When I added the figures of my last trip to my year’s total, I realized I was just 10 miles short of hiking 200 miles this year. A short break in the weather and a few days off work decided me on a mid-week hike at Hercules Glades, where I could push my mileage up over 200 and I had some unfinished business. I wanted to get down to Beaver Creek to the west, and I wanted to hike the only trail in the wilderness I’ve not hiked yet. The Blair
I planned to stay three nights, and just like my last trip, I was starting with some nice weather, and it was going to get progressively colder and cloudier, ending up with snow and rain in the forecast for the final night and the hike out. I quite fancied getting a picture of a snow-covered hammock tarp.
I’ve made a couple of minor gear adjustments.
- Gone is the hammock winter cover. I’d experimented with leaving it off on the Berryman trail, and I liked how much nicer it was to sleep in the open air. So now to try it in some colder temperatures.
- I’ve taken so many pictures at Hercules Glades I decided to leave my usual camera behind and for ‘old times sake’ take along my 13 year-old point and shoot camera.
- I’d realized that my old down jacket was actually lighter and more compressible than my fleece jumper, so I left the fleece behind and brought two down jackets.
- I also packed a pair of fleece pants that I’ve not tried out before.
- Finally I’d bought another merino base layer top in what I think is a rather fetching mustard color, which I plan to use as my winter hiking shirt. We’ll see how that goes.
- Day One. Hike the six miles down to the bluffs on the western side of the wilderness, and try and get to Beaver creek to the north of them. I’d spotted a hollow on the map that looked like it would make getting down to the creek possible.
- Day two. Hike to Long Creek, another six miles, and camp near the creek (and water), ready to hike the Blair Ridge Trail on Day Three.
- Day Three. Hike the Blair Ridge trail out to the Blair Ridge Trailhead and back again. Camp near Long Creek. That should be another six miles.
- Day Four. Hike out, around three miles.
Total around 21 miles.
It was interesting listening and watching the creek flowing under the ice. I stopped here to refill my water bottle, which I did a few yards further down the creek where it wasn’t frozen. I should add that this is my old favorite, ‘Twin Falls Creek.’
Given the freezing temperatures we’ve been having recently, I guess it is no surprise that it was quite slow-moving and reluctant to flit off the branch and out of the sun.
At the beginning of my hike I’d added a waypoint on the trail where I thought I’d need to turn north to find the top of the hollow I wanted to try and hike down to Beaver creek. I was very surprised to find that the spot I’d picked was exactly where an old forest road turned north off the trail. Ginger was initially quite skeptical that I’d found an old road, as it wasn’t marked on the current map. I checked a 1930 map and sure enough there it was.
Pretty soon I was bushwhacking west down into the hollow, which due to the 100ft high and very steep southern side, I’ve dubbed ‘Deep Hollow.’ The hollow’s upper stretches were dry until I came across a spring — you can see all the green grass growing where the spring emerges in the top left of the above picture. The creek seemed to drop in a series of 10-15ft falls covered in ice. With the very steep sides and the ice coating, I decided that I’d found water, even if it wasn’t Beaver Creek, and that was good enough for me. The slope to the north of the hollow was much easier, and I climbed up to the top of the ridge to make camp.
Okay, so I managed to let one of my hiking poles fall into the hollow while taking the previous picture. Which meant I had to climb down and retrieve it. While I was there, I took this picture.
After years of camping down in hollows to be near water, I am now learning the advantages of going higher and putting up with a longer trek to fetch water. The main advantages are:
- It’s warmer,
- It gets dark later and light earlier,
- the ground’s flatter.
I get my day’s breakfast and trail food out first thing so I don’t forget to unpack it before I break camp and put everything in my backpack.
Today’s breakfast and trail food are:
- Breakfast. a cup of hot chocolate and a cup of tea; dehydrated biscuits and gravy. (Alternatives are dehydrated breakfast hash or Oats).
- Trail Snacks. Two handfuls of almond and raisins, two mini Snickers bars, and a couple of rashers of pre-cooked bacon.
- Lunch. A sachet of tuna, noodles, and a cup of tea.
The only items missing above are my evening hot drink and my evening meal, which I won’t get out until I’ve set up camp in the evening. My evening drink is usually hot chocolate (Cadbury’s of course), and my evening meal is whatever my current favorite dehydrated meal is. On my favorites list right now are:
- Chicken and dumplings,
- chili mac with beef,
- teriyaki chicken,
- beef stroganoff,
- lasagna with meat sauce,
- spaghetti with meat sauce, and
- beef stew.
My total food for a day weighs in at around 1½-2lbs.
There are three things to note in this picture.
- My camp chair has been blown over.
- The hunter orange tabard hanging on the tree is being blown out horizontally.
- And finally, note how the wind is pushing on the tarp.
A windy day had been forecast, I was expecting it, but I didn’t stop to think about the implications. My plan was to finish my day camped somewhere sheltered. My lack of comprehension of the possible implications was to cause me some problems and teach me a lesson later in the day.
I stopped for lunch and to refill my water bottle, and I learned a lesson while I was about it.
I am so used to just stopping where I want, getting my stove out, and making a hot drink and meal, I didn’t stop to think about the gusting wind. First, it blew my chair over, then it blew over my stove spilling all the alcohol which flared up (presumably, it’s impossible to see the flames in bright daylight). It took a long while to burn out — I could hear it even if I couldn’t see it! When I first got my Fancee Feest cat-can stove, I was concerned it would get blown over in windy weather, but as it never happened, I’d forgotten about the possibility. It’s a shame I didn’t think of it before I started trying to heat my lunch. I was very glad (and lucky) I had it set up somewhere that couldn’t burn.
Lesson learned, I moved everything to a more sheltered spot and tried again. The whole debacle cost me half an hour, so it was starting to look like I’d be ending my hike in the dark — sunset is around 5 p.m. — but the light starts to fade a lot earlier down in the shade of the hollows.
I started my day camped about three-quarters of a mile to the west (left) of the Lower Pilot. The sun will set in an hour and a half, and I have to decide where I’m going to camp. Tomorrow’s plan is to hike the Blair
WitchRidge Trail out and back. My original plan was to camp overlooking Long Creek about ½ a mile upstream from The Falls. Considering my options, I decided that I’d camp by The Falls. That would position me nearer to the start of the Blair Ridge Trail. Today was Sunday, the trails were quiet — I’d only met eight people on the trail, two couples, and one small group — there shouldn’t be anyone else camping at The Falls.
I was wrong. There was a couple at The Falls when I arrived. It wasn’t clear if they were going to camp or not, but that decided me to carry on westward towards the overhang campsites I’d visited in May 2019. There was a good spot nearby I fancied trying out. And that was what I did. I arrived at 5 p.m. It was getting dark and cold (the weather was supposed to be getting colder), so I concentrated on making camp, getting my evening meal ready, and not taking pictures.
Notes on the photograph
Firstly, it is worth noting that this picture was taken on my 14-year-old Fuji FinePix F30 point and shoot. Secondly, it’s a combination of two vertically stacked pictures to fit in the play of light in the foreground and the wonderful clouds.
I love the pictures the camera produces, but the problem with the camera is that it is almost impossible for me to see what I’m taking a picture of. Screen technology has improved by leaps and bounds in 14 years. Unfortunately, my eyesight has deteriorated significantly over that same time.
Having said I’ve learned my lesson and don’t camp down in hollows anymore, here I am at the bottom of a hollow with Long Creek only about 100ft away. It’s a sweet spot though.
I was up early, but it’s dark until around 8 a.m. That’s the disadvantage of winter camping. The great advantages are that it’s not too hot, and there are no bugs, so no bug net required — though the moths were mobbing my camp light last night.
Despite spilling a load of fuel for my alcohol burner yesterday lunchtime I used the alcohol burner last night and this morning. I’d used my wood burning stove for my evening meal and breakfast on days one and two respectively, so I had plenty of fuel.
When I camped here in May 2019 I ended up in the ER the next day. This campsite was about 50 yards to the west of where I camped this time.
This is the spot nearest to my campsite and where I drew my water. What you can’t see in this picture are the frozen bits.
The amount of water is surprising because The Falls were dry. Despite looking on my way in (and out) I didn’t spot any feeder creeks that were running, so there must be a fairly decent spring between here and The Falls.
The hike from the Falls to the Blair Ridge Trailhead is supposed to be around three-and-a-half miles. I’d say it was nearer to three. It was a cold, dull, gray day, so no pictures. Anyway, it was just standard Ozarks ridge trail scenery. That’s my last unhiked trail in Hercules Glades completed.
I saw no one on the trail, and just one pickup went past while I was at the trailhead, from which I received the statutory Ozark salute of the raised palm from the steering wheel, and to which I responded appropriately with a nod and raised hand.
Originally I was going to stop for lunch and a cup of tea. But while hiking the trail another idea had formed, and I decided to hi-tail it straight back without stopping. I could pile on a few extra miles by taking the Cedars (Middle) Trail up from Long Creek to the Pilot (Tower) Trail, and camp for the night overlooking ‘Twin Falls Hollow.’ I might have to set up camp in the dark, but it would push my day’s mileage up to around nine miles, plus some extra elevation, and it would leave me three miles from the trailhead for the hike out in the morning. If I stuck with my original plan and camped back near Long Creek, I might end up spending a cold afternoon sitting looking at the view.
And that’s what I did. I stopped briefly for some lunch when I got back to Long Creek and then set off towards ‘Twin Falls Hollow.’ Despite it being midweek and cold, I encountered around eight people on the short portion of the Long Creek Trail that I hiked. After that, I saw no one. There’s a good reason why I normally stay away from the trails near Long Creek and the Falls.
This trip had been dogged by a series of stupid mistakes. My final mistake could easily have been fatal, but as is usually the case when I do something stupid, I was lucky and got away with it. Until possibly, one day I won’t. Fortunately for me, all I ended up with is some damaged gear and a bruised ego. It’s a timely reminder to not get too complacent when I’m out on the trail.
So, what were the mistakes?
Tipping over my alcohol stove and spilling burning fuel
I was lucky that I was on a non-flammable pebble beach at the time
On Day Two I forgot that my alcohol stove was unstable in heavy wind and it blew over. That was plain stupid, and I was lucky that I was on a non-flammable pebble beach at the time. I have got into a habit of setting up the stove, lighting it and everything’s fine. I didn’t take any account of the conditions.
Burning a hole in my new down jacket
A quick application of duct tape prevented the loss of the down that had not been burned away
Also, on Day Two. At the end of the day, I was mixing up my hot chocolate in my mug next to the alcohol stove, which was busy boiling the water. I suddenly noticed the very obvious — if you’ve ever smelt it — odor of burnt hair. I inspected my hands. No, they’d not been near the heat, and as I turned them over, I saw that I’d let my new — super expensive — down jacket get too near to the stove. The outer shell had burned and melted. A quick application of duct tape prevented the loss of the down that had not been burned away. There was only a small damaged area, but I could have set the whole thing on fire. Not good.
Not allowing for ‘run-off’ when I set my tarp
I was surprised at how much the tarp material stretched with the weight of the resulting block of ice
Setting my tarp on Day Three — the pictures here — I set the side facing the hollow low to the ground to keep out the cold wind I was expecting. Wanting lots of headroom for making breakfast under the shelter of the tarp the next morning (Day Four), I set up that side of the tarp high and flat. Too high, and too flat. I woke up to find that the night’s rain, hail, and snow couldn’t run off the tarp and had collected into a big frozen pool in the middle. I was surprised at how much the tarp material stretched with the weight of the resulting block of ice.
And finally, falling out of my hammock
I was lying dazed on the ground, having taken the brunt of the fall on the back of my head
This was the stupidest, and potentially most dangerous mistake I made. I fell out of my hammock. It sounds funny, and I’m sure to a bystander it would have looked hilarious. For me, one moment I was sitting sideways, legs dangling over the side of the hammock, and the next, I was lying dazed on the ground, having taken the brunt of the fall on the back of my head. I lay there, legs entangled in the hammock, trying to take stock of what had happened and if, and how much I was injured.
This has been my first full trip where I’ve not used a winter cover or bug net on the hammock — both of which force you to climb in correctly. I can only presume that I grabbed the back edge of the hammock (instead of the nearest, leading-edge), pulled it forward, and sat on what was the outside of the hammock with nothing in place to catch me and provide support. Then as I leaned back, with no hammock sides to stop me, I fell straight out the back.
Normally this would not be an issue. But, I’d set the hammock higher than usual to get it up out of the wind, and I was on the side of a very steep hill, so I actually fell some 4-5ft. And the most dangerous aspect of this act of stupidity is that that the ground there is littered with huge rocks. My head just missed the big rocks that can be seen in the above picture. If I’d landed on any of them, I might not be here writing this now. My SOS beacon was inaccessible, hanging on the hammock ridgeline, and if I’d been unconscious that wouldn’t have been of help anyway.
Had the worst happened, Ginger wouldn’t have been concerned until the next day when I didn’t signal ‘all okay’ in the morning. She would probably have thought that I’d forgotten to send a message or she may have messaged me, to find out if all was well. But that would have been over 14 hours later, not to mention the time it would have taken to get to my location, another 4-5 hours? At least thanks to my beacon — Ginger can request an update on my position — and folks would know where to find me.
Just to add insult to injury, when packing up camp, I noticed a couple of holes in my new under quilt protector, out on its second trip. It must have dragged across some of the rocks in the fall and torn. Another new piece of gear damaged.
- Pay attention to what I am doing and the impact of my surroundings and the weather.
- Be very careful around the stove or fire with my down jackets (or anything flammable).
- If there is rain in the forecast (and even if there isn’t), set the tarp so that rain has a way to run off.
- Just be more careful.
- Always carry my SOS beacon on my person, If it’s hanging in my hammock and I’m incapacitated on the ground, I might as well have left it at home.
It was just above freezing when I started on the 3.5-mile hike back to the trailhead, and the wind was blowing hard. I’ve no idea what the wind chill factor was. Cold. I wore my waterproof jacket as a wind-block over my down jacket. Once I got moving, I had to remove the down jacket as I was overheating. My ears, though, were cold (as Ginger likes to point out, “That’s because they are big.”). Not wanting to take the time to dig into my pack for a beanie, I used a buff I keep in my pocket to protect them from the wind. Not particularly fashionable, but then, when have I been fashionable? The temperature was 41°F (5°C) when I arrived back at the trailhead, just before half-past-twelve.
Despite the problems (of my own making), my last trip of 2020 had been good, and it taught me some lessons that will hopefully help me stay safe in 2021. I hiked the 3.5 out miles in under two hours.
- 26.3 miles hiked
- 2,172 ft of elevation
- I’d hiked the Blair Ridge Trail, my last un-hiked Hercules Glades Trail, and
- I’d found a source of water on the western edge of the wilderness.