Sunday, November 28, 2010

Adventure and a Story of Thanksgiving in the Most Remote Area of the Sispey Wilderness-Bankhead NF

This is one of the easiest stories to write and share with you because it comes straight from the heart. It is a story with a happy ending we all read about in books and movies, but this time, it WAS the real deal. It is a story of adventure and an incredible journey of people uniting in the most remote area of the Sipsey Wilderness in Bankhead National Forest. Not often in our lives of craziness, are we reminded truly of blessings that life can bring you. It is ironic to me that these lessons happen on a Thanksgiving weekend! What started out as a "normal" adventure into the Bankhead, erupted into one of those stories you watch and read about elsewhere. It left me something to tell about the rest of my living years on earth. With such a powerful story to tell ahead, I will be brief in my explanation of the scenery we encountered on this trip.

This story starts on Black Friday, November 26th, 2010. Thomas Graham and Steve Jones, two of my backpacking buddies and true friends, met with me at McDonalds in Moulton around 8 a.m. to start our journey. The weather was cloudy and it had rained all night. We headed out to Bankhead National Forest in North Alabama around 9 a.m. Our target camping site was along Clifty Creek or Braziel Creek. Our goal was to find a number of tree carvings and explore the seemingly unlimited bluff shelters that Bankhead hides. Thomas knew of an Indian carved on a tree that he had marked on his map (copied from another source), and we knew there was a large rattlesnake carved on tree in the area as well. Those are all the tools of information we needed to hit one of the most remote areas of the Sipsey Wilderness Area. For the benefit of those reading this around the world and not familiar with this area. The Sispey Wilderness is an area carved out of the Bankhead National Forest of North Alabama that is set aside for absolutely no interruption to it's ecosystem. It contains over 95,000 acres of land. No logging, use of roads, or any activity is allowed in this area of the forest. It is an area where very little (except foot and limited horse traffic) occurs.

We park at Borden Creek bridge and head out. The weather is cold, windy, and very wet from the previous night's rains. The forecast called for no more rain with clearing and cold tonight. On our way down, we pass the famous "bird tree". I have pictures of it here on previous blogs. It is a very unique a quite intricate carving of a bird right beside the trail. We explored an entire area along a bluff line that geologists would be excited to see. The entire bluff line is filled with "holes" from petrified wood logs that were pressed into the rock many years ago. This was an amazing find in that you could actually see tree bark in many of these holes where the wood had become petrified. We take pictures and marvel at these finds, and then head out to our campsite and planned destination, Clifty or Braziel Creek to camp. Thomas, Steve, and myself decide we want to go up Clifty Creek a short piece and camp. We thought from there, we could explore either creek. Late afternoon yielded us setting up camp, gathering firewood, filtering water, and getting ready for a cold night. The plan on Saturday was to set out and go Braziel Creek. After a long evening (it gets dark around 5 p.m.) with supper, sitting around the fire telling stories and listening to a very cold north wind bringing in cooler temperatures and clear skies, we decide to call it a night at 10 p.m. Sleeping was going to be very easy. With the RIGHT gear, these trips are easy. Good gear means a warm night, a tent you can really depend on if it rains, and an experience you will tell the rest of your life. Since we camped beside a running stream, natures "sleep engine" was beside us. I had two choices as I lay down in my down sleeping bag. Listen to the modern world with my iPod, or listen to mother nature and the stream flowing beside me. Tonight, I chose the iPod and crashed. There was a couple of things different from me with Steve and Thomas that is worth noting. Thomas and Steve have moved on to the newest craze and change in backpacking. They sleep in very sophisticated hammocks above the ground that just came about around 5 years ago. They have down quilt linings that hold heat underneath them. They are the best nights sleep anyone could ever ask for since you can sleep in total comfort. You can even sleep straight. Steve and Thomas have been camping this way for about 2 years now. Me, I have invested way too much money in the traditional "tents" that setup on the ground. I am ashamed to state how many tents I have collected over the years, so I will just leave it at that. Both types of sleeping have their advantages and disadvantages.


Saturday morning at 7 a.m., yielded a cold 24 degrees. After a warm fire and a hot breakfast, we head out to explore Braziel Creek. we go back down Clifty to Braziel creek. We move about 1/2 mile upstream of Braziel Creek, following the bluff lines that yield endless protected shelters to explore. As we move along, we come upon a site that we encounter a lot. A crumpled piece of tin from a roof, laying on the ground out in the middle of nowhere. This has been a classic sign of a tornado that has carried debris for miles and dropped it here in the middle of nowhere. As I am taking video and pictures of this, I hear Steve holler at me to "come up here". Thomas is already up ahead of Steve and I. As I approach Steve going up a long steep hill holding my still camera set on video mode, I see something that totally blows me away. Standing on the top of the hill, a full sized white horse is perched at the top, looking down on us. Steve and Thomas point out the saddle tangling below it and almost touching the ground. As we approach the horse, it becomes very nervous and prances around in a 50 foot circle, coming back to one spot. We notice blood under the front left leg. We notice several other important things also. The ground is absolutely tore up from it staying in this same area. There are pieces and parts of the saddle everywhere! This horse has been struggling with this saddle for days. The blanket is soak and wet with the saddle and this saddle will clearly be the death of the horse if it stayed on for many more days. Thomas, walks up to the horse and it slowly comes up to him after he entices it with grapes from his lunch. The gash up under the left left is very deep, from the saddle falling down and riding upside down. There is no telling how many miles this horse has been struggling with, nor how many days this horse has been tortured by this saddle riding upside down. This is extremely rough territory to navigate with so much brush, and so this brush had to be pulling and snagging on the horse every painful mile it moved. That may be why the horse decided to find a spot and stay there. The bridle and assembly is broken up and in pieces on the ground. The mouth of the horse was bloody slightly from apparently struggles with this part of the bridle harness hanging on as well for at least a while. Thomas pulled out a handful of grapes he had in his pack and begin to gain even more ground getting closer to the horse. After several attempts, Thomas finally got the saddle off the horse. He was free from the torture of this saddle hanging down! We felt really good at this point. We had relieved this object that apparently caused days of pain and visible deep cuts into her from the saddle being turned upside down and almost dragging the ground. Several thoughts raced through our minds during this time after the happiness of the saddle is off. Is there a person nearby hurt that was riding this horse? Are they possibly dead? Has anyone been reported missing? We decided to spread out and inspect the area. After no other signs of anyone around, we decided we needed to get the horse reported to authorities. But how do you report something like this in the middle of the wilderness in a forest that has NO cell phone coverage? I usually always carry my amateur radio with me, but I left it at the camp, which was a half a mile away. Steve pulled out his cell phone. As luck would have it (or someone above looking out for us), we somehow got weak cell phone coverage (2 bars). Steve stood perfectly still and called his wife DeWanna and we relayed the GPS position of the horse. She was going to take the coordinates and call the Sheriff's department and report the horse. After relaying most of the most important facts, Steve hung up the phone. We then decided to gather up all the saddle parts that the horse had ripped off in his painful ordeal with the saddle hanging below. We 3 decided we had done all we could do for now, and decided to go on exploring the bluffs and canyons further. We left the horse, still standing in his little area that he apparently had been for some time. We explored more bluffs, found lots more interesting petrified wood in rocks. We documented them with video and pictures. With this story going, you don't care to hear much about "rocks" and "petrified wood", so we will leave the details of those things and move on.

Amateur Radio to the Rescue

Returning back to the horse about 1:30 p.m. (we discovered her around 11 a.m.), Thomas decides on one last attempt to bring this horse back to camp with us. This begged the question to all three of us. O.K., lets say he DOES decide to go to camp with us. What then? What if he charges off in the process into the wilderness and here we go again! The horse (we now know as Joe) slowly started easing off the hill with Thomas. Thomas had managed to make a fairly nice little rope out of some vines and got it around her neck. He paced slowly down the hill with us. Thomas in front, Steve behind them, and me with my video camera capturing this thinking, what are we going to do with a "big pet" at camp? As we get almost to the bottom of the hill, the horse stops, starts to "rethink" this situation, turns around, and starts slowly, and then suddenly into a dead run back up to the top of the hill where we got him. I hate to say it, but there was a sense of relief in me. At least we know he will stay put in place. Sure enough, he did. He returned promptly to the top of the hill, turned around and looked down defiantly down at us as if "no, I am not going anywhere!" We then left and headed back to camp. Around dusky dark, we heard a pack of coyotes down the canyon where the horse was camped above. A lump came in my throat with thoughts. To myself- "You don't think a pack of coyotes could take down a horse, could surely not......he would have the upper hand with kicks on them". It was a sad feeling to hear them and think of the horrible "is it possible they could kill him" go through your head.

Around 7 p.m., while sitting around the campfire, the amateur portable hand held radio that I carry everywhere with me, came alive with my buddy Sonny Blankenship's voice. The Bankhead Amateur Radio Club has a radio repeater in Bankhead National Forest. When you are in the forest, if is about the ONLY means of communication with the outside world. The repeater, located in the forest, allows amateur radio operators to communicate to other "hams" within 60 miles of it's location. It even has a "phone patch" to allow a person in the forest (or anywhere in the 60 mile radius) to make phone calls. A privilege that no one with a cell phone is allowed to do, since there is no service for cell phones in Bankhead. Only licensed amateur radio operators can use this repeater. The phone patch has not been working lately, and so I was forced to "wait" on someone to come on the repeater. Once Sonny came on, I ran over and grabbed the radio.He normally tries to "monitor" the radio from his house whenever we are out in the woods. I explained to him what had happened that day. I told him there were many "details" that needed to be relayed such as the saddle was left up under a bluff shelter, the horse appears to stay in one place, etc. Sonny copied all the information Steve, Thomas, and I could think of, including where we were camped if they needed any help. A radio contact earlier in the afternoon with my good amateur radio friend Wes McKay, driving on his way to Florence and making phone contact with Steve's wife, relayed that the owners were notified of the missing horse and were coming out after it. So we at least knew that help was on it's way for this poor horse stuck in the wilderness.

Sonny got on the phone with a uncle to the owners of the horse and he spoke with them on the phone, picked up the ham radio and would ask questions. We would answer them on the radio and he would relay that back via phone. Most all of the information needed as to the best place in, where we were camped if they needed our help, the status of the horse's health, equipment needed to get the horse out, and several logistics questions were worked out. Amateur radio, truly a blessing in time of need! Like a hunter without a gun, or a fisherman without his rod and reel, I never leave home for the outdoors without my amateur radio. In the Bankhead, it can mean the difference in life or death in certain situations.

That night before going to bed at 10 p.m., we tossed ideals around on the fate of this mission to get the horse out. We hoped the owners cared enough to bring out the best. We even wondered if the owners would even care enough to get the horse out. Wow, we were about to experience a shock on that thought! We talked about that a horse, like a human, being used to the comforts of a barn would surely be "petrified" at night all by themselves, especially with the sounds of coyotes in packs at night. Just before we went to bed, we glanced up at the absolutely crystal clear skies above. There were millions of stars to see with no city lights. Just about the time we all looked up commenting on the sky, a massive meteorite streaked across the sky right in front of our eyes. An unbelievable long tail and a long descent across the sky. Wow! It doesn't get any better than this!
The next morning yielded a cold 25 degrees. We got up, started a fire, cooked breakfast and slowly started the day. We had absolutely no ideal what was about to happen that day. As far as we were concerned, unless someone ask us to, our horse story had ended with all we could do. We had told Sonny the night before that if they needed our help, tell them where we will be staying. As we packed up and was just about to head out, a team of horses and folks appeared in camp. They asked if we were the ones that reported the horse. We said yes. After some exchanges between all of us, we were dawning our packs and headed out with them to show them where the horse is or was! Just before we left out, one of the guys in the party wanted to see some pictures that I offered to show. The second he saw the horse, he yelled out to the party-"It's him, It's him!!....Lets go!!! I knew then that we had some people that loved and really cared that this story had a happy ending.

When we arrived to the hill, there he was!!! Praise be! He was holding down his "perch" over the valley. As the party began to show up around the horse that they successfully put a bridle on, a young women came charging up the hill that I had not seen so far in this large party assembled to find the horse. I asked "is that your horse?" A very emotional answer came back as she charged on "yes it is!" With her husband holding the horse, she charged up and starting crying and hugging the horse. I was told by a party member that this was the husband and wife and the owners of the horse, called Joe. I have never seen such an emotional look in the man's eyes. He said very little except to thank us many times, but facial expressions said it all. I could tell an immense relief in his face. The wife, stayed in tears rubbing and hugging the horse. Man, words written here cannot in no way express joys of happiness felt among everyone. It is the "highest of highs" I have been in years. My video instinct in me (since that is what I do for a living), rolled video of the event, with an occasional snap of a still picture every now and then. What an incredible high, with total strangers in many regards, united in the middle of Sipsey Wilderness, miles from anything, to celebrate the life saving of this incredible horse. There is no doubt in my mind. The same rule that applies to humans lost, applied to this horse. If you can, staying put in one place will help you get rescued faster than by wondering everywhere. The fact that this horse chose to stay put, literally saved it's life!

And Now the Facts

This wonderful couple that lost this wonderful horse. When you hear the facts, it stabs you even more in the heart. OVER 3 weeks ago they were riding in the Bankhead with others with their horses. This horse was a prize winning horse the wife nurtured and cared for. It was her horse. Her husband was riding it this day over 3 weeks ago in the Bankhead with others. They said that the horse got one foot in a hole, and began slowly to fall over. In order to protect himself and the horse, the husband jumped off the horse, and slapped it to get it up and going and to keep it from falling on backwards into this hole. After he slapped the horse, it tore out wide open and disappeared. For three grueling weeks, the husband and wife tormented over the loss of this horse. They put up posters everywhere, turned the information to the sheriff's department if anyone called (very smart move since that was our key linking up with them), drove the roads at night in the Bankhead, and told everyone they could think of. To add to the emotional roller coaster this poor couple went through. A report from a guy that he found "parts" of a horse in an area of the forest, lowered any hope of this horse being alive. They even went down to meet the man that claimed he found body parts in the Bankhead, only to sit for 2 and half hours and he never showed up. Our report to the Sheriff's department put a ray of hope. Amateur radio reports to them that night proved to the owners, Pam and Dewayne, that miracles DO HAPPEN.

As we all met at the trailhead about to depart, Pam hugged us all three and Dewayne thanked us many times over. They had asked us earlier where we were going to eat lunch that day. We told them the local Western Sirloin Steak House in Moulton. They said that our lunch was on them today. We laughed and never thought much about it. Later, as Steve, Thomas and I were enjoying steaks for lunch at the restaurant, Dewayne (the owner of the horse) came around the corner and asked where our waitress was, lunch was on him. We thanked him, he linked up with the waitress, and then left the restaurant. Wow, wow, wow......What an amazing day for everyone. After linking up with the couple on facebook and with another member of the party, Kari, whom I have known for a long time growing up in Lawrence county, it just topped the evening. Friends on facebook, sharing an incredible story we will all be telling for a long time. We plan to share pictures and movies of this miraculous event. An event I enjoyed sharing every minute of with you. Hang on, we are just getting started into camping season. Next stop, the Lord willing, will be the Cohutta Wilderness in northern Georgia. We will see you again in the woods!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Bankhead NF-Ship Rock, A Civil War Era Saltpeter Cave/Furnace & The Big Tree

Well, It has been a long hot summer. Time to kick in gear and go camping! I made a few short kayak trips during the summer, but just did not have the time to include them on the blog here. I apologize for that. Both of them were a lot of fun. We start the 2010-2011 camping season off right this time. We head to Bankhead National Forest's icon in North Alabama. The so called "Big Tree". Thomas, one of my long time camping buddies, told me that Sam (another good camping friend) had two guys that wanted to drive down 9 hours from North Carolina and see "The Big Tree". The Big Tree, for those of you wondering, is Alabama's largest White Poplar tree (a.k.a. tulip). It has a circumference of 25 feet and stands about 150 feet tall. It is where EVERYONE that comes from out of town seems to go. Most veteran Bankhead NF campers, avoid this area. We seek out the little known areas most of the time, but with guests coming, we thought this would be a good time to revisit this landmark. Thomas, my good camping friend, knows and loves Bankhead. He suggested a route that I had not done before. He suggested we take the standard "long route" that everyone takes to visit the Big Tree. It is a route that follows U.S. Forest Trails 206 and 209 along Thompson Creek and Sipsey River.
Our plans were to follow this long route (5.5 miles) and visit "Ship Rock", along with numerous Indian Mortar Rocks and a Civil War Era Saltpeter Cave along the way. That is the beauty of living close to this area and hanging around with Thomas. He and many of us know of the hidden treasures that the Bankhead holds, that most people have no clue about. This comes from years of hiking, studying, and talking to others about the treasures of Bankhead. So, the plan was to hike the long route to the Big Tree, camp over night close to the Big Tree, and then come out Sunday morning using the unofficial trail "short route" coming out (about 2 miles and an hour and a half of walking) so the North Carolina guys could get on their way back with their long 9 hour drive ahead back home in the Winston-Salem area.

Saturday morning, November 6th-Six of us headed out on a long days journey before setting up camp that afternoon. We park at the Thompson Creek Trailhead and then move along Forest Service Trail 206. The parking lot was FULL of cars, telling us that everyone, their brother, their sister, their cousin, and every Boy Scout troop within 60 miles of the Bankhead was there. I am being sarcastic, but you get my point. A crowded forest we thought. About 2.5 miles ahead, just before Ship Rock, we detour off the trail to a special spot, marked by GPS waypoints by Thomas. It is a little known and a very large Indian Mortar Rock with flint chips laying around everywhere underneath a small bluff shelter. If you are reading this, you might be wondering what in the world an Indian Mortar Rock is? Going only from what I have been told, an Indian Mortar Rock is a hole in a rock that has been carved out after years and years of grinding corn, or other food down for meal. They used the holes for grinding really just about anything down. The deeper the hole in the rock, the more it was used. These rocks that Thomas showed us were very large, deep holes, along with one rock that had many small holes. They were also protected from overhead by a small bluff shelter.
After taking pictures of this amazing and well kept secret, we head back down the trail for another well known landmark in the Bankhead, "Ship Rock". Ship Rock is on all of the U.S. Forest trail maps, and so it attracts hundreds and hundreds of people each year to come and camp by it. What is it? Well, it is a massive rock that is almost perfectly in the shape of the bow (front) of a ship. In the wintertime, with the leaves off the trees, it is pretty impressive! It juts out and stands proud. Many people camp at the base of this rock. After showing our visitors the rock, Thomas then led everyone through the back part of Ship Rock, through the famous "Eye of The Needle" that shows up on all the U.S. Forest Maps. The "Eye of the Needle" is a pretty neat passage. Back towards the end of the Ship Rock, is a unique hole in the rock. If you climb through this hole in the rock, you come out on the other side of a large bluff rock. By doing so, it cuts about 1/4 a mile hike out of the way. You would normally follow Thompson Creek all the way down to the intersection of FS 206/209 trails at Sipsey, but by going through the "Eye of The Needle", you have shaved off some time and distance to keep from having to go the long way around these large rocks and bluffs . The movie attached to this Blog shows some of us coming out of the Eye of the Needle.

After we complete our adventure coming through the Eye of The Needle, Thomas points out numerous Indian Mortar Rocks all around the back side of Ship Rock. As many times as I have been to Ship Rock, I never had the slightest clue it hid Indian Mortar Rocks up against it. There is also a very strange looking rock over on the back side of Ship Rock. It looks like pancakes stacked up, or some have even referred to it as favoring a man's outer parts. We won't go there. At any rate, it is a strange looking rock. Moving on down the trail, Thomas as our guide, checks his GPS (handheld global positioning system) waypoints (points marked and recorded in the GPS from previous trips) for another treasure in the Bankhead very few people, even locals know about. It is the remnants of a civil war era salt peter furnace and nearby cave. It took about another mile or two of walking, but we arrived at the site. Little known to most folks, is a treasure of history preserved in the Bankhead. During and near the civil war, saltpeter was mined heavily for it's use in the making of gun powder. According to Sam, one of my friends along with us, saltpeter is derived from "cooking" a certain type rock in furnaces or open "pits". The substance called saltpeter would fall to the bottom after this process, I presume with water being used. After it dried out, it could then be easily be collected. At this site (picture on blog), you can see the remnants of the furnace, and shortly by this spot is an old cave where they mined to get the saltpeter. I did not climb down to look inside the cave as the other guys did, but I saw some pictures that they took of the inside. Awesome! We all wished we had brought up flashlights from our packs (we left them by the trail) and headlamps to look further! We shot many pictures of the area, explored more, and then headed back to the trail where our backpacks were waiting.

After all the sights we had seen so far, it is hard to top that. By about 3:30-4:00 p.m., we reached our campsite destination, the mouth of East Bee Branch canyon, entrance to "The Big Tree". This adventure so far has carried us 5 miles of walking to reach the campsite for the night. The Big Tree is just 1/2 mile of walking from here, but we are saving that for the next day. I love this campsite. This makes about my 5th time to stay here. It is very flat, right next to the creek, and just a "hop and a skip" as they say, down from the Big Tree.

This camping spot also has an unusual memory I will remember for a lifetime. The first time we camped here, Bud, one of my friends spent all night laying outside of his tent, throwing up from so much intense pain. His moans of pains pierced the woods and my heart. You can imagine what went through my head, and my buddy Sonny's head as to "what to do" in the middle of a wilderness area. He insisted he just stay put, and for us not to call for help. The next morning, he was able to carry himself, pack and everything out at an extremely slow pace. The fact that he was carrying himself out was alone a miracle, considering we thought he had the pain and suffering of a man about to die. I would have never forgiven myself if he had. He found out two days later that his body was trying to pass a kidney stone. Bud never ever got to see the Big Tree on that trip nor has he even to this day got to see it. He got within 1/2 mile of the tree at this camp, but pain and suffering that night halted any chance of getting up the next morning and heading for the Big Tree. It became a "pray that I get out of here alive day". I will never forget that night, laying in my tent, listing to Bud's intense groans of pain, terrifying me every minute if this man was going to live or die in the Bankhead in the middle of nowhere. I did some serious talks with the Lord that night in my prayers.

Meanwhile on this trip, Saturday night at camp yielded dead calm winds, yielding a "dead quite" sound in the woods that night. We laughed, talked, and did one of the most enjoyable parts of camping....the fireside chats. That's where you tell stories, learn all the embarrassing stories on each other while growing up, and tell tales that you would never speak of in any other environment. Want to get to know someone? Go camping with them and sit around the fire. Before long, you will be laughing your self to death with their stories. Everyone has some funny and unique stories that happen in their lives. The campfire is the perfect place to share them! At around 10 p.m., we rap up the last stories and retire to our tents and hammocks. As we all start to drift off to sleep, a lone coyote up on the top of the bluff nearby, howls out loud and shakes the ground with that erie sound that nobody forgets. It's the sound that brings chills up your spine, but makes the forest such a special place to visit.

Morning yielded crystal clear blue skies and a quick breakfast among everyone. We had a lot of things to do that day, in order to show the North Carolina guys The Big Tree, get out in time so that they will not have a horrific drive home and get in at a very late hour. We tore down camp, stuck our packs over in a pile, and headed up East Bee Branch for the grand attraction. A 1/2 mile walk on a chilly 27 degree morning carried us up the canyon to the Big Tree. Not a cloud in the sky, autumn color leaves preparing to drop, and that beautiful blue sky, made it a morning that one never forgets. The "out of town" guys were impressed, even though it won't even come in second place to the monster trees in Joyce Kilmer Forest over in western North Carolina. They knew that, but realized that this was our "pride and joy" in Alabama. A tree that has survived several hundred years and withstood the test of time and man's greed for lumber. Of just about all the trees stripped and pulled out of the Bankhead, this one has managed to survive. On this trip, one of probably 10 or 15 Steve and I have taken to this spot, we noticed something different. Absolutely NO WATER flowing over the falls. The Big Tree has two, very special, very tall, waterfalls that add to the beauty. With this summers hottest on record temps, and the lack of rainfall, there was nothing to see coming off the 90-100 foot bluffs surrounding The Big Tree. I shot some pictures to record this, since I have never ever been to this area when NO water was coming off of the falls. After showing the visitors around the area, we all packed up and headed back to our campsite. From there, we loaded up the packs and headed out. This time, we took the "unofficial" 2 mile short trip out. THIS is the way to the Big Tree. Unfortunately, most everyone that comes in out of town follows the traditional U.S. Forest Service trails. The easiest way to see The Big Tree is to park at Thompson Creek Trailhead as everyone does. Follow the trail down to the first branch you come to and cross. After you cross the branch, shortly the Forest Service Trail 206 bears on around to the right and follows Thompson Creek. Instead of bearing to the right, you turn to the left, and follow a worn out trail that most people that know the area take. They might as well designate it as a trail because it is already that from so much traffic. It goes up White Oak Hollow and then you go up and over White Oak. The incline going up the east side of White Oak hollow on the trail will definitely take the breath out of you while coming in to see The Big Tree, but reward you with a nice descent coming back from the Big Tree. Total miles going in-around 2 miles. Total miles going the long way-5.5 miles. So take your pick, a 4 mile hike to see the Big Tree, or a 11 mile hike.

After making our 2 mile journey from the Big Tree coming the short route, we close out another great adventure trip! A total of 9 miles walked in two days, more friendships made with our guys from North Carolina, and another reminder that more camping is full steam ahead with the leaves departing the trees. The chilly nights and crystal clear skies to behold at night in the outdoors! Let's get ready, get packed, and wait for the next weekend to go again! You will be there too so stand by and get ready!