It’s been almost a month since I was last out on the trail on my trip to Irish Wilderness. I toyed briefly with a four-day hike of the Berryman Trail, but I settled on some downtime by the lake instead.

  • Fire ring at the bottom of the Tower Trail — Piney Creek Wilderness

    Campsite at the bottom of the Tower Trail. It’s looking a bit tidier, but why two kettles? And it looks like someone has lost their hat. Piney Creek Wilderness, February 2024. Copyright © 2024 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

    I’m taking four days R&R by Table Rock Lake in Piney Creek Wilderness.

    Kettle — there were two hanging in trees at the campsite at the end of the Tower Trail. I resisted the temptation to borrow one. Piney Creek Wilderness, February 2024. Copyright © 2024 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

    The two kettles at this campsite seem to be a bit excessive to me, but whatevs.

    I may be suffering from kettle envy.

    The Plan

    I’m just going to hike in, sit by the lake and contemplate my navel for three days, and then hike back out.

    The weather is going to be unseasonably hot with temps in the mid-seventies to mid-eighties for three of the four days. On the third night the temperatures will plummet to the low thirties overnight, followed by the mid-forties on my last day.

    Hot and windy except on Wednesday when it is going to be cold and windy.

    Rashly, I’ve taken the forecast at face value, and I’m gambling that the predicted overnight temps will not drop below 34 degrees.

    I’ve packed my summer (forty-degree) quilts. For the cooler evenings I have both my down jackets, plus some base layer pants, and my snow pants. Apart from that, clothing-wise, I have a beanie, buff, shemagh (I always carry a buff and shemagh whatever the weather), shorts, my woolly toe socks, and finally both a long and short sleeved gym shirt. As a precaution I’ve also packed a sleeping bag liner, that should keep me warm if it drops to freezing. Because of the high winds and rain in the forecast I’ve packed my winter tarp (well, so I thought…) And that’s it.

    My new Bedrock Cairn Evo Pro sandals arrived last week, and this is going to be their first outing. I’ve worn them around the house and for around six miles on the treadmill. So far, they are proving to be much better than the Lunas.

    In fact, it was because of the new sandals I opted to hike down the Tower Trail and along the Piney Creek Trail to Table Rock Lake. The Tower trail has a really steep descent and a steep muddy 80-ish ft. climb. They handled both, and the subsequent creek crossings and bushwhacking impeccably.

  • Lunch Stop

    Stopped for Lunch by Piney Creek — Piney Creek Wilderness, February 2024. Copyright © 2024 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

    I thought this was the spot we stopped for lunch on 11-11-2011, but it was probably the next creek crossing.

    Maybe, maybe not…

    2011: Cooking lunch at Piney Creek. Copyright © 2011 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • Back at my home from home

    Back at my home from home. Piney Creek Wilderness, February 2024. Copyright © 2024 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

    Taking a selfie when I get to the lake has become another Piney Creek Tradition.

    The Lake is lower than I’ve seen it before (and dropping), but that’s allowed Piney and Buck Hollow creeks to wash away a lot of silt from their combined entrances.

    The lake may be low, but Piney Creek was running well. One of the crossings was deep enough to cause a sharp intake of breath and had me scrambling to get my notebook out of my pocket before it got soaked.

  • ‘Red Flag’ Warning — so I shall not be using my wood stove

    Firebox Nano Stainless steel wood burning stove — I just liked the way it looked. Piney Creek Wilderness, February 2024. Copyright © 2024 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

    High winds, dry conditions, and unseasonable temperatures have resulted in a ‘No fires’ advisory. And given how windy and dry it is, that makes sense. Hopefully I have enough fuel for my stove to keep me in hot meals until the burn ban finishes. The wind dropped away completely last night so I had a campfire in anticipation of not being able to have one tonight.

  • Hammock Camping in Piney Creek Wilderness, February 2024

    Hammock Camping in Piney Creek Wilderness, February 2024. Copyright © 2024 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

    Some things will remain a mystery. Like why I had the foot end of the hammock set so much higher than the head end — the general wisdom is to set the foot of a hammock around six-inches higher than the head. Whatevs, I cannot say I noticed it until I got home and looked at this picture.

    The first night was chilly — 33 degrees. And I guessed wrong on the forecast, tonight it is now likely to be 24 degrees. That’s a lot lower than my quilts are rated, and to make it worse there is more wind forecast (it’s been very windy today), and rain too.

    I realized I’d packed the wrong tarp when I started setting up camp. Because of the low temps and wind in the forecast, I meant to pack my winter tarp, which has ‘doors’ on it. If the wind shifts round to the northwest, like it is supposed to, I’ll be more broadside on to it. If not, the cold air is going to blow straight through! I’ll snug down the tarp as best I can, put on all the clothes I have, and set the blue sleeping bag liner — airing out on my chair — underneath me. Worst comes to the worst; it will be a chilly and uncomfortable night, no real problem.

    There are also high winds and temps in the low forties predicted for tomorrow, with a predicted wind chill starting at 15 degrees, which may make the hike back to the trailhead a little uncomfortable too. It is what it is.

  • Piney Creek Wilderness at Table Rock Lake, February 2024

    A quick pan of the south shore from Piney Creek towards Table Rock Lake. Table Rock Lake is low. Almost the lowest I’ve seen it so far. On the good side, the change in lake level has caused all the silt to be washed out of the creek mouth.

  • Piney Creek Wilderness at Table Rock Lake

    Piney Creek Wilderness at Table Rock Lake — Yup, another picture of one of my favorite spots. Piney Creek Wilderness, February 2024. Copyright © 2024 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

    Comparing this picture with those I took during my stay here in September 2022, the lake was about 4-6 inches lower then. So, the lake isn’t the lowest I’ve seen it — but darned close!

  • The lake is low… It’s almost the lowest I’ve seen it

    The lake is low… It’s almost the lowest I’ve seen it. The change in lake level has caused all the silt to be washed out of the creek mouth. Piney Creek Wilderness, February 2024. Copyright © 2024 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

    Comparing this picture with those I took during my stay here in September 2022, the lake was about 4-6 inches lower then.

  • Doe! A deer…

    Doe! A deer… — Piney Creek Wilderness, February 2024. Copyright © 2024 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

    Despite being 1-200 yards upwind from me they heard me creeping down to a spot where I could grab a picture through the trees. It was nearly dark, and I had to use the max zoom on my phone, hence the very poor image.

    And yes, I realize there’s a buck there too. There was also another doe out of shot to the right.

    To get an idea of how far away they were, look at the picture I took earlier today.

    The lake is low… It’s almost the lowest I’ve seen it. The change in lake level has caused all the silt to be washed out of the creek mouth. Piney Creek Wilderness, February 2024. Copyright © 2024 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • All packed up and ready to leave

    All packed up and ready to leave. Piney Creek Wilderness, February 2024. Copyright © 2024 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

    I toyed with the idea of leaving first thing in the morning, but a bitingly cold wind put me off that idea. It was very windy in the night, the trees flexing had the hammock bouncing around a bit. The temperature dropped to 24 degrees, I wasn’t toasty, but I was warm enough.

    What a well-used fire ring should look like — no left over burnt branch ends or trash. Piney Creek Wilderness, February 2024. Copyright © 2024 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

    The campsite has been used since I was last here in July 2023. It’s not like I own the place! However, it must have been some aspiring Bear Grylls wannabe and friend. They cut down a couple of cedar tree saplings to make a bed, left a selection of TP flowers about seven yards from the campsite, and a load of half burnt wood and some trash in the fire ring.

    I cleared up the TP, and was going to break up the bed, but decided against it. If they returned and it was gone, they’d probably just cut down another couple of saplings and make another. I had a campfire on my second night and burned all the half-burned wood and tidied everything up.

    Lots of people haven’t heard of or cannot be bothered with a “Leave no trace” ethic around here. I’m probably being a bit hypercritical. It’s not like I’ve removed the table and fire ring I found here and restored the place to its pristine state. And I have moved a few rocks around too. That said, I have tried to keep the place pretty much as I found it though.

    I spent a lot of the morning in the hammock staying warm out of the wind. I used up the last of my fuel heating water for lunch and a cup of tea. It was far too windy for the wood burning stove. The mess left by the previous user(s) of the site had cast a bit of a pall over my visit. But today it was bright, clear and cold, and it felt more like home again. I felt sad to be going, but come two-ten, I was on my way.

  • Heading home

    Heading Home — I remembered to take an end of hike selfie just before I left the trailhead parking lot. Piney Creek Wilderness, February 2024. Copyright © 2024 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

    The hike out was generally unremarkable. Just as for my trip in, I opted to not take my usual route, and hiked part of the Piney Creek Trail, followed by the Lake Trail. I agree with my previous conclusions about the Lake Trail, it’s not a nice trail to hike down. Going up I was sure footed enough with my new shoes (the main reason why I picked this route was to try them out on a steep-ish climb with a loose footing.)

    There was one minor disaster. Talking about leave no trace, I must have accidentally dropped my mechanical pencil near the stock pond on the Lake Trail (sob!). Enjoy it, anyone who finds it. On getting home I ordered a pen holder that will stick in the back of my trail journal, and hopefully I won’t lose another. I have a spare as this is not the first time I’ve lost my pencil on the trail, but hopefully the last.

    Despite the disappointment of finding the campsite messed up, and the unexpected cold weather, it was a good trip. I needed some time out in the woods.

    What worked

    • New hammock suspension and carabiners.
    • New shoes:
      • Did not need adjusting while I was hiking.
      • Didn’t pick up stones.
      • Easy on and off.
      • Great camp shoes too.
    • My adjusted pack fits much better (and the annoying squeak has gone away.)
    • Mesh bag for the odds and ends I keep in the outer back pocket of my pack.
    • Sit pad.
    • My plan to keep warm when the temps dropped way below my expectations.

    What needs to improve

    • Gaia GPS, an update has introduced a bug, and it didn’t record my track properly, and the ascent/descent calcs are way out of whack. Checking online I’m not alone in finding these problems. Annoyingly the company has been bought out, and I suspect this might be the beginning of the end. The cost has increased significantly, and the product is not getting better.
    • I wore thin sports tops. This was one occasion where I would have been better with my merino wool top.
    • Packing the wrong tarp. I may have to relabel my gear my current red=hot weather gear, blue=cold weather gear isn’t working. I’ve got it wrong several times now.
    • Hammock site. I should have moved for the high winds and wrong tarp.
    • Hiking shorts. They were okay but there was a bit of rubbing on the nethers. To quote my trail journal:

    — Shorts 50-50. Worked okay but needs some more ball room! (rubbing)

    What didn’t get used

    • Emergency items.
    • Towel.
    • I had too many firelighters (though I would have used more if it was less windy and there wasn’t a Red Flag warning.)
    • Earbuds.

    Finally … I have a new hammock coming and that will give me an excuse to get out again pretty soon. After all, I can’t spend cash on a new hammock, and not get some use out of it, can I? 🙂

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