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Topic: Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness, Trip Report and Photos< Next Oldest | Next Newest >
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markweth Search for posts by this member.

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PostIcon Posted on: Feb. 08 2013, 6:53 pm  Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Trip Report:
Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness, Nantahala National Forest, North Carolina
November 22-25, 2012



My initial visit to the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness, a three-night solo trip in June 2012, was love at first hike. Enchanting old-growth forest, cascading streams, wonderful single-track trails, superb vistas from Naked Ground and the Hangover -- all those individual features and the overall indescribable charm of the landscape had me planning a return trip before I was finished with the first one. It would be late November, Thanksgiving Day to be precise, before I returned to the area, but it was certainly worth the wait. Adding to the pleasure of the trip was the companionship of my good friend John. Our planned route would be less than 12 miles total over three nights, which would leave us with plenty of time just sit and be -- having a trip free of hurry and free of worry was our goal, rather than trying to cover as much ground as possible. Our itinerary (or perhaps lack thereof) and adequate gear for the somewhat unpredictable weather we might encounter at the higher elevations in late November allowed us to accomplish that goal.

After a breathtaking drive on the Cherohala Skyway, we arrived at the Jenkins Meadow trailhead parking area shortly after noon. We double-checked our packs and began the short walk down the paved road to the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest parking area and the beginning of the Naked Ground Trail. It was a pleasant Thanksgiving Day and we both felt incredibly thankful to be embarking on a three-night backpacking trip. Thankful that we had the physical ability to hike, thankful that we owned sufficient equipment and thankful that we had the social and financial freedom to “disappear” for a few days. And we were particularly thankful that by chance and ultimately by legislation thousands of acres of old-growth forest nestled on the slopes of one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world had been preserved for previous, present and future generations.

We set out on Naked Ground Trail at a leisurely pace and exchanged cheerful greetings with the various hikers who were returning to the trailhead parking lot after completing the short loop trail that passes through the most impressive stand of old-growth poplars in the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest. We had opted to save the loop for the end of our trip when we could hike without our packs and spend as much time as we desired without having to worry about making it to a campsite before dark. On my trip in June, I’d made mental notes about the frequency and quality of campsites along Naked Ground Trail and we arrived at the one I believe to be most ideal well before sunset, allowing us plenty of time to set up camp, filter water and set up a food-hang.


Campsite for our first night near Little Santeetlah Creek

Once the minimal camp “chores” were completed, we spent much of the time before dinner just relaxing by the stream that flowed behind our campsite and engaging in idle conversation. Speculation occurred as to whether or not we should wake up before sunset the next day and try to time our hike so that we reached Naked Ground and the junction with Haoe Lead Trail shortly after sunrise, although no conclusion was reached prior to retiring to our respective tents.

At perhaps 5:45 a.m. I awakened from a restful slumber to John’s soft-spoken morning greeting -- apparently he had the decision to rise early for both of us. He had also taken it upon himself to retrieve the food and brew a cup of coffee for each of use, which made the wake up call much more bearable on a chilly morning (temperatures were in the upper 20s according to a keyring thermometer). I enjoyed the first few sips of coffee from the comfort of my sleeping bag -- one of the most sublime pleasures of backpacking, in my opinon -- before emerging to reverse the process that I had completed upon arriving at camp the previous afternoon.


Packed up at sunrise

Fully packed and ready to hike at 7 a.m., our boots began the task of moving us along the remaining section of the Naked Ground Trail. The ascent was reasonable for about an hour, but the last mile was as tortuously steep as I remembered it. We reached Naked Ground and the junction with Haoe Lead Trail at approximately 9 a.m. Pausing for a snack and water break, we then continued on the Haoe Lead Trail under mostly sunny skies and a steady breeze towards the Hangover. The trail between Naked Ground and the Hangover was markedly different than when I had hiked it in June; the verdancy of summer had been replaced with the fallen leaves and muted earth-tones of winter.


Haoe Lead Trail

After arriving at the Hangover, we took a long break and soaked up the view -- at times in stunned silence, at times in excited chatter about the beauty of the landscape, and at times in grief-stricken reverence for the thousands of dead hemlock trees we could see in the drainages below, victims of the hemlock wooly adelgid. Aside from setting up our tents, we spent the remainder of the day at the Hangover.


A lounge with a view . . .

The entertainment for the afternoon and early evening was watching clouds and fog roll into the valleys and eventually to the higher elevations -- by the time we retired to our tents after dinner the fog was so thick that visibility was only a few dozen feet. Although it had warmed to the mid-50s during the day, once the clouds rolled in the temperatures dropped to the mid-30s and a light mist was being pushed by the ever steadier and stronger winds. It was really an amazing sight to behold: the mist made the wind gusts visible and it was spellbinding to see the typically invisible force of wind rendered visible. Fortunately, the dense vegetations and rock outcroppings allowed us a spot sheltered from the wind to cook. We enjoyed hot tea and trail mix as a pre-dinner snack, and the soothing and warming effect of the tea was immediate.


Fog


Sheltered kitchen

Shortly after darkness fell and the weather became more damp and windy, we retreated from the Hangover to our tents. Over the course of the night, I learned a valuable lesson about campsite selection. I consider myself an experienced backpacker (over 150 nights, mostly on the Cumberland Plateau) but I made one of the most simple mistakes in choosing where to set my tent up -- I picked the windward side of the crest and paid the price. The site was aesthetically very pleasing. There was just enough opening in the rhododendron to pitch my tent, exposed rock made a visibly interesting backstop; it seemed like an inspiring place to wake up. However, stiff winds hit my tent (Mountain Hardwear Skyledge 2.1, for gear nerds like myself) all night and although I had staked my tent out sufficiently, powerful gusts woke me up every hour or so. Combine that with the disagreement between my digestive system and a Backpacker’s Pantry meal for dinner, and it definitely wasn’t the best night’s sleep I’ve ever had in the backcountry.

However, a fitful night’s sleep was a small price to pay to wake up at 5,000 feet in a rhododendron winter wonderland. Frost and a light dusting of snow covered everything outside my tent. The temperature was in the upper teens but the sky was blue and sunny and it warmed up quickly. John and I returned to the Hangover for breakfast and the views were beyond anything either of us had imagined seeing on the trip:


Frost on the mountains


Enjoying the view


Camping in a rhododendron winter wonderland

Rather than packing up and moving on to another campsite, we decided to spend our third and final night at the same location. Other than a trip down Deep Creek Trail to filter water, we just lounged around the Hangover the rest of the day and watched the snow melt. There’s definitely something to be said for being semi-sedentary in the outdoors for extended periods of time. Immersion in the landscape, which is one of my favorite aspects of backpacking, is experienced in a different way when you’re hiking and when you’re just being somewhere. Both have their merits and on this trip we enjoyed the merits of simply sitting and being in awe. There was the awe at the dramatic view and the stunning mountains, but also of the incredible biodiversity that wasn’t readily visible. The streams and vegetations of the southern Appalachian mountains contain such a multitude of species that it is beyond comprehension.

I slept much better the third and final night (I moved my tent to a better location) and we packed up slowly the next morning before enjoying (as much as you can enjoy leaving a beautiful landscape) a leisurely hike to the Volvo via the Haoe Lead and Jenkins Meadow trails.

Three nights was not nearly enough in such a beautiful place, but fortunately we were only out of the woods for a night before embarking on a three-night backpacking trip in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I intend to post a trip report for that hike in the near future.


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Mostly Southeastern Outdoor Scenery: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mvweth
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Tipi Walter Search for posts by this member.

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PostIcon Posted on: Feb. 08 2013, 7:14 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Thanks for sharing this trip report into the holy Slickrock and onto the mighty Hangover.  I've spent many a night atop the high ground there between Bob Bald, Naked Ground and the Hangover.  There's a water spring in the clearcut section of the mountain.  Here are some pics too of a few of my old trips.


The Hangover can get devilishly cold and the cold finds me at the end campsite near the overlook rocks.



I don't know if you noticed or not but the wonderful head honchos of the forest service came out in November 2007 and clearcut the top of the Hangover and left it a mess.  They landed a helicopter on top for a fire 2 miles away.  Weird since the place is a designated wilderness area.  



Here's a view of the Hangover (left) with "Four Mile Ridge" behind and Haoe Peak and Naked Ground Gap.  It's taken from the Citico side on Fodderstack Ridge.  You can't see Naked Ground as it's to the right.


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Hiker01 Search for posts by this member.

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PostIcon Posted on: Feb. 08 2013, 8:08 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Very nice!! And you can backpack there for free.
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Tipi Walter Search for posts by this member.

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PostIcon Posted on: Feb. 08 2013, 9:01 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

95% of the places in the Southeast and in the mountains of TN, NC, VA and Georgia are free.

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ashepabst Search for posts by this member.

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PostIcon Posted on: Feb. 11 2013, 11:24 am Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

thanks for the report. i, too, like to plan lazier trips -- to spend more time soaking it in rather than rushing to cover mileage.

i made the mistake of tenting in the clearing at Saddle Tree Gap on a moist evening... had a dew-covered tent within an hour of setting it up.


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PostIcon Posted on: Feb. 12 2013, 10:17 am Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Definitely plan on heading up this way spring/summer. I've got to get away from those Smokies robber-barons.
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PostIcon Posted on: Feb. 13 2013, 10:22 am Skip to the previous post in this topic.  Ignore posts   QUOTE

Great report & trip! And I'm with you on just getting out into nature and fully immersing yourself in nature. If your through hiking and have to cover X amount of miles a day that is completely understandable to stay on schedule...but when you can just go out and set up camp and then laze around and take in the scenery or read a book its even better IMO.

I ride my motorcycle up and around Lake Santeetlah but I've never hiked that area. Didn't even know there were hiking trails right there. Now I want to hike along the creek up to that ridge and check it out myself!
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