Sunday, January 20, 2013

Foothills Trail-- Bad Creek to Bearcamp Creek

The past week had a lot of rain, so I decided to revisit part of the Foothills Trail in South Carolina which I'd hiked once last year that had exceptional the waterfalls and streams.  Starting from the Bad Creek Trailhead, a 0.6 mile blue-blazed trail crossed the Whitewater River on a metal bridge to reach the Foothills Trail.

Winter had opened up views of countless smaller waterfalls that I hadn't noticed on my previous trip last April.  With the leaves off the trees, I could also appreciate the route the Foothills took-- while there were some short steep parts, much of it followed old roads and avoided long and sustained elevation changes.
Morning frost made steep steps slippery.
The deep roar of the frothing whitewater of the Thompson River made my heart race as I crosse over it at mile 2.7.  I'd read in the Naturalist's Guide to the Southern Blue Ridge Front that this river is worth exploring via rock-hopping along (no trails)- there is a falls less than a half mile north of the bridge and rare plants.  Swollen with water for recent rains, rock hopping was not an option for me, so I made mental note of the campsite on the far bank, and decided a return trip will be in order.
Bridge over the Thompson River
The roaring Thompson River
After 5.5 miles, the trail descended to a large campsite at the intersection of the side trail to Hilliard Falls (also called Bearcamp Falls).  An impressive amount of water covered the rockface in dramatic white sheets in this two-tiered falls.
Upper part of Hilliard Falls
The next mile between Hilliard Falls and Bearcamp Campsite followed the doghobble and rhododendron lined banks of Bearcamp Creek.
Cascades of Bearcamp Creek
Past the campsite, I found a large puddle filled with frog's eggs.  How cool!
Seemingly boring looking puddle...
...on closer examination reveals blobby things...
... which and an even closer look shows...
.. are little frog eggs!
Beyond Bearcamp, the path joined old roads and walking became easy, traversing pine-covered hillsides.  The sounds of the cascades below echoed up the valley.
Pine-scented forest.
 I decided to turn around before the Foothills Trail descended all the way to the Horsepasture River.  I'm not sure how many miles it was, but I needed a short day on Sunday so I could make it back home for evening aerial dance trapeze practice.  So, I headed back to Hilliard Falls where I set up camp down by the Foothills Trail where it seemed warmer.  It was a large campsite which could have accommodated a large group of hammockers.  Has anyone else noticed that the proportion of branches suitable for bearbagging is inversly proportional to the number of well-spaced trees for hammockers?
Near Hilliard Falls.
Once I put my pack down, I realized just how sore I was.  Leading up to our big trapeze show next weekend, I'd been rehearsing everyday, sometimes twice a day.  As much as I tried to convince myself that backpacking would be a break from trapeze, my muscles told me differently.  I worked on stretching and yoga alternating with camp tasks and dinner.  It was only then that I remembered that one of my most difficult New Years resolutions this year is "Slow Down. Breathe."  Guess I'll need to continue to work on that one!

The cold night, mid-thirities, allowed me to try out my new glove system.  I wore DIY arm gaiters most of the day, with fleece fingerless gloves for hiking, camp tasks and anything with a risk of getting wet, and then changed immediately into the big and heavy mittens (from my dad) when it was colder or when the fleece got damp.  No cold hands for me!

This was yet another trip where I saw no one else the entire time.  Where are all the hikers?  Hello out there.

Monday, January 14, 2013

DIY arm gaiters

As part of my New Years Resolution, I've been working on finding solutions for my "cold hands" problem (i.e. Raynaud's Syndrome).  While the warm weekend weather stopped me from testing a full winter glove system and an awesome suggestion I've gotten from a friend (thank you JJ!), I did make some progress on the base layer for my new system-- DIY arm gaiters (also called sleeves by runners).  In colder weather I plan to wear these under my fleece gloves, with warm mittens over that, possibly adding a vapor barrier.
DIY arm gaiters with silver racing stripes.
I sewed these arm gaiters a while back using a pattern I created myself. The first version was too short and kept sliding annoyingly down over time.  On this trip I tested out some new modification which turned out great.  I added some fabric to make them longer.  I also added an elastic and cordlock closure to the top, and this kept them nicely in place.

I wear my arm gaiters with a short sleeved shirt.  They are easily taken on an off without taking off my pack, unlike a long sleeved baselayer.  They allow full dexterity, but in comparison to my fleece fingerless gloves, they keep my wrists warm.  I think this will be key since I realized my shirts and jackets don't protect my wrists since I've got freakishly long arms.  Keeping the wrists and all those veins that are close to the skin well insulated I've recently learned is really important to prevent cold hands.

The other feature that I tested on this trip was the power of the racing strips.  On hour 4 of this trip, I was uncharacteristically worn out.   We've been gearing up for our next big trapeze show, and the 1 to 3 hour trapeze practices everyday (including a 2 hour practice that morning) had finally caught up to me.  I downed my "emergency" chocolate and put on these arm gaiters, and their shinny silver sparkliness (in combination with the chocolate sugary goodness) provided extra energy on the steep sections.  It's no wonder that superheros where these things.  Perhaps my next version will have lightening bolts.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Bartram Trail-- Over Scaly Mountain again

This weekend I took a quick overnight solo trip on the Bartram Trail of NC from Osage Mountain Overlook parking area over Scaly Mountain past Tessentee Camp (and back).   I'd chosen this section to revisit for the second time because I suspected it would offer nice winter views of the surrounding cliff faces.  I also wanted to scout it with an eye for a possible hike with friends or for the Trail Dames-- this trail is too beautiful not to share with others.  While I can recall locations of blueberries precisely (which were delicious in July btw), I can't remember elevation change very well (even though that's something I need to know for leading a hike).  It quickly became clear to me that this section was more difficult than I'd remembered, but it was also just as stunningly beautiful as it had been in summer.

The terrain is what's fondly called "technical."  Loose gravel, boulders, and erosion cut banks were hidden beneath a multi-layered sandwich of leaves, moss, and lichen.  It provided a great core-muscle workout, but I also realized this would be trip best shared with only a select group of friends (though I want to also check out the side trail to Hickory Knut to see if that offers easier access).
Time for some puddle jumping!
The clouds were shifting and I could finally take off my raingear by the time I summited Scaly Mountain.  The boggy seeps, rock gardens and carpets of lichens and spongy sphagnum moss were glowing wet and illuminated with intermittent sunlight.  The weather was delightfully, if unseasonably, warm.
Wet rocks on the trail at the summit of Scaly Mountain.
I swear I didn't even need to photoshop these intense colors.
Plump pink buds of trailing arbutus ready for spring.
The ridge along Scaly Mountain was botanically rich, with heath communities interspersed with various oak forest types.  I was excited to find two types of burrs-- one I recognized as allegheny chinkapin and the other I suspect is chestnut from studying this website.  It was so cool to find both species on the same mountain!
Small, clustered burrs of chinkapin open in two sections.
Larger burrs of the chestnut.
On the slope down Scaly Mountain, the forest type shifted with moss-covered logs lining a pine needle-covered trail.
Tessentee Camp was very different in winter than it had been when I'd camped there in July.   It felt more spacious without all the herbacious plants, and seemed well-suited for a group.  On the other hand, it was perceptibly cooler down in the valley than it had been on the slopes, and even for a warm winter day, I hoped I could find something that wasn't so damp.  I hiked on.

Rising from the low point at Tessentee Camp, the Bartram switchbacks up and then weaves through jagged cliffs with views across valley that I hadn't seen when leaves were out.
Rugged trail traversing steep cliffs.
Jones Knob in the distance.
After about an hour, with it getting darker, I ended up turning around and hiking back to search for a campsite.  I found a spot down an old road. Through the bare trees, I could see the rocky cliffs I'd hiked over to the north.  They towered over a remote valley spotted by a few houses.  It was a pretty spot for sure.   In normal winter weather, I'd never dream of camping in such an exposed site though.  While it was out of the wind, weather can change quickly in the mountains.  But it was warm, and, enchanted by the view, I thought I'd be brave (foolish?) and settled in, orienting my hammock so I could see it all.  I got lucky, it turned out.  Despite some early morning rain and fierce wind gusts, the spectacular sunset view was definitely worth it and I was pleased with my little campsite.
Hanging with a view.
One thing I really enjoy about winter camping is how time seems to stretch out in the evening.   I  watched the sunset for an entire hour.  The clouds drifted across the sky slowing changing colors as the sun set. Then the brightness of the stars came out on a dark new moon sky.  A few lights blinked on below in the valley.  I could watch it all with the awareness of how lucky I was to be witnessing such beauty.

During the work week, when everything moves so fast, I run around, dwell in details and I can get quite self-critical and down on myself.  But when I backpack, there is no to-do list (besides the essentials of food, drink, shelter), no full inbox, no hurrying.   I see more clearly the big and wonderful important things in life.  I am satisfied with my ability to navigate my surrounds with confidence and openness.  I am feel most at home with myself and my surroundings.  I realize this is what keeps me coming back to the woods, and what restores me.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Hanging at Raven Cliffs

In keeping my my New Years Resolution to step outside my comfort zone, I went camping at Raven Cliffs, GA with folks from Hammock Forums, an online community of hammock enthusiasts.  My goal was to meet new people and get ideas for my hammock setup.  After I got over my initial nervousness about going on my first "group hang" where I don't know anyone and where I was only one of two women, I ended up having a blast.  They were a very friendly group, highly knowledgeable, and eager to show off their hammocks and answer questions. 

Hanging out around people who make their own gear inspired me to start thinking about new DIY projects.  I would like to start trying to figure out how to sew my own top quilt, redo my tarp rigging, and possibly make my own hammock.  I've also taken a fresh look at my gear list to see how I can reduce my pack weight.

It was also a good change of pace talking to other people who know more than me about gear and hammocks.  I typically go on Trail Dames trips where I act as the leader or "expert", so it was a nice to take a turn in the role of student. 

So far, 2013 seems to be off to a good start!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

2013 Resolutions

Looking back at my New Years resolutions from 2012, I realize how much my goals motivated me and shaped my year.  I diligently worked towards my goals, structuring my weekends around them.  I wonder what I could have accomplished if I'd have been brave enough to set more meaningful goals for myself, or if I'd been more open to other opportunities that weren't on my "to do" list.  This year, I'm trying to set resolutions that will take me beyond my comfort zone.

2012 resolutions I kept:
   -Hiked the Foothills Trail.
   -Hiked the Bartram Trail in Georgia.  While I didn't have it on the list, I also completed the Bartram in North Carolina.
   -Found the Oconee Bells.
   -Backpacked 20 miles in a day with a full pack.  This turned out to be easier than I'd expected (i.e. even making 26 miles).  I have since quit obsessing (so much) over mileage.
   -Gave back by teaching LNT/ Leadership- attended Stacy's (Step Outdoors) leadership and LNT trainer course in Colorado.  From the skills I learned, I helped organize and teach a hike leader training for Trail Dames.
   -Practiced "courage" in aerial fabrics class.  Started telling myself "I can do it" rather than "I'm not strong enough". 

2012 resolutions I didn't complete:
  -Hike the Duncan Ridge TrailThere is still a section of this trail I haven't finished yet, due to being scared about driving over FS roads to get to the more remote trailhead, and because I didn't like the parts of the trail that I did do.

2013 resolutions:
   -Stop making excuses about things I want to do, but that I think are scary.  If I can do this in aerial fabrics class, I can try it in the rest of my life.
   -Give back by doing trail maintenance.
   -Get skills (and a plan) for long-distance hiking.  Meet and hike with long-distance hikers.  Figure out how to stop getting cold hands.  Figure out how to overcome fear of not having a job.
   -Let go of arbitrary goals, obsessions over hiking a certain number of miles, "completing" a certain number of trails, and meaningless benchmarks.  Step outside the box.
   -Slow down.  Breathe.  Practice softness.  Be mindful.