Sunday, February 9, 2014

Retreat from Moscow

With a bad case of cabin fever having set in over the last month or so, and this weekend being forecasted as warmer, we decided to go backpacking. I had some new gear I wanted to test, and I broke the driveshaft of my Jeep, so car camping was out. We drove out to Shoal Creek Church where the Pinhoti met civilization, and left from the graveyard.

Father was carrying a pretty bulky load. We then crossed FS 553, soon after which the trail lead into a different biome, one with tall, thin pines spread out widely with fairly dense underbrush beneath. 
This Florida-like ecosystem continued for a good ways across flat ground until we came to a bridge across a small creek. 

We stopped on the other side of the bridge to rearrange Dad's sleeping bag, which had fallen off of it's perch. 
The trail then descended into a stunningly beautiful creek valley. We walked along the side of the creek, admiring the huge, ancient trees and soaking up the late afternoon sun.

The trail then began a gentle climb through the valley. 
The trail then came across a sizable creek. 
We then went through a dense canopied pine forest which reminded me of the black forest of Germany. 
We then curved around a bend and saw a creek traveling down the valley toward the Laurel Trail Shelter. 

This was the nicest shelter I have seen yet. It was nestled in a valley near a large creek, protected on both sides by mountains. 
The trail then crossed the creek and went up the hill. 
As the trail went away from the creek, the views of the mountains around us opened up. 
We then followed the ridge away from the creek, as the sun lowered in the sky. 
As we walked along, we began to notice horseshoes embedded in the trees. I later found out that the Sweetwater Horse Trail crossed the Pinhoti on their collective way to Sweetwater Lake. 
 Soon Sweetwater Lake opened up before us. 
The trail followed right along the edge of the lake, which was larger than we first thought. 

Along the sides of the lake were placed wood duck houses. We heard a great number of waterfowl in our time there, likely including wood ducks. 
We followed along the lake, crossing the road and speaking with a few people, until we saw the dam. 
There, in view of the lake and the dam, we decided to make camp. The sun was setting, and the place was absolutely beautiful. 
 We went up the hill a bit and found a fire ring and a flat spot. 
I set up my hammock, and reclined into a cool paradise. 
Dad put up the tent and I set up the rest of my shelter. We then collected sticks and wood as the sun set. 
 Soon darkness descended as we lit our fire. 
I boiled some water on my MSR stove for the Mt. House freeze dried foods. I had some spaghetti and father ate beef stew. 
The lake surface was as smooth as glass beyond our campsite. 
 Our campsite was a small spot in a vast forest. The forest was truly enormous, the only significant human sound we heard was airplanes. I suspect that there is no place in the eastern United States where you can escape the roar of distant aircraft. The stars were brilliant. 

 The fire burned well, and there was plenty of wood as this was a very old campsite that hadn't been used recently.
Soon we went to bed. Father said that he was very cold in the tent, and had to wear most all of his clothes, and had to get up and walk around to warm up. I was actually quite warm in my hammock, I used my new Vulcan Underquilt by ENO, which prevented my back from being cold, and I used my mummy bag as a top quilt. I was rather warm, save when some limb escaped from the quilts. All in all, I am a fan of the underquilt. 

The following morning I woke up late, around 7:45, and we re-lit the fire. It was too cold to get out of bed before that. 
 I boiled some water and made some grits. 

After breakfast we began to pack our stuff to leave that beautiful campsite.
The sun came out as we packed, warming the air to a nearly tolerable temperature. 
The trail proceeded along the side of the lake, and soon we reached the dam, the top of which was a flat, grassy plateau.
 The grassland reminded me of an African savanna. The trailblazes were on poles in this stretch, due to the lack of trees.
The trail descended into a cool valley as it snaked its way toward Shoal Creek.
The trail turned to follow the creek, which had become much larger.
Soon we came to a fork in the creek where the trail turned to follow a side creek up a valley. The river wound off into the distance. 
The trail came across a bridge, one of twenty placed across gorges and deep creeks along the Pinhoti.
We saw what I believe to be coyote tracks. We could hear them in the night. 
 Like a small dog's tracks. 
The trail then passed through some of the most beautiful valleys I have ever seen. 
 The trail started to follow the creek again, which had become a river. 
The valley flattened out as the trail became wider. 
Strange fungi grew on ancient fallen logs along the clear, slow waters. 

 Before long we caught sight of a civilized, mowed field, signalling that we were close to the end.
We walked along Shoal Creek until we thought our feet would give out.
  We came across a patch of some sort of fern-like plant.

We then passed through a stretch with many fallen trees, and a more open valley.
The creek was lined with the evergreen Rhododendrons that grow along mountain water sources.

 Soon, we caught a glimmer of something metallic in the distance, which we saw was the bridge over Shoal Creek near Pine Glen Campground.
We came across the sign a moment later.
It was less off than usual. I don't know if it is the GPS or the signposts that measure incorrectly, but there is always a pretty significant difference between the two. On the back of the sign there was an Anole sunning himself. The previous night, father and I discussed where the cold blooded animals go when it was that cold, and this lizard's presence served only to emphasis the question.
 We soon came to the car, parked near Pine Glen. We drove on dirt roads back to the church, and then out towards home. It was a wonderful hike, through some beautiful country. I can't wait until the next time I can get out there.

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