Day 2 begins by debooting and wearing my crocs for 3 Rough Creek crossings. Day 2's pack is about as heavy as Day 1's pack---around 75 lbs.
JOURNAL DAY TWO
DAY TWO TRIP 141
Morning at West Fork Camp
TRAIL West Fork/Rough Creek
CAMP Fork Ridge Spur
I need to get more water but it's 2 in the morning and sort of cold so I'm gonna stay put and wait for dawn to brew up a collection of teas in my food kit---ginseng, peppermint, chamomile and nettle. I brought all sorts of reading material and maps on this trip including 9 internet book rolls and the forest service Big Frog/Cohutta map and single page maps of the BMT from Postholer.com and compiled in part by Sgt Rock. I also brought some trail guides by Will Skelton from his Tennessee wilderness book along with abbreviated trail guides out of Homan's book. As soon as I use any of these I burn them as I'm trying to carry less and less on a daily basis.
A little mosquito like bug keeps me company in the cold tent so it must be Babaji or an angel saint from Miss Nature's forest of enlightened souls to keep me company and safe and not lonely. I'm not an idiot, my friends and guardians are all around me if I just take the time to look.
THE BOYS AND GIRLS
** German Tourist
** Randy Cadenza
Along with these potential visitors anyone could pass by on this trek including even backpackers from Georgia, Alabama, NC or TN. I'll keep my eyes open for a trailside parlay with the appropriate pictures as I need other faces to improve the trail journal.
BIG FROG MOUNTAIN
My immediate goal is to stay on the BMT to Rough Creek trail and Fork Ridge where I may set up by the spring water source as shown on Sgt Rock's map and discovered on my last trip thru here in May on Trip 122. It's in the middle of the Fork Ridge trail after the first climb and off the level saddle of a ridge which might prove decent for camping and the big Keron tube uterus. It's a good ways off the trail to water but I brought a ziploc bag of surveyor ribbon to mark the bushwack and to get back if needed.
Today's menu was almonds and grapes for the drive in and a granola bar on the trail and in camp. I ate some cornbread Mitten's Mom made for me and drank a 12 oz Odwalla superfood smoothie along with some graham crackers, 2 peanut butter cream oreo-type cookies for dessert after a cooked Kashi pasta meal and some cashew butter. Hopefully all this excellent food can be eaten with gusto on a daily basis and not be shoved aside due to a stomach virus or a bout with the blue munge, that lingering malaise which attacks backpackers and keeps their digestive systems in an uproar both from the colon and the stomach.
MY WINTER KIT
It's enormous and packing up everything in the morning can be intimidating as a room-sized tent full of gear has to be rolled and stuffed and crammed and beaten into a pulp to get it stuffed and sacked and crushed into a relatively small pack while fingers are cold and the head is twisted and the body lazy, so for me it's best I do all this between 9 and 10 in the morning before I get lazy and slack. Zero days are good too but only in the rain or a blizzard. Today's supposed to be blue so there's no reason to wait and it's not even all that cold as I'm sitting in the tent in merino but no geese.
Two of my internet roll books are my own trail journals from recent trips. I've written so much copious crap that sometimes it's important to go back and catch up with it and to get an idea of what crap I am spewing. I try to keep it halfway sane and coherent without obscenities and whoever I quote I have a rule of citing properly so they get the credit they deserve. A plagiarist I ain't as I have more than enough of my own garbage to discuss without needing to take from others. On my last trip I quoted from Adventure Alan and Jolly Green Giant and others and this trip could find me quoting from others who I find interesting or relevant to a backpacking trip. Share and share alike.
Anyone can use my stuff if they include it properly in their blogs or trip reports with the proper quotation marks and source. I would not want someone using it as their own and pretending they wrote it but for god's sake who would want to include a long rant on turtleheads or on Colon Flaccid or Jeremy and Jackie Blowhole and pretend they came up with such bilge?
CREEK WATER INTO HOT TEA
It's a mix of nettle, ginseng and peppermint and is brewing right before sunrise at 7:30. Now my 80 lb pack is 4 tea bags lighter. West Fork is up quite a bit and it has to be crossed in crocs but it's no big deal although it could be as there's sign all over the place that this creek is a raging hellion in high water. Just look at the 2 big steel culverts ripped out of their concrete moorings. Not good. One good thing about the perimeter dirt roads around the Big Frog and Cohutta is they offer escape routes and loop alternatives when things get nasty. In fact, once I crossed FS 221 I could've turned right and hiked .4 mile to FS 45 jct and .5 mile further on 221 to the Big Frog trailhead, a nice option if ya want to do a Big Frog/West Fork loop or if you need to bail out to Thunder Rock if Rough Creek is high.
It's a great trip report with pictures of a group of 5 guys going into the Dolly Sods wilderness of West Virginia and available at http://www.kc8qvo.blogspot.com.(see below). The pictures with descriptions really give me a feel of the place as it's on my bucket list to enter and master but I just don't have the time methinks. They start off on the Rohrbaugh trail in the southeastern part of the park and their destination is Red Creek for the night. Then they get on the Fisher Spring Run trail and they cross the low water of Red Creek. They spend their first night at a pretty spot on the banks of Red Creek. The next day they head up the Breathed Mt trail, a weird name. The group turns around when they reach the intersection of 3 trails---the Big Stone Coal, Breathed Mt and Blackbird Knob in the northwest corner of the Sods.
They loop back on the Big Stone Coal trail and they take a dayhike up to the top of Breathed Mt. The pic of the campsite on top of the mountain is nice. Camp 2 is on the Rohrbaugh trail. Then it gets cold on night 2 and the trip journalist writes this odd and contradictory statement"
"I . . . checked the weather. It was supposed to be in the upper 30F's Friday night and upper 20F's Saturday night---which meant it would be below freezing. This is a big part of why we packed so heavy. I packed what I thought I needed to get through those cold nights with."
Okay, everything sounds good and he knows what he's getting into and even says he brought what he needed for cold nights. But! He continues in the next sentence---
"My sleeping bag is by no means a cold weather bag nor is my tent a cold weather tent."
Odd and weird, ain't it? At first he says he's equipped for the cold and then he says he isn't. Very odd. He continues---
"This was most definitely the worst night in a long long time."
"I was laying on a hill and bumps and I had to layer up with just about everything in my bag to stay warm."
They wake up and return to the car. He ends by saying "Here are a few things I learned about backpacking. For one and it is a big one, the right gear goes a long way!" I've been saying this for years but no one seems to care. ALL QUOTES FROM STEVE AT http://kc8qvo.blogspot.com/2008/10/backpacking-in-dolly-sods-wilderness.html
EXPERIENCE AND ORGANIZATION
Completing a successful backpacking trip is all about experience and organization. Experience results in bringing enough gear to ensure comfort while hiking and camping. In the winter this means more weight in clothing, shelter and sleeping bag and pad. Organization is going thru all the motions of a trip without a lot of thought so chores become routine. The whole point of experience and organization is to avoid surprises, the bane of backpacking. Most tough backpacking trips like Steve's or Solo Girl's or Jolly Green Giant's or a slew of others turn ugly after a series of unwanted surprises---my bag's not warm enough, my shelter is too flimsy, my tarp collapsed, my boots suck, my clothing is inadequate, etc.
Experience and organization helps greatly to alleviate these kind of surprises. Sure, no trip happens without a surprise or two and even old hands get a wake up call like a stomach virus in a blizzard or a pulled tendon going up a stiff climb or a yellow jacket sting or a series of blizzards keeping you tent bound for a week. Old hands half expect these things and are organized and patient enough to work around them. Patience is key---the ability to sit still and stay put when needed and to backtrack on a lost route to avoid an epic event. Old hands are patient, newbs are not.
And then there's the desire to outwalk everyone in your group, a nasty and boringly predictable machismo whereby one individual pretends he's an Army Ranger and the others try to keep up. I see it all the time so I prefer solo trips. My testosterone is sufficient unto itself and it doesn't mix well with others.
FIRST BOOK ROLL BURNED
My first trash fire of the trip occurs away from the tent and it's now onto other things, namely to pack and head up the West Fork trail and the 2 main crossings before reaching the Rough Creek trail jct going east and west. I'll be taking the east part as it crosses another creek and heads up to Fork Ridge.
THE 3 FORDS OF ROUGH CREEK
The bare feet (in crocs) get tested with some ice cold January mountain creek water but I pull the first 2 in quick succession and leave the crocs on for the 3rd about a half mile away by the Rough Creek trail jct. I sit on the other side of crossing 3 and reboot to tackle the last part of Rough Creek trail as it climbs to Fork Ridge. I'm going without water in the hopes that the spring on Fork Ridge is flowing as it's where I want to camp.
FORK SPRING CAMP
Okay boys, I could not pass up a little camp I found on the ridge before the Rough Creek trail reaches the trailpost denoting the Fork Ridge trail. The reason I stopped here is two fold---to be by a wonderful spring 40 yards back (which is the headwaters to the West Fork of Rough Creek), and to wait for German Tourist to pass by (or anyone else) without having to pull a zero day on Big Frog mountain, my eventual goal. I had to clear out a tent site on slightly tilted ground and moved wet leaves downslope to get more level ground and squeezed the big tent into the slot which has probably never been used since the Cherokee called the Big Frog home.
We know the ridges in the Big Frog/Cohutta are dry so it behooves a backpacker to find camps whenever he's near an on-trail water source such as Fork spring on a finger of Fork Ridge.
I receive a musical reward for crossing Rough Creek today and it's Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra, another favorite piece. The 1st mvt has the best ending ever, and the 4th has the best melody ever written. Bartok plays it three times.
THE MICHELIC SEARCH
Graham County NC historian Marshall McClung wrote a piece about a missing hiker in the Citico called "The Michelic Search" and says---
"A search for a missing person that became what is probably the most extensive and exhausting search mission in Graham County occurred in the autumn of 1988 . . . ."
** It involved over 200 people.
** The missing man was 25 year old Jim Michelic of New Berlin, Wisconsin.
** He came to the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock area to camp.
** He first visits the Cheoah Ranger station on Massey Branch, Sunday, September 25, 1988. (This was 13 months after the National Rainbow Gathering held nearby below Big Fat Gap and near the Cheoah River. Is there any connection? Who knows).
** Jim talks to forest service employee Dave Gustafson.
** He buys a map and goes to Andrews NC and stays the night in the Walker Inn.
** On Sept 26 Michelic leaves Andrews for the wilderness and leaves a few personal items at the Inn and will pick them up when he returns.
** On Sept 27 Michelic is seen on the Wolf Laurel trail by John Wisham and John Brown of Andrews NC.
** These were the last people to see him.
** McClung says "Wisham and Brown thought Michelic seemed to be tired and sweaty and told them that he had brought too much gear."
** On Saturday Oct 1 a heavy rainstorm hits the area.
** On Monday Oct 3 the USFS is alerted that Michelic is missing. District Ranger Stever Rickerson organizes a search party including the author McClung.
** The searchers are Hugh Biggs, Russ Arthur, McClung and Rickerson.
** On Oct 4 Gibbs and McClung search Strawberry Knob (near Cold Spring Gap) and Bob Bald for his tent.
** Rickerson and Arthur search area parking lots.
** Gibbs and McClung find his tent in a thick fog (in the South Col camps?)
** The tent door is left open and is full of rainwater. McClung says "It does not appear to even have been used since being pitched."
** "A backpack is tied up in a nearby tree and contains a food popular with hikers known as 'trail mix'"
** After this McClung says "Things don't look good, we may be searching for a body instead of a person."
** The other 2 searchers find a brown Oldsmobile Omega with Wisconsin tags at the Wolf Laurel trailhead.
** The NC forest service brings in a helicopter.
** A massive search begins on Oct 6. It becomes the biggest search in Graham Cty history (what about Eric Rudolph?)
** On Oct 16 2 fishermen take a short cut from Bob's Wall down to the headwaters of Little Santee Creek. At the bottom of a cliff they find boots and a backpack.
** They take the items to the Graham Cty sheriff.
** Michelic's brothers identify the objects.
** On Oct 17 all the searchers converge on the spot where the gear was found. They soon find a blue denim vest, brown t-shirt, a pair of pants, one sock, a set of keys.
** They find human remains.
** He fell off a 30 foot rock face.
** An autopsy showed he died from a fracture at the base of the skull and a spinal fracture at the base of the spine.
** He had been bead for 3 weeks and probably died on Sept 27.
** Funeral was Oct 30 in New Berlin, Wisconsin.
** His parents Edward and Alice Michelic visit the Bob and scatter his ashes at his campsite.
** McClung finishes the report with these words---"What caused Michelic to be in such a rugged area off the trail? We will never know for sure. Searchers think that Michelic discovered that he had left some needed items in his car and was hiking down from Stratton Bald to get them when he was overtaken by darkness and lost the trail in one of the switchbacks, veering off to the left into the headwaters of Little Santeetlah Creek, and contouring around the ridge until he encountered the rock cliffs and fell to his death." ALL QUOTES FROM http://www.main.nc.us/graham/mcclung/The%20Michelic%20Search.html
To me it seems he hiked Bob's Wall back to the Butt Rock and took the Wolf Laurel trail down but got lost in the dark on one of the switchbacks and ended up on the Little Santee headwaters side where he encountered the cliffs and fell.
THE BLIZZARD OF '93
In a similar vein, the Chicago Tribune had this headline---"Lost in Blizzard Teen Hiker Prayed and Screamed at the Night." March 18, 1993 by Andrew Martin. It's the story of Cranbrook student Danielle Swank. 237 deaths are caused by this storm from Alabama to Canada.
NIGHTHIKE WATER RUN
Okay boys, at 9pm I use the headlamp on high to do a water run to Rough Creek spring where I get 52oz and return to camp to test the stove after a minor problem earlier when it flared up after priming. It turns out I didn't prime it long enough in the cold weather but now it's boiling up tea nicely. I can't allow myself to drink all this tea tonight or I'll be up all night shaking hands with my bladder like I did on a recent late night tea drinking trip. Going to the spring also allowed me to clean the dinner pot of mac and cheese.
Knowing the stove works means I can keep to the trip schedule and keep climbing to the Frog, otherwise I'd have to go back to my emergency cache for the other pump. BTW, someone told me MSR quit making and selling the Simmerlite. If this is true I might as well hang it up. I love my Simmerlite.
LATE NIGHT EXCITEMENT
I must be meeting someone soon on the trail as I feel excited for no real reason except that I'm out, I have water and my stove is working. It's near midnight and I think someone is behind me on the trail I may know or want to know, either Patman or Hootyhoo or Randy or Christine. And I'm carving out tentsites wherever I feel like it and this opens up the wilderness into a vast hotel with rooms everywhere. Not near the freedom of a hammocker but exciting for this Hilleberg idiot. Problem is there aren't many established camps on the BMT from Thunder Rock to Big Frog except for the West Fork place I was this morning. The main reason is most backpackers can do the 10 mile Thunder Rock to Big Frog hike in one day but I'm breaking it up into 4. Good God, y'all.
But I want to find places to camp out here, especially if they are by water. A mile up the ridge there's a spring and I'll camp there tomorrow night if I can clear a spot like I did here. It's where the Fork Ridge trail stops climbing and reaches a little Elysium Fields-like plateau which is small with a few level spots. Beyond the trail keeps climbing and soon ends a the Big Frog trail jct. The Big Frog keeps climbing and passes the jct with Big Creek Lead trail and continues up and even does some off ridge westward switching which makes you feel you're getting off-trail. My biggest dilemma on this trip is to know when to get off the BMT and thereby miss any friends I may have trying to find me. I'll try to stay on the BMT long enough for Christine at least to catch up this weekend.