|Hike Name:||Stratton Bald|
|Directions:||From Robbinsville, NC take US 129 north approximately 1 mile past Robbinsville. Turn left onto NC 143 West (marked with a sign for the Joyce Kilmer – Slickrock Creek Wilderness). After 3.4 miles, NC 143 West makes a 90 degree turn to the right. Continue on NC 143 West for 10.2 miles to Santeetah Gap. This is the junction of NC 143, FR (Forest Road) 81, and SR (State Road) 1127. There is a wayside station here on NC 143. Immediately before the wayside station, turn right onto SR 1127, and then make an immediate left onto FR 81. FR 81 is a U.S. Forest Service Road and within 100 yards it changes from pavement to gravel. Continue on FS 81 for 6.7 miles. You will pass a number of drive-in campsites along the creek. Watch carefully for FR 81F. This road breaks off to the right. Follow FR 81F for 4.8 miles to the Wolf Laurel Trailhead.|
|Total Hike Distance:||5.00 miles|
|Hike Difficulty:||Extremely Difficult|
|Hike Type:||One-Way, Shuttle Hike|
|Hike Starts:||Wolf Laurel Hunters Camp|
|Hike Ends:||Stratton Bald|
|Trails Used:||Wolf Laurel Access Trail, Stratton Bald Trail|
|Backcountry Water Sources:||Streams, Snow|
|Management:||U.S. Forest Service|
|Contact Information:||Nantahla National Forest
Cheoah Ranger District
Route 1, Box 16-A
Robbinsville, NC 28771
|Best Season:||Winter, Spring, Fall|
|Road Conditions:||Primary Paved Roads, Secondary Paved Roads, Maintained Gravel or Dirt Roads, Four Wheel Drive Recommended|
|Hike Summary:||The anticipation began with email correspondence with BirdShooter at n2backpacking.com. We wanted to camp where the potential for snow was in the forecast and after researching online, decided to hit the bald. Rain was in the forecast for Robbinsville with a high in the low 30’s. Forecast called for scattered rain showers. We knew we had a good chance of snow up on top of the mountain and we were 100 percent correct. We never saw the bald, never made it to the top, although BirdShooter would later inform me that I had indeed made it to the bald. Unfortunately, visibility was about 50 yards when we got there and snowing hard. We never actually “saw” the bald.
As we pulled into the Wolf Laurel parking lot there was not a drop of snow on the ground. By the time we left less than 24 hours later we figured there was about 12-16 inches on the ground. It was awesome; as soon as we stepped out of our cars it started sleeting. It was 4pm before we left the parking lot for our ascent up the trail (we planned on arriving around 3pm, but missed the turn off to FS81 and ended up coming in the opposite direction on FS81—costing us a badly needed hour). About 20 minutes into the hike it was snowing heavily. Not only was it snowing, but a winter lightning storm was hitting the ridge. We had been hiking at a fast pace for about an hour as we were trying to locate a place to set up camp—anyplace! There was 3 inches on the ground by the time we made it to the “top” of the ridge at the first available “campsite”, where there was just enough space to wedge in 4 tents--scattered about of course. It appeared to be a virgin campsite, as we could find no fire pit, nor any other trace of earlier campers. We set up the tents with flash lights and started cooking some dinner. We never could get a fire started, even with a fire log and rigged up propane burner in the bottom of wood pile... So we went to bed after drinking a few cold ones. The next morning, we woke to a steady snow and at least a foot of snow on the ground, some tents had partially caved in (if not for a early morning snow clearing mission, it could have been worse!) and it was a windy 22 degrees. Some wanted to leave (I not one of them—stubborn or just stupid? Don’t know…) because we couldn't get a fire started and any potential wood was now buried under a foot of snow. So, we voted 4-2 to leave—hell even my dog (Akita-born for the snow!) wanted to get out of there. I had carried a 12 pack up the hill and dog gone it I wasn’t going to carry it back down! So I finished off 8 cold units before heading down the ridge. Half of our group had headed out about an hour before my group headed down. As you can imagine, hiking out was a bitch, especially since I finished off my 12 pack in less than an hour. It don’t know how the first group down found the trail, but they did. It was a little easier for us since we could follow their tracks in the foot deep snow. Nevertheless, we conquered the trip out like Shakelton conquered Antarctica in Endurance (great book by the way!). Well it probably wasn't that bad. We had a GPS as a backup anyway, and it wouldn't be that difficult to follow the ridge down. Low hung evergreens and fallen trees blocked the trail throughout. We had to stop several times to adjust the gear on the top of our packs. By the time I made it to the parking lot my chair was dangling from the top of my pack.
Before we came down we did a little exploring and discovered that our campsite was about 1/4 mile from an evergreen thicket I had read about on n2backing.com --just before the clearing of the meadow. I guess-don’t really know- We turned around and headed back to our campsite and eventual wise decision to abort the 2 night stay.
It turned out we made the right decision as it was snowing hard when we left and there were already several 8 inch diameter trees blocking the FS road out. Those camping saws came in handy after all... later that night I checked the weather and it was still “raining” in Robbinsville... where there was no snow at all. Cutoff line was about 3/4 the way down 81F. FS81 had no snow at all.
Ah well, just incentive to do it again next year—will have to take a couple extra fire logs and leave a chainsaw in the car for the drive out… of course this snow was just a fluke anyway..
Next stop, Grayson Highlands in January. Grab your posse and come on up for the adventure!
Winter camping baby! Wooooooooo—gotta love it!!!