18 Aug Flats Mountain Hike – Citico Creek Wilderness Area
Flats Mountain Hike – Citico Creek Wilderness Area
View from Cherehola Skyway on morning of my start
August 14, 2010
I pulled the van over at Eagle Gap marked by a sign with the hiker/backpacker symbol and unloaded my mountain bike. I my collapsed hiking poles stuck out of the top of my day pack. I carried 8 oz bottles of water, homemade chlorine drops, a lighter, iphone, blackberry, fruit granola bars, and a mix of almonds, raisins, and dark chocolate covered almonds.
Mountain Biking between trailheads and hiking back to car.
It was a quick downhill descent for 4.6 miles on the Cherehola Skyway to the Indian Boundary turnoff. I was soon on unpaved forest service road where I continued the next 8 – 9 miles up and down past the lower Flats Mountain trailhead (marked with trail number 102 post) at Bee House Gap (elev. 2760 feet), Citico Creek, the right turn leading up Double Camp Creek, past the Mill Branch trailhead (96 sign post), and finally to the Crowder Branch trailhead (84 sign post). I hid my bike on a creek bank with a lock wrapped around a good sized tree.
Early on I came upon a noisy rattling bush where I could spy some sort of furry animal. It had no regard for my presence and continued its activity. With such commotion it seemed to be a good sized animal, but I couldn’t get a good look. Suddenly two squirrels exited the bush and went streaking around trees and back and forth, then finally down the trail directly toward me as if I didn’t exist. I considered the possibility of rabid squirrels I readied myself for defense as the approaching squirrels were about to land on me. Just before landing on me they sprung to an adjacent tree where they continued their mad chase farther away from me.
Crowder Branch was a 2.6 mile walk that was always close to water to within a tenth of a mile at its high point termination with Fodderstack Trail. The upper portions at times it went steeply up and in and between rocky drainages or stream beds where it was difficult to discern the next piece of trail. It later leveled somewhat at the higher elevations where the rocky drainages more spread out and muddy courses. There was a campsite in a large grassy clearing next to a barely flowing stream about a tenth of a mile from Fodderstack.
I turned south (right) on Fodderstack and quickly reached the intersection with Big Stamp Gap trail (water can also be found down this trail within two tenths of a mile and to the right). I continued south past the intersection of Mill Branch trail to the right (again, water and a campsite is down a steep hill about two tenths of a mile). There is no water on Fodderstack trail itself for most of its distance.
After a climb part way up Big Fodderstack Mountain, I turned right onto Pine Ridge Trail (99) and followed 35 miles. This was a very nice trail with a gradual steady descent and views into the south portion of the Citico valley. It soon began raining very hard and temperatures dropped. I had on raincoat so I kept moving to stay warm. About the time I reached Citico Creek the rain had eased off some.
I followed forest service road 345 south to Bee House gap and the lower trailhead of Flats Mountain trail. This trail was overgrown in places. My bare legs were bleeding from tearing briers and blackberry vines. The trail had gradual switchbacks in places where one would typically expect a direct approach. With overgrowth and meandering switchbacks, the trail seemed longer than its six miles. I moved across narrow ridge lines quickly as wind picked up and thunder began to rumble. Though wooded, much of this trail seemed exposed, but the storms were elsewhere.
Back to my van, after side trips to retrieve my bike and to the Subway Sandwich shop in Tellico Plains, I drove farther up the Cherehola into North Carolina. I pulled over at Mudd Gap, where a sign indicated that the Benton McKaye led from this point to Whigg’s Meadow 1.5 miles away. Wearing my Chaco sandels with hammock and sleeping bag stuffed in my day pack, sleeping pad strapped to the outside and pillow in hand, I stumbled my way up the weedy, muddy, and rocky road-trail to this beautiful spot. When I arrived, I came upon a parking lot and a number of people with tents set up in the meadow. I could have driven here. I strung my hammock up between two trees at the edge of the meadow and I drank my red wine and enjoyed the view.
Sunset at Whiggs Meadow (above)
August 15, 2010
I was awake as the sky barely began to lighten. It was still a long time before the sun would be over the horizon. In short order, I had my hammock and bag stowed in my day pack and I was hiking across the meadow and entering the darkened woods.
I pulled my van over to Stratton Meadows pull off where there were restrooms and picnic tables. I was able to spread out and prepare my oatmeal and Starbucks coffee (thank you Farley and Susan for the Starbucks 50th birthday present) while sitting at a picnic table. What a luxury to have a table!
This time, I parked at Rattlesnake and rode my mountain bike mostly 2 miles downhill to Grassy Gap. There were great views to enjoy as I crossed a bridge that spanned a small gorge.
The hike was down Grassy Branch Trail to the South Fork Citico Creek trail (Maura and I had already hiked S Fork Citico), then upstream direction to Jefferey Hell Trail and back to my van. Grassy Branch was a mossy, boulder, and fern mountain creek with little spillways and splashes. It felt lush and green. South Fork Citico Creek was beautiful with the larger pools and bigger drops of water. The hike on the South Fork reminded me of how hard this trail could be. It ascended steeply from the creekside and crossed heavily overgrown areas. I couldn’t believe that I took Maura on this trail when she was around 12 years old.
Jefferey Hell Trail was a little climb for a while, but quickly reached a road that for once wasn’t overgrown with stinging nettle and briars. This trail may have been the easiest hiking on the entire trip. I played with the GPS App on my Iphone as I walked this trail. The road appeared on the topo map and my track followed it to the intersection with the parking area at Rattlesnake on the Cherehola. Today was a nice day, but by the time I finished at noon, I could see clouds already forming.