March 29th 2014
We'd been planning this trip a while as an open invite, early Spring trip on HammockForums.net. We ended up with just four of us: Lance, Jason, Justin and I. Of course, I'd never met Lance or Jason before this weekend. This just reinforces the experience I've had and heard about the backpacking world: we're all nice people who enjoy getting together.
We planned this trip for a weekend based on open schedules, not based on weather forecasts. Spring time in Ohio is bound to be dicey. We thought it was going to look ok, but all week the forecast kept changing. Even Friday, the day of the hike we heard differing reports.
The end of the story is that most of Saturday afternoon was about 40°F and pouring down rain. Lance was probably the most experienced hiker of the bunch. He called it pretty early and recommended we do our best to get off the trail. So we cut our two night backpacking trip down to one. In retrospect (and even towards the end of the day), I'm very happy I listened to Lance.
The whole trip was supposed to be hike half the Archers Fork Loop Friday night and camp on the North Country Trail connector. Then Saturday we'd hike the entirety of the Scenic River Trail and River Loop Trail. Sunday we'd finish the second half of the AFL and end up back at our cars. That's three days of hiking, two nights out, and a total of 23 miles.
I took all of Friday off. After getting up at a reasonable time, Justin and I packed for the trip. It took us a couple hours to get everything ready. I was fairly meticulous about packing off my list. We've had problems in the past getting everything. So about 11:00 we set out on a four hour drive. That'd put us at the trail head at 3:00; plenty of time to hike the six miles in to the designated camp site.
Unfortunately, something always goes wrong. About an hour into the drive I realize I'd left my wallet at home. There's no way I have enough gas to get there and back. Painfully, I turn around and go back home to pick up my wallet.
We don't get to the trail head until just after 5:00. There's only one car there; which turns out to be Jason. Now we're down to two hours of daylight to hike the six miles to camp. So we're hiking pretty fast; as fast as we can. No time to stop and enjoy the trail. No time to stop at several of the cool rock formations. We just have to make camp.
Almost two miles into the hike we catch up with Jason. Just as we catch up to him, some kind of crane takes off from the creek right where Jason is. That's pretty much the only wild life we see the whole trip.
The three of us hike about another mile and a half when Lance catches up to us. He'd arrived at the trail head about 45 minutes after Justin and I. He was really cruising down the trail to catch up with us.
Remember our goal is to make the camp site six miles in. That gets us far enough down the trail so we can do the SRT and RLT in one day. It's about 7:00 and we're only about four miles in here. We agree to hike as far down the connector trail as we can before dark. We've been hiking so fast and it's getting pretty late. We end up camping about half a mile down the connector trail.
We setup camp and cook dinner. I head to bed pretty quick, but I still feel like it's well after 9:00.
One of the new pieces of gear I was testing on this trip is a USGI "Green Patrol Bag". This is one part of the military sleep system. It's a fairly light bag at 2.3 pounds rated down to 30°F. I also brought the famous "woobie" Poncho Liner as backup. It's not very thick, but I figured it'd add a few degrees extra warmth. That night it got down to 40°F. I didn't really sleep cold, but I wasn't warm either. I slept some and I "rested" some. I was only wearing a base layer set of thermals. Frankly, I could have used more insulation. I think I've come to the conclusion I like a bit more insulation than the average backpacker. Does that mean I sleep cold or does it mean I sleep hot? That phrase is confusing to me, but I think it means I sleep cold.
Saturday morning, I keep listening for the others to get up. I finally crawl out of my hammock at 10:00am. Even being a bit cool, I still slept pretty well. We all were moving pretty slow. We didn't break camp and head out until almost 12:00. It seemed pretty clear we couldn't make the whole SRT/RLT that day. We decided to just finish the hike down to the original camp site. From there we'd come backup to the second half of AFT, camp Saturday night and finish AFT on Sunday. That would put us at about six miles for Saturday and another six on Sunday.
The connector trail was rough. So many ups and downs with nary a switch-back to be seen. We missed the camp site and hiked all the way to the trail head of the SRT. That means instead of doing a mile and a half, we did two and a half. We stopped to eat at the SRT trail head. My thermometer read 50°F. That's when it really started raining. We all donned rain gear and started the hike back.
The temperature fell a few degrees and pretty much stayed around 40°F. It poured rain on us all afternoon. By the time we made it back up to where the connector trail intersected the AFT we were nearly exhausted. That connector was so rough. Now that it was raining so much, all those ups and downs were slick with mud and difficult to climb.
My vote was to hike about half a mile on the second half of the AFT and make camp. That'd still leave us with about five miles to finish on Sunday. Thankfully, Lance had the right of it. We were very wet and quite cold. We had no idea what the trail ahead on AFT was like. When we'd make camp, all we could do was setup and get in our hammocks to dry out and warm up. On the other hand, the trail back across the first half of the AFT was a pretty easy trail. We could make our cars in about four miles. Jason, Justin and Lance were all in agreement, so I went along with it.
Turns out, that was exactly the right decision. I don't think any of us suffered from hyperthermia, but i felt like I was on the verge. By the time we got to the cars my feet, hands and legs were very cold. All in all we did 8.5 miles on Saturday; most of it in the pouring rain.
I didn't really have enough dry clothes. I changed my shirt and put on my dry coat, but my legs were still wet and cold. I eventually shed the pants and wore just my thermal base layer home. I told Justin I was basically sitting there in my underwear. His response, "I'm just going to sit here and try not to think about that."
Due to my lack of attire, we went through a drive through for dinner. I then made him get out and pump gas to fill up for the trip home. I think those two events might have been the highlight of the trip for Justin.
I asked him if he was glad he went. He said, "I'm really happy. Not just happy to be alive, but happy that I've accomplished something today." (That was even before he got to pump the gas.)
The story doesn't end here. On the way home the pouring rain became a driving, blinding snow storm. I drove about an hour or more doing about 35 - 40 miles per hour on the interstate. I lost count of how many cars I saw in the ditch, but I remember seeing two flipped over. I managed to get home at 11:30 completely exhausted.
Here's my take away:
Meeting folks off HammockForums.net to hike with continues to be a big success. I'd gladly do more hikes with Lance and Jason!
Another new piece of gear I brought was DIY bamboo trekking poles. I can't imaging having done this hike without poles. My hand straps need some work, but overall I'm happy with these poles.
I still need better insulation on top. Sooner or later I'll break down and buy a 20° down top quilt for Justin and I.
Always, always bring an extra set of dry clothes. I thought I'd be able to just stink through the weekend with one set of clothes. Bad idea.
And now for something different. I asked Justin to write up his version of what happened this weekend. I said, "Just write down the story like you'd tell a friend at school." I did not read this until after I finished writing mine. Here it is in his own words.
My dad said to me "I'm excited for our trip next weekend. It's going to be a lot of fun." I nodded thinking, "Man a 3-day trip out in the wilderness. That's gonna be fun!"
Dad opens the door; we walked outside and put our packs in the back trunk of my dad's Subaru. "Lets start our 4-hour trip to Archers loop." I said to him as we buckled our seats. This is gonna be a long ride.
Four hours later we reached the trailhead of Archers loop, it was warm outside. Not very many clouds outside. We get our packs out of the back trunk and buckle up the straps. I see a truck out opposite of us. "That must be Jason," my dad said, reading my mind. We head over to the Iron Gate, and we started our long trip.
As were going long the trail, I look down at my watch and see 5:00 blinking up at me. We reach an intersection "This is where we'll be heading out on Sunday." I've heard that before. I think it's the same as 'how could it get any worse' they say in the movies and it starts raining. Well it kind of happened like that.
The trail kept passing us by as I'm in the lead. Up ahead I see a sign. "Natural Bridge" it says we walk toward it and look over to where the sign seemed to be pointing. A Natural Bridge is what the sign said and what it was. "Come on we need to reach the campsite before dark." My dad said to me as he started up the trail.
As were walking we look up and saw pine trees. We walk through it and up ahead, there's a guy we wave with our trekking poles and he looks up at us "I knew it was a matter of time before you caught me! I was taking pictures and stopping a whole lot!" We come up and introduce ourselves. So it WAS Jason we saw parked up there at the trailhead. We walk and talk up this rather large hill. I pass both my dad and Jason and they're laughing about some trail joke Jason said. We reach the top of the hill and start on a rough road.
The road was definitely long and ragged but was promising the north county trail. I look back at the sun and see a figure moving across the road. I wave my pole at him and yelled "AHOY MATEY!" Jason countered with "That can't be Lance." Well it was Lance and he catches up to us.
We reach the Connector trail and then a nice camping spot. We agreed to stop and set up camp and wait till morning to start again.
That night I hardly slept at all. Jason went off to camp elsewhere and that scared me because I didn't completely trust him and thought (call me crazy but) that he was gonna come out and stab us with his trekking poles. But he came down to us and talked with lance as he was eating, and also my quilt wasn't on my back. So yah, a rough night.
Dad's note: Sorry, Jason. I'm certain this part is just for effect. He's 13 and likes to embellish a story
I woke up the next morning feeling cold but that made me motivated to pack up. I was the first one. Dad was cooking and I said no to breakfast and lunch. Jason comes over from his camp site which wasn't far from ours and sits down. We all snack on something then start hiking.
Dad's note: I would not have let him hike all day skipping both breakfast and lunch. When presented with oatmeal for breakfast he declined. When presented with granola bars, he at two. He also had a pack of trail mix he ate as we hiked. At lunch, nobody cooked. He had a whole packet of tuna fish, unheated. He had another couple of granola bars, some turkey jerky, and the remainder of Jason's pita/peanut butter sandwich. He also took my packet of trail mix to eat along the way. Jason also made mention of Justin's "hollow leg". He ate fine.
We reached the campsite... Wait let me rephrase that. We PASSED the campsite, went up another rather large hill, and crossed a road. But we went back to the place we slept and decided to go back to the cars. It was raining and the mud was harsh so we kept slipping but thanks to our trekking poles, we stayed up most of the time. The connector trail of Archers loop and this other trail was REALLY hard and it was UP the DOWN then UP then DOWN some more. so I repeat we decided to go back to the cars.
The trail back was easy, but we were cold, wet, and tired so it took along time. We eventually made it back to the cars but boy. the drive was 4 hours. We were hungry and tired this was going to be a long drive
Three things happened that I will never forget:
- Dad got fast food
- I learned how to pump gas
- I fall asleep very fast when the heaters blast toward your butt.
I enjoyed the trip overall though, was a lot of fun.