Another trailhead, another wilderness
This weekend it’s back to Piney Creek Wilderness. I plan to visit my favorite spot by Table Rock Lake. It’s predicted to be fairly cold overnight (34-36°F), so hopefully that will put people off. With the state parks closed there were people camping at the trailhead, which is fine by me, as long as it is quiet where I’m going to be camping. It’s going to be mild (not warm) during the day, so I think this is going to be a pleasant trip.
I’ll be taking my new found route down an ‘unmaintained’ trail to get to Piney Creek, and I think I’ll come back the long way, which has a hard climb at the end. I would have liked to have spent two nights here, but a deanery meeting (via Zoom) Saturday morning, meant I couldn’t get away Friday. I have my new camp chair with me, and I think that’s it on the new gear. After being cold last time out I packed my winter underquilt, my sleeping bag liner, and my down jacket.
Lunch by Piney Creek and a chance to try out my new chair ‘in the wild’
I’ve already spent several hours sitting in my new chair, so I knew it was comfortable. What I didn’t know was how stable it would be out in the woods. What better place to try it out than on a pebble beach by Piney Creek? And while I was trying it out I heated some water for hot chocolate and noodles.
I enjoyed being able to sit in the chair and feed wood into my stove. Sitting in the chair to eat wasn’t a problem either — though I’d already tried that eating a curry a few days ago. Getting in and out of the chair wasn’t a problem (unlike getting up from sitting on the ground). All in all, the chair was great, and there were no stability problems provided I made sure it was properly grounded in the first place. As for lunch, the hot chocolate to drink and noodles to eat were pretty good too.
Gary on the trail (when he can find it)
The Piney Creek Trail is well known for getting overgrown, especially where it crosses ‘Cat Briar Meadows.’ As soon as spring is sprung, nature goes wild and starts encroaching on the trail. Which is okay but that also coincides with the onset of ticks and the time when snakes come out to sunbathe. Piney Creek is a very snakey wilderness. We’ve seen all sorts of snakes here. There was one that moved so fast, it looked like it was being pulled along by an invisible wire. Of course, I won’t let you forget the timber rattlesnake that made Ginger squeak, and I chased into the brush here in an attempt to get a picture (not one of my wisest moves).
The vegetation wasn’t the only challenge. I had a problem with my legs, they were not long enough.
With creatures like these around, not being able to see the trail in front of you encourages odd behavior like beating the ground in front of you with your hiking pole, and loudly repeating things like, “I’m here snakey, snakes, I’m coming.” Well, okay that’s what I do, ‘Your mileage may vary,’ as they say.
The vegetation wasn’t the only challenge. I had a problem with my legs, they were not long enough. The creek was quite high, and at one crossing my shorts got soaked. I had to hurriedly remove my cell phone from my shorts pocket mid creek and continue the hike with a damp undercarriage.
Fortunately, there was no one around to witness this as it looked more like I’d completely lost control of my bladder than I’d had trouble crossing the creek.
Arriving at Table Rock Lake
There’s my destination in sight. Straight ahead across the lake. The lake was pretty full, and before I went on, I back-tracked a ways up Piney Creek and found a nice clear feeder creek (dribble really), to fill up my water bottle and a half-gallon pouch to last me for the night.
Table Rock Lake at Piney Creek Wilderness
The light, the seasons, it always different, and there’s always something different going on. On one of my recent trips I said I was looking for my ‘Calm Center.’ I need look no further. This, surely, is it.
Table Rock Lake at Piney Creek Widerness
Gary taking in the view (and enjoying a beer)
Ostensibly this trip was to test out my new ultralight camp chair, and test it I did. My only complaint is that I should have bought it years ago. It is wonderful and well worth the additional pound in weight to not be sitting on the ground. It is very comfortable, stable, and easy to get into and out of. That’s enough about the chair. The evening was spectacular with fantastic ‘Golden Hour’ light, which was every bit as bright and contrasty as the picture shows it.
The mayflies were out in legions, and in most of my pictures the lake is covered in ripples from the fish snapping the mayflies up from the surface of the water.
Table Rock Lake at Piney Creek Wilderness
This is my little spot of Ozarks’ heaven. Every time I visit it is slightly different. Piney Creek – Day One.
Hammock camping at Piney Creek, preparing breakfast
I woke up to be hit hard by some big animal, I presumed a deer had blundered into the hammock, and it was pushing me towards the foot end.
It was an interesting night. Not because anything happened, but because of the odd and vivid dreams I had. In one, I was having a conversation, and someone asked me where I was staying. “In the woods at Piney Creek,” I replied, ” and this is a dream.” I woke up to be hit hard by some big animal, I presumed a deer had blundered into the hammock, and it was pushing me towards the foot end. Then I really woke up, to find … nothing. And that happened twice more, only when I woke in those dreams, there was a critter rummaging around, and I was trying to shout at it to go away because I couldn’t be bothered to get up and shoo it off. But I couldn’t talk, and then I’d wake up properly. You might think I’d been indulging in some trailside fungi! Most odd.
After many years of doing this, I have got my backpacking and hammock camping meal preparation down to a very simple process. Each meal is in its own quart Ziplock bag, and I just add boiling water and wait. No dishes to clean, nice and simple. Breakfast nowadays is a cup of hot chocolate, oats, and a cup of coffee (decaf — I’m still off the hard stuff). Most recently I’ve been heating my water on either my wood-burning stove or my Trangia alcohol stove.
In a desperate attempt to offset the extra weight of the camp chair, I switched out the Trangia for my — almost weightless — Fancee Feest cat can stove, for my emergency backup to my wood stove. I only used the alcohol stove once and that was later in the day to heat water for a hot drink and noodles before I set off back to the trailhead.
I must admit to eyeing up the bacon and eggs every now and then when I’m packing my meals. Thus far I’ve not succumbed to the temptation. However, due to this COVID thing (and I suspect some profiteering), the price of my premade dehydrated meals has gone through the roof. I may have to end up taking yet another weight hit and packing more traditional food or get our dehydrators going and start making my own meals. We’ll see.
Enjoying the view from my hammock
It took twenty minutes to pack up camp and be ready to get on the trail. I’d decided I’d take the long route out, following Piney Creek all the way along until it met the trail coming directly down the ridge from the Pine View trailhead. The problem with that route is that it’s overgrown, and most of the climbing (over 600 feet) is in the last half mile or so. I reckoned it must be around five miles (I didn’t bother to check the map, it would be whatever it was. I expected to get back to the trailhead between five and six.
Obviously my trail etiquette and conversation skills haven’t improved
I finished most of my water before setting off, I’d be refilling my water bottle at the creek I’d come to as I exited ‘Cat Briar Meadows.’ It didn’t take long to get there, though I was dismayed to hear voices as I got near the creek. Looking towards Piney Creek I spotted a woman with her back to me obviously talking to someone further down the creek. I went up my creek to filter some water. By the time I’d finished another couple of people had shown up. I wasn’t going to wait for them to move on. I crossed my creek, found the trail, and headed down to where they were congregating. I crossed Piney Creek to find it was a group of 3-4 backpacking women. I didn’t stop for pleasantries, I just said something like “Coming through.” and bolted past them and headed up the trail at full tilt. Obviously my trail etiquette and conversation skills haven’t improved, but at least I didn’t say anything stupid. They were to be the only people I met on the trail.
I was careful to make sure my shorts were hitched well up on the next couple of creek crossings, and checked for shallower routes, and tried to keep going fairly swiftly so as not to be too late back at the trailhead.
It wasn’t too long before I met a side-trail joining from the left. I was a bit puzzled by that and was very surprised to find that I was already at the Siloam Spring Trail junction, which is only a couple of hundred yards from where I’d be crossing Piney Creek one last time and starting my climb up to the trailhead. I stopped for a Snickers bar to give me a sugar boost before starting the first climb. I thought about finishing off my water and heading back to Piney Creek to refill my bottle, but I decided I’d wait until I got to creek that ran down a hollow between the ridge I was about to go up and the final climb to Pine View.
The climb up the ridge was a lot longer than I remembered — but I don’t think we’ve ever hiked the trail in this direction. Dropping down off of the ridge into the hollow was a lot worse than trying to climb up it. It’s a horrid bit of trail at the best of times. 100ft. with 1:1 and 1:2 grades in places. I took it very slowly but the thick wet mud and water running down the trail made a slip and fall almost inevitable. When it happened, it was my own fault, and I only fell on my backside so no harm was done. Once down by the creek, I dropped my pack, filtered some water, and proceeded to eat some food ready for the main climb.
And climb it was. Steep, but it really didn’t take too long. The whole trip back was completed in under three hours, so I was surprised, but I was disappointed to discover that my so-called longer route was the same length as what felt like the more direct route I took in. Oh well, that should remind me of the importance of checking the map.
Breakfast in America
Living happily ever after still means you have to clean house and do the dishes