Thursday, December 6, 2012

Observation Point, November/December

We've had some warm days recently, warm enough that I didn't want to stay inside. There's only so much yardwork that needs to be done this time of year, so I spent some of my outside time hiking up to Observation Point in the watershed. I know I've mentioned Observation Point here before; it's a lovely hike, and the quickest way to get there is from my house. A round trip from my front porch and back is probably a bit less than two miles and only takes about an hour to hike, and that's with me stopping at the top to take pictures.

Speaking of which, here are a few pix from the various trips I've taken in the last several weeks.
Above is the trail where it splits. Both trails go up to Observation Point. The right one is a bit less steep and slightly longer. I'm lazy and usually go up the right branch and come back by the other branch.
View from the bench at the top. I have a lot of pix of this view taken at various times of year. The above photo was taken in November.
And this is a view taken from the left of the bench. The river makes a U just below here; the dam is on the right side of the U (just visible in the first pic) and there's old farmland along the left. The above pic was taken in December.
There's a gazebo at the top of the hill, behind the bench. They're repairing it, obviously.

This time of year, the trails around Observation Point are crowded. The rest of the watershed is closed except to hunters, so hikers, bikers, runners, and horseback riders all squeeze into the strip of land between the town of Norris and the gravel road that cuts through the watershed. I prefer the rest of the year when I can usually count on having those trails to myself--although Observation Point is always popular.

I'm really looking forward to spring. Warmth comes creeping back steadily starting about February, here, so by February I should be able to get back out on the trail without being miserable. Until then, I will hike to Observation Point on the days the temp climbs above 60, and spend the rest of my free time in bed when it's colder than that. Have I mentioned I hate cold weather?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Tongass National Forest, Alaska

Last week I was on an Alaskan cruise, which was truly awesome (if you're interested, I've got a detailed post and lots of pictures up on my regular blog). One of our excursions was a roughly four-mile hike in the Tongass National Forest to see the Monholland Glacier. I think the trail we took was East Glacier Trail as shown on the map to the left, but I can't swear to it. I went with my brother Richard.

I'd never been to Alaska before. It's gorgeous! Everyone told me it would be chilly and I needed to take warm clothes, but it's August. How cold can it be in August? I took a few light sweaters and thought I'd be good, and practically froze to death after the first day. I bought a heavy hoodie at one of our stops, which I wore on the hike. Fortunately I wore a tank under it, because of course once I was moving I got too hot and had to take it off.

Anyway, we started out in a gravelly parking lot a short distance from the trailhead. There were about a dozen people in our group, plus the leader, a botanist named Scott who was very well informed and enthusiastic. I really enjoyed listening to him, and he was really good about answering questions. We were given bottles of water and granola bars to take with us for snacks, but were forbidden to open the granola bars until we were at least half a mile from the parking lot. They don't want bears to start hanging around looking for food.

Just about everything about the forest was very different from what I'm used to. The trees were mostly firs of various kinds, and I hardly recognized any of the groundcover plants. Mostly there's moss--moss everywhere, as a spongy carpet and a furry covering over tree trunks, even draped from tree limbs. It's beautiful and strange. As Scott pointed out, there's very little real soil--it was all scraped off by glaciers in the past, so most trees are actually rooted in the moss.

I believe Scott said the trail we hiked climbed to about 700 feet. That's about twice what the highest point of the Norris watershed trails climb to, but it didn't feel all that much higher. There was only one stretch that was really strenuous, and that was because it was stairs...201 stairs. I took a picture once we reached the top. You can't see all the flights since they wrap around the hill, but you get the idea.

We made several stops for Scott to talk to us and answer our questions. At one point we stopped by a little pool with a few lilypads along the edge. I didn't think lilypads liked cool weather, but I don't know much about them. It was a lovely little area. I thought I had a picture of it but I can't find it. Anyway, while we were there Scott found a weird fungus thing called Bleeding Teeth or something like that, and he was delighted. There's a picture of it to the left; I don't know whose finger that was, but I liked that it matches the drops of viscous "blood" exuded by the fungus. Scott said that no one knows why the fungus "bleeds." He also found a yellow slime mold called scrambled eggs, which tickled him completely. He seemed to really like slime molds. (That was not a sentence I ever expected to type.)

We got some glimpses of the glacier as we hiked, but there were lots of other things to see too. We stopped at a waterfall for a while, although I didn't get a picture of it (my camera batteries had died and I was resting them to try to get one or two more shots of the glacier later--it worked, too, but I missed a lot of good stuff in the meantime). After we'd been at the waterfall for a few minutes I started to get too chilly, so I put my hoodie back on. See, I'm glad I brought it anyway!

And here's the glacier, with my brother standing in front of it. (I told him to smile and he said, "I am smiling.")

It was a lovely hike and a lot of fun. And considering how much I ate on the cruise ship, I really needed some exercise. We didn't see any bears, but we saw lots of bear poop in the trail. Scott said that once he was leading a group up the stairs when they came upon a bear coming down the stairs. He had the group move over as far as possible and the bear just walked on by. I think bears are cool, but I am so so so so so very glad we didn't have to share a trail with one.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A few Clear Creek photos

Things have been busy around here this summer, and tomorrow I leave for a cruise to Alaska! One of our excursions is a four-mile hike, and of course I'll post pictures when I get back.

In the meantime, I took these pictures several weeks ago but only just got around to posting them. I took them in the watershed, but I hiked all over the place that day and would just bore everyone if I listed the trails I took.

That one was taken on Cliff Trail, which overlooks the highway and the river. At some points, you can stand on the edge of the trail and look almost straight down and see the highway through the trees. Note to self: don't fall.

This one was taken on Dyer Trail, which I did finally hike. How I'd forgotten the details of it I do not know, especially since it's one of the trails that ends up by my house. It's a lovely trail, too, with a nice steep climb at the end.

And it's not super clear--I tried hard to get a better picture--but this is a baby snapping turtle and a frog. Ordinarily the only unusual thing about such a picture would be how I managed not to scare the frog off while I was taking it (I was taking so many pictures of the turtle that the frog swam over without noticing me because I wasn't moving), but in this case, I want to know how in hell a baby snapper made it to this particular creek. The creek flows out from under a rock halfway up a hill--I was right by the rock, but didn't think to get a picture--and has been artificially diverted to the gristmill's spillway. There's a mill pond not too far from the spillway, but it's at the bottom of the hill. Did the mother snapper climb up the hill and lay her eggs under the rock? Did the baby hatch in the mill pond and climb up himself? I just do not know! I will probably never know.

Sunday, July 8, 2012


I bought a T-shirt the other day that I found in the sports section of the store. It was advertised as a wicking material that would keep me dry and cool when I'm being active.

So I wore it tonight when I took a walk. I only walked about two miles around town, and I left at 8pm when the temperature had dropped under 90 F*. I also wore my sports bra to give the shirt an extra chance, since the sports bra, while uncomfortable, at least doesn't get drenched with sweat the way my regular bras do.

Right away I found the shirt uncomfortable. I felt like I was wearing plastic wrap instead of a shirt. It clung to my body even though it's not too small--in fact, it's slightly big on me. After just a short distance my skin felt not just sweaty, but stewed in sweat. Ick.

So I thought maybe the material would at least not show great big sweat stains like a cotton shirt. But when I got home and stripped it off, there were sweat stains everywhere the shirt had touched my skin. I checked the tag to see what this miracle material was, so I can avoid it in the future.

100% polyester. No wonder it's so damn uncomfortable and doesn't let my skin breathe. (My sports bra, on the other hand, is a blend of cotton, spandex, and polyester with mesh panels in the back.) So I'll continue to wear cotton shirts, and I'll never again buy sportswear from JCPenney's.

*Actually, I'm writing this after returning at 9pm, and according to the Weather Channel it's 94 out.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Shadow Trail finished!

I've finished the draft of Shadow Trail, and I didn't even need to hike Dyer Hollow Trail! I ended up changing that part of the book for plot reasons.

The book is 54,000 words long, although that'll probably change during revisions. It's on the short side for a young adult novel, but not terribly short. It'll be a while before it's ready to leave my hard drive, and then it's likely to be a few years after a publisher says yes to it before it actually hits the shelves. Publishing moves slooooowly.

Now that I don't have an excuse to hike specific trails in the watershed, I may plan a trip somewhere else for a week or two out. One thing I'm happy about, though, is that I'm now even more familiar with the Clear Creek trails than I was. And I thought I was pretty darn familiar with them before after hiking the watershed for the last twenty-odd years. For the book, I had to focus incredibly closely on every aspect of each trail. And that's knowledge that will stay with me and come in useful every time I go hiking or berry picking.

Speaking of which, I never posted this picture of the blackberries and raspberries I picked several weeks ago. I made a cobbler out of them.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Clear Creek Trail

Last night was the last under-100-degrees day we're going to have for a while, so after work I went out to Clear Creek for a quick hike. I needed to check out part of the Clear Creek Trail for my book (and as it turned out, it was a good thing I did check, because I had the layout of the area all messed up in my head).

I parked at the gristmill. I've mentioned the gristmill here several times, and I finally thought to take a picture. When my mom's family moved here from Lubbock, Texas in 1964, Mom was a freshman in college. That summer she got a job at the gristmill for a short time, which is where she met my dad. So every time I go to the gristmill, I think about them both. Mom says she was walking down the stone steps on the side of the building on a rainy day when Dad caught her arm and said, "You're going to slip, sure as God made little green apples."

Anyway, I hiked from the gristmill to the water treatment plant, which according to my map is .7 miles. I always thought it was shorter than that. From there, I hiked up to the Clear Creek Spring, another .7 miles. I was there just last weekend, but I didn't pay that much attention because I didn't think my characters would be spending much time there. Turns out I needed them to make camp nearby, so I spent a few minutes scouting around for somewhere they could have a semi-hidden campsite. I couldn't find one, so I'll have to fudge a bit when I write that part.

<--Our magnificent water treatment plant. When I was a kid, the sight of the blue tower through the trees always excited me. Mom took us down to the picnic area behind the plant to play in the creek sometimes. Also, I always wanted to live in that little brick house. The blue building has a big sign posted on its door that says "CAUTION: CHLORINE," which would be a drawback to living there.

I did find an access road leading to the spring, which I knew was there but which I didn't realize actually went anywhere. It leads up to a lane with a few farms around. I drove by the area later and discovered the lane leads to Upper Clear Creek Road, which is not far from the entrance to Lower Clear Creek Road, which is of course the start of the watershed.

After that I followed a deer trail, or maybe just a water runoff "trail," alongside a deep gorge. The gorge must get some serious water during storms, since a lot of dam thingies have been built along its length to help slow the water. It was pretty cool. I considered having my main character have to hide in the gorge, but decided it would be too hard for her to climb down into. Besides, I'd already written the hiding scene and I like it the way it is.

 <--That picture doesn't do the gorge justice. It's very deep and cuts into the hillside all the way down from the top. I took this photo at the bottom because I thought it was nifty the way they've directed the water stream with rocks. There's a bench just off to the left of the picture, and of course it would be too bad if a flash flood swept the bench away.

Next I need to hike Dyer Hollow Trail, which is not far from the gristmill. I would have hiked it last night, but it was getting late and I had a lot I needed to do at home (none of which I actually got done, but I might have). Dyer Hollow Trail should be the very last trail I feature in Shadow Trail, incidentally. I'm very close to finishing the draft! In a way I'm disappointed; I've enjoyed the excuse to get out and hike different sections of the watershed. Then again, it's always exciting to finish a new project.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

White Pine Trail

I bought a new pair of shoes yesterday, O'Rageous Boy's Watersport shoes (size 6, which is roughly equivalent to a Woman's size 7 or 7.5). I wanted a pair of Mountrek Cascade Women's Sandals, but they don't come in half sizes. The size 7 was too small, the size 8 too big. And the O'Rageous shoes were on sale for only $16 instead of $50 for the Mountreks, so that decided that.

I'd been meaning to hike the White Pine Trail at the watershed recently; it's one of my favorite hikes and I needed to check it anyway since my characters in Shadow Trail are hiking it. So I put my new shoes on, with a new pair of light nylon-blend socks, and drove down to the gristmill.

Unfortunately, I totally forgot to bring my new tree identification handbook--probably for the best, in retrospect, since it was around 6:30 pm when I set out; if I'd dawdled on the trail identifying trees, it would have been dark by the time I got back.

The quickest way to get to the start of White Pine Trail is the same way I got to the High Point Spur last weekend: from the gristmill (where I parked), take the short Deer Trail to Longmire Trail, take Longmire up the ridge to High Point Trail. White Pine Trail branches off High Point only a matter of yards from where Longmire meets High Point.

The second I stepped onto Deer Trail, I started smelling something dead. Ugh. It was about 95 degrees so anything that dies starts to stink almost immediately; I figured it was a rabbit or squirrel or something. But as I hiked, the smell got worse and worse and worse. I put my shirt over my nose and mouth, then my hand over my shirt, and hiked really fast while trying not to breathe. Honestly, it's a wonder I didn't faint from lack of air. Right before I left the trees for the field, I saw the bloated corpse of a deer lying in the weeds. So I guess that's why they call it Deer Trail. (Ugh.)

Longmire Trail is fairly steep, and I continued to hurry since I wanted to get to White Pine Trail before the light started to go. When I got to High Point Trail, I realized I hadn't had any trouble with my new shoes. I hadn't even noticed my feet at all. The shoes are light, well-ventilated, and comfortable.

I always like hiking White Pine Trail. It's a very pretty trail, not at all strenuous, that follows along a wet-weather creek first, then passes a spring that turns the wet-weather creek into a creek, then meets Clear Creek Trail that follows along (duh) Clear Creek as well as Lower Clear Creek Road. The Clear Creek spring is where Norris gets its water, which is a plot point in Shadow Trail. I wanted to get a look at the clearing and pond partway down White Pine Trail, and then I wanted to check out the actual location of a spring across the trail from the Clear Creek spring. When I got to the pond, I was really worried when I saw how low it was. We badly need rain.

Then, when I got to Clear Creek Trail and reached Norris's spring...I couldn't find the other spring. I walked back and forth, back and forth. I know it was there just a few months ago, water rushing up out of the ground among a lot of rocks, then crossing under the trail via a culvert before joining Clear Creek. I mean, I drank from that spring last time I hiked past, because I figured it would be safe because it was water right out of the ground, right? And three days later I had a couple of days of explosive diarrhea, so kids! Always treat your water!

All I can figure is that the spring has temporarily dried up due to the drought, and that plants have grown up over the opening. If it ever rains again, I'll hike back to make sure it still exists and I'm not insane.

When I reached the little water treatment plant downstream, I was only around a quarter mile from my car and figured it wouldn't hurt me to get my new watershoes wet even if they didn't shed water as well as advertised. So I stepped into the stream, which felt very nice and cool. It was fun to see the water squirt out of the mesh panels in the uppers, but my feet still squished around in the shoes. I thought that might have something to do with my socks, though. But I didn't want to walk a quarter mile in wet shoes and no socks, so I waited until I got back to the gristmill to take my socks off and get back in Clear Creek.

My socks, incidentally, were body-heat-warm and sodden, which was exceedingly unpleasant to touch because they felt just like a toddler's garment that had just been peed on. The shoes were pretty comfortable even without socks. But they didn't shed water any faster without the socks holding water in. I wish I had the Mountreks, which have little screen-covered ports in the soles to let water out. That would be so cool. Also, when I got home I discovered that I did actually have some mild blisters that I hadn't noticed on the trail. Of course I'd just hiked four miles in brand new shoes. So overall, I'm happy with the shoes but I probably won't wear them for hikes longer than a mile or two.

On the other hand, the color of the shoes warns animals away from eating them. Yellow and black is nature's way of saying, "These shoes are poisonous!"

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Norris Lake

I live five minutes' drive from here. It takes a bit longer to hike there, but it's worth the trip.

Friday afternoon I got home from work a bit early, and decided to put my unexpected extra time to good use. I changed clothes, tossed the first aid kit, the trail map of the Norris Watershed/Norris Dam State Park area, and two bottles of water into my pack. I did remember to put on bug repellent, but not sunscreen; and I made a foolish decision to wear my tennis shoes instead of hiking boots, since it was between 85 and 90 degrees and my sneaks are a lot cooler.

I started at the gristmill and hiked up to Longmire Trail. That took me to High Point Trail, and from there I took the High Point Spur that led to Lake View Trail. I didn't hike all of Lake View--it's a long trail and by the time I got to where I was going I'd hiked over three miles and my feet were bothering me.

See, there's a reason I own expensive hiking boots. So I won't wear sneaks on the trail and end up with blisters. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

This is where I went, and who wouldn't?

It's a lovely little area where I was able to sit on some water-smoothed boulders and dabble my bare feet in the lake. My excuse for going here at all is that in Shadow Trail, which I'm still writing, my two main characters are going to need to camp here a few nights. I wanted to scope out the area. Also, I wanted to sit with my feet in the water.

I explored for a little while, then returned to the boulders to dabble my feet some more and drink one of my bottles of water. It was a lovely day, Friday afternoon, and lots of people were out on the lake. They kept driving by in their boats, which was fun for me since the wake waves kept washing up over my knees. I had my capri cuffs rolled way up. I watched some minnows in the water, and some spiders scurrying over the rocks, and suddenly an extra-big wave splashed me up to my waist.

I decided then that it was probably time to start back. Besides, there were thunderclouds building up and I didn't want to get caught in a storm (it never did storm, as it happens; I don't think it's ever going to rain here again). I waited until my feet had dried, then put on my shoes and headed back to the trail.

On the way back, I saw a repulsive huge black bug dragging the corpse of an enormous dead spider, but I didn't get a clear picture of it. I did get a good picture of a handsome toad, and a picture of this SCARY POISONOUS SNAKE oh wait.

On the way back, my toes--which were squished together by my tennis shoes, something I'd never noticed about those shoes before, probably because I'd never walked 6+ miles in them--really started to hurt. At one point I sat down in the middle of the trail and applied pieces of moleskin to keep the blisters from breaking. It did the trick, but it didn't make my toes any less painful. By the time I reached Longmire Trail again, I was hobbling along like an old lady. It's too bad, too, because other than my feet I felt great.

I was also ravenous and dying of thirst although I'd drunk all my water. When I was nearly back to my car, I called Papa John's Pizza and ordered a medium extra cheese and a 20-oz Pepsi (ick, Pepsi; they don't have Coke there). Sometimes you just have to eat half a pizza and chug an entire Pepsi.

I still have blisters, although they're not bad enough that they kept me from hiking up to pick raspberries today. But that's another post for another day.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

First-hand knowledge

Warning: Boring nattering about writing stuff ahead.

I'm deep into writing the first draft of my YA hiking book. The working title is Shadow Trail, incidentally. I decided I had better write it now, in June, because it's set in June. I don't want to have to second-guess myself later on about what's blooming right now, what the temperature is, how the shadows fall, when it gets light in the mornings, etc. Most of this stuff I already know, but it's easy to make mistakes in the draft that get missed in revisions and edits.

So my characters have hit the trail with zombie-ish bad guys hunting for them. In the book's timeline, they've only been on the trail a few hours. I'm happy with the progress, but I know I need to hit the trail myself to work out their route and make sure the details are correct.

My next day off work won't be until Sunday, so Sunday morning at 9am on the dot I'll be stepping onto the watershed access trail around the corner from my house. I'll need to time myself to make sure the timeline of where the characters are going and when actually makes sense. For instance, one of the first things they do, once they think they're out of danger and safe in the woods, is pick raspberries. Then they go up to Observation Point and realize they're not alone. So that's where I'll go too, watch in hand and notebook in my pack. Hopefully zombies will not chase me.

It's really useful to have set this book in my own stomping grounds. Research is easy and fun!

Monday, May 28, 2012


Last weekend I went out to Clear Creek to check on the progress of the raspberries that grow along the pylon line. I am crazy about raspberries, and wild ones have way more flavor than commercially grown ones, in addition to being free.

To my surprise, the blackberries were already starting to get ripe. The last several years have been disappointing for blackberries, but this year...holy cow! It's going to be a bumper crop.

This evening when it had cooled down to 80 degrees or so, I went out again with a little bucket. The raspberries are still not ripe, but I got enough blackberries to...well, not quite cover the bottom of the bucket. But I got some! And I ate them before I got home.

On my way back, I came across a handsome garter snake who was so sleek that I think he must have just shed his skin. He must have been irritated with me, first almost stepping on him where he was basking on the warm dirt of the trail, then sticking my camera in his face like some kind of demented paparazzi. I got a good photo before he slithered off into the raspberry canes, though.

When I got home, I did what I almost always do when I get home from even a short hike: dumped all my clothes in the washer and jumped into the shower to shampoo my hair and check for ticks. Once when I was in college I found a dead tick in my hair after shampooing, and ever since I've assumed shampooing kills ticks. But tonight I was thinking about that--no lie--as I stepped out of the shower, when a tick literally dropped out of my hair onto my shoulder, and it was kicking its horrible little legs in a drop of water. So I guess shampooing doesn't help, but it is a good way to check the scalp.

I forgot to put on any bug repellent before I went out this evening, so by tomorrow I'll probably be itching like mad from chigger bites. But it will be worth it, because those were some good blackberries.

Friday, May 18, 2012

What is the point of ticks?

I haven't had a chance to get on the trail the last few weeks, partly due to laziness, partly due to my work schedule, and partly due to me contracting conjunctivitis. Blech. I do have a day hike planned for this weekend now that my eye is better.

But although I have been stuck at home in the evenings/weekends, I have managed to replicate the wilderness experience by contracting poison ivy and getting stuck all over with ticks while doing yardwork. Well, okay, one tick. But it was latched on. Holy crap, I wonder if that might have led to my eye infection? I mean, it wasn't latched onto my eye but ticks are full of nasty bacteria and stuff.

I don't see the point of ticks, incidentally. Every other creepy-crawly out there, yes, I know they're part of the food web. But does anything actually eat ticks? And if so, where are they when I need them? I'm sure if you asked ticks if there was a point to ticks, they'd say, of course, we're all part of nature and also I have children. But ticks can't actually talk, so I guess they wouldn't say that after all.

As for poison ivy, I understand it. It doesn't want to be eaten or otherwise bothered, so it gives people a rash if they touch it. (That doesn't stop goats from eating it with no ill effects, of course. Small flaw in your plan, poison ivy.) I don't agree with poison ivy, but I understand it, and I wouldn't actually have poison ivy now if I didn't insist on running over it with my lawnmower while growling, "Die die die." My yard is still full of poison ivy and I itch intolerably all summer, but sometimes you just have to attack a plant with a bladed machine.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Morally gray

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I was planning to dig up some wildflowers from under the electrical pylons in the watershed. Every few years the utility company mows and poisons the plants in that area, so it's not like I'd be taking plants other people could enjoy.

Yesterday I decided it was time. It was a drizzly, cool day so I didn't think I'd have anyone around to see me digging up plants. I set out in mid-afternoon with a big cloth bag and a trowel. As I believe I've mentioned before, there's an access trailhead only a few minutes' walk from my house, which would take me directly to the pylons. I walked briskly down the street, turned the corner...and there was a cop car.

Now, I live in a town with only about 1,400 residents. It's unusual to see cop cars around, even if I do happen to live just a few minutes' walk (in the other direction) from our tiny police station. This cop had pulled someone over for speeding or something, but it sure made me nervous to walk right by them and then step into the woods with that bag over my shoulder. I kept expecting the cop to run after me, shouting, "You! Drop your trowel!"

I hiked up to the pylons--a very brief hike, probably not even a third of a mile--and went well off-trail to do my digging. I got some ferns, some little-brown-jug, some daisies, some wild bee balm, and a few other plants, none of them rare. I was a little nervous on my way back, thinking the cop car might still be there waiting for me. But it was gone, and I got home safely and transplanted my plants.

And I will never do that again. It's far too nerve-wracking.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

House Mountain

House Mountain, just outside of Knoxville, TN, is not very far from where I live, but I'd only been there once--in about 1998. I didn't hike very far then because I had my dog with me, Jasper the Newfoundland. He was a great hiking companion since he would happily carry all the water and snacks in his own pack so I didn't have to carry anything, but when he got tired and hot he'd just sit down and give me a look that said, "I'm ready to go back to the car now." And we would.

So today, I had plans to start early and hike the whole mountain. It was chilly and overcast, which worried me a little, but I had to be somewhere at five so I decided I'd just get cold and damp. It would not kill me, probably. I was more disappointed that it was foggy, since I wanted to see the views.

As it turned out, I got lost trying to find the trailhead. This shouldn't have surprised me, since I have a strange genius for being able to get lost while driving no matter how clear my directions. I didn't realize I wasn't on the right road for a ridiculously long time, and by the time I got onto the right road, it was over an hour later than I'd intended to start my hike. But a funny thing happened. About sixty seconds before I saw the sign directing me to the House Mountain park, the fog lifted, the sun came out, and the temperature finally rose above 60 degrees.

So I had a beautiful hike after all. The House Mountain trails are lovely and in most places in pretty good shape. Unfortunately, they're really badly marked and the map I'd printed off the official site turned out to be completely useless.

I started up Mountain Trail, but at some point apparently I got onto a side trail that took me through a whole bunch of boulders on a steep slope. It was AWESOME. That little stretch of maybe a third of a mile was worth the whole trip. I tried to get some decent pictures, but none of them really shows how truly amazing the area is. I could hear traffic dimly from far below and a few times I heard a rooster crowing at a nearby farm. The last part of the trail was a rocky hill so steep I had to scramble up from rock to rock cautiously. And at the top? I was suddenly on a level trail that went from east to west. There was, of course, no sign and no blazes to give me a hint as to where I was. I still don't know.

I sat down at the top of the trail (see photo above of my foot and waterbottle, looking back down the way I'd just climbed up) and took a break. After that I had to decide which way to go, which is where I discovered that my map was no use at all. I tried going east first but the trail didn't look very well used and was headed downhill steeply too. I'd just climbed up and knew there was a trail that ran along the hilltop, so I turned around and went the other way. That took me up to the top of the mountain.

I took what I think was the Crest Trail, although I'm not sure. I didn't take a picture of the only sign I found, but I think it called the trail East Overlook. Not positive, though. Anyway, that took me to part of the mountain that's privately owned (wouldn't that be cool?), where the owners have chunked a giant flag in the middle of the view. The view is fabulous. I counted seven hawks (ospreys? not sure) circling below me.

After that I had to backtrack back to the trail sign, and went the other way, West Overlook Trail. That one took me to a cool place where it looks like there used to be a radio tower or something. There were some concrete blocks where the tower was probably once anchored, and someone had chipped some names in one along with the year 1958. That was just a sidetrip, though, off a dirt road that led down to an actual radio tower. I saw truck tracks in the dirt and figured the road was just for the radio tower. Apparently that was not the case and if I'd continued I would have looped back down to the trailhead, but there were (as usual) no signs or blazes to let me know. So I went back and picked the only trail I hadn't yet hiked.

This one turned out to be the Mountain Trail, where I would have come out if I hadn't ended up at the rocky area. I didn't realize that right away, though, not until I came to the spot where I split off without noticing in the first place. I almost went back to the rocky area again, but I'd been on the trail for about two and a half hours by then and was getting tired. I went back down Mountain Trail, not very happy about backtracking even though it really is a lovely trail with some spectacular views. And some great big rocks.

I saw one critter on the trail that I can't identify. It looked like a little snake, but it moved kind of awkwardly compared to a snake. I think it was a legless lizard of some kind. I've done some online searching but can't find an ID. He was solidly gray and about, oh, maybe six inches long. I did get a picture, although it's not very clear. Maybe someone will know what it is.

Anyway, I had a good time at House Mountain but I don't think I'll be back very often just because the trails are so badly marked and that makes it frustrating. On the other hand, I might go back just to hike that rocky stretch.

And just to prove my point that I'm incapable of finding my way around unfamiliar territory when I'm in my car, when I left the small parking lot I turned the wrong way and didn't realize my mistake for several miles.

Here is a view of a lovely field that you will see if you go the wrong way after leaving House Mountain.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

River Bluff Trail

So after my last post, I went out to Walmart and just bought a daypack. It was the only pack they carried that was made for women and really it's bigger than I wanted, but it was only twenty bucks and it isn't pink. (It's blue.)

Then I thought, why not? And once I'd packed too much stuff into all the many little pockets of my new pack, I went out to the River Bluff trail above Norris Dam. It's a loop trail; according to the sign, it's 3.2 miles long, but according to my map it's 2.7 miles. Since it only took me about 90 minutes to hike it today, and I was not exactly in a hurry, I'd guess my map is more accurate.

Last time I hiked the River Bluff Trail, a few years ago, it was a Sunday afternoon and Every. Single. Other. human being on the planet had decided to hike it. There must have been 300 people on that trail, seriously. It was horrible. There were giant family groups and little old ladies and babies and sweartogod nuns walking that trail. So I hadn't been back until today, but today when I arrived around 4:30pm mine was the only car in the little parking lot. Last time I had to park a quarter mile up the road (which should have clued me in).

I went to the right when the trail forked, knowing that that would take me up a steep climb to the top of the ridge, and knowing also that once I was at the top I would have a lovely stroll and it was pretty much all downhill after that, and the trail follows the river at the bottom of the ridge and it's nice and cool.

It was a lovely day, only around 75 degrees and sunny. Once I got to the top of the ridge, about the time I was thinking I'd like to rest for a few minutes and get a drink of water, there was a bench! So I sat down for a few minutes and had a drink.

I haven't had my camera very long and it kept flashing in shadowy areas even when I didn't want it to. I stopped for a few minutes and started punching buttons, and was pretty pleased to figure out not only how to turn off the flash, but also found that it has a time delay function so if I wanted to I could take a picture of myself. I am embarrassed to relate that I had just said, out loud, "Oh, cool, that's awesome!" to my camera when I realized a man and woman had caught up to me on the trail and had overheard me. I wanted to tell them that I don't ordinarily talk to myself out in the woods, but I just hiked on. They would have known I was lying anyway.

From the top of the ridge, where the main groundcover was ferns between huge old trees, the trail descended on steep switchbacks. The plants growing on either side of the trail became lusher and more numerous. Finally I reached the river, which is very low right now since it hasn't rained all week.

My pack worked just fine. My back still sweated, but not nearly as bad as with my old pack, and most of the sweat was because I'd forgotten to change shirts and was still wearing the "I'm too cheap to buy a con T-shirt so I gave blood to get this free one" T-shirt I got at DragonCon last year, which has a big screened design on the back.

My boots didn't bother my feet too much. I think they're getting broken in (the boots, not my feet). I also had trimmed my big toenails before I left so while I did get some boot bang, my nails don't feel like they've been driven back into my toes. No blisters or hot spots either.

<--just in case you weren't sure which way the trail went; hate for you to get lost or anything

So anyway, I had a good time and I'm not tired. I might go on a longer, more challenging dayhike in a week or two, maybe up to House Mountain or someplace where I haven't been in a long time. I like Clear Creek, but I like getting out on new trails occasionally too.

And now here are 42 pictures of my waterbottles.