Saturday, April 14, 2012

Buckeye/Caney Loop April 6-7

With lows in the upper 40's and highs in the low 70's I just had to get out one more time.
I left home at my usual o' dark thirty (4 AM) and arrived at the Buckeye TH at 8 AM.  Four hours isn't really a long drive, but I sure wish I lived closer....maybe when I retire:) After several fun hiking and paddling trips with friends it was time for some solitude. It was a pleasant 52 degrees as I headed out, and while the trail's namesake were just about past peak bloom, I did find a few,especially as I moved down from the ridge.
Red Buckeye Aesculas pavia
Ohio Buckeye Aesculus glabra
 Spring's come early this year and the trail was already nearly overgrown in places.
The early morning view from the ridge
  I stopped for lunch a little before noon by the big leaning pine and then about a half hour later ran into another solo hiker making his way up the trail. It was taedawood. We'd crossed paths about a year before on Caney but were both in "walking meditation" mode, and only said a brief hello and kept going. He spotted my Hammock Forums sticker on my car at the TH and left a note. He didn't know the car belonged to the solo hiker he'd passed, and when I saw his signature, I recognized his trail name from the forums. This time we recognized one another and stopped to introduce ourselves and chat for a while. You meet the nicest people on the trail!
 lunch stop
Another solo traveler on the trail
 Ozark Spiderwort Tradescantia ozarkana (I think)
I headed down to the junction then west down Caney about a mile and a half before heading back and making camp for the night across the creek at Katy Falls.
Absolutely no idea :)
Once in camp I hung my hammock and stretched out to take in the trees and sky.  There were a few mosquitoes out briefly around dinner time and one bit through the back of my shirt (spray shirt with permethrin next time)  but they quickly vanished as the temperature dropped. No need for the tarp, clear skies and a full moon made for a wonderful night in the woods.The next morning dawned crisp and cool, the birds were singing and I dawdled around camp exploring the creek and some side trails.
 Hawthorne species unsure,still researching
more unknown but cool fungi
Bird's Foot Violet Viola pedata
It was a beautiful weekend to be in the woods. I made it back to the east TH around 1:30 and it seemed a lot warmer than 73 when I finally made it up the road to my car. Had I stuck to my original 3 day plan I would have made this trek early in the day,but I decided to have a day at home to look up all the plants I'd seen, and catch up on chores around the house.
The bugs were not bad yet, but soon will be . I'd taken a headnet and small bug net for the hammock but didn't have to resort to either. Permethrin on clothes and gear really seemed to help; no chiggers or ticks. I did have to exercise caution with poison ivy but long pants were sufficient to step off trail to investigate something. For over 50 years I never reacted to the stuff, but a few years back I pushed that too far, and now I do end up with a slight rash if I'm not careful.

Phlox-unsure of species
If anyone can id the unknown shots above, or if I've misidentified something, please email or pm me so I can correct it, I'm a tree geek and I'm just getting into id'ing wildflowers, and don't know any fungi :)
Some of the flowers I saw that I didn't photograph were:
False Solomon's Seal Maianthemum racemosum (not in bloom)
Wild Comfrey Cynoglossum virginianum
Blue Phlox  Phlox divaricata (everywhere)
Dwaft Crested Iris Iris cristata not likely the rarer Iris verna

There are more plant shots here, but I'm still in the process of adding captions:

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Spring Break FL 2012

I was actually halfway lamenting the fact that I had chosen to join my northern Michigan friends, Lois and John, for another paddling trip to Florida; I was regretting not going backpacking. I really hadn't spent as much time on the trail  as I'd wanted this season and it was quickly coming to an end with the warm least nearby weekend trips.

Silly me! The trip was great fun and the weather was perfect. The drought had however taken its toll on the rivers and we spent most of the week on larger spring-fed rivers or their tributaries.  Lois and John serendipitously found a wonderful townhouse for the week. They had arranged to rent a house in Dunellon for the following week and while chatting with the owner it came up that they still hadn't found a house in Tallahassee. The owner, a lobbyist, mentioned that he had a townhouse there that he didn't normally rent, but wasn't using that week and we got it for a steal. It was in a beautiful part of town and was really nice, even had a bottle of wine waiting for us!
Monday 3/12
Our first paddle was on the Wacissa river from the head springs to Goose Pasture, about 9 miles. It starts out as a wide river, with twelve springs contributing to its flow, then braids between islands. The eel grass and other aquatic vegetation was easy to see in the clear spring water. Farther downstream the water became more tannic and we saw  several alligators. A young one about 5 ft swam beside my boat for a ways but the picture I got was unfortunately a little blurry. Another highlight of the trip was going through a long defunct section of dam (no safety hazard) and we could hear "whitewater", actually shallow riffles, in advance :D. The day was mostly cloudy with temps in the high 70's and a little windy. We saw osprey, limpkins, egrets, several types of herons, an eagle, and a few hawks, but no kites, which I was really hoping to see. The mullet were jumping all around, one hit Lois' boat, and it made me reminisce about how delicious smoke mullet is. There were a few other paddlers out to see the springs, but once we headed down river, we had it all to ourselves.
Slipping quietly down a finger of the Wacissa River
Tuesday 3/13
John woke complaining of a painful tennis elbow like strain, so he and Lois decided to go for a 40 mile bike ride,(John rides a recumbent) and I decided to hike. My plan was to try to hike two nearby areas along the Apalachicola River bluffs. I began at Torreya State Park and hiked only two miles before the temp reached 84 degrees. Instead of heading to my other destination, one that required more strenuous hiking I decided to head back to Tallahassee and catch up on some errands that I knew I wouldn't have time to do on the way home.
Overlooking the Apalachicola River from the Torreya Bluffs
Hiking the bluffs. Who says Florida's flat?
Maidenhair ferns along the ravines
Wednesday 3/14
We headed to the Ochlockonee River to paddle what was suppose to be a 15 mile paddle. I thought a trip that long was a bit odd due to John's arm but he was fine. The river started out wide, then narrowed. Fifteen miles is a good day, but this river seemed to go on with no end in sight. John and I had a discussion about what we thought our speed was, trying to calculate when we'd be done, and as the clouds began to mass into cumulonimbus, complete with anvil I started to get a little concerned. Finally we all let out a big woohoo when our vehicle came into view after 6 hrs of paddling, AND, we made it off the river in time to miss the afternoon thunderstorm that dumped nickel size hail in the area, not to mention the accompanying lightning. We saw a couple of eagles, no other paddlers, and a couple of fishermen at the end of the trip. This may have been due to the fact that most sane people don't pick a 20 mile stretch for a day trip :) A few days later, while Lois was on the phone with a local paddler about joining us, he mentioned that the guide book was wrong and that section was actually 20 miles! We had NO trouble believing him.
Windless day on the Ochlockonee River
Bald Eagle on the Ochlockonee
Thursday 3/15
After our marathon paddle the day before, we decided to do a short five mile section of the Sopchoppy River, which turned out to be the best paddle of the week! Swift water, tight turns, a few drag overs, white sand bars, and beautiful tannin-stained water. The swift part isn't visible in the pictures as I was too busy negotiating turns to take any :) Cypress knees formed sentries along the shoreline and the high banks were lined with wild azalea, mountain laurel and ti ti.  This river is rumored to be up for Wild and Scenic designation and I can certainly see why. There was not a house in sight on the entire section and no other paddlers. We drifted in silence feeling a million miles from kind of day!
Looking down from the "put-in" which you can't, btw, get any idea of its steepness.

Some of the many cypress knees lining the Sopchoppy River
Our lunch spot. The Sopchoppy's a typical north FL blackwater river
Friday 3/16
The end of the week arrived all too quickly and for my last river,we decided to paddle the Econfina, which two years before had been at flood stage. We'd paddled through the trees trying to stay in the main channel and not get lost. Unfortunately the gauge showed a measly 30 cfs and the guidebook recommend at least 140 cfs. Lois suggested the Wakulla, which we'd paddled before, and despite the chance to see manatees again, I wasn't in the mood for another wide river. John suggested the next lower section of the Sopchoppy, another 5 mile stretch that only begins to have houses just before the take-out.
This section was a little wider, the banks a little higher, and beautiful. Once again we paddled beneath wild azaleas and fringetree. We had the river to ourselves again and only one drag over. 
The only downside to the Sopchoppy are the put-ins and take-outs. Hauling a boat up a ridiculously steep goat trail covered in slick as owl snot fallen live oak leaves, was great fun and there was no shortage of groaning and moaning, and giggling....I told Lois I was going to enter her in the Sopchoppy worm grunting festival...yes this was on a sign as we went through town! I was just glad I had a fairly light canoe and not a heavy kayak. Putting in was on the other hand, a piece of cake! John made the comment "just pretend you have an unruly German Shepard on the other end, plant your feet, get a good grip and hold on. I was glad for a change that my painters were so long! This is also the man who was at the ready with camera to hopefully catch a shot of one of us as we fell in the river :) Fortunately no one did.
Putting in was much easier than taking out! Picture courtesy of John Heiam
Lois paddling past Fringetree
Mountain Laurel petal on water, Sopchoppy River. Courtesy John Heiam (the real photographer)

Saturday 3/17
On the trip from Texas to Tallahassee I'd taken my time, stopping in south Louisiana to have lunch, grabbing several lbs of crawfish tails on Saturday to take back home. Sunday morning I hiked at a preserve near Grayton beach, then took the long way along the coast and up through the Apalachicola National Forest. 
The trip home was a quick 13 hr drive with just a few stops for gas and stretching. I'd entertained the thought of stopping in Lafayette for the evening to catch Andrew Skurka speaking at the Pack and Paddle, but I was ready to be home.

What I'd started out dreading ended up a wonderful trip and next year Lois and John are talking about heading back to the Pensacola area which is not only closer for me, but if the weather cooperates, I'll get to paddle some of the rivers I missed three years ago when everything was truly at flood stage and not accessible. I'd love the chance to paddle the Blackwater River and to spend another day on Turkey Cr. After two years in the Tallahassee area, I'm ready to move on and explore some new rivers.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Trail Angels, Eagle Rock Loop Dec. 28-30, 2011

Prologue: Life is nothing if not full of surprises! 

A friend and I had planned to hike the Ouachita Trail from Big Brushy to Queen Wilhelmina SP but the day before the trip I had to have an emergency root canal after cracking a tooth. Then, after we began, we'd hiked about 9 miles when she suffered a pulled muscle and was forced to quit. It could have easily been me instead, as I'm 16 years her senior. Fortunately she had cell reception and was able to call a friend that lived nearby. While we waited for him to pick us up, she checked the weather. The forecast had taken a turn for the worse, so after we drove to her car at the lodge, ate dinner, slept in our cars, and picked up our food cache the next morning, I headed home to regroup. I'm a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, so maybe we weren't meant to get caught in the middle of a forty plus mile trip in cold rain and temps only rising into the forties. 
Back home I started planning. Since I would now be solo, a loop would be easiest, and since I didn't get to do ERL at Thanksgiving because of high water, I decided to try again. What I didn't know was that I was in for another one of life's surprises!

Day 1- 11 miles
I left the Winding Stairs trailhead at 7:30 AM, the car thermometer read 29*. I was headed counter clock-wise and soon reached Albert Pike. A couple was camping just above the campground at the lookout in a huge tent. Well it beats staying at home, I thought! I said good morning and continued on. The sun was just beginning to strike the leaves on the ground, and illuminate the frost. 

 The first crossing at Brier Cr. was COLDDDDD!! My toes were screaming and they hadn't even thawed out by the time I crossed Long Cr. As I was putting on my shoes after the crossing, the sun was beginning to melt the frost in the trees and it was raining down on me in big drops. I passed a group of young men hiking in the opposite direction, said good morning and continued on enjoying the quiet woods and the warming sunshine.

The first crossing of the Lil' Mo was running deep and swift. I scouted carefully, moved upstream a bit and crossed. After a while I met a group of guys from Denton and then not long after, another group from Louisiana. A small group was camped at Crooked Cr. and were getting ready to try their luck at fishing when I crossed. I made my way toward the falls, saying hello to a couple and their dog out for a day hike. I decided not to stop at the picnic area for lunch because there was a noisy party of ATVers clad in camo, but I couldn't fault them for wanting to enjoy the beautiful weather. I went a little farther and stopped at "bridge to nowhere" to have lunch and get water. My plan was to get about half way to the ABF trail head to camp for the night, and after stopping and checking out a couple of spots, I ended up at a spot just before the double river crossing. I smelled wood smoke and thought there was someone camped up ahead but then realized someone had left a campfire smoldering. I decided to camp there and make sure it was extinguished before leaving. This was the second time I've put out someone's campfire on this trail. I will spare you my rant, dear reader. And yes, I realized there's been lots of rain, but.....never mind :) It was approaching 4 pm so I selected trees for the hammock, hung my bear line, and proceeded to cook my dinner. Since it gets dark so early in the winter I'd brought my tiny MP3 player with a downloaded book, a story about hunting a man-eating tiger in Siberia. Thinking back, not the most appropriate tale given I was traveling solo...good thing I hadn't read about the mountain lion on Fourche mountain yet, LOL! I don't put the earbuds in, just lay them on my chest, and about 7 pm I heard something thrashing through the woods that I assumed was a deer. I peered out and saw a headlamp beam moving through the woods.(Love the transparency of my cuben tarp!) At first it startled me then I realized it was simply a hiker who wasn't going to let the early darkness keep him from his progress. I still don't know what the bushwhacking was all about.

Day 2- 8.4 up and down miles
The next morning I woke at dawn's first light, brought down my food, heated water for coffee and ate breakfast. Because I was in a valley it would take a while for the sun to hit, so knowing it would be a warm sunny day, I shook as much frost off my tarp and quilts as I could, packed up and headed up the trail to tackle the hills. It was 9 am when I left camp and quickly made the double crossings dry. As the sun began to peek over the hills I was delighted to walk through warm thermal spots in an otherwise chilly, breezy morning. 

 I reached the junction of ABF at about 10 am. I stopped, got some water, took off my layers, ate a snack and headed up Hurricane Knob. There was one downed tree in this section. What a glorious day to be in the woods! This was a mantra I repeated over and over throughout the trip. 

 Straight Cr. was running too high to rock hop, but my feet needed a refreshing cold water shock anyway. 
When I reached McKinley Mt. I took an hour long lunch break while I aired out all my damp gear, which dried quickly in the warm sun and breeze. My plan was to get to Saline Cr. to camp for the evening and that meant three more hills to climb, so I continued on down the trail. 
It was a blue bird day consisting of ups with beautiful vistas and downs with cool water crossings.

 I crossed FR #106 at 3 pm making it to Saline Cr. at 4 pm after trudging up Brush Heap. What was I thinking having this the last hill of the day!! Well, better than first thing in the morning :). If I hadn't taken an hour for lunch, I would have made it to Eagle Rock Vista, but wasn't crazy about the possibility of dealing with a nosey bear.
Arriving at a campsite, I found a couple of nice trees, hung my hammock, then my bear line, fixed dinner and went to bed at o'dark thirty, listening to the north wind blow through the trees on the ridge above, before it finally calmed. I didn't hear any coyotes on this trip, which was a little disappointing. I did hear an owl, but it hooted only once then moved on. Just before dawn the wind came up again, this time from a southerly direction. As opposed to the night before it was much warmer and I slept in the clothes I would start hiking in sans any baselayers, using my down jacket and pants as a pillow. 

Day 3- 7.4 miles
The morning was spectacular, with beautiful pink clouds scudding from the south, the soft sound of the creeks and the sun spotlighting a patch of leaves on the high crest behind me in golden light. And some people think they have to die to go to heaven!
I broke camp and started walking at 8:45 and soon encountered a couple of guys from Austin camped at the last campsite before heading up the hill. I was anticipating a beautiful view from the Vista and was not disappointed!  Even though it was cloudy, there was mist in the valleys far off in the distance.

 I was soon at Viles Branch (tree down at junction here) and after what seemed like a long time, made the first river crossing a little before noon. The section between here and the campsites as Winding Stairs is a somber place and as I walked through I couldn't help thinking once again of the people that lost their lives here in June of 2010. Gruesome images slipped through my mind. It was a relief to ascend again and see the river flowing freely in the bright sun and blue skies with the beautiful rock formations.

I hiked on, and after taking a few more pictures I continued on toward my last river crossing. I was just about there when I came upon a father and daughter consulting their map. I said hello and helped reassure them they were going the right direction. They were from Missouri and had begun at the Winding Stairs trailhead, leaving the night before and camping before the crossing. We talked a bit more and they mentioned someone had left their lights on in their car at the trailhead.....the more the described this the more I realized they were talking about MY CAR!!! Oh no I thought, I didn't leave my lights on. I had parked right in front of the restrooms and would have noticed as I walked out of them before heading out. And my warning bell would have gone off. But I couldn't argue that they had the right vehicle. I just couldn't believe it and I was flustered to say the least. I told them I had a portable battery charger and even if that wasn't enough to charge it after three days, there would be someone at the trailhead that could give me a jump. Then they did something that totally astonished me! They pulled out their car key, handed it to me, told me where their jumper cables were and said to leave the key on the front passenger tire. 
I simply could not believe it, but by this point I was so shocked by the whole thing that I thanked them and fairly flew up the trail arriving at my car at 1:45, which was indeed dead as a doornail. The first thing I took note of was that the headlights were not left on. Perplexed, I got out my charger and connected it, showing "medium" charge. I always charge it before a trip, just in case, but it had already lost some of its charge. While I left it on to try to charge I asked a group of guys across the parking lot whether they were coming or going. They were heading out but said they were happy to give me a jump. I told them to take there time and whenever it was convenient, their help would be much appreciated, since I wasn't sure I could rely on mine to start it. The guys finished getting ready and came over and jumped it off. I offered to pay them but they refused. Before they left they asked me to take some pictures of them which I happily did, with all 5 of their cameras. After they left on their hike I walked over to the car of the kind folks from Missouri, unlocked the door, put a tiny thank you note on the console,(I only had a tiny piece of a Queen Wilhelmina brochure to write on, because I'd recently used up the last of a small notepad I keep it my car) locked the door and walked around and laid the key on the tire. I wished they had asked me to lock it in the car, but I guess they were afraid the clicker wouldn't open when they got back and it was there only key! I still couldn't believe their kindness! I drove home worrying about leaving the key there, although they were parked at the far end of the lot and that tire was facing away from the rest. As I write this they should just be getting back to their car. Dear Lord, please let the key still be there with all safe!
All I can figure out is that somehow I must have either left a dome light on, or didn't get a door shut completely, and with it daylight I didn't realize it, but I was so relieved to get a jump I forgot to investigate those possibilities closely. My first stop on the way home was to buy a new battery (mine was past its prime.) I hadn't stopped to have a leisurely lunch after the last river crossing as I had planned, in fact I hadn't eaten anything since breakfast, so I stopped and had pizza. When I went to bed that night I couldn't help but be amazed at the kindness of the strangers from Missouri and said a little prayer that everything was as it should be when they arrived back at their car. I only wish I could have left them a longer thank you note!