Monday, June 3, 2013

Assault on Big Frog Take 1

Big Frog in Winter.  Photo taken by Jackie
     In honor of Nation Trail Day, Jackie and I decided to try and tackle hiking Big Frog Mountain in Polk County Tennessee.  Big Frog is one of the largest mountains in the local area, reaching around 4,200 feet in height.  Also to the west, there are no mountains that are higher than Big Frog until Texas and South Dakota are reached.  Big Frog was designated as a wilderness area in 1984, the same year that I was born.  With looking at this mountain for my entire life, I have always wanted to climb it.  I mean it is the tallest peak around and the wilderness and I are basically the same age so I had more reason to go to the top.  I have "hiked" to the top of Clingman's Dome, the highest point in the state, several times and so I figured that if I could climb the Dome that I could bag Big Frog.  Recently I began to research the trails that lead up to it.  From Tennessee there are three trails go to the top of the mountain and there is one that come from Georgia.  I looked over the trails.  I wanted to hike the Benton MacKaye Trail up the mountain, but did not know if we would have the time to do most of the mileage.  So I looked at Wolf Ridge Trail, the shortest route up the mountain, and discarded it because it is supposed to be the most strenuous trail.  Then I looked at Licklog Ridge Trail, but it was longer than the others and since we were not planning on camping out, I decided against a 12+ mile day hike, even though we would fly coming down the mountain.  I did not want to hike in from Georgia since the drive would cut into the hiking time.  So, that leaves Big Frog Trail, 5.6 miles of mountain climbing trail.
Copied from
Wilderness Sign, in the wilderness.
     We got a later start than we planned, but still got to the trail head before 12.  We were also the only ones at the trail head, which surprised me.  The trail starts out on an old Forest Service Road and begins a gentle climb.  There was grass growing along the road, with the trail leading through it. After about a mile, we came to a sign by the trail saying that we were entering the Big Frog Wilderness.  I was slightly surprised to see this sign in the woods.  It was a nice sign, just not what I expected.  There are several wet weather streams that run across the trail but did not pose a problem to us.  We kept climbing and climbing the shallow grade.  Then I felt something on my leg.  I looked down and there was a tick.  No surprise, I mean we were walking through grass along the trail so there was bound to be a tick some place.  We brought Mia with us, and she had two ticks attached and going at it on her.  Then Jackie found a tick crawling her leg.  This gave me a slight pause, four ticks in less than a mile on the trail?  We did not spray any Cutter or Off on ourselves before we left so it was a chance we were taking.  The grass thinned out ahead so we kept going.

The trail then met with Rough Creek Trail.  Rough Creek Trail runs for 3 miles in a North-South fashion and connects Big Frog, Fork Ridge, and Licklog Trails.  I was thinking of coming down Fork Ridge and cutting across Rough Creek but the trail looked rough and over grown so I decided against that.  We climbed to Low Gap and turned left following Big Frog Trail on up the mountain.  At Low Gap, there was a trail running down off the ridge to the right and someone had taken a permanent marker and wrote Grassy Gap on the sign pointing at a faint, faint, faint and over grown trail going between the two trails.  After going through the gap, the trail shot up.  It was a steep slog up the mountain.  We hiked past several good camping spots that people had made in the past.  Along the way, we found six more ticks on Mia and ourselves.  Then it happened.  3.4 miles into the hike, 2.2 miles from the top, and around 1,200 feet higher than where we started we were stopped.  The trail hit an area where it was overgrown by grass and ferns.  It was a lovely spot to look at.  I looked at the faint hint of a trail showing through all the green and then at Jackie and Mia.  We were up to ten ticks and would probably get ten more just passing through this grassy area.  I was planning on eating lunch at the top of the mountain.  We were all a little hungry.  Grass.  Food.  Ticks.  Decisions...  With a sigh, I remembered that not everyone reached the summit on their first push and some people who did, did not come back to tell their tale.  I looked and Jackie, petted Mia on the head and said, "Let's turn around."
     So, down the mountain we went.  We stopped at a camping spot right above Low Gap and fixed our lunch of Grilled Cheese Sandwiches.  The new Trangia stove did a good job of cooking the sandwiches.  I misjudged how much alcohol I would need and ran out.  It was not a problem though.  I also bought the Trangia Gas burner and finished cooking lunch.  Both systems worked great.  There was a pretty good wind blowing and I did not have the stove really protected so that helped burn off the alcohol faster.  Looking back on the hike, Jackie and I enjoyed it.  If there were not so many ticks, or we were better prepared for them we would have went on, I think.  I was surprised by the way the trails looked.  In several of my guide books and areas on the internet, people have said how well maintained the trails were.  From what I saw, I would rate these trail maintenance as mediocre.  Still though, trees were blooming and there were flowers growing all along the trail to add color to the woods and I enjoyed the hike.  Aborted or not.  Jackie and I have been talking about it and we will try to reach the top again.  This time though, we will probably go up the path of the Benton MacKaye Trail.  I drove over to its trail head and it looked more maintained.
These were blooming along the trail after the first mile.

Links for more information:
Benton MacKaye Trail information on the Big Frog Section:
Summit Post Information:
Sherpa Guide Information:
Forest Service Page:
TNWild Big Frog Map

Sunday, May 26, 2013

An Old Time Favorite

     Well after many chores this morning, we decided to go for a short hike.  After a short discussion, we decided to go to Rattlesnake Falls.  We have been to this waterfall several times in our years together; so it is like an old friend.  The hike itself isn't too long, 1.5 miles there and back.  The parking for the hike is free.  Free is always good.  The only time it isn't, is when the lot is full.
     When we arrived today, there was a family standing by the trailhead and looking at the info kiosk.  Mom and dad were trying to figure out where to go, because the trail splits and one goes up the mountain, past Benton Falls, and to the campground and the right hand branch goes to Rattlesnake Falls, they asked which one would be better.  We told them that they should go to Rattlesnake since they had smaller children.  They said ok and let us get ahead of them.  We did not tell them about the two creek crossing, but after we passed them, we did not see them again.  After a short climb up from the parking lot the trail splits at this sign, go right along the Scenic Spur Trail and to Rattlesnake Falls.
The first trail sign.  Stay right to go to Rattlesnake Falls.
     After passing this sign, the trail goes into a saddle and then up the ridge.  If you choose, you could go left at the sign and then cut right at an unsigned post and be on the trail.  That way is a little less strenuous but it does not cut off distance.  After climbing to the top, the trail drops again and goes through some timber and comes to another cross trail
The second trail sign.  About a half mile in.
Stay strait here to go to Rattlesnake.  The first water crossing is about a third of a mile from this sign.  It is the worst, in terms of trying to stay dry, if you are that type.  The rocks are clumped together on the parking lot side of the creek, but not really close enough together on the other to keep from getting wet.  There was a downed tree that we walked across today.  I do not know how long it will be there but I was a little worried going across it.  The trail then climbs, levels out, and climbs again but it is not strenuous.  After leveling out the trail begins to drop and there is the second creek crossing.  This one has rocks all across so unless there is a super amount of water flowing, it should be a strait forward crossing.
     After the second crossing, the trail begins to climb again.  Fairly strait up climb.  Then, with the water flowing in the creek below, you hear it.  Walking a little more you can begin to see it through the trees...  A waterfall!  It is a nice waterfall, casting spray and noise down the little valley.  Walking a little further the trail runs into a rock bluff.  Turn right and ease through the slippery rocks and mud and this is the sight.
This is Lower Falls or Rock Creek Falls.  The first waterfall you come to.
This is the way down to Lower Falls.
Go up along the bluff face to go back to Rattlesnake Falls.

After taking a break, turn back up the bluff and walk past the trail and begin scrambling along the bluff face and work your way along the top to reach Rattlesnake Falls.  I am not sure what the waterfall we just left is named.  Some people call it Rock Creek Falls and others just call it the waterfall.  After scrambling up the bluff, follow the worn trails up the creek.  The Forest Service tries to trick you into thinking the bottom falls is what you want to see, but with about .1 mile of bush whacking, you can see Rattlesnake.  All of the hiker made trails end at the creek.  To really see the waterfall, you must rock jump across and up creek.  I meant to take a picture of the rock garden you have I go through, but I was busy carrying the dog and helping the wife...
     After all the work, this is your sight..
Rattlesnake Falls
Rattlesnake Falls. There are rocks to rest on and it is a good place to eat a picnic lunch if you have one.  Also there is a swimming hole if you are so inclined.  I got some water from the falls and put it in the kettle with my new Trangia stove to see how it does in the wild, but lots of people kept coming up and I got tired of shooing dogs and kids away from a warm stove and aborted the test.  Hopefully a kit report will be following at some point. 
     So once you are done at the waterfall, all that is needed is to retrace your steps back to the parking lot.  If you are inclined, the Clemmer Trail runs up to the top of the mountain and past Benton Falls.  The Clemmer Trail is what the Spur Trail branches off of.  We have hiked it before.  It is not bad.  Just give yourself some time.  We ran out of daylight before making it back to the car when we did it.  Round trip is around 9 miles.  If you take the Clear Creek Trail, it goes to Highway 30 by a picnic table or up the mountain to the lower camping area.  I have only hike about 3-3.5 miles of Clear Creek and was not impressed.  But if you are in the area, maybe rafting/kayaking/canoeing the Ocoee River, and want a quick hike then this trail to Rattlesnake Falls is a good choice.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Virgin Falls Pocket Willderness

     This trip is a difficult trip for me to write about.  Mainly, because I did not enjoy it.  There was nothing wrong with the hike or anything like that.  I was sick.  To be honest, I should have stayed at home, but Jackie and I had planned on seeing this waterfall for a while and finally had the time to do it.  I felt like it was a now or never venture and sick or not I was going to go.
     The hardest part about the hike is getting there.  Do not follow Google's directions.  They have a habit/history of taking people about two hours out of the way and on a dirt road trip.   Then if you do not run into someone who knows something about the area, then you might not make it to the falls.  The first thing to do is to find DeRossett TN, which is near Sparta TN. and on Highway 70.  When there turn south onto Eastland/Mourberry Road (the map on my iPhone says Eastland and my directions say Mourberry). The intersection forms something of a Y and there is a small, small sign signaling the way to the pocket wilderness.  Then go about 6 miles and then turn right onto Scott's Gulf Road.  After turning onto the road, which is gravel, the parking lot will be 2 miles on your right.  There, the hardest part is over with.  After the hike, you might disagree.  The mileage for these directions was taken from 40 hikes in Tennessee's South Cumberland 3rd Edition.
     The trail is on the north side of the parking lot.  It winds it's way through the woods and crosses over a small creek.  The trail then comes to a major creek crossing.  Unless it has been dry for a while, like it had been when we went, you will get wet. There is a metal cable strung across the creek to help with the crossing.  I remember that people had tents and a hammock set up here when went.  The trail here begins to decend.  After about a mile to a mile and a half, you come to Big Laurel Falls.  It was dry when we went so the falls were not going like I have seen in pictures.  The trail continues going down along the ridge.  Going in is not bad.  After about two miles the trail comes to Sheep Falls.  It was hard to see this falls due to its location and all of the trees.  The trail then begins a loop down to Virgin Falls. 
The trail crosses this creek.  There is a metal line to hold onto while crossing.
     The falls the day that we went were running about half or less capacity.  It wasn't bad but with the trees being bushed out we could not see much.  The waterfall comes over the brink of a cliff and then plunges into a cave.  It comes from the earth and goes back into the earth.  There are two camping places around the falls. Both were taken when we went.  I still found room to string up my hammock for us to eat some lunch.  The trail here makes a loop and swings around from one ridge back to the ridge we came down on the way in.  At this point the trail has hit the four mile mark.  There are four miles left to go before the car comes back into view.  As the loop swings around to take you back to the main trail, there is a side trail that goes to the Caney Fork River.  Seeing as how I also like to canoe, I have often thought about a canoe trip with a side hike to the falls.  Riding in a canoe is a lot of fun, especially when an 8 mile hike can be shortened a little.
This is the best picture of Virgin Falls that I have.    It is about the middle of the falls.  The falls themselves are around 100 feet tall.
     The return hike is not bad.  It is all up hill.  The whole way.  All 4 miles.  The slope is not that bad, but it is there the whole way.  There are a few steep sections, but nothing that last for more than maybe .25 of a mile.  While going back to the car I kept wishing for two things, one that I felt better and two, for a tent so that we could camp out.  The trail is worth the effort.  Even with the water being low, the waterfalls were ok.  We had hike just as far and seen worse so on the day we went I would give them a 5.  With more time I would not mind going back and camping out this time.  Hiking this trail is an all day affair.  But again if you have the chance, go for it.

Here is the TN website on the area:
Map of the hiking trail is found here:

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Lula Lake Falls

     When I started this blog, I figured that I would list all of our hiking trails in chronological order.  Well as you all can see, I took a three and a half year hiatus...  So since I mentioned the Lula Lake Trust in my last post, I figured that I would tell about the time we went hiking there back in 2011.
     Lula Lake Falls is located on top of Lookout Mountain in Gerorgia.  The hardest part is finding a place to park.  After turning off the main road, you drop down onto a gravel one way road that twist and winds down to a grassy field and you just park in the field.  The parking was a little haphazard the day we went.  Since the Trust only opens the land to the public on the first and last weekends of the month, there is normally a crowd.  It was not that bad when we went.  Since there are several trails, the people are normally pretty well dispersed.
     Jackie loves to see waterfalls so we went on down the road and hit the waterfall trail.  The trail just splits off from the road and, I did not know this when I parked, it, the road, has parking by the trail head.  The trail is a nice trail and fairly wide.  After splitting off from the road, the trail goes at a slight downhill angle and goes past a port a potty before coming to a bridge crossing Rock Creek.  After crossing the bridge, the trail goes around a rock outcropping and drops down to a picnic table beside Lula Lake.  Looking back up the lake, you can see a small waterfall that drops into the head of the lake.  This would be one of the good spots to stop for a picnic if you are so inclined.  In the below photograph, the bridge is just behind the rocks on the left. 
     After taking pictures of the falls, Jackie and I went back and headed on down the trail.  After a short walk we came to an overlook for Lula Falls.  It was running pretty good and reminded me a little of Foster Falls.  We got some pictures and spoke with some people coming up from the base of the falls.  There is a trail going down to the base, but we did not hike it.  The trail was narrow and looked like it has a switchback or two.  The people we spoke to said that the view was nice but the trail was a little tough.  We hiked on down the trail to where it stopped at a metal rail drove in the ground with a private property sign on it.  I walked around and looked at some of the rock formations that were there and tried to stay on the Trust's property.
     We then hiked back up to where a trail split off to the north by Lula Falls, this trail is called Bluff Trail.  We then hiked up to the top.  The trail was a little steep but not that bad and it was not as wide as the trail to the Falls.  Once on top though we got a great view of the Georgia countryside.  We could see for miles the day we went.  The trail then goes along the top of the mountain.  This would be another good spot for a picnic.  If you are so inclined, there are plenty of trees around for hanging a hammock.  I am not sure if it is allowed though.  
     After taking pictures and enjoying the view, we walked south along the trail some more and found another trail labeled Middle Trail and we went down it.  This trail was a nice trail and took us through the woods and to Rock Creek.  It joins the Lula Falls Trail right after the bridge.
     Overall, I would give this trip a 9 out of 10.  I really enjoyed our hike there.  The scenery was nice, the waterfalls were running well and the trails are really well maintained.  If you have a day to spend on Lookout Mountain and it is near one of the open weekends, I would suggest that you go there.  When we first went, there was an old map of the trails floating around somewhere on line.  I was hoping that I could find the map and post a link to it, but alas time and the aging internet wait for no man and it has disappeared.  Do not worry though, the trails are well labeled and always make a loop or connect with another trail that will take you back to where you need to be.  I cannot wait for the final link to connect the Trust property with Cloudland Canyon to be completed.  That would make a pretty neat backpacking trip.

Directions to Lula Lake Property are found here:

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Cloudland Canyon Waterfall Hike

     Hello everyone.  After seeing that my last post was apparently in 2009 I am thinking that some of you may think I have died.  That is not the case!  Life just jumped out at me and took over for a little bit.  On a high note, I did get married and now have a hiking partner for life! On our honeymoon, we went to Mingo Falls in Cherokee NC and hiked to Clingman's Dome.  Enough history though.

Cloudland Canyon State Park Georgia
Park sign off of Highway 136

      Today we decided to set out and explore. After planning for over a month to go to Cloudland Canyon in Georgia, we finally made it.  After looking on-line at the trails available, we decided that we would just tackle the Waterfall Trail.  This is a 1 mile there and back trail that descends into the canyon and goes to two waterfalls.  This trail has, according to park brochures, 628 steps that a person goes over twice.  I have always just called it the 1,200 step trail, even though this is the first time that I have been to the park.

Running into the Scout group
 When we arrived at the park, we were stopped at a ranger's booth to pay the $5 to park at the park.  We then drove the 2 miles to where we could park.  It did not look like there were a lot of people there when we arrived.  So we walked over and picked up park of the Overlook Trail.  This trail just winds along the rim of the bluff giving views into the canyon/gulf.  Fairly level and the part we were on was paved.  After a short walk, unfortunately I do not know exactly how long because the Backpacker GPS program on my iPhone stopped working, we picked up the Waterfall Trail.  The trail began by going down off the side of the bluff.  'Stairs at the start, this should be interesting,' I remember thinking to myself.  There suddenly appeared a lot of people on the trail.  We went the .3 miles to the first waterfall, but could not make the left turn to it due to a group of non-moving people.  So we went on and walked right into the middle of a young scout troop out for a hike.  We had our 7 year old toy Chihuahua with us and suddenly she was the center of attention.  We worked our way through the scouts and ended up at the bottom of the trail.  Here, the trail splits; go right to pick up the 2 mile Sitton Gulch Trail or left to the bottom falls which is Hemlock Falls.  We went left.  People are not allowed to go to the base of the falls, but the state did put in a nice viewing deck with a bench seat. Jackie and I stopped to take some pictures and then the scouts swamped us again. I could not help but be surprised at the number of people out on the trail.  The parking lot looked empty but there are camping spots all over and that is where they must have been.
Hemlock Falls, the bottom waterfall.  A 90' drop
Cherokee Falls 60' drop
    So being at the bottom, we turned to go back.  We went back the .3 miles and hiked to Cherokee Falls which we skipped going down.  This waterfall was the better of the two in my opinion.  We were able to walk up to the edge of the pool and had more room to get angles for pictures.  After pictures, we continued our climb.  Right before the trail ends, there is a rock with a bench under it for people to rest.  I stopped there with the dog while Jackie took some pictures.  A woman was leaving and started talking about rain.  I looked up through the trees and saw some dark clouds.  I pulled out the phone and checked the radar map.  From the yellow and orange right by us, I was surprised that rain wants already upon us.  I showed Jackie the radar and we began the race to the car.  We no sooner reached the Overlook Trail again and we lost the race.  We snapped a quick picture and went on to the car.  Overall I like Cloudland Canyon.  The trails were in ok condition.  We have had a lot of rain here recently and there was a lot of traffic on the trail so it was a little soupy but not like walking in a creek.  Also if you have a small dog, like us, you will probably have to carry it down and back up.  Mia is a trooper normally, but her feet would fall through the metal slats on the 628 steps and she would not walk them.  I saw other people having to carry their dogs because their feet would fall through.  Just something to consider.
Mia wanting to get to Jackie so she could be away from the water
Overlook in the rain.
     As an aside, there is a group further up Lookout Mountain called the Lula Lake Land Trust.  They own some land around Lula Lake and Lula Falls.  On the first and last weekend of each month, the Trust opens their land to hikers to see the falls and lake.  It is a nice place and offers some wonderful views of the surrounding countryside from the top of the mountain.  I said all of that to say, the Trust and the Park are working on building connector trails that will allow people to hike between both areas.  I think this is a good idea if the Trust will allow backpackers in their land on days other than the first and last weekend of the month.  So far, the two entities have created and trailed the 5 Points Recreation Area that has land for mountain bikers and hikers.

     Here is the Park's website.  The driving directions are down at the bottom of the page: