Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Back on the Trail at Forest Glen

Ever since I started my road back from pneumonia in January, March 15 was a major date on my calendar. Early on I decided this would be the date that I would finally get back on a trail after a hiatus that spanned almost four months. As day after day went by, and the snow kept falling and the temperatures kept struggling to get above freezing, I hoped I wouldn't get snowed out. Only deep snow, ice, or thunderstorms would keep from hiking. Fortunately, the weather turned out to be pretty great for hiking. The sun was shining, and the air was crisp, while not being too cold. If I didn't complete the hike, it wouldn't be the weather that was the factor.

The last time I had hiked was on the Appalachian Trail high atop the Smokies. My first hike of 2014, however, was on much tamer ground. Not wanting to push it too much, I decided upon the Willow Creek trail, including the Primitive Loop trail.  This choice was not random, as I wanted a trail that would be fairly easy (with a little bit of a challenge), not overly muddy, and would get me pretty close to the 2.5 mile goal I had set for the day. Therefore, my brother and I set out on the trail that fine Saturday morning.

As expected, the trail was somewhat muddy, but passable. Had we chosen other trails, such as Old Barn or Crab Tree, we'd probably be slipping and sliding through muck. Although most of the snow was gone, there were a few remnants left in the shade of the hill side.

Near Howard's Hollow Seep Nature Preserve was where our biggest obstacle occurred in the form of a small sheet of ice. Despite several days of temperatures above freezing, this little pocket of wet ground in the woods refused to thaw. I poked the ice with one of trekking poles. After a few taps it made a dent in the ice. However, it didn't crack. On one side of the ice was muck and saturated ground, pretty much impassable. On the other side was a steep drop to the creek. Like it or not, we were going to have to cross it.

This ended up being a good experience, having realized that I could cross ice without falling down. I used my trekking poles as if they were ski poles, and shuffled across the ice. Never did I even feel like I was slipping. Travis made it across as well, stepping carefully and using what few trees on the edge of the ice were available for balance.

Following the ice crossing, the rest of the trail was rather anticlimactic. We walked to the primitive loop trail on the River Ridge Backpack trail, a mostly flat walk that other than a few parts wasn't too muddy. I always forget this trail is almost 1.5 miles round trip, and it seemed longer. Finally the back pack trail crosses the stream and goes up a steep climb, while our trail went the other direction and looped back around. Beyond this point the trail earned its name, as it became less defined and maintained. It wasn't as bad as some trails*, but it still wasn't as maintained as the more popular trails in the park. There were some downed trees we had to skirt around, but because the trees in this area were still quite young, they weren't nearly impassable obstacles like some on the Big Woods or Tall Tree trails can be.

Eventually we made it back to the Willow Creek trail and headed up the one "steep" incline on the trail. I had to stop a couple times to catch my breath, a product of caution more than necessity. Once atop the hill, the trail goes up and down, but only a few feet each time. Other than a few muddy spots (including one that would have tripped me up had I not had my trekking poles), we spent most of this portion of the hike enjoying the scenery of late winter in the woods. Because the leaves have yet to sprout, the lay of the land below the trees is more evident. Instead of feeling like being in a green tunnel, we could get a better picture of where the trail is relative to other places we had been, or will be going. It's one of the things I enjoy about hiking this time of year.

Finally we finished the trail, and did some improvisation to hit the mileage goal. We ended up in front of the wild turkey pen at the Sycamore Hollow campus. It had been a bit more strenuous than normal due to it being the first hike back, but it was enjoyable nonetheless. I was so glad to be back on the trail, and am looking forward to another year of adventures.

*Upcoming entries in the "Hiking the Lists" feature will expound upon this

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