridge that drops of sharply on all sides. At the tip is a huge rock you can get out on and have a 300+ degree view. What created this  unique area was a fire in 1925 after the logging of this part of the park. With no vegetation to hold the soil to the steep ground a 1929 heavy thunder-storm washed all dirt off the hill-side. Horace Kephart joked that the jagged cliffs reminded him of the foot ailment of his friend Charlie Conner. That is where the name came from. The trail out to the point is very narrow with a rock wall on one side and a drop off on the other. One wrong step and you’re gone. The view from the rock overlooks the Little Pigeon River Middle Prong watershed all the way down to Greenbrier. Mount LeConte is to the left with a good view of the Boulevards. The main Ridge of the Smokies is to the right. From here it is only 4 miles back to the Newfound Gap parking lot on the AT. It would make a good day trip or over night at Ice Water Spring Shelter.


The shelter is only a mile up the trail. Just before the shelter is Ice Water Spring coming out of an old pipe and dumping on the trail. It is unusual to see this much water coming out of a spring on top of a mountain. It has been raining on and off all day and my feet are soaking wet. I found a little dry wood and start a little fire in the shelter to dry my socks and boots. I gather more wood and dry it by the fire. I had only been 4.5 miles but over half of it was climbing out of a 1800+ foot wet hole. I was a little tired. I hung around the shelter resting. The rain was over. The shelter had a nice view west but not as grand as other areas I had seen this day. As I was drying my socks, two ladies came into the shelter carrying a watermelon. Now remember the shelter is 3 miles from the nearest road. They carried a watermelon that far just to eat it at this shelter. They must like watermelon. I would see a few groups pass ever once in a while, but the rain must have kept a lot off the trail. On into the afternoon a young family came into the shelter for the night. They were from Marietta not far from where I live and had a little boy and girl. The children were very well-behaved and had good manners. The lady said she thought the shelter would be full because when she made reservations she got the last four spots. Wait, what, reservations? This was the first I had heard of needing reservations. This is my land, I pay taxes, why do I need a reservation. I did not say anything to her. Just so you know you should make reservations when backpacking in the smokies at any shelter or back country camp sites and camping is only allowed in these areas. Reservations are free. The rest of the AT is free game, camp where you want. I have made reservations for every other camping trip in the Smokies from then on, I may not have stayed where I had reservations but I had my reservations number. It is also nice to have if the shelter is full. You boot out who every does not have one. I have not had to do that but I have been in shelters that are maxed out. No one else joins us, it’s just the five of us for the night. The view from the shelter was good and the grassy meadow around was lovely but what a terrible design on this shelter. The shelter like most in the Smokies has three walls, roof, fire-place and an open front with two sleeping platforms stacked on one another. This shelter open wall was facing the north-west. Cold wind blowed on us all night.

2010 Hike 086Sunday morning, I took my time packing up before getting back on the trail. Right after the Boulevard Trail junction is the highest point on this hike at a little over 6000 feet, on Mount Ambler. Kephart shelter was the lowest at 3500 feet. I dropped over 2500 feet and climbed over 2500 feet. Along the AT back to the parking lot I saw a Black Bear with a cub. They went over the mountain and I didn’t see them any more. I did see what is called a ridge runner. They are volunteers for the most part that travel the AT cleaning up around shelters, educating hikers and being eyes and ears for the park service. She asked me where I stayed the night and if I saw any bear. I told her about the two I saw. Then she was off. The strange thing was a few months later, I read an interview about this same ridge runner in Blue Ridge Outdoor magazine. She said that over the past year that she had spent over some thing like 300 nights on the trail. As I got closer to the parking lot I started seeing more and more people. I got right at the edge of the parking lot and was stopped by an old oriental man who wanted to take my photo. I guess I looked like a really AT through hiker to him.


Newfound Gap is always a must see. It is the highest point on the road from Gatlinburg to Cherokee. It receives a range of 43  to 106 inches of snow a year. It sits on the North Carolina and Tennessee state line.





Cherokee Indian reservation is also a must see. It is the home of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians. The southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway starts in Cherokee. The museum does a great job of telling their story. The Oconaluftee Indian Village is a living museum that demonstrates traditional indian life. I remember visiting it with mom and dad on one of our many trips. We saw a demonstration of starting a fire with a bow and a stick. I still need to try to do that myself.



After my first hike on the AT in the Smokies I picked up a book called “100 hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains National park” by Russ Manning. On the cover was a photo of Mount Cammer Lookout. It is the coolest thing. It is a two-story fire lookout that would look more at home in the Rockies. I had to go.  I planed out the rough I would take that would be the easiest and fastest way to the lookout. The trip was planed for April of 2011. Driving up I was on the cell phone with Wendy because I knew there would SNC00180not be any service in the park. I was on I 40 and came around a curve where I had a good view of the mountains I was about to climb and the tops looked white. I didn’t think there would be snow in April. I told Wendy looks like I will be hiking in snow. The Trail head for Chestnut Branch is at the Big Creek Ranger Station. I did the self checking at the information board. It is 2 miles to the AT and another 3.3 miles to the side trail for the lookout. The whole way is a 45 degree slop and a litter steeper just before the trail junction. I was 1500 feet above sea level at the rangers station, the trail junction for the lookout is a little over 5000 feet and I hit snow around 3500 feet. Climbing 3500 feet in 5.3 miles is tough. Hiking in snow is fun but it is cold. When I got to Mount Cammerer trail the show was at least a foot deep and ice was on everything. The 0.6 mile trail to SNC00189the lookout was covered by ice encased trees and shrubs. It was like walking in a freezer. The ridge I was on was the northern most and had no protection from the north wind. The flat Tennessee Valley lay below me. The wind would rise up from it along the north side of the mountain and blow over the snow and ice before reaching me. The wind chill had to be below zero. I keep thinking if I could get into the lookout I could get warm. Once there it did not disappoint. The last 100 yards was open and rocky. The lookout was on the point of the ridge called White rocks. It was built-in 1939 by the CCC and in use to the 1960s. A restoration took SNC00208place in 1994. It also has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. After a lot of photos I went in to get warm. The wind was not blowing but the single pane windows did not keep any heat in or cold out. I sat on the floor and ate my lunch and used my stove to try to keep warm. It did not work. One other guy came by while I was there. He was a day hiker from Cosby Campground and didn’t looked dressed for the weather. He did not stay long. After eating I decided I would freeze to death if I did not get out of there. I pulled out all the cloths I had and put them on. I was so happy that I had stopped on the way up at the NOC and bough a nice warm bogging. It was now a race to get to Cosby Shelter on the AT before night fall, 3.5 miles a way. It was 2.1 miles down hill to Low Gap. I was in subarctic conditions with the snow, ice and wind. I had my parka zipped up to my nose and the hood pulled down tight. Sunglasses covered my eyes. Nothing was exposed.



Boy was I tired when I got to the shelter. It was a four-hour drive to get to the trail head, a 9.4 mile hike and a total of 4,500 feet gain in elevation. The shelter was very active when i walked up. I took one of the last sleeping spots. Me and Two other guys were the only section hikers. The rest was Northbounders. There were about ten or twelve of them, four or five girls and four or five guys and at least one couple. I think one of the girls was from Australia. Several others from Virginia. Two guys were local boys and were getting off the trail at the end of the Smokies. They were all ready to get out of the Smokies and they were tired of the snow. They had a good fire going and this shelter had tarps across the front to help keep in the heat and the cold wind out. This IMAGE_351shelter was positioned right. It was on the south side of the ridge and sat just low enough below the ridge top to be out of the north wind. It also faced south. In side the shelter was very warm. I ate dinner and hung my pack on the bear cables. I have not been to any, but there are shelters in the Smokies with chain link fencing around the open wall to keep bear out. All shelters have mice. They will get into you food quicker than a bear. What you have to do is tie any small bags that you may have snacks in on small strings hanging from the ceiling. The mice may not get it then. You will feel them running around at night but you are so tired you don’t care.

When we wake in the morning there is a fresh 3 inches of snow on the ground. From the shelter I have less than a mile of up hill climbing. The rest of the hike will be all down hill. Once again I am bundled up fighting the cold. I pass more Northbounders and wish them luck. One or two of them had to be in their 60s. After 1.6 miles I reach Camel Gap. I take a left and head down Camel Gap Trail in to the Big Creek watershed. I am dropping altitude fast and soon I have to come out of a lot of cloths. It was a totally different world from on top of the ridge. I was now in the protection of the vallies. The trail is 4.1 miles long, all down hill. Once I reach Big Creek trail, it is only a mile to my camp site at back country site 37 in Walnut Bottom. I have my hammock with me on this trip and I find a good spot close to the creek and take a nap.


After my nap, I started scavenging for fire wood. The forest around any camping area is always picked clean of any down wood. You have to travel a good little ways out side of camp to find wood. There are a few tricks that you can do that a lot of people don’t think about. Like in this location, I check the creek for drift wood and find enough to supply me throughout the night. The drift wood has been stripped of its bark and dries faster than wood on the ground with bark. I also look for standing dead trees. Some people think you can cut a tree and put a match to it and it will burn. I am amazed that people do not know how to start a fire. It’s such a basic skill. I never, never, never ever use store-bought fire starters. Most of the time I start with tooth pick size sticks and work up. Sometimes I use my knife to make wood shavings, then make a bird’s nest. Only if the wood is wet will I do this. If I get to the camping area early, I will check each fire pit at each site for unused or half burned wood. Even if I only get charcoal, I can use it to help start a fire. The charcoal burns hotter than wood. Another trick I learned from my grand dad via my dad is to find dry wood in hollow trees. If my wood is wet, once I get my fire going I will stack it as close as posable to the fire to help dry it out. Sometimes I will make at tepee structure over the fire to dry out the wood. If there is an old pine tree stump, you can bust off the rich wood we call “lighter pine”. It will burn better than anything. A fire is not always needed but to me it is part of the experience.

There are a few other groups of campers around but I am more in the woods and can’t really see them. They are here to fish the creek for trout. After I get my fire wood up, I reset my hammock and set up my tarp over it. I eat my dinner and relax by the fire before going to sleep. Once you get the hammock with the correct tension, it is the best way to sleep in the woods. I put an air mat inside first, this helps to keep the hammock rigid. If there is not an air mat down the hammock will roll up around you plus it keeps the cold off your back. I then put in my sleeping bag. The tarp is only a few inches above the hammock. It makes a great “tent”. I will never go back to sleeping on the ground.

The next morning I packed up and headed out down Big Creek trail following the Creek. From the Camp site back to my truck is 5.9 miles. The trail is an old CCC road built on an old logging train track. The trail is very wide and is an easy slop. It drops only 1500 feet from top to bottom. Only a few areas of note on the trail other than the creek itself. First is Break Shoe spring. Named for the train break shoe placed by a logger to collect spring water. The brake shoe is long gone. There are two very nice bridges over the creek that would support the largest of trucks. I ate lunch at the lower one. Mouse Creek Falls and Midnight Hole are the other two highlights. Once I reached the Big Creek paring lot it was a 1/2 mile down the road to the ranger station and my truck.


The next November I was back in the Smokies on another two night hike. This time it was to the Mount Sterling fire tower. I started out on the Little Cataloochee Trail off of Hwy 284. The trail descends steeply and crosses Correll Branch then back over a ridge. At mile one, Long Bunk Trail comes in on the right. This is the trail I will return on. Another 0.2 miles and I come to John Hannah Cabin, a reminder of the old community that  was once here. I explored the cabin but it is like most in the park and I rejoin the trail in short order. In 0.3 miles I cross Little Cataloochee creek at the old community of Ola, named after Will and Racfhel Messer’s daughter Viola. There are old fence posts and rock walls left from this settlement. The road winds uphill from 20140125_145301here and at mile 2 reaches the Little Chataloochee Baptist Church built in 1889, on a small hill to the left. I stop here for a while and go in. There is an old Bible on the book board and I read aloud out of it. I wanted the word to be heard in that church again even if I was the only one hearing it. I said a short prayer and took a few photos. There is a cemetery on the hillside in front of the Church. What a beautiful place. Back on the trail I reach the Dan and Harriet 20140125_145227Cook old home place at 2.6 miles. To the right is stone ruins of an old apple house. The cabin is from the 1850’s and stood here until 1975 when it was dismantled and the materials were put into storage. In 1999 the cabin was reconstructed.  From here the trail begins to get steeper and steeper as it climbs to Davidson Gap at 3.2 miles. I passed more rock walls on the hillside.  Passing through the gap and out of the Little Cataloochee Valley, the trail is just as 20140125_145325steep on the other side going down. More rock walls are easily seen from the trail. At mile 3.8 the trail goes in the Davidson Branch for several yards then crosses back and forth several more times. The trail ends at a junction with Pretty Hollow Gap Trail at mile 5.2. This trail has a elevation change of 1000 feet. The trail head is at 3000 feet, the gap is at about 3700 feet and the end of the trail is at 2650 feet.

I turn right on Pretty Hollow Gap trail and travel the 0.9 miles up to campsite 39. I am very tired and it is getting late. The camping area is in bottom land but I move on up the hill-side to get in more of the forest and away from the trail. I quickly set up the hammock and start gathering firewood. There are no other campers here so I check the other sites for wood. The only other people I see this day on the trail is a group of horse riders that come down the trail after sun set and I can hardly see them in the fading light. I get my fire going, it is the only thing I have to keep Big Foot, bears and all the other monsters away. You think your brave? Try sleeping alone in the middle of nowhere in a hammock tighten between two trees. Most people can’t handle it but I love it. It does get a little spooky when the coyotes start to howl.

The next morning while eating breakfast one couple passes. They came from Cataloochee 2 miles down the trail. The trail follows Pretty Hollow Branch most of the way up the 4.6 miles to Mount Sterling Trail. There are to many interest on this part of the trail. It crosses the Branch several times. I get passed by a couple on horseback but they soon returned down the trail because of downed trees. It takes a lot of work to keep the trails open and 90% of it is done by volunteers. I have seen several groups while hiking over the years. The forest changes from Hemlock to hardwoods as I gain elevation.

Once at Mount Sterling trail at Pretty Hollow Gap, I stop and eat lunch. It is the first time I try a MRE. They are a great invention but I have tried them on several hikes and have decided they are not for long hikes. They are to heavy and do not give me the protein and energy I need. From the gap it is only 1.9 miles to the Fire Tower. On the ridge top the forest turns to Spruce and Firs. The Tower was built in the 1930’s by the C.C.C. It sits on the 5842 feet summit. The steel frame tower is another 60 high. If you are afraid of heights don’t even think about making this climb.  The view from the tower is among the best in the park. remember I said in the park. The Hang over still has it beat.

Mt Sterling fire tower

The summit is teeming with people. There had to be 15 to 20 people here. I had only seen a few people in the dark ride by on houses the day before and only 4 people this day before reaching the summit. So it seamed like a lot. From reading my guide books I knew it would be a cold windy night, so i tried to pick a spot I thought I would be protected from the wind in the Hemlock forest away from the other campers. It was hard to find that perfect spot. I did not try to have a fire. I just relaxed in my hammock and studied my guide-book and maps. The temps dropped down to the 20’s and the wind was strong all night. I didn’t get much sleep. The next morning I climbed the tower to get one more view.


From the Tower it is a short hike back down to the Mount Sterling Trail and a steep descent to the Long Bunk Trail 1.7 miles away. From here it is another 4.7 miles to the Little Cataloochee trail and 1 more mile to the truck. I made this 7.4 mile down hill hike in less than 5 hours. I passed several American Chestnut Trees and the Hannah family cemetery. But I only passed two other people. If you get off the beaten path you can have the park to yourself.


Clingmans Dome, at 6,643 feet, is the highest point in the Smokies and the third highest east of the Mississippi. The AT crosses over it and is the highest point on the trail. If you want to hike the AT in the Smokies and if you can it is a good idea to start here. That way most of your hike is down hill. From Newfound Gap it is seven miles to the parking lot and another 0.5 miles to the summit. A lookout tower offers 360 degree, 100 mile view.


A very remote part of the park is Balsam Mountain. From Cherokee take the Blue Ridge Parkway to Heintooga Ridge Road. If you can get a camper up the mountain there is a great camping spot just before you enter the park on top of the mountain with great views. Maybe better  than any sun set views in the park. From Heintooga Overlook the road is one way to Big Cove Road back in Cherokee. At the Heintooga over look there is a picnic area built by the C.C.C. IMG_2105The table tops are one big stone slab.  There are several trial heads off this road. Wendy, Sarah, Wyatt and I hiked a short way down the trail at the over look. Off the road at a small grassy meadow is a strange monument. Build by The Masons it is a guide post of some type. On a return trip with my brother Todd and his wife Toni we stopped here so I could show him the monument. He is a Mason and I thought he would find it interesting. While walking to it we found a Bull Elk. I came around the up hill-side and Todd and Toni came around the down hill-side of him. They were able to get very close to him and I got several good photos with the three of them.

2010 summer 474

We have had a lot of adventures over the years. More than I can remember. I am sure there will be a whole lot more.

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.

Labor Day weekend offered an opportunity to take a Hike. So I pulled out maps and books and started looking into where to go. I just bought a guide-book on the Joyce Kilmer / Slick rock Wilderness. That was on my mind. I looked over the map and read a few tail description and got a tentative plan on what trails I would take. I scheduled Friday off so I could maximize the weekend. After work on Thursday, I drove up to Robbinsville, did a little last-minute shopping and ate my last real meal before getting on the trail. From Robbinsville I drove out 129 toward Joyce Kilmer. Just before the trail head parking was a campground called Rattler Ford. So being 9 PM and the first campground I see, I pull in. I may have seen a little sign that said “group camping reservations only”, but it was late and a very small sign that my truck lights hit for only the briefest of time. The place is empty. I poke around, read the information board and knock on the door of the camp host’s R.V. Know one is around to tell me no, so I find a place to hang my ENOs hammock for the night. The hammock sleeps great. I put an air mat in it to help keep it from folding up to tight. It also makes it very comfortable, beats the heck out of sleeping on the ground. The temps dropped down to maybe low 70s. I did not need the sunggie I brought as my blanket. I also add a rain fly not only to keep me dry if it rains but gives me a feeling of being in a tent. Next morning I wake about 7:30 and get out and start to stretch. There he is, the camp “Nazi”. Watching me from across a big field and behind a tree at his R.V. If you ever done a lot of camping at State Parks or National Parks you know these guys. They are the camp host who believes the world will end if any campground rule is broken and they are the ones intrusted to save the planet. The good thing is not all camp host are this way. So what to do, my pack is back at the truck and I need it to break camp. I truly think he thought I could not see him. I start walking to my truck at the edge of the field and keeping my eye on him. I give out the loudest “Good Morning” I could muster. He then comes out from behind the tree and looks like he doesn’t know what to do. I make it to the truck and can see him coming toward me. I got my pack and meet him at the rear of my truck. “You got a reservation?” he ask me. Like I said, Nazi. He may aswell have asked me for my papers in a german accent. “No” I boldly tell him. Then we get into the debate about how the campground is for groups and you need reservations, but there are no groups camping I explained to him. “That’s not the way it works” he protest. “I should have ran you off last night” he tells me. I thought how fun that would have been to have this argument at midnight after waking me up. I have a very strong well and don’t back down to easily. He then said he would not say anything. I’m thinking who is he going to say something to. After the Nazi interrogation and harassment, I packed up my things and headed the mile or so down the road to the Joyce Kilmer parking lot.

I turn of the main road and drive about a half mile up to the parking lot. I had not gotten water at the campground thinking I could get it here, but no. There was not any water fountains. I pumped my first bottle of water from the creek that I would follow-up along Necked Ground Trail. I would only pump one bottle at a time to save weight. I changed out of my work cloths that I had slept in and checked my pack to make sure I had all that I need for a four-day hike. Overnight parking was not allowed at the trail head so I left my pack and drove back down to the end of the road and parked where it was allowed. It would work out okay because the trail I would end on ended there also. Back at my pack and I hit the trail. The elderly park cleaning crew was the last people I saw as I headed into the woods. The walk up Santeetlah creek through the virgin forest was easy most of the way.

Though this forest has never been log, unlike most of the Appalachian forest, it is not the same forest it was 100 years ago when the American Chestnut covered over 40% of the forest and reached 11 feet in diameter. Today the Yellow Tulip Poplars are the giants of the land. All American Chestnuts were wiped out by the importation of the Chestnut Blight during the early 1900’s. By 1920 the blight was in the southern Appalachian forest and by 1940 most of the Chestnuts were dead. On this trail and thought out the national forest fallen Chestnuts can still be seen slowly rotting away. The forest is always changing. From 1900 to 1930s the region was logged heavily. Timber companies cut roads and RR beds next to every river, creek and stream. A lot of them are the base of the roads and trails we use today. In the late 1930s after the government started buying a lot of the mountains for National forest and parks the CCC build parks like those in The Great Smokey Mountains, roads like the Blue Ridge Parkway and trails like those that are part of the Appalachian Trail. In the early 1940s the TVA (Tennessee Vally Authority) started building dams along the Tennessee River and it’s contributories in the Mountains. 1950, 1960 and 1970 saw population growth in the surrounding communities and the forest second-growth reclaim the land. In the 1980 Smog kild trees above 5000 feet, in the 1990 Pine Beatles kild a lot of the Pine trees. For the last ten years the mighty Eastern Hemlock has been attacked by the Wooly Adelgid.

At mile 0.3 I took the alternate trail that was to travel on the other side of the creek and then rejoin the trail a mile up. After 50 yards the trail comes to a camping area and side trails go everywhere. I try a few and could not find where the trail continued on the other side of the creek. I backed track to the main trail. At mile 1.0, I took my first break at a small bridge over Indian Springs Branch. On the Map I had only gone a mile but in reality it had been about 2 miles I had walked sence leaving the truck. My next stop was at this giant Yellow Tulip Poplar. It is the second largest one next to the trail at 16 feet 7 inches in circumference. The opening to the hollow inside is 6 feet high. There are accounts of early settlers taking shelter in trees like this during storm. Some were big enough for families to fit in and there is one account of a man who lived in a hollow tree for sometime. At mile 2.6 is the largest tree next to the trail, a 17 foot 10 inch circumference Yellow Tulip Poplar. I took lunch here. It was hollow too but the one at mile 1.9 was more intriguing. At mile 3.5 I cross my last water supply and stopped to fill my water bottles. I started with four, one full and three empty. I am now down one. I fill all three and leave the stream with only 84 oz of water. I know once on the ridge line I will not find water, the guide-book is clear on that and it’s been dry. The next mile was tough, leaving the gradual incline of the valley, the trail starts to climb to Naked Ground Gap. Once at the gap the trail was over grown and there was a lot of flys. There was also a nice over look back down the valley I just came up. After a little tree pruning to improve my view, I ate dinner. Now on the narrow ridge line, it’s a short mile on the Haoe Lead Trail to the Haoe, the second highest peak in the wilderness at 5249 feet. Some of the trail had been cut back recently but a lot of it was over grown with weeds and briars over your head. There are no views from the top of the Haoe and a few limited views from the trail. At the peak is the Junction of the Haoe Lead trail and the Hangover Lead Trail. From this Intersection it is only 0.2 miles across the saddle tree gap and another 0.2 miles to the Hangover. I almost did not take the side trail to the Hangover, glad I did. The only thing I knew was it had 360 degree views.

The Hangover is short ridge that the last 100 yards is a rocky, Rhododendron and Mountain Laurel bald with out trees. The ridge line points to Maryville at 12 o’clock and Knoxville beyond. At the 1 o’clock and 2 o’clock is The Great Smokey Mountains National park with the little Tennessee River in the foreground. At 3 o’clock is Robbinsvile and the Nantahala forest. At 4 o’clock and 5 o’clock is the Joyce Kilmer Wilderness. At 6 o’clock is the Haoe. At 7, 8 and 9 o’clock is the Slick Rock Wilderness. At 10 o’clock is Tellico Lake. At 11 o’clock is the Tennessee Valley. I was truly blown away with this view. I was only at 5000 feet but it was the best view I have seen from a mountain top and I have seen a whole lot. Better than the view from the fire tower on Mount Cammerer. Better than the view from Black Balsam on the Art Lobe. Better than the fire tower on Sterling mountain. Better than Charlies Bunyan. And so on, and so on. I was seeing God’s view. It was awesome. I got very excited and decided to camp right there for the night. With out any trees I had to figure out something. I rigged up the straps, that normally would go around a tree for the hammock to clip into, around the rock out cropping on either side of the trail. With a little help of some parachute cord, I was able to secure each end. The first time I got to use the saw on my multi tool was then to saw down a few rhododendrons, so the hammock would lay straight. The rain fly went up easy. I was able to tie it off to shrubs. I was getting hungry and needed to eat something. The beef jerky I brought was awful and only keep it in case I was starving to death. I was down to my last ration for the day, Ramon noodles. I break out my pocket rocket stove and my minimalist cup and begin to boil up 16 oz of water. remember I only started with 84 oz and had drunk about half already. This could be a problem. I cooked my noodles and ate them all. I did not want to waste water so I made sure to drink all the water that was left in the cup. One other thing I had done when I filed up my bottles the last time was to make some Cool-Aid. I brought a few packs and some sugar. It was nice to have that boost from a sugar drink when I climbed the last mile of the Nacked Ground Trail but now that was gone too. I was down to less than 24 oz of water. Darkness soon fell and a full moon was shining bright over  Robbinsville. You could see every light down in the Tennessee Valley but in the National forest it was dark, all except little Robbinsville. It was like a little island. Once agin I was amazed at the sight before me. I decided I would spend some time the next day just taking in the view. With the moon so bright I could not see many stars. I was very tired and went to bed around 11 PM. I woke just before sunrise and was able to watch the sun come up over the Smokey mountains. Fog was lying low in the valleys. After the forest woke I wend back to my nest and sleep for a few more hours. Up again and ate breakfast. I took a close look at the map, the landscape in front of me and the trail descriptions of my route. I decided that I was at the best location this Wilderness could offer. I did not want to walk up and down any more mountain and I knew that I did not bring enough food for the four days. On my last 30 mile hike i took too much food and now too little. I wouldn’t starve but I would go a little hungry. The lack of water also weighed my decision.  Now I had to call an audible. How long would I stay here and where to go when I leave. The view was so impressive, I wanted to stay most of the day but I knew my water supply would not allow it. I decided I would stay till lunch. I pull my air mat out and made me a recliner out of a rock outcropping. I spent the rest of the morning watching clouds and fog role in and out and napping here and there. I ate lunch and packed up around noon and was on the trail by one.

I made my way back to the Haoe and took the Haoe lead down the mountain. It was strate down. Again the trail was overgrown. The trail guide is given in the opposite direction and I try to figure my location from land marks in the guide but working backwards is difficult. I keep thing I am at one location then I come to another area and discover the guide is talking about this location. This makes me thing I have missed the Jenkins Meadow Trail. It seems I have walked more than the 1.3 miles to the trail head. If I miss this trail its 3.9 more miles to the road and then 4 or 5 miles down the road to my truck with out  a water source. Do I back track and look for the trail or do I keep going and potentially keep getting further away from it. I give up hope of finding the trail a decide to keep going down the trail and start planing on camping at the trail head. Then I came around a corner and there was the Jenkins Meadow Trail head. I was happy to see the trail but was disappointed that I had only hiked 1.3 miles. I felt I was going slow. Most of the trail was down hill with a few flat areas. You would thing this would be easy walking but it is not. It puts a lot os stress on your knees and the extra weight of your pack pushes you down the hil,l so you are having to catch yourself with every steep. The Jenkins Meadow Trail drops 2,320 feet in 3.3 miles, another steep trail. I am now back in an open hard wood forest and the trail is no longer overgrown. About 2 miles down the trail I find a little water running across the trail. I was down to about 4 oz. I fill one water bottle up as much as I can from the little trickle and pump out of it to fill my other bottle. There is nothing to draw you on this trail and it is a boring, painful walk. Again I think I have hiked more than what I have, but I know I am still to high to be close to the end. With no highlights on the trail, the trail guide’s landmarks are easily mistaken for something else. One small open area looks like the last one you were at 10 minutes ago. So which one is the guide talking about. I made it to the truck by 4:30, so not a bad time. It was just a boring hike.

Once at the truck I drove around Lake Santneetlah looking for a camping spot for the night. All were full, so I made my way back to Robbinsville for a Big Mac. After my dinner, I decided to head to The Great Smokey Mountains. On the way I stopped at Cable Cove Campground on lake Fontana. The campground was primitive, no power, no showers or water at individual camp sites. There was one toilet and one communal water source. It was dark when I drove in and there was a lot of empty sites to choose from. I fount one that had trees that would work for my hammock. I did walk back to the information board and pay the $10.00 user fee. Setup only took a few minutes and was very easy with the truck and table close by to spread all my stuff on. I was hoping to find a campground with a shower because it’s now Saturday night and I have not showed sence Wednesday night. Plus I am waring the same cloths sence Friday morning. I about can’t stand myself. There is not much to do so I craw into bed. I do have my phone, so I play a few games of solitaire before going to sleep.

Next morning I was up early and broke camp. I exploded the lake at Cable Cove boat ramp then drove to the Fontana Marina looking for a shower. I had passes a few small Baptist churches and was trying to figure out a way to shower in time to make meeting. All the churches start at 10:30 and it will be close. I had a clean shirt and my paints from Thursday were not that dirty. But there was not a shower there so I drove over to the dam and stopped at a overlook of the lake. The Appalachian Trail crosses the Dam of the lake and has a shelter close by. Better yet there is a shower house for thru hikers just a few yards from where I parked. I showed and changed into clean cloths but it was too late to make it to church. I will have to plan better on my next trip. I have wanted to visit one of these small mountain churches for some time. I drove on down to the dam and went to the dam museum and the dam gift shop but there was not a dam tour. Fontana is the highest dam this side of the Mississippi at 480 feet. You can drive across the dam but I chose to walk about half way out and back. The dam was a WWII project to supply power for aluminum factory. Ground was broke just 2 and a half months after the Jap attack on Pearl Harbor. Work was around the clock. Patriotic music was played over load speakers. The town on Fontana Village was formed to house the dam workers and their families. The dam was completed in 3 years. After my visit to the dam, I drove to Fontana Village. It is now a resort with cabins, restraints, gas station, and a lot of other amenities. Over priced if you ask me. I then drove on down to the base of the dam. From this view you can see just how big the dam is.

A mile or so from the bridge is the beginning of the Foothills Parkway. This will take me to Townsend. The road quickly climbs above Happy Valley. I pull over at a overlook and eat lunch looking at the main ridge of the Smokeys. It is Labor Day weekend at the most visited National Park in the United States but so far I have stayed away from crowds. On the trail, I did not see anyone at all from Friday morning to Saturday evening. There was not to many people around Robbinsvile or Lake Fontana. There were was a good many on the Dragon Tail but not bad. On the Foothills Parkway, only a few people here and there. I know once I get to Townsend I will start to see the crowds. After lunch I drove on up to the top of the parkway at Look Rock. I pulled over and took a quick look at the rock overlook. It is the same view I just came from so I take the 0.5 mile trail up to this tower used to monitor air quality. From the tower there is a nice view of the Tennessee Valley and you can barely see the Cumberland Mountains on the horizon. From the other side of the tower the Smokeys stand tall behind Happy Vally and Cades Cove.

On to Townsend at the Western entry of the Park, home of the Little River Rail Road and Lumber Company that was founded in 1901. The Rail Road is responsible for the most of the roads and trails in the Smokeys. They laid more than 300 miles of track and logged over 80,000 acres. On Sundays engines that would pull log cars during the 6 day work week would pull passenger cars along the Little River. Todays Little River Road is on that same Rail Road bed. As early as the 1920’s, resorts were spring up in what would become the National Park. Rail service increased and soon there was a train a day from Knoxville to Elkmont. In the 1930’s logging was on the decline and soon the towns that boomed around logging camps became ghost towns. The Great Smokey Mountain Park was created and all the tracks were removed. I stopped to eat in Townsend and while I was in the gift shop, I saw a photo of the same train from the above photo. It was coming around a curve that has a rock overhang that those that have driven Little River Road would recognize. Next time you are driving in the Smokeys, remember trains have made the same journey.

Now one of my most favorite place on earth, Cades Cove of The Great Smokey Mountains. It is a hidden valley with large pastures in the bottom land, lots of wild life; deers, bears, turkeys, wolves, coyotes just to name a few. The Somkeys are known for Black Bears and the population is on the rise. When I was a kid in the 1980’s deer were everywhere but bear were very hard to see. Now due to bear, coyotes and wolves the deer population is way down. The second largest campground in the National Park system is at Cades Cove. It gets a ton of visitors and it is full for this weekend. From the campground there is a one lane, one way, 11 mile loop road with two roads that cut across the center of the cove. There are two roads that leave the cove from the loop road but are one way and that is out. One goes to the Dragon Tail and the other goes to Townsend. Unless you are going home, there is no reason to take these roads. It take hours to drive back to the campground. It didn’t take long to see my first bear. It crossed the road right in front of me. I parked at an old church and walk down a patch of woods that jute into the large pasture land looking for deer that maybe bedded down. I saw this little water hole on my way down and though it may be a good place to see wildlife, little did I know. I was coming down on the left side of the woods and then I saw this bear coming up the right side. The woods we are in is large hard woods with no understory growth. I can see the bear very well and start to follow him to the water hole. He drinks a little, then gets into the water. It is about 85 degrees. He cools off and I get with in 10 yards of him. He pays no attention to me. Once he is done with his bath, he walks back the way I was original was going. He makes his way to the high grass and I loss him. My attention turns to a little doe deer feeding in the lower area of the woods. I make it to the end of the woods and walk out into the grass. The sky is turning black so I start back to the truck. I come to another doe that is bedded down. It starts to rain a little while I am watching her. By the time I get to the truck the rain is coming down in buckets and I am soaking wet. Once in the truck I hit traffic. It is due to a tree that fell across the road in the storm. After getting through that I hit it again. This time it is a bear jam. I pull off and take a hike to a cabin that I know is close by. The Park kept and restored several cabins, barns and out building to help show how mountain life was in the late 1800’s. There is even a grist mill on site. From the cabin I took a side trail down to Abrams Creek

where I saw several Gobbler Turkeys feeding along the trail. I saw more turkeys on this trip than I have ever seen. One the way back to the truck I meet a young family walking to the cabin. The five year old little boy asked if I live here and I told him Yes I did and welcome to my house. He then asked If I had seen any bears. I said I had and showed him my photos of the bear in the water. He was then off to something else. Back at the truck the bear jam was still going on. Some nice person let me in line. A few minutes later a ranger walks by and I ask her if it’s a bear jam. She said she thought so. She soon passed me and was out of sight. Twenty minutes later the traffic starts moving and I catch back up with her. She has a brace on her leg so I offer her a ride. She climbs in, I know I only have a few minutes to quiz her. She told me how the fields are mowed ever other year. How the bears are on the increase and how the coyotes are impacting the deer population. She told me of a photographer who showed her his photos of a coyote taking down a deer. The traffic stops again and she hopes out and keeps walking. The bear is long gone by the time I get to the turn at the grist mill. Traffic opens up and I can drive about 15 MPH. You really don’t need to go faster than that. I will tell you why later. It is about to get dark and traffic slows again. I pull over and see the first coyote I have ever seen in the Park. You can hear them all the time, but to see one is rare. He is over 100 yards away, along a tree line in a field. He works back and forth tracking a deer. As he nears the bottom of the hill where there is a fence line and over grown brush, I see the white tail of the deer he was tracking. It is now dusk and I can’t make out details so I finish driving the loop road.

The loop road ends at the campground. Now I did pass a sign at the beginning of the road that leads from Townsend the 11 miles to Cades Cove that said the camp ground is full. The government is always lies to us, so I figured this was a lie too. I drove the first loop and took note of what sites were empty and came back to the now closed ranger station to cross check the late arrival sheet. I found several sites that were empty and not listed on the board. While checking the list, I noticed a camper pulling out. What really got my attention was when the camper stopped and dropped off its site registration card in the night deposit box. The box sits off by itself, and all you do is open the top and drop the paper in. I know a ranger is still inside the office because I have seen lights come on and off. I sit in the truck untill the ranger leaves. I then walk over, and pull two registration cards out of the box. Wouldn’t you know it, the end date is for Monday. I am in luck. I go and check out my two camp sits. The first doesn’t look like it has enough tree for me but the next one is a corner lot with more empty lots around, plus trees for my hammock. I get the hammock up with the rain fly because there is lighting all around. I was wanting to take a night hike in the cove to see some stars out here where there is very little light pollution. But with more rain coming in I decide to stick close to camp. I change out of my wet cloths. I have one clean shirt left and back into my dirty paints. Once again I crawl into the hammock. Just in time too, the rain starts to come down heavy.

Monday morning I was up early again. I got packed up and up to the loop road gate before the ranger. About 10 cars are ahead of me, including a photographer right in front of me. I ask him if he is the guy the ranger was talking about that had seen the coyote take down the deer. He wasn’t but he showed me one that he had seen trying to find a bear cub in a fence line. The mom bear came back and ran him off. After 30 minute or so the ranger opened the gate. Slow go at first. A few deer are out, but nothing to get out of the truck for. I really did see anything so I stopped to take a few shots of these turkeys. I was walking back to my truck on the side of the road when I heard a car approaching very fast. I step way off the road and wait on the car to pass. The truck tops the hill and sees me. It hard breaks and comes on by me. A ranger sheepishly gives me a wave. I said “going a little to fast, aren’t you” as he drive past. He stops and turns back and said that he was. Then tells me he is clearing the roads of fallen trees. You know what, he did a wonderful job. I did not see one fallen tree from that point on my whole trip. This is why I was saying you don’t need to go over 15 MPH, all kinds of things could step out in the road here. I see a few more deer and turkeys but no more bears. Off to Pigeon Forge.

This is over half the reason I left Joyce Kilmer, The Old Mill restraint. We love the breakfast they serve, not so much the dinner. I was a little worried about my appearance but I did not let that stop me from enjoying one of the best meals around. I did see a groundhog on the way in, so add that to the wildlife list. The breakfast consists of; pancakes, fried potatoes, sausage, corn fritters, eggs, grits, biscuits and gravy with OJ. I can’t eat it all, so box up a biscuit and sausage patty for latter. Pigeon Forge is packed with people, I got to get out of here. I take back roads to Cosby, then the other end of Foothills Parkway to I-40.

I take I-40 to the Water Town exit. From here I drive the 16 mile to Cataloochee on a winding dirt road. About three miles in, I stopped at the Cataloochee Baptist Church. It was founded in 1903 and sits on a little knoll with a cemetery in the rear. The grounds were keep very neat and clean. The church was well maintained also.  What I really liked was the his and her out-houses that has vinyl siding and fresh paint. I have grown up in churches that use out-houses but have never seen any that were this close. They are always very far apart. One on one side of the church yard and the other on the other side of the yard. Not surprisingly, the church was unlocked. I went in and explored. The church only meets once a year for homecoming. The community that once supported this church no longer exist. A victim of the creation of the Park. I only meet one car on the way to Cataloochee Valley. This is how I like it. I have made the drive to this remote valley for one reason, Elk. The park has reintroduced Rocky Mountain Elk. They started with 80 and are now up to 160. I get into the valley around noon. Not a good time to see Elk, but the turkeys are out. The Valley is a lot smaller than Cades Cove. There is a single, one lane, two-way, 2 mile road down the center with large fields on each side. A large creek hugs the south ridge. The Park has preserved a few cabins, barns, a church and a school-house. The church in the photo (left) faces the creek and the old road bed. The school-house (photo right) has a very innovative design feature. The school is divided into two rooms. The wall that is the divider has four panels that can be razed to form one large room. In the photo you can see that one panel has been razed to demonstrate how this system works. I thought it was a very good way to convert this building in to a multi use facility. It is a school most of the time but can become a dance hall, a town hall, maybe even a courthouse. At some point one of the rooms were “updated” and the panels were nailed shut. It’s only when you look at them from the unfinished room can you tell what they are used for.

I drove up and down the road a few time but didn’t see any Elk. I stopped and checked out the school then I parked at the church and hiked to the Palmer cemetery. That was the steepest hill I have been on all weekend. After that I walked back down to the church and walked down the creek along the old road. I was hoping to see some elk in these woods. No luck. The road is now a horse trail. Between the old road and the creek is a knee-high river rock wall. Round rocks don’t stack well and most of the wall is crumbling. I like to think about what life was like here and what this lane would have looked like 100 years ago with a carriage coming down it on Sunday morning going to church. It’s nice to romantics that time period but the truth is, I like my modern life just fine. It’s around 2PM and I have to leave now to make it home before its to late. I walk the road back to my truck. Very few people are in the valley, may be 100 at the most. So when a black Cadillac passes me with Fl plates I take notice and laugh a little to myself because I know the road he had to take to get here. I can only imagine what he was thinking bringing that Cadillac up the winding dirt road with hair pin turns. This road needs to be on the TV show “Deadliest Roads”.

I am now on my way home. I travel the aforementioned road and only had one close call with a head on collision. My rough takes me to Maggie Valley over the mountain and across the Blue Ridge Parkway, back down into Cherokee Indian Reservation, Bryson City and the Nantahala Gorge to complete my circle of The Great Smokey Mountain Park. While driving through the Nantahala River Gorge, I seen a hitch hiker just past the NOC. I pull over and he jumps in. This is very common here. I used to do the same thing when I kayaked this river. He and his family were here from New Orlans escaping the latest hurricane. They keep a camper near by and use this area as their bug out place. I thought it a very good idea. I drop him off at the “put in” and headed home.

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