Tick Paralysis

Our story

This is our experience with tick paralysis.

The Pin-Chin-Sky Loop is a beautiful, yet challenging experience that includes significant elevation gain and loss along with technical terrain. There are some breaks from the challenge, of course, and those include calm stretches of shady forest along creeks, and our nemesis, long stretches of overgrown grassy trail.

As with any seasoned hikers, our major concern within these areas are snakes. This is the Southeastern US, of course… it’s snake country, Y’all!

I’ve always viewed ticks as more of a subject of disdain than anything really life-threatening. I mean, logically I know the potential is there for Lyme Disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, general infection, etc. Tick paralysis never really crossed our minds.

When it came to any actual perceived risk, though, my rose-colored glasses were always on. Our experience over the past weekend changed everything!

Our backpacking trip started with a night at Turnipseed Campground on Sunday 7/29 so we could get an early start leaving from Adams Gap on 7/30. Everything went off without a hitch (just kidding, but that’s for another post). 12 miles on the 30th and another 11 on the 31st, and we were exhausted and back at the car, heading home.

The real story begins.

Based on the number of ticks we had pulled off of ourselves during the trip, I knew I’d have my work cut out for me with these little long-haired dogs once we got back home. I checked both of them every night after work, and pulled off more ticks than I can count from each dog. It’s a bad season for them, from what I understand.

Just to provide a little background information: each dog has worn a Seresto collar since April, which places the collar well within its functional limits of 8 months. This collar, although aimed at flea control (for which it has been flawless on both dogs), is also indicated for tick control. I thought I’d give it a shot this year, since Frontline Plus no longer works for either of the dogs, and my vet has told me on more than one occasion that it is simply ineffective these days.

Porter cannot tolerate Nexgard at all, so I took that option off the table and went for the Seresto. Since both are senior dogs, I always hesitate to try something new on them, but both have tolerated the collar very well, so I decided to just be extra vigilant on tick picking after each trip.

After this particular trip, I noticed that roughly 40% of the ticks I found on Porter were already dead. That’s not great, but for a dog that has already had an adverse reaction to Nexgard, it’s acceptable. For Hagrid, it was a different story. Maybe 20% of the ticks I found on him were dead. At the rate I pulled ticks off of these dogs, that’s really not good. The rest of the week was normal as can be, until it wasn’t.

Timeline of our experience.

Saturday, 8/4

9:00 AM

I got up as usual to get ready for work. The dogs went out and I noticed that Hagrid looked a little wobbly. This is unusual, despite him being nearly 16 years old. Then again, we did complete the toughest hike he’s been a part of just a few days prior- I chalked it up to delayed onset muscle soreness.

12:30 PM

I got a call from Jack saying that the unsteadiness had rapidly progressed to stumbling and loss of balance. Panicked, I went home immediately to find an emergency vet, as my usual office is an hour away and is closed after 12:30 on Saturdays.

2:00 PM

We found a highly rated emergency vet and Hagrid got an exam and bloodwork. All bloodwork came back completely normal. The vet briefly discussed tick paralysis (and found 3-4 ticks during the exam), but diagnosed Idiopathic Vestibular Disease. This is a disorder that is somewhat common in old dogs, and affects the inner ear to the extent that the dog has trouble maintaining balance. The condition normally resolves itself within 4-5 days. They sent us home with an anti-nausea medication and we were instructed to let him rest.

Tick paralysis
Little sad face.

8:00 PM

Hagrid has never really been one to lose appetite, and he ate and drank and took his pill without issue that night. He still looked pretty wobbly, but the symptoms didn’t seem to progress.

The next day

Sunday, 8/5

8:30 AM

Hagrid was completely unable to stand. There was no muscle tone, and when I picked him up it was like picking up a 20-pound wet noodle. He wouldn’t accept water and would barely eat a treat- this, of course, was VERY unusual.

9:00 AM

I called the emergency vet, who recommended bringing Hagrid back to keep him overnight until the neurologist returned Monday and could give a neurological exam/tests. We hemmed and hawed on this for a bit, because honestly, what are they going to be able to tell us without the neurologist there?

Very much out of character for him.

 

10:00 AM

I was an absolute mess. Jack reminded me of the possibility of tick paralysis and encouraged me to keep looking. I said “But the vets already looked for them! They found a few, I’m sure that’s all that were left. I think he’s dying.” I had a good cry and tried to prepare myself for the worst.

11:00 AM

I figured what the hell, I’ll try to find some ticks… really go over this dog head to toe, and then do it again, and again. I got the comb and tweezers out and started checking.

2:30 PM

The real-deal, Hail Mary tick checking is done. 11 more ticks in a Ziploc bag to take to my regular vet on Monday, just in case he can test them or do something. I found 4 of them just between his toes! How could I have missed so many when I had been looking every day?

4:00 PM

Time for another serious check, just in case…. this one turned up nothing. I removed his Seresto collar, on the off chance that it could have caused neurological side effects after 4 months- another Hail Mary.

8:00 PM

Hagrid started drinking water for the first time since Saturday, and even ate a half portion of his dinner. I pulled him up to a sitting position, and his front legs were strong enough to support his weight for a few seconds. This doesn’t sound like much, but it was a huge improvement!

8:30 PM

The third tick check of the day revealed a big nasty one on the back of his left leg, close to the base of his tail. Once again, I was shocked that I missed it after multiple head to toe checks. Into the bag it went.

10:30 PM

Hagrid crawled about 2 feet across the bed to get a french fry. I was ecstatic!

11:30 PM

Hagrid stood up on his own! I carried him down the deck stairs to pee outside, and he even took a few steps. Great sign! He went to bed in his favorite closet shortly after.

Monday, 8/6

7:30 AM

As Hagrid is profoundly deaf, I tapped him to wake him up for morning pee time. To my surprise, he got right up, walked down the stairs, and did all his business, with no help!

11:00 AM

Finally, my regular vet was able to see Hagrid! By this time, I had no doubt that his actual diagnosis would be tick paralysis, but I wanted him to get a checkup anyway because research told me that tick paralysis can cause heart arrhythmia.

I had a Ziploc bag of 12 nasty ticks, just in case, but as I suspected it would have been prohibitively expensive to send them for analysis so they weren’t needed. My vet listened to Hagrid’s heart and confirmed that there was no arrhythmia.

I described the backpacking trip, and my vet was shocked that such an old guy could tough it out for 23 miles! He actually said that Hagrid is one of the healthiest 15-year-old dogs he has ever seen.

I left with a 7 month supply of Nexgard (Hagrid has had it before and tolerated it well, Porter will stick to Seresto for now), and an off-label use of Capstar. This is officially indicated only for fleas, but may help with any remaining ticks. I’d say that I got them all, but if this awful experience has taught me anything, it’s that you never really know.

6:40 PM

As I’m writing this post, we’ve been home from the vet for about 5 hours now. Hagrid has begged for Popeye’s chicken, snuck out of the garage to meet the new neighbor children, and just generally been his wonderful pain-in-the-ass self.

Conclusion

I will never again underestimate the potential nastiness of a tick bite, in dogs OR humans. Please remember to ALWAYS check your dog, and yourself for ticks. This includes between the toes and around the pads!

If you have a dog that is able to tolerate Nexgard (dogs generally do very well on this, I just have a rare exception with Porter), it is definitely worth the cost for the peace of mind.

If your dog does NOT tolerate Nexgard or other preventatives, consider buying a dose of Capstar after your tick-infested hike just in case- it is indicated for fleas only, so tick control is technically off-label use, but my vet says that it can help with ticks as well. At any rate, it’s 12 bucks.

And humans- tick paralysis is very rare, but can happen to us too! Be vigilant and be safe! Tick paralysis in humans is most common in children and for some reason, young girls are the most susceptible.

 

Cheaha Wilderness: Overnight on Nubbin Creek Trail

Nubbin Creek Trail

Nubbin Trailhead Parking Area

Nubbin Creek Trailhead is just outside of the Cheaha Wilderness Area in the Talladega National Forest near Anniston, Alabama. The trailhead is located on a small gravel culdesac off Nubbin Creek Rd. The turn is well marked with the typical yellow and brown FS trailhead sign.

After pulling into the culdesac there are two trails: one to the left and one to the right. The trail to the right is Nubbin Creek Trail. The one on the left has an oddly placed fire ring directly in the middle of the trail and I’ve read there is a secluded campsite at the end, but I can’t confirm that first hand.

Taking the trail to the right, you will see a trail sign telling you that you are on the right path. You can also access Cave Creek Trail and the Odum Scout Trail from here as well. Just ahead you will see an FS kiosk to the left.

Cheaha Wilderness
About 50 feet in on the right.
Cheaha Wilderness
About 100 feet in on the left.
Cheaha Wilderness
NIce clear path

Planning The Trip

I planned this trip as an easy overnight to just get away for the weekend. We wanted to do some easy camping and just relax for this one. It being Labor Day weekend, we knew car camping would be a no go. Primitive campgrounds would be full of loud drunks and amateur campers. I’m not even going to go into the State Parks. I knew that Nubbin Creek Trail doesn’t normally have very much traffic and decided that was our best option to get away for the night.

I found a spot on the map that appeared to be suitable for camping and figured that there should be an established campsite with water not too far. The spot I chose was on a ridgeline about 2 1/4 miles in, where the trail begins to head west toward Parker High Point and the Odum Trail.

Time to Hike

We began our hike heading north on the trail and the persimmons were in full fruit. Eventually, we made our way to Mill Shoal Creek and there was a trail to the right, but we continued left with the creek on our right.  We could hear the cascades in the background, but this time of year it is still too overgrown to really get a good view from Nubbin Trail. There are spur trails that head down to get a view, but this wasn’t our plan for this trip. We decided that we would come back once the leaves had fallen and given way for a better view in the late fall or early winter.

Nubbin Creek Trailhead
Maps and walkie-talkies.

A close call with a resident

As we were making our way up the trail we came across a timber rattler sunning itself right in the middle of the trail. He was was just a little guy, about three and a half feet long. I immediately had, Marcie keep the dogs behind her and I tried to push him off the trail with my walking stick. He was not having any part of it. It seemed that he liked his little sunbathing spot and was yielding for no one.

My attempt to get him off the trail with my stick only convinced him that he should take his defensive posture and coil while shaking his rattle. I took some pictures of him and tried to wait him out, but to no avail, he was parked and not going anywhere without a little more force. I pushed him with my stick and I was completely expecting him to strike but he didn’t. Then I pushed him back a good foot or so and he just kept rattling at me. Finally, after I had poked at him a few more times with my walking stick, he moved off of the trail and rested under a rock beside the trail.

 

Cheaha Wilderness
Fat little guy.

Back on Track

The trail continued along the Mill Shoals Creek for a short distance. The trail dipped south and separated from the creek and then U-Turned back north. There are a lot of dried up old creek beds and at least one small brook crossing on this part of the trail. I doubt this brook is a reliable water source year round, but I can’t say for sure. Nubbin continued north for about half a mile until we met up with Mill Shoal Creek again, this time crossing it and witnessing a beautiful little waterfall to the left. The trail jogged east for about a 1/8 of a mile and then to the west for about another 1/8 of a mile, before coming to another creek crossing. This area of the trail also had quite a few dried up creek beds and another brook.

Cheaha Wilderness
NIce waterfall on the Nubbin Creek Trail

After the creek crossing Nubbin veers to the east for a small jaunt and then back to the north. This part of the trail opens up and there is clear view of the valley to the east. After about 1/4 mile the trail comes to a series of small knobs on a ridgeline and then heads west. This is where we found our campsite (just as I had predicted from looking at the map). The campsite we found was about 250 feet after the trail headed west on the right. There was an old fire ring and plenty of trees to hang our tarp and hammocks from.

Exploration Was In Order

After camp was set and I had a snack, I looked at my map and plotted a little trip to take to check out Cave Creek. I found the spot I wanted to check out,  set the bearing on my compass and off I went. After walking for about ten minutes I found an old jeep track and decided to follow it instead of my original route. The jeep track headed down a steep hill and it was evident that no one had traveled this road in a while. Along the way, I saw some old beer cans with the old peel off lids. The only tracks I saw were animal tracks and there were a few blowdowns blocking the path.

I love walking old roads in the backcountry because you never know what you’re going to come across along the way. That was definitely the case on this old road. I came upon some bearing trees and a property marker at a corner of the Cheaha Wilderness boundary. I find these things pretty cool myself, but hey, I admit that I’m a dork.

Cheaha Wilderness
Cheaha Wilderness Boundary Marker
Cheaha Wilderness
I found this on the edge of the Cheaha Wilderness
Cheaha Wilderness
Cheaha Wilderness Boundary Marker
Cheaha Wilderness
Corner of the Wilderness

Continuing to Cave Creek

After taking the pictures of the markers I followed the road for a little longer until I found an area that was clear enough for me to make my way to the creek. I built a small cairn and found a unique looking tree to mark my spot and headed for Cave Creek. After walking for about a thousand feet, climbing over a few downed trees and scraping my legs up on some thorns along the way. I got to the creek bank and I had to climb down about six feet to actually be able to stand at the edge of the creek. The bank on the other side of the creek was nice and level and no climbing was involved at all.

Cave Creek is crystal clear and the water was just above frigid. I decided to take the opportunity to dip my visor in the water to cool my head off.  It was nice and quiet back there. All I could hear was the occasional bird chirping, squirrels rustling about and the water flowing. There were a few of what I like to call smurf waterfalls that were beautiful, so I snapped a couple of pictures.

Cheaha Wilderness
Notice the tree is growing in the middle of the creek.
Cheaha Wilderness
Crystal clear water on Cave Creek
Cheaha Wilderness
Roots forming a smurf waterfall
Cheaha Wilderness
I don’t know how I find these spots.
Cheaha Wilderness
A little closer look at the tree.

 

Back to Camp

I took it all in for a little while, listening to nature speak her language. I am always more at peace when I am out in the wilderness. In a comforting way, it makes me feel more human. Marcie was probably wondering where I was, so I had to leave this little spot and head back to camp. I headed back toward the old road, found my tree, made a right and saw my cairn. I headed back the way I had come and on the way back I found a turkey feather. I’m not sure why, but I stuck it into the ground as if I was marking my path.

As I mentioned before on the way in the road went down a steep hill. So obviously, my trek back was all uphill. Did I mention that it was a steep hill?

Our camp was in sight when I noticed that there was a small brook about five-hundred feet. This was a total score because I thought the closest water source was the last creek we had crossed on the way in. This offered me a little relief because it’s always nice to have a water source close by.

Getting Ready For The Night

It always makes us happy when firewood is in abundance. This one of the many reasons that we love the backcountry. We have never had any problem finding firewood in the Cheaha Wilderness, or any wilderness for that matter. As much as we love to car camp. It can be a challenge to find wood, even in the most primitive campgrounds.

I got a chance to try out the new manual chainsaw that I had just bought from Wal-Mart, of all places. Never underestimate the camping section at Wal-Mart. I have found some pretty cool stuff on their shelves. The saw worked pretty good for what it was, and even though I got some blisters from it. I give it a thumbs up. The best part is, it’s pretty lightweight and very packable.

We used our backpacking stoves to make our Knorr’s pasta sides and cooked the sausages on the fire. The Johnsonville precooked sausages are great for the first night on the trail. I would even go as far as packing them for two nights. The Knorr’s sides are a buck and come in a huge variety of flavors. It only takes 1-2/3 cup of water and you can put some powdered milk with them and then cook for about 7-8 minutes. They make a great backcountry meal.

Yipping and Howling Through the Night

After dinner, we hung the remainder of our food and then settled into our hammocks. We listened to some audiobooks on my phone and just chatted about the day, and how we wished that we could stay longer than just a night.

Every time we are in Alabama we hear the same strange bird call at night.  Neither of us has any idea what it is, but it sounds weird, not creepy or freaky, just weird. After about an hour or so, we started to hear the coyotes in the distance. They were really far at first, but they were definitely getting closer.

They make those yips back and forth to each other and have a trick where they can make two or three sound like a pack. Marcie had been asleep for about two hours when they got so close that they woke her. At this point, we were well aware of each others presence. We heard them start howling and I’ve read that they usually only howl when threatened, or use it as a warning. They were probably only about fifty to seventy-five yard away from us. They got close enough that I had to yell at them and scare them away. I don’t really worry about them hurting me or, Marcie, but our dogs are small and that’s what worries me. Our little old guys would make a nice meal for a couple of hungry coyotes.

It seemed that my yelling scared them away, but it was hard for me to sleep after that. I made sure to keep the fire going all night, and from time to time, I could still hear them in the distance. I guess I scared them pretty good because they were pretty far off, and in a completely different direction. Maybe it was another group. Who knows?

Time To Say Good-Bye

The morning came around and I got up and pulled the food bag from the tree. The first business of the day was to put on the coffee. Shortly after, Marcie woke up and we had morning coffee together. We decided to skip cooking breakfast and just have some snacks before packing up and hiking out. Our dogs are old and they get tired if we get started too late in the day. So the decision was made to get back to the trailhead and drive down and check out High Falls. It’s a good thing too because Hagrid (14-year-old dog) was dragging that day and making little to no effort at hiking. We got back to the car, put our gear in and made our way to the falls.

Cheaha Wilderness
A little toad we saw on the way out.

Conclusion

If you are looking for a secluded place to do some overnights, Nubbin Creek Trail is a must do. The cascades on Mill Shoal Creek are supposed to be really nice to view in the fall and winter and we are looking forward to going back near the end of the year. The Nubbin Creek Trail ends at the intersections of Cave Creek Trail and the Odum Scout Trail. It’s a nice little gateway into the Cheaha Wilderness from the back door.

I think this trail is overlooked, which is probably a good thing for those of us who like to be alone in the wilderness. I saw no one out there on Labor Day weekend, and, Marcie told me that when I was out on my excursion that two backpackers had walked through. That’s it, another couple, that’s all there was out there. That being said, you would think a trail that lightly trafficked would not be maintained very well. To the contrary, the Nubbin Creek Trail is well maintained and easy to navigate. I highly recommend that you get out to the Cheaha Wilderness and give the Nubbin a whirl.

Cheaha Wilderness
Mushroom action.

 

Click the bubble for directions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nottely Lake

Nottely Lake

The Plan

Nottely Lake is 20 miles long, 4,180 acres and has 106 miles of shoreline. There are a couple different ways we could have gone about camping at Nottely Lake. We could have camped at Poteete Creek Campground, (if you prefer having toilets, running water and electricity, this would be the obvious choice) however, we went the route of dispersed camping. Our goal for this trip was privacy and solitude.

While planning the trip with my map and satellite photos, I discovered Hyatt Bend island. I saw a cove that looked pretty nice and it appeared to have a beach, so we decided we were going check it out and see if we liked it when we got there. The island lies directly across from the beach at Poteete Creek Campground and just far enough away for privacy. We also wanted a spot where the dogs could roam free without having us having to worry about them

Neither, Marcie or I had ever been to Nottely Lake before, so we took a little extra time off of work to make it a three- day, two-night expedition. Our plan was to get an early start to get there early just in case the island wasn’t suitable. There are other islands to choose from, so we wanted time to explore those as well. Hyatt Bend Island is just offshore from Davenport Mountain, which has some ATV trails we wanted to check out and hike.

Nottely Lake Execution

We loaded our gear and put the kayaks on the roof of the car the night before. This way we could head out fairly early in the morning. The next morning we got on the road at about nine am. and we arrived at Nottely Lake at around eleven-thirty. We chose to launch the kayaks from the boat ramp at Poteete Creek Campground. I had spoken to them a few days prior to confirm if we would be able to park overnight. The lady I spoke to said it would be a nominal fee of two dollars per night. I figured that was a bargain and decided that was what we would do. We didn’t want to take a chance at being towed or someone vandalizing the car.

We found the office, paid our six dollars for parking and talked to a gentleman about camping on the lake and asked if it would better to launch from the ramp or the beach. He told us the ramp would probably be a wiser choice to avoid walking a mile. Then he asked us if we needed ice and it just so happened that we did. He told us it was two dollars a bag, explained that it was an honor system and directed us to the ice machine, which we had conveniently parked right next to. We put four dollars in the slot on a locked mailbox and took our two bags of ice.

We drove over to the boat ramp, took the kayaks off the car and loaded our gear onto boats. It was time to launch!

Poteete Creek Boat Ramp
Loaded up and ready to launch.

Hyatt Bend Island here we come

FS topo map

We launched the kayaks from the ramp and off we paddled. It was a beautiful day to be out on the water. We headed toward the dam and around a little peninsula. At the tip of the peninsula, we took a right and followed the shoreline around the campground. From there we paddled into open water for a little less than half a mile. Hyatt Bend Island was in sight and so was our cove. The excitement was definitely starting to build as we got closer. We didn’t know what to expect of Hyatt Bend except what had seen on the satellite imagery.

Nottely Lake
Fully loaded on Nottely Lake

We made it to our cove and landed on the beach and took the dogs out of the boats. They were just as excited as we were to be there. Unfortunately, this little beach was in plain view from the campground beach. It also wasn’t as nice as we had anticipated, so we decided to scout the island for another spot. We walked up the beach and into the woods to see what we could find. Hyatt Bend isn’t very big, maybe two thousand feet long by five hundred feet at its widest point.

We found an established campsite in the middle of the island and it looked pretty sweet but we decided to do a little more scouting. We found another spot on the west side of the island as well, but what we really wanted was a beach spot, so we pressed on. Once on the south side of the island, we found another cove with a perfect little beach. We assessed the area and found a spot for our shelter and our hammocks. This was it!

Our Beach Spot

Nottely Lake
Beach Landing

After paddling around the western tip of the island, we landed at our little beach spot. It was time to unload and set up camp for the weekend. The only place to put our hammocks and hang our tarp was covered by vines with hellaciously gnarly thorns. These suckers were bad! One actually went right through the tread of my Olu Kai flip flops and stabbed me in the foot. I used my tomahawk to cut the vines back, which took about half an hour and yes they fought back. These things scratched, stabbed, scraped and poked me several times during this process but I prevailed the victor of this battle.

I set up the ridgeline and began to hang our tarp, while Marcie gathered stones from the beach to build a fire ring. By this time the wind had picked up and started to blow from the south. Remember, we were on the south side of the island, so it was blowing right into our little beach spot. This definitely made securing the tarp a little challenging, but I got through it and we wound up with a nice little shelter.

The hammock, my friend, is blowing in the wind.

After we got the shelter built and Marcie built the fire ring, it was time to gather wood. There was definitely an abundance of the stuff on this island and we didn’t have to go far to get it either. All we really had to do was walk the up the beach where the sand met the tree line and gather as we went. The best part of it being so close and plentiful was that we didn’t have to dedicate much of our relaxation time to collect it. It was firewood city on Hyatt Bend Island!

Porter chilling in the shade in his shelter

Settling Into Relaxation Mode

We put on some afternoon coffee, started a fire and soaked in the fresh air of the outdoors. It was nice to just lounge and forget about the hectic pace of life we left behind in Metro Atlanta. Sitting staring out at the water and watching the dogs explore the beach gave me a great deal contentment.

Of course, hunger was starting to set in and we started thinking about the marinated chicken and all the fixings we brought to accompany it. I had spent the entire day before prepping food for the trip. I made pasta and potato salads then broke down an entire chicken and marinated it for twelve hours for our dinner for the first night on the island.

After dinner, we settled into our hammocks and let the sounds of the lake carry us off to sleep. I was raised from my slumber at one point by the sounds of a very large crash, and I can only assume that it was a blowdown. The wind had picked something fierce and was coming in from the north now, which made our decision to camp on the south side of the island seem more assuring.

Rude Awakening

We were awakened once again at about 2 am from the sound of a loud boat cruising very slowly across the lake shining a spot light into the woods around Davenport Mountain. This boat was loud and sounded like an old jalopy powered by a lawnmower engine that smoked too many cigarettes after a long night at the bar. What these guys were doing out there in the middle of the night is a mystery to me. I thought that maybe they were poaching. But who on God’s green earth would be stupid enough to commit such a serious felonious act driving what sounded like a piece of broken down lawn equipment on a quiet lake in the middle of the night? They soon moved on and we fell back to sleep.

Good morning Nottely Lake

I woke up before the sunrise and started a pot of coffee to get me moving and warm me up. The temperature dropped into the high forties and with the humidity from the lake, it felt pretty chilly early in April. Thankfully, the coals were still burning from the fire the night before and it didn’t take me long to have a nice fire burning again. I drank my coffee, read my book and watched the sun start to rise over the shoreline of Nottely Lake. It was already shaping up to be a great day on a beautiful lake setting in the north Georgia mountains.

Nottely Lake
Sunrise on Nottely Lake
Nottely Lake
What a beautiful morning on Nottely Lake
Nottely Lake
Morning coffee on Nottely Lake
Nottely Lake
Nice long fire heating up some coffee for Marcie

Once the sky was illuminated a little more by the morning sun, I decided to go for a paddle across the lake and check the shoreline across from Hyatt Bend Island. Reaching the bank of the island I landed my boat on the beach. I walked up the hill and found a campsite directly in the middle of the small island. I say the island, but it is actually attached to land by a small sliver of beach that extends about one hundred yards off the shore line. You can tell, though, that at some points during the year this sliver of beach submerged.

The campsite in the middle of this island is nice and there even a toilet constructed with 2x4s and an old toilet seat. Needless to say, I had to take that sucker for a whirl and give it my seal of approval (it passed the test). I thought about strapping to my kayak and hauling back over to our island, but after some calculated cyphering, I decided it would have been too much work. But what a sight that would have been to someone in the distance, me hauling a make shift toilet across a lake strapped to my kayak. It makes me chuckle just thinking about it. After my exploration was over, I paddled back to Hyatt Bend and started contemplating breakfast.

I can’t make this stuff up

Let’s get this day started

About this time, Marcie was stirring and rising from her slumber. As she slowly got up and got her coffee on, we talked about being woken up by the old jalopy and I asked her if she had heard the sound of the blowdown (she did not). She asked me what I had been doing all morning, so I told her of my boat ride and the tale of the make shift toilet. Immediately she was intrigued by my discovery, and we decided that after breakfast she would have to see it for herself.

Nottely Lake
Campsite on Toilet Island

The fire I had started earlier in the morning had burned down into perfect cooking coals and it took little to no effort for me to start the cooking process. I don’t know about you, but I love a good campfire breakfast. I started with potatoes cooked with garlic, onions and red bell peppers. Then, of course, some nice thick cut bacon and finally scrambled eggs cooked in the left over bacon grease. A meal fit for two lake explorers with left overs could have probably fed a small tribe in Africa.

Nottely Lake
Cooking breakfast at Nottely Lake
Nottely Lake
Chow time!!

After digesting our small meal, we decided to load the dogs onto the kayaks and go check out Nottely Lake and recon campsites for future visits. Our first stop was Toilet Island, or as, Marcie calls it Island Number One. I personally think that Island Number Two would be more appropriate, given earlier events, but whatever. We stormed the beach of Toilet Island and released the hounds to roam the shoreline. I led, Marcie and the dogs to the center of the island and showed her the one fire ring/one bathroom campsite that could quite possibly be our next camping adventure on future visits to Nottely Lake. After viewing this potential future destination, we got in our kayaks and moved to another spot I had picked out on the map to explore.

Island Number Two

Nottely Lake
Island Number Two

We paddled about half a mile south on Nottely Lake and found Island Number Two, we beached our kayaks and started to survey the island. There are a couple of campsite on this island and they were pretty nice. As we walked the beach the dogs found some Canadian geese sitting on their eggs. This did not go well for the dogs. The geese chased them across the beach until I intervened and chased the geese into the lake. We walked around to the south side of the island and found another family of geese but this time we kept the dogs far away.

Island Number Two is awesome and has great potential for our next trip to Nottely Lake. There is a floating dock on the North side of the island and on the west side, there is a gigantic log that was carved out to make a bench. One of the campsites on the island has a small fish cleaning station as well made from plywood attached to one of the trees.

Nottely Lake
Going to check out the floating dock.

We said goodbye to Island Number Two and paddled back to Hyatt Bend to have some lunch and plan a hike on Davenport Mountain in the evening.

Exploring Hyatt Bend Island

We got back to Hyatt Bend about mid afternoon and it was definitely time for lunch. We got the fire going, grilled some hot dogs and made some baked beans to fuel us up to explore the island.

The trip took us to a jetty that connects the larger portion of Hyatt Bend with a smaller piece when the water is low. As we observed the landscape, it was easy to tell that Hyatt Bend was once the ridge of a knob in the years before the valley was flooded to make Nottely Lake.

While we were on the jetty our dog, Hagrid spotted some geese and chased them into the water. Hagrid decided he was going to wade into the lake and bark at the geese. He’s pretty tough when he gets some distance between himself and a threat.

We ended our exploration and headed back to camp to do some planning for the hike we wanted to do later on Davenport Mountain.

Hagrid chasing the geese

Davenport Mountain

The plan was to paddle past Toilet Island, land on the beach early in the evening, walk up an old jeep trail and hike a lollipop loop along with some ATV trails that I found on the map. This sounded like a great plan to end our day.

Nottely Lake
Mapping our hike

After lunch and a little mapping, we launched the boats and paddled over to the beach that we planned on landing. We made our way through some brush and lite forest until we found the jeep trail. When we found the jeep trail we headed west toward Davenport Mountain.

The trail was pretty grown over most of the way until we came to an intersection to the next jeep trail. At the intersection, we made a right and there was a sign on our left stating that the area off the trail was being revegetated and to stay off of it. We walked for a few minutes and the trail came to another intersection and we made a left.

The trail continued on for a bit and we came to the tail of the lollipop there, we made a right. We headed north and eventually we came to the loop and there was a choice to go left or right(we chose right).  We made our way about half around the loop and somehow we lost the trail. I went to the top of the ridge to see if I could spot and reclaim the trail. After stomping around for a bit on the ridge I decided to stop looking. Then we decided to turn around and start the way back to the boats.

Nottely Lake
Marcie not so happy about losing the trail.

Settling in for the night

By the time we made it back to Hyatt Bend it was getting late into the evening. We collected some firewood for the night and explored the beach a bit and it very peaceful on Nottely Lake. Aside from a few fishermen, there was no one else on the lake all day.

I got the fire going and put burgers on the grill for dinner. We ate our burgers along with the rest of the potato and pasta salads. After dinner, the wind was picking up again and the temperature was already starting to drop.

As the sun set, we relaxed and listened to the sounds of nature for a bit. It had been a full day, so we retired to our hammocks for the night and read for a bit before we fell asleep.

Saying goodbye to Nottely Lake

We woke up the next morning and had our coffee while we talked a bit around the fire. It was another cold April night on Nottely lake and we were warming up with the fire while we waited for the heat of the sun to take hold. After we warmed up a bit I decided to make our farewell breakfast.

After breakfast, we lounged around a bit and started to pack up most of our gear. I left the shelter for last, so we could hang out for an hour or so before we had to make our way back the campground and head back to the city.

Reluctantly we got into our boats and paddled back to the boat ramp at Poteete Creek Campground. It was a nice day for a paddle and we took our time heading in.

We got back to the boat ramp, unloaded the boats and packed up the car. Sadly, it was time to say goodbye to Nottely Lake.

Conclusion

Nottely Lake was a wonderful place to spend some solitary time. The lake was peaceful and serene and there are plenty of ways to enjoy Nottely Lake. If dispersed island camping isn’t an option for you. Poteete Creek Campground is always another way to enjoy this lake. The hosts there seemed very nice and accommodating. There is also a day use area and I believe they only charge a parking fee of two dollars to use the facilities.

With the small amount of exploring we did, we found four dispersed campsites and I’m sure there are plenty more out there. However, I’m not sure if I can recommend camping there in the summer. In the beginning of April, it was already quite buggy with biting flies out in full force during the heat of the day.

We definitely plan on going back to spend a couple of nights on Island Number Two this fall when it starts to cool down for the season. I also plan on going back to Davenport Mountain to explore the trails up there.

I highly recommend spending some time on Nottely Lake. I guarantee you won’t regret taking the time to acquaint yourself with this lake.

Stay tuned, I plan on making Nottely Lake posts a series as we explore the area more.

Click here for another lake camping story.

So get out there, have fun, be safe and ALWAYS, LEAVE NO TRACE!!

Coosa Backcountry Trail

Coosa Backcountry Trail
Coosa Backcountry Trail

Coosa Backcountry Trail: The build up.

I’ve read a lot about the Coosa Backcountry Trail and have seen many different accounts of the trail. Some say 12 miles, some say 13.4, some say 12.9 and so on. One point everyone usually agrees on is that this hike is very strenuous and not to try it in one day.

We had been planning on doing the Coosa Backcountry Trail for some time, but something always came up and we had to postpone. In the beginning, it was not having all the gear we wanted, sometimes it was work and other times the weather would monkey wrench us. This time was different. We had our gear, work stayed out of the way and the weather was perfect. We had a green light and our foot was on the accelerator.

Coosa Backcountry Trail: Arrival at Vogel State Park

We arrived at Vogel State Park and acquired our permit from the visitor center. The permit is free and all we had to do was fill it out with our departure and return dates, then put it on the dash of the car. The park volunteer jokingly told us that if we weren’t back in a couple of weeks that they would come looking.

We went out to the car to get the rest of gear situated and put on our packs. We left the visitor center parking lot and turned left on the paved road and headed toward the campground.  After passing a few cottages there was a trailhead sign and set of stairs to the right. There was a ranger standing there talking to a park volunteer and we asked them to take our picture. After getting our picture taken we headed up the trail following the green blazes to the approach to the Coosa Backcountry Trail.

Coosa Backcountry Trail
Approach to the Coosa Backcountry Trail
Coosa Backcountry Trail
Coosa Backcountry Trailhead

Coosa Backcountry Trail: The Hike

Shortly after leaving the park we came to the trailhead. Here, the Bear Hair Trail leaves left and the Coosa BackcountryTrail to the right. We crossed Burnett Branch on a small footbridge and headed into Burnett Gap following a small feeder stream. As the trail ascended into Burnett Gap with Sheriff’s Knob on the right and Sosebee Cove to the left. At about a mile and a half we came upon a small waterfall on the right and the stream flowed across the trail.  After a short stint, we crossed Forest Road 180, the trail leveled out a bit, and there was a small campsite on the left. The trail started its descent deeper into Sosebee Cove and we came upon a log footbridge crossing a streamlet.

Coosa Backcountry Trail
Small waterfall

 

Coosa Backcountry Trail
Campsite on the Coosa Backcountry Trail
Coosa Backcountry Trail
Log footbridge

The trail continued its descent and we came across a couple of campers taking advantage of a sweet little campsite on the left. As we continued northeast there was a small catwalk at about 3.25 miles where we stopped to fill up with some fresh water. After filtering some water and filling up a couple pouches to be filtered later, we continued on. Shortly after filling up we came to a defunct catwalk right before the footbridge crossing West Fork Creek. Right after the footbridge, there was a campsite to right and we crossed Forest Road 107.

Coosa Backcountry Trail
We filled up with water here

The climb to Locust Stake Gap

Here, the trail immediately ascended back into the forest and headed northwest toward Locust Stake Gap. Hiking a bit further there was a campsite to the left marked with a small cairn and one to the right as well. We crossed a small stream and noticed a double green blaze. Then the trail made a turn to the right. I believe that this is a reroute because there was an old trail off to the left where the double blaze was.

There are two campsites here with a water source.

The trail continued to climb along the creek and we reached a switchback where there was a fresh blowdown obstructing the trail at 3.74 miles. There was a reroute, but we still had to crawl on our hands and knees through a small hole between the ground and the tree branch. The hole led straight back to the trail where we saw a reassuring green blaze. I also saw an old blue blaze under the green one, which made me curious. I know the Coosa Backcountry Trail was blazed yellow in the past, but I’ve never heard anything about blue.

Pretty fresh blow down obstructing the trail.

We continued our climb and I noticed an old jeep trail that headed to the left.  We reached another switch back where the Forest Service Boundary is. Here the trees and a rock are painted red and there are yellow signs that read “Land Survey Monument and Forest Service Boundary.” The map shows that this is the separation between districts ten and sixteen.

Survey Monument

Locust Stake Gap to Calf Stomp Gap

After a very short but welcomed descent, we made it to the ridgeline at Locust Stake Gap. There is a nice little campsite here on the right at 4.6 miles. To the left is Sosebee Cove.

Coosa Backcountry Trail
Campsite at Locust Stake Gap

The Coosa Backcountry Trail now heads southwest and again makes a climb toward Calf Stomp Gap. We continued to ascend the ridgeline and the trail just kept climbing. As soon as you think you are making some serious headway and have reached the top, nope, another turn with yet another ascent.  Although, once we reached the halfway point between Locust Stake and Calf Stomp Gaps there was a crest, and for about five hundred feet, it was somewhat flat. Those five hundred feet were like a vacation that ended too soon, and the climbing started again.

Just before Calf Stomp Gap, the trail veers left and heads east for about four hundred feet and then switches back south for another climb to Calf Stomp. The next stop is Forest Service Road 108 where there is a campsite to the right. We stopped here to have a snack, take a short break and decide what our plan for the rest of day was. We knew that there was another campsite with a water source not too far after we returned to the trail.

What’s next?

When our break was over, we crossed the road and began the next chapter of climbing. After walking for a bit, I could start to hear the stream in the distance and we hoped we were getting close to where we would retire for the night. We found the stream and the campsite to the right, but after investigation, the campsite turned out to be dismal at best. If we would have had our tent instead of our hammocks and tarp it could have worked but it still wouldn’t have been great.

I noticed that there was an old jeep track that headed parallel between the stream and the Coosa BackcountryTrail in the same direction we had just come, so I decided that we should follow it back to the road. I knew from my map that the stream crossed FS Road 108 and thought that there might be another campsite near there. The jeep track met the road and we headed left to find where the stream crossed it. There was an overgrown campsite there but it was close to the road and we deemed it unsuitable for our purposes.

We doubled back to the Coosa Backcountry Trail and made our way back up the hill past the dismal campsite (basically making a loop) and followed the stream to its source. Once there, we regrouped and discussed our options. Since this was the last water source on the trail until Wolf Creek, we decided to filter as much water as we could and fill up our extra pouches and press on.

Coosa Bald or Bust

We decided to go for broke and head for Coosa Bald. Surely there had to be a sweet spot to camp on the summit of that mountain that gives this trail its name. So we pressed on switch backing from one side of the ridgeline to the other gaining elevation. The water added 8.5 pounds to my pack and I was really feeling the extra weight on my legs as we made the slow ascent to Coosa Bald.

The trail headed southwest up the knob just below the top of Coosa Bald and we found a really sweet campsite on the left that over looked the valley below. We considered staying there, but we really wanted to make it to the top of Coosa Bald, so we moved on.

We made it to the intersection of the Coosa Backcountry Trail and the Duncan Ridge Trail, and caught a ride on the Duncan Ridge Trail heading northwest to the summit of Coosa Bald.  This was the last climb of the day and we were ready to make camp for the night. After a long day of practically all uphill hiking, this last climb was welcomed yet tiring.

Coosa Backcountry Trail
Where Coosa meets Duncan

The hard earned reward of Coosa Bald

After a very long day, we made it to the summit of Coosa Bald. When you reach the top there is a spectacular rock outcrop to the left and two campsites just off the trail to the right. Both campsites are definitely prime spots and we ended up choosing the second.  Reaching the top of Coosa Bald was amazingly rewarding and although we were tired, the adrenaline of our accomplishment kept us going.

Coosa Bald
Taking the load off
Coosa Bald
That’s Right!!

Our next steps were to set up our tarp and hammocks, find a hanging tree for our food and gather firewood. We had our backpacking stoves to cook with, but we really wanted the novelty of a campfire. Marcie helped me with the tarp and then she collected some kindling to get us started with the firewood gathering. After the initial set up, I made some evening coffee to give us a little boost for the final chores of the evening.

Coosa Bald
Building our shelter
Coosa Bald
Our home for the night

We made some ramen and tuna for our dinner and ate while as the sun dipped from the horizon. Then we consolidated all of our food, food related trash and packed it into Marcie’s sleeping bag stuff sack and hung it from the tree we found.

Coosa Bald
Time for coffee

At this point, the hammocks were calling our names and we decided to lay down. After our long day of hiking, it felt really good to be suspended in the horizontal position. We talked for a bit about the day and soon drifted off to sleep.

Good morning Coosa Bald

I woke up at around 7:30 in the morning after a restless night’s sleep. It dipped down into the mid 50’s and the wind picked something fierce that night. I would never have thought at the end of July it would have gotten that cold. However, we were above four thousand feet and funny things happen in the mountains.

I got up and lowered the food from the tree and put on some coffee for myself and ate a mini pecan pie that I brought for my breakfast. These suckers have 480 calories each and only cost fifty cents at Wal-Mart. As I was finishing my first pie and my pot of coffee, Marcie woke and I made a pot for her. Marcie had some breakfast and then we packed up our gear and said farewell to Coosa Bald.

Coosa Bald
Duncan Ridge blaze

Coosa Backcountry Trail: Day Two

We followed the Duncan Ridge trail southeast off of Coosa Bald to the trail intersection and headed south toward Wildcat Gap. The Coosa Backcountry Trail and the Duncan Ridge Trail share the same track at this point and the trail is blazed green and blue. The trail heads down the spur on a wide, very steep and rocky track into Wildcat Gap. The trail is obviously an old wagon/jeep trail from years past.

Coosa Backcountry Trail
Back on the Coosa Backcountry Trail
There were wildflowers like this on both sides of the trail

After reaching Wildcat Gap, we came to Duncan Ridge Rd and veered left. The trail picked up in about two hundred feet on the left side of the road and was marked and blazed with both colors. The trail now becomes a single track path and starts a gentle climb across the eastern slope of Wildcat Knob. After we crossed the eastern slope, the trail made a right and headed west across the southern slope of the knob, switched back east and then south again. Heading south the trail switchbacks multiple times downhill into Wolfpen Gap. Just after the last switchback, there is an old jeep trail that heads downhill and from the map, it appears to be an old portion of the Coosa Backcountry Trail.

Double blazed

We crossed Wolfpen Gap and came to the road crossing at GA 180. This was second time crossing GA 180 since we started our hike and we hadn’t seen a paved road since we crossed it the first time just after leaving Vogel State Park. There was a dirt road on the left heading north and a gravel road to the right heading north into the Cooper Creek Wildlife Management Area. Straight across GA 180 was the trail connection. After we crossed GA 180, the trail immediately makes a sharp left and there is a trail marker hidden in the brush. We were now entering the Blood Mountain Wilderness.

Coosa Backcountry Trail
Time for some climbing
You have been warned

On to Slaughter Mountain

The trail immediately started to climb at this point and was very tough going for over a mile. We were heading up the ridgeline toward Slaughter Mountain gaining elevation every step of the way. The area is so beautiful, but it was difficult to really enjoy a lot of the scenery due to having to put one foot in front of the other and keep on trucking. It was really just our exhaustion lingering from the day before that made this so tough. This would be just like another moderate day hike if done on its own, but adding in the lack of sleep and sore muscles really made it a full blown workout.

We finally made it up the ridgeline to the top of the knob just north of the summit of Slaughter Mountain and we were worked over. We were now over the four thousand foot mark again and it felt like we had gotten into a fist fight with a bear. It was really nice to start the descent into the saddle between the knob and the summit of Slaughter Mountain. The trail leveled out for a bit while on the saddle and then relatively speaking started a gentle ascent to the eastern slope of Slaughter Mountain. The trail pretty much leveled out across the slope and there were some sweet rock outcrops to the right and some nice views into the valley below on the left.

Coosa Backcountry Trail
Geeking out with the clinometer
Outcrop

The descent into Slaughter Gap was definitely welcomed at this point and I knew that our climbing for this trip was over. I knew we were coming up on the intersection where the Duncan Ridge Trail leaves the Coosa Backcountry Trail, but I got a little confused for a moment because we hit a switchback that wasn’t on the map. I looked at my compass and we were heading northwest, which made me wonder if we had missed the intersection somehow. I was aware the Coosa Backcountry Trail heads north after parting with the Duncan Ridge and figured it was a reroute. As soon as I had made that conclusion we came to the intersection. After looking at the track on my phone when I got home, I realized that it was definitely a reroute. This entire portion of the Coosa Backcountry Trail was rerouted years ago to reduce the impact on the Blood Mountain Wilderness after years of the area being over utilized.

Reroute

There is a nice campsite on the left at the intersection of Coosa Backcountry Trail and the Duncan Ridge Trail.

The Duncan Ridge Trail leaves south and heads deeper into the Blood Mountain Wilderness and meets up with Appalachian Trail. The Coosa Backcountry Trail heads northeast at this point switch backing its way to the Bear Hair Trail and meeting Wolf Creek.

Coosa Backcountry Trail
Goodbye Duncan Ridge
Intersection Campsite

The Last Stretch

After leaving the Duncan Ridge Trail, the Coosa Backcountry Trail continues its descent switch backing further into the valley and the scenery was beautiful as we made our way down. We came across a mountain laurel that looked manicured like it should be a shade tree in our yard. It looked like it would make a nice little spot to sit and relax for a bit on a hot day and enjoy a snack, but we continued on.

Nature is just cool

As the trail continues to switchback into the valley, it’s kind of all over the place, dipping south, veering left, and then veering right for one last dip south and then twisting back north to reach a feeder stream of Wolf Creek. The trail follows the stream on the right and then veers to the south switchbacking a couple more times and comes to another feeder stream where it meets the Bear Hair Trail. The Bear Hair Trail heads left to the north and the Coosa Backcountry Trail heads northeast cutting through some boulders and then crosses the original feeder stream and Wolf Creek forms on the right.

The trail follows the stream on the right and then veers to the south switchbacking a couple more time and comes to another feeder stream where it meets the Bear Hair Trail. The Bear Hair Trail heads left to the north and the Coosa Backcountry Trail heads northeast cutting through some boulders and then crosses the original feeder stream where Wolf Creek is formed in conjunction with two other streams.

Feeder Stream
Bear Hair intersection
These boulders are awesome
Crossing the stream

Wolf Creek runs parallel to the Coosa Backcountry trail on the right for a while and the trail is now double blazed with green rectangles and diamonds. We passed an old hollowed out tree trunk filled with river rocks and had little cairns stacked on it. Soon we came to another stream crossing and reached the wilderness boundary where we crossed back into district sixteen and left the Blood Mountain Wilderness. The trail curves left to head north to re-enter Vogel State park.

Double blaze
Old tree trunk filled and surrounded by river rocks.
Yes, I’m a map geek

 

The end of our journey

Conclusion

The Coosa Backcountry Trail was a very challenging and rewarding hike that definitely tested our endurance. The feeling of accomplishment we received was matched only by our level of exhaustion.

I read a lot about this trail and we had it in our sights for a long time. The reports and recommendation that this trail should be done as a backpacking trip are definitely right, in the sense that to truly enjoy the scenery you should take your time. I would actually have liked to take three days to hike this trail. The Coosa Backcountry trail is the kind of hike that you need to keep your momentum going as you climb, especially if breaking it into two parts. If it was broken into three days at four to five-mile sections, there would be a lot more time to stop and smell the roses and see the sights. We did it overnight to test ourselves and for the workout.

We want to do this trail several more times with different approaches in the future. The next time we want to try for a one-day attempt maybe doing the trail clockwise. With over twenty pounds on our backs, this trail was difficult, but with day packs, this trail could definitely be done as an endurance testing day hike. I would also like to take my time and enjoy it in the fall when the leaves have dropped to see the many vistas this trail has to offer.

If you haven’t experienced the Coosa Backcountry trail, it is definitely a must hike. However, for the beginner, I recommend you do this trail with an experienced hiker and take your time. The Coosa Backcountry trail could be just what you need to thrust you from beginner to intermediate over the course of a weekend.

So get out there, have fun, be safe and ALWAYS, LEAVE NO TRACE!!

Cohutta Wilderness Loop Trail

Cohutta Wilderness Loop
Cohutta Wilderness

A tough start to the Cohutta Wilderness and the Tearbritches Trail

On Forest Road 68 in the Chattahoochee National Forest’s Cohutta Wilderness is a loop consisting of three trails: Tearbritches, Conasauga River, and the Chestnut Lead. Each of these trails has its own character to speak of.

Our hike began with a road walk from the Chestnut Lead Trailhead parking area. We walked west uphill for about a mile and a half on Forest Road 68 until we came to Tearbritches Trailhead. The Emery Creek Trailhead is on the left and Tearbritches is on the right.

We headed northeast on the trail beginning our ascent onto Bald Mountain. The start of this hike is pretty slow going due to the climb and overgrowth of the trail. You can definitely tell right off the bat that the Tearbritches Trail is not traveled frequently. As we climbed we noticed balsam trees that seem out of place here and it is somewhat of a mystery to who actually planted them. There was a wildfire that spread here from a lightning strike on Rough Ridge in the fall of 2016. There are burnt trees and charred earth everywhere as you hike through this portion of the Cohutta Wilderness. The trail is thick with brambles and our legs definitely took a beating as we climbed.

We reached four thousand feet at the top of Bald Mountain and began our descent, now heading pretty much due north. The brush lightened as we headed down the north face of the mountain. Once we were out of the dense thorns, we started to notice all the wildflowers surrounding us. Already we were falling in love with the beauty of the Cohutta Wilderness. Following the ridgeline down a steep grade, we started to see the forest change as we lost elevation. The ground became softer due to pine needles that fell from the white pines that tower overhead.

 

Cohutta Wilderness
These purple flowers were throughout the trail.
Cohutta Wilderness
Wildfire or lightning?
This flower was awesome!

Into the valley

As we continued our descent down the ridgeline there were great views of Cowpen Mountain to our right. Tearbritches Trail advanced into the valley, leveling off at points just long enough for a brief reprieve, then back to a steep grade as it dipped to below three-thousand feet. As we got to about twenty-five hundred, I could start to hear Tearbritches Creek to my left. Then at around twenty-three hundred, we started to hear the Conasauga River off to the right.

At around two thousand feet we met up with Tearbritches Creek and started to follow it downstream through a tunnel of laurel and rhododendron. We noticed the first campsite of the trek nestled off to the right.

Tearbritches signage

We crossed Tearbritches Creek and came to Bray Field, where there are campsites strewn about and the Conasauga River is dead ahead. This was the end of our stint on the Tearbritches Trail and is the intersection of the Conasauga River Trail and the Hickory Creek Trail. It got a little confusing here, but we soon figured out that we had to cross Tearbritches Creek again and head up a hill to find the Conasauga River Trail.

Cohutta Wilderness
Crossing Tearbritches Creek

 

Conasauga River Trail

Cohutta Wilderness
Fording the Conasauga River

At this point, we basically made a U-Turn and started to head up river. To our right, we could see the ridgeline what we were just descending a few minutes earlier. Not long after we started on the trail the river fords began. The cool water of the Conasauga River felt amazing on our thorn scraped legs. On the third ford, I saw the one and only green blaze on the entire trail. Some of the connections aren’t really apparent while crossing, but staying up stream was the key to finding them.

After quite a few fords, we came to where Panther Creek empties into the Conasauga River. The Panther Creek Trail intersects here and heads left. To stay on the Conasauga River Trail, we headed right. I stopped counting the fords eventually and I think I lost track at around eight or nine, I’m not really sure. Our feet were wet, it felt great and the sometimes knee deep water was super refreshing and fun to play around in.

Cohutta Wilderness
Marcie fording the Conasauga River

As we continued up river through the Cohutta Wilderness, we were still aware of the fires that have happened there. Either the trail has several subtle reroutes, or people just have taken different routes through out the years. However, the Conasauga River Trail is fairly easy to keep track of and there was even a cairn in the river at one point where it wasn’t completely apparent where the connection was.

Cohutta Wilderness
Cairn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Waterfall City

Cohutta Wilderness
Conasauga River

After about two miles on the Conasauga River Trail, we started to notice the abundance of waterfalls, so we aptly named this part of the trail Waterfall City. From this point onward, if you are a waterfall junkie, this is your section. This area of the Cohutta Wilderness is stunning. The sights just keep coming at you and there is not enough time on a day hike to take them all in. The waterfalls, rock outcrops and wildflowers just don’t stop along this trail.

Beautiful little falls in the Cohutta Wilderness
Cohutta Wilderness
One of the many rock outcrops on the Conasauga River Trail
Cohutta Wilderness
Beautiful flower in the Cohutta Wilderness
Cohutta Wilderness
No smurfs here

There are plenty of established campsites as you make your way up the Conasauga River. This would make an awesome overnight backpacking trip and we definitely plan on taking advantage of some of these campsites in the future.

Even with the multitude of fords, I consider this section of the Conasauga River Trail fairly easy. Despite it being the latter part of July, it was pretty cool in the valley and wading through the Conasauga River every few minutes didn’t hurt either. The trail is definitely used more than the Tearbritches Trail. However, we were delighted to see that aside from trail use, human impact in the way of litter was at a minimum.

As our trek continued through Waterfall City, our water supply started to dwindle, so it was time to stop and filter some. We sat on some rocks and gathered water from the Conasauga River. I love drinking water from the places that I am hiking. It makes me feel more connected to the nature that surrounds me. After procuring fresh water we continued into the Cohutta Wilderness and were nearing the end of our trek on the Conasauga River Trail.

On to the Chestnut Lead Trail

We reached the end of our ride on the Conasauga River Trail and made our final ford. Marcie kicked around in the water for a few minutes and then we said goodbye to the river. From here we picked up the Chestnut Lead Trail and followed Chestnut Creek southwest. We came across a couple camping on the bank of Chestnut Creek, and I have to say that I was a bit envious. Our journey was coming to an end, with only a little less than two miles to go.

cohutta wilderness
Marcie’s last Conasauga River ford
Cohutta Wilderness
Waterfall City, Cohutta Wilderness
cohutta wilderness
Where we got off the Conasauga River Trail and hitched a ride on the Chestnut Lead Trail

We may have had to say goodbye to the Conasauga River, but as we followed Chestnut Creek, we realized that we were still in Waterfall City. Unfortunately, the brush was too dense to get any good photos, so you’ll just have to go discover them for yourself.

As we walked the trail the wildfire damage was still apparent and we came across a tulip tree that had a hole burnt straight through the base of its trunk. The tree was a little over thirty feet tall and still very much alive at the top. It was definitely a sight to see and a testament to the perseverance of nature.  As we continued on the Chestnut Lead Trail there were a few more creek crossings and we knew that eventually, we would have to part with Chestnut Creek.

cohutta wilderness
Believe it or not. This tree is still alive.

The conclusion

The Chestnut Lead Trail parts from Chestnut Creek about halfway and veered left to begin the climb to Chestnut Lead. We gained about five hundred feet in elevation in under a quarter of a mile. We reached the lead (lead is a synonym for ridge), veered to the right, and the climb continued. It would somewhat level out for a few hundred feet or so and then pick back up again.

At this point, the day was starting to wear on us and I remember saying to Marcie, that nothing in this world is free. We had to work hard to start this journey and we were having to work hard to end it. The end of this hike was really a tease. As soon as you think you’re done with the climb it starts again. We finally made back to the Chestnut Lead Trailhead parking area pretty wiped out from the eleven and a half mile journey.

cohutta wilderness
Chestnut Lead Trailhead parking

Summary

There really is no official name for this loop trail. I named it the Cohutta Wilderness Loop because that name just makes sense to me. We clocked this loop at around 11.5 miles and it took us just over five hours to complete. If we had not stopped to play in the river, take pictures and to smell the flowers, it would have taken less. In actuality, it only took us four hours of active hiking.

This hike was highly satisfying and we would recommend it to any seasoned hiker for a day hike. That being said, this loop is rated difficult and we would not recommend it for the novice hiker. From beginning to end this trip is strenuous and challenging. However, if you are a novice and want to do a beautiful yet challenging overnighter, this is definitely the trip for you. This would also make a great week long trip because of all the other connector trails along the route.

The Cohutta Wilderness is a breathtaking experience and is truly an outdoors person’s playground. So get out there, have some fun, be safe and for the love of Jebus Leave No Trace!