All Mod-Cons including a Flintstone-esque table at the campsite above The Falls on Long Creek

When I found out my new tarp and underquilt were going to be arriving on Monday (May 21), I couldn’t resist trying to work out ways to get out and field test them. The long-range forecast for the beginning of the week looked promising. There was also a good chance of thunderstorms according to the predictions, so I decided now was going to be a good time to get the wet weather gear (a Sea to Summit Nylon Tarp Poncho) I’d been promising myself for several months. I also ordered an inexpensive camera clamp for my mini tripod.

Checking online, both could be with me Monday, so I just had to work out how to get myself out with my new gear.

The Plan

First off, to be able to spend a couple of days hiking, I needed to work all weekend. Unfortunately, that was not as successful as I hoped, which means I’ll also be working the following long weekend too (sigh).

Ginger was very busy (she has a new ebook on the way and is obviously much more conscientious than I am) so it will be another solo hike. I didn’t fancy fighting with a massive tangle of snakey undergrowth, so Piney Creek was not an option. I wanted to get a few more miles under my belt on this trip, so I decided to stick with Hercules Glades, starting at Coy Bald, heading north to the Pilots, and then taking the Tower Trail East, before heading south down the Middle Trail to the Falls. I’d spend the night nearby and hike back via the Coy Bald Trail. Ten miles and a few reasonable climbs. The only problems I could think of were weather-based. A sudden storm (and we’ve been having a lot of them) could make the ford on the approach to the Coy Bald Trailhead impassable, and if Long Creek was running high I might have problems crossing it. So my backup plan was to either go in via the Blair Ridge Trailhead or (more likely) the further away Tower Trailhead. From either, I should still be able to fit in a nice 10-mile hike.

I must admit I felt guilty about bunking off mid-week (as it were), but I’m 80 hours in credit with my part-time gig, and while I have a couple of other urgent projects — not to mention the ever stagnating (whilst growing) ‘honey-do’ list — I convinced myself that I would work a lot better with some time out in the wilderness, and it’d stop thoughts of gear testing from distracting me from my work.

The only thing that didn’t arrive on Monday was the tripod camera clamp. It was showing as delivered on the USPS tracking system, but it hadn’t been delivered. We have a long and tedious history of our mail being misdelivered, so I wasn’t that surprised. Annoyed, but not surprised.

Day One

Arca Compatible Clamp Mounted on a Ultra-Pod mini Tripod

My pack weighed in at 20lbs with food, but sans water. I need to check out some of the extras I’m carrying and cut it down again – I ought to be able to get it down to 18lbs. The weight of the Poncho shown on Amazon is an annoyingly inaccurate 3.52oz. It’s 14.6oz! which is still a lot less than my other waterproofs (27.5oz), but I was hoping it was going to be very lightweight.

Shortly after 9:00 a.m. I was sitting in the van mentally checking off what I’d packed prior to leaving. A pickup pulled into the drive, and the driver emerged clutching a padded envelope. He told me it had been delivered to his house the previous afternoon. How auspicious! Great timing, my tripod camera clamp had arrived. I was most grateful and took a couple of minutes to open the package and check it out before setting out.

An hour or so later I was crossing the ford on Cross Timbers road. The creek was running fast but not deep. Good news, I was not going to have any problems with creek crossings unless there was some heavy rain and flash floods.

There were a couple of vehicles at the Trailhead, but the occupants had obviously not signed in, so I had no idea where they might be in the wilderness, or how long they were going to be there. By 10:30 a.m. I had signed in, and was off down the trail. One problem with being the first person along the trail is having to deal with all the spider webs spread across the trail to capture unwary hikers. The good news is, that it also means that there’s no one ahead of you on the trail. Or does it?

Getting near Long Creek I could hear voices, and there were several people and a couple (or more, I didn’t look too closely) tents at the spot at the bottom of the hill, to the left of the trail. That explained the vehicles at the Trailhead. I said my “Good morning … ” and kept going. I dropped off the trail to go visit the bluffs that are by Long Creek just here, and I was rather put out by seeing dozens of small (and large) cairns littering — and I use the word advisedly — the place. They made it impossible to get some of the pictures I wanted, and I had to frame some pictures awkwardly to keep the darned things out of the frame.

Long Creek Bluffs

Looking East Towards Where The Trail Crosses Long Creek

I have no problem with a bit of fun, but these cairns are popping up all over the wildernesses like a plague of mushrooms on steroids. It used to be that they only marked trail branches or points of interest, now they just appear at random. After having a grump and taking my pictures I high-tailed it across Long Creek and up that bloody hill that marks the southern end of the Lower Pilot Trail (and yes I was carrying water, though only two liters — 4.8lbs).

Southern End of the Lower Pilot Trail

I must be getting better at this hiking thing, as I only stopped once to catch my breath, and it seemed like next to no time before I was emerging from the ridge onto the glades. Out in the sunshine it was hot. 86°F hot. I was thinking that some of those showers that were predicted might be quite welcome.

Coy Bald on the Left, Pilots on the Right. And here I am, stuck in the middle on the Lower Pilot Trail.

Hog Damage

Near the northern end of the Lower Pilot Trail I spotted a lot of feral hog damage. It’s the first I’ve seen at Hercules Glades. I reported it to MDC when I got back, and I was told that they’ve been trapping hogs on the glades and on adjacent property. If you see signs of hogs report it to MDC so that they can get rid of them.

The hike east along the Tower Trail was uneventful, I was last on this trail in March. By 1:30 p.m. I’d arrived at the north end of the Middle Trail, and I set off downhill towards Long Creek and The Falls.

Along this trail I met up with three groups of students, complete with clipboards and compasses. The groups varied in size from around eight people to a single individual. They were all part of a group of geology students out of MSU on a field trip. I was told there was around 18 of them out on the trails.

I was starting to think that any chances of being undisturbed on this trip were rapidly diminishing, especially as later on, while walking the last bit of the trail to The Falls, I noticed some people alongside the creek, and I could hear a dog and more people at The Falls.

I went straight past The Falls (which weren’t running) and carried on to what I call the ‘Upper Campsite’ I think we last stayed here in September 2011. There was no one around and after a bit of a reconnoiter further along the trail, I picked my spot and took my time setting my new tarp and underquilt up for the first time.

After hiking 6.3 miles I arrive at Long Creek

After hiking 6.3 miles I arrive at Long Creek

New Tarp and Underquilt

The Falls are a really popular draw, and get very busy, so the impact on the area is huge. I was quite impressed by the lack of litter and mess, though it was obvious that many trees have been cut down — some to make furniture. One good thing about all the foot traffic was that it meant there was very little grass for the ticks to hide in. Even so they were out in legions, and I lost count of how many I eradicated. Despite using Deet and careful checking. I still managed to bring several home.

As the afternoon drew on the people disappeared until I finally had the place to myself. Which was good, as I filled up with water, and then had a (cold) bath. There was very little wood to be found (the word denuded springs to mind), but I managed a small fire to smoke some of the mozzies and bugs away.

Time for a quick bath

Looking Down Long Creek Towards the West

Some Mini Falls on Long Creek

For this trip I experimented with transferring my Mountain House meal out of the packet and into a Ziploc bag. It was very effective, and something I’ll be doing in future. No sharp edges (the edges of the Mountain House packets are sharp — on our last trip they punctured the Ziploc bag holding our dessert!). The Ziploc bag was smaller and more flexible, so I could roll the top down, making eating the meal easier.

By 10:00 p.m. I was in bed. My first time in the hammock without a pad, and with an underquilt. Oh my, I was surprised how different it was. Not unexpectedly, the hammock wraps itself around you, and the underquilt keeps you toasty. laying on your side is fine, as is laying on your back. Laying diagonally keeps you surprisingly flat and straight. This set up gets a huge thumbs up from me, now I just need the chance to get out more often, though the unusually hot weather we are having seems to be against that.

The day’s total: 6.3 miles with 835′ climbed and 972′ of descent, all with the temps in the mid-eighties.

Day Two

I slept in, finally waking up just before 8:00 a.m. surprised to see someone out walking their dog. So surprised that I didn’t say anything, and they quickly turned around and went back the way they’d come. That’s another reason why I’d much rather bushwhack well off the trail and wild camp a long way from the popular haunts.

What a great spot to sit and have your coffee first thing in the morning.

All Mod-Cons including a Flintstone-esque table at the campsite above The Falls on Long Creek

All Mod-Cons including a Flintstone-esque table at the campsite above The Falls on Long Creek

I spent a very leisurely morning sitting enjoying the view and playing with my gear. After I’d taken the tarp and hammock down I tried setting up my rain poncho as a tarp. Set high enough to sit under, I think the rain would be able to get under it quite easily. Set much lower and you’d have to lie down. From the sounds of distant (and not so distant) thunder I might well have a chance to try it out on my hike out.

Wet Weather Gear Test

I was all packed up and on my way shortly before Midday. As the falls weren’t running I was tempted to not bother stopping there. However, I decided to get a few photographs of the area, even if pretty pictures of cascading water were out of the question.

Long Creek Falls Campsite

Long Creek Looking East From The Falls

Looking West From Long Creek Falls

Long Creek Looking West From The Falls

My trip back was as planned, via the Coy Bald Trail, which quickly rises out Long Creek’s hollow, and then goes along a ridge before skirting Coy Bald and returning to the trailhead. Hearing the thunder, I didn’t want to get caught on the top of the ridge if a thunderstorm hit, and planned to retreat rapidly downhill if that happened. The last time I sat out a storm near the Coy Bald trail, the weather radio gave us a tornado warning, and one passed by several miles to the north.

Back to the current hike, and again I surprised myself by being able to climb the hills with very few pauses. To try and keep ahead of the storms I was traveling quite quickly, though that was soon offset by stopping to take pictures along the way. I arrived back at the trailhead just after two. Four miles in two hours is fairly speedy going for me — I usually travel at an average of 1.1 miles per hour (that allows for photo stops, and other bits of exploring along the way).

View to the South

Ginger and I took a picture somewhere along here on December 31, 2010. I couldn’t recognize/remember the spot so this will have to do.

The Start/End of the Coy Bald Trail

Finished! At the Wilderness Boundary

The day’s total: 4 miles with 691′ climbed and 540′ of descent, with the temps mainly in the upper-eighties.

And the rain? It rained hard about twenty minutes after I’d started driving home, and lasted most of the (hour-long) drive back.

May 22, 23. Long Creek, Lower Pilot, Tower, Middle, and Coy Bald Trails.

Final Thoughts

The tarp and underquilt were great, though I’ve yet to put any tarp through its paces in bad weather. However, I’m very glad to see the back of the big and heavy polypropylene tarp, and the sleeping pad.

I took a new 6′ x 3′ Tyvek ground sheet, and that was a great improvement over the smaller size I’ve been using up to now. I should have changed that up ages ago.

The jury is still out on the rain poncho, it’s a lot heavier than I expected. I had hoped that it was going to be a drop in my pack and forget item, but right now, I’m not too sure. We’ll see.

The camera clamp worked just as expected and it’s good to have a small tripod with me. I’ll probably use it more on the next trip. This time I forgot I had it until the start of the second day.

As I mentioned in the beginning, I’m going to have to take stock and see what else I can drop from my pack as I still want to reduce my pack weight and size further. As the amount I have to carry reduces, one way to save weight may involve a smaller pack. Reducing weight is one thing, but I’m not prepared to give up on my luxuries — though I’m not quite sure what classes as a luxury anymore, or even if I have any of those left! Indulgences might be a better term than luxuries at this point.