Three nights, four days relaxing by the lake in Piney Creek Wilderness. Except, someone has stolen the lake, it is very low. I’ve not visited this wilderness in over a year and the lake is around thirty feet lower today.
My plan for this trip is simple. Do nothing. I just want to sit and enjoy the view for a few days. We’ll see how that plan pans out.
I didn’t leave home until one pm. I’d booked the car in for a service this morning, and that threw everything out. It wasn’t until two-thirty that I got on the trail, and I didn’t arrive at my campsite until four-thirty. When I got to Piney Creek I decided to hike along the creek bed rather than hack my way across the briar and (in my imagination) snake-filled ‘Cat Briar Meadows.’
When I arrived at Table Rock Lake, it was a lot lower than I expected.
I may have to hike a bit to get water as the lake water here is very scummy and full of silt. Fortunately the creek was running, and that is a good nearby(-ish) backup water source.
It rained overnight. Not enough to make any difference, but it was nice to hear the pitter-patter of rain on my tarp.
It’s good to be back, even if the lake is too low to be practical for swimming here. I tried swimming last night without a lot of success, it was very shallow and I got covered in mud. I have a plan to deal with not being able to swim … I’m going to explore eastwards and I’ll check for alternate camping spots and places where the swimming will be better. The lake should get 10-20ft. deeper as I head east (according to the map). We’ll see if the map is right.
It looks like no one has been here in the past year. Apart from being filled with dead leaves, the fireplace is exactly as I left it.
At the lake’s normal level all of this area is underwater.
The morning brought good news. With last night’s rain came a westerly wind and it has blown all the scum and silt out of the creek into the lake, so I won’t have to hike back to Piney Creek ‘proper’ to get water.
Last year I was up to my neck in water standing on these bluffs. Now I know why there was a sudden drop-off!
The line of bluffs in the distance — well ten-minute hike from here — is the target for my exploration today. Even if there is nowhere to camp, the water should be a good deal deeper there.
Exploring east along the northern shore of the arm of the lake, I found that two of the ‘hunting’ camps I’d discovered here in 2018 had either been dismantled and removed or had fallen apart and been consumed by the undergrowth.
Back in July 2018…
Unfortunately, the plastic chairs and tarps were still there, four years on, but I have no practical way to pack this trash out.
It is very scrubby near the shore, but there are several game trails running east-west that make for easier bushwhacking to get to this point. Looking at possible camping spots and assessing the strong wind blowing onshore, I decided it wasn’t worth the trouble and time relocating.
The good news was that the lake here is deep enough for swimming, as I found out by accident.
Standing on the edge of the bluff in about two feet of water, I was just about to push myself off for a swim when I stepped off the edge and went in well over my head! Good. I was looking for deeper water to swim in, and I’d found it.
My new plan for the next day was to return with my chair and some food to enjoy the view and go swimming whenever I got too hot.
It looks like the hot weather and receding lake have not been kind to the turtles. I found two empty shells on my hike.
Scroll down for a comparison between the lake level in July 2020 and now (September 2022).
I’ve seen huge flocks of pelicans on Truman Lake, but these are the first I’ve seen here. Just four stragglers. And that low line of bluffs catching the evening sun in the distance is where I went swimming today, and intend to spend a good part of my day tomorrow.
Mountain House Southwest Breakfast Skillet and a cup of tea (PG Tips), enjoyed against the backdrop of the lake.
It appeared like a periscope sticking eight inches vertically out of the water, making a point of studying me and tasting the air with its flickering tongue. I must have passed the test because it swam past where I was sitting and proceeded to hide in a hole in the nearby rocks.
By the way, it is a midland water snake — Nerodia sipedon pleuralis. And yes, I did go swimming again.
With the sun already set on the other side of the lake, the foreground really pops in this picture.
I forgot to pack my tripod, so I had to find a flat rock I could perch the camera on.
It was only recently that I realized that I could get light over where I am working by slinging a line across to hang the light wherever I need it (yes, I’m slow). It works very well though.
I don’t have a campfire very often nowadays. Either I’m getting lazy, or I’m more respectful of the local environment. Probably more of the former if I’m honest. But it seemed like a good way to celebrate my last evening, and what use is a fire ring if you don’t use it every now and then?
I was sitting in the dark watching the embers burn down when I heard something substantial (everything sounds much bigger in the dark) coming through the brush from the direction of the game trail. I decided to frighten whatever it was away before it got too close. So I quietly stood, turned to face the approaching critter, and switched my headlamp on full. That stopped the large doe that was walking toward me in its tracks. She paused, huffed, puffed, and then ran off back towards the game trail, heading east.
There must be something about this campsite because once again I had a couple of very vivid dreams.
The first was best described as Tolkien-eske. In it, I woke up to hear someone walking along the game trail to the north of my campsite. They were happily singing. The whole atmosphere was joyful and serene. They presumably didn’t notice my camp, as they carried on along the trail without stopping. The singing and clattering of gear slowly faded into the distance.
The next dream wasn’t serene. I awoke to find my hammock on the ground and it was being used to imprison me. Some rough-looking grubby-faced young guy unzipped the bug net, and as he put his head through the netting, I grabbed my gun and pointed it straight at him. But the gun was still in its holster, and we both laughed. And that was that.
Very vivid, and the second time I’ve had vivid dreams while camped here.
It makes you wonder…
I decided to check that my guess on the depth of the creek was correct before I tried to ford it with my pack and gear. It got to my mid-thigh, a tad deeper than I had thought, but easily crossable. And while I was on the other side of the creek, I thought I might as well take a picture.
I noticed something wrong with my camera on these pictures (it’s a couple of photos stitched together), it may just have been condensation from getting cold overnight. Whatever, I’ll start with getting the sensor professionally cleaned. It took a lot of processing to get any sort of a usable picture which explains the slight blue tinge to the trees.
I’ve used this stove a lot on this trip, and its final outing was heating water for my breakfast – biscuits and Gravy, and my morning cup of mocha.
My verdict on the titanium wood stove? It works but needs some modifications. Specifically, more air holes because in its current form It smokes far too much. It needs air holes in the sides and back to help fuel burn and I’m toying with the idea of some holes near the top to inject air and help burn the smoke. I might have to get creative with those.
It certainly doesn’t burn as well and cleanly as my Firebox Nano.
When it comes to ‘Leave no trace’ I’ve tried to keep this site the way I found it. I could have dismantled and scattered the rock table and fireplace, both of which were here when I first discovered this spot in July 2018. But I haven’t … yet. So far I’ve just ‘tidied’ the place up a little. Is that hypocritical of me? Probably.
My philosophy is to leave any fire rings I find, and use them, but not make any new ones. I figure that the presence of a good fire ring will stop someone from making another and limit damage to the surrounding wilderness. That’s the theory at least.
If you can pack it in, you can pack it out.
Before heading up the ‘Farm Track Trail’ and into ‘Shelob’s Lair’ I stopped to fill up with cool creek water and a dunk in Piney Creek. It was cold but very refreshing.
From here it’s about a two, two-and-a-half mile hike uphill to the trailhead.
I left just before two, and it is now nearly four-twenty. Allowing for my stop for water and a bath, a couple of hours for the hike isn’t bad, and an hour and twenty minutes to climb my way up from Piney Creek was better than I expected, especially with the two 80ft. deep hollows you have to cross just before the trailhead. ‘Shelob’s Lair’ lived up to its nickname, though it was nowhere near as bad as it was on my way in. There were still plenty of cobwebs and spiders to deal with.
Time to drive home and return to “civilization.” It has been a good trip. Four days of lakeside solitude. I only saw one other person, he was on horseback a quarter mile away, and I heard, but did not see, a group of two, maybe three people on horses, again over a quarter mile away. And that’s to be expected, as a major horse trail runs along the other side of the lake from where I camp. While I knew they were passing through, they were probably (hopefully) oblivious to my presence.
My plan was to sit, watch the scenery, and think. I did it all. However, it must be admitted that there was little deep thinking.
I’m not pushing the backpacking “envelope” at the moment, partly because of the bugs and the heat, and partly in deference to my health. My gear has remained remarkably stable for quite a while now, and apart from experimenting with the titanium woodstove, bringing along my digital camera, and trying out some different food, this trip was pretty much like any other this year — only fewer miles and a change of scenery.
I am looking forward to the first frost and the coming of fall and winter. Though that, of course, coincides with one of my busiest periods at work. Right now some significant rainfall is needed to replenish the springs and creeks to make longer trips practical. Finding water out on the trails is becoming increasingly difficult. I need to research some new hikes where water sources are not going to be a problem.
I want to look at my gear again and see where I can reduce weight while still keeping my comforts. Bringing along the camera adds 1⅛lbs. My electronics bag seems to have put on weight, weighing in at 2¼lbs (satellite communicator, phone(GPS), headlamp, camp light, and battery pack).
For this trip, the four-day supply of food was heavy, especially as I have some canned food in my stash that I’m trying to use up. But cooking-wise, there’s not a lot I can do to shave off weight.
My spare clothing was heavy, but I used everything I bought along, except for a spare shirt. I had a fleece and base-layer leggings for the cooler evenings and mornings. I probably should have packed my down jacket instead of the fleece. It does a better job and weighs less, but it feels like overkill at this time of year.
Once the bugs go away I can leave the bug net at home, but that’s only 2-4oz. My emergency bag — first aid, spare “string,” alternate firestarters weighs only 6oz. It’s probably a bit “light” in the first aid department. It is one of those things I keep meaning to review and don’t.
I did learn two lessons on this trip.
- The sun in September is still strong enough to get you sunburned — duh!
- Deet keeps the bugs off of where you apply it, the blighters still get you on any uncovered areas.
Bug bites and sunburn aside. This trip was just what I needed, a chance to recharge my mental and spiritual batteries.