Well, I was in the woods this past weekend. To be honest the trip was rather unplanned. I had indeed planned on going into the woods, but my plan was for a completely different trip. At the last moment something came up which required me to drive to a location on the opposite side of the mountain where I had intended to go into the woods.
As I didn’t have time to get to my planned location, I had to re-plan my trip on the other side of the mountain. I had planned out a route in that area before, but I had intended it for a later date as a three day, two night trip. It is not an extremely long route, about 10 miles, but the elevation changes from almost sea level to 1,200 feet in under five miles. From experience, I know that doing a trip like that would be pushing my abilities. However, I figured I would try it. Worse case scenario, I wouldn’t reach the mountain I was aiming for and would have to camp earlier and then turn back without achieving my end goal-still not a bad weekend in the woods.
The beginning of the trip crosses an area where in 1890, building began on the Dunderberg Spiral Railway, which was intended to take people up the mountain. The project was soon abandoned and never completed, but remnants of the work can still be seen. It was my intention to check out some of the areas where the railroad was intended to pass. Soon after starting the trip, I saw one of the tunnels built for the train.
The area is overgrown now, and it is clear to see from the other side of the tunnel that it was never finished.
Even after a short way up the mountain, the views were quite impressive. I can see why they planned the train track there.
You can probably see the clouds in the picture. The weather forecast was for rain all weekend. I used to avoid going out in the rain, but these days I rather enjoy the challenge. It makes the trips more interesting. Despite the forecast though, the weather was warm and sunny. It was in the 60s (F) most of the day, making me rather annoyed that I was carrying two fleece tops in my backpack.
After a good amount of climbing, I saw another tunnel that was started and never finished. This one was in the earlier stages of construction when the project was canceled.
In some areas, you could actually follow the graded area where the tracks would have been placed. If I had more time, I would have followed the proposed line, but because I was in a hurry, I had to push on with the planned route.
If you look closely at the picture, you will see that an elevated, leveled path has been created with rocks for the train tracks.
Around 2 pm I stopped for some lunch. When moving fast, I need food, or I burn out quickly. Lunch was a granola bar and some cheese, which unfortunately had melted because of the heat.
I have mentioned this before, but in this area, finding water is a big issue for me. These mountains are mostly rock with a very thin cover of soil. Because of that, any rain water runs off very quickly. In warm weather, after a few weeks without rain, water becomes very difficult to find. I had started out the trip with 2 1/2 liters of water, and by lunch time had already finished one liter. Luckily, I ran across a small stream, and decided to fill up.
For this trip I decided to bring only one Nalgele bottle, and rely more heavily on my 3L Platypus bottle. It worked just fine and saved me 8.2 oz (including the neoprene sleeve). I was also very happy with the Sawyer Squeeze Filter. I was skeptical when I first started using it, but the more I use it, the happier I am with it. I will stress again, the need for a pre-filter. After each use, it is covered in dirt, which would otherwise clog up the filter itself.
From there on, it was just climbing, and more climbing.
It is a beautiful area, that sees very few people because of the quick change in elevation.
By this point I was getting rather burnt out, and I was still in the middle of nowhere. I found myself stopping and taking pictures, just so I can give my legs a chance to rest.
I still had two peaks to climb if I was going to stick to the planned route. I decided that the only way I can do that was to try to catch and follow some of the trails. Besides, some of the best passes through the mountains are marked as trails anyway.
This brings me to one of my biggest problems when navigating in the woods, both on this trip, and in general. I do fine when I am navigating without trails, but once I get on trails, unless it is some type of brain dead loop, I get complacent and get lost easily. This is what happened here. Once I got on a marked trail, I stopped paying close attention to the topographical features, and just started walking. I reached what I though was a clearly marked area on the map along side the trail, and calculated my distance from there accordingly. Unfortunately, the marker I saw did not correspond to that on the map, and as a result, my distances were completely off. Consequently, when I left the trail to follow a valley, it turned out to be a different valley than the one I though I was entering. Within half an hour, I was completely lost.
My solution was to roughly orienteer towards the highest mountain in the area, after all, that was the intended destination of my trip, and head directly there. From the map, I knew that near the top there was another trail. If I bumped into it, I would know my exact location. After quite a bit of uphill climbing, I reached my destination around 6 pm. In retrospect, if I knew how to properly use my GPS, I might have been able to figure out my location more easily, but as of now, I only know how to use it to track my route. I’m not accustomed to using it, and forgot about it completely, until i started writing this.
This was the time I had given myself to try to figure out my location, before I had to start making camp. As expected, I saw the trail markers, and I knew my location. Now my goal became to get below the tree line before I made camp. This was made more difficult by what appears to have been a forest fire, which had burnt most of the vegetation.
I saw what looked to be a good area, that had been spared by the fire, but when I got there, there were some animal remains.
I looked like the winter coat of an animal that had shed, but since I know very little about any of this stuff, I figured I better find a new area. After some more walking, I got into a gulley where I decided to set up camp.
Thanks to Tobit from Blades and Bushcraft, I finally figured out how to attach the tent door open. As he explained, there is a doohickey that attaches it open.
I decided that because of all the burn damage and charred material on the ground, a fire would not be a good idea. On top of that, I was exhausted. I decided to just stick to the stove.
As you might have noticed, this is not my usual MSR Whisperlite. I was indeed using a canister stove. Other than removing one of the Nalgene bottles, this was the only other gear change from my last trip. I will have more on the stove next week.
As an added benefit of the location, some water had gathered in a puddle at the bottom of the gulley, so I filled up my water for the next day. Around 8 pm I turned in for the night.
I woke up around 11 pm because of a very loud noise. The noise was a heavy thunderstorm that had moved in. For some reason I was not bothered at all. I have been in this shelter in much worse conditions, so it didn’t cross my mind to worry, although it probably should have. In a half asleep state I planned out how to pack up my gear if it was still raining the next day, and went back to sleep. I did have a passing worry that there might be some runoff that wound flood the area under the tent, but all the burnt ground absorbed the rain well. In turn, that created a very sticky and nasty mud that got on everything the next day.
Luckily though, when I got up at 6 am, the rain had stopped. The storm however had brought a cold front. The temperature was in the low 40s (F), and stayed that way all day. I made some oatmeal and started packing up. At that time I noticed that the rain had washed up some bones. I am not sure what animal it was.
After I packed up, I figured I would follow the trail I had intersected for as long as practical. As it turns out, the trail quickly started climbing. Unless I wanted to go all the way around the mountain, the only way was up. You can see the trail markers on some of the trees in the picture.
This brought me to the highest point in the trip, about 1,200 feet above my starting point.
The trail soon dipped down. At another, lower peak, I was able to see a group of hawks (I think) hunting.
The sky was as dark as it appears in the picture. It kept drizzling on and off the whole day, but fortunately, it never turned into heavy rain. While I brought my rain gear, I never ended up taking it out.
After a few hours, I recognized an area where I had passed the previous day, and decided to trace my steps back. The terrain was very frustrating, constantly going up and down. I was exhausted by this point, and was not in the mood to drag myself over rocks any more.
I stopped for lunch, and had to stop a few more times for snacks. This is the first time in a while that I finished all of my food. My energy level was so low, that I had to keep eating constantly for the energy boost.
Eventually I made it back to the car. The trip was more tiresome than I like. I don’t mind distance, but the constant up and downs of the terrain were killing me. I knew that when I started. That’s why I had planned it as a longer trip, but I’m glad I managed to finish it.
I finally figured out how to do the elevation graph of the trip on the GPS, so here it is:
The small changes in gear brought the base weight of my pack, without clothing, to 17 lb 2.3 oz. With food, water, and fuel, my pack weight was about 23 lb.
The trip was stressful at times because of the time limitations, and it was certainly exhausting, but I’m glad I was able to do it. You know how people say that when you get lost you should just stop and make camp? Well, it’s hard to do when you have to be back at work on Monday. :) I might go back there another time to just follow the proposed train track and see where they lead.