Thursday, February 25, 2010
Lora and I headed out to do a five day hike in the Chattahoochee National Forest. We started out with a plan which we would need a shuttle. After doing some more figuring we came up with a plan B which would be a loop hike. We were planning on hiking from Beech Bottom, to Jack’s River, to Rough Ridge, to Sugar Cove, to Jack’s River, to the Benton MacKaye, to Hemptop, to Chestnut Mt., and a road hike back to the truck for a total of 30 miles.
We had called the ranger to check road and trail conditions and everything was fine. They said that part of Big Frog road was closed due to ice but we could still get in from the South end. After I got off shift, we headed out. TN road 221 is a dirt road with a lot of pot holes and mud. When we got to the South end of Big Frog the gate was locked so we decided to drive to the North end which we found also gated. By this time I was thinking it would really be good to have a four wheel drive as we were sliding around corners with no guard rails to stop you from plummeting over the the steep drop offs. We ended up driving to the Wolf Ridge trailhead and hiking in from there.
Plan C added another four and a half miles on our trip. We found a place to park at the actually crowded trailhead. The truck was covered in mud from our ride in. We were just happy to be on the trail and solid ground. We had decided to hike our trails the opposite direction which would put us staying on top of Big Frog Mountain the first night. As we started the climb up Wolf Ridge, we met another couple that was doing an overnight trip going up to Big Frog Mountain. When we passed them, we told them that we would see them up there.
From the ridge that we were hiking, you could see that Big Frog still had snow on it. Soon, we too were hiking in snow. When we got to the crossing of Hemp Top Ridge trail, we met the Boy scouts. This was as far as they were going. They had set up camp and had a crew going for water. There were three adults and eight scouts. They told us about an area just above them if we wanted to camp there. We told them that we were going on to the top. They weren’t sure that we would make it before dark.
The further we hiked the deeper the snow got. Luckily someone had hiked this way before us so we had footprints to follow. They do not blaze trails in this wilderness. We stopped for a snack and as we got up, the guy from the couple we passed hiked up to us and sat down for a break. This was the last time we saw them. The rest of the hike to the top was quite strenuous and the snow got up to twelve inches deep. We found the campsite that was buried in snow and set up camp. An owl talked to us while we worked. This was the first time Lora had done any snow camping and she was quite impressed with the hiking in shorts in the snow. She had seen it in magazines, but never done it. We got a fire going and enjoyed the sunset over the trees. Sometime in the night I woke to a coyote howling and then growling. I guess he saw the tent and wasn’t sure what it was. He growled a couple of times and then I didn’t hear any more from him.
We got up and cooked breakfast just outside the tent. It was challenging enough last night making a fire with wet wood so we didn’t even try this morning. We got camp packed up and headed on down the trail. It didn’t take long for us to come to a spring so we filled our water containers up. After that the footprints that we had been following stopped and we had to do our own forging of the trail through the foot deep snow. We ended up hiking in and out of snow all day with the climbs and drops. We got our one and only phone connection at Double Springs Gap. It worked out as we had to update our people of the change in trail plans.
From there we hiked down the Benton MacKaye trail to Jacks River trail. We passed two young boys and their Labordoodle. Never seen a curly haired Lab before. They were hiking up to Big Frog so we notified them of the snow they were about to get into.
The reason we had changed directions on our trail loop was that they were calling for rain tonight and we wanted to get across Jacks River before the rain. The Ranger had said that it gets up fast and drops fast as well. Well, we got to cross it about five times. The river crossings were thigh deep and the river was running fast. The first time across I miss judged the weight of Lora and her pack. I got to the other side and turned around to find her fighting for survival in the middle of the river. I quickly went back and grabbed her as the current was trying to take her away. The second crossing I kept her within reach.
We figured that we had to be close to the Sugar Cove Trail when we saw a campsite on the other side of the river. There was nothing there to show a trail crossing or any sign telling us to cross here. We hiked a little further down the trail and came to a river crossing. After studying the map and trail description, we went back and looked at the campsite again. No sign of a crossing there so we hiked back down to the river crossing and crossed. We hiked about another half mile and saw no signs for Sugar Cove trail and went to studying the map again. It had to be back at the camp, so we hiked back, crossed the river at the crossing, and hiked to where we saw the camp and made another crossing. We found the trail. No sign anywhere.
It had been a long day with a lot of river crossings so we decided to stay at the camp by Jacks River. Besides that, according to the trail description Sugar Cove Trail is the most difficult trail to hike in the park and we were now going to hike it uphill. We got a fire going and enjoyed a quiet evening. Sometime during the night we had sleet and rain hit the tent. It never did get bad and by morning it had stopped.
Another morning of cooking just outside the tent and then up we went to our most challenging trail. We found a pair of pants at the bottom of the trail and then further up we found a pair of tennis shoes. We don’t know what happened, but we know he had to be going fast!
The Sugar Cove trail is overgrown and it is a challenge to stay on. It is STEEP! 730 feet of elevation change per mile. We had trouble following it without snow. It really became a challenge when we got to the snow. There is a campsite along the creek about halfway up. We topped off our water here. From there to the top was hit and miss as far as being on the trail. Finally, we knew that we were off the trail, so we just hiked up to the top of the creek and up to where the ridges merge. Here we found the Rough Ridge trail. We took a break as our hearts got back to a regular beat and had to eat some energy food.
Rough Ridge trail was a wonderful break for us to hike. We got some wonderful views from the top and by the time we got toward the end we were ready to call it a night. Lora even lay down in the middle of the trail once after a fancy trail dance. We stopped at the first campsite we came across. We had enough daylight that we could bath in the creek. We had another peaceful night by the fire.
The next morning we got a breakfast by the fire which was peaceful until the log we were sitting on broke in half. No food or hot chocolate was hurt during this incident.
We hiked on down to Jack’s River after a couple of fords over smaller streams. The ford over Jack’s was around chest deep. With the current, I figured that this just wasn’t going to work. Option two was to climb straight up the side of the mountain ridge and cross at the Hickory Ridge trail crossing which was one ridge over. We went for it. It was a pretty good workout, but worth it. The Hickory Ridge trail crossing was only calf deep. From here we took a 1.2 mile side trip to see Jacks River Falls. We ate lunch at the campsite just above the falls.
Beech Bottom trail is an easy hiking trail that is mostly old road bed. It is a popular trail that is used for hiking to Jacks River Falls. We forded Beech Creek and hiked on to the next creek crossing where we set up camp. This was the first night that we actually had dry feet, no snow hiking, and dry wood to burn. We even had a tree that made a comfortable love seat with a back to rest on. Too bad the wind blew the smoke in that same direction. This was also the first day that the owls didn’t talk to us.
We had a nice breakfast by a warm fire. We packed up and hiked to Big Frog Road. We met a couple of hikers that had parked at the trailhead there. Obviously they have opened the gate. From the trailhead on was still closed. This is where we hiked to get to the Hemp Top Trailhead. The wind was blowing ice cold on the ridge. We had some wonderful views as we hiked to Wolf Ridge. The clouds had came across the mountains and left a covering of ice on all the trees. As we drove back over the mud roads, we were glad that the mud was a little more stiff with the cold weather. This is a beautiful area and I would highly recommend this hike to anyone.
Hemp Top/Benton MacKaye...10.4
Jack's River Falls..1.2
Big Frog Road..2