This was supposed to be the Spring Backpacking 101 class weekend. Due to the almost certain possibility of cold and rain, the trip was postponed for a week. However, due to the certainty of me being on call at work next weekend, I was determined to go anyway. The group leader said he would go with me, and Jacob (who is experienced in the woods but has never been to Panthertown) came with us. The rain started off and on during the drive up to North Carolina, and began in ernest about five minutes after getting out of the car in the parking area. It never stopped completely while we were awake, for the duration of the trip.
Mark and Jacob both had full body and backpack ponchos. Mark calls his “the walking blueberry”. I, on the other hand, had what was billed as a “waterproof jacket” from Target (clearance sale! $30). I would soon learn that “waterproof” means different things to different people, and Champion’s definition and mine are not the same.
Mark likes to barefoot hike. I sometimes do this as well, particularly where there are lots of stream crossings and puddles. This proved very detrimental on this hike, when towards the end of day 1 I stepped on “the vine of a thousand spines” which was laying on the ground. My foot now looks to have a lengthwise perforation, much like the joining sections of a piece of toilet paper. One of a few times I screamed like a little girl on the hike. The other was when I almost set myself on fire. More on that later.
One of our first stops was schoolhouse falls. To see a front picture of it, you have to find a previous post. Check September or October 2012. It’s pretty interesting, in that you can walk behind it. By now the rain was as steady and reliable as this waterfall.
It was at this point that I began to notice that my waterproof jacket was having some issues. Namely that around the arms there were some obvious signs of seepage. I could sort of see dark spots instead of beading up. “Uh-Oh” I thought. I had no poncho or other rain gear, depending on the Champion jacket to keep the rain off.
Our next trip was a jaunt up to Little Green. This was a scary place. Little Green is pretty and open and on a slope, which usually is fine. When it’s dry. Knowing my propensity to fall at inopportune moments, the last thing I wanted to happen on my hike was to slip and plunge down the hill into the jagged rocks and tree stumps below. In fact, it was less than the last thing I wanted to happen. It wasn’t even on that list. This picture was taken from as close as I got to the edge, while eating my bagel-and-bacon sandwich. Did you know they make “Bacon Jerky” that is essentially just bacon in a sack that lasts for days? Me either. In no uncertain terms, that stuff is awesome. Getting cold and wet, I put my fleece undershirt on between my synthetic t-shirt and rain jacket.
Our next stop, after the trip across Panthertown valley and Granny Burrell falls, was the “official” camping area. Thankfully there is a shelter there, which, big surprise, contained no one. By this point I was “soaked through”. Deciding to “cheat” we agreed to stay inside the shelter. It has a tin roof that leaks in a few spots. The rain on the roof also made it sound like we were inside a giant popcorn machine going full blast before a double feature down at the multiplex. In a rare moment of “oh yeah!” I remembered to photograph my hammock and underquilt, ready for bed. In the far left corner are my backpack and some clothes draped over the beams. Drying my fleece shirt was relatively easy. Fleece seems to hate water, and the water gathered in the low points, so by “milking” the arms, I was able to get rid of a few cups of water. Thankfully the low was only supposed to be 45 that night, and it was still about 48…
Jacob and Mark got to cheat too, not even having to set up tents. We decided to rest and dry a little before going off again. I really needed something hot, and set up my Fancy-Feast stove. I poured in the alcohol and thought it would be a good idea to try and light it with my emergency striker and knife. I stuck a few sparks but they died before hitting the fuel. I got closer, stuck a nice big spark off, and hit the stove with my knife tip. it flipped over and caught fire in the dirt. A few well placed swear words and my cup of water extinguished the blaze. I gave up and got the matches, once the unburned alcohol evaporated. Future notes: Stand farther back. I used too much fuel like always, but it was oaky, because I huddled over the little flame and immediately felt better.
After getting warmed up and set for camp, we decided to head out to Wilderness and Frolictown falls. Cold wet shirt? Check. Wet-Blanket jacket? Check. It is quite amazing, though, how good synthetics feel, even wet. For the first couple of minutes, they were really uncomfortable. Then they became warm and damp.
Frolictown falls are pretty easy to get to, but there’s not much to them. With a ten foot drop or so, they aren’t that dramatic, and this is the only view possible without swimming.
Wilderness falls is a lot more picturesque, and I have a better picture on my bathroom wall. It sounds great, has a lot of different little sections, and its name is apropos. Getting to it requires a hike through a twisting turning, backwoods trail that almost seems to disappear in places.
Climbing back up from the view to the falls is always interesting. I’m not sure which is tougher, going down or going up. They re-routed the trail, and it was sort of like walking on a mattress. It is very spongy in places, but also muddy on the side of a hill, that you had to be careful not to slip down.
Salt rock provided one of the best views of the rain-covered valley. The little hump in the middle is where we ate lunch. The big hump on the right is Big Green, which we didn’t go up because of the bad weather. It’s tough in good weather, and with rain-slickened rock, we didn’t want to chance it. From Salt Rock it was back to the camping area.
Since we had some time before dark, Mark went over some of Jacob’s gear, giving suggestions. I pulled out my first aid gear as well, and we poured over what could be left at home, and what was needed. Jacob and I gathered creek water and purified it for our food. I braved the Fancy Feast stove again, and managed to cook the best batch of instant potatoes, warm MRE Lemon Pound cake, and Cafe’ Latte that I’ve yet to taste. I have to remember on future trips to take extra hot drinks. I planned on one at night and one in the morning, but because it was so cold, I wound up borrowing an extra one from Mark.
It was at this point that it was nice that we were all alone in the woods. A couple had joined us briefly (Matteo and Marilyn), but left after looking at the Great Wall, wanting to leave Panthertown all together for somewhere drier. You don’t feel creepy or weird changing in front of two other same-sex persons that you know, and walking around in your long underwear while your sodden shorts hang on the line is no big deal.
Thus began the great overnight adventure. Mark hung his bear bag, which consisted of tying his UrSack to the shelter over his head. Wanting to hang properly, I took my rope out to a tree about 100 feet away, and threw it over a branch. No, then I threw it over the branch. Then I untangled the rope, yanked the briars out of it, and tossed it over the RIGHT branch, and pulled up the food bag. Notes on this one: USE PARACORD. Yes, it’s heavier than thinner stuff. Paracord seems to tangle a lot less easy. It’s also great to grip, and doesn’t cut into your hands. My current “bear cord” will be relegated to another use.
Going to sleep is always the worse part of hiking for me. You’re tired, you’ve eaten, and it’s seven-thirty. Time for bed? What the Hell? There’s a reason they call nine o’clock “hiker midnight”. Everyone is long asleep by then. Mark told me the trick to damp clothes: Sleep in them. The human body puts off a heck of a lot of heat. So, I climbed into my hammock and promptly started shivering. After wrestling with my under quilt, which wasn’t tight enough and was letting enough of a draft to cause CBS (Cold Butt Syndrome), I finally blocked the drafts and settled down. I was still cold, so I took off my damp shorts and hung them on the ridge line over me. That seemed to sort out the problem and I fell asleep inside our popcorn popper.
When I awoke, it was DAF (Dark as forever), and I had to pee. According to my phone it was after midnight. I laid there contemplating falling asleep, wondering as always in the woods, if falling asleep knowing I had to pee would cause me to pee on myself. Giving in, I began the birthing process that is exiting the hammock. I waited for a slack period in the rain, and ran out to the closest tree. By the time I was done I was shaking terribly (you jump out of your warm bed, run out in the yard in the rain at 40 degrees and see if YOU don’t shiver). Back in the hammock, it was a few minutes before I was warm and toasty and hey wait, my clothes are much drier!
A few times during the night I woke up to the “red eyed zombie” light of Mark’s headlight. I assume he was taking care of business too. I woke up good at around 4am. Damn this sleeping at 8pm stuff. I watched some of a movie on my phone and played a few games, and rolled back over until 6. I heard Mark up, and looked through my mosquito netting to see him untying the bear sack. Giving in to the blessed morning, I ran out and untied the food bag, pulling the rope down. Yes, it was still raining.
After borrowing a little fuel (I carried enough for three burns – since one went all over the ground I had to use some of his. Next time I bring enough for a week in the woods – with a starving friend) I cooked my grits, made Cappuccino and heated my other bagel (blackberry jelly, woo hoo! Thanks Cracker Barrel). Mark was laying in his bag waiting on his food to cool, and Jacob was just getting up good. After cleaning up I retreated to my tent for more warmth. And yes, my clothes were completely dry by now. Very cool.
After packing up, we headed to Warden’s Falls. We never could get through the dense Rhodos all the way to the falls. the rain really picked up, and there was a burst of thunder in the distance. Deciding to call it a day, we headed for the car, over a mile, with about a quarter inch of rain to go. Overall we did about the same mileage as the regular BP101 route, ten miles, with close to 2300 feet of ups (if not more, I GPS recorded the day trips, but not the trip to Wilderness falls and Salt Rock).
I took some more video this time… You can really hear the rain on the shelter roof while my Cat Stove is burning. Check it out on YouTube. They “shake corrected” it, so it is a bit wonky in places. Sometimes I think that makes it worse. They also seemed to “crop in” on it, cutting off a lot of my video. I’m not too happy with their conversion system…
I didn’t get much of day 2. It was raining so bad, I didn’t want to wreck the camera. Overall the trip was okay. I could deal with my shorts getting damp, but the torso was uncomfortable. A poncho would have saved my bacon, or even a waterproof coat. I’m going to treat mine with NikWax and give it a good testing under the sprinkler, and then maybe still have a “backup” poncho for future trips. The synthetic fleece shirt was a big help. Even though water was RUNNING out of my sleeves as we approached the car (literally, when I pointed my arms at the ground, water would stream out) the shirt was warm. Not having enough fuel and hot drink mixes was an oversight, but that’s what learning is all about. Hot water by itself would have even been okay.
Mark said he was glad he cancelled the 101 trip. I concur, having been a “backpacking newb”, it would have been a VERY rough introduction to the sport. Of course, the worse part of all this is that my house looks like the storeroom at REI. I have damp gear draped over every available surface, piles of things to go in different places, stuff to clean, stuff to reassemble, and re-supplies to do. Oh, and the thirteen spines to dig out of my foot, left over from the “vine of a thousand spikes”. Thus the title above, This was way more than 101 – this was advanced stuff. Backpacking 401, maybe?