|Hike Name:||Slickrock Creek at Joyce Kilmer|
|Trip Date:||October 1, 2011|
|Trip Weather:||Partly Sunny, Cloudy, Fog|
|Trip Temperature:||High: 51-60, Low: 31-40 degrees Fahrenheit|
|Trip Report:||It was 45 degrees when we started hiking the Slickrock Creek trail. The first mile and a half hugged a steep ridge and followed Calderwood Lake until it met Slickrock Creek. The trail soon dropped down to the bank of the Slickrock and would follow it for the next eight miles. The beauty of this creek is unparalleled; with water so clear you can see every rock under the surface.
Close to a mile after joining Slickrock Creek we came to our first crossing. Thankfully, there are signs on trees noting that the trail crosses the stream. We all hoped that it would be possible to rock hop every stream crossing but right off the bat we figured out how Slickrock got its name. I got about half way across and realized eventually I would slip and end up in the water if I kept trying to rock hop so I just started fording all the crossings in my trail runners to protect my gear from getting wet. Easy Turtle and Hot Sauce had it in their minds that they would be able to keep their feet dry. Just up the trail after the first crossing we came to Lower Falls, a beautiful waterfall that empties into a deep pool.
Just before the fourth creek crossing, at around 4 miles in, we saw our first person on the trail. He was a hunter and only gave a disapproving nod when we said hello. A few minutes later we came to the fourth creek crossing, just short of Nichols Branch, and another hunter from the same party showed up but he was more friendly. We were put at ease and took the opportunity to have lunch on the side of the creek. Before packing up and moving on a hunting dog appeared. He was a sweet dog and looked very hungry but we refrained from feeding him so he wouldn't follow us. When we started walking he followed us. We tried to scare him off but it was obvious this dog would rather hang out with us than hunt so it didn't take much persuading on his part to let him join our group.
It was the same rock on the fifth creek crossing that got both Easy Turtle and Hot Sauce wet for the first time. They would both slip in again a couple crossings later but only enough to get the feet wet. At over 7 miles in we came to one of the most popular attractions in the wilderness, Wildcat Falls. This waterfall is split into four sections, all small waterfalls dropping into crystal clear deep pools. The last one is the largest at around ten feet. It takes some scrambling to get down to the water but well worth the effort.
About a mile after Wildcat Falls we came to our ninth and final creek crossing at the intersection for the Big Fat Branch Trail. An older couple sat on the side of the creek with a bottle of wine and a huge block of cheese. They were looking for Wildcat Falls but didn't have a map with them. They also weren't aware that they would have to cross the creek several times. We gave them directions and warned them about the crossings then left. The dogs stayed behind and a minute later we heard the lady scream. Sounds like they discovered the cheese! The trail went from the creek up a steep ridge and once again we were consulting the map. It turned out we were on the right trail and trail leveled back out after the short climb. We then came to a small creek with a campsite before returning to the bank of Slickrock creek. Once again, trails went in two different directions and delayed us for a moment. Trail conditions got worse and it became obvious that few people hike the southern portion of the trail past Big Fat Branch. It wasn't long before we came to the tail end of the section dubbed The Ballbuster. We weren't sure at the time because the signs were missing but when the trail took an ugly persona we knew we were on the right track.
The Ballbuster is about a three mile section of the trail that climbs up to and finishes at 4800' at Naked Ground, our intended campsite and the southern end of the Slickrock Creek Trail. The climb starts off gradual and gets steeper as you get closer to Naked Ground. The last two miles is a near 2000' elevation change. This section really wouldn't be that bad if it were maintained. But as it is, it is a constant battle of avoiding briar's and broken branches that will jab you from every angle. There are many trees to climb over or under on a very steep grade, making them tough to get past. Some steep parts require the use of handholds, using tree roots or any small tree to pull yourself up. This section not only tests you physically but also mentally. Besides the briar's, branches will reach out and grab your pack as you try to pull yourself up and over an obstacle resulting in fight against gravity. It can be terribly frustrating. We took two wrong turns on the way up, each time ending in a mess of brush and confusion. These mishaps are apparently common as the "wrong" trails are worn down until they end.
The air was getting cold fast, legs were cramping, tempers were flaring, the sun was low on the horizon, and we were still only about halfway up The Ballbuster. Due to how easy it was to get lost, we were always within sight of each other until this point. This would be the only time on the trip the group would split up. It was too cold to stop and wait on the group so I trudged up the mountain with Easy Turtle not too far behind. We could hear a slew of expletives coming from Hot Sauce on down the mountain. He had reached his boiling point and now it was just between him and the mountain. We arrived at Naked Ground as fog started rolling in and the area was nearly full with campers. There was one small site just large enough for our three tents so we jumped on it. The only downside was it didn't have a fire pit.
At daylight it was still foggy and windy but we were surprised with an occasional snowflake. We had a quick breakfast and started hiking to try and get some warm blood flowing. We took the Haoe Lead Trail and it immediately ascended to over 5000'. The snow picked up and covered the trees. Although we were getting pelted in the face with snow and ice, we didn't care as the delight of walking through the frozen forest warmed our spirits. We soon came to the intersection with the Hangover Lead Trail and took it down to the Hangover. After a few minutes on the Hangover Lead we were out of the snow but still in thick fog. We came to the overlook at the Hangover but couldn't see anything but the trees below us. We waited for awhile to see if the clouds would part but they didn't. We continued down what we thought was the trail and after a few minutes of fighting through bushes it got steep and we were literally sliding down a bank only to realize we were going the wrong direction. It was hell crawling back up to the overlook but when we got to the top and were looking at the map, a strong wind blew in and parted the clouds. The mountains around us appeared and we were amazed by how high up we were. Getting lost this time was a blessing.
After a lot of discussion and some ridge running we figured out the right trail. We descended quickly down to the parking area at Big Fat Gap and had lunch. We didn't realize that the next section of the trail was a tough climb back up to 3400'. It was relentless and I believe every one of us nearly lost our lunch. After that climb it was all downhill to Ike Branch. By the time we got to Ike Branch my right knee was in pain. That downhill stretch is at a rough grade and seems to carry on forever. From Ike Branch back to the Slickrock Creek trail is a fairly level trail and runs next to a small creek.