Work Trip On AT section – 3-11-2021

White blaze high on Little Bald Mtn.

A new year means a new season of trail work. After waiting on the 2+ feet of snow to melt off the TN/NC mountains, we were finally able to access my trail section for a Pre Spring walk through to see what shape the trail was in and how many blow downs would require the saw crews. It was a cool and cloudy morning as my son Tyler unlocked the forest service gate so that we could get my Jeep up the old, overgrown forest road to make the 2.5 mile trip to reach access to our trail section. There was something different about the road but, being half asleep and not feeling very good from working too hard in the days prior, we just could not put our finger on it. We were pleasantly surprised that the road was clear of all but one or two small blow downs that we had to chainsaw out of the way and also noticed that someone had removed several trees since we were last there. I knew it was not the Carolina Mountain Club (CMC) so it had to be the USFS which was odd as they stopped maintaining the road many years ago. We made good time without any issues and soon found ourselves hiking up the short side trail to the AT. We did stop and drop a 12 pack of Mountain Dew in the Spring for any hikers that may be coming through on this day.

Tyler works his magic on the gate lock
Driving under a fallen tree that someone had trimmed instead of removing
Kept noticing fresh cut trees
We had to remove this one
All clear now

From our access point at Whistling Gap (elevation 3848.69) , the trail immediately starts gaining elevation until it reaches the summit of Little Bald (elevation 5185) some of which is very steep. Tyler was tired and sore from a long, 8 hr. tree job he did the day before and, I was suffering from some intense back pain due to a flare up earlier in the week so, needlesstosay we were dragging our butts slowly up the 2.5 mile mountain climb. I was carrying a fire rake and Tyler a Pulaski neither of which we felt like using on this day however, we did manage to somehow dig and rake out over 2 dozen water bars on our way up.

The tread had blown out downward here so we filled it with limbs and pulled some leaves and dirt over it to force hikers up the hill until we can repair it permanently.
Trail side view as we gain some elevation.
View into NC from the trail

Luckily we did not have hardly any blow downs to deal with and only minimal debris. This was surprising considering the number of strong storms and high winds we have had in the past 6 months. I was not complaining and was happy to take out the few that we did find. There would end up being only two trees, small to medium size, for the saw crews to take out and to their fortune they were both located just barely off the North side of the summit of Little Bald. This means that when they do the section South of mine coming in from Big Bald that they would only have to go a very short distance over Little Bald to reach them and could go back the way they came in and NOT have to carry the saws and equip all the way down the mountain on my entire section ! Tyler and I made it to the lunch spot overlook on the NC side of the summit of Little Bald by 1pm where we ate and I took a much needed siesta.

Tyler checking out a hand sawed tree on Little Bald done last year by my neighbor section maintainer Mike Williams. The saw crews will remove this completely in a few days.
Tyler making his way up Little Bald
Tyler finds some ice as we reach the 5000 feet level
Medium sized step over blow down near the summit of Little Bald
Tyler shows the scale of the fallen tree. Crews would remove this one soon
My last (or first) white blaze on the summit of Little Bald where my section begins/ends
Lunch spot overlook on NC side of the summit of Little Bald. It has became quite overgrown over the years which I hope to get cleared soon. If you look close you can see Big Bald in the top right of this image

It was still cloudy and cool and I was getting very stiff and sore so I had to do some stretching exercises for my back before our return trip could begin. Sadly it did not help much at the time. We would be taking the main ridge line off trail (old AT) back down in order to do a final scout of the old Clyde Smith memorial sign in order to make the final decisions of where and how the new sign was going to be placed as our next trip up here would be to complete that task. After having found it again over a year ago, we figured we would go right to it but, like the many years before when searching for it, that would again not be so easy ! There is something about that sign and the tree it is on that makes it really hard to locate and this time would be no different. Of course it could have something to do with my aging memory and the fact we left our Garmin 62s at home that had the location saved in it ! Finally after a few agonizing climbs up and down in a grid search pattern I was able to once again locate it. There I would need another long break and some pain pills to recuperate and make the final decisions on the new sign before bushwhacking back over to the current AT to slowly proceed back down the mountain.

After finally finding the old Clyde Smith memorial sign tree. A huge limb has broken off since I was here last year.
What`s left of the old sign. The other half is missing
Coming back down the mountain. This is on the newer, upper relo
Here you can see High Rocks (center) and Flattop Mtn (left) in the distance
View of the spring on the upper relo as seen from ‘Juana`s Rock’
Coming down the new relo thankful that the trail no longer goes straight up and down that steep ridge to the left !!!!
The infamous AT Rock

We did meet a few older hikers and they did enjoy the Mountain Dew we left in the Spring. We packed out the trash and left the remaining cans there for other hikers and will check back soon to make sure they packed the cans out. I was very happy to be back at the Jeep even though it was nearly 5:30pm by the time we got there. A cold soda from our cooler never tasted so good. As we began the drive off the mountain we immediately (and to our embarrassment) noticed what was so different about the old forest road. It seems the Forest Service had been there and used a huge tractor with a sidearm bush hog to cut not only the high side (as I had asked the CMC to request them to do a couple years prior) but, also the low side and chainsawed down several hazard trees ! Before, there was huge growth hanging from the high side that scratched the vehicle and forced you off the road to the dying side. It also kept it very wet as it did not allow for sun to shine on it. Now it is WIDE OPEN like it used to be a few decades ago. I was full of emotions; surprise, amazement, happiness, etc as this makes it so much easier and way safer to now get up this very dangerous road. I can`t thank them enough as I never thought it would happen.

View of the massive bush hogging that was done recently
View of the now beautifully cleared road !

Despite the pain, it had been another great day in the office, high in the TN/NC mountains with my son, doing something that has always brought me much joy and satisfaction. We were both so tired and hurting that we did not even stop for any post trip grub ! Our next trip will be soon in order to place the new Clyde Smith Memorial sign on Little Bald. Until then,,,

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Posted on 27 March '21 by , under RATtreks.

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