I last camped near here in May 2021 on my first hike of the North Fork loop of the Ridge Runner Trail. Then the leaves were out, it was warm, and I deliberately missed a large section of the trail in order to explore Steam Mill Hollow.
On this trip the views should be unobstructed by foliage, I was going to stick to the official trail and the forecast was chillier, with a predicted low of 31℉. The North Fork Loop of the Ridge Runner Trail is lightly used. This means that with its covering of fallen leaves, the lack of traffic to maintain a clear path will make it challenging to follow in places.
- Day One — Hike in and camp near my previous campsite off the Ozark Trail. There’s no water (there is a stock pond but as a rule I don’t like drinking water from stock ponds) so I’d be carrying a lot of water, around 4 liters – 8.8lbs.
- Day Two — See how far around the trail I could get while taking it easy and probably camp near where I camped on the second day of my Ridge Runner Trail Hike in 2021.
- Day Three — Try and find the elusive trail that leads to the North Fork Recreation Area, and from there into the Devil’s Backbone Wilderness and Bushwhack my way down from the McGarr Ridge Trail to McGarr spring. If I can’t find the trail, hike the Ridge Runner Trail back to the HWY CC Trailhead and on to the Devil’s Backbone Wilderness, and on to McGarr Spring for the night via the unofficial trail to the spring.
- Day Four — Hike out either via the unofficial trail to McGarr Spring or via Mary Hollow.
- Weather — The warmest day was going to be Friday. Saturday was forecast to be cold but clear, and Sunday morning threatened snow or rain. So I decided to take my full winter gear, plus some fleece pants to keep me warm while lounging away the long dark hours.
I arrived at the Highway CC Ridge Runner Trail trailhead at six o’clock yesterday (Thursday). I have a couple of days off work, and my plan is to spend a total of three nights out on the trail.
Sunset is currently around five p.m., so it was already getting dark when I arrived, which is my excuse for not taking any pictures yesterday. I had hoped to arrive at the trailhead around four p.m. but work ran late, and I took a lot longer to pack for the trip than I should have. Not checking my supplies meant that my packing also included a trip to the local Asian store to buy a large pile of noodles. Enough for my lunches on this and many future trips to come.
The result was that we left home a couple of hours late. I say we because Ginger was going with me as far as her parents’ and the Farm Cottage where she spent a few days doing some business planning while I was away playing in the woods.
Red eyes at night, hiker’s fright
(Not really but it reads and rhymes much better than ‘Red eyes at night, hiker’s curiosity’).
The first part of the Ridge Runner Trail shares its route with the Ozark Trail, which means it is in tip-top condition and exceptionally well-blazed. I’ve been doing a lot more night hiking and the trail was easy going in the dark with my headlamp plus a half-moon, with increasing cloud cover. I’d hiked 1½ miles by seven p.m. According to the GPS, I was near where I camped on the first night of my previous trip, so I decided to bushwhack west aways and find a couple of trees to hang my hammock on.
After a while of stumbling around in the dark, I found some well-spaced trees. I could hear something else moving through the leaves, and scanning around caught two red eyes blinking at me. I couldn’t make out what it was in the shadows, but it wasn’t startled when I started moving toward it. After I’d taken a few more paces, it turned away and moved slowly off. My best guess is that it was a coyote. A deer’s eyes would have been higher, in my experience shine more yellow, and once they move off they tend to move quickly. I guess we’ll never know what sort of critter it was.
I decided not to set my tarp, as there was no rain forecast, and I fancied watching the clouds scudding past the stars as I fell asleep. Dinner was quite late — ten-ish, and I was just getting ready to turn in when it started to rain. Well, that wasn’t expected. Oh well, I put the tarp up, and there would be no view of the skies.
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