View from the Slabtown Overlook – Paddy Creek Wilderness Day Two. November 2020. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

There’s a break in the weather, and I can spend two-and-a-half days backpacking. The forecast is for two good (but maybe cold) days before rain sets in. Read on to find out how it went.

  • Roby Lake parking lot

    Roby Lake parking lot – seems these small SUVs are all the rage. Just as well I didn’t know that when we bought ours. Paddy Creek Wilderness, Day One. November 2020. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

    The Annual Diocesan Convention (the work project that has been keeping me busy for the past three months) and Thanksgiving are over. There’s a break in the weather, and I can spend two-and-a-half days backpacking. The forecast is for two good (but maybe cold) days before rain sets in. That sounds a lot like how my last visit here back in February played out. Only this time the ground won’t be frozen.

    Despite getting everything ready Thursday night, I still managed to leave home an hour later than I planned. Some unfinished work items kept me busy for a couple of hours. It was almost one o’clock when I finally hit the trail. Three guys, hiking the loop counter clockwise — the same direction I was going — had just set off. I gave them a few minutes headstart so I could have the trail to myself.

    I didn’t notice when I was taking this picture, but it seems these small SUVs are very popular. We knew they were being snapped up when we bought ours, but I didn’t realize I’d be coming across entire trailhead parking lots full of them. It’s probably just as well I didn’t know that, or I might have held out for something a little different. I don’t like being cast as a member of the herd.

    The plan

    The plan for the next few days was simple, but this trip was a bit of a last minute idea, so I had not researched my routes and mileages, relying instead on my memory from my last visit. The overall plan was to do a figure of eight loop, hiking the ‘short cut’ between the north and south loops twice.

    Day One (Green)

    Hike the South Trail to the ‘Short Cut’ and switch to the North Trail and Camp near the three creeks confluence, where I camped last time I was here.

    Day Two (Blue)

    Hike the North Loop to the Big Piney Trail Camp, and then take the (gravel) road and find the Slabtown Overlook. Then return to the Big Piney Trail Camp, and hike the South Loop to the junction with the short cut, and take the short cut and camp near Little Piney Creek (hopefully I’d scout out a camping spot on Day One). If that was too far, or I was delayed I’d stop near Big Paddy Creek.

    Day Three (Red)

    The weather is due to break, with rain in the forecast, so assuming my main plan worked out, and I camped on the short cut, I had a five mile hike on the North Loop back to the Roby Lake Trailhead. On my first visit I hiked this section in the rain. One day I’ll get to hike it in better weather.

  • Getting started

    At the start of a three day hike – At the Roby Lake Parking Lot. Paddy Creek Wilderness Day One. November 2020. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

    Despite the sunshine, the wind was cutting and it was cold. I wrapped myself up in my ‘puffy,’ put on the hunter orange bib on my backpack (today is the start of the youth deer hunting season, which lasts just three days). It was good to be back on the trail. I was late leaving home, so I needed to ‘pour on the coal’ and get moving if I was going to make camp in daylight.

    At the Big Piney trail, Roby Lake trailhead – Paddy Creek Wilderness Day One. November 2020. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • Little Paddy Creek Scenic Overlook

    Photograph taken from the scenic overlook on the south loop of the Big Piney Trail, Paddy Creek Wilderness, Missouri
    Scenic Overlook – That’s what it says on the map, and it was very pretty. Paddy Creek Wilderness Day One. November 2020. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

    It took me an hour to get to the ridge that drops down to Little Paddy Creek. I was so busy trying to make up for lost time, that I didn’t realize I’d arrived at the ridge until the appearance of a fire ring prompted me to take better notice of my surroundings. It was just as spectacular this time as it was on my first visit. I might have been in a hurry, but I stopped to take some pictures anyway.

    I was hurrying because I hadn’t checked how far I was going to be hiking to reach my campsite and because I wasn’t sure exactly what time sunset was. Inadequate preparation, pure and simple. I didn’t fancy hiking an unknown trail in the dark so I was making as much haste as I could, so I could get through the short cut between the South Loop and the North Loop before sunset.

    Paddy Creek Wilderness Day One. November 2020. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
    On the ridge overlooking Little Paddy Creek – Paddy Creek Wilderness Day One. November 2020. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • On the edge

    On the edge – Paddy Creek Wilderness Day One. November 2020. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

    Not the longest drop along the ridge, but the trees help give the picture a more vertigo-inducing look. It’s probably only 60-80 feet.

  • The curious image of the rock-eating tree

    what a mouthful – I suspect the tree will win in the end. Paddy Creek Wilderness Day One. November 2020. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

    When it comes to trees vs rocks, my money is on the trees. I see them growing in all sorts of unlikely crevices and places. It looks like this tree has had some sort of allergic reaction to the rock causing the excessive growth. Strange growths on trees seem to be far more common here than I remember on the trees of the UK. Maybe I’m just more observant now.

  • Creek Crossings and horse traffic

    Little Paddy Creek – Looking upstream – southwest. Paddy Creek Wilderness Day One. November 2020. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

    Once you get to the bottom of the ridge, there are two creek crossings before the climb up the other side of the hollow begins. The second (below) is where I stopped for lunch on my first hike around the Big Piney Trail. This time I didn’t want to waste any time stopping for lunch, so I carried straight on without a pause.

    Coming down the last bit of the ridge trail I was overtaken by a group of riders, which would be of no consequence if it were not for the fact that I was going to meet the same group again on the trail tomorrow.

    Climbing up out of the hollow I was overtaken by another four riders and their dog. A lot of hikers complain about the horses and how they cut up the trail. I don’t have any problem with them. Yes, they do churn up the trail, but they also keep a lot of otherwise less traveled trails open. And for that, I can forgive the occasional poor trail conditions. This particular group I was going to meet up with a few more times before I got to camp for the night. More on that later.

    Small feeder creek, looking downstream – This is the spot where I stopped for lunch during my last visit. Paddy Creek Wilderness Day One. November 2020. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • Pine trees by the Big Piney Trail

    On the climb up from Little Paddy Creek – Paddy Creek Wilderness Day One. November 2020. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

    The climb up from Little Paddy Creek to the ridge is some three-hundred feet. Unlike some of the other climbs on this trail, it is a fairly gentle ascent. Once on the ridge, the trail is fairly even and in a little over thirty minutes I was at the site of the old homestead that marks the junction of the shortcut through to the North Loop.

    I didn’t stop to take any pictures. Below are a couple from my visit in February.

    The ‘short cut’ trail is pretty easy to follow but quite rugged in places. This was obviously a major road at one time, as there were drainage ditches to be seen, and in places the trail had been leveled. I met another group of riders coming up the trail, and I was reminded of how polite and respectful the locals generally are, with casual ‘Howdys’ and several ‘Sirs’ sprinkled into the short exchanges as the riders filed past. Around ten minutes later I came upon a straggler. It seems his horse, a very frisky mare, had got away from him at one point, and he was trying to catch them up. He couldn’t have been trying that hard as we chatted for five minutes or so. Long enough for the dreaded “Where are you from?” question to be asked. However my stock answer of “Springfield.” didn’t draw further questions, and I discovered that he had roots in Bolivar (about 40 miles north of Springfield).

    It wasn’t long before the trail was leveling out and running through some creekside flood plains, nice and easy hiking, but a damp environment that I didn’t think would work for my Day Two camp. That’s okay though. I’d already thought I’d fancy a spot on the side of the hill on the opposite side of the creek.

    Forty-five minutes or so after I turned on to the short cut, I arrived at the point where I’d cross Little Paddy Creek for the second time. As I didn’t top up my water at the first crossing, I planned on doing it now.

  • Little Paddy Creek on the short cut between the South & North Loops

    Crossing Little Paddy Creek on the Short Cut – Paddy Creek Wilderness Day One. November 2020. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

    Approaching Little Paddy Creek I could hear voices. I was surprised (and secretly pleased) to see that it was the four riders (and their dog) who had passed me on my earlier climb away from Little Paddy Creek. Someone suggested that they must have been talking too much, giving me time to catch up. Someone else pointed out that it was going to be cold crossing the creek in my bare feet. “I’ll be okay,” I said before plunging onward. Actually, it wasn’t too bad. Once on the other side, I took off my pack ready to filter some water and took a few pictures. I missed the best shot, which was as the horses and riders crossed the creek and were silhouetted by the setting sun. Unfortunately, I had just put my camera down and my hands were full of my water filtering gear.

    In terms of composition, the picture below is much better, removing the distraction and multiple points of interest created by the horses and the sun. The image below has a strong line leading towards the focal point of the sun. But I prefer the human interest of the riders, which is why I favored that image to head up this post.

    Crossing Little Paddy Creek on the Short Cut – Paddy Creek Wilderness Day One. November 2020. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
    Looking down stream. At the Little Paddy Creek Crossing on the Short Cut. Paddy Creek Wilderness Day One. November 2020. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

    The setting sun reminded me that time was getting on, and I needed to be moving. I quickly filtered a liter of water and set off, noting as I did, what looked like a very likely area to camp tomorrow night if I make it this far! As for tonight, I still had to climb out of the hollow up to join the Pig Piney North Loop Trail and get to my planned campsite for the night, a mile or two away.

    As I was getting near the top of the ridge (and the junction with the North Loop), dusk was setting in, and I was overtaken again by the group of riders (plus dog. One mustn’t forget the dog). I thought that was a bit odd, as they’d left ahead of me, but I assumed they must have been exploring one of the side trails. They stopped a ways ahead of me, and I noticed a cell phone (presumably GPS) being consulted. Then they turned around and headed back in my direction. “Is there a trail turning right near here?” “Hold on,” says I, “I hope so because that’s where I’m headed. I’ll check my GPS.” A quick look at my GPS (phone) told me I was where I thought I was. “Yes, the junction with the North Loop is around 600 feet further along the trail.” They turned around again and headed off. Fortunately, I’d got my information right for a change, and they were soon on the North Loop of the Big Piney Trail heading northeast. It was starting to get dark, and they were a long way from the Big Piney Trailhead if that was where they were headed. Hopefully, they got to their destination without incident.

    I followed them down the trail, and I was soon at the side trail I needed to take to get to my planned camping spot. I was glad to see that my hunch was right, and there was water in the creek, and I quickly left the trail and started bushwhacking along looking for a good place to stop.

    The USGS Topo Map for Paddy Creek Wilderness is wrong

    It was a puzzle as to how they could have got themselves misplaced when they had a GPS. Then it dawned on me they were probably using the same USGS CalTopo map I was. On my previous visit, I’d noticed that the trail’s position marked on the map was offset to the north by about 240 yards. For that reason, before embarking on this trip, I had downloaded a GPS track of the Big Piney Trail so that I wasn’t relying on my remembering to mentally shift the trail south when navigating. If they were using that map, it would be easy to become misplaced and take the wrong trail.

    The Trail Marked on the USGS (CalTopo) map is wrong – It is offset 240 yards to the north
  • Setting up camp at dusk

    Setting up camp at dusk – The sky is so light because the nearly full moon has already risen. Paddy Creek Wilderness Day One. November 2020. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

    I’m still looking for a good alternative to the fairy lights to illuminate my camp at night. I’d use my Coleman backpacking lantern, but (a) it is big and heavy, (b) it needs some TLC or a new non-return valve.

  • It was a tad chilly out last night

    Frosty Morning – 27F, when I took the picture and 26F, was the lowest overnight temperature. Paddy Creek Wilderness Day Two. November 2020. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

    I was nice and cozy though. Too hot at one point. The night’s low was 26°F. Colder than forecast, but not unexpected.

  • Frosty Morning at Paddy Creek Wilderness

    Frosty Morning at Paddy Creek Wilderness – Eight o’clock and the sun hasn’t reach my hammock yet. Paddy Creek Wilderness Day Two. November 2020. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • Bones

    Bones – I say it every winter. I love this time of year when the bones of the land are laid bare. Paddy Creek Wilderness Day Two. November 2020. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • View from the Slabtown Overlook

    View from the Slabtown Overlook – Paddy Creek Wilderness Day Two. November 2020. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

    As usual, I was late getting on the trail. An hour late. I knew today was going to be a long hike – I reckoned ten miles or so, but my objective was to get to the Slabtown Overlook. And then depending on the time either camp by Big Paddy Creek, or Ideally, make it all the way back to Little Paddy Creek on the shortcut. So as I put it to myself, it was time to pour the coal on. And I did.

    By 1p.m. I was at the overlook. The view from the Slabtown Overlook was very impressive. I thought there was a cave near here. I had a good look around, but I couldn’t find it, so I’ll have to do some more research and come back. Maybe I’ll drive next time 🙂

    The access to the overlook is not obvious. There is a sign, but the writing on it has completely faded away. It’s a dirt (and muddy) track, so I wouldn’t recommend that any low clearance vehicles attempt to drive down to the overlook.

  • Paddy Creek

    Photograph taken in the late fall of 2020 where the Big Piney Trail crosses Paddy Creek, Paddy Creek Wilderness.
    Paddy Creek – Three-fifteen, and I’d only just crossed Paddy Creek. With a long way to go, I stopped just long enough to fill up with water and take a picture. Paddy Creek Wilderness Day Two. November 2020. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • Camped above Little Paddy Creek

    Camped above Little Paddy Creek – Paddy Creek Wilderness Day Three. November 2020. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

    Despite arriving after sunset I found a good spot, high on the side of the hill overlooking the creek. It was rather steep, so I laid a couple of limbs downhill from my hammock, I was hoping they’d catch things before they plummeted down to the creek.

    Camped above Little Paddy Creek – Paddy Creek Wilderness Day Three. November 2020. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • Hot chocolate and enjoying the view

    Hot Chocolate – Paddy Creek Wilderness Day Three. November 2020. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
    Hot chocolate, toe socks and enjoying the view – Paddy Creek Wilderness Day Three. November 2020. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • Ready to go

    Ready to go – all packed up and ready for the five-mile hike back to the parking lot. Once again there is rain in the forecast on the final day of my hike. Paddy Creek Wilderness Day Three. November 2020. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • The light at the end of the tunnel

    The light at the end of the tunnel – Paddy Creek Wilderness Day Three. November 2020. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

    Hiking along the ridge away from Little Paddy Creek, nearly back on the Big Piney Trail, and the four-mile hike back to the car.

  • Who Lives in a house like this?

    Who lives in a house like this? Paddy Creek Wilderness Day Three. November 2020. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

    The last time I came by this refuse/swill collector, I didn’t take a picture of the occupant as I didn’t want to spoil the surprise. This time around, though, I didn’t have any such concerns. I will say that someone has taken the time to clean this little den out, and it’s looking quite neat inside.

    And the occupant? Well, you can scroll down to find out.

    Surprise! Paddy Creek Wilderness Day Three. November 2020. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • Lunch Break on the Big Piney Trail

    Photograph of Gary Allman drinking a cup of tea by some small falls on the Big Piney Trail, Paddy Creek Wilderness. November 2020.
    Lunch Break – sheltering from the rain by some small falls while I heat up and eat my lunch. Paddy Creek Wilderness Day Three. November 2020. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
    Lunch fixings – Nuts and raisins, noodles, and a cup of tea. Paddy Creek Wilderness Day Three. November 2020. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • Stopped for lunch

    My lunch spot – It rained the last time I was here too. Paddy Creek Wilderness Day Three. November 2020. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
  • Gary – Hike finished and a tad damp

    Photograph of Gary Allman at the end of his November 2020 hike of the Big Piney Trail, Paddy Creek Wilderness, Missouri.
    Gary – Hike finished and a tad damp. Paddy Creek Wilderness Day Three. November 2020. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

    For the second time, my hike of the Big Piney Trail ends with rain, but that’s tested my new waterproofs and my waterproof phone holder. Anyway, I don’t mind. With two nights out in the woods, over twenty-three miles hiked, 2,116 ft of elevation under my belt, and the last of the Paddy Creek Wilderness trails hiked, it’s been a good weekend.

    Now for the 85-mile drive home and a nice hot shower.

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