Enough of the short shake-down trips in familiar places. It was time for me to get out and clock up the miles somewhere new. We first planned to visit Paddy Creek Wilderness in late December 2011, but with high winds in the forecast, we decided to go to Piney Creek instead. Somehow Paddy Creek Wilderness has not featured in our plans since then. It was time to put that right.
Checking out videos on YouTube and studying the topo maps of the trail, I looked for a way to break the trip into three parts so I could spend two nights in the wilderness.
The complete Big Piney Trail loop is a tad over sixteen miles. Someone fitter than I am could get around it in a day. I could do it in two days, but I don’t want to push too hard, and anyway, spending a couple of nights out would be more fun, so a three-day trip it would be. The question was where to stop and which way around the loop did I want to go? I decided to go counter-clockwise and find somewhere to camp well off the trail along Big Paddy Creek on night one. For night two and I’d spotted a place where three creeks joined near the North Loop, there ought to be water near there, and it was around four or five miles from the trailhead, making it a good place to find a spot to stop with a reasonable hike out in the (forecast) rain on the last day.
Checking the weather forecast and studying the map:
Day One, threatened to be a warmish but dull, brightening up as the day wore on. The only hard hiking appeared to be a spot where the trail dropped down to Little Paddy Creek and then climbed some 300ft back up again. I planned on stopping by Little Paddy Creek for lunch and refilling my water before the climb back up to the ridge. From there it was fairly even until the trail dropped down to the area near the confluence of Little Paddy and Big Paddy Creeks.
Day Two, was forecast to be sunny and warm. The hike would begin with a couple of hard (for me) climbs of around 200 and 300 ft, respectively.
Day Three, rain was in the forecast. The hike would have a few ups and downs but would end up with a fairly level hike back to the trailhead, and on back to the parking lot.
Gear, I was sticking pretty much with the set-up from my last trip. As an experiment, I packed a wood-burning stove I made years ago. It’s bulky but only weighs 4ozs. I also decided to give my plastic cup another chance, mainly because with my poor eyesight I struggle to see the fluid level markings on my Toaks Cook pot. With predicted nighttime temps in the low thirties, I went with my winter top quilt and under quilt, though I thought I might be a bit too warm on the second night when the temps were due to stay in the forties. Food-wise I was going to experiment with oats for breakfast and lunch for the first two days.
Day One – Saturday, February 15, 2020
Paddy Creek Wilderness is slightly over eighty miles from Springfield, so I made a determined effort to get out of the door a bit earlier than usual. Much to my surprise, I succeeded, leaving just after nine. The weather was overcast, very grey, and it rained for a good part of the drive. It was starting to look like I’d be having a damp first day’s hike.
I arrived at the Roby lake parking lot shortly before eleven. As I was sitting in the car girding my loins ready to get going, another vehicle arrived. A young lad proceeded to go and check out the lake. I waited for him to disappear from view so I could get some pictures of the parking lot.
Inspection of the lake complete, the young man headed off toward the start of the trail. I began gathering my gear, intending to give him a chance to get well ahead of me on the trail. A couple of minutes later he was back. He came over and asked me about a sign saying the wilderness was closed.
Fortunately, I’d read about several of the local wildernesses being shut down for 2-3 days at the end of January. They closed them while a helicopter-based feral hog hunt took place. That seems to run contrary to the no mechanized transportation or tools rule in the wildernesses, but hey, it’s not my show. The hunt had turned into a bit of a farce, with the helicopter developing mechanical problems, and no hogs killed.
Without bothering to check, I told him the wilderness was open, which seemed to satisfy him, and was very trusting (it must be my gray hair). Off he set again. I didn’t see him or anyone else for the remainder of the trip.
A few minutes later, I followed along stopping to read the posted notices. The text stated the wilderness would be closed to the public from January 27-29, on pain of death. Okay, I exaggerate. It set a fine or not more than $5,000 or imprisonment for not more than six months or both!
The access trail leading to the trailhead crossed a field, and the field was a wet and muddy mess where it wasn’t frozen. The frozen part surprised me as I thought the weather had warmed up enough to clear all the recent snow and ice. Okay, this might be a colder hike than I expected.
It only took a few minutes to get to the trailhead. I signed in and started the hike proper.
There were more signs of frozen ground. But then as I’m using a hammock, frozen ground is not an issue I’ll have to deal with when I camp. On the trail though…
Around three-quarters of a mile in, is the junction of the North and South Loops. They aren’t loops though. They are the north and south sections (arcs?) of the loop. But I guess we all know what they mean (yes I am a pedant).
The south loop started off going through some pine forest, and the ground was very wet where it wasn’t icy. So was the stock pond.
It wasn’t long before I was back in some typical Ozarks landscape of hollows and oak trees. In an attempt to prove that my wide-angle lens made my face look chubby I took a selfie.
Okay, I give in. I’ve got chubby chops, and my arms aren’t long enough for the 35mm lens!
It wasn’t long before I was hiking along a narrow ridge with lots of campsites. The views over the creeks on either side were impressive, though not as impressive as those I’d see on Day Two.
The only problem with being up on this ridge was that the trail led down to the creek and then back up to the top of the opposite ridge. Not a problem, I could stop as often as I wanted on the way up, and I was going to have lunch and replenish my water before I started the hike up.
At the bottom of the ridge, I crossed a dry feeder creek in the last sunshine of the day.
I stopped for lunch by Little Paddy Creek and decided to go all woodsman. I didn’t filter my water, I boiled it using the woodstove. It would have been a good idea, except it started to rain, and the wood, which I thought was dry, was damp. After a lot of smoke, I got the water boiling and had oats and a cup of hot chocolate. I did have a picture of the stove in action, but it was out of focus, so there’s no record.
The climb out of the hollow that I had been dreading was easy. in ten minutes and I was almost out. Fifteen minutes and I was back on the ridge heading towards the next milestone, the point where there is a short-cut back to the North Loop.
What I hadn’t realized is that there used to be a homestead here. The chimney of the house is right by the trail, as is a well.
Nearby I found this circular foundation.
There were lots of yucca plants around, which is another sign that you are in an old settled area.
A couple of minutes later I noticed a spur-trail to the right running alongside an intermittent creek. Creeks and trails usually mean there’s something to see, so I followed the trail which ended in the creek plunging off of a sixty-foot Bluff, I suspect it looks spectacular when the creek is in spate.
There was even a miniature Paddy Creek version of Norway’s Trolltunga (troll tongue). I would have liked to have taken a picture of myself standing on it, but I judged it was just too far away for me to sensibly get to in the 10-seconds my camera’s timer gives me.
The rest of the hike was pretty uneventful. I ventured off the trail once more for another overlook, and then it was time to drop down again to the creek. I explored around a bit and then headed east to Big Paddy Creek, which I crossed (cold and knee-deep) and then headed up the creek looking for somewhere to stop for the night.
The creek had flooded and scoured out a lot of the low lying land making the going difficult. However, I soon found a spot to my liking a few hundred yards south of the main trail. The ground was rough and rocky, but that’s no problem with my hammock.
Here’s a picture from the next morning – looking up the creek hollow, south.
I heated water for some food and a drink. It was getting cold, so I gathered some of the washed down wood, and got a fire going. The wood was damp, and the wind blowing quite hard, so after an hour of so, I let the fire die down and retreated back into my hammock for the night.