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