March is one of my busy work months. Despite that, I was determined to get out on a couple of free days no matter what the weather was. The forecast was for rain, and as it had been raining a lot the past few days I was expecting the trails to be wet.
Preparations and Plans
I’ve still not tried out my gear in a big rainstorm, so this was going to be a good opportunity to do so. I also reckoned I could cope with a one-nighter even if I had a massive gear failure and everything got wet.
My original plan was to get some sunset pictures from the bluffs overlooking Beaver creek at Hercules Glades. There’s not a lot of water down that part of the trail — except for a very tannin-rich stock pond — so I’d need to carry enough water for a couple of days.
However, the forecast of rain meant that the chance of a decent sunset was minimal. So I decided to do a quick loop instead; starting at the Tower Trailhead, going west along the Pilot (Tower) Trail to its junction with the Devil’s Den West (Lower Pilot) Trail, then hike down that trail and camp at the fire ring at the trail’s end. I’d be hiking in on Sunday (I was working Saturday), so I wasn’t too concerned about using what is a very popular campsite located right by the trail, I doubted there’d be anyone wandering past. The next day I’d hike the Rock Spring (Long Creek) Trail east, visit The Falls, and hike the Long Creek Trail back to the trailhead. A total of around 12 miles. Not the 20 I’d like to get in, but a decent distance for me as I’m still getting back into shape.
The predicted temperatures of 45°F were low enough to warrant taking my winter gear, which is good as I need to get my money’s worth out of my 10° quilts!
I decided not to take a big water bottle, but instead use my 32 oz unfiltered water bag. Earlier in the week, I’d made a screw in stopper for my water filter by gluing the neck of a plastic Mountain Dew bottle onto a half-gallon milk jug lid. The stopper prevents water from dribbling out of the filter when it’s not in use. The rest of the Mountain Dew bottle I appropriated for use as a water scoop which I could use to collect and pour water into the unfiltered water bag. The unfiltered water bag is kept in the water scoop when not in use. The scoop, water bag, and filter all fit easily in the side pocket of my backpack. This is much better than my previous arrangement of keeping everything in a Ziploc bag inside my pack.
Day One – Sunday, March 24.
I arrived at the trailhead shortly after noon. It was a hive of activity with two or three scout troops packing up ready to go home. Mentally going through the things I’d packed, I realized that I’d forgotten the charging cable for my phone, and the bleach to treat the filtered water with. I replaced the cable with the six-foot charging cable I use in the van, and decided I’d just go without chemically treating the water. Not the best of starts. But at least I realized I’d forgotten the things before I’d set off on my hike. I packed the cable, grabbed my backpack and was ready to go. The sky was covered in broken cloud, but there was no sign of the promised rain.
The trail register showed two scout groups had signed in on the northern trail. One group was of 24 people. Groups in the wilderness are supposed to be limited to eight people. I wondered at that, do they get special permission? From all the scouts at the trailhead, it looked like they’d finished their hike, so hopefully, the trails were clear.
The first part of the trail to the Pole Hollow (Pete Hollow) junction was nice and easy, taking just half an hour. In fact, the entire hike was easy as it’s mostly downhill. Monday’s hike would be another story… I met one hiker on the first section of the trail, and another person about forty minutes later at the junction of the Cedar (Middle) Trail. They were the only people I saw or heard the entire trip.
The Pilot (Tower) Trail has a lot of what we call ‘seeps’. That is places where the water oozes out onto the trail in shallow puddles. Today, after all the rain we’ve had the story was a bit different. The trail was like one long creek covered in anything from half an inch to four inches of water. I’d already decided that I’d be marching straight through any water obstacles I found, so I plowed straight along the trail.
There’s one point where the Pilot (Tower) Trail opens out on a glade which is crossed by an intermittent creek. The creek runs over a shelf covered with loads of half-spherical scoops in the rock, fascinating. The creek was running quite well, and I could hear it dropping over some falls downhill a ways. I’ve seen lots of small falls recently so I didn’t bother going for a look.
Climbing out of the slight hollow the creek runs in, I came across a second intermittent creek, and it looked like it was running down to join the creek I’d just passed. I thought that the difference in height might make for some more interesting falls and also account for the noise.
‘Twin Falls Hollow’
Any waterfall (let alone twin falls), in the middle of the wilderness, is asking to be used as a natural shower.
I bushwhacked down to where the two creeks joined. From there I saw a large sunken ravine around twenty to twenty-five feet deep with what turned out to be twin falls dropping noisily into it.
A ravine and falls were something I couldn’t ignore, so I bushwhacked further downstream until the sides were low enough for me to drop down into the ravine and then scramble back up for a closer look at the falls.
Looking at the geology, it looks like the water had found a way under the top rock shelf, undercut it, creating a large cavern which then collapsed creating the ravine. The floor was a jumble of large rocks and there was so much underbrush growing that it got in the way of pictures and moving around, but I climbed about trying to get some decent angles.
Any waterfall (let alone twin falls), in the middle of the wilderness, is asking to be used as a natural shower. It’s one of those ‘I dare you’ things. I stopped and asked myself if in the years to come I’d regret not taking the time to give it a go. The answer was of course ‘yes’. I stripped off and very cautiously stepped under the falls. By golly it was cold. Standing under the falls for a few seconds was enough to satisfy my whim. Of course, this isn’t the first time I’ve showered in the wilderness. I took a shower under Missouri’s tallest waterfall, Mina Sauk Falls, back in March 2012. By any reckoning, I was well overdue for another wilderness shower.
I have a microfiber towel for opportunities like this, so I was soon dry, warm, and ready to get back on the trail.
Back on the trail, the conditions were wet. it was like hiking along a creek.
By three-forty, I’d reached the Devil’s Den (Lower Pilot) Trail, and it was time to start the descent down to Long Creek and my campsite for the night. I toyed briefly with the idea of carrying on west to the bluffs, but I decided to stick with the plan. It still wasn’t raining, but the clouds were darkening. As I crossed the glades the temperature reached 85°F in the sun. The trail was a shallow running creek down near the stock pond that’s just beside this trail. It was also pretty noisy there as the Spring Peepers were out and making a lot of noise. So much so that I recorded them.
Camped for the Night
Moving on, I very carefully negotiated the steep final descent on the trail, arriving at the campsite at around four-thirty. Ginger and I spent our first-night backpacking in December 2010 camped here. I spent ages looking around for a good place to set up my hammock. I could have easily set up near the fire ring but that was too close to the trail for my comfort. I started to set up in one place a ways up Devil’s Den and then had second thoughts, and moved to another spot. The sky continued darkening and by six pm it had started to rain. There was a lot of thunder rolling around and it rained on and off for a couple of hours, but not hard enough to really test my gear.
As it was warm(-ish) I had removed the winter cover from the hammock, and I also took off the sidecar (a giant pocket that hangs off of the side of my hammock). I thought there’d be no bugs, but I saw one tick, and I was mobbed by moths once it got dark. I guess it is time to start packing the bug-net again.
I’ve come to the conclusion that the Sidecar stops the under quilt getting properly into position. On my last trip I’d not used the sidecar, and it reduced problems with cold spots. And again this trip, without the sidecar I had no problems.
As I prepared my dinner and a hot drink for the evening I discovered I’d somehow lost my mug. I had seen it earlier, therefore I concluded that I must have dropped it while switching locations. It wasn’t worth searching for it in the dark, so I made my drink in the cook pot. That started me thinking, and I’ve decided to go without my mug on my next trip. I can drink from my cook pot — I might just as well clean up the cook pot as the mug.
Dinner over, I read in the hammock until lights out at around ten-thirty.
Day Two, Monday, March 25.
The overnight temperature again dropped lower than forecast, but only to 37°F, and I was nice and warm.
In the morning I quickly found my mug lying on the grass near where I’d originally started to set up camp. I didn’t use it, and ate my breakfast cereal out of its Ziploc bag, and drank a cup of coffee straight from the pot. After breakfast, I broke down camp and was ready to be on my way by ten-thirty.
The day’s hike started with crossing the creek in Devil’s Den. I had decided I’d take a picture of all the creek crossings for the day — there was going to be a lot (eight, ten if you counted the crossings I did twice getting to and from The Falls). As it happened Devil’s Den was the deepest crossing, with the water up to my knees at one point.
Right after the crossing you climb up around three hundred feet out of Devil’s Den hollow. It only took me half an hour to get to the top and then along to ‘Sheep Frog’ pond. That was much quicker than I expected, so I decided I’d venture off-trail and see if I could find Rock Spring again.
I found the spring without too much trouble using the GPS to get on to the correct contour line. The ground below the spring box was absolutely saturated, a giant puddle dozens of yards wide. The old building was set farther back up the hill than I remembered but was easy enough to find. Having marked both on the GPS, it was time to get back on the trail and head on down to The Falls. The trail here was a lot drier than that behind the Pilots, but there were still a lot of small intermittent creeks to cross.
Long Creek Falls
Long Creek, as expected, was flowing well, but easy enough to cross. I was looking forward to seeing The Falls. I arrived at The Falls shortly after noon and spent an hour and a half eating lunch, having a hot drink and taking pictures. I also filtered some more water for my hike back to the tower. Unfortunately for picture taking, it was still a dull day, though the sun did break through a couple of times.
Lunch eaten, coffee drunk, and pictures taken, I started my trek back to the Tower Trailhead.
There were seven creek crossings to be made before I started up the ridge back to the tower, so, no chance to dry off.
There Are Seven Creek Crossings (here are six of them)
Climbing up the Ridge
Climbing up the ridge it was obvious that this area is a magnet for lightning as I saw several trees that showed the signs of being struck. Later at the top of the ridge there was evidence of a large fire (a long time ago), presumably also caused by a lightning strike.
Overall this part of the trail is very clear and easy to follow. I only made one mistake when I totally ignored some branches laid down across the start of a spur trail and turned south. As a consequence, I had to backtrack back to the main trail. Branches across the trail that are not windfalls mean ‘Do not pass.’ At the time I thought, “How kind of someone to put a convenient step in the mud for me.” Oh dear.
I arrived back at the (now empty) trailhead Just after three pm.
Total distance: 12.5 miles. Elevation 1,127ft (approx. I forgot to turn on the GPS until I was about 10-15 minutes into my day two hike).
- I’ve now got the balance of stuff between my Ribz front pack and my backpack about right. The last thing I moved into the Ribz pack is my sit pad. Now I can take a short break without removing my pack — I’m getting lazy.
- I didn’t take my large water container for clean water, and I didn’t need it. I’m quite happy carrying unfiltered water and filtering it as and when I need to.
- My new water scoop and filter stopper worked, so this is something I hopefully won’t be changing for a while.
- Again the cell phone-based GPS worked perfectly. I think I’ve found a good GPS solution if it keeps working once the trees are in leaf.
- I put my new trail shoes through a lot, they were soaked for almost the entire trip and I didn’t have any problems with them. I wore them without socks as I could not see the sense of wearing wet socks as well as wet shoes. I’m not sure if that was a good idea or not. Back at home, I rinsed them off and then threw them in the washer with my dirty clothes. That seemed to work okay. The big question is will I be going back to my huaraches? I still carry and use them as ‘camp shoes’. However, I cannot argue with the stats. No matter what the reason, I’m quicker on the trail wearing the shoes. I much prefer my huaraches, so this is something I’m going to have to ponder over for a while.
What Didn’t Work
- My mug. Very minor, but I really don’t need it so I’ll be leaving it behind in future.
- The under quilt seems to fit better without the sidecar on the hammock.
- I must use the packing list to ensure I don’t forget anything. I have one, I just didn’t use it.
- Branches across the trail? Check, am I on the right trail?