Thursday, December 1, 2011

Gooch Creek Cove

I've been wanting to go explore some new trails ever since I got back from Louisiana so this afternoon I tried to convince my wife to go for a walk around Vickery Creek. She wasn't going for it though and the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to get up in the mountains rather than go running around Alpharetta.

A few clicks and a print later and I was on my way up to Gooch Creek Cove. If you have any idea where that is, you're pretty well versed in obscure North Georgia geography. I'd found some trails in the area years and years ago and I'd once met the guy who owns the little horse farm at the foot of the cove when we were both out for a ride on the road that runs through it. From our conversation, I was pretty sure there were more trails, or at least cool terrain up in there and today seemed like a good day to go check it out.

As soon as I entered the National Forest, I got an interesting surprise.

 FS80 Regrading and Regravelling

It was The Great Regravelling of FS80. I actually got passed by two gravel trucks and the grader was parked at Cooper Gap. I've ridden and driven that road for 10 years now and probably put in more miles there than anywhere else and I struggled to remember the last time it'd had any work done. In fact, I still can't remember. I want to say they did a little work a few years back but it hasn't been gravelled in at least 8 or 9.

I drove up over the gap, hung a left on a fairly obscure FS road, parked at Frank Creek and headed off into the unknown.

Actually, part of it wasn't all that unknown. I'd been through there a month or two back during a little excursion up on Frozen Knob and years ago I'd been up along Frank Creek and something up that way had piqued my interest. The first time I was up there it was summer. The old roadbed dead-ended and I just turned around. The next time, it was winter (no leaves) and way up at the end of the road, I saw another old roadbed up the hill. It wasn't clear if it intersected Frank Creek or not and I couldn't explore it then but I filed it away in the backlog.

Today, I still didn't figure out if it intersected Frank Creek or not, but I found where it goes: Low Gap. It was so overgrown though that I couldn't imagine anyone ever goes that way. Apparently I was wrong though.

 Army Poncho

Right up at the top, there was a US Military issue poncho lying in the middle of the trail. It had been there a while and it was covered in leaves and so full of water that it was suction-cupped to the ground. I was going to pack it out but I figured I'd hang it and let it drain first. After two minutes it was still draining and the water that was left on it would have completely soaked my gear. I left it hanging. The Rangers must go that way, hopefully they'll pick it up next time.

Up on the ridge I found a familiar "trail", headed west and then finally off into the truly unknown.

It had snowed up there earlier this week, the first snow of the year, and on the north-facing slopes there was still a good bit lying around.


The slight angle of the trail against the backslope allowed it to dry out in some places but mostly I had to walk in the snow. The crunch was satisfying but I could have done without the little bits that ended up down the back of my shoes. It's funny, whenever the seasons change, I find myself re-learning everything over again. Oh yeah, snow gets down the back of your shoes. Gotta do the kick-step.

I'd been running sort-of southeast along an unnamed ridge for a while. It was relatively flat, so I was, in fact, actually running for most of it. Off to the south I could see Greasy Mountain and for a while I'd heard a helicopter loitering in the area. I figured it was a Blackhawk from Merrill but when I finally got a glimpse of it, it turned out to be a Life Flight chopper. It was just hovering around the north end of the ridge near Mauldin Gap and it stayed there for a long time. I tried to get a photo but there was just too much brush in the way.

I assumed someone was hurt. A hiker on the AT? A car accident? Did a mountain biker crash heading down toward Hightower Gap? It looked like the pilot was looking for a place to land. I've always wondered if you could get a chopper in at Hightower. I guess not. There's a clearing up on Hawk Mountain but he didn't go for it. I watched for a while, thinking maybe they'd pull someone up in a basket or something but they never did. Eventually they headed north along FS69 out of view. I could still hear them for a long time though. I wonder what happened.

I mentioned earlier that I forget everything about a season until it's suddenly upon me. One thing I hadn't forgotten though is how nice it is to have somewhat unobstructed views.

 Fairly Unobstructed View

I'd actually been looking forward to that for a while. In the summer, it would have just been leaves. I like leaves, but I'd been getting pretty tired of them.

Speaking of leaves though... My god. Most of the ridge had been pretty flat but eventually I had to drop down off of a steep little knob and it was like the Old Butt Knob in Shining Rock all over again, except this time there weren't so many rocks to leap between. I can imagine that in the summer it's not so bad, but in the fall... The leaves. THE LEAVES! It was sketchy and treacherous and I slipped more times than I would like to admit to but fortunately it was short, or at least it was short in retrospect. At the time it seemed like it was taking forever.

Toward the end of the ridge the trail became less and less distinct and after exploring around up there for a while I ended up taking a little side trail down to the road.

There were indications that I wasn't the only one who runs around up there.

Mainly glow sticks.

 Glow Stick

And more glow sticks.

 Glow Sticks

I still haven't seen one actually glowing though, even at night. Do you have to shake them?

At the road I was faced with a quandary. I was parked to the left but it was still very much "day" outside and I though I'd scratched a good bit of the exploratory itch, I didn't want to waste the day and it looked like there was another trail ahead of me. However, should I choose to continue exploring, somewhere down in the cove ahead of me there was private property. I'd met the owner years ago but the chance that he'd remember or recognize me was infinitesimal. The danger is that people don't always mark their borders, especially the ones facing into the woods. I mean really, who's going to be coming from that direction, right? Yeah. I've had fun with that before. The law says that until you're notified that you're trespassing and refuse to leave, you're not trespassing. Notification can take many forms but it has to be clear and authoritative. That's the law and all but sometimes people come up with their own take on the law, especially after a couple of beers. I've had fun with that recently too.

You can't be afraid of the wind though, right? Something like that. And the USFS does mark their borders, with bearing trees and big red stripes, or at least they usually do.


I walked for a while and even though I was confident that I was still in the NF, I was diligent, looking for signs, ribbons, fences, etc. Instead, this is what I found...

 Bear Bait

I know what that is. It was empty, but I know what it is. I'd seen a pair of them up off Rock Creek Road near Stanley Gap once. I've seen photos on the the USFS website. I watched a video of an archer kill a Cinnamon Boar feeding out of one on a hunting show once too. I was definitely still in the NF and as such, the owner might be more than a little upset with me for stumbling onto it. I scanned around for tree stands, simultaneously realizing the futility. I was wearing orange and I'd made plenty of noise in my approach. If there was a sufficiently unscrupulous hunter up there, I'd have long been dead.

I was on an old roadbed and it led along Gooch Creek itself for a while.

 Gooch Creek

At the eastern end of the road there was a nice little fence, clearly marking that end of the property.


Or so I thought. On the way back, I noticed this NF Boundary sign on a bearing tree that somebody had lazily just painted a blaze on rather than painting all the way around.

 NF Boundary


So who knows, I might have wandered onto private property for a little while there. Darn those sketchy borders. At least I know now.

At that point it was actually starting to get somewhat darker and more importantly, somewhat colder. I'd had enough for the day.

It was an easy march back. It was officially dark almost as soon as I got on the road and the moon was only a crescent but I could see and it would have been virtually impossible to get lost.

One thing that did suck though was the pain radiating out of every joint in my legs. Again, I forget. I get less mid-week exercise during the fall and winter and my legs get stiff. I have to make an effort to stretch or my joints ache when I finally do get out. What else am I forgetting?

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