Friday, January 24, 2014
Big South Fork Cumberland Loop
Day One: 8.3 Outcast Total Miles: 1599.48
West Entrance Trail 3.4
297 Road 1.0
Gernt Trail 3.3
Day Two: 14.1
O&W Trail 5.5
Tar Kiln Trail 4.5
Darrow Ridge 3.2
Christian Cemetery 0.5
Panther Branch Trail 0.4
Day Three: 9.6
Panther Branch Trail 0.5
Little Cliff Trail 1.5
O&W Trail 5.2
Coyle Branch Trail 2.1
North White Oak 0.25
Day Four: 3.3
North White Oak Loop
Total Miles: 35.3
Once again the weather saw us coming. It started snowing on our way to Big South Fork. We kinda caught the ranger by surprise as he was not expecting any hikers today with the snow and 31 degree forecast. Our high was supposed to be 31 this hike with a low of 4. We were close as the high was 16 and the low was -5.
We got our permit and started at the Bandy Creek trailhead with a heavy snow falling. We hiked to the West Entrance Trailhead on 297 and then did a road walk to the Cumberland Valley trailhead. We had a couple of white outs on the way. The West Entrance Trail is very beautiful.
We then hiked the Gernt Trail down to the Laurel Fork Overlook. It was very nice with all the snow. We continued our hike to the O&W trail along the North White Oak Creek. We stopped at the Laurel Fork Ford to size it up for the next morning, then camped along side it on an old road bed. We collect our wood, set up camp and enjoyed the evening. The temp dropped to -4.
Well, the Laurel Fork Ford had frozen over during the night so we had to break our way across it. We did get some scratches from the thin ice and it took a little quarter mile walk to get the feet heated back up. Not bad after the pain was gone. The O&W trail is an old rail bed along the North White Oak Creek. There was lots of icicles, frozen ground, and frozen water along the trail. We saw lots of fresh coyote tracks in the snow. Our next fording was of the Panther Branch Creek. Not as much ice on this one. Less pain. We stopped and ate lunch along the side of the trail later in the afternoon.
At Tar Kiln trail we headed up and out of the river gorge and followed an old road bed through the woods. It really would have been muddy if it was not frozen over. There were lots of tracks in the snow. Deer, cat, rabbit, and coyote tracks all through this area. We got on the Darrow Ridge trail which is a dirt road and followed it to the Christian Cemetery Trail. When we got on Panther Branch trail we started looking for the creek as the ranger had said it would be "difficult to find." Well much to our surprise, we found it under the first bridge we crossed. We got a laugh about it and then set up camp in the woods near by. It was another good night by the fire as the temps dropped down to 7 degrees.
We did the ritual of thawing out water the next morning, packed up, and headed out. We finished out Panther Branch and then took Little Cliff Trail back down into the river gorge to the O&W. We though about going back and crossing the Panther Branch again just because that is what Outcast do, but just continued our trip. The North White Oak Creek had frozen completely over in some places now and when we got to our Laurel Creek fording, it had frozen over too.
The ice was about an inch and a half thick. Marco made it about halfway before he broke through and actually got back up on the ice part of the way across before breaking through again to finish the crossing. I told Troy that we did not stand a chance, being as we both weigh more than Marco. So it was in and out and in and out for us as we crossed as well. Marco was the only one to get a good cut on his leg from the ice so we fared quite well.
Shortly there after we had a fording of the Groom Branch. As I was putting my socks back on I told the guys, we probably need to wash our sock along with our feet at the next one. Then we got some miles in to warm up. We stopped and ate lunch along the trail. My tuna salad sandwich was frozen solid. It still tasted good. Today's high was 16 degrees and it got cool when the wind blew.
Our next fording was of Coyle Branch before we headed up out of the river gorge on the Coyle Branch trail. This was all a very pretty part of the park. The top part of the trail is road and we got off on the White Oak trail to find water for the night.
We found water on the Coyle Branch and made camp in a swampy, but frozen area. We did have some problem with the wood being frozen and slow to burn, but we managed to stay warm as the temps dropped to -5. We found that at a damp -5 we have to add clothes to our sleeping gear so that is our bag and hammock limit. We listened to the owls talking that night. It is difficult to go potty when you are shaking.
All of our hammock screens, tops of our sleeping bags, and underside of our tarps were frozen this morning. Well, for that case if you stood around very long your breath started piling up at your feet. We got a good hot fire going to thaw our water out to make breakfast. We had 3.3 miles back to where we parked our cars and one fording of Bandy Creek. Kept the long underwear on today.
After we got back, we stopped by the ranger station to let them know we were done. The ranger asked if we really did all of our trail and we told him about our adventures. He had been writing down the temps for us and said that we had "bragging rights." We let him know we earned those along time ago. A couple of other rangers came in and wanted to hear our story as well. I don't know why they just can't believe someone would backpack in this weather.