Monday, November 16, 2009
Sheltowee Trace Part I
Trail……………Rating…………Miles…………………….Outcasts Total: 686.0
Rock Creek Loop…..Easy…..…..2.25
We knew that something was wrong when we actually slept through the night at work. What were the chances that on a planned five-day hike that a hurricane would come to Tennessee? We got up and headed to Big South Fork in the rain.
Greg, Chase, Troy, Shadow, Marco, and I were going to start the Sheltowee Trace. It is a 260-mile trail that runs from the Big South Fork to Northern Kentucky through the Daniel Boone National Forest. We had hiked the first 9.4 miles when we hiked the John Muir trail last season, so we started where we left off and took the Rock Creek Loop trail to get where we needed to start.
Troy, Marco, and I came in one car and signed us all in. Greg got caught up in traffic on I-24 so we didn’t get started until 1pm. We also did a little extra off road driving getting to the trailhead just for practice. You know the Outcast way.
The rain stayed steady as we made our way to Kentucky. This made the trail slick and added the challenge that we always like. Chase and his dad took turns trying to outdo the other with trips and falls. Chase ended up on his back one time. There was one section of trail that was completely washed out and we lost Chase and Troy to slipping and sliding. Then as Greg was attempting to cross a downed tree, he did a fancy dance which one step took out Marco’s hiking pole. He managed to stay up, but the pole was totaled.
The rain did stop by the time we got to our first stop at Great Meadow campground. We forded the river to get to it. We set up camp and Chase actually got a fire going. Some stories were told and cough medicine taken.
The fun started at bear bag hanging time. Greg, Marco, and I gathered all the food and headed to a large tree. The target was a four-inch in diameter branch about fifteen feet off the ground. After a couple of attempts we got the makeshift rope over the branch and attached the bag. The one section of rope was stretching and not sliding over the branch.. It didn’t help that we were trying to lift about two hundred pounds of food. We swapped out some rope and tried again. We finally got our food bags up where we wanted when snap…………….the whole branch broke off the tree. Well, this kinda hit my funny bone a little. The other two started laughing at me laughing and this dragged out for quite a while before we could regroup. Plan B. We found a limb on the other side and took a vote on if this branch was alive or dead. We had to use the branch that broke off to help lift the massive amount of food into the tree. We smiled with joy about the same time that the rope broke. Plan C. We used two ropes and two bear bags and life was good.
The stars came out and we had a beautiful night. Some time in the night the hurricane passed through. I woke up to the flapping of my tarp wondering what was going on. The next morning we collected the articles that had blown away in the night.
Day two started out with a ford across the river. It’s a good way to start the day and get everyone going. We hiked down to where the Gobblers Arch trail intersects. A vote was taken. The Sheltowee crosses Mark Branch numerous times. Troy said about 17 times or we could take Gobblers Arch, which is the high water route. It is described as the driest, but most difficult alternative. I got out voted so up we go. When you got to the base you could look straight up the mountainside and that was your trail. No switchbacks for the half-mile climb. Then you got a short brake before you started going up hill. It added a mile and a half to our hike and kicked some butt. We took a lunch break at Gobblers Arch.
Once we got on Divide road, we hiked the rest of the day on the road. We got our water from the Punchencamp Branch where we saw our first hunter in the woods next to a couple of caves off the North side of the road. We stopped for the night at a large rock shelter with a pool beneath it. It had been used as a campsite before.
We listened to an owl talk as we set up camp and made dinner. After the stories were told and meds taken, the bear bags were hung and everyone hit the sack. I stayed up by the fire and listened to the wildlife. It started with the frogs. They all talked at once then they all stopped about fifteen minutes later. Then the bats took off. I thought that they would come through camp and crap on me, but I just heard them all flapping at once with the high pitch squeaking. After that the birds came through camp. Not sure what they were, but they were perking like Turkeys do. After all that excitement, I went to bed.
Day three; we got off the road. A little while after the initial climb, Greg just hit his knees in the middle of the trail. We assumed that it was time to pray, but we found out that he just fell over a hole in the trail. Then while on break Marco took a picture of Troy and the truth was caught on film. You could actually see Troy’s pack refilling with the lightweight fairy dust that we had all heard about. Lots of climbing today until we finally reached the top with a rock climb and wonderful view.
After we reached the top and ripped our shins on the thorn bushes, we started down. We did some more road hiking and then headed on down to Grassy Creek where we did a little bathing and airing out of the tents and hammocks.
After the break we headed back up the mountain to go back down the mountain and after many creek crossings we went on to the crossing of Big Creek. We got some pictures of Troy carrying Shadow across the creek. The trail then climbs up to and we cross the Yamacraw Bridge. We camped just on the other side of the bridge at a campsite by the Big South Fork Cumberland River.
Greg made connections to get picked up here in the morning. His back was acting up and he had a serous foot injury that let him know that it was time to call it quits. Luckily it happened by a good road and easy to find location.
Stories where told and cough medicine taken by the fire. At bear bag time Chase headed out to a tree to hang their bag. Shortly after he left, we heard some screaming and hollering going on. We all ran to see what had happened to Chase, when in his light beam you could see two sets of eyes bouncing down the trail toward him. What the ___? When they finally came into the light of the other headlamps, you could see that they were two dogs and with the screaming had finally pulled of course and headed through the woods. That was exciting. A short time later we saw some lights up on the hillside and knew that they must have brought the dogs. The people never came down or hollered at us. The lights disappeared and later we could hear the dogs barking up by the parking area. Chase and I made a night hike to check things out and everyone was gone.
More cough medicine was needed. You could have used Chase to mix up drinks with all the shaking he was doing. Finally one by one everyone headed to bed.
Day four; we said our good byes to Greg and Chase and headed down the trail. We hit all the mile markers Lick Creek, Negro Creek, Cotton Creek, and Alum Ford. There is a large flat campsite just past Negro Creek. A shelter, which is not on any map, past Cotton Creek. Alum Ford is a regular campground with roads. We stopped here for lunch and hung everything out to dry. We saw two different deer during this section of the hike.
From Alum Ford we hiked on to Yahoo Falls. The actual fall was not impressive, but the rock formations were. After you hike out of the cove back to the Cumberland there is an outhouse and a flat area by the river to make camp. After this the trail doesn't have any water on it and you cannot get to the river until Big Creek. The trail is rugged in this area and the first camping spot with water is on Big Creek in a rhododendron patch. Here, there was just enough room for the two hammocks and a tent if you have a campfire.
We celebrated our last night out with an overdose of cough medicine. Marco was buzzing. I told the guys that there was good news and bad news. The bad news being that we were at an isolated part of the park, we might see a bear. The good news being that we probably won't hear it because of the river. They felt alot better after I told them that.
We got up the next morning and headed out. There were alot of water crossings and the trail was mostly uphill. We climbed uphill to the swamp and then climbed uphill after that. The area at the start of Big Creek is a waterfall that you hike behind. It is a very beautiful area with the rock formations, but we had some major tree falls in the trail. From here we hiked to 27 where we got to wait for a train before we could cross the tracks. You hike between the church and daycare up the road to get back into the woods. My folks picked us up at the 27 trailhead with some homemade apple pies. Life is good.