Monday, May 25, 2015

Upper Chattahoochee

"My wanderlust knows no satiety" is how I described my state of mind on Clark's voicemail. I'd hoped that his had grown a little dissatisfied as well, and perhaps it had, but he proved to be difficult to get a hold of as this past Sunday approached. We both have busy schedules and it's difficult to coordinate sometimes. He did end up calling me back, as it turned out, but I didn't get the message because I was in the middle of the woods at the time.

"The middle of the woods" being the Mark Trail Wilderness between FS44 and the Blue Ridge.

I drove up there Sunday afternoon and got on the trail around 1:30 or so. Just getting there was its own Adventure though. Being the Memorial Day weekend, cars were backed up for miles north and south of Helen. As I saw the line of cars, I spun back to a gas station to hit the restroom, grab some snacks, and fuel up, only to find that they were out of gas except for premium. Fortunately they weren't out of food, and their bathroom was in good shape. To get where I was going though, I had to take Asbestos road and Alt 75 around Helen, and to fuel up, I had to hit the gas station north of town in Robbinsville, which was as busy as I've ever seen it. But! Then, finally I was able to get on the trail.

"The trail" being the Upper Wilks Creek Trail. That's not an actual trail name. I named it that. Clark and I started exploring it the last time we were up that way, but gave up as it merged with a nearby creek and became this soggy mess.


I pushed through that this time though, only to eventually find the actual end of the trail, for real, not much further up. Turns out we weren't missing much by having turned back where we did.

When the trail petered out, I kept going uphill. Old FS44F was up there somewhere. Of that I was certain. The hillside did get pretty steep before I found it, but fortunately I've shed some of my winter pork and it wasn't like last time where I had to walk 20 feet, rest, walk 20 more, rest... I was able to keep moving the whole time, albeit slowly.

Up on 44F, the gall wasps appeared to have been having their way with the local foliage.

Gall Wasp Ball Another Gall Wasp Ball

There were other insects flying around up there too. I saw a pair of some weird bee-looking things (but not gall wasps) mating - hooked together, one flying backwards, like love bugs. I've never actually seen that, except with love bugs. Those were the only interesting insects. The rest of them just kept landing on me and crawling around.

The foliage itself was somewhat interesting too.

Lots of Chestnut...


...and Striped Maple...

Striped Maple

...and tickweed...

Tick Weed

(just what I all it, I'm sure it has a real name)

...and Wild Azaleas!...

Wild Azaleas

...and May Apple...

May Apple

...and the Trilliums that me and Clark saw last time are really getting big now.


The backslope was covered in ferns. Ferns forever. Nothing but ferns. As far as the eye could see.


As interesting as all that was, I had another objective being up there. Last time we were up there, me and Clark had followed the Naked Mountain Branch Trail as far as it seemed to go. But then, later, when I compared the GPS data to the old low-res USGS quads, the route we'd taken didn't come close to matching the map, above the waterfalls. There'd been a spur that we hadn't taken, and I'd seen a spur leading down from 44F. I was curious if the two joined up.

The spur was tough to find though. It was super clear last time, but since then, everything has leafed out and the brush had grown up. I walked past it and back past it, 3 or 4 times before eventually just walking downhill until I found it and then backtracking to find where it hits 44F. If I hadn't known it was there, there's no way I'd have seen it.

But I did find it, and it was semi-easy to follow, and it sort-of went where I expected it to, and I made a few discoveries before it joined back up with the trail we'd been on before.

First, there was this gnarly old poplar shell.

Old Dead Poplar

All the limbs were gone, but the bark still looked kind-of alive. It was quite large. I could have climbed inside of the hollow. In retrospect, I should have taken a photo with the camelback in front, for scale, but that didn't occur to me at the time.

Further down, there was this big chunk of pyrite in the middle of the trail.

Big Chunk of Pyrite

It was like a foot and a half across. Again, should have put the camelback down there for scale.

And then there was this old cable.

Logging Cable

That's about the dozenth cable I've found way up in the woods. It might have been tied across the trail at some point, or maybe it was used to haul logs out at some point. Either way, it's been up there for a long time.

When I got down to Naked Mountain Branch, I wasn't 100% sure that I was on the right trail. It seemed like I was following the right creek, and it seemed that I was in the right general area, geographically, but I didn't recognize it at all with all the brush and leaves.

Passing the little shelter along the creek confirmed my location though.


"Ok, good. I am where I think I am."

Always a good feeling.

Last time we were up there, we saw a trail leading up along Henson Creek, where it diverges from Naked Mountain Branch, but we left it alone at the time. It was clearly a much older trail, as the construction of the main trail had obliterated the intersection, leaving the old trail suspended 4 or 5 feet up the backslope.

I followed it though, and man was it difficult to follow. It was super overgrown, crossed the creek a dozen times, and the brush on the hills to either side was just as dense, so I couldn't just parallel the old trail. There was hog rooting all over the place too, and it looked like the pigs had worn in their own trail.

Pig Trail

There was a small trickle of a waterfall up there, but nothing spectacular.

Small Falls on Henson Creek

Eventually the trail joined the creek and never diverged again. The creek then dried up, and the woods opened up to either side. I just kept walking uphill. I figured I'd hit the ridge around Henson Gap and take the AT back east around to the car.

The whole area up there is bear country, and though I didn't see a bear, I did see this mark on a tree just above the creek.

Bear Territory

I've heard of bears marking their territory by tearing the bark off of trees. I've seen such things before, but not where I could definitively say that it wasn't likely done by humans, maybe looking for tinder. This mark was up above arms reach though, at least for a person. Plus it was seriously in the middle of nowhere. It seemed, at least, a good candidate for having been made by a bear.

And then there was this really large Poplar too.

Large Poplar Near Henson Creek Large Poplar Near Henson Creek Again

This time, it did occur to me to put my camelback down at the foot of it for scale.

Man, it was big! The lowest branches had to be 60 feet up. I had a hard time being sure that it was a Poplar even. It's not as healthy as the Gennett Poplar at Bear Creek, but it's bigger around for sure.

I proceeded uphill along one of the little spines of Spaniards Knob, hoping to hit the ridge west of Henson Gap. Somewhere up there, I found a long vein of chunky, exposed rock and climbed that rather than kicking my way through all the ferns and tickweed.

I ended up a little further west than I'd intended, but it worked out, and after a short descent, I made it to the AT at Henson Gap.

AT at Henson Gap

As luck would have it, there was a good log there, for a-setten down, and I had a little snack.


I also assessed the shape of my body. It's not unusual to get scratched up off trail, but there was something in the air today. Pollen, spores, or something. Maybe fern spores. Whatever it was, I was clearly allergic. All my scratches were swollen and puffy. The older ones were starting to calm down, but they were still a lot worse than usual. One on my neck was so puffy that I'd notice it when I'd turn my head. I'd already had two coughing fits and I'd been sneezing a lot too. Ugh.

The damage was mostly confined to my ankles and forearms though. The scratches were calming down. Sitting there at the gap, my sinuses cleared up too. Ok. I was good. No immediate danger at least.

Some hikers came through after a few minutes. They'd started at Arkaqua Gap, hiked that up to Brasstown, taken Jacks Gap to the AT, and were heading towards their car at Unicoi. Hmmm... Sounds like a good route, actually. Might need to try that one some day.

They were getting close to the end, so they kept moving. I finished my little meal and hit the trail myself. Compared to what I'd been on, the AT felt like a sidewalk, so I jogged it. I passed the group I'd seen at the gap near Blue Mountain. On Blue Mountain, I ran into the shelter steward and talked to him for a few minutes. Up on Blue Mountain, I passed 3 more hikers.

At FS44F, I hung a right and kept going. It was a little rough for jogging so I walked out on it. Near the end I saw a cigarette on the ground, and it reminded me of the Nicorette gum Clark'd found last time we were up there. Too bad Clark packed it out. The cigarette guy might have found it and chewed it instead.

At 44 I hung a right and made tracks back to the car.

I did take one short detour into the old food plot right there next to Old 44F though. Most of it was overgrown, but this flowing little meadow did still remain. It was barely visible from the road. I'm not sure I'd have seen it if I wasn't on foot.

Meadow Near Old FS44F

I grabbed some dinner in Cleveland, at the Cancun Grill. I think that's the name. Something like that. When the waitress brought me my ticket, I asked "Pay here, or up front?" but from the shocked and concerned look that instantly shot across her face, she must have thought that I said something entirely different. So I rephrased it: "Should I pay you here, or go over to the register to pay?" "Ohhhhh!" (relieved) "Whichever you like." I racked my brain trying to figure out what she thought I'd said, but I couldn't come up with anything. Felt a little bad for the misunderstanding though.

So, re-reading this now, it seems like I had a pretty good time. But, I guess I'm leaving some details out. It was extremely difficult. More difficult than it was rewarding. The undergrowth shredded me and the deadfall beat me to pieces. It involved extended climbs, off trail, directly up the side of the mountain, twice. Whatever it was that I was allergic to gave me the business. The only wildlife that I saw was that one pair of bugs. All-in-all, if you had to pick a hike to miss, that would have been a good one. I mean, it wasn't terrible, and I did find some really interesting stuff, but it's definitely more fun to read about than it was to do.

And yet, I'll probably be back up there in a few weeks, right back at it again.

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