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.