A break in the weather and work provided an opportunity for me to re-visit Irish Wilderness and the Whites Creek Loop, which I first hiked in May 2021. I wanted to visit the wilderness in winter to see the lie of the land and maybe even get a good view from the 20-mile trail’s only scenic overlook.
The weather, following a series of significant winter storms that rained — hard — for over 24 hours, was a bit delayed, and the last dregs of the storms were still rolling through Friday morning. My original intention had been to get an early start from home (Irish Wilderness is a two-and-a-half-hour drive). Instead, I took it easy and planned to arrive sometime after noon to give the worst of the storms a chance to clear.
Once at Camp 5 Pond Trailhead, I planned to follow the route I took in 2021, hiking the trail counter-clockwise, North Loop, then the South Loop. My only objectives for the trip were to visit the Eleven Point River scenic view, which had been partially blocked by the leafed-out trees in 2021, and find a spot to camp near the pools on Whites Creek on the South Loop. If the first Whites Creek crossing was too high to safely ford, I’d camp nearby. The water level should subside enough overnight for me to cross it Saturday.
I deliberately hiked this trail late in the season in 2021 to give lots of people time to hike it before me, making the trail easier to follow. This time it was much earlier in the year, and there was a good chance the trail would be difficult to follow — and, in places it was 🙂
- Friday, March 3, 2023. Rain clearing between noon and 2 p.m., then windy and bright, with an overnight temperature of 34℉.
- Saturday, March 4, 2023. Sunny, 61℉, light winds, and 39℉ overnight.
- Sunday, March 5, 2023. Sunny, 66℉, winds gusting 25 m.p.h. and 51℉ overnight.
- Monday, March 6, 2023. Overcast and partly sunny, 75℉.
With the forecast for a minimum of 34℉, I took my 40℉ top quilt and 10℉ under quilt. If I got cold on the first night, that’d be the price I’d pay for more pack space and less weight. Otherwise, it was my typical winter backpacking gear. My pack weighed 20 lbs base weight and 28 lbs with food, fuel, and water.
Getting to Irish Wilderness from Springfield is easy. Head east on US60 for 130 miles, take a right onto State Hwy J for 15-ish miles, and the gravel road to Camp 5 Pond is on the right. I was around 100 miles into the drive when the rain started easing. I’d only driven a short way down State Hwy J when I realized a severe storm had hit the area. Several trees had come down across the road, thankfully cleared, and one was still partially blocking the road. The road was covered in small debris for most of the 15 miles to the trailhead.
I started to wonder how much the storm might impact the trail and my trip. Only one way to find out!
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