Feb 16, 2020Big Piney Trail, Paddy Creek Wilderness – Day Two.

Camped near Big Paddy Creek – Morning of Day Two. The area had been scoured by floods. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

The predicted overnight temperature was in the mid-thirties. True to my previous experiences, it dropped lower, at just below freezing at 30°F. Watching the sun shining on the western side of the creek, I regretted my decision to camp on the eastern side, which was in deep in the shade of a ridge. The sun didn’t make it to where I was camped until after 9:00 a.m.

Big Paddy Creek. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

As usual, I took my time making breakfast of oats and a cup of hot chocolate and getting ready for the day’s hike. I didn’t get on the trail until 11:20 a.m. The first part of the day’s hike took me over the shoulder of a ridge, which involved a 200ft climb and descent to meet up again with Big Big Paddy Creek on the other side of the ridge. It didn’t take long. Half an hour later I was crossing Paddy Creek Road, a gravel road that has some traffic. I didn’t see any vehicles, but I did hear a couple.

Paddy Creek Road marks the north-eastern boundary of Paddy Creek Wilderness, so once on the road, you are back in Mark Twain National Forest. Though if my memory and the GPS is correct the Paddy Creek Campground Trailhead is actually by the Campground access road.

It took me a couple of minutes to find where the trail picked up on the opposite side of the road. I was looking for the trail straight across the road, but the trail restarts a little to the left (north), I was then on the last part of the drop back down to Big Paddy Creek, with just the blacktop road leading to Paddy Creek Campground left to cross.

Paddy Creek Campground Trailhead. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

Paddy Creek Campground (and the road to it) is closed for the winter season, though you can hike in and camp. I should have explored the campground, but my late start decided me against it.

The road into Paddy Creek Campground was closed for the winter. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

At least where the trail picked up was easy to spot at this point.

Trail down to Big Paddy Creek. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

A couple of minutes later I was back by Big Paddy Creek, which was swollen by the addition of the waters of Little Paddy Creek.

Big Paddy Creek – Now I’ve to get to the top of that ridge… Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

It was midday, but I resisted the temptation to stop and have lunch. I had a 300ft. Ridge on the north side of Big Paddy Creek to climb, and another 4-5 miles to go before I reached where I planned to camp for the night. Which meant I’d be setting up camp between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m. as it started getting dark.

I stopped for a few minutes to take some pictures and then filter some water to last me the afternoon. I promised myself a snickers bar when I got to the bottom of the ridge to set me up for the climb, and lunch when I got to the top.

Stopped for water by Big Paddy Creek – Zpacks Arc Haul backpack. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

Where the trail restarted on the opposite side of the creek was looking uncertain from my vantage point on the south side of the creek. I finally spotted a bit of pink ribbon tied to a tree about 100 yards downstream.

Getting ready to cross Big Paddy Creek – I have one word. Cold. It took me ages to spot the trail marker to pick up the trail on the other side. (It’s a tiny bit of pink tape – there was no official marker). Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

The creek was cold, but not deep. I took is slowly as I didn’t want to take a tumble and get myself all wet.

Big Paddy Creek – Looking back across the creek. The next section was more like bushwhacking than hiking. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

Flooding had paid havoc with the next section of the trail. It was a lot more like bushwhacking than hiking with no clear trail in several places. As the area between the creek and the ridge narrowed, I was able to find the trail again and the trail turned away from the creek. It took me half an hour to get to the bottom of the ridge and a trail marker for Big Piney Trail. Good, I was in the right place and on the right trail. I ate my promised pre-climb Snickers bar.

Starting up the ridge – it’s not too bad, only 300ft. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

The climb was steep in places but in under half an hour I was on the first summit of the ridge.

Looking towards the Big Piney River – I couldn’t make out if the light colored area was grass or scoured shingle. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
Stopping for a picture – and to catch my breath. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

The map said the trail skirts around the first summit. The reality was that the summit must be far too interesting to most hikers, so the trail actually goes right over the top. There’s not much of a view though, but the sunshine made for a nice picture even if you couldn’t really see the horizon.

First Summit – Paddy Creek Wilderness. It only took me 25 minutes to get here from the bottom. However, there’s still another 100ft. Or so to go. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

The following section did surprise me. I’m used to the narrow, and high, ridge trail on the Devil’s Backbone. But this was much more impressive. Just as narrower and a lot higher.

The ridge at the top – This really puts the Devil’s Backbone in to context, it’s twice as high and just as narrow. Paddy Creek Wilderness. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

By 1:30 p.m. I’d got to the overlook at the top of the ridge, and I was ready to stop for lunch. There was a fire ring, complete with a supply of wood, and I was tempted to break out my wood stove and heat up some water for a hot drink and lunch. But I still had a long way to go, so I decided it would be better to have a short rest, eat some nuts and raisins, and my second Snickers bar.

Scenic overlook at the top of the ridge – The tree to the left is most odd, it has three trunks. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

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Shortly after 2:00 p.m., I was at the point where the spur trail from the Big Piney Trail Camp (an equine camping area) joins the trail.

North Loop – Good, I’m still on the trail. Near the spur to the Big Piney Trail camp. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

Unfortunately, I didn’t do enough research before my trip and I missed an opportunity for a spectacular view. I’ve since discovered that if I’d taken a short(-ish) road hike from here, I could have visited the cave and Slabtown overlook, which, from what I’ve seen so far offers a view to rival that of the Goat Trail on the Buffalo River in Arkansas. Well, that’s another reason to go back and re-hike this trail.

Forty-five minutes later and I was crossing the gravel Paddy Creek road again and heading back into Paddy Creek Wilderness. I still had a fair way to go though!

Big Piney Trailhead, All Motor Vehicles Prohibited – looking back the way I’ve just come where the trail crosses Paddy Creek Road. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

Large parts of the trail, thus far and in patches, as I carried on hiking, ran through pine forest. Which is good as the surface is nice and easy to hike on.

At one point I came to a trail junction which from the map looks like it drops down into a small non-wilderness parcel of land. Wherever it goes, some effort had been put into making sure people follow the Big Piney Trail, and not go off-trail at this point.

Not wanting to be looking for water and a place to camp in the dark, I concentrated on hiking over the next section which ran over a few hollows and through oak and pine woods.

Approaching ‘Facerock’. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
I see a face – I think I’ll call this Facerock. It would have been a good place to stop, but I wanted to get to my planned camping spot long before it got dark. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

The first of several creeks I crossed. I stopped here to refill my water bottle.

Water stop – My first chance to fill up my water bottle since I’d left Paddy Creek. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

I arrived at the confluence of the three creeks where I’d planned to camp unexpectedly. That often happens. The last part of a hike flies-by. It was around 4:30 p.m. and I had plenty of time to find somewhere to camp and set up my hammock before it got dark. There was a well-used spur trail crossing the creek, I followed it across the creek and then started bushwhacking back along parallel to the creek to get well away from the trail. After my usual period of hunt the perfect spot to camp, it started threatening to rain as I set up my hammock.

Camped for the Night – Paddy Creek Wilderness, Day Two – It’s great when a plan comes together. The location I’d earmarked for my second night’s camp was at the confluence of three creeks. I was sure there would be water near here, and there was. I toyed with stopping earlier, but I didn’t want to have too far to go on the last day. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

Hammock up, water gathered, I gathered some wood so I could light the wood burner, but gusting winds decided me against having a fire. Instead, I got out my alcohol stove and heated my water for dinner with that. I was going to have oats for dessert, but somehow I’d miscounted my supply of oats and only packed three and not four. I didn’t worry about it, had my meal and a cup of hot chocolate, and retired to read in my hammock. It had been a good day.

Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

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