Sunday, February 4, 2018

Pinelog WMA - Sugar Hill

After my last, failed attempt to find the Sugar Hill mining camp ruins, I contacted B. Roberts directly and asked him if he could point me in the right direction. Indeed, he could, and did, and yesterday I was back at it.

Again, the north gate was closed, and again I had to hike in 3 miles, but I wasn't upset about it. It's a nice hike when it's not hot, and it was decidedly not hot. In fact, I'm pretty sure it was barely above freezing.

On the way in, I re-noticed a little structure down by Neel Lake that I'd seen before, and always wondered about.

Lake Jump Ramp

Ha! I know what that is!

Or, at least, I'm pretty sure, given its location. Looks like it hasn't been used in a long time though.

It doesn't look too structurally sound any more, and given its lack of transition, I'm not sure how much fun it was to begin with. I don't think I'll be jumping it next time I'm out there on the bike.

On the way in, I also walked out on the Upper Sugar Hill Creek Dam and got couple of photos of it, now that it's winter and you can actually kind-of make out stuff in the photos.

Upper Sugar Hill Creek Dam Ruins - East Side Upper Sugar Hill Creek Dam Ruins - West Side Upper Sugar Hill Creek Dam

I found a little connector trail between the two food plots (former lakes) too, and explored that.

The ruins, as it turns out, are located south of the second food plot, on the slope at the foot of the mountain, just before it really starts to kick up. There's a trail coming down off of the mountain into that general area, locally known as Gutter. The topo map from 1914 shows the same trail, with some structures along it, but it shows the trail with a bit of a different route. Everything has a bit of a different location on that map though. I figured it just wasn't super accurate, and that I'd already passed those structures, or whatever might be left of them, long ago.

Turns out, no, the map is accurate, Gutter has been rerouted, and the ruins are still there, right where the map says they ought to be.

I followed Gutter up a bit, then hung a hard right as it started to climb. From there, I scanned back and forth across the hillside, and figured I wouldn't fail to find what I was looking for.

At first I just found modern trash.

A pipe culvert that had gotten upended.

Old Modernish Pipe Culvert

An old tire graveyard.

Sugar Hill Tire Graveyard

I like this one.

Tire in a Tree

Some paint cans.

Paint Can

An abandoned camp site, but definitely a modern one.

Abandoned Camp Site

And tangles of deadfall.

It looked like the area had been logged at one point, then grew back as all pine, which had then had a tough time with storms and snow...

It was a bit of a mess.

But, I did, eventually, see some bricks off in the distance, and from then on it was all jackpot.

The first ruins I found were of a structure set up on various brick footings, surrounding a central chimney.

Sugar Hill Mining Camp - Footings and Chimney - Northeast … Sugar Hill Mining Camp - Footings and Chimney - Northeast …

The chimney had collapsed and was strewn out to the northwest. The base of it still remained in a bit of a pile though.

The next ruins were of a similar structure - brick footings surrounding a central chimney.

Sugar Hill Mining Camp - Footings and Chimney - South

There was less remaining of this one though.

Next, a double chimney.

Sugar Hill Mining Camp - Double-Chimney 1 Sugar Hill Mining Camp - Double-Chimney 2

The near chimney was double-sided. I.e. it had a fireplace on both sides and two flues. The far chimney was one-sided.

Footings and brick piles surrounded the chimneys in a wide rectangle.

Sugar Hill Mining Camp - Brick Pile Near Double-Chimney Sugar Hill Mining Camp - Footings Near Double-Chimney

It had been a large structure. They say there was a hotel in the camp at one point. Maybe this was the hotel. There were also barracks though, so maybe it was that. Somebody knows. Maybe someone from the Etowah Historical Society knows.

Not far away, I found the ruins of another double-sided chimney.

Sugar Hill Mining Camp - Double-Sided Chimney Ruin

There was a footing off by itself a ways away from that.

Sugar Hill Mining Camp - Lone Footing

And a brick pile a ways away from that.

Sugar Hill Mining Camp - Brick Pile

Then I found another entire structure, with the same layout as some of the others - central chimney, surrounded by footings.

Sugar Hill Mining Camp - Footings and Chimney - Northwest … Sugar Hill Mining Camp - Footings and Chimney - Northwest …

There was another set of footings just south of it too. Maybe part of the same structure, or maybe not.

Sugar Hill Mining Camp - Footings and Chimney - Northwest …

I found the landmark tree that B. Roberts had found too.

Sugar Hill Mining Camp - Landmark Tree

It kind of stands out.

Sugar Hill Mining Camp - Landmark Tree Wire

There was a wire sticking out of it.

Sugar Hill Mining Camp - In-Ground Storage Cut

Maybe a sign hung from it. "Welcome to Sugar Hell" I imagined.

North of that there were these 2 trenches in the ground, one of which had some roofing in it.

Sugar Hill Mining Camp - In-Ground Storage Roofing Sugar Hill Mining Camp - In-Ground Storage Eroded

In-ground storage?

The only other thing I found was this lawn and leaf bag, which was almost certainly not from the mining era.

Lawn and Leaf Bag

There was a bit of an old roadbed leading around the east side of the hill, directly to the double-chimney. If it led on from there, it was indistinct, but I bet if I pursued it, I'd find that it tees into Gutter, somewhere.

In the other direction, the old road led past some weird trenching.


The it basically led over to and along Little Log Creek. There was an old ford there too, and diving may way west, I think I figured out how it tees into the rest of the system. I'd have had to have explored some really, really obscure trails to have ever found this stuff.

I have a topo map from the 1940's that shows the location of the double-chimney, and alleges a dirt road leading to it. I didn't find that road, or any trace of it, unless it means to specify the road that I did find, and is just inaccurate.

On the way back, I found this old pipe and wash basin, just lying there a bit downhill from the main road.

Old Pipe and Wash Basin

They looked semi-period. There's a washed-out culvert on Little Log Creek that's composed of those kinds of ceramic pipes.

I had to jog out again, to beat the darkness and to get home in time for dinner, but it was a nice run, and I was happy that I was able to do it. I should run more.

Man! Finally!

It was more work than finding the Pool Furnace and Lewis Mill. It makes me wonder what else there is out there, way off trail, in Pinelog, or elsewhere.

Rope Mill (but not on the bike)

Goodness. The weather. Pretty all week, then garbage on the weekend.

As it was, I made it up to Rope Mill anyway, but not on the bike. I wanted to find the elusive waterfall that various neighborhood roads are named after, and that I swear I'd seen in a mountain-bike-related magazine or maybe even a book in the early 2000's, but never run into in 18 years of riding up there.

I'd also passed various other points of interest at various times, but always been too busy to get a photo of them, so I figured I'd do that, while I was at it.

First up, some ruins along North Rope Mill Road.

Ruins on North Rope Mill Road 1 Ruins on North Rope Mill Road 2

They're on private property, but you can see them from the road. They're a lot easier to see passing by though, as your brain filters out the trees.

Next - Gresham Mill.

Gresham Mill Gresham Mill and Dam

You can't miss it on the way in to Blankets, but I've always been antsy to get riding and never stopped to get a photo of it.

I was pretty sure where the waterfall was, having scoured various maps and satellite photos, and I was pretty sure how to get to it from Rope Mill, but it was basically in someone's backyard, and I wondered if I could just get to it from the neighborhood streets, so I drove around trying.

Nope. Private property. And given the abundance of private property signs on that street in particular, and dearth on every other street, it would see that I wasn't the only one who'd tried that.

Dangit, it would be a long walk in. I parked at the end of North Rope Mill, followed the gated road to the river, and followed the trail beyond that.

Some guys were fishing in the river. First bit of fishing I'd seen yet this year. I wondered if they'd had any luck, but the water was too loud for a quick conversation.

Last time I'd been in that vicinity, I found a mine adit up a little feeder creek.

I think I found another one just around the corner from it this time.

Collapsed Adit on Little River Trail

Hard to say for sure, but given all the gold mining that had been done in the area, it seemed likely.

I'd explored the area before, but on cursorily. This time I gave it a much more thorough examination, and made several new discoveries.

The first was an old WMA Gate.

Old WMA Gate 1 Old WMA Gate 2

The whole area was once the Little River WMA. In fact, before there were Rope Mill and Blankets Creek parks proper, that's how the old mountain bike books described the area.

Next, was a maze of old roadbeds, some still in use, others long abandoned.

And, finally, the waterfall itself.

Toonigh Creek Falls from the Top Toonigh Creek Falls from the Bottom

Toonigh Creek Falls, I guess should be its name, considering that it's on Toonigh Creek, and as far as I know, it's the only falls on the creek.

For as large and reasonably spectacular as it is, I'm amazed that it's not more popular. I've ridden in its vicinity for 18 years and never once heard anyone mention it.

Maybe it's kind of an accidental secret - all the locals know about it and don't think to mention it because everybody knows about it. I remember that kind of thing from the skateboarding days. A lot of spots were popular with locals and otherwise completely unknown.

While decoding the maze of old roads and trails, I found 2 more collapsed mine adits.

Collapsed Adit Above Toonigh Creek Another Collapsed Adit Above Toonigh Creek

Or maybe they were just surface trenches. Hard to say.

Either way, I'm pretty sure they were related to gold mining.

Sadly, that was all I did that day. Couple of hours wandering around in the soggy woods. I guess I made the best of it, but man, I'm really looking forward to some sun.

Pinelog on the Bike

That last excursion to Pinelog on foot made me want to get out there on the bike again, so the next day, I did that.

There were a surprising number of other mountain bikers out there too. A guy was riding out right as I got there. Another guy was coming back in, and I ran into a couple driving out with bikes on the roof later in the day.

It had snowed the previous week and rained the week before that. Every trail in the world was closed and the gravel roads had been a mess until that weekend. I guess that could account for it.

I was keen to get in some gravel miles, but I also wanted to check out a couple of dots from my old topo map and see if anything still stood at those locations.

The first one was on Davis Creek. I parked my bike near the rood and walked all around back in there. I found the spot that the old structure should have been at, but nothing discernible remained.

Nothing old at least. I did find this tarp.


But I'm pretty sure plastic like that didn't exist in 1914.

Back at the road, right as I was about to jump on my bike, I ran into a whole family of squirrel hunters walking toward me. The grandkids took off into the woods, chasing after little flitting sounds and the dad kept an eye on them. I spoke to the grandpa for a second. No luck yet, but really they were really just out there to let the kids burn off some energy after being cooped up for a week.

I knew the feeling.

As I rode up the road, I noticed that the DNR had trenched and bermed every little side trail on the south side of the WMA too. But that wasn't all they'd been up to. At the second ford there were new road signs.

New Road Sign

Donahue Road eh? They'd apparently renamed it. Dangit, all my maps would be wrong.

Grassy Hollow Road was now Grassy Hollow Loop. I climbed it, and really struggled up the steep chunks. The road was soft and climbing it was a wrestling match.

Near Grassy Hollow Gap proper there was a new clear cut too.

Grassy Hollow Area Clear Cut

Quite a few of those in the last few years. Somebody's getting their money's worth out of the timber up there.

There was a new gate up the road a bit too.

New Gates

Brand new. Nothing had existed there in the past.

I guess the idea was to be able to close off the really steep sections. I've seen people get stuck trying to climb them when they're super wet, and when they're super dry.

I noticed what might have been a pit mine next to the road too.

Pit Mine on Grassy Hollow Road

I'd actually seen that one before. It didn't strike me as anything but drainage before, but being able to see well down into it and having seen a lot of similar pit mines since, it struck me as something this time.

It turned out that every major intersection had a new road sign.

Another New Road Sign

The main gate had a sign on it too. Apparently the Grassy Hollow Loop starts at the south lot, runs up the (former) Main Road to the ford, follows Grassy Hollow Road to (former) Rock Quarry Road, hangs a right, and follows that back to the pavement.

I'd just ridden that. The roads weren't terrible, so I figured I'd do a left-hand loop too, up over Pinelog Gap and back on the highway.

I ran into another squirrel hunter near the gap. I'd passed his truck earlier. He'd apparently decided against pushing his luck with the soft road and parked halfway up the first climb. He was a mile or more from it, and looked like he was heading back when I saw him. Unlike the first group I'd run into, he'd had some luck - a couple of squirrels.

I'd had some luck too. I always say that there's no amount of not riding in the mountains that can keep you in shape for riding in the mountains, and I'd half-expected to have a terrible day. So far, it wasn't terrible though. The only trouble I'd had was with the soft roads. The climbing was fine.

There was another new gate somewhere on the north side of the gap. I had to duck under it.

Coming around the backside, I noticed all kinds of really colorful rock facing the old rail bed.

Colorful Rock (More so in Real Life)

It's unfortunate how badly my phone washed it out. In real life, that lichen at the top is super blue, and that yellowish bit is super green. It's striking.

I took a few photos of a few things that I'd noticed I'd never gotten photos of before.

Some cuts that I presume were borrow cuts for building the Upper Sugar Hill Creek Dam.

Upper Sugar Hill Creek Dam Borrow Cut 1 Upper Sugar Hill Creek Dam Borrow Cut 2

This hole cut into the backslope might have been the basement of some structure.

Basement of Former Structure

Tough to take a photo of a hole. Even worse when it's overgrown.

There's a dot on the old map at its approximate location, at least.

I rode out past the lake, which was no longer frozen, hung a left on the pavement, pushed back around to White, and climbed Stamp Creek Road over Wolfpen Gap, back to the lot.

I always pass the Red Mountain Mine cut when I'm doing that, and though I always want to take a photo of it, I'm also always super tired at that point, so I'd always been like "yeah, next time..."

Well, it was finally "next time" and I got a photo of it.

Red Mountain Mine

Such that it is.

With all the renaming of roads, I wondered if they'd updated the map at the kiosk, so I checked that out.

New Map

Yep. They sure did.

Back at the lot there was a guy with an ATV parked next to his van. The guy was deeply involved with something on his phone and didn't look up from it the entire time I was packing up. When he finally did, he just rode his ATV up onto his trailer and took off. I wondered if maybe he had been looking up regulations or something. ATV's are decidedly not allowed anywhere in the WMA.

Not a bad day. I had that good whole-body tired, but I felt better than I thought I would.

I'm a little anxious to ride some good trail though.

Come on, weather.