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Big South Fork NRRA, Day 1
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Shawn Basil
(Bearpaw) - F

Locale: Southeast
Big South Fork NRRA, Day 1 on 01/06/2008 11:37:49 MST Print View

This hike was originally planned as a 38-miler over four days as I hike the John Muir Trail in Big South Fork and Pickett State Park from Leatherwood Ford to Pickett's JMT Trailhead on HWY 154.

Due to a minor injury, but mostly unseasonably cold weather, I reduced the trip to about 23 miles over 3 days, including a comfortable night with my fiancee at Charit Creek Lodge. Despite changes it was an excellent trip with great views, harsh cold, creature comforts, and good memories.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

After obtaining a permit from the rudest Park Serv ice Employee I've ever met, my fiancee and I headed to Leatherwood Ford. Temps were dropping instead of warming, and my thermometer read 32 degrees, the warmest I would see on my hike. We took a couple of pics, and I headed over the footbridge across the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River.
Trail blaze for Big South Fork's John Muir Trail

I headed up the river and churned up my first set of switchbacks. At the top the JMT begun swooping under and around a host of rock formations.

I avoided most of the optional loop of overlooks after nearly being cut in half by the windchill at Angel Falls Overlook.

From here I had about 4 1/2 miles to go to my originally planned campsite, but when I got there, the trail was miraculously the only thing cleared of storm damage. The good campsite that once existed there was no more. However, it was only about 1:45, so I headed on to another promising looking spot about 3 miles further up. But once I got there, no water in the little stream bed. I was already getting a little dehydrated since I had left my platypus system at home, knowing it would certainly freeze up in the low teens predicted.

I then pushed on another to miles to where I knew there would be level ground and water near Station Camp Creek. As the sun began dropping behind the ridges, the flurries which had occurred throughout the day began to pick up.

About a mile before finding camp, I turned my left ankle on some snow and leaf-covered rocks. It hurt. A LOT. I tightened my boot and eased on, finding the pain receded somewhat along the way. I changed into dry layers, set up my tarp, gathered water, quickly cooked dinner, and settled in with a hot water bottle. Miraculously, I had to peel off my down jacket an hour later when, despite a temperature of 18, I was too hot. My quilt did me proud.

Shawn Basil
(Bearpaw) - F

Locale: Southeast
Big South Fork NRRA, Day 2 on 01/06/2008 11:43:16 MST Print View

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

I awoke after a remarkably warm night to a temperature of 12 degrees, a colder reality than I thought my homemade quilt could have handled. My tarp and bivy had kept me dry and reasonably shielded from the wind over a very cold night of flurries.


Unfortunately, my ankle screamed at me when I put weight on it. I lay back down and proceeded to massage it and stretch it. I then found that with care, I could walk on it, with a bit of help from my trekking poles. As I cooked breakfast I considered my options.

The JMT continued another 21 miles and predicitons were that tonight would be colder than last night. I might manage it with ibuprofen and an ace bandage, but I wasn't sure if I really wanted to, both due to my ankle's discomfort and the prospect of a colder day of hiking than yesterday. I couldn't really stop and rest during the day without breaking out all my cold weather gear. I had done nearly 15 miles the previous day (of a planned 10.5 miler), and had only stopped with a pack off 3 times, never for more than 15 minutes. I didn't care for another day like this when temps were supposed to be 10 degrees colder.

My fiancee was spending two nights at Charit Creek Lodge, a Christmas to herself while I was of backpacking. A look at my map showed Charit Creek Lodge to be only four miles away down an old road bed. I might not be allowed to stay with her since I didn't have a reservation, but I could at least visit, warm up, and move on to camp a mile beyond. I decided to give this a try. Thus, I packed up and headed over the bridge across Station Camp Creek.


My ankle was tender and it felt like someone shoved a pair of pliers under the skin, clamped down on muscle, and twisted every time I polled the ankle on hidden rocks. But as the ankle warmed up, ibuprofen kicked in, and the harsh trail turned to gravelled roadbed, I became more comfortable, with only a mild limp as I walked. The frozen mud kept collecting on my trekking poles.
A real Tennessee mudcicle......

After several stream crossings in which I managed to just keep the water below the goretex liner, I managed to reach Charit Creek Lodge.

I was pleased to find Leslie was the only guest there, and the host had already assured her I could stay with no problem. We even had our own cabin.......
complete with double sized bunk and stove...
and a couple of extra bunk warmers, Sissy and Owen......

In exchange for helping move some propane bottles, wheelbarrow some firewood, and starting a fire in the dining hall's stove, Chris (the caretaker) even hooked me up with a share of the lodge's dinner of steak and fried potatoes. After a tough first day, I was finding a bit of heaven in a very cold place. Night-time temperatures dropped down into single digits that night, and I stayed warm and happy in the 50's in our cabin.

Edited by Bearpaw on 01/06/2008 11:43:57 MST.

Shawn Basil
(Bearpaw) - F

Locale: Southeast
Big South Fork NRRA, Day 3 on 01/06/2008 11:47:40 MST Print View

Thursday, January 3, 2008

I was up early since I knew my fiancee was heading out fairly early and getting a ride to my truck. The 9-degree temperature was bracing as I stepped out of the warm cabin. I wanted to walk out and see Twin Arches along the way. Many switchbacks gave way to steps and actual staircases. I headed out and up and quickly arrived at South Twin Arch.

North Twin Arch also provided a great view.

I continued up the way until I hit the last staircase, the biggest one yet.

It gave way to fantastic views back into Charit Creek Gorge.

I pushed on up to the parking lot. Frost was forming in my beard, and I decided to keep walking up the gravel road rather than sit and chill (in the most literally and unpleasant sense of the word). A mile and a half up the gravel road, my truck rounded the bend and I slid into its warmth. Happily, I noted the pain in my ankle was barely noticeable. And the frost quickly melted away from my beard. Though I had not hiked the full JMT section I had planned, I had enjoyed the experience very much, and looked forward to returning to the area in the future.

charlie babbage
(babbage) - F
Re: Big South Fork NRRA, Day 1 on 01/06/2008 16:00:14 MST Print View

BP you should right a book. I always enjoy reading your posts -you might have a hidden novelist in there somewhere. I want to know what camera you have- those pics are really good.

Shawn Basil
(Bearpaw) - F

Locale: Southeast
Re: Re: Big South Fork NRRA, Day 1 on 01/06/2008 17:21:51 MST Print View

"I want to know what camera you have- those pics are really good."

I use an Olympus SP-350, a slightly heavier digital (7.5 oz), but with an outstanding ergometric grip for taking shots. It also runs on 2 AA batteries which is a requirement for longer hikes where I wouldn't have a chance to recharge the NiCad batteries common in many lighter cameras.Olympus SP350

Tom Clark
(TomClark) - MLife

Locale: East Coast
Re: Big South Fork NRRA, Day 1 on 01/06/2008 18:26:10 MST Print View

I heard about Big South Fork when I lived in OH and TN, but never made it there. Great photos of some terrific scenery. I hadn't realized how rugged looking it was. Thanks for sharing.

Chris Lowe
(TNChris) - F

Locale: North Carolina
BSF on 01/09/2008 17:49:32 MST Print View

I love the BSF, I used to go all the time while living in Knoxville but recently relocated to Winston-Salem, NC so it's a long haul for me now. I'll have to get the JMT through there done some time though; nice pics and nice report. Sometimes it's ok to just give up on the hardcoreness and throw down at the lodge. I was in the smokies at the same time and it was cold for sure...

Tom Perry
(hikertom84) - F
"Your Trip" on 01/09/2010 21:34:14 MST Print View

Wow, Charlie aint kiddin,I really enjoyed reading ur post alot,mabye hes right!You should really consider writing a book about your journeys.I know Id definetly buy a copy, and i'm sure many others as-well.Thank you for sharing, you indeed do have a talent worth taking note-of.Ive shared some of your posts with a couple of relatives of mine who are writers, and they are also impressed! Please get out and hike some more, so we all can read about more of ur adventures!