Mar 28, 2020Two days ‘Self-Isolation’ in Hercules Glades Wilderness

View to the west from near the top of the Upper Pilot Knob. The Lower Pilot knob is the pointy hill in the distance. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

Springfield and Greene County have been on COVID-19 lockdown since mid-march. A lot of people have been laid off or furloughed, including Lanie from one of her jobs. However, my workload has risen significantly as the communications needs of the churches and the diocese increased and morphed as people adjusted to remote working. The small ray of sunshine for us in Springfield is that we are allowed out to exercise, and liquor is considered an essential item. Backpacking is definitely exercising in my book. With that in mind, I decided to take a short break, get some exercise, and enjoy some time out in the wild. My original plan was for both of us to go, but Ginger had some foot pain and didn’t fancy even a couple of miles hiking, so it was another solo trip.

I decided to stick with something simple, and re-visit my campsite near the ‘Twin falls’ in Hercules Glades.

I have been meaning to take a hike up to the top of Upper Pilot Knob to take in the scenery. The Twin Falls campsite is just to the north of the Upper Pilot and would provide a good opportunity to check out the views. Finally, Hercules Glades are (relatively) close to home, the Pilot Trail doesn’t see a lot of hikers, and my planned campsite is a long way off the trail. All in all, ideal for some COVID-19 reclusing.

A forecast of warm-ish overnight temperatures in the mid-forties (6°-7°C) decided me on switching over to my summer camping gear. I replaced the hammock’s winter cover with a bug net. I learned last year that venturing out without a bug net can be a mistake. I swapped out my 10°F winter quilts for my — much lighter and smaller packing — 40°F quilts. Just in case the temperature was lower than expected I packed a fleece pullover, socks, wooly hat, and a base layer. All of which turned out to be unnecessary. It had been raining hard for several days so I assumed that the loose branches in the woods would be wet. With that in mind, I decided against taking my woodstove. That will make this the second time I’ve left it behind and later regretted it.

Day One

After the recent rainy starts to my hikes, it came as no surprise to find that it was overcast when I left home on the hour-long drive to the Tower Trailhead. The parking lot had ten vehicles in it, more than I was expecting, but a lot less than I’ve seen on a busy weekend. Only two people had signed in at the Trailhead that day, and they were going on the Pees Hollow Trail. It was looking like I’d have the trail to myself, that was good and all part of my plan! I was fully expecting yet another ‘wet feet hike’ and I was also looking forward to some serious twin-falls action, and maybe another shower?

Hercules Glades Tower Trailhead parking lot once again – I counted 10 vehicles and one RV. A lot more people than I was expecting. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

Within ten minutes of starting out the rain came down. No sooner had I got my rain gear on than it stopped again. Putting the poncho on is a pain. Well, getting it to go over my pack is the difficult bit. However, it was warm-ish and I didn’t fancy hiking with it on if it wasn’t needed, and I took it off again. As it turned out, the day brightened and that was the last of the rain.

Back on the Pilot (Tower) Trail – and once again it is drizzling. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
Siding. The interesting thing (to me) about this piece of siding is that I first spotted it on Google Earth. I’m impressed. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

The trails were not as wet as I was expecting and it occurred to me that I could have brought my woodstove along. Oh well.

After a couple of hours hiking, I reached the point where I needed to start bushwhacking the two-hundred or so yards off-trail down to my planned campsite. Once again the falls were a disappointment. They were running, but not enough for both falls to be flowing. I didn’t bother to take any pictures, and there was no incentive to have a shower.

On my way down to where I’d be camping, I stopped to take a picture of a piece of siding or soffit that a tornado dropped here. The siding is interesting to me because I knew it was here before I’d explored the area in person. Despite being quite small — around 8′ x 9″ — it was (and is) clearly visible on Google Earth.

Spot the siding …

Or is it a soffit board?

A quick look around my campsite

Camped for the night – I really am enjoying this string of LED lights. The picture’s not too bad for a one-second no-tripod shot. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

By 4:15 p.m. I was at my intended camping spot. It didn’t take long to set everything up and I was sitting in my hammock before I knew it.

After hanging my food bag I went on an unplanned trip exploring down the creek. Nearby I found a spring-box, and further down the creek, there were areas that looked like they’d been cleared many years ago. I Hadn’t intended to go exploring, so I didn’t have my GPS or camera with me. I could have recorded my track using my satellite locator, but I didn’t think to turn its tracking feature on (at least I had it with me!) By the time I go back to camp, it was getting dark. It was time for food and then to settle in and read a book for the evening.

Day One Stats

Day Two

Warming up in the morning sunshine.
Sunny morning in the woods. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

My only plan for the day was to laze around, hike up the Upper Pilot Knob and then head home, a total of around eight miles for the entire trip.

The brush is fairly dense – There’s a creek down there somewhere. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
Enjoying woods and the sunshine. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

As much as I enjoyed sitting in the sunshine, I decided that I wanted to get a few more miles under my belt. I began contemplating alternate routes, the only issue with that was that it meant spending time on the more popular trails where I was more likely to encounter other hikers. However, there would be plenty of room to get off the trail if I met anyone. I decided to hike south down the Devil’s Den East (Upper Pilot)1 Trail, then east along Rock Spring (Long Creek) Trail, and finally back up to the Tower Trailhead via the little-used Pole (Pete) Hollow Trail. Lunch and a water refill stop could be either at Rock Spring or at Long Creek, which I’d be crossing a few times.

Just for fun I decided to record a time-lapse video of my camp breakdown, which according to the photo time-stamps took me 35 minutes including a couple of stops to enjoy the view and finish my morning hot chocolate. Below is the result.

Packing up camp

(One-minute time-lapse video.)

The process took me 35 minutes including taking a couple of breaks to drink my hot chocolate

Something to note about packing up camp. I’m pretty gentle on my gear, so everything gets coiled up and properly put away. I could save some time by just stuffing all the bits and bobs away, but I’ve found that it pays off, in the long run, to take the time to stow everything, clean my cook kit, and shake out my hammock before putting it away so everything is ready for the next trip.

It didn’t take long to hike to the Devil’s Den East (Upper Pilot) Trail, and once out on the glades, I started to look for a north heading spur trail to take me to the top. I didn’t see one and decided to bushwhack up stopping just short of the trees that crown the knob. Once there, I spent some time soaking up the view, took some pictures picture and recorded some video. I took advantage of a good phone signal to post on them on Facebook. From my vantage point, I counted eight or so cell/TV towers.

Gary on Upper Pilot Knob. Lower Pilot knob in the distance.

Bonus Video including me!

For some reason best known to Facebook & my phone this video is mirrored. I can’t be bothered to edit it to correct it.
View to the west from near the top of the Upper Pilot Knob. The Lower Pilot knob is the pointy hill in the distance. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

Time was moving on, and if I didn’t want to be getting home late in the evening, I needed to pick up the pace. I quickly discovered that the trails on the south side of the Pilots were a lot wetter than the Tower Trail.

At around 1:30 p.m. I arrived at the junction with Rock Spring Trail. ‘Sheep Frog Pond,’ which is right by the junction, surprised me by having water in it. That’s the first time I’ve seen water in this drying stock pond in several years. The trail junction and pond are very near to Rock Spring, I decided not to stop there, but instead carry on and stop at one of the Long Creek crossings where I would replenish my water and cook lunch.

‘Sheep Frog Pond’ – so named because we once heard sheep frogs here. It’s the first time I’ve seen it with water in it. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

About twenty minutes later I came across a small creek with a fire ring set back in a grassy area around twenty feet or so from the trail. Knowing how busy the trails can be along Long Creek, I reconsidered my plan to have lunch there and stopped by this small creek instead.

I had some Beef Pho that Katie bought me and a cup of hot chocolate for lunch. While I was stopped a deluge of hikers came past. Eight in all. There was a guy walking his dog and looking for mushrooms. A family of five, and one couple. I was glad to be well off the trail, and not too pleased when the dog peed in the creek I was about to take my water from. Oh well, once they’d passed on I went a short way upstream to collect my water, not that all sorts of critters don’t pee, expire in, or generally mess up the water anyway. That’s why I filter and treat or boil my water.

Once back on Rock Spring Trail I only met two more people — this time traveling west — before I arrived at Long Creek. I hoped to get through this bit of the trail quickly before I met anyone else, but it wasn’t to be. I met another family of five coming along the trail just before my final Long Creek Crossing. As in my previous encounter, I stood well off-trail as they went past. One of the kids asked if I’d seen any bears, and was disappointed when I answered “No.” I could have mentioned ‘Gare Bears’2 🙂 but I thought better of it. Just before I turned onto the Pole (Pete) Hollow Trail I saw one last person in the distance walking a dog. That was the last person I saw. I make that eighteen people, all of them on the popular trails. While I kept more than six feet away from everyone, I did wonder about how effective six feet is, as I could smell their perfumes long after they’d gone past.

Long Creek – my favorite camping spots overlooking Long Creek are up on that ridge. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
Long Creek. Only two more crossings to go (I think!) Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

I was surprised how quickly I hiked up the Pole Hollow Trail. Obviously, I’m getting better at this as I get more practice. I stopped near the top of the ridge to take a picture and arrived at the cairn where the Pole Hollow Trail meets the Pilot Trail at around 4:00 p.m.

View east from near the top of the Pole Hollow Trail. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
Back at the Pole Hollow / Pilot Trail Cairn. And that’s it for another trip. It’s just a thirty-minute hike back to the trailhead from here. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

I wasn’t sure when I’d get a chance to go backpacking again, so I sentimentally decided to put a couple of rocks on the cairn. I found a nice rock with some lichen on it for Ginger, and a lump shaped like a slice of cheese for me (seemed appropriately cheesy).

Rocks on the cairn – I’m not sure when I’m next going to get a chance to get out here, so I added a couple of rocks to the cairn. A pretty lichen-covered one for Ginger and a cheese wedge shape one for me. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

Half an hour later I was back at the trailhead and on my way home.

Day Two Stats

Which brought my March total to 14.2 miles and only one night out in the woods. Somehow I think COVID-19 is going to make quite a dent in my 2020 backpacking plans.

Final Thoughts

It was a good hike, and it served my need to find a ‘calm center‘ to fix in my mind to help cope with whatever chaos arises over the next several weeks.

On a more practical note:

  • Even the small quilts need to be put in stuff sacks in my new pack.
  • The Beef Pho was a great lunch meal, I’ll need to get more.
  • Given my pack is waterproof, it may be time to look for an alternative to the heavy (8oz) poncho. I thought I’d found one with the Frog Toggs, but the quality was so poor, I gave up trying to find something that worked.
  • I should have taken my wood burning stove.
  • I see a wood burning stove that packs smaller in my future.
  • If I’m using a wood burning stove I need to bring along a separate mug to drink from.
  • Looks like my base weight might start to creep up again. I need to find more items to jettison.
  • My pack weight for this trip including food and clothing for colder temps was 19lbs.

Footnotes

1A new ranger renamed a lot of the trails in Hercules Glades, apparently ignoring the historical trail names that are used on all the online maps in the process. I Also think some mistakes were made. So, I stick with the original names and include the new names in parentheses.

2Gare Bear is a nickname for me that the kids use.

Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

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