Monday, June 28, 2010

Pushing it at Blair Creek

On June 14th and 15th I hiked the Blair Creek section of the OT. As the name suggests the trail follows Blair creek for much of it's length.

One of the great things about hiking near a good water source in the summer in Missouri is that you can travel very light. No need to carry a sleeping bag or under-insulation for a hammock and no need to pack in lots of water. That means you can do a lot of miles in a day. On this hike I pushed that hypothesis to the limit.

Below you can see a map of my trip. I hiked the entire Blair Creek section from south to north. At the north end it connects with the Karkaghne section I did back in May. At the south end it connects to the Current River section and was where I started on my Klepzig Mill hike. Since the trail was a point-to-point trail I decided to hike one way and bike back. I nearly bit off more than I could chew with that decision it turned out.

View Blair Creek Section Hike in a larger map
The beginning part of the hike is spectacular. I started late one evening, intending to get just a mile or two in before setting up camp. It was warm and humid and kind of magical because in the dusk I was surrounded with fireflies, blinking all around me. The trail rises steeply and I could see nice views of the river below. Then I came to Owl's Bend Bluff where there is a steep bluff with a great view. I decided to camp there so I could take a picture in the morning. I think it was worth it. Here is the view quite early in the morning.

After the bluffs the trail continues along the river for a bit and then heads north. It crosses a small creek called Little Blair Creek before you meet the real Blair Creek. Blair Creek in most places is 20 or so feet across and about a foot deep. The trail runs along side it for quite a ways. Here's a view of it from the trail at a point where the trail runs along a steep slope next to the creek.

Hiking in the summer in Missouri is not always pleasant. It was quite hot and I got sweaty. So as it got on towards lunch I stopped and took a bath in the creek and washed my clothes. I would have swam but the water wasn't deep enough.

A bit later I got my wish, although not in a way I would have wanted. After my bad experience at Karkaghne I decided not to risk bushwhacking. But it became necessary at one point because a large tree had fallen and blocked the path. I climbed on top of the fallen tree to look around and find the best way to rejoin the path. I was standing on what looked like a large, sturdy branch. Without warning it broke and I found myself on the ground in the midst of the branches of the fallen tree. After checking for broken bones I looked around and realized I couldn't get back to the trail from where I was. I reasoned that since the trail followed the creek I could just go to the creek and wade upstream until I found the trail again. However the creek had become rather deep at this point, although I couldn't judge how deep. My backpack is mostly waterproof so I didn't worry too much about it. But I held my camera and my map in my hand as I entered the water. Soon the water was over my head and I found myself swimming. I must have looked quite the fool swimming up the creek with my backpack on and one hand held out of the water holding my camera and map. But fortunately no one was there to see.

After 50 yards or so I was able to find a place where I could climb out and find the trail. My camera was fine but the plastic sheet protector containing my map had a few drops of water inside. Soon all the ink ran and the map became quite useless.

Shortly after this the trail crossed an open area and became quite difficult to follow. The grass and weeds were up to my armpits in areas. As a result I got some tick bites on my upper body (my legs were safe due to my pants being treated with Permethrin). On the upside there were many blackberry bushes in the field and the blackberries were ripe so I could just pick them as I hiked. That made a nice snack.

A little later I came to an area with a few caves in a small cliff. I walked up a narrow ledge along the cliff to see the caves. One of them was inhabited as you can see below!

That's the closest I've ever been to a Turkey Vulture. Notice the large egg you can see through the lower hole. I assume this cave was the mother vulture's nest and she was guarding her egg. I took this picture and then retreated, not wanting a territory dispute with a vulture.

The northern part of the trail is much less interesting. After it leaves the Blair Creek it runs right next to county roads for a few miles. It was hot at this point and I began to run out of water. I had stashed about 1.5 liters of water with my bike so I decided I'd have to skip the second night of camping I had planned and go all the way to my bike. I arrived before sunset and drank about half the water I had stashed. Then I hopped on the bike and began to ride back to my car. The hike had been about 25 miles and the bike ride was about 32 miles. As it began to get dark I realized this wasn't the best idea I had ever had. After about 15 miles of biking I couldn't go on any more. It was nearly dark at this point. I laid down on the side of the road and considered my options. I was tired and hungry. There was no place to camp since I was biking through farm country. I needed more calories to keep biking but since my food was dry that would require drinking the rest of my water (only 1/2 liter at this point). I elected to try and refuel and make it to my car where I had another liter of water. After eating some snacks and drinking all my water I got back on the bike. The next hour and a half are mostly a blur in my memory. The road had lots of ups and downs. For some of the ups I had to get off and walk because I was too weak to bike. I arrived at my car at about 11:15 pm, grateful to be alive. I felt similar to when I finished running a marathon a few years back. The difference was that I had trained for the marathon!

Lesson learned.


Ted C. MacRae said...

That's some funny stuff (now at least) - I'm picturing you swimming with your camera held up out of the water!

Jeff Moore said...

What a freaking awesome trip...complete with a truly perfect bonk. Glad to hear you went all in and made it back to your car. Funny that you mention the northern section was not much to speak of...I was glad we hiked it north to south to get the Owl's Bend view at the end of the hike. jm