20 Oct Bushwhacking Big Creek Trail
Saturday, October 19, 2013 – Bushwhacking Big Creek Trail – 14.1 miles
From McCaysville, GA continue through Copperhill, TN to Highway 64. Take Hwy 64 west to Ocoee water tower. Cross dam and continue on Forest Service (FS) Rd 45 for 3 miles to FS 221. Turn right and go 0.9 mi to Big Frog Trailhead on left. FS 45 and 221 are narrow gravel roads in satisfactory condition.
Route – Day 1
Low Gap Parking to Low Gap via Big Frog Mountain Trail – 2.4 miles
Low Gap to Grassy Gap via Grassy Gap Trail – 5.0 miles
Return on Grassy Gap Trail to Big Creek Trail intersection – 3.3 miles
Upper Big Creek Trail to Chimney Top on Big Frog Mountain (BFM) Trail – 1.8 miles
BFM Trail to Big Frog Mountain to Elderberry Spring on BMT back 0.3 mi on BFM Trail – 1.6 miles
I am really getting slack in my preparations for short weekend hikes; however, this trip was my wake up call. Left behind were my camp stove, cooking pot, spoon, and most importantly, my sleeping pad. I’ve always said that the sleeping pad is one of the 2 or 3 most important items to have on hand. Not for comfort, but for preventing heat loss through the cold earth.
My solution for the missing sleeping pad was to lay on top of my frame-less backpack. The backpack is built with a pad for support. This kept my upper body off the ground reasonably warm.
A stop at Wal-mart supplied me with a cooking pot and a can of catfood which I converted to some form of the Andrew Skurka stove by a poking a double circle of holes around the edge with my knife. (I didn’t pack the cat food and have it for dinner; only carried the empty can.
It was a cloudy day, but it didn’t rain. Big Frog Mountain trail was an easily walked 10 ft wide road bed most of the way to Low Gap. I cached my pack at along Grassy Gap trail where it intersects with Big Creek trail. I slack packed to Grassy Gap and back. Grassy Gap was breezy with a nice long view over and beyond the Beech Creek / Jacks River basin into Georgia.
The sign leaning against a rock is an omen warning you not to follow the Big Creek Trail on up to Chimney Top. The sign is nearly unreadable and the trail could easily be missed. The upper portion of Big Creek trail makes a slight angle uphill from the Grassy Gap trail. Beyond that point the trail usually seems to disappear or fall off the side of the slope or both. Someone marked parts of the trail with red surveyor tape tied around branches and a few red flag markers. Those kind that are usually used to mark utility lines before digging. Even with these aids, I had to occasionally stop to study the landscape in order to relocate or keep on the trail. Tim Homan’s book was also an aid since the hand drawn map showing trails and stream beds was useful in guessing my location. Although this part of the trail is in Tim’s book “Hiking Trails of the Cohutta & Big Frog Wilderness, I later found that the map signs at various BFW trail heads showed all trails with the exception of this trail. The autumn leaf fall only made picking out the trail harder than it might have been in the summer.
After a steep, slow, and thought provoking climb I made it up Big Creek trail to the intersection with Big Frog Mountain trail near the far side of Chimney Top mountain. Here I saw that there was no sign marking Big Creek trail and with the overgrowth no way to know that this trail was here unless you happened to be looking for it and noticed the pile of rocks. It was a good thing that I had earlier decided to return to my pack from Grassy Gap via the Grassy Gap trail rather than using Wolf Ridge Trail and Big Frog Trail to complete a loop to the top of Big Creek trail. I would have never found my turn onto Big Creek trail. I probably would have needed to go all of the way to Low Gap to make a loop back to my pack.
With only a little water left my plan was to make my way to Elderberry Spring to supply plenty of water for camping. I could have easily backtracked a little on Grassy Gap trail to Big Creek to fill water bottles, but I was sure that I would find water farther up Big Creek or at least be able to count on Elderberry Spring on Big Frog Mountain. The spring was dry so I returned to the far north end of Big Frog ridge and managed to supper and breakfast the next day with the 16 ounces of water I had on hand.
Sunday, October 20, 2013 – The easy part of Big Creek Trail – 11.6 miles
Big Frog Campsite to Low Gap – 2.8 miles
Yellow Stand Lead trail, Big Creek trail, and Grassy Mountain trail – 6.4 miles
Low Gap to FS221 Big Frog trail head on Big Frog trail – 2.4 miles
I was a little cold during the night and a little lazy the next morning so I got for what for me is a very late start, 9 AM. After hiking through the nearby rhodo tunnels I reached a beautiful overlook with an island mountain rising out of a sea of clouds filling an expansive valley.
At Low Gap I chose to cache my backpack in the woods and slack pack the easily walked 6.4 mile loop formed by Yellow Stand Lead trail, Big Creek trail, and Grassy Mountain trail. Yellow Stand leads to FS221 where a left turn on FS221 and short walk across the bridge brings you to Big Creek trail. There are nice car camping spots in this area along Big Creek. Big Creek was flowing slowly; not the steeply descending crashing creek that I had become accustomed to on some of my recent hikes in the Smokies. I found the more peaceful aspect of this mountain creek to be calming.
Back at Low Gap I picked up my backpack and listened to music as I returned to my car along Big Frog Trail.
The lower portion of Big Creek trail had one of the most expansive growths of Partridge Berries that I had ever seen. I snacked on 3 or 4 of these berries.