Monday, May 31, 2010

Logan Turnpike and Whitly Gap

I'm finally starting to feel like riding my mountain bike again, but my rear wheel and my shoe are still busted, plus it was supposed to rain all day. I toyed with the idea of doing a road ride, but I just couldn't bring myself to ride in the rain, or get stuck out in it.

This past winter, my brother and I hiked from Woody Gap to Hogpen and back. During the only two moments not spent actively trying to prevent ourselves from freezing to death, we noticed a pair of trails leading south from the AT in the Ravens Cliffs Wilderness: the Logan Turnpike and the Whitly Gap Trail. I'd never heard of either. Logan apparently leads up to Tesnatee from Hwy 197. Whitly just runs out along a ridge to a shelter. Today I went up and checked them out.

I drove in on Kellum Valley road. For as anonymously as it sits off of Hwy 197, there are some pretty lavish estates back up in there. Actually there's sort of a mix; old farms, new estates, old and new hunting camps, abandoned trailer homes. Everything. A microcosm of North Georgia.

Anyway, Kellum Valley starts paved, becomes gravel, becomes Tollgate Road, and past the last house it degenerates into little more than a 4WD trail...

 Tollgate Road

...and then ultimately into singletrack at the Wilderness Area border. I parked there, at the end of the road.

At one time the road just kept going, all the way up to Tesnatee Gap. Now, the trail follows the old road bed and in some places, parallels it. For the most part, it follows Town Creek, which I figured was called Town creek because maybe the settlements along it constituted a town some time ago, but actually, at least according to the headstones in the nearby Antioch Cemetery, a family who's last name is Town lived nearby.

I kept hoping for some awesome, obscure waterfall, but this was the closest thing I found.

 Small Falls on Town Creek

It's actually bigger than it looks, but I wouldn't hike out just to see it.

The trail was pretty nice at first.

 Logan Turnpike

The creek was pretty.

 Town Creek

The weather had held out too. It was hot, humid and the ground was wet from last night's rain, but the sky was blue and it wasn't actively raining on me.

Trillium of some kind.


Eventually, the trail started getting a little gnarly. There was quite a rock wall going along the left side where they'd graded and regraded the road over the years.

 Rocks Along Logan Turnpike

And then it turned into this.

 Logan Turnpike Crail

Looks a lot like a creek bed, but I've seen this kind of thing before. Before long it looked like a trail again.

Chunkier and chunkier.

 Logan Turnpike Chunk

Toward the top it was braided. There were deep impressions of former routes to the left and right. It's possible the drainage had overtaken those paths at one time or another.

Almost at the gap.

 Logan Turnpike Top

At the top it was super muddy. A pipe was draining water directly onto the trail.

 Pipe Draining onto Logan Turnpike

I've never seen that before, but I guess, what else could they do, the trail runs directly up a drainage.

There was an awesome, old school sign at the top.

 Logan Turnpike Sign

At the bottom, there's no cool sign, just a carsonite marker with the trail number nailed to a tree about 10 yards in. It begins anonymously. You've just got to know it's there.

I waved to some hikers coming down from the west, took a right and started climbing the endless switchbacks up to the ridge of Wildcat Mountain. They're not easy, but they're a lot easier without a pack full of gear in 6 inches of snow.

An overlook provided a great view of Kellum Valley. My truck's down there somewhere.

 Kellum Valley

I'd been hearing the faint rumbling of thunder to the northwest for a while. It was getting closer, but I hoped to outrun it by heading south.

At the Whitly Gap trail I took a right and picked up the pace.

There's a lot of mountain laurel up there, and exposed granite.

 Peak of Wildcat Mountain

Just as I stepped out onto the granite, a bolt of lightning cracked across the sky directly above me, followed by the loudest, most sudden thunder I've ever heard. I was standing in the worst possible place.

I could see the storm directly to the west now, but it looked like I could still outrun it.

 Storm Coming In

And I ran, down meandering switchbacks, all the way to the shelter...

 Whitly Gap Shelter

..but I was a few minutes too slow and got soaked.

At the shelter, I met a lady who was up there from Florida, getting conditioned for a hike she and her grandson were taking in a month or two. She'd been camped out there for two days, waiting on the weather. I tried to check the forecast, but even with 3 bars, I couldn't get connected.

The rain died down and I made a break for it. I'd been thinking about following the ridge south to Rocky Mountain and then navigating back to my truck, but with the lightning, I thought it best to stay off of the ridge. There was a creek that led down to Town Creek nearby. I even remembered crossing it. Following that looked like a better option.

The water trail led to the spring at the head of the creek.

Clear water flowed from a pipe there.

 Water at Whitly Gap

And they'd capped the spring.

 Spring at Whitly Gap

I descended, roughly following the creek. At first there was just a lot of brush, but then it got steep, the rain started up again, and it became the sketchiest descent ever. Lots of slippery, exposed rock. Lots of deadfall to trick you into thinking you've got something solid to hold on to. And, fortunately I'm not allergic to poison ivy, because that's all that grows on the ground there. It took a long time to get down.

After a while, the creek had created a bit of a gorge and the steep sides funnelled me down into the creek itself, where there were little cascades every 50 feet.

 Cascade on Whitly Branch

I wouldn't call them waterfalls exactly, but they were close. I had to just scramble down them, over and over. When I could get back up into the woods, I'd walk there until I'd get channelled back down to the creek. There were some really cool chutes, slides and cascades. I tried to take photos of them but when my phone gets wet enough, the touch screen doesn't work unless I take it out of the case.

Eventually I found an old roadbed and followed it and it's cousins back to Logan.

As luck would have it, right as I got back to my truck, it stopped raining and the sun came out, warm and friendly. I took off all my clothes except for my shoes and socks and wrung them out. I hung my shirt and pants up on my seat and drove back in my underwear.

Being Memorial day, there were lots of police out. I kept my speed well under control. My brother got pulled over once in his underwear "Son, are you aware you're not wearing any pants?"

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