Wednesday, December 30, 2009

NEOS Overshoes

Santa Claus was good to me this year and got me a pair of NEOS Overshoes, the Adventurer model. I intend to use these this winter for backpacking.

I had been thinking about getting a pair of winter hiking boots. But I chickened out because boots are expensive considering how much snow we get here in Missouri. Also I'm not used to hiking in boots and I was concerned about getting some that felt comfortable without requiring a long break-in period.

Overshoes fit the bill because you just wear your normal hiking shoes inside.

The inside sole of the overshoe is rubberized so that your own shoes don't slip and slide inside the overshoe. This works remarkably well.

The overshoes close with a velcro strap around my calf and fasten with a strap over your foot.

Another very nice design feature is that the only opening is at the top, 15 inches from the sole, so it is waterproof. I put this to the test on my recent hike of the northern Trace Creek section of the OT. I had to ford a river that would have been REALLY cold to cross in sandals or water shoes. The overshoes worked like a charm.

When I didn't need the overshoes I collapsed them and packed them away. They collapse down quite small and weigh very little.

Recently we've been blessed with some snow here in St. Louis so I took them outside to walk around in the snow for 45 minutes or so. Not only are they well suited for this purpose in terms of keeping my feet dry but my feet were amazingly warm as well. The NEOS website was suggesting they would be comfortable down to 0 degrees Fahrenheit. It was in the low teens when I was walking around and my feet were more than warm enough.

I'm looking forward to some nice hikes in the snow in these babies.

North Trace Creek

On Wednesday, December 30th, I joined 3 other hikers from the motrails group for a day hike of the northern half of the Trace Creek section of the Ozark Trail. It was fun to finally be able to put a face to some of the names of people I'd met online. I was finally able to meet Danny McMurphy face to face. He is the expert on hiking trails in Missouri. His website is the go-to source for information on Missouri hiking trails.

We parked at an Unofficial parking spot off route DD near Council Bluff lake (about the half-way point of the Trace Creek section) and then shuttled up to the Hazel Creek campground and hiked south back to our cars.

I went up the night before and camped near where we left our cars so I would be sure to be on time in the morning (we were meeting at 9am). It snowed all night a very dry kind of snow. Really more like little balls of ice. I used my bivy because it's a perfect shelter for that kind of thing. I pitched my poncho over my head to keep snow out of my face.

The Trace Creek section, like the nearby Middle Fork section which I hiked last year, has many small creeks and rivers which beautify the trip. During the leaf-off time of the year there are nice views of the river valleys. The light dusting of snow added to the beauty of the woods.
One of the fun things about winter is the interesting ice formations you see on the creeks. I really can't imagine how some of them form. This one looks for all the world like "ice bats" hibernating or something.
The Ozarks is a great place to be in the winter.

Thermal Regulation

I've been thinking about thermal regulation while hiking this winter. During a hike your need for insulation can change quite quickly depending on outside temperature, wind speed, humidity, and exertion. Being too cold is no fun of course but being too warm can be a problem as well because perspiration can quickly chill you once you stop hiking.

Conventional wisdom says that the right thing to do is to dress in layers and remove layers as you get warmer or put them on as you get cold. However this is a lot of trouble because it involves stopping and taking off your backpack to put away or take out a layer. To avoid this nuisance most hikers don't vary their insulation enough.

I've discovered a better solution. It turns out that most heat lost you experience is through your head and your hands. I used to take my hat and gloves off when I got warm but I ended up having to try and shove them in the pockets of my pants (which were already full from my GPS and snacks). For the past few hikes I've instead worn my Sugoi Speedster 2 hoodie. I originally bought it for winter running and biking but now I'm finding it very useful for winter hiking as well. The fabric is a full stretch, wicking, midweight base layer with fleeced inner side so it's comfortable and warm. But the best features are the hood and cuff gloves. If I'm warm I can keep the hood off and my hands bare.

When I begin to feel cold I can pull the hood up and tuck my hands inside the cuff gloves. They aren't really gloves, just a fold of fabric that encases your hands. It doesn't allow for any dexterity but this is a feature I use while hiking, not while setting up camp or cooking.

I've really been loving how easy this makes it to adjust to my changing needs for insulation while hiking. In previous posts I've sung the praises of merino wool and of course this top is synthetic. The tradeoff is that the synthetic tops have a problem with odor while wool seems impervious to body odors.

On my most recent trip to hike the Trace Creek section of the OT I made a mistake when it comes to nighttime thermal regulation. I went to bed with little insulation on my legs. When I went to Sam A Baker state park a few weeks before I had worn very good lower body insulation to bed and found that it was too much and so removed it. I had brought that same insulation with me on this trip but left it in my pack. Once I realized I was a bit cold in the night it was snowing and blowing quite hard and I didn't feel like getting out of my quilt to rummage through my pack to change so I just settled for being uncomfortable.

The lesson is that you should always wear you warmest clothes to bed. It's easy to take things off in the night but it's hard to add insulation that you didn't take to bed with you. Oh well. Lesson learned.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Sam A Baker State Park

View Mudlick Trail in a larger map

After I had graded the final exams I decided to spend two nights on the Mudlick Trail in Sam A Baker state park. I had heard good things about it. I enjoyed my trip but I ended up spending only one night because I finished the trail sooner than I thought I would.

The Trail
Above you can see some waypoints I uploaded from my GPS after I got home. I started the loop at the trailhead on the right side and went counter clockwise.

I arrived Wednesday afternoon about 4pm and hiked north until I came to the hiking shelters. I had heard mixed reviews on them. They were actually really nice for a winter hike: 3 sided stone shelters with stone floors and fireplaces.
I stayed at hiking shelter 1 because it was perched right on the cliff facing East over the valley where the Big Creek runs and I thought it would provide nice sunrise views. I wasn't disappointed.

After leaving the shelter I hiked north along the ridge and then down into Mudlick hollow where Mudlick creek runs. Along the trail down into the hollow I found some really nice frost flowers. Some of the pictures didn't turn out and even this one isn't very well focused. But you can see the delicate structure of the ribbon of ice that comes out of the stem of a plant when the ground is moist and the air termperature drops to well below freezing.

The creek itself is really pretty. The highlight of the trip in my mind. Notice the icicles hanging from the moss-covered rock wall over the creek.
I love this picture. It was just a little waterfall but the combination of rushing water and ice on the rocks made it seem magical.

The rest of the trip was very pleasant. The forest must burn regularly because it was quite open and free of undergrowth. There are significant changes in elevation so it's a good workout. The only really difficult part was the downhill on the bottom right of the map. This is a `hiker only' section of the trail because it is too rugged for horses. It's almost too rugged for hikers. You are traveling down and along a steep hill side covered with rocks about the size of your head. Lots of opportunities to twist your ankle. I never fell but the constant twisting of my foot made my Achilles tendon hurt.

I had planned on spending two nights on the trail and camping the second night near Logan creek (bottom left on the map). But I made better time than I thought and so continued on to the trailhead. I reached my car almost exactly 24 hours after I had parked.

Thoughts on Gear for Winter
On every trip I learn a little more about backpacking. This trip was cold but dry and I brought my bivy and air mattress. People tend to like bivy bags for two reasons: protection from mild precipitation, and extra warmth. I think the first of these makes sense but I don't buy the second reason any more. During the night I was plenty warm on my legs and body but I had trouble with condensation from my breath when I slept on my side. I think I would have been better off to add warmth with a small liner bag and avoid the condensation problems. Now if there had been rain or snow forecast (and I wasn't in the shelter) then the bivy would have been perfect. The small amount of condensation is a small price to pay for keeping your bag from getting wet.

I've occasionally had fires on my backpacking trips and so I began thinking about carrying some kind of tinder. Well I think I have found the ultimate fire starting material -- cotton balls smeared with vaseline. Other hikers had recommended it but I had never tried it until this trip. You get a nice hot flame that lasts a long time, plenty of time to get your fire started.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Hawn State Park

This past weekend I returned to Hawn State Park. Kimberly and I had visited it a few weeks ago and I was quite taken with the beauty of the place. We hiked mostly in the area near Pickle Creek. That area is very nice but I wanted to see more of the park so I hiked the Whispering Pines Trail south loop to get an idea of what the other side of the park looked like.

The trail is very pleasant and, as you can see below, quite rocky. There are large sandstone boulders everywhere. (I mistakenly referred to these as dolomite but was corrected by my friend Ted MacRae of Beetles in the Bush. Dolomite is a kind of limestone. The sedimentary rock in Hawn is apparently part of the Lamotte sandstone formation.) The terrain is quite steep in places as well. This picture was taken near the top of one of the two peaks I crossed during the hike.

The views of the surrounding area from the top were magnificent. The peak of fall color was just coming on.

As it began to get on toward evening I began looking for the campsite I had seen on the map. I found this spot right near a small creek which was quite lovely and had a fire ring and some sawn logs for sitting on. So I set up my hammock and made a fire. Interestingly the next morning I found the actual campsite a few hundred yards further down the trail. It had a sign that said "No Fires". Whoops! Oh well.

Below my hammock you can see a green underquilt that Debbie made for me. An underquilt keeps heat from escaping beneath you while you hang in the hammock. This one uses synthetic insulation and worked wonderfully.

The next morning I continued on to the other river that runs through the park, the Aux Valles. It runs alongside rocky cliffs for quite a while. Really gorgeous.

I had to get home fairly early so I bushwhacked to cut off some distance and get back sooner. That was fun but it ended up leading me to the edge of this cliff rather than to the parking lot. You can't tell the difference between a cliff and a hillside on a topographic map.

So I ended up having to climb down. Kind of scary actually. But I made it all right. At the bottom was Pickle Creek which I waded and then walked back to my car. I took this picture from the bottom. Does it look like a fun climb to do with a backpack on?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Pickle Creek

This past weekend I took my oldest daughter, Kimberly, to Hawn State Park and we hiked the Pickle Creek trail. The Pickle Creek Natural Area, which is within the borders of the park, is apparently very special because of the variety of plants, birds, and animals that live near the creek. The trail begins at a very nice picnic area in a stand of pines.

Then the trail follows the creek for about a mile. The creek bed is very boulder-strewn and quite pretty. Apparently there are few places in the state where so many types of rock formations are visible. The creek itself is described as "tea colored" which is a very good description. However the water is also described as "high quality". We couldn't figure out whether it was the water or the creek bed which gave the color. We were carrying plenty of water so we didn't bother tasting it for ourselves.

The terrain is quite rugged and so there are some nice views to be had. The forest is also very pretty and apparently has been managed using occasional burning so it is comparatively open and free of invasive species.

At the end of the trail we decided to bushwhack to a campsite we saw on the map. The camp is along another trail which picks up at the end of the pickle creek trail but we would have had to follow it around a loop which was several miles long and it was getting dark. Finding the camp took us a while because the map was only approximate. But then we realized that our GPS did show the trail which leads to the camp. So we used the GPS to intersect the trail near where we figured the camp must be and then followed it to the camp.

Often I just camp wherever the mood strikes me. But there are advantages to an established site, even a backcountry site like this one with no services. One advantage is that there is open, flat space. We were sleeping on the ground under a tarp rather than in hammocks so the flat space was welcome. In addition an established camp has a fire ring and so you can make a fire. That helps to make the night seem more cheery. We ate our dinner by the fire and then watched a movie on Kimberly's iPod and went to sleep.

I did get one shot of our camp the next morning. I pitched our tarp between two trekking poles. I really like this pitch because it's so easy to put up and provides 360 degree views. In the picture below our bug bivies are draped over the trekking poles to dry.

We didn't hike a lot of miles on this trip but we had a nice time.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


My brother came to visit me over Labor day weekend. He is a tarantula enthusiast and so we went hiking around various places in Missouri looking for them (they aren't found in northern Illinois where he lives). I like to think of our trip as the tale of three arachnids

1. Aphonopelma Hentzi, the Texas Brown Tarantula. This is what we were looking for. They appear in glades in southern Missouri under rocks. At least that's what we heard. We failed to uncover any even after flipping many rocks.

The first place we looked was fairly close to home. The Valley View Glades Natural Area in Jefferson county was rumored to have tarantulas. It's a small glade complex but it did offer us with a view of the second arachnid.

2. Centruroides vittatus, the Striped Scorpion or Plains Scorpion. This is apparently Missouri's only scorpion. They were quite plentiful under the rocks in the glades. However I think we only saw young scorpions because they were sort of a yellow color rather than the dark brown color that the adults are supposed to have. We also saw several skinks and several small snakes which I think are Western Worm Snakes. They are really small and hide under rocks.

After spending several hours we decided to head to southern Missouri to the Hercules Glade complex. Here is a picture of the glade top trail which I stoke from the forest service web site.

We camped in an area called the Tidwell area which is very nice. During the night it rained really hard. So much so that we had to abandon our tarp and retreat to the car. Wind blown rain was getting in. We were trying to share an 8x10 tarp with me in a hammock and my brother on the ground. The tarp didn't provide enough coverage for two.

Although the Hercules Glades are nice looking we thought we might have better luck a little further east at Caney Mountain Conservation Area. We enjoyed hiking in this area but failed to find any tarantulas. We saw a few more snakes but I'm not sure which species they were. However the patches of grasslands provided an enounter with the third arachnid.

3. Trombicula alfreddugesi, Chiggers! I don't normally encounter many chiggers when I hike. But that's because I tend to stay in woodlands. Chiggers infest grassy areas. You never see them (they are tiny) or even feel them bite. You just begin to itch after a few hours. This scratching dislodges the chigger but that is just the beginning. Chiggers do not burrow into your skin or suck blood. They pierce the skin and inject a saliva that dissolves skin cells. It also causes the nearby cells to harden into a tube that the chigger can drink through. It is this tube that causes the discomfort later on. Your body will eventually break down this tube but until then you have an itchy welt. At the moment I have something like 100 on my feet, ankles, and the backs of my knees. Oh well.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Katy Trail: Portland to Marthasville

I have now completed a second overnight trip on the Katy Trail. This time I biked the area just west of where I had gone last time. On my last trip I went from St Charles to Marthasville, a distance of about 40 miles. This time I put my bike in the car and drove to the little town of Portland, MO and then biked east to Marthasville (once again about 40 miles), camped and biked back the next morning.

Portland is a very small town. It's main feature seems to be the Katy Trail trailhead near a boat launch on the Missouri river.

This section of trail is just as beautiful as the previous section with limestone bluffs and forest all around.  Occasionally the trail comes out of the forest and passes through farmland as in this part where the trail crosses over a bridge on a creek.  That's my bike in the background and my pack in the foreground.

The bluffs are actually even more impressive in this section then in the section closer to St Charles.  In fact one of the little towns I passed through was called Blufton, apparently named after the nearby bluffs, which are really high and very impressive.  However it's really hard to get a picture which does them justice.

What really sets this section apart is the views of the Missouri river.  It's quite close in other places too but here you ride so close that often it's just a few feet away, with no trees to block the view.

The downside of being so close to the river is that near the river there are always plenty of mosquitos.  But when you are on a bike you don't even notice them.  They can't keep up and so I wasn't even aware of them until I stopped to take a picture.  Then they swarmed around me and I got back on the bike quick.  Biking is definitely the best way to see the Katy Trail.  A walker would get eaten alive.

Once again I camped in Marthasville,  in fact I slept in exactly the same spot as I did last time.   Here is the view from where I slept (the picture was taken in the morning).  It's right next to the town baseball field.  The great thing about this spot is that it's covered and so there's no need to string a tarp or otherwise protect from rain.  A little rain was forecast but never materialized.

Once again there was a game going on when I arrived.  The town seems to be really big into baseball and they all come out to cheer on their team.  This time it was the 16 to 18 year old boys.

The people in town are really nice. The lady at the concession stand recognized me right away. I had dinner and watched the game before showering and going to sleep. The concession stand is a typical midwestern affair, the prevailing attitude being that anything can be deep fried. I had a burger, fries, and the jalepeno bites you can see on the menu. A jalepeno bit is just sliced jalepeno, dipped in batter, and deep fried. Great for an old New Mexico boy like me.

I slept pretty well on my Big Agnes pad. I wrapped myself up in a Neat Sheet (with the corner weights cut out) for a quilt. It worked fine. I didn't sleep quite as well as last time because the wind kept waking me up. But it wasn't bad. I woke up at 5:18 which was perfect because I had to get back for a meeting at work at noon. So I got some hostess snacks at the convenience store and biked the 40 miles back to my car and then drove home, changed and got to my meeting just in time.

All in all a great trip.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Pictures from the Katy Trail

In my last post I bemoaned the lack of photographs I had taken. So I drove back and took a few just to give an idea of what the trail looks like between St Charles and Marthasville.

As you can see the trail is well packed and wide with trees arching overhead. It's a veritable tunnel of green. I didn't get any shots of the wetlands on the south side of the trail but on the north side in many places you are riding next to limestone bluffs that are quite beautiful.

I'm heading out in a few minutes for another ride, a bit farther west. Next post I'll have info about that part of the trail.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Bike camping

The past few weeks the weather has been scorching. This week was so nice that I decided to take a bike trip along the Katy Trail. It wasn't a long trip. About 40 miles each direction. And rather than backcountry camping I ended up in a city park in the cute little town of Marthasville.

View Katy trail to Marthasville in a larger map

The Katy trail is a real gem. I've used it for long runs when I was training for a marathon. It used to be a railroad line and I believe it is part of the Rails-to-Trails project. The trail is flat and for many miles it runs next to the Missouri river. Often there are limestone bluffs on one side, the river or wetlands on the other, and trees overhanging the trail itself. Nothing short of gorgeous.

Biking the Katy trail is popular enough that there are trail towns that cater to the biking community. I stopped in one of them, Defiance, and had pizza at a little tavern before continuing on. (That's one benefit of bike camping: no need to bring food since you are never far from civilization.) Some town allow camping in the city parks and Marthasville is one of these. It's one of the cutest towns you will ever see. Really tiny. There are like 4 streets in town and the trail cuts right through it. When I showed up at the park there was a little league game and a men's softball game going on. I swear the whole town turned out to watch the games. It's so quaint it's like the town that time forgot.

The city park also has showers for bikers and they ask for a $5 donation to help fund the facilities. It was nice to be able to shower before bedtime and then to sleep under a park shelter so there was no need for a tarp or anything.

I ran into 5 other bikers and we all camped together. They are college students who are part of a cross-country trip called Trek to Re-Energize America. Several teams are biking to Washington D.C. to advocate for action on climate change. In particular they seem to focus on biking as a viable alternative for commuting. The particular group I ran into blogs about their ride here (although when I last checked the site was down). They stared in Peublo, Colorado. Great kids. We had a nice time together. They wanted to hear me lecture about economics and the environment. And of course professors love to talk so we got along great.

I wish I had more pictures of the trip. I tried using my cell phone as a camera but I can't get the pictures off. But if you go to the Katy Trail website there are maps and lots of info and pictures from better photographers than I.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Mapping the Damage at Marble Creek

This past week my daughter went to a girl's camp our church sponsors every year which was held down at the S-F scout camp (on the Swift explorer base). I was asked to go pick up the girls from our congregation on Saturday morning. So I looked for a place nearby to do a hike on Friday with the idea of camping Friday night and picking the girls up in the morning on my way back home.

I looked at the Ozark trail page and saw that the recovery work was well underway on many sections. I felt a twinge of guilt that I hadn't volunteered to join any of these work parties. Then I saw that the post-storm status of one little section of the trail not far from the girl's camp was "unknown" and they were looking for someone to go scout out the damage and report back. I decided to volunteer so I could contribute in a small way to the trail I've come to love so much.

The section is called the Marble Creek section. It's not very long and currently doesn't connect to the rest of the trail at either end (although eventually it will). Perhaps for that reason it isn't as popular as some sections. It's quite nice though. It begins at Marble creek (pictured below).

After that the trail winds with only gentle ups and downs through the forest and then ends in a loop around Crane Lake.

Crane Lake, like every lake in Missouri, is man-made. A dam was constructed in a narrow valley. The southern loop of the trail brings you right next to this dam. The northern loop brings you around quite a ways above the dam with a nice view. I took a picture of the view but it was getting dark and so the picture didn't turn out so you'll have to be satisfied with the picture below, taken from the edge of the dam on the southern edge of the lake.

Mapping the damage to the trail involved stopping at every point where a tree had fallen across the trail and creating a waypoint on my GPS unit. Later I would share those waypoints with the sawyers so they could plan a cleanup. This turned out to be pretty exhausting. No only does it slow you down to stop and enter a waypoint but afterward you have to clamber over the tree or bushwhack through the surrounding forest and then try to find the trail on the other side. The trail itself has seen better days. Lack of use has caused it to become overgrown in places and occasionally I got lost. I had several GPS track files to go by but one was just an approximation and the other two were incomplete. At one point, near the lake, I became totally lost. Then I happened to catch sight of an old trail marker. The trail itself had completely disappeared in undergrowth but I was able to follow the trail markers up through some glades and along the side of a hill, which I later saw was one side of a steep valley where the dam was built.

Some people feel that the hiking season in the Ozarks starts October 1st and ends sometime in April or May. It's certainly true that those are great months to hike the Ozarks. But I have learned a few tricks about hiking in the summer.

1. Treat your pants and socks with permethrin ahead of time. Ticks climbing on clothes treated with permethrin quickly die. One can easily pick up dozens of ticks in just one day of hiking in the summer in the Ozarks. I only saw one on me this time and it was on my forearm from where I had brushed a nearby bush. My legs and feet were completely clear.
2. Take a bath in the hot part of the day. Find a stream or a lake, pull out the Dr Bronner's soap and restore your humanity with cleanliness. Just swimming is fine too because it cools you down. But a bath is nicer. This time I swam in the lake and then went on the rocks below the dam to take a bath in the rushing water.
3. Hike quickly and don't stop until after dark. Mosquitoes can't fly very fast. If you walk at a reasonably brisk pace they can't keep up. You don't even think they are there until you stop and suddenly they swarm you. But mosquitoes also stop flying once it is truly dark. This time I took a hammock with no bug net and found I didn't really miss the bug net because by the time I went to sleep there were no mosquitoes around.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Hike and Bike

On my first trip on the Ozark trail, last summer, I hiked the first 7 and a half miles of the northern-most section of the trail, the Courtois section. I had planned to finish it at spring break but I got sick. So I set out to do it this past weekend.

Two weeks ago I wrote about the storms that had knocked down so many trees in the Paddy Creek wilderness. I turns out that that storm caused widespread damage in south-central Missouri. Many sections of the Ozark trail have had to be closed (many of which I have hiked in the past year) until sawyers can come and clear the dead trees. Fortunately the Courtois section was largely spared, at least the northern portion. So I decided to start about 12 miles into the section (from the southern end) and hike up to the point I had reached last year.

One of the challenges faced by backpackers is transportation. Most trails are "point-to-point" and so you end up a long way from where you parked your car. Rather than using a shuttle service this time I hit on the idea of using my bike. The Courtois section, as you can see below, makes a wide bend and touches (or nearly touches) highway 8 in two places. So I put my bike in the trunk of my car and hid it in the woods near the northern end of the trail and then drove to my starting point. The idea was to hike to the bike (following the blue path on the map below) and then bike to the car (the red path, which follows highway 8). It worked out reasonably well (except for a rainstorm during the biking part of my trip).

View Middle Courtois Section Hike in a larger map

As near as I can figure the total distance on the trail was 23.7 miles and the biking distance was 8 miles.

Even after having done quite a few backpacking trips over the past year or two I am still a very imperfect backpacker. The one thing I do well is hike. Once I start hiking I become quite taken with the beauty of the forest and it just seems wrong to stop hiking (until it gets too dark to find my way). So I end up doing quite a few miles in a day. This time I started at 1pm or so and did about 19 miles before I stopped to camp. I ended up hiking all the way to my bike on the first day. Part of that is because I hike alone. Hiking alone is really great. But sitting around in camp alone is not much fun. So I tend not to do it much.

Every time I go hiking I think "This one, THIS is the most beautiful section I've ever hiked". It can't really be the case that every trail is more beautiful than the last so I think my memory just fades quickly. But I was very taken with the beauty of this section. Unfortunately most of my pictures didn't turn out (something on the lens I think) but here is a taste of what it was like.

I made a few mistakes, like I do every time. I brought a stove and a hot meal to cook as well as dried snacks to eat along the way. But I never ended up using the stove or the hot meal. It all goes back to preferring to hike rather than sit in camp. And the right kind of snacks can be tasty as well as nutritious. I really like crunchies freeze dried mixed fruit. No sugar, additives, or preservatives and it's light as a feather and tastes great. I've bought similar stuff from Just Tomatoes. Their freeze dried mixed veggies is awesome trail food. I also eat a lot of jerky along the trail so I get a pretty balanced diet. And for pure calories (it takes a surprising amount of calories to hike) peanut M&Ms are hard to beat.

My biggest weakness as a backpacker is sleeping. Often I don't sleep at all. Other times I sleep fitfully. If I hike until I'm exhausted I have better luck but still my body needs to have familiar surroundings. So this time I left the hammock at home and tried the air mattress and bug bivy. It's heavier in the summer than a hammock but it feels more like a bed. My mistake was to look up at the clear night sky and decide that no rain protection was necessary. In the middle of the night I felt drops on my face and quickly threw the poncho/tarp over the bivy. That kept me dry but because it wasn't staked out or supported with trees or poles there was little circulation so I felt pretty clammy when I woke up. Oh well, live and learn.

Next morning I hiked a bit farther up the trail to meet the point I had got to last year and then I went back to camp, got on the bike and headed to my car. That's when the rain really came down. So by the time I arrived at the highway 8 trailhead I was drenched. Then the rain promptly stopped. I hid the bike in the trees, hiked about a mile and half up to my car and drove back to get the bike and go home.

All in all it was a great hike.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Paddy Creek After a Storm

Well the finals are all graded and the grades submitted so I took the opportunity to get away for some hiking. I was originally planning to go Thursday night and come back Friday but something came up and I had to reschedule. It turns out to be fortunate that I did because a very severe storm hit on Thursday night. More on that later.

View Paddy Creek Wilderness (short loop) in a larger map

The map above shows the loop I took. I wanted to do a longer loop but somehow I got on a shortcut trail that makes a shorter loop. I'm going to start a support group for knuckleheads like me who own GPS units and don't have the brains to use them. I had forgotten to load this section of Topo map onto my unit and didn't realize it until it was too late. Hence the mistake.

The Paddy Creek Wilderness is located in Central Missouri, essentially directly southwest of my house. It's farther West than I have gone before. The area differs from the parts of the Ozarks I have explored before in that the rock formations appear to be limestone and not igneous rocks. The Paddy Creek Wilderness is near the Big Piney river which runs through central Missouri and empties into the Gasconade (which in turn empties into the Missouri). The Paddy Creek Wilderness area is the area surrounding the little Paddy Creek (which joins the big Paddy Creek before it empties into the Big Piney). The area is quite beautiful with many limestone cliffs overlooking the creek.

Since it's late spring there's beginning to be more wildlife around although the mosquitoes aren't yet as bad as they will be. This is the first time I've got a decent picture of one of these guys.

He thought I didn't see him and so stayed real still for the photo. I'm not exactly sure but I think this is a Five-lined Skink, also called a "Blue-tailed skink" (note the blue tail). This is Missouri's most common skink.

Being from the desert I'm used to lizards. But I thought that was the only slice of desert I'd find in Missouri. Imagine my surprise when I almost stepped on this right next to the trail! Am I right that this is a prickly pear cactus? Weird.

I arrived in the late afternoon on Friday and it had rained all night. The trail was soaked and all the little tributaries that dump into the little Paddy were full. Here the trail crosses one of these tributaries. It made a nice picture I thought.

But the main story of this trip was the storm damage. It was truly unbelievable. Hundreds of huge trees had been ripped up by the roots. I think I spent half my time off the trail, bushwhacking, trying to find a way around fallen trees. I genuinely think that if I had gone on Thursday I might not be alive today. My hammock could have been tied to one of those trees. Or worse, one could have fallen on me in my sleep (if anyone could have slept during that storm).

Most of the fallen trees were oaks. But many tall pines fell as well and this surprised me. I would have thought that those straight, tall pines provide less of a target for the wind and so wouldn't be as prone to fall over in a storm. But as you can see that wasn't the case.

In the picture above it's a bit hard to get the scale. I'm standing on the trunk and taking the picture. The trunk is larger around than my body and looked to me to be at least 40 feet tall, maybe 50.

This next picture is a bit hard to understand unless you were there. A row of three huge pines fell like dominoes. Note how you can see the rootball of the second tree under the trunk of the first. The third is farther along.

I went super-ultralight on this trip. My lightest hammock, just my poncho for a tarp and raingear, and no stove (just ate cold food). Worked out fine. I'll push this even farther when the weather warms up even more so I can do some serious miles.