Thursday, November 3, 2016

Blue Heron (Big South Fork)

Blue Heron Trailhead
10/28 - 10/30/16
2016 bag nights: 22

My mother in law was coming to see the kids and there was no soccer and the weather looked to be perfect, so a backpacking trip was in order. After passing through the Blue Heron area in the spring, I decided to see about finishing the KY Trail/Sheltowee Trace loop that I had planned. I was going to start at Blue Heron and head south on the Kentucky Trail. Depending on how far I got, I would either link up with the Sheltowee Trace near No Business Creek or if I did not make it that far, I would just do an out and back.

I drove down to Blue Heron after work on Friday. I got to the parking lot a little before 5, changed into hiking clothes and headed up the trail to the Catawba Overlook. There were only 2 cars in the lot, so I had hopes of not seeing anyone, but I soon heard voices up ahead of me. Right before I got to the overlook, I caught up to 2 young (20ish) guys without packs. They stopped at the overlook for a little bit and then headed back down the trail leaving me by myself.

The sunset was very nice.

As was the sunrise.

After a leisurely breakfast, I headed down the trail towards Big Island and No Business Creek. It was a beautiful day for hiking, blue skies and temperature was about 60 when I started.

I liked the look of this tree with its roots wrapped around the rock.

Not too far down the trail past Dick Gap Falls (which was completely dry), there is an obvious side trail (unofficial) that clearly follows an old railroad bed from the mining days. I decided to follow it and see how far it went. After about 1/3 of a mile, I came to an old mine entrance. Another 10 minutes or so down the trail, there was another entrance and then the trail cliffed out. I probably could have gone a little further, but it was heading back towards Blue Heron so I turned around.

Not surprisingly, there was not much in the way of flowers, there were lots of these, not much else.

The leaves sort of made up for the lack of wildflowers. The old railroad bed is pretty obvious in the picture below.

I stopped for lunch along Laurel Crossing Branch. And then began the climb towards the Ledbetter Trailhead.

I got a little twisted up and lost the trail on top of the ridge, but managed to find the Ledbetter Trailhead. The Nat Geo map doesn't show all of the old forest roads on the ridge, but I had USGS Topo maps on my phone that did.

A little bit of a road walk and I was back on Trail headed down hill towards the river. At this point, it had warmed up to the upper-70s, kind of crazy for the end of October.

Around 2pm, I was pretty close to the river and was not feeling much like hiking. After seeing the river, I told my self that if I came across a truly awesome campsite, I would stop. The biggest problem with hiking in Big South Fork is even when the trails parallel the river, they are frequently 20-40 feet above the river because of the flooding in the spring. So you get hints of the river in places, but you have to bushwack to get a good view.

After a couple short bushwacking expeditions, I came to a site that looked pretty good, but it was hot and did not have any shade. I looked across the river and saw what looked like a nice level campsite with a fire ring and shade. Normally, it would be out of reach, but the river was really low. It never got deeper than my knees as I waded across and decided it would be home for the night.

The odd thing was there is no trail on that side of the river according to any of the maps, but just up the hill from the water's edge was an obvious old road/trail. In fact the first thing I saw as I crested the hill was a beer can and I immediately thought "horse trail". A little while later as I was setting up camp I noticed an old horseshoe nailed to a tree.

Even with horse people's garbage, it was a truly awesome campsite.

It was great to just sit and watch the changing light.

For the first time in a while, I built a fire by myself. It was fun to play with while I waited for the stars to come out.

In the morning, I started another fire and enjoyed 2 cups of coffee, then headed down the non-trail to see if it connected with the "Bear Creek Loop". At worst, it would end up going in the wrong direction and I would have to hike back, cross the river, and head back on the KY Trail. Here is the obvious trail does not appear on any maps, but it is clearly maintained. I passed a number of downed trees with recent chainsaw cuts, so someone is clearing the trail.

The non-trail was mostly flat with not much deadfall and occasional views of the river.

The non-trail did connect with the Bear Creek Loop, near the USGS gauging station on the river, you can see how low the river was (below 1 feet).

After paralleling the river for a bit, it then climbs up to the Lee Hollow Loop on top of the ridge.

Then on to the Blue Heron Loop Trail.

The trail is again on an old rainroad bed and goes past a couple mine entrances.

The coal seam is very obvious.

Near one of the entrances was a place where this orange goop was oozing out of the rock, never seen this before, makes me think it is connected with the mine.

Devils Jump did not have much water flowing through, but it is easy to see why this is Class IV when the water is higher.

The problem with the horse trails is all of the garbage. I ended up carrying out about 15 beer cans, a couple of water bottles and some other random junk, probably about 2.5 pounds in all. Unfortunately, there was even more that I did not have room for.

I had a little bit of time to try out my new pack raft, a Klymit LWD. I think I will have to come back to Blue Heron when the river is flowing a little more so I can give the raft a better workout.

One last look at the river.

Other than the two guys the first night, I did not see anyone on the trails until I was within 1/2 mile of the trailhead. When I got there, the Scenic train was at Blue Heron and the place was crawling with people who were obviously not hikers. It was a little jarring at first. While I was playing with the packraft, the train blew its whistle and by the time I got back to the car, almost everyone was gone. 

A great 48 hours even if I did not hike as much as I had planned, (Caltopo says it was about 20 miles total).

A couple photos from my slr

1st night sunset


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