If we were going to give backpacking a try we thought it might be an idea to visit a wilderness first and discover what we were letting ourselves in for.
MDC and Springfield Nature Center run some organized wilderness hikes, so we put our name down for one, and thanks to a couple of late cancellations, there was room for us to go. Not only was it our first wilderness hike, but our first group hike too.
We started off early in the morning and the temperature was 24°F. It warmed up into the mid-forties during the course of the day, but as we were to discover, the creek remained frozen in places.
We started from the Hercules Glades, Coy Bald Trailhead, heading east past Coy Bald and out for our first views of the Glades after which Hercules Glades is named.
It’s a three-ish mile hike down to Long Creek, and there we ignored the trail and hiked west along the creek to the falls. The creek was dry, but condensation on the rocks made for a very slippery hike.
We stopped at the Falls for a break and to eat lunch.
Lunch over we hiked up Rock Spring Trail, with a quick diversion to visit Rock Spring. I wish I had paid more attention at the time as it took me ages to re-discover Rock Spring. Dropping back down to Long Creek we took some time to admire the creek with water in it.
We then crossed the creek, and before climbing the 200′ back up to the trailhead, we stopped to rest and admire the nearby bluffs.
We had a great time and was reassured that hiking in the wilderness was not too difficult even for newbies like us. Despite the low temperatures we were comfortable and didn’t have too much trouble with the 6.3 mile hike with all the climbs and descents.
However, I did struggle on the last climb as something went wrong with my hip, which became very painful. I eventually worked out that my problem was caused by my heavy boots. It was this discovery that led me to barefoot hiking.
As for group hiking, it’s not really for me. There was so much noise and chatter you never really felt you were in the wilderness, and any chances of seeing and encountering wildlife were reduced to almost zero. Having someone along that knows all the local secrets though is worthwhile. We’d never have known Rock Spring was there if we hadn’t been shown it.
Our first wilderness hike over we felt ready for our first backpacking trip, and to make that easy we decided to hike the same route in reverse but taking a couple of days to do it.
Our first backpacking experience
The kids were with their dad in Chicago. The forecast was for unseasonably warm temperatures. We had backpacking gear we’d not fully tried out yet. It had been nearly six weeks since our last camping trip. It was time. We were ready to go on our first backpacking trip!
We couldn’t leave home until UPS brought us our new sleeping bags. The delivery did not arrive until 6:30pm and that meant we didn’t actually get on the road until 7:30pm. It would take a 90 minute drive to get to our destination; we’d decided to go to Hercules Glades Wilderness for this trip and make camp just down the hill from the trail head and parking lot. So that meant we’d be attempting our very first backpacking trip, our very first time carrying packs, in the winter and in the dark. We do like a challenge. We arrived with little incident and parked the van at the Coy Bald Trail Head. There was one car there already, music playing and engine on. This remote area was obviously a “drink beer and make-out point”.
The first night – camped near Long Creek / Devils Den
We donned our packs, coats, gloves and headlamps and headed into the wilds. Signing in at the trail head showed us that no other campers had been this way for several weeks. (Or they’d not signed in, which is more likely). Off we headed down the trail. It’s about a 200 ft. descent from the parking lot to the creek bed. There’s a fire ring and area that’s quite well used just the other side of Long Creek, that we’d seen on an earlier day hike.
Finding a clear space to put the tent wasn’t difficult, finding a suitable tree to hang the food bag from was. We had no trouble setting up camp in the dark and had soon fixed dinner. By 10:30 we were pretty tired and went to bed, eager to give our new bags a try.
Day One – Devil’s Den to Coy Bald Via Long Creek Falls
The bags did well, we were warm and cozy. We woke to a cloudy morning that felt more chilly than it was, likely around 50°F. Coffee, breakfast, breaking down the camp, and pumping some water. Soon it was nearly noon and we had a full day’s hike ahead. But before we left the area, we had a nose around Devil’s Den, an interesting little creek bed flanked by steep hills on both sides.
The Rock Spring Trail starts off with an immediate climb of 240 ft. Of course by this time the sun had come out and the temperature had risen to the mid 60’s. Combine this activity, the weather, and thermal fleece base layers, and we were sweating profusely within minutes. I had to stop and catch my breath several times as I could feel my heart pounding hammers into my eardrums. Soon enough, though, the trail leveled out to woods of cedars and oaks. Interspersed with the trees are grassy areas of open glade. Maybe an hour later we began the descent to the next watering hole. Another 240ft down a rough and rock-strewn hill to the shut-ins on Long Creek.
Sudden warm, humid weather caused condensation on the cold ground and this made the smooth rocks of the creek bed incredibly slippery and quite treacherous. We found another path alongside the creek and made our way to the falls. At that point we had to decide if we would make camp there and then return the way we came the next day or continue along the loop today and hopefully find a place to camp sometime before dark. As neither of us was particularly tired, we opted to fix a quick lunch and continue onto the Coy Bald Trail. We also made sure to fill both hydration bladders as this was the only place with water for the next 24 hours or so.
The falls are quite a popular camping area and we found two well-used fire rings. Although the falls were gorgeous, the human debris and dust-strewn camping area left us longing for true outdoors wilderness. We were eager to get moving. We found the trail and began a very steep ascent of 300 ft. By this time my leg muscles were really feeling the pull of lugging my body plus a 35lb pack up a steep hill. I felt like each step was a struggle as I physically pulled myself up. I knew I’d be feeling this the next day.
Soon we found ourselves in a clearing overlooking Blair Ridge. From this point you can see Hercules Tower several miles away. I want to camp here someday as the clearing faces south and I can just imagine drinking my coffee in the morning sun.
The forecast was for high winds and thunderstorms from the South so we knew we needed to be on the North side of a hill for protection from the elements. Back over the ridge we went and found a nice clearing just over the hill to the North. But what looks clear isn’t always a good site for a tent. The area is clear because trees can’t grow. Because it’s rocky. And you can’t pitch a tent on rocks! We then had a nose around in the woods just above the clearing and the soft ground seemed like it would work. In reality, the soft dirt is really just leaf litter and there is a rock shelf about 6″ down. So staking the tent wasn’t optimal. But we made it work. Soon it was dark and we holed up in our tent in our sleeping bags and Thermarest chairs and read our books with our headlamps.
We knew the forecast called for rain and possible thunderstorms so we weren’t surprised to be awakened by a thunderstorm at midnight. Try as we might, neither of us was able to stay awake for it, though. That’s pretty hard to believe because the rain made a terrible noise hitting the tent. But we were dry inside and slept until morning.
Day Two – Sitting Out Some Storms And Back To Coy Bald Trailhead
When we did wake up, we did a quick check of the tent and found only mild moisture, most likely from condensation against the cold floor of the tent. With an air temperature near 60°F on the last day of December this was to be expected. We then realized that the light coming into the tent was more yellow than usual. We have a yellow tent. So we expect this. But it looked … more yellow. I checked outside and the post-storm clouds were positively golden and the entire world was bathed in this spooky yellow light. We scrambled out for some pictures. And we retrieved our food from the tree where we had hung it. And made coffee. I love coffee when we’re camping!
A check of the weather radio revealed that the dark blue clouds to the north of us (with the constant rumble of thunder) held the potential for a tornado.
The radio was giving another warning as well, but I was not alarmed as it was down in Branson, 30 miles away. We continued to drink our coffee and watched the morning unfold. The rumbling continued. And then another tornado warning was issued. Apparently a tornado was spotted 4 miles from Taneyville. I then remembered the last town we had passed through on the way here. Taneyville. The thought of being in a tornado in a tent in December was so funny to me that I just couldn’t be too worried. Plus the storm just didn’t “feel” tornado-ish. Soon enough the line of storms passed over (sans tornado) and we had another thunderstorm with some nice lightning and thunder at close range. Always exciting for storm lovers like us!
We found out later that we were quite a bit south of Taneyville and the dark clouds we saw to the north was most likely the tornado.
When the storm passed we checked the sky and figured the clear blue meant the dry weather had moved in and we could safely pack up and head home. As it had been raining, everything was in the tent or vestibules so we were able to pack up easily. We stuffed the sleeping bags into their compression sacks. We deflated and rolled up our sleeping pads. We changed into new clothes for the day. The only thing left was the tent, which we were sitting in of course. The entire area was dripping wet and we needed a dry place to sort our packs.
Since our tent can be pitched with just the footprint and the fly, we were able to detach the tent from inside and still be dry while we dismantled it and packed each piece away. Best of all, the ground under the footprint was dry so we were able to do this entire process without getting wet.
The hike back to the trail head, completing a 6.8 mile loop, moved along remarkably fast and we were finished by 1pm. I had been looking at a map, but Gary was stunned to see the sign-in kiosk at the trail head. He figured we still had another couple hours of hiking. I think we were both surprised at how easily we were able to hike this distance and how little time it took us. Maybe, just maybe, we’re getting stronger and all these day hikes are paying off!
On our drive back to Springfield we took the long route home and checked out the other trail head at Hercules Glades. It showed much more signs of human use and in fact we saw a man get out of his jeep and throw some trash out over the roadway. He drove away before we could get a photo of his license plate as Gary had suggested.
Once in Springfield the main things on our minds were showers and food. After eating nothing but beans and nuts for days we were both pretty eager for some carnivorous luxury, so we had a New Year’s Eve steak dinner. It was awfully yummy.
[This post originally appeared on Ozarks Walkabout]
I don’t know where my head was today.
Wherever it was, it wasn’t focused on getting ready to go backpacking. I spent the morning and early afternoon processing pictures and writing my journal. I was desperate to get it done before the weekend when we’d be taking more pictures and I would have even more to write. I finally gave it up as a lost cause and turned my attention to getting ready for the weekend. Mid-afternoon the grandparents arrived to collect Lanie, and Ginger took Katie off to spend the weekend with a friend. Alek and Getzger are in charge.It was gone five before we were ready to leave, and then we left twice. I forgot my water bottle and we decided it was too important to leave behind. This was a good decision because we later discovered Ginger’s hydration bladder had sprung a leak – getting a lot of stuff in her backpack wet in the process. By using our big 6-liter ‘camp’ bladder we were able to get by just using our water bottles – though it meant I had to carry most of the water.
Have I mentioned that the van’s AC has packed up again? It’s not quite so bad this time as the fan is jammed on, full-on. Even when the AC is turned off it runs full blast. At least this means we still have AC which is a lot better than last year. Ginger had done some research on the Internet earlier in the day. Pulling out the glove box she managed to reach inside and disconnect the wires leading to the running amok blower. This enabled us to enjoy the drive without a gale blowing at us.
It was gone seven pm by the time we’d finally arrived at our destination, the Tower trailhead at Hercules Glades, which is where today’s picture was taken. We were finally ready to start our weekend’s backpacking. Well almost. I left my pedometer on the back bumper of the van and had to go back for it. We hiked around a mile along Pilot trail. Just before the point where Pole Hollow trail joins we went a short distance off-trail to find a nice quiet camping spot. By the time we’d finished putting up the tent, it was dark. Just time for dinner then bed.
I took three luxury items on this trip. A book, my wood burning stove and its pot. I wanted to give the stove a try out on the trail. Tonight though we used the good old Coleman Exponent stove. It’s a tad heavy but is proving to be very reliable and easy to use.37.215326-93.298244
Invigorating was one word for it.
I don’t have a picture taken after my encounter with the falls; I am trying to be a bit more careful with the camera around water nowadays. Especially as we currently only have one working camera between us.
Despite our best efforts we lazed around over our morning coffee and breakfast and didn’t get going until gone ten.
Our efforts to lighten our packs have paid off. Ginger’s weighed in at 27lbs and mine at 29lbs both including food and water. We took Pole Hollow trail down to Long Creek. The trail started easily enough in glades, but the lower end was very dense with vegetation and some fallen trees were blocking the trail. The trail, in common with most of the trails we walked (with the exception of the popular long creek trail) didn’t appear to have been walked much recently. Away from Long Creek, the trails seemed almost deserted, we saw four people on horseback on our first day and that was it.
We both picked up loads of ticks along the way. This set the scene for the entire trip. We lost count of the number of ticks we removed, both attached and running free. There were small seed ticks, deer ticks, and the aptly named lone star ticks. Deet didn’t seem to discourage them much. We were both wearing shorts which at least made it easy to spot the darned things before they could go too far.
Poison ivy was also prevalent along the trails, mainly in forested areas in patches where the cover had been cleared. Hiking in bare feet and shorts I worked on honing my poison ivy spotting skills. Though primarily I avoid contact with any triple leaved green thing. I must be doing something right as over the weekend we bushwhacked a fair way, and encountered a lot of poison ivy, and I didn’t get afflicted by it.
The lower end of Pole Hollow Trail has moved a few hundred yards to the west of the route shown on the trailhead maps.
Once on Long Creek Trail, we headed west to the falls. About a mile from the falls we spotted a campsite just off the trail, which we noted for future use, knowing that the falls area is very popular and tends to get more than a bit gross. With all the recent rain Long creek was running well and has to be crossed several times. With all the new growth in some places it was quite tricky to spot where the trail picked up on the opposite side of the creek. At the falls both campsites at the falls were occupied, our plan was only to stop for lunch so we sat out by the falls which were running quite well. I used the wood burner to boil water for lunch (slow but successful) and took advantage of the deeper pools to bathe. Gosh, it was cold! And that was where today’s picture was taken.
We filled up with a massive (and heavy at over 12lbs) 6 liters of water as we were headed North behind the Upper and Lower Pilot knobs for the night and we weren’t sure if we’d find water there.
After lunch we rearranged our packs so I wasn’t carrying too much weight, headed back along Long Creek Trail and then up Cedar Trail, which was quite rocky going, the recent rain has cleared out any loose material on the trail. It was a nice hike uphill through a fairly densely wooded area. Once back up on Pilot trail we headed West, finally camping well off-trail to the North near the junction with West Devils Den trail.
After dinner, I tried using the wood burner as a campfire with mixed results. We decided not to set the fly, spending the night under the open sky.
Today’s alternate shots & extras37.215326-93.298244
Today was hot.
Well over 80°F hot. We had another really lazy start to the day. We didn’t break camp until gone eleven. As we thought, we’d stopped for the night about a quarter-mile from the West Devils Den trail, which we hiked down today. There was a wonderful glade section that looked almost alpine. Again there were no signs of recent usage, which is to be expected with the Coy Bald trail head closed by the lake flooding over the access road. There were several fresh trees down, making for a bit of a scramble in places. The final descent to Devils Den Creek was fairly steep and potentially treacherous with loose rock.
We stopped for lunch by the bluffs on Long Creek, and decided camp at the western campsite at the falls if it wasn’t occupied. All we had to do was get there. We hiked the Rock Spring trail back to Long Creek trail. Near where the East Devils Den trail meets Rock Spring trail there’s an old stock pond, which had frogs that sounded like electronic sheep it. I named them ‘Sheep Frogs’. Back home we discovered that there are indeed frogs called sheep frogs – because of their bleating call.
Along Rock Spring trail we tried to spot the place where there’s an old stock pond, spring box, and small decrepit hut. But we couldn’t spot it. That’s twice we’ve failed to find it. Neither the spring, stock pond or building are marked on any of the maps.
Back at The Falls the upper campsite was occupied so we stopped and enjoyed the view for a while. Sunning itself near the falls was a large 4 foot plus Midland water snake. Very pretty, looking in the falls we saw another three much smaller snakes swimming. I’m glad I didn’t spot it yesterday when I was frolicking in the water. We decided to camp at the site we’d spotted yesterday a mile or so up Long Creek. When we arrived we found the site had been used the night before, but it had been left if fairly good condition. Search around for access to Long Creek we found a second campsite further back in the brush. The creek here had an overhanging shelf to the West and a small set of foot high falls to the East. We set up camp, picked up our dinner, stove and chairs and went down to the creek to refill our water, bathe, eat dinner and sit and enjoy the view.
It wasn’t long before the voracious mosquitoes got the better of us and we headed back to the bug-free haven of the tent. I was already covered in large welts from earlier encounters with the beasts. Again we didn’t set the fly, it was just too hot.
Today’s alternate shots & extras37.215326-93.298244
For once we didn’t hang around too long drinking coffee and eating breakfast.
Even then, it was still ten am before we were back on the trail. It took us an hour and three quarters to hike the two and a half miles back to the trailhead, which included a 550 foot gain in elevation.
Along the way, we saw a very large black snake sunning itself. This was obviously the weekend of the ticks, mosquitoes, and snakes. Just before we arrived back at the trailhead, I’d decided I’d had enough and it was about time the hike stopped, so my timing was quite good. We chatted for a couple of minutes with a guy who had three horses out on the trail, and then it was time to pack up and leave. Well if we hadn’t got a flat tyre we would have left. I couldn’t be bothered to swap the tire, so I got out our portable compressor/jump start machine which Jim and Carol had given us for Christmas with just this sort of eventuality in mind.
It put air in the tire alright, but it took a long time. The motor overheats and cuts out after a while, so you have to let it cool down before proceeding. It took 30-45 minutes to get the tire up to pressure. It was nigh on one pm before we finally left the trailhead.
Distance hiked: 15 miles and a total of around 1,000 feet of elevation climbed.
On our way to pick up Lanie from her grandparents, we went to Theodosia to see the Bull Shoals lake. The campsite and buildings there were completely underwater, which was just a foot or so short of the bridge deck. very impressive.
Today’s alternate shots & extras37.215326-93.298244
Taking advantage of a long weekend, we took Lanie with us on a three-day backpacking trip to Hercules Glades. Our plan was to map some of the western trails with the GPS, try to find the Spring we think Rock Spring Trail is named after, and show Lanie the falls.
We had a great time and did manage to find the spring! Though the falls were dry, so no playing in the water. You can read more about our trip over on Ozarks Walkabout: Trip report: Backpacking in Hercules Glades – September 2012 | Ozarks Walkabout
A wonderful and peaceful way to to start the day.