The time had finally come again. It’s hard to believe it’s only been six months since my first ever backpacking trip. I had a lot to learn from “Backpacking 101″, and decided to try it again. I guess this was “Remedial Backpacking 101″ for me.

This time I decided to do a few things differently. First of all, I wasn’t going to be cold. I made my under quilt, it was time to lie in it. I also wasn’t going to carry so much damn water. In Panther Town, you can’t get away from the water if you try. A liter works fine. Three is way too much. I was also going to ditch the fancy burner stove for a cat stove model instead. I think I’ll take the canister stove on summer trips where I do not need the under quilt.

We met at the appointed time and place, and divvied up the cars. I rode with Mike and Jason in the “Toyota of Secrecy”. Several things were talked about, and opinions given, which were decided should remain between the three of us. What is discussed in the Toyota, stays in the Toyota.

“What is said in the Toyota, stays in the Toyota” – Mike.

Of course, getting out at the trail and getting ready is always interesting. Given my failings at the end of previous trips, I had some water and a clean shirt waiting for me in a day pack in Mike’s trunk. I put a liter into my pack’s reservoir, and left the rest.

The group getting ready. From the left, Maryah, David, Jason, Rebecca, Me and Mike. Evidently I think something is funny.

The group ready to walk. Photo by Mark. Maryah, Jason, David, Me, Mike, Jen, Ameilia, and Jill.

The push to Schoolhouse falls seemed a lot easier this time. Panthertown looks a lot prettier with fall leaves than spring leaves, but smells a little musky and “off”. I thought someone had a wet dog with them at first. After somewhat of a downhill run, we made a climb up to the falls area.

On the way. There’s a geocache right there somewhere. From the back, Jason, then me, then some other people.

Schoolhouse falls… pretty as always.

Maryah enjoys the view.

We walked around behind the falls. no one has uploaded pictures of me doing that, though. I’m not as sure-footed as I should be, to risk the camera at the first falls. I like to “spider walk” a lot of these places on all fours. If I lose footing, I have three other things holding on. After schoolhouse falls, it was time to go for lunch. We had stopped on the way in at what had to be the worst example of a Subway, ever. However, enough of us found something mildly edible to have lunch here. A word of advice, if you get Subway: Whether you want it or not, by the time you get to Little Green, you’re GOING to have flat bread, no matter what you ordered in the store.

Little Green. Table for 10, please?

Looking for a good place to eat. Jill follows David and Mark.

I love this restaurant. The service sucks, but the views are great.

A second word of advice. Onions will permeate even Ziploc “trash” bags after a day. It is best to leave them off your Subway Roast Beef flat bread sandwich.

After lunch…

Notice the bare feet in the above picture. I’m slowly going barefoot in some hikes. It is a weird feeling, almost like being naked in Wal-Mart. Although Wal-Mart being what it is maybe that wouldn’t feel so odd. But Hiking un-shod is definitely worth trying. I was informed the hike up from Schoolhouse falls to Little Green was barefoot-friendly. Some people’s definition of barefoot-friendly is apparently different than mine, however I got through it. How is it I can ascend four hundred feet up the side of a mountain without shoes and be okay, but I can break a toe going up the back steps carrying a sack of bread?

Jen looking over the valley.

“Packs on!” The dreaded post lunch compliment to “drop packs!” Standing, from the left: Jason, Rebecca, Me and Jill.

It was time to re-shoe and make our way across the top of Little Green, down the valley, and across to Granny Burrell Falls. It’s more of a slide than a falls, but it’s pretty, and there is a cool swimming hole at the base. If you like swimming in frigid water.

Granny Burrell Falls. Maryah, Jill and David try out their footing on the slick rock.

Nice stand of old trees on the way to camp.

I do not have many pictures of the camp setup. My one regret was not taking enough pictures. Everyone had cameras, and Amelia took some really good ones. I only “borrow” pictures with me in them, because I obviously can not take pictures of myself, but there are some great ones on the group site of random stuff. Next time I’ll definitely have to do a better job. After camp setup we had a snack, and then planned a sunset hike to Big Green. We left a little early, and inspired by my lack of a pack, I lead the group on “The Trail of Tears” to the base of Big Green. Sorry I went at a slave-driver’s pace, I’ll do better next time. Big Green is only around 300 feet of elevation gain, but its a punishing climb around switchbacks and through tree “doorways” and up steps chiseled into exposed rock. It’s the toughest part of the place, in my opinion. It’s always nice to come out on top, even though you have a half mile to walk back the other way to get to the overlook, up another hundred feet of gently sloping ridge.

At the top of “Big Green”. Jill, Rebecca, Maryah and Mark rest on their poles.

Mike looks for a good seat.

Looking for a good outcropping to get out in front of the trees.

This part of the trip was deceptive, it looked a lot closer to the edge than it was. However, right beyond the evergreens is a sheer two hundred foot drop down the “Great Wall”, so care must be taken.

A view from Mike’s first spot.

David, Mark and Rebecca wait for the sunset.

Mike scares us with his proximity to the edge.

The funny thing, was the next day Mike looked back at this spot from across the valley and said something to the effect of “Holy Crap that is where I was standing?” Due to the slope of the wall you really can’t see the sheer face from on top.

The sun disappears behind the mountain.

The walk back had us in darkness. We gathered firewood on the mile long walk from the base of Big Green to the campsite. We had split into two factions, the guys had one side of the campground, and the women had the other, mainly for privacy reasons. Since the big shelter was occupied, the women’s camp had the fire pit. Those of us in the “low rent district” were allowed to live the high life for an hour, and cook by the fire.

Mark cooking by the campfire.

I slept better this time, but still not great. With my sleeping bag, liner, and under quilt, I was finally warm, except for a little cool spot at the base of my back. I needed to adjust the quilt’s suspension lines, but it eventually warmed up once I radiated enough heat to warm the dead air space. I just have not got the sleeping outside thing down.

Day two. The picture is taken from farther away, as we were tired, scraggly, and a little smelly. Left: Amelia, Jen, Rebecca, Maryah, David, Jason, Mike and Me. It was a little cooler now.

Temperatures dropped to the forties overnight, and although they were in the sixties eventually, we were still a little cool. We packed up, left the packs in the shelter, and headed to wilderness falls for a day hike loop.

Stream Crossing! Barefoot time. Who needs rocks? Hang the shoes on the neck and slog through! I made my own path.

Walking barefoot from camp to Frolic Town falls is interesting, especially when the trail is obviously used by horses.  Horse poo is mildly gross when you have shoes, it’s intimately more of a hazard when barefoot.

Frolictown falls.

The hike to wilderness falls is a little tough, and because I was in front clearing spider webs, I think we were some of the first people through there that morning.

Wilderness Falls. They are pretty tall, this photo doesn’t give a good sense of scale. I had to spider-walk it over to the base of the falls through knee-deep cold water. But it was fun.

After wilderness falls, the loop cut around to the highest and best view of the park, the Salt Rock overlook. It shows all the best stuff in the valley. Little Green, Big Green, the Great Wall and the valley below. Fall truly came early for us.

From the Salt Rock overlook.

Me and Jason found our second Geocache before walking out onto this vista. Our first was at Granny Burrell. It was good to have another geocacher there to encourage me to poke around in the brush. The possibility of stirring up the bees had me a little timid where going off-trail was concerned.

Five separate pictures stitched together for this “Pantherama” from Salt Rock.

After this, it was all downhill to camp, and then a slog back up Big Green with our packs on, and across the valley to the hardest falls for us to reach, Greenland Creek. The falls are noisy, massive, and three-quarters of a mile back through twisting, muddy, rooty muck-filled creek sides. Going barefoot is an exercise in masochism, but it’s either that or ruin your good shoes. My feet are still stained brown two days later, I can’t imagine that stuff coming off of shoes. But walking out into the plunge pool and sitting on the rocks is worth it.

Maryah makes her way to the falls.

Greenland Creek Falls. Note Jill has scrambled up to the ledge.

Another View of Greenland Creek Falls. Jill is in front of the water, there’s a big ledge between the first and second cascade.

Jen scared me by standing on the one rock that looks like it might fall over any second.

Spurred on by the success of the others, (from left) David, Rebecca, Me and Jill work our way up to and behind the waterfall.

Kaylee would love it here, if she could make it this far back into the woods.

Time to go…David waits on me, and Mark catches me looking back.

All too soon Mark got up and shouldered his pack. The adventure was over. It was all done but the hike out to the car. The barefooters led the way, with Jill close behind. Through all the twists and turns back to the intersection where David stirred up some yellow jackets (no one got stung). Then it became interesting. We got twisted around for a few minutes. Using two maps and two GPS units, we were able to accurately determine our position and head across the park to the car lot. After saying our good byes, we split up, changed and said goodbye to Panthertown. I think I might need some more help, and would love to come back in April 2013…(Backpacking 103?) one day I feel I’ll get expelled, though. You have to make room for freshmen.

The weather was awesome, despite threats of rain by the weather people. The temperature was perfect, not too cold at night and not too hot during the day. Trail traffic was light. There were four dogs at the campsite we used, but they were well-trained enough to stay quiet at night, and did not bark at all over night. There was no one in our group that was offensive or arrogant, no “drama”. Even the clouds cooperated a little, blocking the worst of the sun to help with photographing the early fall leaves. It was a beautiful trip.

Our trip, GPS-wise.

So – the final report. This track does not include the night hike. Add 3 miles and 300 feet and we walked 13 miles and up a total of 1800 feet. Two geocaches found, several hundred pictures taken, two fires built, and no injuries. I think I barefooted it around three miles.

Until next time…