Showing posts with label backpacking. Show all posts
Showing posts with label backpacking. Show all posts

Saturday, September 9, 2017

O&W Trail

Big South Fork (TN)
9/2 - 9/4/17 (2 nights)
2017 bag nights: 26
Miles hiked: ~30
Animals: 1 bear, 1 snake and what felt like 1 million horses and riders and I'm pretty sure I saw a cougar aka mountain lion
Trailhead: Leatherwood Ford

I had been planning on a three night backpacking trip over Labor Day weekend since there was no soccer and then the remnants of Hurricane Harvey came through the southeast and ruined those plans. The weather forecast ended up improving for Sunday and Monday and my wife said go, so I went.

I've been curious about the O&W Trail in Big South Fork for a couple of years so I decided that would be a good place to go.

It was supposed to rain most of Saturday but stop around 5, so I was in no hurry to get to the trailhead. The forecast was right, the rain finished up about 4, I headed down the trail at exactly 5. I planned on hiking for a couple hours and see what happened.

It was pretty wet and gray, so I did not take many photos the first day.

 The O&W railroad bridge

View from the bridge

The O&W road ends at White Oak Creek, the trail is on the other side. The water was up to my shorts and was moving pretty quickly, I almost fell at one point, but caught myself on a rock just below the surface and only ended up with one shoulder getting wet. 

About 7 I found a good site to hang my hammock with a nice view of the creek.
Not a bad place to enjoy dinner and a little bourbon

Home for the night

I woke to a gorgeous day, took my time with breakfast and packing up and then headed down the trail. Parts of the trail were great, it is an old railroad bed, so easy walking next to a bubbling creek ...

... and parts of the trails are a giant mud pit. I was puzzled why I was seeing so many horse prints over on the far side of the trail. I know why my wife wants to walk around the mud, but I could not figure out why a horseback rider would try to keep the horse from getting muddy. Later in the day, a woman said, as she was forced to ride her horse in the middle of the mud to go around me, "my horse doesn't like getting his feet wet" :o What the hell? I wanted to tell her that she need to train her horse better, not to mention the trail she was riding had many creek crossings. So now I have another reason to hate horseback riders, first the garbage and second, destroying trails. 

 Fungus covered tree

The trail parallels the creek, when it was a mudpit, it was great hiking.

 The trail goes through a couple creeks, not very deep, easy to cross. but my feet and shoes never dried

White Oak Creek

My plan was to walk to Zenith (one of the old stops on the rail line) about 6 miles down the trail and then turn around and climb up to the East Laurel Overlook. I was hoping there would be a place to hang a hammock and then I could do some astro-photography.

A nice place for lunch. The concrete in the water is the ford at Zenith.

Cool fungus

As I got to the top of the ridge, 6 people were getting off horses to walk out to the overlook. Since I was not on a horse, it was like I was invisible. I enjoyed the view for a bit and then as I put my pack on, they decided that they were done as well. I thought about dropping my pack and hanging out since they were leaving, but it was pretty warm in the sun.

View from East Laurel Overlook

Cool rockhouse below the overlook

I then headed towards the Leatherwood Overlook.

There is a very large clearing on top of the ridge, I suspect the park service mows it for hunting. From the map, I thought the path to the overlook should be at the top of the trail, i.e. through the clearing. But, after following the jeep trail for a bit and checking my location on gps, it was obvious I was on the wrong path. So I turned around and headed back to the obvious trail.

About 20 minutes after I took this photo, I spooked a bear.

It turned out the Nat Geo map was a little misleading, but I eventually found the trail to the overlook. The trail is actually a pretty good gravel road, so I got worried about other people (idiots) being out there. A father and son passed me in a pickup and there were a couple people camping in the trees, but at the end of the road, there was no one.

View from the Overlook, looking down at Leatherwood Ford (bridge in the distance).

There was no where at the overlook to hang a hammock, so I headed back up the trail to the end of the road.

Dinner, bourbon and a nice sunset.

The road passes through another large mowed area, so I was hopefully that I would get lots of stars. I had forgot about the moon...

... almost full moon rising to ruin my planned star photos

I took a couple photos while waiting for it to get dark. I realized that the moon was sitting right over the Milky Way, so that was out, but maybe a nice polar star trails with the moon lighting up the foreground.

 Big Dipper

I noticed that the photos were a little blurry, but I did not think it was a focus issue. I pointed at the moon and got this, the lens was covered in dew. I took this as a sign and went to bed :)

I woke up the next morning at exactly 7 and realized that I had time to walk the 1/2 mile back to the overlook for sunrise.

While waiting for my water to heat up, I took a bunch of photos for panoramas

After hanging out for about an hour, I headed back to pack up

Another beautiful day for hiking

As I was walking along the O&W trail, I heard a slight splash and I looked over expecting to see a deer. It was deer colored and deer sized, but then I saw a very obvious cat shaped head and a cat length tail. It jumped up out of the creek bed and disappeared into the trees on the far side of the creek. My first thought was cougar, but then realized they aren't in the SE, so I thought bobcat. But, then I realized the tail was too long and it was pretty big (deer sized) for a bobcat. After getting home I looked online and there are confirmed sightings of cougars in TN (near Nashville). Given that, I'm pretty sure it was a cougar.

View from the O&W bridge, a lot more clear today

The rapids under the bridge

The whole morning, I was thinking how great it was to have not seen any snakes. About 2 miles from my car I saw this. It was going right across the trail and I noticed it when I was about 10 feet away, so it did not startle me.

I still hate snakes. 

Got back to the car about 1, changed into dry clothes, had a beer and got on the road. The drive took a lot longer than it should have since a boat trailer overturned on I-75 and the north bound lanes were shut for a couple of hours. Other than that, the whole trip was great. But, I'm not sure I will go back to the O&W trail, there are just too many horses and riders.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Packrafting Big South Fork

7/12 - 7/13/17 (1 night)
2017 bag nights: 19
Station Camp River Access
Big South Fork NRRA (TN/KY)
Animals: 1 deer, 1 turkey, 1 turtle, 1 salamander, 2 snakes, butterflies, lots of bugs

I have been looking at the Big South Fork map for a couple years. There is a stretch of river between Big Island and Devils Jump/Blue Heron that is only accessible by boat. On top of that, a lot of the trails that parallel the river for other sections don't actually have views of the river with all of the trees getting in the way. I have also been reading trip reports of packrafting out west that sound like a lot of fun.

With the idea of packrafting the Big South Fork in mind, I got a Klymit LWD off Massdrop last fall. I'm not a whitewater paddler and I did not want to freeze, so I have been waiting for the temperature to warm a bit and for a reasonable water level. The stars finally aligned, the kids were in camp, the water level had fallen after a bunch of rain and because it was the beginning of July, it definitely was not cold.

I planned on putting in at Station Camp and paddling approximately 10 miles, camping somewhere near where the KY trail parallels the river and then hiking back to Station Camp by way of the KY Trail and No Business Creek. This would also allow me to see a part of the area that I had not seen before.

I put in a exactly 12pm on 7/12. There was a definite current, but it was not a problem getting going without getting too wet. The Leatherwood Ford discharge was right about 400 while the Bear Creek height reading was about 3.5'.

Bear Creek water height guage

Leatherwood Ford Discharge Gauge

It was a beautiful day, but very hot. When I got out of the car, the thermometer was 85. The forecast was for a high in the low 90s with a heat index approaching 100. There was a slight chance of thunderstorms late in the day. I looked at the clouds and hoped they would block some of the sun.

All loaded up and ready for the maiden voyage.

There are a lot of flat water sections with a very slight current, nice for floating, but I had to work to make forward progress. The ~3 mile stretch from Station Camp to Big Island is mostly flat, I had to paddle most of the way. I'm not sure I would repeat this part again. 

I liked this rock, it looked like a big toadstool.

There are a lot of swift riffles that maybe would be considered Class I, they were easy to handle, but a couple time I was wishing for higher water as I scraped the bottom and bumped rocks.

Around 4, the clouds got a little thicker and I began to hear thunder in the distance. It actually sprinkled a little bit which was nice since the heat and sun was beginning to wear on me.

According to American Whitewater, there are two Class II rapids, one at 7 miles and one at 8 miles. They both had waves in the 2-3 foot range and some narrow passages that required maneuvering. I felt like I had to work a bit to keep from capsizing or getting pinned against a rock. Both times I took on enough water that I pulled over at the first opportunity to dump out all the water. Both times were a lot of fun.

About the 9 mile mark, I began looking for a campsite. There had been a great one in the fall around mile 10, but I could not remember how far above water it was, so I decided I would stop at the first good site. Unfortunately, this site was on the side opposite the KY Trail, so I would have to cross the river in the morning, but it had a nice view and was not too trashed.

I watched the light change, cooked dinner and really wished I had a beer. I also spent a lot of time swatting biting flies, they got me a couple times and I got them a couple times.

I had visions of enjoying the stars, but I was wiped out and in the hammock by 9:30 and asleep by 10.

I woke up, choked down a bit of oatmeal that I immediately regretted making since it was already hot. I ended up carrying out what felt like a pound (certainly less) of uneaten oatmeal.

This is looking across the river at my campsite before setting off on the hiking portion of the trip.

This is the "normal" view of the river from most of the trails, i.e. not much to see.

Parts of the KY Trail are nice

and parts are very overgrown. It is pretty obvious this part of the trail doesn't see many people.

Sandstone and water and time do neat things.

A lot of the trails in the area follow what appear to be old railroads or roads, nice hiking.

A little bit of wildlife.

Troublesome Creek

The "bridge" over the creek, the water was low so it was easy to rock hop across.

More wildlife.

The "bridge" over Difficulty Creek.

Somewhere about this point, I realized that I was making really good time. I had been considering camping along No Business Creek and checking out the Muir Overlook but I was soaked with sweat, slightly dehydrated and had visions of swatting bugs for five hours. I decided that I would see what happened over the next couple of hours, if I could be at my car by 5:00, then I could be home before my kids went to bed. Not long after this, I began to hear lots of thunder in the distance which made my decision pretty easy.

Lots of rock walls in the area.

More wildlife.

About this point, it began to rain so the camera got put away. After this I saw 2 snakes and 1 deer. The trail turned into muddy slop where the illegal ATVs had been playing and I was completely soaked with sweat and rain. I was ready for a beer and dry clothes. I got to Station Camp Crossing about 3:00 and saw the first people of the day, a couple of horse riders had just forded the river ahead of me. I used half of my paddle to help cross the river, it came up to my crotch at the deepest point, but the current was not too bad so the crossing was pretty straightforward.

Dry clothes and a beer were awesome and then a drive up out of the valley by way of a seven mile gravel road. Sometime in the last 24 hours, the Park Service dumped a lot of dirt and regraded parts of the road. This combined with the rain made it a little slick, the anti-skid light kept coming on and I had visions of ending up in a ditch or just not being able to make it up a steep part of the road. In the end, I made it to the paved road and then a burger in Oneida and an easy drive home.

This ended up being a great trip that was very different from my usual backpacking trips and I got to see a part of the park from a different perspective. I paddled about 9ish miles in 5 hours with a couple breaks and I hiked about 12 miles. The next time, I think I will hike down to the river from the west to Big Island and start paddling there. That way, I would not have a ford to do at the end of the trip and would not have to worry about the river rising too much.

Even though this was a great trip, I think I am done with backpacking in the summer heat. I either need to be up in the mountains or in Canada next summer.