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.