• Irish Wilderness and the Whites Creek Trail Revisited

    Map showing the Whites Creek Trail, Irish Wilderness, Missouri.
    Irish Wilderness Whites Creek Trail. The red areas mark where I managed to miss the trail.

    A break in the weather and work provided an opportunity for me to re-visit Irish Wilderness and the Whites Creek Loop, which I first hiked in May 2021. I wanted to visit the wilderness in winter to see the lie of the land and maybe even get a good view from the 20-mile trail’s only scenic overlook.

    The plan

    The weather, following a series of significant winter storms that rained — hard — for over 24 hours, was a bit delayed, and the last dregs of the storms were still rolling through Friday morning. My original intention had been to get an early start from home (Irish Wilderness is a two-and-a-half-hour drive). Instead, I took it easy and planned to arrive sometime after noon to give the worst of the storms a chance to clear.

    Once at Camp 5 Pond Trailhead, I planned to follow the route I took in 2021, hiking the trail counter-clockwise, North Loop, then the South Loop. My only objectives for the trip were to visit the Eleven Point River scenic view, which had been partially blocked by the leafed-out trees in 2021, and find a spot to camp near the pools on Whites Creek on the South Loop. If the first Whites Creek crossing was too high to safely ford, I’d camp nearby. The water level should subside enough overnight for me to cross it Saturday.

    I deliberately hiked this trail late in the season in 2021 to give lots of people time to hike it before me, making the trail easier to follow. This time it was much earlier in the year, and there was a good chance the trail would be difficult to follow — and, in places it was 🙂

    The forecast

    • Friday, March 3, 2023. Rain clearing between noon and 2 p.m., then windy and bright, with an overnight temperature of 34℉.
    • Saturday, March 4, 2023. Sunny, 61℉, light winds, and 39℉ overnight.
    • Sunday, March 5, 2023. Sunny, 66℉, winds gusting 25 m.p.h. and 51℉ overnight.
    • Monday, March 6, 2023. Overcast and partly sunny, 75℉.

    Gear

    With the forecast for a minimum of 34℉, I took my 40℉ top quilt and 10℉ under quilt. If I got cold on the first night, that’d be the price I’d pay for more pack space and less weight. Otherwise, it was my typical winter backpacking gear. My pack weighed 20 lbs base weight and 28 lbs with food, fuel, and water.

    Day One

    Getting to Irish Wilderness from Springfield is easy. Head east on US60 for 130 miles, take a right onto State Hwy J for 15-ish miles, and the gravel road to Camp 5 Pond is on the right. I was around 100 miles into the drive when the rain started easing. I’d only driven a short way down State Hwy J when I realized a severe storm had hit the area. Several trees had come down across the road, thankfully cleared, and one was still partially blocking the road. The road was covered in small debris for most of the 15 miles to the trailhead.

    I started to wonder how much the storm might impact the trail and my trip. Only one way to find out!

  • First Creek Crossing — Whites Creek Trail, Irish Wilderness

    First creek crossing. Whites Creek Trail, Irish Wilderness. Copyright © 2023 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

    There was a tree down at the Camp 5 Pond trailhead and, parking lot. Two other cars were already parked up, and two guys sat under a tarp at one of the trailhead campsites. They had taken advantage of the down tree to havest some wood and start a small fire.

    I had a short chat with one of the guys.

    They were waiting for a third person and were planning on bushwhacking to avoid flooded-out creek crossings. He told me that the first creek crossing (not the first Whites Creek crossing) had been knee-deep when they had taken a look at it earlier.

    By one p.m. I was on my way, on the spur trail that goes to the Whites Creek Trail loop. I made my first creek crossing before getting to the trail proper. It wasn’t knee-deep, just mid-shin, and I’d planned for this eventuality by wearing my waterproof socks — no wet feet for me (yet).

  • At the start (or is it the end?) of the Whites Creek Trail Loop

    Photograph of Gary Allman at the trail sign marking the Beginning of the Whites Creek Trail North and South Loops. Irish Wilderness, Missouri. March 2023.
    At the start (or is it the end?) of the Whites Creek Trail Loop. I was last here in May 2021. Copyright © 2023 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

    And, below, here I am at the same spot finishing my first visit to Irish Wilderness on a rainy day in May 2021.

    Whites Creek Trail completed – now just to hike the short spur trail back to the parking lot. Copyright © 2021 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • Dry Prong, not so dry

    Dry Prong, not so dry. Whites Creek Trail, Irish Wilderness. Copyright © 2023 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

    The Whites Creek Trail North loop is well-traveled, easy on your feet, and easy to follow, with modest elevation changes. It got a lot warmer, and I switched to my hiking kilt to keep cool and make the creek crossings easier. Dry Prong, once again, didn’t live up to its name and was running well.

    The trail might have been easy, but there were many downed limbs and lots of debris on the trail. Clearing the trail as I went slowed me down significantly.

  • Trail Snack

    Trail Snack — Raisins, almonds and M&Ms. Copyright © 2023 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • I’ll wait this one out, Whites Creek Crossing. Irish Wilderness, on the trail to Bliss Spring

    I’ll wait this one out, Whites Creek Crossing. Irish Wilderness, on the trail to Bliss Spring Copyright © 2023 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

    Shortly after two, I started the descent to the first Whites Creek Crossing, and I could hear the creek running. It was loud. When I arrived at the crossing point, I estimated the water to be four or five feet deep (actually it was only around three feet).

    I should have taken some video to show how fast the creek was running.

    Before setting up camp, I wandered around a bit, looking for an alternate crossing point, and made some tentative attempts at the crossing. As soon as the water went over the top of my waterproof socks, they filled with water. That wasn’t a total disaster as they worked like a wet suit and soon warmed up.

    I decided that I wasn’t going to get across the creek safely, so I started looking for a spot to camp up on the side of the hollow away from the trail and the noise of the creek.

  • Morning view from my hammock as the Sun breaks through

    Morning view from my hammock as the sun breaks through. Not bad last night, it dipped to just below freezing. I was nice and warm. Copyright © 2023 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

    Day Two

    The temperature dropped to freezing overnight, and despite only having my 40℉ top quilt I was too hot. Sometime after midnight, I noticed that the roar of the creek had faded away. I was up at six-thirty and the first thing I did was take a stroll down to the creek and was quite stunned to discover that it was just a small trickle. I’d be able to cross without even getting my feet wet!

  • Camped near Whites Creek, Irish Wilderness

    Camped near Whites Creek, Irish Wilderness, waiting for the creek to drop down. And drop it did! Copyright © 2023 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • Camped near Whites Creek, Irish Wilderness

    Camped near Whites Creek, Irish Wilderness, waiting for the creek to drop down. And drop it did! Copyright © 2023 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

  • Spring water, Whites Creek (stereo image)

    Spring water, Whites Creek. And in a few minutes I’ll be climbing the hill on the other side of the creek. Copyright © 2023 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

    The fast-moving, noisy, and turbid brown-colored water of Whites Creek yesterday is now running clear, and the color of the water here screams “Spring.” Good to know, this should be a trustworthy water source.

    The only thing I don’t like about this picture is that it makes the hill look pretty small. It’s not.

    Stereo Image

    Spring water, Whites Creek. And in a few minutes I’ll be climbing the hill on the other side of the creek. Copyright © 2023 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • Creek? What creek?

    The water level in the creek dropped overnight — which was my plan. But the drop exceeded my expectations. I was able to cross without getting my feet wet. Copyright © 2023 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
    Same spot yesterday afternoon. Copyright © 2023 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • Whites Creek crossing point, Whites Creek Trail North Loop (Stereo)

    Whites Creek Crossing. Apparently, this is where I should have crossed. Copyright © 2023 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

    This is looking back across the creek (NE-ish). I wouldn’t have been able to safely cross here either yesterday.

    Whites Creek Crossing (Stereo). Apparently, this is where I should have crossed. Copyright © 2023 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • Sinkhole

    Sinkhole — It was impressive because of how wide it was. I’ve seen a lot bigger and deeper, but it was impressive none-the-less. Copyright © 2023 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • Bliss Spring (and lunch) 3.9 miles

    Bliss Spring (and lunch) 3.9 miles. On my first visit to Irish Wilderness I made it to Bliss Spring in the first afternoon. Just as well I have an extra day for this trip. Copyright © 2023 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • Old blaze

    Old blaze — I’ve no idea where it leads, I’m not going in that direction. Copyright © 2023 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • Bliss Spring (& a late lunch!)

    Bliss Spring — just a quick snapshot. I took pictures and some video the last time I was here. Copyright © 2023 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

    I arrived at Bliss Spring at two-fifteen, and set about making some lunch. I planned to stop for the night on one of the two ridges I was about to hike along where there is no water, so I stocked up with water too.

    I didn’t bother to take pictures, as I took a load when I spent the night here on my previous visit. Here’s a link to the pictures (and video) I took last time.

  • The only scenic view on the Whites Creek Trail, Irish Wilderness

    Photograph of the Eleven Point River taken from the Whists Creek Trail, Southern Loop, Irish Wilderness, Missouri. March 2023.
    The only scenic view on the Whites Creek Trail, Irish Wilderness — The Eleven Point River was very high, muddy and noisy after all the recent rain. At least I got a reasonable view of it on this trip. Last time it was hidden by all the leaves on the trees. Copyright © 2023 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • Camped at the end of Day Two

    Camped at the end of Day Two. Copyright © 2023 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

    I prefer camping on ridges instead of down in the hollows. The downside is having to carry a lot of extra water up the ridge. Note my big mistake of the night. I didn’t set my tarp.

  • Day Three — Morning view from my hammock

    Morning view from my hammock — look closely and you’ll see all the water drops on everything. Not setting my tarp was a big mistake. all my gear got wet. Copyright © 2023 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • It got a bit damp overnight

    It got a bit damp overnight — This is my down puffy jacket, my quilts faired slighlty better as my body heat was drying them as they got wet. Copyright © 2023 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • Time to get up

    Photograph of Gary Allman in his Dutchware Chameleon hammock, Irish Wilderness, Missouri. March 2023.
    Time to get up — Yes, I sleep in my clothes, not all the time, but it is part of my layering plan when it gets cooler, and as I only had a 40F top quilt, this was one of those times. Copyright © 2023 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • Morning messages

    Garmin InReach Mini satellite Communications device showing a notification of a received message. Holstered Sig Sauer P938 handgun in the background.
    Morning messages — Copyright © 2023 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

    My InReach Mini, with a morning message from Ginger. All the condensation on the Sig and the holster shows just how wet everything got. I dried off the InReach Mini before I took the picture.

    You can send and receive texts from the InReach Mini too, which is cool. I used it yesterday to wish my brother in the UK a happy birthday. I meant to send him a message before I left on Friday and forgot in the rush to get on the road 🙁

    The InReach Mini is water resistant. It is rated for 30 minutes immersion in one metre of water (if my memory of the specs. is correct).

  • Charging — Giving my InReach Mini and my GPS (phone) a boost

    Photograph of a Galaxy S21 Ultra Cellphone, and Garmin InReach Mini satellite Communicator being charged by an Anker 20000mAh  525 Power Bank (PowerCore Essential 20K PD) while backpacking.
    Charging — Giving my InReach Mini and my GPS (phone) a boost. My power brick will keep all my electronics going for about a week. I’m impressed. Copyright © 2023 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • Drying out

    Drying out — That will teach me. I didn’t set the tarp and the dew point must have been just perfect for everything to get soaked, including my hammock and my down top and under quilts. I decided to delay the start of my day’s hike (any excuse) and get everything dry before packing it away. Copyright © 2023 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • Later today I’ll be hiking along that ridge line

    Later today I’ll be hiking along that ridge line. Copyright © 2023 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

    It is a rubbish picture, but it does give a slight impression of what is in store. I’ve got to go all the way down and then back up again.

    The South Loop of the Whites Creek Trail is a lot less traveled, and a lot harder to follow. I’d already spent a fair bit of time bushwhacking when after I lost the trail, and I was about to take a side trail that led me astray. Side trails and game trails can cause a lot of confusion. GPS (and compass) to the rescue both times. Navigating in dense woodland with no major landmarks is difficult (well I find it difficult). I always know roughly where I am — Missouri 🙂 — but opportunities to get a precise fix on the map are rare — you cannot rely on the trail being where it is marked on the map either. The only reliable guides are the few fixed and identifiable topographic features.

    So while I don’t get ‘lost’ I often miss the trail. If my GPS failed I have a back up — the Garmin InReach includes a GPS (and so does my watch come to that), but the most reliable backup I carry is a paper map and my compass. All I need to do is go in a straigh-ish line (that the topography will allow) for the nearest accessible road or edge of the wilderness.

    losing the trail is more frustrating than anything because bushwhacking your way through the underbrush is a lot slower than walking on a trail.

  • Whites Creek — close to its confluence with the Eleven Point River

    Photograph of Whites Creek, Irish Wilderness. March 2023.
    Whites Creek, this is fairly close to its confluence with the Eleven Point River. I stopped here to have lunch and enjoy the view. Copyright © 2023 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

    I stopped here to have lunch, enjoy the view and gird my loins for the climb up the ridge past Whites Creek Cave. Sitting eating my lunch I could hear people in the distance, and much to my surprise, I watched as three guys hiked down the very steep sides of the ridge — they’d missed the trail by a quarter mile or so. I’m guessing they were drawn off trail by the siren call of the side trail that had caught me out earlier, but they had failed to find their way back to the main trail.

    I never heard or saw anything more of them. Guessing again, but I assume it was the group I met at the Camp 5 Pond parking lot on Friday. ¯\(ツ)/¯

  • Gratuitous Selfie

    Gratuitous Selfie — taken just because I took a picture of this sign the last time I hiked this trail. Copyright © 2023 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

    May 2021

    eek Float Camp – signs that there has not been a lot of maintenance for a while. Copyright © 2021 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • Whites Creek Cave – 2023

    Photograph of Whites Creek Cave, Irish Wilderness, Missouri. Taken from the entrance (The cave is currently closed and the entrance barred). March 2023.
    Whites Creek Cave — It’s a slightly better picture than last time. I used my headlamp to light the place up. I’ve tried to find out some more information abouth the cave, like how big it is and how far it goes back. Thus far I’ve drawn a blank. Let’s just say it’s big-ish. Copyright © 2023 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • Pool on Whites Creek, Irish Wilderness

    Photograph of a large pool on Whites Creek, Irish Wilderness, Missouri. March 2023.
    Pool on Whites Creek, Irish Wilderness — Oh the joys of the Golden Hour (and being in the right place). Copyright © 2023 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • On the South Loop of the Whites Creek Trail

    On the South Loop of the Whites Creek Trail — despite the whole area being flooded yesterday, the trail was not washed out (here, anyway). Copyright © 2023 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • Day Four — Contemplating life and the view

    Contemplating life and the view — The view was a bit tangled as the floods had made a huge mess of everything. Copyright © 2023 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
    Contemplating life and the mess from the flooding — yes, I know, I’m getting a bit thin on top. It’s all the hats I wear. Copyright © 2023 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • All of this was flooded a couple of days ago

    All of this was flooded a couple of days ago. Whites Creek, Whites Creek Trail South Loop. Copyright © 2023 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • Camped near Whites Creek

    Camped near Whites Creek — This is not where you are supposed to camp, it is far too close to the creek but it was getting dark when I arrived and this is an established camping spot with a fire ring (I didn’t use it). Copyright © 2023 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • Whites Creek

    Whites Creek — All the leaves stuck in the brush are a good indicator of how high the creek got a couple of days ago. Copyright © 2023 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • My own little spring

    My own little spring. Copyright © 2023 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • Unusual, but it worked

    Unusual, but it worked. I wanted a tarp configuration that would keep the wind off me, but still let me stand up. Copyright © 2023 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
    High winds called for an unusual tarp configuration. Copyright © 2023 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • Cat briar’s revenge

    Cat briar’s revenge — I got myself into a huge patch of them on the third day, and this is the result. It is also why I am resisting being put on aggressive anticoagulants. Copyright © 2023 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • Pool on Whites Creek, Irish Wilderness

    Pool on Whites Creek, Irish Wilderness. Copyright © 2023 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • The geology is a bit different on the south loop

    The geology seems a bit different on the south loop. Note the rocks in this picture. Also note the blue blaze. You are not supposed to have blazes in a wilderness, but to save money rescuing lost people, there appear to be some exceptions. But the quality and positioning of the blazes is so poor and erratic, it is just annoying. Well, it annoys me! Copyright © 2023 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • Lunch time snooze in the sun

    Lunch time snooze in the sun — albeit a very watery sun. Can you see my glasses? No? Neither could I. It took me a lot of searching to find them. Copyright © 2023 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • Trees, trees, and more trees

    Trees, trees, and more trees — And hidden in this picture is an old forest road. Copyright © 2023 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • Haven’t I been here before?

    Whites Creek Trail Loop Completed. Copyright © 2023 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • First Creek Crossing, reprise

    First Creek Crossing, reprise — looking at the leaves, there was no way this was knee deep at any time. Unless the guys I met on day one had really short legs (and I’m short). Copyright © 2023 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • Camp 5 Pond in the winter sunshine

    Camp 5 Pond in the winter sunshine — once again our car is the only one at the trailhead. Copyright © 2023 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • End of hike selfie

    End of hike selfie — Three nights, four days. Twenty-one miles and 1600 ft. Nothing too strenuous, but I’m nearer to 70 than 60, not to mention having to keep an eye on my heart (well those are the excuses I’m fielding at the moment). Copyright © 2023 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

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