Thursday, January 29, 2009
John Muir Trail
Day 1………7.6 miles…………………………………..Outcasts Total: 468.5
Trail rating: Moderate with the climb on rock creek trail in Pickett State Park as difficult
This is a trip that required a lot of preplanning and searching for information. The John Muir trail is not an easy trail to look up. There are actually three different John Muir trails that you will find on the computer. The other two have information all over the Internet. One problem was I have never been to the Big South Fork so I didn’t have any idea of the terrain or water situation. It came down to buying a topographical map from National Geographic and buying books. We ended up using the 3rd Edition, Hiking the Big South Fork, by Deaver, Smith, and Duncan as the best trail description.
Problem two was the crew. There were a few items that they got a hold of and would not let go. BEAR…. BEAR…. bear, FORDING rivers, and BIG hills. The length of the trail, 42 miles, was a new record for all of them to make. While I studied water sources, they studied ways to get out.
After packing, repacking, repacking, and repacking, we were ready to attempt the trail. We got off work, repacked, and hit the road. We went to Picket State Park, signed in, and dropped off one truck at the Hidden Passage trail parking. One car had headed to the Brandy Creek Visitor Center and signed us in there. Then we met at the Leatherwood Ford trailhead. We got on the trail at 12:00.
You start out crossing an old bridge over the Big South Fork Cumberland River. The panic didn’t really start until then. Yes, it was deep, but it was also almost completely frozen over. FORDING rivers? After numerous tackles and blocks, I managed to get them over the other side of the river. The first two miles were a steady climb along the riverside. After we crossed Fall Branch, we started the 400-foot climb to Angel Falls Overlook.
Greg put on a show for us; again, Marco was behind him one time and said that it was absolutely amazing to watch. He knew he saw the bottom of both of Greg’s feet at the same time at least once as he continued a tap dance along the trail.
It was an exciting climb to Angel Falls Overlook. One time we were hanging on by a cable that was mounted to the rock facing as we walked along a cliff. Another time we were climbing the rock facing where a ladder had once been, making our way through a crack in the rock facing up to the Grand Gap Loop trail. Once there, we hiked over to the Angels Falls Overlook for an amazing view.
Life was good, as everyone knew that they had conquered the first major climb. From here the trail was more rolling hills for the rest of the day. We stopped at a “Rock House” which is a rock overhang for the night. We had made 7.6 miles by 2:30. We had a good challenge collecting firewood off the side of a very steep hill. It got down to 20 degrees that night. You should have seen my bear bag. It was working with all of its might, as were Marco and I trying to hang it in the tree. It felt like 50 pounds. We weren’t going to starve on this trip!
Greg had decided to camp under the overhang that night, instead of hanging off the edge of the hill like the rest of us. Well our fire was under the overhang too. I wish I could have recorded his description of the night with his noises. Basically it started out warm and cozy. Then it got chilly, then it got cold, then he heard cracking of wood, then it got warm, then it got hot, then it got really hot, then it got warm, then it got chilly, then it got cold and started all over again.
We got on the trail by 7:30. After the first mile we found a bridge piled on the side of the trail with a broken sign next to it. We forded that stream. Around 10:00 we came across the first of many Hog hunters. We made our way 500 feet down to Laurel Fork passing two more hunters. We crossed Laurel Fork and stopped for lunch. We had gotten in seven miles today and I was feeling confident that we could complete the trail with no problem….. like we had a choice. We hung our stuff out to dry as we enjoyed the peaceful sound of gunshots and watching hunters walk back and forth by us. I don’t know what they would have done if they got one. It was a drag that I would not have wanted to attempt.
We crossed Parch Corn Creek at 1:15 and we wanted to get to Big Creek and ford the river before camp. We took a break at a campsite next to the Cumberland River where Marco showed off his makeshift chair. He put a board on two stumps and did his Humpty Dumpty routine. I had to take a picture before I helped him up.
We got to Big Creek at 2:30 and found that it now had a bridge over it. There wasn’t enough water in it to worry about a bridge. People were happy. We hiked up to where the trail leaves the Cumberland and came back to Big Creek to make camp. We had gotten in 10.9 miles and sat around a campfire and watched the snow as the temps dropped to 10 degrees. We just got some flurries and that was it.
We warmed ourselves in front of the fire on got on the trail at 9:15. Today’s goal was to get across the two biggest peaks and camp on the other side of the John Muir overlook. We started with our usual family tradition of uphill going the 400 feet up to Burkes Knob. I got pictures of the Large Chimney Rocks on the way along with the most berries I have ever seen on Holly bushes. We made it to Maude’s Crack, got some pictures, and then headed the 350 feet down to No Business Creek. We stopped at Tackett Creek for lunch with 3.2 miles under our belts.
After lunch, we started uphill the 500 feet to the John Muir overlook. We took many long switch backs, climbed a ladder, scrambled up the bluff and when the trail looked like it ended, we simply climbed straight up the sloping shelves of rock in front of us to the trail heading up. Marco and I stopped to rest as Troy came up with a big smile on his face just laughing at the easy trail I picked for him. The John Muir overlook was not as impressive as the Angels Falls Overlook, but it was impressive. We had made our goal and now just find water.
TICKS? What the ? There is ice on the ground and Marco, Greg and Shadow all got ticks. What is going on?
We stopped at a grove of hemlocks with a river and made camp. We had 6.8 miles in today with most of it up hill. It got down to 25 degrees tonight. We got a couple of sleet showers, but nothing impressive.
Once again we warmed by the fire. Our goal today would just be make it as far as we could. Marco started out the day by placing his oatmeal bag next to his stove. The bag caught fire. Marco grabbed the bag, which started the leaves on fire. While he was throwing his oatmeal bag into the fire, the leaf fire was working on his shoes and jacket. It was exciting to watch from across the fire.
We got on the trail at 9:00. Greg was a little or a lot concerned about the trail description I read to him this morning, mainly the water fording for some reason. Today was mainly rolling hills and we stopped for lunch just a couple of miles short of Divide Road. When we got to the road, I heard the plans that Greg and Troy had made, as this was one of their escape routes. They were still contemplating on it. After you cross the road you head into a beautiful valley following an old railroad bed along Rock Creek. This is where we found some wonderful ice sculptures and the longest icicle that I have ever seen. We hiked this valley all the way to Pickett State Park.
At one point on this section Marco lead us down the trail and down hill around a boulder. Soon after he disappeared, he came running back full speed yelling OH SH…T! You should have seen the shocked look on Greg’s face, who was right behind him. We all got a great laugh out of that one.
A little while later as things were just moving along, Troy came jogging past me doing pushups with his poles over his head. Again, he was making fun of my easy trail. Right after that the trail did a very steep climb, and I asked Troy to show me that move again. I have to give him credit, he showed out one more time. We decided to make the fording before camp again.
It was starting to get late as we finally made it to the fording point of Rock Creek on Rock Creek Trail. The boys were not impressed with the ice build up on either side of the river. We forded across the shin deep river and hiked to the next ford across Rock Creek which was closer to knee deep. We camped just across Rock Creek at the Thompson Creek split at 5:00. We had made 10.6 miles today.
We stayed up late celebrating the good hike that we have had. The bear bag was light tonight. It got down to 30 degrees.
I woke up at 2:00 with the sound of sleet hail mixture hitting the tarp. Bathroom break before it got bad. I woke at 5:00 with heavy freezing rain hitting the tarp. At 6:00 with the heavy rain I hear a voice. Greg woke me up saying that he felt we should skip breakfast and just hit the trail. I contained my laughter; as everyone knows I don’t skip breakfast.
The boys headed out as I finished my breakfast. The trail was grueling the first .8 of a mile climbing a mudslide. Just as I cleared the worst part, I heard that dreadful sound of cracking wood followed by a huge tree falling just behind me. A quick thank you to the lord above as I quickly caught up with my fellow hikers. We hit the Hidden Passage trail and headed to the truck. The trail was beautiful as everything was covered in ice. The draw back of course was the ice on the trail, which made climbing a challenge. As we like to do and even more in the freezing rain, we decided to add a few miles on our trip as a warm down. We missed the intersection and started doing the loop on Hidden Passage. Things were looking familiar with the hike we did a few years ago. Greg finding the sign showing our mistake came heading back and pointed us in the right direction. He then went back to the park rangers’ house and caught a ride, while the rest of us that were further behind, found the intersection and made it to the truck about the same time. We got in 10.3 miles today.
We headed back to Big South and retrieved our cars. They have a restroom there that we could change into dry clothes. Luckily there wasn’t any hot water. We were making fun of how we had been out in the cold for the last five days and now in a mater of minutes we became sissy’s complaining of the cold.
This was a beautiful trail and our thanks to the fine folks of Big South and Pickett for the trail.