Sunday, August 30, 2009

Slaughter Mountain

My wife's back. Once again I can enjoy the woods without torturing the kids. My bike's out of the shop, and I'm even feeling mostly over this cold I've been fighting for 2 weeks. But, of course, it's raining on every inch of North Georgia. Every inch.


I think I'll get enough riding in next week, though. Maybe more than enough. I guess it's not the end of the world.

Spinning the Plan B rolodex, out popped Slaughter Mountain.

All right.

I recently proved that the Crown Vic can rip up the gravel roads. But I didn't want to push it in wet weather. Thus Slaughter Mountain, as Wolfpen Gap is accessible by pavement.

 Wolfpen Gap 2

The rain actually stopped as soon as I got going. The trail was pretty much all uphill for a while.

 Coosa Backcountry 1

The woods was full of these flowers, as far as I could see. And, for each flower, a bee.

 Flowers and Bees

There were actually several different kinds of flowers, and a different kind of bee appeared to like each kind of flower. The buzz was deafening. A veritable roar. I know they say there's a bee shortage these days, but you wouldn't know it from what I saw today.

Parts of the trail were on old roadbeds.

 Coosa Backcountry

The bees weren't the only ones munching it up.


Actually I was too.


I saw some trees I don't usually see, or maybe just don't notice very often.


 White Basswood

Striped Maple.

 Striped Maple

I actually brought my little tree book with me today. That's how I know what they are :)

The trail clearly didn't follow the track shown on the topo map, but there were a lot of little side trails crossing it all over. In antiquity, it may have. Hmmm.

Below Slaughter Gap the trail split at a complex, but well marked intersection. I poked around a bit there before heading off toward Blood Mountain. I've been up there a bunch. Up near the top, there's an old roadbed leading northwest; the original route of the trail, or something.

Must. Hike. It.

 Old Slaughter Mountain Road 1

Yep, pretty much a standard abandoned trail. Below grade. Total runoff channel. These days it's armored with deadfall, and apparently also with trash.

 Camelback Trash

I packed it out. A hundred yards later I found a moldy old shirt. Too moldy. I left it.

This was weird. A lone magnolia tree, looking all ornamental like in somebody's yard.

 Lone Magnolia

The trail became a "trail", and disappeared altogether at Slaughter Gap.

 Old Slaughter Mountain Road 2

There was a large, recently used campsite there, though. Apparently I'm not the only one who likes hiking old abandoned trails. Though I guess the camelback trash established that already. And the shirt.

Moving on.

Sometimes old trails disappear wherever it's flat and then reappear somewhere else along the periphery. The map says that there should be a trail leading up the ridge to Slaughter Mountain and three trails leading down various westish directions. Yeah, maps say a lot of things, and they aren't always true. Or maybe they were true once, but not anymore.

With so much confusion, it was time for a big circle.

I couldn't find a trail leading up Slaughter Mountain. If there was ever a trail there, it's well hidden now. I did find a trail leading east, but really it was more of a linear clearing in the brush than a trail. Eventually, I found a trail leading west-northwest, right where it should be. In fact, the trail coming down off Blood Mountain bent right into it. If it weren't for a tangle of deadfall, it would have been obvious.

All right, west-northwest it is. The trail kind-of-sort-of followed the track on the map. It was a bit overgrown, but there wasn't much deadfall, and there were fresh footprints and freshly trampled vegetation. Somebody had been here very recently.

For the next hour or so, I followed ten hundred thousand trails and side trails, trying to match them up to the map, but with little-to-no luck. In several places trails merged into and out of the stream bed itself, making them very difficult to follow. I did find a cool natural spring. Actually a consortium of a dozen or more springs, including this pouring rock overhang.


The whole time I was chasing a ghost. Since leaving the AT on Blood Mountain, I kept stepping into fresh footprints, onto plants that were recently bent over and past thorn bushes that had been recently bent back. Even on the dead end trails. Somebody had the same idea as me this weekend. Maybe the guy that had ditched his camelback.

I'd been thinking I'd find the trail on the north side of Slaughter Creek, take it down to Slaughter Creek Road, cross over to the Slaughter Creek Trail and take it back upstream. But I spent so much time running around in circles, that was off the table.

I did, finally find the trail that leads down to Slaughter Gap Road, or at least I'm pretty sure that I did. I'll have to come back later to check it out though. It was getting late.

Hey, look, another tree that I don't see very often: Viburnum.


Slaughter Gap was lush.

 Slaughter Gap

To get back on the trail, I just needed to head downhill to the east. I took that little clearing-through-the-grass trail, which led to a spring.

 Dry Spring

No water today though.

There was sort-of a trail leading further down. I sort-of followed it and ended up almost exactly at the complex intersection from earlier.

It was 6:15. I had about an hour-fifteen to get back. Plenty of time. Even enough time to check out the side trails.

And check them out I did.

Exhibit A:

 Balancing Rock

The balancing rock trick.

Just north of there I crossed the real trail, kept going on an old roadbed and ran into a black bear. I guess "ran into" is overstating it a bit. It was about 50 yards away, just sitting down on the trail. I looked up at it, just as it looked up at me. We both paused. Every bear I've ever seen in the wild has shot off as soon as it saw me, but I've always been with a group or on my bike. This time, I was on foot, alone, wearing muted colors. My presence alone did not startle it. I think it was trying to figure out what I was. I figured I'd better try that "raise your arms" thing before it figured out I wasn't dangerous. Yep. I raised my arms, the bear took off. Immediately. It was as if I had pressed it's flee button.

They say to raise your hands because it makes you look larger and this triggers their flight response. But, it occurred to me as I did it that there could be another reason that it scares them. No animal that a black bear has ever seen, except maybe another bear can raise it's arms up like that, and bears are awkward when they do it. I imagine that, to a bear, the graceful raising of arms looks like an unnatural contortion. It'd be like if some little docile-looking dog-sized animal walked up to you, didn't do anything threatening, but then out of nowhere twisted it's head upside down all dibbuk-style or something. That would totally creep most people out, even though it's just a little dog. I wonder if the bear runs away because it gets creeped out when you raise your arms.

Just a thought.

The bear was gone, but I figured I'd give it a wide berth, left the old roadbed, went back to the main trail. The rest of the hike was uneventful. I even made it back with an hour to spare.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Long Creek

My sled's in the shop getting the rear wheel relaced. My wife's out of town. My mom watched the kids yesterday. No riding for me.

Not a problem though, I have two feet and two little girls who haven't been on a long walk in a long time.

Long Creek.

There are trails up there that I haven't seen, and waterfalls too.

My dad's got my truck so I drove his Crown Victoria up Winding Stair Gap Road. I wondered if it would make it, there are deep washboards and loose gravel at the top. As it turns out, yes, you can make a Crown Victoria climb that road, with relatively little trouble. Nice.

Up 77, down 58, parked at Three Forks.

 Three Forks Bridge

Me and the girlies headed east toward Long Creek Falls.

On the way, we made a couple of detours. Long Creek Falls is a well known destination, but there are 2 lesser cascades on the way up to it. I'd seen them from the trail before (in winter they are clearly visible), but I'd never taken the time to get a good look until today.

Cascade 1:

 Long Creek Falls Cascade 1 Top

 Long Creek Falls Cascade 1

 The Girls af Long Creek Falls Cascade 1

Cascade 2:

 Long Creek Falls Cascade 2 Side

 Long Creek Falls Cascade 2

The trails leading to the top of the cascades were pretty clean. The trails leading to the bottom, decidedly less. The girls made it down to the first cascade, but were way less excited about the second and just waited for me to climb down and back up.

Back on the trail...


... we headed toward the big one.

 Long Creek Falls Main Cascade Approach


 The Girls at Long Creek Falls Main Cascade

There were some folks camped out there, sleeping in their hammocks. A guy and his golden lab were exploring the area just like us. We talked to him for a while. Nice guy.

I sort of had a plan. Check out the waterfalls here first. Then: Benton MacKaye to FS251B, 251B to 251, No-Name Ridge to the Hawk Mountain Shelter, old Long Creek Road down to 251, old AT back to the real AT, and then back to the car. So far, so good. I felt fine, the girls were looking strong. With a little luck, we could get it done.


On the Benton MacKaye, we caught up with a family we'd talked to earlier and they tailed us for a while.


 Lush BMK

At 251B there's a huge food plot and a nice campsite just beyond. We stopped for a break and chatted for a while. The kids all played together.

 4 Kids

As much fun as it was, we had a long way to go.

On 251B we found this awesome caterpillar. What is it? What kind of moth does it turn into?


I noticed a trail paralleling 251B down toward the bottom. Darnit, I'll have to come back up and check that out some day.

251 proper.


As soon as we turned onto No-Name Ridge we found some ammo. And me without my M-60.


The Rangers drop a lot of trash, but they appear to come back and pick it up later. Mostly at least. I've seen trash strewn out for miles one day, only to come back the next week and find it all gone. We hung up the ammo on a branch nearby at eye level. Hope somebody sees it.

There are 6 humps on No-Name Ridge. The second is labeled for some reason. We'd seen a number 11 earlier too. At the base of Hawk Mountain, it's labeled 59. What do these mean? I have no idea.


We took a little break. I re-guesstimated our timing. If my "calculations" were correct, we were on track and should still have enough time, assuming the sun really goes down at 8:30 and the trails between here and there are passable.

 Iz taking a break

 The gerch taking a break

No-name ridge was pretty nice. A little braided, but not too bad. The last time I was here, there was an orienteering marker on this post. Not today.

 Old Orienteering Marker

There was one chunky descent. This is looking back up it.

 No-Name Ridge Chunk

But mostly it was like this.

 No-Name Ridge Sweetness

At the Hawk Mountain Shelter, we ran into a guy from Pennsylvania hiking home. He'd apparently forgotten his tent poles. Long story, but it made sense. His wife shipped them to Mountain Crossings at Neel's Gap, but that's days away. He'd been rigging it up with string, but he'd gotten really soaked 2 nights before. Poor guy.

 Hawk Mtn Shelter

We didn't stay too long. It was getting late. We'd be cutting it close.

If you're at the Hawk Mountain Shelter and you need water, you get it from the upper reaches of Long Creek. The same Long Creek that hosts those falls we were enjoying earlier. The water trail forks off of an old roadbed, which appears to have lead down from the food plot up on Hawk Mountain, in antiquity. I followed it for a few hundred yards one day and it kept going. In my imagination, it leads down to FS251. It my wild imagination, it leads past that and joins up with the AT along lower Long Creek, which is also an old roadbed. But first things first. Today's mission was to get to 251. From there, we'll see.

I'd been letting Iz and Sophie trade off being the leader all day, but for this I thought it best that I go first. Just past the water trail we got into some deadfall, rhodo and young hemlock, but there was a clear path through it. People definitely go this way. The deadfall was amazingly brittle and crumbled into nothing with the slightest touch. The Hemlocks, though. Oh, man. The lower branches get starved for light and just snap off if you push through them, leaving murderous little spikes. Today my girls were following close and I didn't want them getting stabbed. Bull in a china shop.

 Upper Long Creek Trail

The old roadbed was easy to follow. It was going exactly where I wanted it to. The overgrowth was manageable. The girls were doing a great job twisting through it. We were making really good progress. But...

At a point, the old road just disappeared. It almost looked like it had been torn up or washed out, or something. There was no roadblock and it didn't look like the road used to just end there. It appeared that I wasn't the only one who'd been confused there. There were tracks in every direction. I milled around in a big circle and, at length, picked up the road again. I have no idea where it went, but we had no time to investigate.

The trail was no longer easy. The overgrowth was dense. Worst of all, we were climbing, which wasn't right. Looking at my compass, we were heading northeast instead of west. Hmmm. Maybe we had gotten off of the main road and onto a spur. Who knows. Before long we were up on the ridge again.

Decision time. I'd seen a trail leading back down off of the ridge earlier. We were right by it now. Should we backtrack on No-Name or take the trail? The trail was very well worn and kind-of went where we needed it to. Even if it didn't, we still had plenty of time to bushwhack to 251 and make it most of the way to 58 before dark. If we stayed on No-Name we'd have a much longer walk in the dark. We took the trail, which led directly down to Long Creek and ended.


We needed to go downstream, so we just walked down the creek itself until we could walk next to it. A few steps off of the creek, it started to look like an actual trail. Yep. A trail. And just uphill we could see the old roadbed again, as overgrown as ever. We stayed on the trail, which basically paralleled the old road. Again we were making good time. Eventually the trail rejoined the road and led out to 251.


At the intersection, another marker. 10. What does 10 mean?


I checked the clock. We had about 2 miles to go and just under an hour. Doable, but barely. I didn't even look to see if the old roadbed continued along the creek. Instead we trudged westish along 251, and were rewarded with blackberries left and right.

Just short of the Hickory Flatts Cemetery, we picked up the Old AT. Iz led out.

Lovely, dark and deep...

 Old At Route

It started out as singletrack. I'm not sure when, but at some point it switched to an old roadbed. Maybe it does hook up with the one we were following earlier. I'll have to come back and look for that someday.

We rejoined the BMK just east of Long Creek Falls, picked up the AT and aimed for home. Darkness came flooding in. The bugs and frogs were really screaming and the girls were starting to get creeped out. I held their hands. We talked and sang and picked up the pace, and made it out while the sky was still technically blue.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Clinton Farms

Kathryn's in Baton Rouge for her cousin's wedding and I'm flying solo with the girls. As such, there should be no riding for me this weekend. I was just leaving to take them to play with their cousins when my dad called. He and my mom were supposed to leave for Dallas last weekend, but all kinds of odd events conspired to keep them in town. They met me at my brother's house and we all went to Clinton Farms. My mom played with all the kids on the playground, while my dad, my nephew Austin and I did some riding.

 Getting ready

Austin can kind of rip it.



We rode a couple of miles with Austin on the front side, then my dad and I went out for a big loop. I made the tough climb back up to the power lines. Yes. My dad was not so lucky. I can't brag too much though, I almost slipped out and went sliding down to the bottom of the crazy off-camber slickrock, while my dad cleaned it easily. Speed is your friend, as he says frequently.

Whenever I'm at Clinton, I'm always riding with my dad or brother and we're always moving with a purpose. I never get a chance to go exploring or take in the sights, but there are tons of old buildings out there. I need to go out there by myself one day, go exploring and take some photos.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Bowman's Island

Saturday's Fool's Gold left me with dead legs on Sunday. A little walk would feel good. The last time I was on the east side of Bowman's Island I saw a trail that I though lead toward Richland Creek. There's a trail leading north from Hwy 20 too. Maybe they join up. Let's find out.

The girls and I parked off island Ford Road and headed off down the trail. I noticed a pile of rocks up on the ridge that I hadn't seen before. An old chimney? Hard to say.

 Rock pile

I'd sprayed bug spray on our legs earlier. Sophie had tripped and had to brush the dirt off and wanted to wash her hands before eating a snack. I told her she could wash them in Richland Creek if we ever made it there. The trail I'd seen before just went down to the river though. A dead end.

We went down to the river and Sophie washed her hands. Down river we could see what appeared to be a waterfall. Hmmm.

There was no trail leading south but the terrain was open so we just followed the roar. Looks like there's beavers here. They're going to have to work a lot harder if the want to dam the Chattahoochee.

 Beaver damage

The waterfall turned out to be the outlet of a treatment plant or something.


Maybe it was just part of the fish hatchery.


I'll have to find out.

Sophie navigated us back to the main trail. Iz led us back to the car. My legs were so dead though, her pace was blistering. It was raining a little too. Ugh.

 Blistering pace

Hey look a turtle.


What a drag. The trail didn't lead to Hwy 20. Now that I look at the map, I mistook one trail for another. There's still another trail leading south that I haven't been on. I'll have to check it out next time, or come at it from Hwy 20.

There's a lot of land on that side of the river with no trails. I'll have to do a little bushwhacking too. Next time.