April 30, 2018.Solo Backpacking at Piney Creek Wilderness

Solo Backpacking at Piney Creek Wilderness

My little slice of Piney Creek heaven. I turned west on Piney Creek, and lost the trail at a feeder creek crossing. So I went down stream until it joined Piney Creek and started exploring. I found this spot and decided not to go any further. I’m camped a bit too close to the creek, but the underbrush was dense further back and there was a lack of trees until you got to the hill at the edge of the hollow. Two frame panorama. Copyright © 2018 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

Sunday morning I was ready for a change. During the week we’d had a whole bunch of server issues, I was heartily sick of preparing for GDPR, and researching and writing Microsoft Teams Training.

After a short chat with Ginger, I decided to pack my rucksack and head off out on a trip to the Wilderness. I’m busy, but I’ve been putting in some hours to buy myself some ‘Wilderness time.’ Even so, I could only afford to be away Sunday through Monday.

I had a destination in mind. It took an hour or so to get ready, pack my backpack and be on the road to Piney Creek Wilderness. My plan was non-existent. I hadn’t decided where in the wilderness I was going to go, though I had picked a trail to start with. The Tower Trail, when I got to the end of that, I’d have to make up my mind, whether to go east to Table Rock Lake or west on a part of the Piney Creek Trail I’ve not hiked before.

To make things ‘interesting’ I decided to only use a one-liter water container. However, I packed a second liter as an emergency supply and stuffed it into the lost recesses of the bottom of my pack. My idea was to filter water whenever I needed it and forget about the extra liter. I did remember to weigh my pack this time, 26lbs — including food, snacks, and 4.4lbs of water (that’s what two liters of water weighs 🙂 ). I’m slowly paring the weight down, and I’m not sacrificing comforts. For food, I had one dehydrated dinner, breakfast cereal, snacks, and coffee. I was ready to go.

Day One

Piney Creek Wilderness is just over an hour’s drive from Springfield. I arrived at the appropriately named Pines Overlook trailhead at midday. There was one other vehicle in the parking lot, and according to the registration sheets, I’d have the whole wilderness to myself.

Parked at the Pines View Trailhead at Piney Creek Wilderness. Copyright © 2018 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
Start of the Tower Trail which leads down to Piney Creek, after an easy ridge walk, it’s a rough descent. Copyright © 2018 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

As I was hiking down the Tower Trail to Piney Creek, I was still weighing up where I was going to go. In the end, I didn’t make the decision until I got to the trail junction. The first part of the Tower Trail lulled me into a feeling of false security as I walked along the ridge, stopping only to inspect some old building foundations. When I got to the drop-off, I was reminded of what a steep trail this is. The going gets really steep, and I was glad I had my hiking pole to steady myself.

Once you drop off of the ridge, you can follow the official trail up to the top of the next ridge (right of frame. This is a 80′-100′ climb) or take the unmarked trail that follows the creek(left of frame). Three-frame panorama. Copyright © 2018 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

When I’d got to the bottom of the ridge, I had a choice of routes to Piney Creek. There’s an easy route following a feeder creek down to where it joins Piney Creek, or there’s the tougher route climbing up the next ridge 80′-100′ and then hiking along the edge of the adjacent hollow.

I decided to stick with the official trail and take the tougher route. Climbing out of the hollow was hard! Once up on the ridge, the going was easy, but the trail down from the ridge was a lot rougher than I remembered. At the bottom of the ridge there is a fire ring, and it’s a great example of why people shouldn’t be allowed out into the wilderness. Nearby trees had been cut down for firewood, and the area near to the fire ring had been picked clean. It’s a testament to peoples’ laziness and selfishness. It’d be a great place to put up ‘Leave no Trace’ posters — except they’d be the next thing on the fire.

Fire ring at the bottom of the Tower Trail. It’s always a huge disappointment to see how people wantonly wreck an area. Note the tree stump in the foreground that’s been recently cut down. Generally it’s because people are too lazy to forage a little further afield for wood for their fire. Copyright © 2018 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

About two hundred feet from the fire ring, the Tower Trail meets Piney Creek, and the Piney Creek Trail runs East and West on the far side. A picturesque campsite next to Table Rock Lake called out to me, but I decided to go west instead and explore for a short while before turning around and heading east to the lake. That way I could do some exploring and spend the evening by the lake (that, however, wasn’t going to be the way things panned out).

Spring has finally sprung in the Ozarks, and the undergrowth is sprouting with wild abandon. The western trail is much less used, and having met a Timber Rattlesnake on Piney Creeks trails before, I was keeping a weather eye out for snakes. The trail was quite clear at first, then the trail crossed Piney Creek, and it became harder to follow, and there were a lot of cat briars. Finally, the trail crossed the dry bed of a ‘feeder creek’ and I couldn’t find where the trail picked up again on the far side. I thought about giving up and heading back to the lake but decided to follow the creek bed down to where it Joined Piney Creek and explore a bit more. I gave myself until 3 p.m. to look around.

The area to the South of Piney Creek was obviously fields at some point, now it is very overgrown, and the creek itself is lined by lots of big trees. The sound of running water and clear space under the trees looked like it might be a great place to stop so I kept on wandering west. I was looking for suitable trees to hang my hammock from– without any potential ‘widow makers’ nearby.

I came to a spot where there was a rocky outcrop in the middle of the creek — and noticed some nice big pools just upstream. The ground to the south of the creek was an ‘overflow creek bed’ which meant the vegetation wasn’t as dense, and I found two trees, a fair distance apart, but parallel to the creek. I was near to my time to turn around. I decided to make camp here and enjoy the scenery. I could hike to the lake tomorrow.

Rocky Outcrop in Piney Creek. Copyright © 2018 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

Hanging the hammock was challenging as the trees were over 24′ apart. At least I remembered that the further apart the trees were, the higher I had to set the hammock suspension. That meant the hammock suspension had to be fixed a long way up the tree’s trunks, way above my head. After a bit of trial and error, I got it sorted.

On this trip, I was using some new tarp tie downs, and they had an unexpected issue. They include some elastic to even the pull on the tarp. But, as I discovered, if a stake pulls out, the elastic turns them into projectiles, firing the stakes off into the undergrowth. I am going to have to look at ways of tying the stakes to the tie-out line so that their range is limited. Fortunately, I found the two stakes that whistled past my ear on their trajectory into the wilderness.

Hammock set up, I spent some time taking pictures and bravely decided to try out the bathing pool. It was bloody cold, and I’ll admit I didn’t get fully immersed. Bracing, I think is the word. Well, one of the more polite words. I collected some dead wood for a fire and pottered around for the rest of the afternoon.

Me posing with the bathing pool in the background. Yes, I tried it out. Yes, it was bloody cold. And no, I opted not to go for total immersion after getting in up to my waist. Copyright © 2018 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
I found a convenient tree root to act as a tripod. I collected a small amount of deadwood for a fire that was more decorative than functional. Copyright © 2018 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

I had a late dinner and enjoyed bringing my journal up to date sitting by the campfire. There was a nice bright moon to keep me company.

Sitting by the campfire bringing my journal up to date. Copyright © 2018 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

Just before turning in I was disturbed by a very noisy armadillo. I’ve seen evidence of feral hogs at Piney Creek, and in the darkness my mind amplified the snuffling of said armadillo into a herd or rampaging hogs. It took a while with my headlamp to locate the source of all the noise, and assure myself that it was just an innocent armadillo and nothing more (we’ve also seen evidence of large cats — Mountain Lion sized — at Piney Creek, so my caution can be justified). At night, solo backpacking, it seems all noises get bigger and grow teeth to match.

Day Two

Apart from the errant armadillo, the night passed without incident, and I spent a lazy Monday morning taking pictures (and video), having breakfast, and packing up camp.

I was on my way before midday, and I had a plan to hike to the lake, eat lunch, hike the ‘Farm Trail’ to the top of the ridge, and then, instead of taking the road back to the trailhead, hike the last part of the Lake Trail back to the tower (Pines View Trailhead). This was a brave (or stupid) idea. Brave because there are some steep descents and climbs on that bit of trail that the road route avoids.

the underbrush is growing in quickly. This is what Ginger calls ‘Snakey’ conditions. I kept my eyes open, and only spotted one small snake who slivered off before I could identify what sort of snake it was. We’ve met a big Timber Rattlesnake sunning itself on this trail. Copyright © 2018 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

Ginger and Katie hiked the east side of the Piney Creek Trail a couple of years ago and reported that floods had decimated the trail and area, so I was expecting some trouble keeping to the trail. The rapidly growing vegetation was already encroaching on the trail in lots of places, which made keeping an eye out for snakes difficult. I was pleased to actually spot the one snake I did encounter before it saw me, and slinked off. I did lose the trail a couple of times, but I headed off in the general direction I needed to go in and picked it up again.

I arrived at Table Rock Lake just after 1 p.m.

Table Rock Lake From Piney Creek Wilderness. Copyright © 2018 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
Table Rock Lake From Piney Creek Wilderness. An approx. 180° view from north to south. Six-frame panorama. Copyright © 2018 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

The campsite next to the lake is a mess. Over-use has ruined it. I’m glad I didn’t head down here for the night. I had my lunch by the lake, and, as I finally had cell service (Verizon) I caught up with work and stuff. I finished off my water – that was my third liter of filtered water I’d consumed so far during the trip.

Unfortunately, a rather typical Ozarks wilderness campsite. Copyright © 2018 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

I had emptied out my emergency supply that morning, as I’d proved I could manage with just one liter and filtering more as I needed it, and I welcomed the 2.2lb reduction in my pack weight.

Where Piney Creek runs into Table Rock Lake. Copyright © 2018 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

After lunch I headed back, stopping only to filter another liter of water before climbing up the ‘Farm Trail’. I’ve not hiked this trail in many years. There are a lot of trees down across the trail now and it struck me that the trail now goes a slightly different route. But that’s just a feeling I had. I tried to find a tree that was down across the trail back in 2011 — it would have made a good photo opportunity, but with so many trees down, I couldn’t be sure which was the right one so I gave up on my picture taking plans.

Gary and Ginger stop for a drink and snack on the way back to the Tower trailhead. Copyright © 2012 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
Rest stop – Piney Creek Wilderness. Copyright © 2012 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

By 3 p.m. I had climbed (okay, staggered gasping) up to the ridge, and started walking the nice even trail back to the tower and trailhead.

I decided to stick with my plan to hike the last bit of the Lake Trail and not use the easier route along the road. Not many people do this, and it’s no surprise. It took me several minutes to find a trail marker for the start of the trail, and few minutes longer to be sure I’d found the trail after that. Even then it seems somehow I left the trail ‘proper’. The only way to work out how I did that will be to hike the trail in the opposite direction. The drop into and climb out of the hollow was worse than I expected, very steep. And then I realized there were two hollows to cross. Feeling really pleased that I’d managed all the extra climbs, I then discovered the trail crossed a third hollow. Oh well, there was only one way out, and that was up.

I finally got back to the trailhead at 4 p.m., having hiked 4.76 miles and climbed nearly 1,300′. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but the uncertain and often rocky and rough Ozarks trails make it feel like a whole lot more.

Finally back at the trailhead. Copyright © 2018 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

Lessons Learned

  • I really don’t need to carry a lot of water if I’m in a wilderness with water sources.
  • It seems a lot of people are awful, selfish pigs, who shouldn’t be allowed out into the wilderness.
  • I need to do something about the tie-down stakes. I cannot have stakes catapulted off into the undergrowth. Apart from losing the darned things, they could be dangerous. In future I’ll need to tie the stakes to the tie-outs, which will hopefully stop them getting loose.
  • Coil loose line in a figure of eight, and not loops. It seems to tangle a lot less when coiled in this fashion.

What Worked

  • I’ve got my gear pretty much sorted out, so everything seemed to work well.
  • Filtering water wasn’t a problem, and in future I’ll carry less when I’m places with lots of water sources.
  • Once again the Utility Kilt was really comfortable. I wish they were more ‘socially acceptable’, and less likely to draw unwanted attention. That said, I didn’t meet a single person on the trail so whoop-de-do. Who cares?

What Didn’t

  • I had my first major Xero Shoes, sandal failure. The footbed doesn’t have any grip, so it becomes slippery when wet, and the heal strap is only Velcro. Going up a steep slope after crossing a creek the Velcro failed when my foot slid around. For a few minutes I thought I’d be engineering some alternative way of fastening them. I might carry a pair of Huaraches with me in future. At 4oz. for a pair it’s not going to be a big burden.
  • I’m still very slow setting up the hammock. We can set up a tent in ten minutes, I’ve not set up the hammock in less than 45 minutes so far.

What I took and didn’t use

  • Long pants
  • Base layer pants
  • Emergency kit (good!)
  • Fire steel
  • Rain poncho.    

Copyright © 2018 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

This is an edited and abridged version of a post that first appeared on Ozarks Walkabout.


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