• Let’s go old school

    Day One — Then again, let’s not…

    A break in the weather means I’m off on a four-day hike of the Whites Creek Trail, South and North Loops at Irish Wilderness. Just for a change I thought I’d take out my old 60/70-liter Deuter backpack for a trip.

    Then I changed my mind.

    I switched all my gear from the Deuter pack when I discovered the hip belt pocket was too small for my trail snacks, and I couldn’t reach my water bottle. The thought of taking my pack off every time to grab a snack or drink made my mind up to go with the Arc Haul.

  • At the Camp Five Pond Trailhead

    Parked at Camp 5 Pond, Irish Wilderness. Copyright © 2024 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

    It’s good to be back. This might be a challenging trip, it’s very early in the season which means the trail is going to be impossible difficult to follow. I’m also hiking the trail ‘backwards’ — clockwise (South Loop first), leaving the eight-mile, possibly water-less, North Loop section for the last two days.

    I’m carrying my full winter shelter (I have my summer tarp), even though the weather is going to be warm during the day, there are two nights around freezing in the offing. I know from experience how those can drop into the low twenties. I did a thirteen-mile trip in December with no problems, my first long trip since last May. Twenty miles in four days should be fine.

    Gear Changes

    • New sandals. I bought an identical replacement pair for those I broke on my last trip.
    • I have the ‘Pocket Rocket’ gas stove instead of my Cat Can alcohol stove.
    • Pop Tarts! I’ve never eaten them before, but a lot of backpackers swear by them, so I’ve packed one per day.
    • New ‘Daisy Chain’ hammock suspension.
    • New tie-out for my tarp. I now have the same fittings on both my tarps.
    • I was going to take out my old pack, but I dropped that idea. Maybe when the weather gets warmer, and I’ll have a lighter loadout.
    • I’ve made a new stopper for my water filter.
    • If I could find my sit pad, I would have left my chair behind. But, I couldn’t so I’ve ordered a replacement — they are only $7.
    • and I’ve finally convinced myself I don’t need to pack as many clothes.

    A whole bunch of gear changes, but nothing radical.

  • Ready to get on the trail

    Ready to get on the trail — I’m planning on spending four days hiking the Whites Creek Trail. This time I’m starting with the South Loop (I don’t know why they call it a loop it is not. But hey!). Copyright © 2024 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • New notice boards and a registration point at Camp Five Pond

    New notice boards and a registration point at Camp Five Pond. Copyright © 2024 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
    Be prepared (or get lost) — Trail Sign. That is very true. Irish Wilderness, Missouri. Copyright © 2024 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

    I found it almost impossible to open the registration box, and the forms inside seemed to have been designed to put people off completing them. No writing implements were provided either.

    Some teething problems with the new registration point, I think.

    One sign did catch my eye, and that basically said, “Be prepared or get lost.” How true that one is.

    I couldn’t have got round as easily as I did were it not for my GPS. The paper maps I bought along were not good enough. Lesson: bring maps that are usable, not a small-scale area map.

  • Evidence of Busy Beavers on Whites Creek, Irish Wilderness, Missouri

    They’ve been very busy, and at the moment, it looks more like wanton destruction than a lodge building exercise.
  • Irish Wilderness Day One — Camp Five Pond Trailhead to Fiddler Spring

    It was a loverly warm afternoon. At two pm I had to stop and get rid of some layers, have a bite to eat, and a drink. The South Loop was easy to follow, until, that is, I dropped down to Whites Creek, where it had been washed out in several places. But that’s par for the course.

    I probably ought to change my strategy when it comes to losing the trail. If practical, I usually back-track or scout around until I find the trail again. A much quicker method would be just to get a compass bearing to a sensible point further down the trail and bushwhack my way until I find it again.

    I had identified a potential area to set up camp near where the trail first meets Whites Creek. After looking around I concluded it would probably not get the sun first thing in the morning. As sundown was still a while off, I decided to carry on. Every yard I went today was a yard I wouldn’t need to hike tomorrow. I set my sights on stopping at Fiddler Spring, setting me up for a good climb up onto the ridge to start my hike tomorrow. As I passed by, I briefly toyed with the idea of stopping where I camped on the penultimate day of my last visit to Irish Wilderness, but I decided to stick with the plan and head off to Fiddler Spring.

    I arrived at Fiddler Spring at four-thirty. I had (conveniently) forgotten how trashy the campsite at Fidler Spring is, but with the sun already down behind the ridge I made the best of it.

  • Day Two, the view from my hammock

    Day Two, view from my hammock — Camped at Fiddler Spring, Whites Creek Trail, Irish Wilderness. Copyright © 2024 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
    Frosty. It was 24°F at 0730. Copyright © 2024 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

    When I decided to stop at Fiddler Spring, I forgot to check its orientation to the rising sun. It was a long chilly wait until the sun climbed high enough to reach the campsite. It was also “Surprise! Suprise!” a lot colder than forecast. At seven-thirty it was twenty-four degrees.

    The ground around the campsite was soft and rough. Either feral hogs or armadillos had thoroughly turned it over. I suspect the latter as I had already encountered two or three of them on yesterday’s hike. The overnight freeze had hardened the ground up a bit. Fiddler Spring campsite lived up to the messy reputation it had. Someone had left a tarp lying on the ground, and there was some other trash scattered around too.

    The good news was, exploring the area, I found what promises to be a much better camping area nearby. Albeit on the other side of Whites Creek, which may present problems if the creek is running. It was bone dry while I was looking around. Hanging my food bag, I discovered an unofficial trail that looked to head straight up to the ridge. I had an idea of where it might lead, and I decided to leave via that trail. Doing so would save me from having to backtrack to the official Whites Creek Trail/Fiddler Spring junction. And I know from experience, that that section of trail is blocked by several downed trees and lots of catbriers.

  • Trying out a gas stove for a change

    Trying out a gas stove for a change. Conclusion: I prefer my Fancee Feest Cat Can stove. Copyright © 2024 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • Camped at Fiddler Spring, Irish Wilderness

    Camped at Fiddler Spring, Irish Wilderness. Copyright © 2024 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
    camped at Fiddler Spring, Irish Wilderness. Copyright © 2024 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • Sunshine at last

    Camped at Fiddler Spring, Irish Wilderness. Copyright © 2024 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

    Drying out my gear was my excuse for not rushing to get on the trail. The frost on my tarp needed a chance to melt and dry. I lollygagged around and didn’t start packing up camp until eleven-forty. Taking it easy, I didn’t leave camp until twelve-thirty.

  • An hour later, Whites Creek Cave

    Whites Creek Cave on the Whites Creek Trail, Irish Wilderness. Copyright © 2024 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

    The unofficial trail came out exactly where I expected. I’d hiked the top part of it on my last visit, and obviously missed where it turned to go down to Fiddler Spring.

    The main Whites Creek Trail was easy to follow, until it wasn’t. And that was as soon as it went up on top of the ridge.

    I kept coming across the trail intermittently, but I mainly bushwhacked my way until near where the trail dropped down to Whites Creek Cave. From my trail notes…

    1309 It wouldn’t be Irish Wilderness without losing the trail a few times. Stopped for a drink and a bacon snack. 1 armadillo. Nearly at the cave.

    I see someone has removed the sign from above the cave.

  • At the Float Camp Junction of the Whites Creek Trail

    At the Float Camp Junction of the Whites Creek Trail. Copyright © 2024 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

    I was last here in March 2023.

  • Appearances can be deceptive

    Appearances can be deceptive. Whites Creek, Irish Wilderness. Copyright © 2024 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

    A quarter of a mile upstream the creek was dry. I had to backtrack a little way to get water for lunch and to stock up with water for the afternoon and night. There wasn’t going to be any water where I planned to stop.

    That meant I was going to carry three liters (6.6 lbs.) of water 200ft. up the hollow on the north side of Whites Creek to get to the ridge.

    On my last visit I camped on the ridge to the south of Bliss Spring. Studying the map, I saw that the ridge ended quite abruptly about 260ft above the Eleven Point River. Seems like a good place to spend the night, and it’s also quite close to the trail for an easy getaway in the morning. We’ll see.

  • Eleven Point River view from my campsite — looking north

    View overlooking the Eleven Point River — Looking north. I camped about half a mile from here back in March 2023. I thought this location might offer better views. It did. Copyright © 2024 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • Eleven Point River view from my campsite — looking south

    View overlooking the Eleven Point River — Looking south. I camped about half a mile from here back in March 2023. I thought this location might offer better views. It did. Copyright © 2024 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • Irish Wilderness Day Two — Fiddler Spring to the end of a ridge overlooking the Eleven Point River

    I managed the two climbs quite quickly, seven minutes for the first and fifteen for the second. The trail was nowhere to be seen for most of the way on the three ridges I hiked along. A lot of bushwhacking was required.

    When hiking without a clear trail, it would help if I used the compass I always carry (and know how to use). Doing so would save me some time and trouble. I also have a bad habit of getting a wild idea that I know where I’m going and before I know it, I’m quite aways off trail. It only happened a couple of times on this hike, but on the first occasion, I had to swallow my pride and backtrack a fair way. At least I realized I was off track and decided to check my location.

    I arrived at my campsite at four-thirty. My trail notes said:

    1630. Stopped for the day. The trail was non-existent on the last section. Decided to stop on the top of a hill, we’ll see how that works out. Cell service!

    — Tired physically — the two hills and bushwhacking for miles took it out of me. Worth it though!

    Future Gary says, if I had I thought about what I’d written, It might have dawned on me that there was a hint of potential problems to come. That said, I expected the trail from Bliss Spring to the trailhead to be in as good condition as the trail on Day One from the trailhead to Whites Creek. Yeah. Probably not…

  • Day Three — First Light, Irish Wilderness

    First Light, Irish Wilderness — The pre-dawn light got me out of bed to enjoy the sunrise. Copyright © 2024 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • First Light, Irish Wilderness

  • Looking up the Eleven Point River covered in mist

    Looking up the Eleven Point River covered in mist — The pre-dawn light got me out of bed to enjoy the sunrise. Copyright © 2024 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • Looking down the Eleven Point River covered in mist

    Looking down the Eleven Point River covered in mist — The pre-dawn light got me out of bed to enjoy the sunrise. Copyright © 2024 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • Camp at first light, Irish Wilderness

    Camp at first light, Irish Wilderness — The pre-dawn light got me out of bed to enjoy the sunrise. Copyright © 2024 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • Hammock Camping in Irish Wilderness, lost & found, and a bad back

    Hammock Camping in Irish Wilderness. Copyright © 2024 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

    The cold nights bring out a lot of condensation. I took advantage of the early sun to air and dry out my top quilt before getting on the trail.

    Lost & found

    I have managed to lose, and subsequently find three items of gear on my hike so far.

    • The first was on Day One, when a tie out for my tarp went missing. I guess I didn’t fit it securely when I was changing the tie out fittings. I wasn’t concerned, I guessed it had fallen on the ground when I opened out my tarp. I reckoned my light would find it when it got dark (the rope is reflective). As it was I found it on the ground a few minutes after I realized it was missing.
    • The second was last night (Day Two). I tripped over a tie out and kicked a stake out of the ground. I spent around 20 minutes on my hands and knees in the dark looking for it. Again not a problem, I carry spares, but I didn’t want to lose it.
    • The third was sometime overnight, a bit more problematic and expensive. I lost my glasses. I was sure I’d put them in the tidy that hangs from the ridgeline of my hammock. Maybe I missed the tidy? I carefully emptied everything out of my hammock and laid it out on my ground sheet. Nothing. They weren’t in my quilt, my under quilt, or my under quilt protector, which acts as a general catch-all for things that get dropped in the hammock.

      I was resigning myself to spending several hundred dollars buying a new pair. Without them I am only able to see vaguely in bright sunshine — that will make following the trail interesting, to say the least. Not to mention the drive home!

      I decided to check the ground around my hammock. The chances of me, without glasses, being able to find my glasses among all the leaf litter seemed to be fairly remote. Once again on my hands and knees, I sifted through the leaves, and finally found them. Phew!

    Oops, I did something to my back

    While bending over and crawling around looking for my lost tarp stake, I put my back out. Badly. The slightest wrong movement caused a lot of pain.

    Taking it slowly, I could stand up straight, and get into and out of my hammock with only a few stabbing pains.

    Pain or not, I was only halfway round, with another ten miles to go. Today I have another 200 ft. climb too, and I’ll need to carry water, as the North Loop is notoriously dry. Though I was hoping to find some water at what I presumed was a spring on Whites Creek, where I planned to stop tonight. We’ll see how that goes.

  • My winter backpacking gear ready to be packed away

    My gear ready to be packed away. Copyright © 2024 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

    Well, I already had a lot of my stuff laid out on my ground sheet while I was playing “Hunt the glasses,” providing an oportunity for a gear photo.

  • Gear all packed

    Gear all packed — Irish Wilderness, Missouri. February 2024. Copyright © 2024 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • Irish Wilderness Whites Creek Trail, trail conditions along the Eleven Point River bluff

    It’s a rugged and knurly hike. Not a trail for anyone who’s not sure footed or has problems with heights!

  • Eleven Point River, scenic overlook

    Eleven Point River, Scenic Overlook — Irish Wilderness, Missouri. February 2024. Copyright © 2024 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

    And the only scenic overlook on the Whites Creek Trail. You had better enjoy it! The trail along the top of the bluff is a tad sketchy in places, but it is fine at this point, though you need a head for heights to step out on the overlook.

  • Eleven Point River, Scenic Overlook — Irish Wilderness, Missouri. February 2024

    This is the only scenic overlook on the Whites Creek Trail. The trail along the top of the bluff is a tad sketchy in places, but it is fine at this point, though you will need a head for heights to step out on the overlook.

  • Day Three – Camped above the Eleven Point River to the Whites Creek crossing on the North Loop

    I stopped at Bliss Spring to top up my water, I carried out two liters, my one-liter pouch and one liter of unfiltered water in my dirty water pouch. I was banking on getting water for the night from Whites Creek, near the crossing.

    Water sorted, I had some snacks and headed off on the North Loop. I missed the trail almost immediately. I Realized my mistake and was soon back on the trail on the long climb up from the spring to the ridge on the south of the hollow. Near the top of the ridge I lost the trail, and that was the story for the rest of the hike. The trail was difficult to spot and mostly buried in leaves.

    Around four, I arrived at the steep descent down to Whites Creek. Peering over the drop-off, it didn’t look good. I couldn’t see any water in the creek. The pool I thought was fed by a spring was dry. I’d just have to make the two liters of water I had last the night and the hike back to the car.

    I set up camp where I camped in March last year. In March 2023 I had the opposite problem, too much water. Following a series of storms, Whites Creek was running too high for me to safely cross!

    2023: I’ll wait this one out, Whites Creek Crossing. Irish Wilderness, on the trail to Bliss Spring — I estimated the water to be four feet deep, but actually it was only around three feet. Having decided not to attempt the crossing, it was time to find a place to stop for the night. I should have taken some video to show how fast the creek was running. Copyright © 2023 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

    I felt very tired after the hike, my back wasn’t too bad, but my feet were sore in places (new, not broken in huaraches, on this trip). I was obviously nowhere near as fit as I thought I was, and the climbs were hard. The continual bushwhacking wasn’t helping either.

    My pack had been misbehaving, the left shoulder strap was continually slipping off my shoulder, no matter what adjustments I made to the various straps. I’ll admit I was getting pretty annoyed with it. The slipping strap was another reason why I didn’t fill up fully with water.

    As I sat in my hammock it slowly dawned on me that my heart was playing up (AFIB). Time to take some pills and rest up. The good news was I only had three-and-a-half miles to go in the morning. I regretted not taking on a full load of water, as dehydration is one of the things that (I think) causes my heart to play up.

    Apart from my watch’s heart monitor alarm going off a couple of times it was a quiet night.

  • Day Four — View from my hammock, February 2, 2024

    View from my hammock, February 2, 2024 — I grabbed two liters of water at Bliss Spring, and that had to last the eight-mile hike out, including the last evening and the final day. The spring on Whites Creek I had hoped to get water from was dry. Irish Wilderness, Missouri. February 2024. Copyright © 2024 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

    I survived the night 🙂 (at my age I sometimes wonder!), but my heart was still in AFIB. I had enough water for breakfast (12oz), a cup of something hot (10oz), and about 4oz for the trail.

    I decided to take a slow morning and another pill. Hopefully my AFIB would clear up before I started hiking again. It’s not a lot of fun hiking with AFIB. I know, I’ve done it before.

  • Morning tea in my hammock — Irish Wilderness, Missouri

    Morning tea in my hammock — Irish Wilderness, Missouri. February 2024. Copyright © 2024 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • All this bushwhacking is taking its toll on my feet and legs

    All this bushwhacking is taking its toll on my feet and legs. Irish Wilderness, Missouri. February 2024. Copyright © 2024 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • Breakfast in my hammock. Irish Wilderness, Missouri

    Breakfast in my hammock. Irish Wilderness, Missouri. February 2024. Copyright © 2024 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • I’m trying out some daisy chain webbing for my hammock suspension

    I’m trying out some daisy chain webbing for my hammock suspension — Thus far I’m liking it. It is light and very simple. February 2024. Copyright © 2024 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • Unintended trail markers

    Unintended trail markers. Sometimes when you cannot see the trail you just have to look around for a downed tree that has been cleared. Irish Wilderness, Missouri. February 2024. Copyright © 2024 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • There’s a trail there somewhere

    There’s a trail there somewhere. Irish Wilderness, Missouri. February 2024. Copyright © 2024 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

    The trail can be very hard to follow (for me anyway). The signs are so faint that if I look away, I can lose it. That almost happened while taking this picture. At this time of year, the low sun doesn’t help, and the shadow of a tree can look like the trail too.

    FYI, The trail is on the left side of the frame running to the right of the small sapling.

  • Loop finished

    Loop finished — Irish Wilderness, Missouri. February 2024. Copyright © 2024 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

    I’ll admit the trail kicked my butt. I wasn’t as fit as I thought I was, and my heart deciding to throw a wobbly at the end of day three didn’t help.

    That said, my AFIB had gone away by the time I got back on the trail at noon. That was good! It only took me a couple of hours to get here. Now I’ve just got a short hike to the trailhead, and the two-hour drive home and then I’m done for this trip.

  • Day Four & Trip Summary — Whites Creek Trail North Loop. Whites Creek Crossing to the Camp Five Pond Trailhead

    Despite some minor problems, and my losing my temper with my pack, it was a good trip. I’ve found a new great camping spot with wonderful views, and if I’m fit enough to do the trail, it’s not a problem.

    In total I hiked 21 miles and had 1700ft of elevation gain.

    What worked

    • Daisy chain tree straps.
    • New tarp tie-outs.
    • Pop tarts!
    • New water filter plug. I didn’t mention it but I made a new plug for the water filter before I left on this trip. It stops water dribbling out of the filter.
    • GPS. Without it I would not have got round without some major difficulties.

    What didn’t work

    • My pack needs some adjusting, and my packing needs rearranging. The former so the straps stop slipping, and the latter so that it is easier to carry extra water when needed.
    • My Deuter backpack. Fortunately, I worked that out before I left.
    • The Gas stove struggled on the colder mornings, and it didn’t seem that much quicker boiling water than my Cat-can stove. I think it’ll stay at home in future.
    • My trip planning. I went on two 15-mile hikes in 9 months, and after a two-month break, thought I’d be fit enough to easily hike five miles a day with some hefty (for me) climbs. No. Oh, yeah, and the elephant in the room, I’m pushing into my late sixties too.

    Lessons Learned

    • Print and take large-scale maps. I’d have been stuck if my GPS had given up the ghost.
    • If there’s no trail to be found don’t waste time looking for it, get out the compass and hike.
    • Spend a bit more time breaking in new shoes before going on a twenty-mile hike.
    • I made assumptions about water availability and the state of the trail. Both were wrong. Plan for the worst of the probable conditions.
    • Use compression sacks on my quilts to gain more pack-space in the winter. I’ll have room in my pack for water, which will make it easier to carry.

    Fixes

    • I could buy a bigger backpack. Zpacks no longer make the 65 Liter pack, now it is a 70 Liter pack. But (this is silly) I don’t like the color. Not to mention, the cost is astronomical ($400+). But They do make pads for the shoulder straps and also for the lumber support of my existing pack. I’m going to give those a try first an d see if they help with the fit. I’ll use a compression sack for my winter quilts leaving room for water in my pack, where the load is easier to carry.
    • Different huaraches. I didn’t want to buy another pair of Luna Sandals, but the brand I’ve researched as replacements had sold out, and will not be available until mid-February.

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