CITICO-SLICKROCK | HIKING IN NORTH CAROLINA |NOV2013
In 2012, I had read a “BACKPACKER” Magazine article in regard to, “The 12 Most Difficult Hikes in America.” One of those hikes, happened to be within a 4-5hr driving distance from Birmingham, AL so it obviously caught my attention.
The Citico-Slickrock Wilderness hike article featured exclamations of “plunging you deeply into quiet Appalachian hollows and traversing narrow ridgelines with views across row upon row of forested peaks.”
It also boasted of, “wilderness solitude that required sweat equity on this two-night loop that packs 13,223 feet of elevation change into 21.3 miles. But the effort would be well-rewarded with sweeping vistas, narrow ridgelines, hidden forest valleys, refreshing waterfalls—and very little company. ”
I immediately started planning an EPIC trip with thoughts full of wonderful imagery by gathering volunteers to go. I had enlisted up to 5 attendees… to only see that number dwindle down as the departure date came closer. It was down to my hiking buddy Chase Tucker (AKA-“PAYDIRT”) and myself. The contingent seemed to get nervous about the unfamiliar adventure and elected to just simply go to the more familiar hiking location of Cheaha, which was closer to home. Chase and I considered going anyway, but we relented to go to Cheaha too…all the while kicking ourselves on missing the new adventure that we were on the cusp of attending.
Fast forward a year to October 2013. The Citico stayed on our minds and in our conversations, so Chase & I decided to go for it by ourselves even if we couldn’t enlist any others to go.
Here’s our account…
Before the sunrise, our early morning trip started out with a minor issue. My car started acting up on the way to Chase’s house to pick him up. By the time I had gotten to his house, I felt very uncomfortable about taking my car all the way to North Carolina. So we elected to take Chase’s car as it was new and undoubtedly more reliable.
We make our way to North Carolina and arrive without any issues. The miles driven seemed to be quick, probably due to the excitement of getting on the trail and experiencing this EPIC adventure.
Chase & I get the car parked and secured at Beech Gap trailhead which seemingly straddled Tennessee and North Carolina.
DAY1:: (3.5 miles planned!)(6 miles unplanned!)
Much of the 1st day’s trail, we continue the straddling of TN/NC. BACKPACKER presented a setting in very descriptive terms as far as the trail was concerned. “Early afternoon and already our legs quiver. Lungs wheeze like we’ve got a four-pack-a-day habit.”
The initial ascent’s nickname among local hikers is “The Ballbuster.”While we didn’t see the “BALLBUSTER 3.4mi ” sign (as it was… I think…photoshopped), we did experience “The Ballbuster…!” While they were not busted….it was steep!
For all our effort, though, we’re only partway up the infamous Slickrock Creek Trail in Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness.
Two more miles of unrelentingly steeps lie ahead.
We were suppose to find a piped spring for a reliable water source. We only found small runoff reservoir basins from what we could only figure out as being from the reliable missing spring. So we submerged an emptied Gatorade bottle into the reservoirs to collect and pour into the water filter bag for purification. We knew we needed to fill up as much as possible since we were ridge hiking and the map notes didn’t read anything about other water sources until the next day when we would dropped into the valley.
Once we finished up’ing on water, we make it up to Bob Stratton Bald . We had made great hiking time to additional daylight left in the day. So Chase & I decide to push on past the bald to find the ultimate camp area… and that’s where we incur a 2.5mile mistake. Seeing how we are in a wilderness, there are not any blazed markers to follow, You have to rely on your orienteering skills with a map, compass, and GPS.
My natural compass felt like we were way off kilter…somewhere. Sure enough after consulting the map and GPS coordinates…my hunch was correct. We took a right, when we should’ve taken a left. So with heavy liters of dry camping water in-tow, both Chase and I start our hike up..up..and up to the Bald again to correct where we had zigged instead of zagging. We set our mistake correct by going in the right direction and darned if it didn’t happen again. There were so many little side rabbit-trails to nothing that seemed nice and worn, giving you the impression it was correct from heavy usage. I guess everyone else had suffered the same directional issues too. As the evening carries on, Chase & I start looking for the perfect campspot with the perfect view. We can’t seem to find the exact one we desired, so we give-in to a little, flat side of the mountain where we had to beat down a thicket or two. We ended up having a pretty good spot for the evening…fire and all.
Total mileage for this day increased from 3.5miles to around 6 with our directional challenges!!!
DAY2:: 7.7 miles
The next morning we break camp down and get back on the trail to some great campspots just a few hundred yards further down.
Wow…, we kick ourselves a little for not camping near this view!
That’s just the way it is sometimes…
We come up on this confusing jewel for some confusing directions as we trod along to “The Hangover.” Of course we get off course to a bluff and turn around to go back. After consulting the map again with GPS coordinates we discover the direction we need to go in order to get to “The Hangover.”
The trail to the Hangover is a rhododendron tunnel of sorts. Walking the tight trail, we didn’t know to expect a wild, perched 360 degree view of the surrounding valleys below!
With clouds rolling in we hurried along the narrow trail to the end to find what had been spoken of in “BACKPACKER.”
As we are taking in the vistas, we watch a hail storm roll over the mountain to drop ice pellets on us. What an experience!
It’s time for us to move on into the valley as the day moves on whether or not we do. So Chase & I gear-up for the 2,100ft descent into “Big Fat Gap.” The trail takes a very interesting twists & turns…even slides!
We have to scoot on a rock in keeping trail course. We continue for an additional 1,200ft down to “SlickRock Creek” when we run across a fresh kill by Hog Hunters as it begins to drizzle rain. Of course Chase & I have to donn the plastic ponchos we had purchased at a store before getting on the trail the previous day.
After Chase slips in the aptly named “SlickRock Creek” we find a hungry hog-hound following us. Big-Hearted Chase gives the hound something to eat and it follows us for a few more miles before it gives up on another morsel coming from the Benevolent, Big-Hearted Chase.
We come out of the isolated forest basin to in order to draw down the 2nd day’s hiking mileage. The article suggests of a “Former Homestead & Apple Orchard” with a reliable water source just before as a campsite. We take the suggestion of a reliable water source literally, so we don’t fill up at SlickRock Creek for the night’s camp. What a mistake! We never really see what we would consider a Homestead area nor the reliable water source. SO we push on into the evening with our camelbaks draining lower and lower. As the darkness catches us, I consult the map and see that we have made it to “Big Fat Gap.” Both Chase & myself are dehydrated and exhausted, so we decide to camp in the Gap. Mistake again! The wind is pushing through the Gap with gust! Chase sets up his tent next to a 100 year old felled tree that it big enough to block the wind from his tent and I try to hang my hammock with no success, so I ask if I can just bunk with him in the 3-man tent he brought on the trip. He agrees, and I get in…, cozied deep in my sleeping bag…thankful to be resting. We decide on not eating as we were both dehydrated and eating would only further dehydrate us. Plus…we are in a “Bear Reserve.” Food in a tent is a no-no!
I had a bottle of Powerade that I had been rationing all day and I was thankful I had. Chase & I shared the drink…savoring each swallow as if it would be our last.
As the wind whipped & howled, and even though we were both extremely tired, we couldn’t sleep. We spoke of camping in a “Bear Reserve,” what would we do if a bear nosed into the tent, and how thirsty we were. Eventually, we feel asleep until the occasional turn in the sleeping bag awaken us. Later on in the night, I heard a bag open and smelled the pungent smell of Tobasco Cheezits. It was Chase….I exclaimed, “What are you doing?” He said, “I am starving!!!!” “Chase!”, I said, “we are in a BEAR RESERVE!” Chase’s reply…”I have something for a bear if it comes in here!” Of course he was referring to his 9mm GLOCK. In and out of a sleep for the rest of the night, I wondered how far that whipping & howling wind had carried the smell of the pungent Cheezits.
DAY 3 :: 7.6 miles
As the morning light caused the darkness to retreat, Chase & I awaken to intense thirst. We had survived the “mid-night cheezit incident” without death to any wildlife. We broke down camp and made our heading for the 7 miles or so praying that we come across a miracle spring to re-hydrate. A mile went by to NO water. We came to a section that had captured some of the rain the day before. Chase decided he need to get some liquid, so he drank from a few leaves on the ground. I refused and consented to the leaves still on the trees. Believe it or not the veins of the rhododendron leaves had captured a fair amount…just enough to wet my mouth.
Once went got onto the Benton McKaye Trail, the views got better as we hiked on “knife-edge treed ridges.” We hopped the headwaters of the Citico Creek’s North Fork as it was flowing nicely. Chase& I bellied up to the spring to rehydrated 2 days worth of dehydration to the point of almost making ourselves sick. we filled our reservoirs for the final 2 miles or so through Yellow Birch stands.
Just like always, the last few miles are always the longest…Our conversation turned to the “Post Hike”meal and what each other was craving. The consensus for us both was “STEAK!”
We make it back to the Cherohala Parkway and follow it down a few hundred yards to the Trailhead and the awaiting car for the ride home.
Total mileage was around 25-26 miles or so with all of the wrong turns and back-tracking. With those wrong turns, we are the wiser…next time around
Oh… and yes, we did have steak…, potatoes…, salad…, a blooming onion…, bread…, water…, and a lot of sweeten tea…on the way home…!!!
Until next time…,