A good day overall. Up and on the trail early – before 7:00. Feet looked good, no tape needed. 1/2 mile in crossed the Jacks River Trail. Immediately it started to climb. About an hour in, I had to disconnect the heel strap to my left sandal altogether, due to the pain. Even the most subtle touch was unbearable. And guess what. Instant cure. Through the full range of motion, under load, no pain. Looks like it was not a strain or tear at all, but a repetitive stress injury from the strap. I suddenly remember the same thing happening once with a pair of new dress shoes many years ago. It resulted in an absessed blister through a 1/4 inch of scar tissue or heel hide. Don’t know why I didn’t remember that. So I hiked the rest of the day with one sandal and one clog.
The climb up Big Frog was gentle at first, on an old logging road that ended at Hemp Top (wild hemp used to grow here), then switched to single track. Double spring gap was quite a nice spot. Then the climb shifted in to overdrive for the final push up Big Frog. The top of BF was unremarkable – just like Fowler Mountain – shoulder high brambles and no view. I scared a bear out, I think, just before the summit. Heard a huge rustle and a loud snort. Something large moved off away from me, but I never saw it. Shortly after the summit, the same thing happened again, but this time I heard hoof beats. Probably a wild boar. This area (GA’s Cohutta Wilderness and TN’s Big Frog Wilderness) was teeming with large scale wildlife. I heard a several such runnings away from me, before finally actually spotting one of them. This one was a noisy bear, nominally cub sized, trying to climb a large dead stump. As soon as he saw me he made himself scarce but did not run off. They can become invisible when they know your there.
So the summit was weak, but the next section was pretty cool – a knife edge a couple of feet wide with steep drops on both sides. Also a “green tunnel” of rhododendrons 1/4 mile long (according to the guide book). There were two of them actually, although the second one was more like a green peristyle hall.
I ditched my 90/3 pace-keeping in favor if counting off the single miles in order to help with dead-reconing navigation. The whole Cohutta/Big Frog area is unblazed and riddled with alternate hiking trails. It proved to be a non-issue. The maps are very accurate and in most cases there was no question which trail was the correct one. The last 6 miles were practically all downhill, and crossed through a wide variety of forest types as the altitude decreased. Some of the old railroad bridges were still evident – chunks of ribbed concrete tumbled in to the creek like ancient ruins. I didn’t take many breaks in the last 5 miles. A 2 mile section on a gravel logging road-turned-mountain-biking single track was really rough on my feet. Partly my own fault for skipping breaks, like the horse getting close to the barn. The last mile entering Thunder Rock was actually one of the more picturesque forests of the week. Reaching Thunder Rock around 4:00pm, I sprung for the daily camp rate to use their shower before hitting the road.
I almost forgot. My last wildlife encounter happened barely 2 miles before the end of the whole trip. My single greatest fear, being several hours by foot from the nearest road, and no telling how far from the nearest human at any given time, is a snake bite. So there I was in the homestretch kick, when I looked down to see myself step directly in the face of this little fellow – the side of my foot was literally a centimeter from his nose. When I saw where my foot was, my knee nearly buckled trying to not complete the step. But he didn’t even budge. He was so small – as big around as my thumb and probably barely a foot long, that it took me a second to see the size of his head and realize it was a copperhead. Surprised at his apathy at nearly getting stepped on, I wondered if he was alive. I got back as far as I could and poked him with my pole a little. He scrunched up some, and gave me a dirty look, but nothing more. So we both went about our days.