Our first backpacking experience
The kids were with their dad in Chicago. The forecast was for unseasonably warm temperatures. We had backpacking gear we’d not fully tried out yet. It had been nearly six weeks since our last camping trip. It was time. We were ready to go on our first backpacking trip!
We couldn’t leave home until UPS brought us our new sleeping bags. The delivery did not arrive until 6:30pm and that meant we didn’t actually get on the road until 7:30pm. It would take a 90 minute drive to get to our destination; we’d decided to go to Hercules Glades Wilderness for this trip and make camp just down the hill from the trail head and parking lot. So that meant we’d be attempting our very first backpacking trip…
The first night – camped near Long Creek / Devils Den
We donned our packs, coats, gloves and headlamps and headed into the wilds. Signing in at the trail head showed us that no other campers had been this way for several weeks. (Or they’d not signed in…more likely.) Off we headed down the trail. It’s about a 200ft descent from the parking lot to the creek bed. There’s a fire ring and area that’s quite well used just the other side of Long Creek, that we’d seen on an earlier day hike.
Day One – Devil’s Den to Coy Bald Via Long Creek Falls
The bags did well…we were warm and cozy. We woke to a cloudy morning that felt more chilly than it was…likely around 50°F. Coffee, breakfast, breaking down the camp, and pumping some water…soon it was nearly noon and we had a full day’s hike ahead. But before we left the area, we had a nose around Devil’s Den, an interesting little creek bed flanked by steep hills on both sides.
The falls are quite a popular camping area and we found two well-used fire rings.
Soon we found ourselves in a clearing overlooking Blair Ridge. From this point you can see Hercules Tower several miles away. I want to camp here someday as the clearing faces south and I can just imagine drinking my coffee in the morning sun.
We knew the forecast called for rain and possible thunderstorms so we weren’t surprised to be awakened by a thunderstorm at midnight. Try as we might, neither of us was able to stay awake for it, though. That’s pretty hard to believe because the rain made a terrible noise hitting the tent. But we were dry inside and slept until morning.
Day Two – Sitting Out Some Storms And Back To Coy Bald Trailhead
When we did wake up, we did a quick check of the tent and found only mild moisture, most likely from condensation against the cold floor of the tent. With an air temperature near 60°F on the last day of December this was to be expected. We then realized that the light coming into the tent was more yellow than usual. We have a yellow tent. So we expect this. But it looked…more yellow. I checked outside and the post-storm clouds were positively golden and the entire world was bathed in this spooky yellow light. We scrambled out for some pictures. And we retrieved our food from the tree where we had hung it. And made coffee. I love coffee when we’re camping!
The radio was giving another warning as well, but I was not alarmed as it was down in Branson, 30 miles away. We continued to drink our coffee and watched the morning unfold. The rumbling continued. And then another tornado warning was issued. Apparently a tornado was spotted 4 miles from Taneyville. I then remembered the last town we had passed through on the way here. Taneyville. The thought of being in a tornado in a tent in December was so funny to me that I just couldn’t be to worried. Plus the storm just didn’t “feel” tornado-ish. Soon enough the line of storms passed over (sans tornado) and we had another thunderstorm with some nice lightning and thunder at close range. Always exciting for storm lovers like us!
When the storm passed we checked the sky and figured the clear blue meant the dry weather had moved in and we could safely pack up and head home. As it had been raining, everything was in the tent or vestibules so we were able to pack up easily. We stuffed the sleeping bags into their compression sacks. We deflated and rolled up our sleeping pads. We changed into new clothes for the day. The only thing left was the tent…which we were sitting in of course. The entire area was dripping wet and we needed a dry place to sort our packs.
The hike back to the trail head, completing a 6.8 mile loop, moved along remarkably fast and we were finished by 1pm. I had been looking at a map, but Gary was stunned to see the sign-in kiosk at the trail head. He figured we still had another couple hours of hiking. I think we were both surprised at how easily we were able to hike this distance and how little time it took us. Maybe, just maybe, we’re getting stronger and all these day hikes are paying off!
On our drive back to Springfield we took the long route home and checked out the other trail head at Hercules Glades. It showed much more signs of human use and in fact we saw a man get out of his jeep and throw some trash out over the roadway. He drove away before we could get a photo of his license plate as Gary had suggested.
Once in Springfield the main things on our minds were showers and food.