The next couple of months are going to be very busy for us, and opportunities for getting out hiking or backpacking will be limited. The prospect of a spell of warm Ozarks winter weather gave us a chance to squeeze in a midweek backpacking trip. We rearranged our work schedules and took off to Hercules Glades for a couple of days.
Pees Hollow is a little over a six mile hike, so even in our poor level of fitness we reckoned it should be fairly easy backpacking – especially as we’ve now got our winter pack weights down to around 25lbs excluding water. We’re also carrying less water, intending to filter more on the way. Our plan was to start at the Tower Trailhead, and hike the Pees Hollow trail clockwise stopping for the night around three miles in – leaving us with a three mile (mostly uphill) hike out.
Going round clockwise gave us an immediate navigational challenge. With leaves on the ground we missed the unmarked start of the western side of the loop. In a fit of navigational laziness, I actually used the GPS to get us to the start of the trail.
We don’t often use the GPS for navigation, but when we do it means we know the trail is nearby somewhere, and we can’t be bothered to search for it.
Once on the trail we didn’t have any problems, except how unfit we are.
The couple of short climbs on the western half of the trail got us quite breathless. From what we could see there’s very little traffic on this trail – it looked like just one hiker and a single horse had been through recently. The views across the glades to the east were excellent and included an afternoon view of the moon.
It took us just over an hour and a half to get to the truck cab – a well known landmark on the trail, a little bit over two miles in. We stopped for pictures and to fill up with water – there’s a small creek and what appears to be a spring nearby.
We then went on to Brushy Creek, where we looked around for a good spot off the trail to camp. We couldn’t see anything obvious so we bushwhacked about 100 yards north west to what I’ve named ‘Cab Creek’, which once we had crossed over we found a nice spot to camp.
Pitching our Mutha Hubba tent was a memory exercise as it is so long since we last used it – Spring 2013, I think. We managed to pick a spot and get the tent up with no problems.
Expecting cold temps in the night we collected a fair bit of firewood. This gave me a chance to tryout our replacement hand saw – a 36″ pocket chainsaw. It’s a lot smaller and also lighter than the folding saw we used to carry, and it did the job with no difficulties. It was easier to use than I was expecting, cutting through the wood quickly and cleanly. There was an elevated fire risk, so I made the unusual decision (for us) to make a fire ring. It was going to be too cold to go without a fire, but I didn’t want to take any risks on the fire spreading – especially with the dry conditions and high winds predicted for the following day.
We tried out our new home vacuum packed meals and alcohol fueled stove – it all worked (and tasted) good, but some fine tuning in the sizing of the bags is needed. We spent the evening chatting and keeping warm round the campfire until we ran out of wood.
Thursday morning we had a leisurely start to the day – waiting for the temperatures to warm up. Before we left I whetted down the area where we’d had the campfire, dispersed the stones, cleared the ashes and covered it all over, so you wouldn’t know we had been there.
Bushwhacking back to the Pees Hollow trail we somehow manged to cross the trail without realizing it and went about 200 yards past it before we realized and back-tracked. It was a lucky mistake as on our way back to the trail we found an old ruined log cabin or barn. Ginger says cabin. But the lack of a fireplace and the raised floor suggests to me that it was a barn.
Once back at the trail it was a straight forward three mile uphill hike back to the trailhead. Easy to write – not so easy for us to do in our out of condition shape. We had lots of pauses on the way to catch our breath. There are a couple of places where is it obvious that people going counter-clockwise around the trail are being led astray by side-trails which look more well worn than the actual trail. I have no idea where the side trail lead (that’s a job for another, fitter, day).
Arriving back at the van after the killer final accent of all of 130′, I realized I had not packed an end of trail beer. Oh well, I’m carrying enough weight without another beer.
What Worked, What Didn’t
Sawyer Mini water filter. This was much easier to use than our MSR Sweet Water. But getting water into the dirty water bag from a shallow source wasn’t as easy as it might have been. That made it a slow process. We resorted to using a Ziplok bag to scoop the water up and pour it into the dirty water bag. I’ve seen people using cut down plastic water bottles for this purpose – so we need to give that a try.
Trangia alcohol stove. This worked fine, but contrary to what people say – you cannot transport unused fuel in it. It leaks. Checking on the Internet I discovered that the sealing lid is only meant to be used in camp to stop fuel evaporating. It is not meant to seal the fuel in while the stove is being transported. It is just as well that I put the stove in a zip-lock bag. It leaked a lot. The leaking can be cured by having the top seam of the stove soldered closed. Apart from that it was fine. Not as fast as a gas canister, but it did the job.
Vacuum packed dried food. The bags were not wide enough for fitting in to the cozy I had made. Also, our spoons weren’t long enough to reach right down into the bottom of the bags either. Some further experimentation is required.
Hand Chainsaw. It worked fine for me. We’ll have to see how it goes over time. I like the small size. It is heavy, but not as heavy as a folding saw.
Ribz Front Pack. Excellent, no problems, and it was good to have some of the essentials close to hand. I only took my small point and shoot camera and that fitted in one side and the GPS went in the other. Along with them I had the emergency kit, gloves, a bandanna, and my trail food.
Packraft Inflation Bag. To inflate my NeoAir mattress. I got this to replace our ‘Instaflator’ It worked okay, but it seemed to take a lot longer and more fills than the Instaflator. So the jury’s still out on this one. It worked fine, but at 10x the cost, is it any better than an Instaflator? It is certainly a lot more durable. But right now, I’m not sure if it was a good buy.
Toaks Titanium 850ml Pot. It’s light and it worked. there’s not a lot more to say about it!
Pot Cosy. I made this from insulating bubble wrap. It worked and did the job. We just need to make sure that the food bags are wide enough to fit in it.
Amuri Venture Huaraches. In the picture of me by the the truck cab you’ll notice I’m not wearing shoes. These huaraches are working out really well for me. Sometimes the ground feel is a bit stronger than I’d like, but overall they are much, much, better than boots or trainers. I must admit that once we’d set up camp, I didn’t wear anything on my feet at all. As long as you are mindful of where you are treading it is no problem.