Out of the Wild
I walked out of the Woods the other day, drenched, cold and exhilarated.
I spend the better part of this past four-day weekend in the Cohutta Wilderness. It was my second trip to the Cohutta. My earlier visit was with the two Princes, and we overnighted on the Chestnut Lead trail, and then hiked a portion of the Conasauga River trail, before breaking camp and heading back.
This time I got to the Mountain rather late in the afternoon, and found the road leading from the intersection of FS 64 and 68 was closed in either direction leading to the trailheads. So I parked at the gate, and made the two-mile hike to the Tearbritches Trailhead. My plan was to hike Bald Mountain, overnight, hike to Cowpen Mountain, overnight, and then hike out the third day. Primary trails would have been Tearbritches and Panther Creek.
The weather forecast for the weekend was not good. I had considered bringing my dog, who is warrior and always down to go, but thought better of it. Good choice. The weatherman essentially called for continuous rain Saturday night, Sunday, and Sunday night. I packed some medium cold weather gear, my lightweight gortex, my hammock set up with rain-fly, typical extra socks, and trail feed.
I was well into sunset by the time I got to the North side of Bald Mountain. I found a spot on the North-East side of the ridge and set up. The rain was to come from the South-West, and I wanted a good wind break on the opposite face. Another good choice. That night it did rain, and I could hear the wind howling through the upper canopy coming from the opposite face. However, there was virtually no wind in my spot.
By the way, I love hammock camping for many reasons. Among which are: a) I can set up on virtually any level terrain, without having to clear any ground, b) and I can camp leaving no trace, no compacted ground, no tent clearing.
It did rain all night. It let up just after sunrise, though the fog and mist made for an undramatic sunrise. Then it started raining again.
I decided to start hiking. In the rain you’ve a few choices, my option is to load up the heater (my backpack), and stay warm by keeping moving. Plus I figured the rain would let up at some point, and if it didn’t I could probably make my total distance, pack it in and hike out.
It literally rained all day.
Tearbritches Trail is aptly named. I thought at first maybe because there were a lot of briars and brambles. No. It is because of the phenomenon when you take a big step up or down, and tear out the crotch of your pants. I didn’t tear out my crotch, but the trail basically descends the entire 4000 feet or so from the top of Bald Mountain to the Conasauga River. And what trail goes down, must come up . . .
Towards the bottom of Tearbritches, the river crossings begin. When hiking in the Cohutta, be prepared to get your feet wet. They’re gonna get wet and cold, so accept it, suck it up, and keep moving.
A right turn along Conasauga River trail brings you to Panther Creek, and a wide river, somewhat treacherous river crossing. Panther Creek trail leads off Southwest.
Panther Creek trail leads off at a fairly tolerable elevation, but soon becomes a literal rock scramble. Treacherous for the inexperience hiker. Panther Creek tumbles down several very nice falls, and eventually to a dramatic cascade down a sheer rock face.
I lost the trail in the rain, and found myself (almost) lost. I used my map and terrain navigation skills to climb several ridges and eventually linked back up with the East Cowpens trail. At this point it was late, I was cold and freezing. East Cowpens lead back to FS 64 where I made the four mile return hike to my truck. I started sleeting. I don’t think I was ever as glad to see my truck, through the mist, in the sleet, in the fading light.