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.
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.
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.
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.
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 :)
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
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.