Well it’s fall, and officially it became time for one of our meetup group’s members to host “backpacking 101”. I’ve been on about every one of these since my first trip back in 2012. He’s gracious enough to allow alumni to return and go on the trip as well, and this time there were five of us that had been a time or two. Because the group had gotten so large (20 at one point – but dropped to 14 by the morning of the trip), Mark the group leader decided to split us up. The alumni decided “hey we’ll all go a new way and meet at the camp site”. Thus the exploration of hitherto unknown areas of P-Town began.
True wordpress style, my uploaded pictures are all out of order, so instead of a cohesive story with pictures I just have random pictures interspersed with my tale. So look at the pictures and enjoy, then read the story…
The first step was the drive. It was early morning and still not fully light when we all met at our favorite spot, the parking lot of a large chain store, which allows us to use their parking lot for nights on end, as long as we park waco in the back. People divvied up their cars, and this time I wound up driving alone, because I planned to take a side trip on the way out.
I forgot how long and boring the trip can be alone, but was soon trying to keep up with Jason, in front of me with the rest of the Alumni Group. Jason liked driving a few MPH faster than I normally do, and I was trying to keep up and yet scared of getting a ticket. Within ten miles of getting on the interstate they hit McDonalds.
Long drives in big groups are often like this. Someone always needs to pee, get gas, or get coffee, or feed some other addiction, or get breakfast because they were running late. Usually with the BP101 crowd we stop at LEAST three times on the way there. I was glad to have my own car. I bypassed mcDonalds and soon the speed demon caught up to me and we were off to the races again.
Finally at Panthertown (after a stop at SubWay – because the rest of the Alumns didn’t know the plan Kim and I had come up with excluded subway and they should have BROUGHT their first day’s lunch) we got parked and unloaded. Panthertown has no real parking lot. Its a wide dirt road and you park on the shoulder wherever you can find a space. I wound up at the entrance, right off the side of the road. It didn’t bother me much, since the “out” trail would put me out by the car.
We headed off, the six of us. Me (Taco), Kim (Sunshine), Jason (?), Thomas (Cowboy), Rudy (Chef) and Bob (Rainfly) went exploring some areas that Rudy and Kim had done, but I had never seen. We first went up towards Warden’s falls, but missed a turn somewhere. We wound up skipping it, and then going over to Jawbone falls. After pushing through the break in the trees and going down hill, we were stuck with the idea of going across a small stream and then downstream to the waterfall. Thankfully it was only around calf-deep. Sunshine at first said “no no no – this is NOT fun, I’m not doing this”, but since everyone else was already halfway across the creek, she gave in to the mutiny and headed off. I followed, being the slower and clumsier one on the trip. I figured, no reason to take out everyone when I fall.
Jawbone falls was very nice. It was about 40 feet high, but mainly a slide, and it didn’t take up the whole rock face, so we crossed the stream above the falls, and then worked our way down the angled face of it. Finally at the bottom, we crossed the stream again the other way, which was just over knee deep (but I didn’t get my kilt wet!) and the water was really sluggish, so there was very little current.
After a brief stop to put shoes back on, we headed down the path to the next falls, but I don’t know their names off hand. It was pretty, but not as impressive from the top. It was mainly a low slide, tumble over a jumble of rocks, more like a rapids than a true falls, and went on around the corner out of sight. After that it was up the blackrock mountain trail.
Oh, I forgot to mention something. During some of this, it was RAINING. It would come and go in fits and starts, and we put on and took off our rain gear once. There’s a point when you realize that you will get completely soaked, and grab the rain coat. Hiking in slight rain is okay, because under the raincoat you’ll sweat just as much as you would get wet, but there come a point where you just don’t want to be soaked and cold, and finally get the rain gear out.
We passed a real, live hornet’s nest on the way up the blackjack trail. I’d never seen a real one hanging in the trees, it was interesting to look at from a distance, and thankfully it was raining, so the hornets were mostly inside, instead of trying to chase us away.
One down from Blackrock and onto Carlton’s way, which was a twisting, turning, near-bushwacking trail in places, we made our way to the shelter area. The shelter is in the midst of a large, open area, and looks like the tin roof attic section of an old house or barn, with no ends. Its a very weird structure to come upon in the middle of nowhere. It was unfortunately occupied for the night. There were no people, but there was gear everywhere.
Chef Rudy knew of another site a few hundred yards down the trail, so we headed off and began setting up camp, intending to ditch our stuff and go exploring. Someone had a cell phone with service, and they texted the 101 group. By the time our camp was set up and a water run to the creek completed, the other 8 people showed up and started picking out spots. Mark (the Hobbit) had brought his manual chainsaw, and we cut down a dead tree. Me and jason were in charge of lumberjack duties, And dropped it right where we wanted to, right between two other trees. It hit the ground and broke into several sections. Chef Rudy got a slow-mo video of it which was really awesome. I’ll share it if he posts it somewhere.
After spending a good deal of effort moving my bear bag (because someone chose to camp under it), I was met with howls of derisive laughter, after which I was asked to hoist up around 80 pounds of food and cooking gear (being sarcastic, but it WAS heavy). I finally gave up and found the only limb capable of holding our load, which was sort of low, but I just went with it.
After a snack, and watching the second group set up camp, one of our group figured out he had left his rainfly at home because he brought the wrong tent. I had enough room when I spread my hammock tarp out, so I let him camp under me. His tent stuck out just a little, and he threw a poncho over the end. Some of the group decided to go ahead and eat before the night hike. Chef Rudy made Pad Thai in the woods, from scratch, including scrambling an egg after cracking it one handed on his knee, and dicing garlic. He also cooked a bacon-wrapped filet mignon that Kim Sunshine had brought with her. As I had forgotten my steak, a bite of hers was pretty tasty.
The next event, which about 8 of us participated in was the hike up Big Green Mountain for the sunset. It turned out to be very nice. Big Green is a pain to walk up, as you have to go up around 300 feet up the side on a twisting, turning, muddy path, and then continue up an incline and finally out onto the edge of the Great Wall. I felt a little like I was in “A Game of Thrones”, without the snow.
The group settled down and watched the sun set, and then walked back in the deepening darkness, only to find out some had forgotten their headlamps. We called out obstacles such as mud and roots and stumps, and everyone made it back safely. After retrieving the food, it was time for supper, a fire and bed. I used my Snow Peak canister stove this time, instead of my alcohol stove. It was different, easier, but I still like the fancy feast stove.
Mercifully, the rain waited until after bedtime, but the group of “Christian” students down at the shelter whooped and hollered and played music like a drunken spring break group until around midnight. Finally the rain started and they quieted down. I woke up once at 1:30 to a good hard, but straight down, rain, and went back to sleep. I slept pretty well until a surprising 7am. It was still raining, and I lay around until 8am and finally decided someone had to get the group up.
I collected our food, and distributed it to the masses like some campground “meal on wheels” vendor, and went back to pack up my stuff. With no shelter, cooking and eating was going to be tough, so I packed my pack first, leaving only my rainfly tarp out. I stretched it out as flat as I could, leaving the rain to run off the corners, and my activities woke Rainfly Bob from his tent. Several of us cooked breakfast under the Tarp and hung around waiting for the rest of the group to finish packing.
It was at this point that we all decided to mostly stick together. The original plan was to split up again and hike different directions, but I think the rain may have hampered us a little bit. We walked out along Big Green trail and up the mountain again, this time with packs on. That was quite an experience but its always nice to do that AFTER doing it the night before, otherwise you have no idea when it will end, its just one long slog up the side of a damn hill. The core of the alums somehow wound up out front, Me, Rainfly, Jason, Cowboy and Chef. I’m not sure where Sunshine went, I never saw her again.
Our group in front headed on down and across the ridge to Greenland Creek trail, and dropped packs at the campsite near the falls. Chef Rudy stayed behind, intending to head on back to the car by himself. I started ahead of the other four, figuring I would meet everyone else at the falls. Thomas, Jason, and Rob caught up with me and passed me, as I was struggling with mud in my open-sided shoes. Greenland Creek trail will ruin shoes… which is usually why I go barefoot down this one.
I finally made it to the end and the falls were beautiful, and not running too hard. Chef Rudy had told me about a path up to the top of the falls. The falls are around 40 feet high I guess, from the main trail to the top. I found the side trail and started up, and it was steep. Before long it was REALLY steep. Even though I was in the trees and not out on rocks, I was still handholding and scrambling up. Finally I decided it was too high and too steep, when I was almost level with the top of the falls. I turned around to come down.
Have you ever gone up a ladder to the roof to fix something? Its a little scary, but then you make it to the roof, fix whatever, and turn around to come down. Now it’s REALLY scary. I was thinking, “how the HELL do I get down? Where is the trail, did it fall off the side of the cliff while I was contemplating whether to go up?” Needless to say, I made it down, as I’m not typing this in the woods. But it took me about twice as long to go down as it did to go up.
Now normally, I don’t have to crap in the woods on an overnight. But halfway up that trail I really started to feel sort of an urge. Thankfully I didn’t have to go on the side of that hill, and by the time I got down, the urge was gone all together. Back to normal hiking mode.
I decided to try and make it up as close to the underside of the waterfall as I could. I’d done it once before, and was pretty sure of the route. It was easier than I had remembered, even though I was wearing shoes. I took it very slow and deliberately. There’s one section where you have to cross the flat section of the rock, and it can get slippery. I made it up to the falls and was rewarded with a great view and a roaring white noise and cold mist.
The other guys motioned that they were going back, and I waved them off. I worked my way back down and back to the little campsite we were using as a base for Greenland Creek falls. When I got back, the rest of them were moving on, and Mark, Lorenzo and Ann were just arriving. Mark reported that everyone else had headed back to the cars, and he wanted to show Lorenzo and Ann the falls. I told him I would wait, and they took off.
I took advantage of the break, and sat down to eat a little. I still had food left in my pack, why not eat something? I wish I had a nice hot drink at that point, but although I had my stove, I was fresh out of drink mix of any sort. My bad. I reorganized a few things and found my dry socks from the previous day, and made sure I could find my keys and my wallet. I went through my pictures from the hike and deleted the crappy ones, and laid my head back for a nap against my pack, leaning against the tree. Before long Mark, Ann and Zo came back, and we walked on out, ending our hike.
Just sitting around relaxed