Another shot but I moved an inch.
DAY NINE TRIP 142
TRAIL East Cowpen/Hickory Ridge/Jacks Crossing
CAMP Jacks Beach Camp
BUTT COLD AT 5 A.M.
Two lit candles warm my hands as I'm up inside the frosty tent trying to get a nonexistent temperature report on my radio. I keep my hands warm with the candles and the headlamp lights the journal page. On my head are the 2 hats and around my sleeping bag wrapped body are the down parka and pants. Under me are geese tubes of the excellent Exped. I only have 2 full candles and a stub as I gave my 3rd candle to Danny boy and Tree Beard to start their Frog Mt fire. Today's plan is to give the sun a chance to warm my world while cooking up a pot of hot tea and then leave Panther Top hill for a north trek on East Cowpens to Hickory Ridge and down to Jacks River for the main crossing of the day.
While down there I'll try to stay on the south bank and bushwack upriver to where the Jacks River trail crosses a second time to get to the Rough Ridge trailhead. There are 2 crossings close together here at Hickory Ridge---the Hickory one to the Beech Bottoms side and turning right the next crossing goes to the Rough Ridge side of the Jacks. By bushwacking I can avoid both crossings until I need to get to Beech Bottoms which has to be done anyway if I want to return to the Big Frog. The No Camping rule for the Jacks River Falls area is lifted for the winter and so there are 6 new camps available for me which are usually off limits.
I've got my mind on one down by the Jacks and one up near the Beech Bottoms creek crossing as there's a big camp below the bend of the trail. The main challenge today will be to pack up in frigid temps and to cross the Jacks in ass-cold conditions. It'll help to have a second hiking pole so I'll look for something at the crossing. Right now I wait for the idiot wee'tards to come on the radio for a temp report as there's absolutely nothing local on a Sunday morning before 6am. Why? Cuz nobody's working. There's no weather I guess at this hour.
THE THREE NASTY PITCHES OF HICKORY RIDGE
There may be more cuz I'm not at the Jacks yet but if you're coming up this trail you will encounter some very nasty pitches with the last being the worst. I'm at the bottom of the 3rd in a stand of pine trees and figure there's got to be more mini nutbuster drops in my future. My only goal is to cross the Jacks so wish me luck.
IN THE WINDY COLD SUN AT JACKS RIVER FALLS
After an endless trek I finally made it to the end of the Hickory Ridge trail and had to crosss Jacks River in moderately high conditions cuz in 2011 I did it and it was mid calf deep on shallow tread. This time it was nutsac high and anus-eatingly cold---not butt cold or ass cold or witch's tit cold or damn cold but anus-eatingly cold. I got prepared by stowing my boots and socks in the pack along with the camera and long johns and watch and then I found a second hiking pole stick which helps and started across. It was about 50 feet but smooth and easy and I was dang thankful to make it to the other side.
After the rebooting I humped the half mile downstream to the Falls and passed the most obvious and biggest campsite next to the Falls by Beech Creek and thought to camp there but it's apparently off limits and not on the designated campsite list map I have on my camera (which I took at Three Forks Mt kiosk). I should just go ahead and camp here by the Falls but I found a better one upstream by the Beech Bottoms trailhead and therefore "legal". I'm all alone here of course and you won't see any backpackers on this side cuz there's no place for them to go other than the Beech Bottom trail as Rice Camp requires a crossing, Hickory Ridge requires a crossing, Rough Ridge requires a crossing and Penitentiary Branch requires two.
So, the whole of the Cohutta is shut off to those coming from the north unless they do Big Frog Mt and the Hemp Top route. Even though it hasn't rained in several long days, the Jacks is still too deep for winter backpacking unless you have a system---2 hiking poles, hip waders with felt bottom boots, and a fairly light pack---then you can pull a long backpacking trip on the Jacks.
** Put one footbridge on the Jacks to save guys in the south needing to go north and guys in the north needing to go south. I'd put the bridge right at the Beech Bottom jct to cross over to the Rough Ridge side. This way people coming can do a short rock face scramble to get to the bridge and out. It will also give Beech Bottom backpackers the ability to cross and do the Rough Ridge trek into the heart of the wilderness.
** Next suggestion---Don't use the old railroad grade as the trail with its 42 crossings but build a trail staying on the Jacks River Falls side the whole up and down. Cut the trail like the John Muir trail on the Hiwassee with no crossings. It wouldn't be that hard. Then the Jacks would be safer to backpack. In the winter the Jacks is a butt scary proposition and my advice is don't do it! It's too cold for a mistake and in the winter you're stool out of luck.
** Suggestion #3---There needs to be a trail running east-west from the Beech Bottom trail east to the Hemp Top trail near Hemp Top Mt or a bit south. This way backpackers could come into the area at Beech Bottoms in high water and not have to end their trip at the Jacks; or as I said, put a high footbridge at the rock crossing going to Rough Ridge trail. It would have to be pretty high to avoid flood conditions and tree trunks slamming down the river. Such a bridge would open up the southern part of the Cohut to the northern exit at Beech Bottoms.
Snowbird Creek in NC did such a thing but the Snowbirds ain't a wilderness although with all the helicopter overflights here in the Cohutta I don't think a footbridge would be a big deal. Plus, when I was on Panther Top Saturday night all I heard for hours was nonstop jet traffic coming from Atlanta and Chattanooga. I mean nonstop as it was jet upon jet upon jet with no interruptions. Welcome to the Atlanta air space.
** Suggestion #4---The boys need to reopen the Sugar Cove trail as it's the only way to link Dally Gap with the rest of the Cohutta without having to battle down the Jacks for dozens of high water crossings before reaching my beach campsite by the Hickory Ridge trailhead. Sugar Cove allows Dally Gap people a chance to get to the Conasauga, the only chance since the lower crescent roads are closed for the season.
These are just the musings of an idiot as nothing will be done but I believe a single human being with loppers and a bow saw could reopen Sugar Cove without too much trouble even though it's a long trail to work singlehandedly. It's worth exploring. It was closed because of hurricane damage so you know the trail is probably choked with blowdowns which cannot be cleared with loppers and a bow saw but they can be worked around. You'd have to start at the top near Rough Ridge as I hear the bottom trailhead is nearly impossible to find. Tempit fut it, let it rest until another day.
** Suggestion #5---Cut a trail north up Beech Creek and have it switchback northwest to jct with the Chestnut Mt trailhead at the parking area off FS62. This would completely bypass the long 4 mile Beech Bottom trail to 62 and the long roadwalk on 62 to the Chestnut Mt trailhead. Anyway, that section of the Cohut needs a trail as it's the biggest swath of wilderness without a trail. You could even run a trail from my Jacks campsite at the Beech Bottom jct all the way northeast to Big Frog Mt. Wow, what a thought. But at this point the Sugar Cove is the priority for the forest boys to reopen and having a life saving footbridge across the Jacks near the Rough Ridge/Hickory Ridge trailheads---to allow southern Cohutta people an escape to the north and the Beech Bottom exit. Or to allow the Beech backpackers a way to access the rest of the Cohut without doing a Jacks crossing which in high water is dangerous and impossible. Hell, at least I'm across the leviathan and this is all that matters.
** Suggestion #6---There needs to be a trail higher up on the forks of the Jacks closer to its headwaters as it starts way south of Dally Gap and somewhere off the BMT near FS 64. I need a much bigger map to find its South Fork headwaters. Starting at its SF source would really be a hike down the Jacks.
JACKS BEACH CAMP
I'm right on the water, boys! It's a first as usually this spot is off limits during the warmer months---April 1 to October 31.
5.5 MILE DAY
The 4 off season designated sites on the Jacks are not that great and certainly not as good as the 2 big sites closer to the Falls.
SUNSET ON THE JACKS
The Jacks is placid here at the "two crossings" and it should be cuz the easiest crossing is the first of the two and leads to Hickory Ridge (but the Rough Ridge crossing looks to be even easier). Remember when I was on the Frog last month in an 8 day rain and heard the roar of the Jacks? Well now that I'm here I can see all the flood damage around me and it's nasty! Don't camp on the beach!