Monday, July 13, 2015

Bob Stratton Bald With Kenny

Crown of turks cap lilies.

Bob Stratton Bald With Kenny
Sunday July 12, 2015

Dana & Kenny Koogler

Total hike distance 5. 8 miles *
Pictures are here beginning with frame 196
Bob Stratton Bald 2015 Pix  

    I try to make it up to Bob Stratton Bald every July when the turks cap lilies are in bloom.
Last year I went later than I ever had before.  It was a good day and I had nice weather for
my hike, but I had waited until the lilies were past peak.   I determined I was not going to do
that again if I could help it.   I had wanted for some time to get Kenny up there to check it 
out for himself. He had never experienced it and I wanted him to at least try it. He agreed he
could use some exercise and said he would go with me.    

     I explained to him the various routes offering the main two. 
Route Option #1 Beech Gap out Fodderstack and up to Bob's Bald at a moderate 
grade and a total hike distance of about 6 miles.   
 Route Optin #2--Wolf Laurel to Stratton Bald Trail and out to Bob's Bald with a more
strenuous grade at about 3.5 miles.  

 He opted for shorter, steeper so Wolf Laurel it was. Part of the attraction for Kenny to go up
via Wolf Laurel was that he knew he had been up there a long time ago, but did not recall much about it.  The second thing was we love driving old backroads.  The third thing was seeing 
waterfalls along the way.    We had a nice drive out the Cherohala Skyway and he remembered
more about the route than he thought.  We turned at Stratton Meadows road and continued.
We were already seeing huge patches of crimson bee balm along the road and tall spires of turks cap lilies.    
               You'll never seen any larger, prettier patches of crimson bee balm than occur
along the Cherohala Skyway and its side roads.


On the way in we were stopped checking out wildflowers and could hear Santeetlah Creek roaring below us in the rhodo. We were only able to get one small glimpse of it, but from that
and the sound we were not surprised to find that Cold Branch was one cascade and waterfall 
after another! I didn't have to ask twice before Kenny pulled over and we bushwhacked down the bank to view it.  Most water I ever saw coming over this falls ever. More than worth the stop to see it.

Here is a short video of this pretty waterfall


   We continued our pretty drive winding up and up the mountain to Wolf Laurel.
We finally arrived at the trail head and found no one there which is typical.  We had seen all of
one other vehicle on the road today.   We gathered our gear and up the trail we went.


Horse Mint reminds me of a Dr. Seuss flower. 

      The trail is not bad in most places.  It is pretty straight forward, but I had done it numerous time
previously.    I am also a map geek and spend too much time daydreaming and gazing at maps.
The trail in its lower reaches is in excellent condition and well maintained even for wilderness standards.    It goes up and after a climb it benches out and rolls along gently for a spell.  It has
several spots along it that mess with you making you think you're coming to some intersection or you've come to a the top of the ridge only to learn you have more to do.   Some work arounds have been created by people cutting trail.  Some are logical in avoiding washed out sections of trail and blown down trees.  Other work arounds make no sense and lead to potential confusion for the hiker
who has not been here before.   I had told Kenny about the first trips I made where I was bushwhacking through walls of briars in order to continue.  Last Summer I encountered ALL
the bad sections cleared completely which was a lovely surprise.   I told him I expected it to be
a piece of cake today thanks to that.  Oh what a liar that statement made of me. No trail maintenance
has been done since last Summer to clear the briars. Cutting them back has made them rebound
vigorously and given one more season with no clipping and they'll be back to as bad as they
ever were or maybe worse!  

"There's no more going back this way. The path is overgrown and strewn with thorns."

 Stratton Bald trail

Interesting rock formations along the path.  Many fins of rock thrust up from the Appalachian orogeny.   I always love this trail.. briars and all.


A partial view north toward the lake.  


Kenny admiring the rock fins along our way.

     We sat down just before we reached the ridge line and ate lunch.  We had grown very hungry.
It was 12:45 pm.   We brought subs and so we sat down on a log to eat and rest.    It began raining
just as we finished eating.  We got going again.  I covered my pack with my rain coat, but
left it loose so I didn't sweat to death on the climb.  It wasn't long until the light rain quit.
We only got damp enough to be cooled off and enjoyed the rain.   I was trucking right along on the ridge with Kenny ahead of me.   The next thing I knew I was down.   I fell hard. I was crossing a low
rock in the trail that was damp and slippery.   I heard myself go down hard enough to knock the wind
out of me.   I hit my head and upper back on the rock as I went down.  I saw stars, but once I realized
what had happened I did have sense enough to sit still.  I quickly did a self assessment before I allowed myself to move a muscle.   Kenny came running back with a horrified look on his face.
I was feeling around to see what I had done to myself.  Thank the Lord I was ok.  My backpack
shielded my back and head from the fall.  My hair was clipped up and even the hair clip kept my head
from making contact with the rock the way it would had I gone down without it.  I was ok.
My left hand and arm had some red marks on them from the way I hit. Later Kenny would find one
small red spot on my back but that was it. No pone on my head.  No bleeding or anything.

I realized how fortunate I was and I took his fussing at me for I deserved it. I had scared him. I had scared myself. I was not paying good attention to where I was walking. I think I became over confident because I was not alone so I was being sloppy.  I could still get hurt solo, but I know I am far more attentive to my surroundings when the only help I have is me!

        We pushed on through briar patches up top and wound along the ridge.  Finally
the forest began to transition in earnest.  Kenny has hiked enough that he picked up on it right away
that we were nearing the bald.  We entered the balsam zone and enjoyed a brief walk through that portion of the trail.  Before that we went through the rock fins and some nice grassy patches and spots where seven foot tall patches of turks cap lilies lit the woods like candles.  Pink rosebay rhodo dotted the woods all along the path today.  We had moments of fog drifting past us. It was surreal!
Balsam zone along the trail.

  I had promised Kenny there was one more briar patch after the balsam zone and then the trail
would open up to the main bald.  It did and it really pleased me to hear him exclaim when he looked out and got his first glance at the bald in its glory!

East side of Bob's Bald.  The fragrance of the phlox was powerful when we stepped out of the briar patch!

     The sun came out on the bald and we were drying off and cooling.  We had a nice breeze
at times.    It felt good up here. We wandered around checking things out.  We even explored parts of the bald I had not visited before. I don't feel as bold when I am all alone and tend to stick to the main part of the bald.    We had a gorgeous view in the distance of the Snowbird Mountains to the south.

View across Bob Stratton Bald to the foggy Snowbird Mountains south of us.

See this nice grassy patch of ground? Yesterday being here in this spot helped me come to a realization.  Kenny married me for three reasons 1. I am weak minded and easily lead. 2. I don't learn from things the first time.  3. I have questionable morals.    He easily talked me into a love making session here in this beautiful, seemingly secluded place.   He later told me just as we began our hike back that he found it is a cut off trail that goes from an unofficial access off Fodderstack to here.
We either never learn or we never care.... or maybe both.

           We wandered around the top for a good while together and separately.
It was beautiful,but we were here before peak bloom. The orchids I saw last year were mere pips.
The bald was still lovely, but the turks cap lilies were not fully bloomed out yet.  Tassel rue was out, but only two or three clumps of it.  I had to work for shots today.  Most of the lilies were tucked away
in the margins with only a few out on the main part of the bald. 

      We made our way back off the bald and just took our time.   It only took us about three hours or so to see everything and get back.  We motored along pretty good taking few breaks on either the way up or the way down.    The main rest periods were eating and me .. falling!

         Back in the jeep we turned on some good music and headed back toward Tellico Plains.
It was very chill with my sweetie along. I was so glad he came with me.   How else can I be a dissolute freak and pervert if he doesn't accompany me?  We both remarked how quiet it was today. We saw very few people all day or vehicles.   It was nice, but the Skyway is usually busy in Summer on weekends.  Today was not like that at all.    It seemed a little odd.   We stopped at Turkey Creek Road and turned aside for me to go visit a cascade I had learned of from Paul Gamble.   Today I finally figured out how to reach it and it was worth the side trip.   Wrapping up your days adventures
standing in a cool mountain stream surrounded by beauty with the golden evening sun at your back is about as good as it gets.   I could feel the soft breath of Summer and just start to see the pink gold
alpenglow that comes round these parts.   I am blessed indeed.

Cascade at the old grist mill site along Turkey Creek.  Thanks Paul.

Below is a short video of this beautiful falls.


**Correction on Trip Mileage**
7/14/2015 --Last night in reading Tim Homan's guidebook I found the description of this hike
and my math on the mileage from another trip. I still find it hard to believe because the trip is so 
easy, but the one way distance is 2.9 miles.  Here is the breakdown on it for myself for future reference.   Wolf Laurel spur trail 0.2 miles from the parking area to the intersection with Stratton Bald Trail.  From there it is another 2.7 miles up to Bob Stratton Bald.   Making it 2.9 miles one way.
2.9 miles x 2= 5.8 miles round trip.  Visual comparison on the map doesn't do anything to convince me this is accurate, but I think it is because the map is not a really good scale map. I would say we  hiked an additional 1/2 to 3/4 mile just ambling around up on the top.  Whenever I go to a grassy bald I almost always entirely cross it. That would make our round trip milage closer to 6.3 miles.
Sorry for the confusion.  

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