I haven’t been backpacking since the beginning of December. The weather looks good, and I’ve cleared enough work for me to take a couple of nights away in Hercules Glades.
I won’t be able to get away until late in the day (it’s Saturday), so I’m going to have to do another night hike. This time, I’m planning to hike over six miles, with a third of it on a difficult trail, and then do some bushwhacking too. If everything goes according to plan, I should be at my destination by nine-thirty. I have the option to stop halfway if the night hiking is too slow.
The temperature is forecast to vary from the mid-twenties overnight Saturday to the mid-sixties on Monday, so I’m packing a full winter load-out plus some spring additions. Altogether, including food, water, and fuel, it weighs in at around 26 lbs.
My Electronics, Spares, and ‘Go-bag’ — The bag itself is water resistant, and I keep the contents in ditty bags to make finding things easy. Clockwise from the left, I have my headlamp, power brick and charging cables, camp light, and finally, spares, first aid, and odds and ends bag.
And, all unpacked. From the contents of my Odds and Ends bag, I’ve never had to use the fire steel, needle and thread, or the repair tape (duct tape has always got me sorted out so far).
Everything else I’ve had to dip into at one point or another. Allen keys for my camera and hiking poles, my meds — obviously. The line I use to suspend my camp light above my cooking area, the khaki strap holds my tripod onto larger trees than its Velcro straps can cope with, and the black straps fit the bag, so I can carry it around my neck or over my shoulder.
My Go-bag holds a lot and has proved helpful more than once.
I am back at the Hercules Glades Tower Trailhead, about to set off on my first backpacking trip of the year. It was around fifty degrees when I arrived, but it was dropping rapidly as the sun went down. I decided to wrap up warm and not start my trip by getting chilled. I have been there and done that.
My plan for the trip was simple:
- Day One – Hike the six miles to my ‘Deep Hollow’ campsite. I could stop and review my progress when I arrived at ‘Twin Falls Hollow,’ around the halfway point. If I was running late, I could stop there for the night, but that would put a major dent in my plans.
- Day Two – Hike the six miles back to the Pees Hollow Trail and camp at ‘Wahoo Point’ or even ‘Cab Creek.’
- Day Three – hike the Pees Hollow trail
The weather was predicted to be mid-twenties on the first night and low thirties on the second night. Daytime temperatures were slated to be in the mid-fifties to mid-sixties. It should be fine, clear weather with no rain.
That should rack up 18 miles of hiking, which will do for my first trip in two months.
There are no major gear changes this trip. However, I have finally got around to replacing my twenty-year-old Thinsulate beanie with a new, hopefully, less itchy, fleece beanie.
No more pictures tonight, because — darkness — but my night hike was not without incident.
I arrived at ‘Twin Falls Hollow’ at seven-twenty, I was making good progress, and decided to carry on with my plan to hike to ‘Deep Hollow’ on the western edge of the wilderness. I stopped to fill up with water rather than struggling up and down the steep, rough, and brushy sides of ‘Deep Hollow.’ Of course, the disadvantage was going to be carrying an extra couple of liters of water for the next three-and-a-half miles — that’s 4.4 lbs extra to carry.
Bushwhacking back to the trail, it dawned on me that I’d been hearing the sound of an ATV (All Terrain Vehicle) in the distance for some time. Sound carries well into the wilderness from the farms around it, so I paid little heed. Mechanized equipment is not allowed in the wilderness, and as people seem to follow that particular rule, I didn’t think I’d be meeting anyone on an ATV. Unless, of course, they were up to something nefarious.
As I Hiked along, the ATV got louder. I dimmed my headlamp and considered what to do next. It wouldn’t be easy to get an ATV on this trail, and why would you anyway? Considering nefarious activities was not being over dramatic. After all, if you are doing something illegal in the first place, driving a mechanized vehicle where you shouldn’t be is going to be the least of your concerns. Highest on my nefarious list were poachers or some drug-related activity. After all, I live in an area with national renown for meth labs, to the point where our phone area code — 417 — has entered into the slang for meth and meth busts. Of course, the perceived potential for nefariousness, along with the presumed size of the wild critters (and their teeth), grows significantly with the onset of nightfall.
I can be stubborn (moi?) at times, and I wasn’t going to let an illicit ATV get between me and my destination. I decided to keep going and if I met the ATV, I’d deal with it. However, I might be stubborn but I’m not totally reckless. I was 20-30 miles from any authorities, and so, for the first time in seven years’ hiking and carrying a handgun, I took the safety off before I proceeded.
I rounded a corner in the trail, and there ahead of me was a small ATV stopped across the trail, engine running and lights blazing. Well, actually, the lights were pretty dim.
John (that’s what we’ll call him for the sake of anonymity) was — the best I could make out in the dark — in his seventies. He owned a property nearby, and some of his cows had got loose, and he’d gone looking for them. He’d been gone longer than he planned, and sundown had caught him out without a flashlight. He knew pretty much where he was, but he was struggling to find the old forest road that led back toward his property. Without a flashlight it was impossible for him to see off the trail to find the road without pointing the ATV off the trail …
I got out my GPS to see if I could find the abandoned forest road he was looking for marked on the map.
At first, I thought he was looking for an old road I knew about a few hundred yards further west on the trail, but that wasn’t the one he was looking for. Of course, technology being what it is, the GPS screen was blank, with no map showing. I thought I might have deleted the downloaded maps in a recent tidy-up. After some fumbling around, it turned out that I had somehow selected the wrong map layer (note to self: reduce the number of map layers I download to my cell phone to minimize the risk of confusion).
The disused road wasn’t showing on the latest USGS map, so I brought up the 2008 USGS Map and there it was, about 800ft east of where we were. I offered to go with John and help him find it, but he insisted he’d be okay. He maneuvered the ATV around and he and his dog set off east along the trail.
I headed west but soon realized I had made a mistake in not insisting on going back with him to the forest road. It was getting cold, there was no moon, and I wanted to make sure John was properly on his way. So, I turned around and headed back east.
A few minutes later, I could see the ATV’s lights burning off the trail where John was trying to ram his way through the brush. I called out, checked the GPS, and told John he’d missed the road by 50-100 ft. While he got the ATV back on the trail, I went ahead and found the old road. I have not noticed this forest road with its entrance concealed with brush before, even though I have walked past this spot dozens of times.
I asked John if I could come with him and make sure he got to the edge of the wilderness. He said no. He’d walked the forest road recently and now knew where he was.
Thinking about it, I should have insisted and gone with him. Failing that, I should have given him my spare flashlight; it’s not very good (in fact, the battery was flat, something else to check before I leave).
Hindsight is a great resource. I’m going to add an emergency mylar blanket to my kit. I used to carry one but stopped doing so in one of my space and weight-saving exercises. Had I had one, I could have given it to him to keep him warm while he waited out the dark, should he get stuck again. Lots of lessons learned.
Remember all those GPS layers I was complaining about? One of them tells you who owns the land you are on, useful to check that you haven’t strayed off of public land onto private property. I checked, and sure enough, John owns a piece of property near the wilderness.
I hope he made it home to his supper without further incident; I could hear his ATV in the distance for quite a while after we parted our ways.
No nefarious ATV riders on this trip then. Just a misplaced farmer out looking for his misplaced cows.
Time was running on, and I’d told Ginger I’d make it to camp by nine-thirty. I was in a hurry to get on my way, and off I went traveling west again. The Pilot Trail is well-traveled and easy to follow, even in the dark.
Until you get the junction with the Devil’s Den Trail, that is. I reckon I’m one of the few people who hike the Pilot Trail further west. It can be difficult to follow in daylight at times; more than once I’ve ‘misplaced’ the trail.
Getting to my campsite involves finding a disused forest road, and once I get near, around 300 yards of bushwhacking. I was very surprised at how fast I managed to cover the distance and get to the forest road. I didn’t (knowingly) miss the trail on the way.
The forest road, being more overgrown, was more difficult to follow, but pretty soon, checking the GPS, I was at the point where I leave the road and start bushwhacking to my campsite.
Bushwhacking in the dark is not easy. I relied on the GPS to get me to my destination. I arrived just before nine-thirty. There’s a good cell phone signal here, so I sent Ginger a quick ‘I’ve arrived’ message via WhatsApp, set up camp, and settled down to make dinner. Despite the cold, it was now well below freezing, the exercise kept me warm. But just to be sure, before setting up camp, I put on extra layers to keep warm.
Without realizing it I had pushed myself a little bit too hard on the trail to make up my lost time. I didn’t monitor my heart rate, and checking back on the logs on my phone, I discovered I had kept it up at 163 BPM for way too long. I could feel the tell-tale cues that my heart was going into AFIB. I took a pill straight away, and another before bed at eleven-thirty, and thankfully, they did the trick, and the AFIB went away.
And that’s almost it for my first long night hike. It turned out to be seven miles instead of six.
I managed to spook myself one more time.
It was around one a.m., and I glanced out of my hammock and saw a camp light, seemingly 100-200 yards away. How long had they been there? Did they know I was here?
It took me several minutes to work out that the moon was rising over the horizon, and a very fortuitous gap in the hundreds of tree trunks, brush, rocks etc., between my eyes and the horizon allowed it to look like a ground-level light.
That was definitely enough excitement for one night.
It had been colder than forecast in the night, 21℉, but I stayed nice and warm. I didn’t get off to sleep until gone one a.m., and I slept in until ten, probably a result of eating late, all the excitement and my AFIB (catching up on YouTube videos, had nothing to do with it…).
With sunset around six p.m. I needed to get a move on if I didn’t want to be hiking or setting up camp in the dark again. My plan for the day was to do some exploring in the hollow to the north of where I camp, and then head east back along the Pilot Trail, stopping at ‘Twin Falls Hollow’ for lunch, and then hike the remaining three miles to the Pees Hollow Trail and camp at ‘Wahoo Point’ as planned. That would give me the opportunity for a five-mile hike on the last day, so around 18 miles altogether.
I dilly-dallied around, cooking breakfast on my wood stove and generally enjoying a slow start to my day. The net result was that I didn’t get packed away and ready for the trail until nearly one-thirty. Oh dear. At least it was warm (60℉) and sunny. I debated whether or not to carry out my plan to explore the hollow to the north, which I have since named ‘Tangled Hollow.’ I was right next door, and who knows when I would next be back, so I decided to at least take a look. For some reason I didn’t take any pictures. It is a much broader hollow than ‘Deep Hollow’ allowing for more vegetation (hence ‘Tangled Hollow’). There was water in the creek and some signs of at least semi-permanent springs. And who knows, maybe a route down to Beaver Creek? That will have to wait for another visit.
I topped off my water in a small pool and headed back to the disused forest road, and arrived back at the Pilot Trail at two forty-five. I still had six miles to hike. That put my ETA at the Pees Hollow Trail somewhere between five forty-five and six-fifteen, depending on how long I stopped for lunch. I would be setting up camp in the dark again. Nothing to it but to get moving.
A change of plan was needed.
Just before four p.m. I arrived at Twin Falls Hollow, near the newly named (by me) ‘Elephant Tracks’ crossing — thanks to ‘John’ for that great, very descriptive, and apt name describing the creek bed rock formation at the ‘Twin Falls Creek’ crossing. I’d not had lunch, and I still had one-and-a-half hours hiking to go. I’d be setting up camp in the dark, and I was feeling tired. A change of plan was needed.
I decided that was it, and I would stop for the night at one of my favorite spots overlooking ‘Twin Falls Hollow.’ By four-fifteen I was at my campsite.
The temperature dropped to near freezing overnight, but I was warm, and slept like a log. Once the sun had broken over the eastern side of the hollow I folded back the tarp so that I could enjoy the morning sunshine while I had breakfast.
Big question of the day, where to go? I wasn’t in the mood for an eight mile hike, which was my original plan, instead I thought I’d cut down the Cedar Trail (Middle Trail) to Long Creek, and stop at Long Creek for lunch before taking the Pole Hollow Trail (Pete Hollow Trail), back to the Pilot Trail and the trailhead. That ought to be five or six miles, leaving me a few miles short of my target, but I much preferred that idea.
I was finally back on the trail proper at eleven-fifty. The Cedar Trail is only twenty minutes from ‘Twin Falls Hollow’, and pretty soon I was dropping down towards Long Creek.
I was a little over a mile into my five-and-a-half-mile hike back to the trailhead when I decided to make a rough video of the remainder of my hike for my family in the UK. I’ve never done this before, and may not bother again, but here’s the final three-and-a-half hours of my hike, compressed into 14 minutes.
Here’s the final three-and-a-half hours of my hike, compressed into 14 minutes.
Long Creek and the Long Creek trail are hugely popular, so I stay away from them most of the time, but I figured a Monday afternoon in early March ought to be people free, and it was.
Note. In this video I use the historical trail names:
- Cedar Trail is now referred to as the Middle Trail.
- Long Creek Trail is still the Long Creek Trail (but it has been extended to include what was Rock Spring Trail).
- Pole Hollow Trail is now referred to as the Pete Hollow Trail ¯\(ツ)/¯
- Pilot Trail is now referred to as the Tower Trail.
Lunch was noodles, pre-cooked bacon, and a Snickers bar for dessert, all washed down with a cup of coffee.
Trying to fill my pot with water and put it on the stove one-handed (while I was videoing making lunch), was unexpectedly difficult and clumsy. I edited out the bit where I tried to pour water on my noodles and half missed! Regardless, it was a nice break by the creek.
I love this glade on the ridge overlooking Pole Hollow. It’s nice to get out into the open after being surrounded by trees and brush for so long. It also taunts you with a view of exactly how much more climbing you have to do, as the trailhead is at the same height as the hills behind me!
For a ‘Warm up’ hike, and my first backpacking trip in two months, things went fairly well. I’m a lot slower, but I’m still managing to get up the hills. My only gear change, my new beanie, was nice, warm, and no itches. I’d still like to drop some pack weight, but which luxury item should go? I’m so warm at night that I think I ought to be able to manage to below freezing with my 40℉ quilt, which will save me weight and space.
Now, where to go next?
Trip Totals: 16.16 miles and 1,100 ft of elevation.