|Hike Name:||Joyce Kilmer–Slickrock Creek Wilderness - Stratton Bald|
|Trip Date:||October 6, 2001|
|Trip Weather:||Sunny, Cloudy, Fog|
|Trip Precipitation:||Rain, Showers|
|Trip Temperature:||High: 61-70, Low: 21-30 degrees Fahrenheit|
|Trip Report:||10/6/01 (Saturday): The Senator, CC, The Operator and Wild Turkey were at my place by 10:30am for a weekend backpacking trip to Stratton Bald in the Joyce Kilmer – Slickrock Creek Wilderness. I rousted Candy A from the guest rack, then he piled in with CC while the rest of us rode in The Senator's Dodge Durango to the trailhead.
Took the GA 129/19 route north through Neels Gap and up to the Wesser area. Stopped briefly at Neels Gap for a few last minute supplies (where Wild Turkey scored some polypro), then drove on to the trailhead. The total drive time took over 4 1/2 hours. There was a ton of slow moving traffic on 19, and we made a few wrong turns that cost us about thirty minutes.
We finally rolled into the Wolf Laurel parking area around 4pm. Took a few photos, finished loading packs, then hit the trail for a 2.1 mile climb to Stratton Bald. It definitely seemed farther than that. The mountain top was covered in fog and mist, and the wind blew rain from the trees on the ridge. Needless to say it was pretty cold on the bald, but the campsite was much better than the one we staked out when we first hit the ridge. So after the fellas made a 30 minute recon trip to scout out the bald, we rallied the group and headed for the three acre clearing on top of Stratton.
By 6pm, darkness was coming quickly. I pitched the tents while the others hunted for firewood. Some guys from a Christian misson that were pitched on the ridge brought up a nice load of firewood then invited us to an 8am service. Once we got into the vino and brews, however, it was obvious we weren't going to make it.
Cooked up an outstanding dish of Kielbasa as darkness fell. The fire was a challenge to start with the wet wood, but the MSR stove worked like a champ after repeated efforts with TP failed.
Without the rain blowing from the trees, it was actually drier and warmer on the bald tonight. The fog lifted within a couple hours and the sky was packed with stars. We didn't realize it until about 9pm, but there were three to four other groups on the bald (and tucked in the trees). We responded to some rebel yells made by 2-3 other groups, and met Judge Knot from a nearby camp who came over and shared a bottle of cinnamon schnapps and wild turkey. Another couple from his camp followed and they were a bit more sober. Both said the views from Hangover were outstanding and that up to 30 people were camped there tonight.
We stayed up until 12:30am and huddled around the fire to stay warm. Sometime around 10pm the moon came up and we could finally get a good look at the bald with the clearing skies. The temps bottomed out at 27 degrees overnight and our tents and gear were covered with frost by morning.
10/07/01 (Sunday): Most of us were up by 9:30am today. Cooked up some eggs and Kiebasa for breakfast. The hot chocolate was also a bonus with the cold morning temps.
Packed up our gear then took about 15 minutes to explore Stratton Bald. Saw Judge Knot again this am and took him back his oversized lighter (aka flame thrower) that he left at our site last night. He said the spring was on the south side of the mountain down from his campsite. We carried all our water in this time, but that would be much easier in the future.
Decided to hike out at 11am rather than go to Hangover for a side trip. The weather was perfect - cool and breezy. CC led the group and The Senator, Candy A, and I hung back to take some photos along the way.
Got to the junction with the Haoe Trail right as The Operator and Wild Turkey started toward Hangover. Got them back on track and debated about CC. Did she go the wrong way? We considered sending someone down the trail without a pack but thought we might be chasing a ghost; so we all headed to the parking lot. As it turned out, CC did hike toward Hangover but stopped short at Naked Ground. We waited for 45 minutes for her to show up at the parking area (and consumed a few brews that Judge Knot had in his cooler during this time of crisis). At 1:30 pm, The Operator and I decided to do a rescue mission and we left a radio with Candy A, our base camp supervisor. Found CC after hiking for 15 minutes. She had turned back toward Stratton Bald thinking she had missed the Wolf Laurel side trail to the parking area. We took her pack and made it back to the trailhead by 2pm.
It took 45 minutes to get off the bumpy and rutted Forest Service road and another 3 1/2 hours to get home. The I-575 route through Ellijay was much quicker though and saved us at least an hour. Stopped in Robbinsville for some Subway and to get my ATM card munched by the Centura Bank machine. Made it back to the pad by 6:30pm, unloaded all the gear, then spent another hour putting it away.
Overall, this hike exceeded my expectations and turned out to be much better (and much more crowded) than I anticipated having only identified it 24 hours before our departure from a USFS map of the Joyce Kilmer area.