Sunday, December 29, 2013

Cold Storage

Mike and Johnathan and I went on a campout by the pond last night. The forecast said 25 degrees, but I said "You can't claim to be a real outdoorsman if you can only be outside in perfect weather."
We went out to the land behind our house, and set up near a pond. We lit a small fire, and sat around for a little while.

 It was so cold that no one wanted to stay out long, so we retired to hammocks. I have a new underquilt, but Mike and Johnathan did not, and were adamant about also sleeping in hammocks. They were a good bit colder than I, but they survived. The thin cold air made the stars impressive, shining from very, very far away.

  We slept fairly well, but the cold was bitter outside of our shelters. Any attempt to leave the warmth of the sleeping bags was punished by the painful, biting cold. Conditions were definitely less than ideal, but we stuck it out. We woke up the following morning to find that the frost had covered everything, almost as though it had lightly snowed.

 So, it was a good campout, despite that it was mostly hiding from the frozen weather. The ability to enjoy yourself in unpleasant circumstances is a good one to have, and good company makes it easier. Johnathan is a good kid, if a bit bothersome at times, and though Mike can be a bit much, there is no one i'd rather have by my side in the tough parts of life. I am very lucky to have the company in my life that I do, both friends and family.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Road Less Traveled (Mann hunter camp)

Having nothing else to do, we decided to go on an adventure Thursday. We thought about going to a campground with showers and bathrooms and plugs for phone chargers, but instead decided that the road less traveled is more rewarding.We went out to Mann campground, which is well out in the middle of nowhere. It was a fairly uneventful trip out there, and a peaceful day.
There were six of us on this trip, Dad, Olivia, Mike, and Courtney, Gracie and myself.
 Olivia and Courtney 

Mike, our resident comedian 

and Dad. 

All in all, it was a great group of people to be out in the forest with. We had many a story around the campfire, and laughter echoed throughout the valley throughout the night. The campsite was at the end of a dirt forest road, near a stream. The stream dribbled on, carving a sizable valley. The tall mountains which the Pinhoti travels along stood east of the campsite, and a vast track of empty wilderness ran to the north and south. This camp was at the end of a dead end two track forest road, untold miles from pavement and two miles from the nearest through road.
The (literal) road less traveled 

 Arriving late in the afternoon, we lit the fire and set up the tent as the sun set. 

Soon darkness fell. 

It was fairly cloudy, but outer space was visible in the gaps between the clouds. 

We sat out and talked until each of us got tired and went to bed.  I sat out a little later by the fire. Campfires have a certain mesmerizing quality. 

I then tried to go to bed, but unlike last campout, Gracie wasn't particularly sleepy. She barked and whined most all night, for no apparent reason. She is able to unzip the the tent door, and did so. I eventually put her in the jeep, where her whining was quieter and I was able to go to sleep. The following morning, all five members of the company reported hearing some sort of animal walking about the campsite. Finding some droppings, I figured that Gracie had been trying to inform us of some Coyotes nearby. I heard them the night before, and I believe Gracie smelled them. 
 She is one cute guard dog. 

I slept in the 2 person tent, and Dad, Olivia, and Courtney slept in the 8 person tent, and Mike slept on an alter-like air mattress in the bed of the truck. The following morning, I got up first. It was supposed to be the warmest night of December, but it did feel fairly cool in the morning. My 0 Degree sleeping bag kept me warm enough, but Mike said he was rather cold. It sprinkled a tad in the early morning, which did not help him much. 

Mike's sleeping arrangement 

The sun rose in the East, as one would assume it would, and cast a pink hue over the vale. 
 The others woke up fairly soon afterwards, and we began to make breakfast. 

A little while after breakfast Dad left to go to work. Not very long after, we packed up and left as well. 
On the way out, we passed a fairly large number of hunters, following the dirt road north toward Oxford. It was a pleasant campout, less adventurous and more peaceful. It was a very pleasant, remote location, and we had great company. Mike and I have a great friendship, he is hilarious and I think we make a great comedic team together. All in all, it was a great trip. I hope to go out again soon, if weather allows. Perhaps a good backpacking trip.   

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Photographic Expedition with Mike

Today Mike and I were having issues figuring out what to do this afternoon, so we decided to borrow Mom's nice camera and try to get some pictures of the forest at sunset.

We soon found an overlook which faced out over the valley in the south, toward Talladega and Munford.
Soon the darkness fell, and the picture taking opportunities got even better.
 If you can't tell, that is the night sky, complete with billions of stars.
We took a few more... pictures,
and headed up the side of Cheaha. The sound of coyotes echoed throughout the valley behind us. Soon, the lights of Oxford appeared before us.
We took a few more pictures, but this one stood out the most to me.
With the trees in the foreground, it is easier to see the sky. Anyway, that was our afternoon. Wandering through empty forests at night can be frightening, but worth it, in my opinion. Although in the course of this trip, the pin that holds my tire carrier closed was lost, forcing us to improvise. Luckily, I carry a lot of random tools everywhere with me.
I c-clamped the tailgate closed, which somehow held up the rest of the trip. Anyway, I just wanted to share.

Some other pictures of the trip:

Monday, December 9, 2013

Turkey Day Camp 2 at Skeeter Branch


I know I am posting this a little late, but last week was my finals week, which concluded the worst experience of my life. I cannot even begin to describe how unpleasant this last semester was. But it is past now, and I must look to the future, and figure out ways to improve it. I find that spending more time outdoors usually makes it easier to cope with the daily stress of civilized life, and they say that having hobbies and being involved with clubs correlates with better grades. The week before last was Thanksgiving week, and we had family in from out of town. The same family as last year, in fact. With the dark shadow of final exams looming ever closer, my cousin Michael and I decided to get away for a while and go camping again. Unfortunately, most people were unwilling or unable to come with me, and it was just me, Michael, and Olivia out there. We did have one more member of our party though, one who was able to bring great comfort and who did unexpectedly well camping for the first time.
This is Gracie. She had never been camping before, though she has spent the majority of her life living outside. 

           So the day after Thanksgiving, (Known as Black Friday, presumably because of the inexplicable darkness that falls over people's souls when they go out with a bloodlust in order to loot stores for minor sales) we loaded up the two Jeeps and headed into the forest. Our target was Skeeter Branch hunter's camp, which we hoped would be unoccupied even though it was hunting season. Luckily it seemed as though all the hunters were also out trying to make up for any thankfulness they had on Thanksgiving by going shopping to feed their materialistic selves with more stuff they don't need, and weren't at the campsite. (In case you are wondering, I don't really condemn Black Friday this much, but the whole thing seems kinda wrong, like going from being thankful to being the opposite of that the next day.) The campsite was empty, as was most of the forest. It was a nice place, an elevated campsite on a knob surrounded by two low vales dipping down and then rising back to ridglines in the north and east, and a lower ridge to the west bearing the snaking passageway of the road making a thin path through the vast, mysterious forest. The northern vale contained a small stream from which one could gather water, if they found it necessary to do so.

Facing North from the camp, looking towards the stream. 

We set up our camp and lit a fire. 
Then I fetched our over-fire grill from the Jeep, and we cooked some hot dogs, followed by a fancier Lemongrass Salmon dinner. Both turned out pretty well, though the Salmon that I cooked turned out a bit more rare than I prefer. The night grew cold, but the crisp air was thin. The sky opened and revealed more stars than I have seen in Alabama in rather some time, possibly ever, exposing but a small portion of the vast creation of which we are but a small part. Many do not share my reverence for stars, but there is very little on earth which impresses me more than the beauty and vastness of the night sky. It is difficult, nay, impossible to comprehend the vastness of the distance between us and those tiny specks of light. Nature's beauty in all of its forms serve to remind me of the majesty of it's creator. Others may interpret it differently, but as for me, being in nature is a spiritual experience, a form of worship. I oft am in a state of prayer when I am wandering about in the wilds. After talking around the campfire for a while, the cold eventually convinced us to go to bed. Gracie and I took an ironically named pup tent, and the others went in the two person tent.
  Gracie had gone to bed before the rest of us, and was taking up quite a lot of the tent when I came in to sleep. She moved without complaint, and the two of us were able to sleep without any difficulty. I was expecting her to bark, or to try to lick my face, or otherwise be a bother, but she actually slept all night calmly and without incident, as though she had been doing this for years. The only issue I had sleeping came from my slowly declining foam pad and a pine root under my back. The temperature had also declined greatly, down to under 28 degrees Fahrenheit, though i felt no cold in my mummy bag under a quilt.

The following morning, I woke to find that Gracie had done some burrowing to make herself warmer, but otherwise had done well.

I awoke at first light, before the sun had risen, and found it rather cold. Opening the door of the small tent was like letting a flood of cold water in, showing how surprisingly well the cheap tent had held out the cold. It is a $30 bass pro tent, and leaves some to be desired in many respects, but it packs down small and holds its own against weather.
That blanket is our clean staging area for various things, also where Gracie laid before going to bed.

I rekindled the flame, and ate a pop tart as I watched the sun rise. 

 This was a fairly solitary time, the 45 minutes before sunrise. A good time for quiet reflection. I soon broke any hint of peace and quiet when I awoke my companions, using a metal spoon and the bottom of a cookpot.  Drearily they arose one by one and wandered over. Olivia made a breakfast of potatoes and chopped sausages. 

It seems that the two-person tent was not really large enough for two people to sleep comfortably, which is to be expected. But it works in a pinch, I suppose. 
Before too long we loaded the Jeeps back up, not dissimilar to a wagon train in the old west, and headed back out. 

It ended up being a good campout, very peaceful. It is likely that I will visit Skeeter Branch again, and look at other hunters camps in the Talladega National Forest as well, now that I've seen that they aren't all as trash ridden as Duck Nest hunter's camp. This campout was very much what I needed then. The following week was wrought with stress and turmoil, but I did survive it, and the ordeal of my first semester at JSU is now but a painful memory. I will take lessons from it, and use them to make next year better. That is the embodiment of the outdoorsman-adventurer mentality really, taking the unpleasant, unwanted, and unforeseen and appreciating it, learning from it, and in many ways seeking it out to learn how to better your life and make you a more versatile and capable person. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

CCC Road- Morgan Lake/CR 24

The weekend before last, Brandon and I decided to go backpacking.

We selected a hike from the CC road, where Dad and I left off last time, to CR 24 at Morgan lake. (The paved road to Cheaha.) It was said to be 7 miles, and looked like it followed along various creeks, including Hillaby Creek.
Dad joined us for the first two miles or so, and the three of us set off from the end of the accessible CC road. A short distance down that road was the thin snaking path of the Pinhoti. We began down this path, contemplating the sheer distance that this walking path network could take you. The Pinhoti meets with the Benton Mackaye trail, which connects to the Appalachian Trail, leading all the way to Maine.
Just down the trail stood the stoic, bullet ridden sign stating the distances to various landmarks.

That top one used to read "CR 24   7." This distance again proved to be incorrect, but less so than normal.
I am not sure exactly why, but it seems as though it rains bullets in the national forest, as every man made object out there is full of bullet holes.
We then proceeded along the trail, which wound through different microbiomes. There were pine forests, smaller thickets, and large, more open stretches with really old trees and a thick canopy.
Before long, we came to a place called Zulu Canyon. It was a pleasant little canyon with a fire ring and some logs for sitting. We took a brief break there.
After this, the trail followed along a creek for some distance.

 Eventually, we came to a slightly uphill stretch, where dad decided to turn back. He had planned to accompany us for a little ways, and ended up going further than planned. We waved goodbye and headed deeper into the wilderness.

Before long, we came to a power line cut.

Shortly thereafter, we came to the area of Hillaby Creek.

 There was a campsite with a fire ring there, and the trail crossed the creek. Brandon and I sat down to eat a small snack. We observed that someone had left a fair amount of stuff there, some old underwear, jeans, a fly or ground tarp of  a tent, and some assorted trash. We speculated about bigfoot attacks and the like, and then headed on. It hadn't rained recently, so the creek wasn't too deep, but it was wide. I can see how it would be a major obstacle in the wet season. I crossed it fairly easily in my boots, but Brandon was wearing tennis shoes. He opted to cross barefoot, which seemed cold, judging by his exclamations.
It was a beautiful area. We sat there for a little while as Brandon dried his feet.

 The write up I printed from the Pinhoti Trail Alliance website said that the next reliable water was about 2 miles down the trail, so we set off in that direction. There was a pretty steep climb after the creek, but the trail went back down to the creek valley again. We came to the spot the write up was talking about, a flat area between two converging creeks in a stony, low, cool valley. We set up our camp there, in the remote gap carved in the earth. The atmosphere of this valley was very cool.

This stretch of trail appeared to be extremely remote, and very rarely trekked. We did not see another hiker the whole trip, and the campsites had very little trash or appearance of use. Many popular campsites have very little wood, due to other people using all the dry wood. This wasn't a problem here, as the stone fire ring was the only sign that people had ever been here. We managed a pretty good stack of dryish wood, but none of it was bone dry. The valley ground was fairly moist, even though it hadn't rained much. None the less, we managed a pretty good fire after a little while.

We ate dinner and sat by the fire talking for a while before retiring to our shelters.
We did find a jar of instant coffee under a log, with a 2005 expiration date. Brandon and I debated whether or not it would burn, and eventually he sprinkled some of it on the fire. It made some sparks, then a blazing fireball. I say its likely that that is what gave life to our fire.
I slept well, falling asleep to the recognizable "Who cooks for yooou?" of a Barred owl. I then woke up around 6:45 the next morning with flecks of sunlight hitting the trees a hundred feet above the camp.

We ate some cheese grits for breakfast and broke camp. The sun still low in the eastern sky, we set out.

That tree had fallen over the trail, leaving only a small accessible path toward the base of it. The trail was still following along a creek here, giving a cool atmosphere and flat walking.

 This soon changed however, when the trail turned toward the sky and caused us to exert a tremendous effort scaling these hills. The last two or three miles of the trail were by far the hardest. With each hill, the trail would track to the summit, we would rest for a minute, then it would decent a bit only to turn up again. Eventually we came to an old roadbed, and the trail followed along it. Following this for some distance, we came to an ambiguously marked crossroad.
 We stayed here for a moment, resting and consulting the map. In the distance, we heard a motorized sound, and thought for a moment that we may be close to the road that ran by the lake where we had parked the Jeep, but then we noticed that the sound was getting closer. Soon, a four wheeler whipped around the corner and jumped over a hump before speeding off into the distance. We waved, but he didn't acknowledge us. Nor did the second four wheeler, which came by a few minutes later.
We hiked on, down into another creek valley, until we could hear the road pretty clearly. Coming around another corner, we saw the causeway of the road. About a hundred yards from the road, I stepped on a loose part of the trail. The edge of the trail gave way into the valley below, and I fell to the ground. I threw myself backwards to land on my pack, and something in all that prevented me from falling down the cliff. I got back up, and we walked out of the forest onto CR 24. However, (pardon the pun) we weren't out of the woods yet. The Jeep was still a little ways up the road at Morgan Lake. So we waited for traffic to clear, and then crossed the road. We walked on the side of the road for a short ways and came to the turn of the lake's road. We walked a ways down, and soon we saw the Jeep.
At the end, we had hiked 9.3 miles.
We left there, showered, and then went and got some nice steaks. All in all, it was a great  hike.There weren't the dramatic views of the more southerly hikes, but the beauty of the stream valleys easily made up for it. Like all of the hikes i've been on, it was pretty great.