It’s Friday, it’s two-thirty in the afternoon, and I’m giving myself a well-earned break out in nature. The weather is damp, cold, windy, overcast, and that is the outlook for the entire weekend.
Despite the dull weather, the fall color is looking good, if a little subdued in the gray light.
It is the first time I have hiked Hercules Glades during the fall color. For the past couple of years, at this time, I have been running myself ragged shooting and editing video for the annual convention. Thanks to COVID-19, I’m relieved of that duty. This year, I have the extra load of trying to work out how to do everything online. It’s involved developing a voting system and building a new website. I no longer have the experienced help of my much-missed assistant, Angela, who retired in March and sadly died in July. I have been kept busy with posting reports, resolutions, and nominations. At the same time, I am trying to maintain our regular communications and social media presence. Not that I haven’t had help. My fantastic colleagues have happily and ably pitched in to assist me. But we’re struggling to fill the void in our knowledge left by Angela’s absence — Annual Convention was very much her pet project each year.
Back to my weekend break…
Water will be the limiting factor that determines where I go. That and my desire to stay well away from any other people. Apart from a downpour a few days ago, it’s not rained in a couple of months, and the ground is parched under the damp covering of leaves. The good news is that I know where in Hercules Glades there are springs that should have water. To avoid people, I’ll probably stick to the less popular and less well-traveled northern side of the wilderness. I might hike to Beaver Creek on the western edge of the wilderness and stop there. I’m torn between wanting to sit quietly and enjoy some time in the woods and a desire to get some miles under my belt.
I had already met one person on the trail (I was only going to see one other person during my three-day stay). He was fully camoed, including camo face paint. Apart from a complicated-looking compound bow, he was empty-handed. We are in the middle of the turkey bow hunting season — I always check the hunting seasons before venturing out into the woods — “No luck, then?” I inquired. He said all he’d seen was a couple of people, and unless I’d brought some game, he had nothing. With that, we parted our ways.
With a bit over four hours of daylight left, I’m headed down to one of my favorites camping spots near ‘Twin Falls Creek.’ There should be water there, and I have some trash to pick up. I Accidentally left a teabag sitting on a rock when I camped there in September. I didn’t remember it until I was hiking back to the trailhead. Unless some critter has carried it off, I reckon it should still be there, and I can clean it up and “Leave no Trace.”
As seems to be the case on most trips this year, I have some new, untested gear, mainly clothing, to try out.
- Rain jacket and skirt
- Merino wool base layer
- Down puffy jacket with hood
- Luna Sandals (new pair with grippy, thick soles)
- Carbon fiber hiking pole
- Rechargeable headlamp
- Waterproof shoulder pocket for my phone/GPS (I bought this after almost immersing my phone in the flooded waters of Table Rock Lake in July).
And, to mix things up a bit, I’ve re-organized my pack. We’ll see how all these changes work out.
What can I say? It’s become a tradition to take a selfie here. And yes, I did check if the two rocks I placed here earlier this year were still in place, and they were.
I’m wearing my rain jacket as a windbreak. It’s my first time wearing it, and it’s great, but a tad slippery feeling. The wind is blowing hard and cold, and the jacket kept the worst of it at bay, though later in the hike I switched it out for my down puffy jacket.
One thing I’ve learned is that little things that shouldn’t be in the wilderness are frequently signs that lead to interesting discoveries. On a friend’s farm, we followed a series of colored tapes tied to bushes to lead us to an illicit deer stand (which we dismantled and dumped at the edge of the property where the tapes made their first appearance). In the wilderness, the equine users use tapes to mark their unofficial trails. Once upon a time, a trail-side cairn indicated a nearby view or camping spot. Nowadays the cairns spring up like mushrooms overnight and are a blight, but that’s another story.
Today hiking along I spotted a piece of blue tape tied to a bush. I stopped and looked around. Sure enough, on some brush at the edge of a wooded area about fifty feet from the trail I saw another tape. I had time, so I thought I’d explore. Pushing through the brush I came across a well-worn trail which led to a fire ring hidden among the trees. The trail also carried on out of the other side of the small wooded area. I decided to check it out. The trail led to this vista and then petered out. I stopped just long enough to grab a picture before returning to the main trail and heading to my campsite for the night.
Yesterday I made some silly mistakes, and I have now come to some obvious conclusions.
On this trip I was trying out new backpacking clothing options, and while I was checking how well my choices were working, I was slow to make changes when things weren’t. And that was a problem.
When I set out on the trail, it was 46°F and windy, so probably somewhere in the late thirties taking into account the windchill. All I was wearing was my hiking kilt and a sports shirt. I quickly realized I needed something to keep the wind off, so I put on my rainjacket to act as a windbreak. After an hour of hiking, my legs, below the knees were warm, as were my feet. However, my thighs, arms, hands, chest, and ears felt cold. I stopped and swapped my windbreak for my puffy down jacket. I was disappointed that I didn’t instantly feel warmer. I spent a lot of money on that jacket. I expected better results.
Once I’d arrived at my campsite I set to filtering some water. At the time it struck me as odd that the water felt warm, but I thought nothing else of it. With camp set up, I changed out of my trail clothes into my baselayers. I put on my hiking pants and my puffy jacket and made a hot drink and meal. I was still cold though.
I originally planned to pack my 40°F top quilt, along with my 10°F underquilt as a defense against the predicted cold wind. At the last minute, I changed out the 40°F top quilt for my 10°F quilt and fitted the winter cover on my hammock. I’m glad I did.
The seasons are moving on, and it’s getting dark early, I was in my hammock reading shortly after seven. I kept my puffy jacket on (with the hood up) and put gloves on too. I was still cold. By nine-thirty, I’d given up trying to read and turned in for the night still feeling cold. In the middle of the night I woke up feeling far too hot. I had to get out of the puffy jacket, vented my top quilt, and fully opened the air vent in the hammock cover.
What was going on?
Over the next few days I thought long and hard about what had happened.
- Firstly, and obviously, I’d waited far too long to put on a warm jacket when I hiked in. I ended up being very chilled. The fact that the creek water felt warm should have immediately set the alarm bells ringing.
- Having bare legs is fine, but I was losing all the heat my leg muscles were generating. I should have switched to pants, or put on my baselayer bottoms.
- My concern about my gear not performing properly was unfounded. Insulating jackets and quilts can only keep you warm if you are generating warmth in the first place. It was only after my body started metabolizing the food I’d eaten and generating heat that I finally warmed up.
- It’s taken me a long time to realize that my weight-loss regimen has come back to haunt me. I’ve lost around 26lbs, and I don’t have as much easy to metabolize fat on me for my body to consume to keep me warm. Nor do I have the fat on my body to insulate my core—a double whammy. Not only that, but without the extra padding, my backpack is no longer as comfortable as my bones now poke into it.
- Up to now I have typically hiked with an estimated daily calorie deficit of 400-800 calories per day – more than an additional two-serving Mountain House meal. I need to review that strategy.
What to do?
Now I’m carrying a lot less body fat, I need to be much more careful about getting chilled while hiking, and much quicker to layer up. I need to have some calorie-dense foodstuffs on hand, peanut butter, coconut oil, etc.
Fortunately, if I decide that I need it, I can get better padding for my backpack, which will help with my pokey hips and other bones.
As I plan to do a lot more winter hiking this year, I need to sort this out. My plan is to be comfortable, whatever the weather. I have a lot invested in extra insulation and clothes for winter backpacking and camping so I’d better see to it!
The season has moved on a lot since I was here a month ago. Remember the teabag I left behind? It was sitting undisturbed on the small rock, where I left it. I packed it away with my trash before I forgot it again!
After recovering my food bag from its lounging place in a nearby tree, I got back into my hammock and proceeded to heat enough water for a cup of tea and breakfast of oats and raisins.
Over breakfast I mused on my plans for the day. It was supposed to be slightly warmer, and I could either sit in camp and do nothing, or I could adapt my original plan for the weekend. That plan had been to start out Friday morning and hike the six miles down to the bluffs on the wilderness’s western edge. Once there, I planned to check out a potential spot to the north of the bluffs with access to Beaver Creek. Studying the USGS map there was one point where the wilderness met Beaver Creek, and there was a hollow that seemed to offer a manageable path down to the creek.
I decided I’d go and look for water at the bluffs. Doing so would bring my weekend hike up to around 12 miles. Had I been able to get away Friday morning, I had planned to hike about 18 miles altogether.
If it all went wrong and I couldn’t get to Beaver Creek and water, I could either come back and spend another night at ‘Twin Falls Creek,’ or maybe hike down to Rock Spring.
The bluffs are only around three miles from my campsite, so I lounged around a bit before breaking camp. Shortly after 11 a.m. I was on my way. Having learned my lesson yesterday, I set out wrapped up in my hiking pants and puffy jacket.
I encountered the second and last person I met during my three-day sojourn at Hercules Glades, here at the junction of the Pilot and Devil’s Den West trails.
I had just arrived at the cairn marking the junction when I heard someone approaching. I resisted the temptation to hare off down the trail towards the bluffs to avoid being sociable and stood my ground. After exchanging some pleasantries, Kevin told me he was looking for an area of the glades he’d seen a picture of but never visited. I immediately guessed it was the bluffs and said so. I was correct. I also suggested he had probably seen one of my pictures (I’ve not seen pictures by anyone else taken from the bluffs). We shared our GPS maps. I warned him about the lack of water on the bluffs and filled him in on my plan to get down to Beaver Creek to the north.
I decided that I would hold back and have a snack to give him a head start on the trail. I didn’t see Kevin again. I hope he got to the bluffs and had a chance to enjoy the view.
Around 12:30 p.m., I arrived at the point where I would have to start bushwhacking to the north of the bluffs. Thinking about it, I changed my mind. I had arrived earlier than I expected, and I decided to hike the Pilot Trail down to its end. It’s something I’ve never done. I knew the trail stopped at a boundary with some private property. But there’s also a point nearby where the wilderness meets Beaver Creek. I reckoned I could get down to the creek there instead and camp for the night. It would involve a lot of bushwhacking, but I had plenty of time.
I took these pictures about fifteen minutes later, further down the Pilot Trail. The green grass suggests there’s plenty of water here–just not on the surface.
It’s exactly what I imagined, but still a bit of a letdown. No pot of gold or welcoming streamers. I can, at least, say I’ve hiked the entire length of the Pilot (Tower) Trail now. I’ve been coming here for ten years, and that’s the first time. Next thing you know I’ll have hiked the Blair
WitchRidge trail, which is another trail I’ve yet to hike at Hercules Glades.
I stopped a moment to have a drink and decide what to do next. I studied the map and decided to back-track a bit and then start bushwhacking west towards Beaver Creek, water, and camp for the night.
I’d be lying if I said it was my plan, but I ended up skirting the top of the low, but very overgrown bluff overlooking Beaver Creek. I was searching for a way down, working my way south towards where I knew there was a hollow and a point where an intermittent creek fed into Beaver Creek. It was becoming what I’d call a ‘technical’ hike, in that I quickly decided the fastest way of moving was to get out my compass and use that to move in a semi-straight line. I couldn’t find an easy route down until I arrived at the hollow near the southern boundary of the wilderness.
Scrambling down the hollow, it was looking very promising, and I could see a great potential camping spot (maybe a little bit too exposed to the eyes of people on the other side of the creek, but hey, a good site is a good site).
Making my way to the end of the hollow I was very disappointed to find that bank erosion had left a steep 5′-8′ drop down to the creek. Bugger. There was no easy access to the water.
I sat down and had a late lunch (It was gone two by now), and thought about what to do next. I could easily use my food bag and line to dip water from the creek. But, for whatever reason, I just didn’t fancy that. I decided that I’d bushwhack my way back out to the trail. My plan was to start by going up the hollow to its end and then use my compass to get back to near where I left the trail in the first place. Then I’d head back, and see how the time went and either bushwhack down to Beaver Creek to the north of the bluffs–a squint along the bank to the north suggested that it was more likely I’d be within easy reach of the water there–or, I’d head back to ‘Twin Falls Creek’ and camp there again for the night. The latter plan appealed to me as I’d get in another 3-4 miles of hiking, bringing my days total up to a reasonable 7-8 miles.
Bushwhacking my way back from Beaver Creek to the top of the ridge–some three-hundred feet of climbing–wasn’t the easiest of tasks. As per my plan once I got to the top of the hollow I located myself on the map using the GPS and then worked out a compass bearing to take me back to where I’d started. With a couple of minor blips it went well, though one of those minor blips did include crossing over the trail without my noticing it. It’s not the first time I’ve done that. It’s a problem with little used, leaf covered trails.
Back on the trail I headed back the way I’d come, and it wasn’t long before I was at the point where I needed to start bushwhacking again to find the northern hollow that leads down to Beaver Creek. I decided to skirt the top of the hollow, and instead of using the compass relied on pulling out the GPS every now and then. Unexpectedly, I found myself back on the main trail (or so I thought). WTF? A very quick glance at the GPS, told me I was back on the trail, and that made up my mind. It was getting late, I didn’t fancy getting all the way down to Beaver Creek and finding it was a fools errand again, so I decided to gird my loins and hike the three plus miles back to ‘Twin Falls Creek.’ The trail was really easy going, and I started making good time. I should be back in time to set up camp in daylight.
Some huffing and puffing deer, brought me to a halt to admire the scenery (and take the picture at the top of the page). Then off I set again. In a short distance the trail started to head downhill.
The trail should go uphill to the glades. This was not the trail I was looking for. A closer inspection of the GPS showed that I hadn’t been on the main trail at all. This must be some old unmarked forest road. The solution was simply to turn 90 degrees right and climb up the slope until I crossed the real trail. And that’s what I did. Once back on the trail I continued making good time. I arrived back at ‘Twin Falls Creek’ around five-thirty, with plenty of time before it got dark. I decided to revisit another of my preferred campsites, This one perched high on the side of the hollow overlooking the creek. Collecting water and hanging the food bag line before it got dark were my priorities. It didn’t take long to get everything set up and ready for the night.
Altogether I hiked over nine miles including a fair bit of off-trail bushwhacking. That’s not too shabby for me.
Using my Firebox Nano wood stove to heat water for my breakfast and morning cuppa.
Perched on the side of the hollow, it was quite a challenge to find somewhere level enough for me to be able to sit in my chair.
I’ve not camped in this spot for a while. Recently I’ve been bushwhacking further down the hollow where the sides are not quite so steep. But the views here are much nicer, and I like the little rock-shelf tables I can use as mini kitchen tables. One is next to my hammock and is great for my morning tea and breakfast.
Today though I opted to fire up my wood stove to heat water for breakfast. To minimize the smokey smells on my gear I used another rock shelf a little way away from my hammock.
It’s a 3.5 mile, two-and-a-half-ish hour hike from ‘Twin Falls Hollow’ back to the Hercules Glades Tower Trailhead. After yesterday’s hike, my weekend mileage was currently around 12 miles. Adding on the 5-plus miles of the Pees Hollow Trail to my return trip would get me to my goal of 20 backpacking miles for the month. I’d make up my mind when I got to the Pees Hollow Trail branch off of the Pilot Trail.
I was all packed up and back on the trail shortly after 11:30 a.m. Hiking back didn’t take long, and by 1:15 p.m. I was at the western junction of the Pees Hollow Trail, and about ten minutes from the trailhead. The trailhead was calling me, but I decided to go and check the water situation on the Pees Hollow Trail. I stopped a short way off the trail for lunch by ‘Cab Creek’. I had a cup of tea, some tuna, and nuts and raisins. The spring there had run dry, and the creek appeared to be dry with just a few unsavory looking pools. So no drinking water here then.
Getting to the Cab (after which I’ve named ‘Cab Creek’) I couldn’t resist the inevitable selfie.
Walking along in the low area that runs alongside ‘Cab Creek’ I spotted these brilliantly colored grasses. I really like the contrast between the grasses and the trees, but both pictures ended up being a bit ‘meh.’
When I got to Brushy Creek I left the trail for a few minutes to check the spring there. And it was good news, despite the drought there was a good flow of water out of the pipe leading from the old concrete spring box. It looks like this is another reliable water source. That’s always good to know.
Nearly finished, just one last climb up to the trailhead left. I must like this spot, because I discovered I’ve taken a picture here before — in 2018.
Trip total, twenty-one miles and 2,000 ft. of elevation. I hiked a lot further this weekend than I expected.
The empty parking lot probably says more about the weather than I can.