Despite my best intentions, I’ve been too busy to get out on the trails since my last trip in March. This weekend I decided to fix that with three days hiking at Hercules Glades. My plan was to catch a sunset from the bluffs and do some exploring down Long Creek. Things didn’t quite end up how I’d planned though.
About an hour into my hike west along the Pilots (Tower) Trail to the bluffs I was caught by a thunderstorm. Finally, a real chance to try out my rain poncho! It worked fine, but with the temperatures up in the mid-eighties it was hot and humid with it on. I put my main camera in my pack when it started to rain, so the picture above was taken with my phone. I must learn to look at the lens and not the screen when taking pictures with my phone.
The picture below was taken half-an-hour earlier when I arrived at the cairn marking the first trail junction.
It’s a six-and-a-half mile hike from the trailhead to the bluffs overlooking Beaver Creek on the western edge of Hercules Glades. I’ve been wanting to get a nice sunset picture from here for ages. It wasn’t going to happen today though, everything was very wishy-washy. I also hadn’t reckoned on how dense the foliage would be at the top of the bluff. There was only a couple of places where it was possible to get any sort of a view and they both involved getting a lot closer to the edge of the (200 ft.) bluff than I’m particularly comfortable with.
I’ll admit that this is an attempt to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. But after hiking all the way to the bluffs I was determined to get a sunset picture, even if I had to excessively process the picture to do so.
Here I am all cozy, fifty yards or so back from the bluff. The foliage on the edge of the bluff was so thick I didn’t bother to try and set up my hammock with a view out over the bluff.
I made one mistake — I drank a cup of coffee. I gave up coffee nine months ago, and just one cup left me feeling all jittery for several hours. Hot chocolate or decaff it will have to be in future.
What the view from the bluffs really looks like…
I found a whole bunch of these prickly pears. The new shoots almost match the color of my rain poncho!
Back on the Trail
I was all packed up and underway shortly before eleven. The first quarter/half mile was pure bushwhacking as there is no trail to the bluffs. It’ll come as no surprise to hear that I crossed the trail without seeing it. I bumped into the very rough hunting camp, which immediately made me think I must have overshot the trail. A quick check on the GPS showed that to be the case. I know that’s cheating, but I wasn’t about to start faffing about looking for it. It was hot — mid-eighties — and I wanted to get on.
I decided I’d take the Devil’s Den East (Middle) Trail, down to Rock Spring (Long Creek) Trail, rather than the first trail junction I’d meet. Doing so would save me the 300 ft. climb out of Devil’s Den. By the time I was on the Devil’s Den East Trail, I was down to my last few sips of water, so I decided I’d get some more with a short diversion to Rock Spring. Which I did. I drank my fill and filled my water bottle at the spring box. From there it was mainly downhill — but a couple of miles — to The Falls on Long Creek. When I got there, I was surprised to find water running in Long Creek. When I got to The Falls, I could hear some water running, but I didn’t stop. My plan was to go exploring and follow the unmarked trail leading west away from The Falls. I already knew what to expect as a few weeks previously I’d received an email telling me about this spot and asking if I had any idea where the trail came out. Unfortunately, I’ve never hiked this trail, so I couldn’t give an answer, but I thought I’d go along and check it out the first chance I had.
The trail is steep and narrow, with an 80-100 ft. drop off to the creek in places, so not a place to suffer vertigo, or to hike along with young children. On one of the climbs, I realized I’d not been checking my heart rate, so I stopped to do so and found it was at 150 bpm — which is about maxing things out for my age, especially with the temperatures up in the high eighties — so I took a short rest before carrying on.
Pretty soon I was dropping back down to the creek and arrived at the campsite under an overhang (pictured). This charming spot has ready access to the creek, and I could have easily hung my hammock between a couple of the trees. However, I was keen to see where the trail led, so I spent a few minutes scouting around and took a couple of pictures before carrying on.
The trail leading west from the campsite under the overhang came to an abrupt end at a very rocky ravine. I decided that if the trail continued on the other side of the ravine, it would do so a fair way up it. I hiked up over the very large boulders. It was difficult going and I quickly decided that it was an unlikely route for the trail.
Getting back to Long Creek, I concluded that the only logical route was straight down the creek; a bit of water hiking was in order.
I was surprised that I’d not seen or heard a single person so far and this was Memorial Day, which I was expecting to be busy as the area near The Falls draws quite a crowd. The creek didn’t look to be too deep, but I figured with no one around if it got too deep I could always strip off to keep my clothes dry.
It was just as well the creek wasn’t too deep and I didn’t strip off, as five minutes later I bumped into John — the only person I was to see on this trip — hiking up the creek. We exchanged pleasantries, and he told me he had a hammock set up a short distance downstream.
We were probably the only people in the entire wilderness, and we’d both turned up at the same spot.
I carried on hiking down the creek past where he said he’d set up his hammock. I had just worked my way around the edge of a big deep pool when I spotted what looked like another overhang behind the trees. And so it was. This was a much more primitive spot. Tucked under the overhang there was a fire ring and a small stone stool, nothing fancy. Scouting around I found what looked like a trail coming in from the west, so that might be another way to get to this spot. I’ll have to check that out another time.
In the picture above we’re looking East — upstream — this is the large pool I had to skirt around to get to my overnight campsite. The pool was deep enough for me to float in, take a very welcome bath, and wash off some of the trail dust. I didn’t stay in the water long though as it was a little chilly.
Looking west — downstream. I didn’t venture any further downstream. That’ll have to wait for another trip. Below are a couple of views of the surroundings, including my hammock set up for the night.
I was glad I had my sit-pad to soften and warm up the rock seat by the fire. It was a huge fire ring, but I only set a small fire.
Day Three, and out…
It’s funny how a lot of the hikes start (and end) at a high point. There are no low-lying trailheads at Hercules, between Long Creek and the Tower Trailhead the height difference is only 500 ft. but the actual amount of climbing you do ends up being a fair bit more as the trail undulates over bluffs and up and down the sides of hollows.
For the route out, I decided against the most direct trails as I wanted to get nearer to my monthly 20-miles backpacking target. That decided me on taking the less direct Cedars Trail. It worked out at around five miles bringing my trip total to 18 miles. Not bad for my first hike in two months. (That’s the impact on my schedule of Lent, and the Great 50 Days of Easter for you, plus trips to Denver and Louisville). But I knew that my target was overly ambitious when I set it (read on to find out how overly ambitious that was).
The scenery and the temperatures had changed a lot since my last trip, so had the insect population. The entire trip I was constantly removing ticks. It didn’t help that I ran out of Deet on day one. Despite removing dozens, I still ended up with twenty or more attached when I did a thorough check at home. Some I knew I had and I just couldn’t reach them, others had just slipped by my radar.
All in all, it was a good trip, but I did not settle into a ‘relaxing’ groove. I’m still learning how to switch off and relax.
However spending three days out over the Memorial Weekend, and I only seeing one other person, that’s pretty hard to beat.
But Wait. There’s more…
I arrived home in the midafternoon. I then had to get cleaned up, de-ticked, plus clean and put away my gear. By six pm I was ready for food and we went out to our local Indian restaurant.
One nice meal and a beer later we were back at home; I was studying the Fitbit record of my trip: sleep, heart rate, number of steps/calories, etc… when Ginger the observant asked why my current heart rate was so high — 90 bpm — I thought I had indigestion or anxiety, but nothing untoward. Well, actually it felt a bit like there was a troop of hamsters tap dancing (badly) in the top of my chest.
Ginger said we ought to go to ER. Nope. No way did I want to spend the night waiting to be seen in the ER. I decided to have a lie-down and see if things sorted themselves out.
While I was lying on the bed Ginger had a quick listen to my heartbeat, and said it was very fast and irregular. Okay, off we trundle to the local ER. The hospital is only five minutes away, even allowing for red lights. We spent more time parking than we did driving there.
Things started to get a bit surreal as it dawned on me that I was the “Cardiac Emergency” just announced on the hospital PA system.
I walked up to the receptionist and told her my heart was running erratically and a bit fast. She reached over and took my pulse — I wasn’t expecting that — and immediately picked up the phone, handing me off to her buddy who proceeded to try and get some personal details out of me. The damn hamsters were a bit distracting by now, and I had trouble getting at my Social Security number. No worries, a nurse had arrived to escort me to a room; so much for sitting in the waiting room for hours, “that’s cool,” I thought. Then things started to get a bit surreal as it dawned on me that I was the “Cardiac Emergency” just announced on the hospital PA system.
The nurse offered me a wheelchair, but I said I preferred to walk, she replied with a knowing “I thought not…” Arriving at the cubical I was asked to put on a gown and was immediately hooked up to a heart monitor.
Instant diagnosis: my heart was in Afib — Atrial fibrillation is a quivering or irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) that can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications.
According to Ginger, my heart rate went up to 168 beats a minute, and presumably, my blood pressure must have dropped right down, as it took seven or more attempts to get a needle into me because my veins had all collapsed (a week later and I have huge bruises on the backs of my hands and arms from all the failed attempts). The nurse called for reinforcements and a second nurse managed to get a needle in me via a vein in my upper arm. I was given a full EKG, and an x-ray (to check if my heart was swollen). Once the drugs arrived I was put on a drip and that calmed my heart rate down.
Even more surreal (if that was possible) was the arrival of a hospital administrator with a bunch of questions culminating with a request for me to sign off the (hefty) bill. Have you ever tried signing a credit card slip while you are hooked up to various medical devices? It wasn’t easy, and I thought it rather tactless. It’s not like we don’t have insurance.
The good news was that the lab work on my blood showed that I hadn’t had a heart attack. Four hours after arriving I was discharged with a prescription for drugs to keep my heart rate down, instructions to take an Aspirin a day to ward off a stroke, take things easy for a while, and to see a cardiologist asap. My heart was still in Afib, but the hamsters seemed to have toned down their dance a bit.
I had another full EKG, and I’m glad to say that my heart is no longer in Afib. However, I’ve been told that I need to keep taking the meds, probably for the rest of my life. I still have to take things easy until I have an echocardiogram, which will show if my heart has been damaged (it wasn’t). I was also advised not to go hiking or backpacking for a while in case the hamsters start their dance again where I’m unable to get medical attention. I agree. Had this hit in the morning I’d have been in the wilderness without cell phone coverage. So I think it may be time to invest in the satellite location beacon/ texting system I thought about getting after I fell ill while backpacking in February.
Afib is very common and sometimes appears and then never comes back. Hopefully, that will be the case with me. I’m not looking forward to six months of the meds I’m on as they slow my heart down a lot and make me feel woozy. With luck, the echocardiogram will be clear and I’ll be able to mow the yard soon. In a month or so I hope I’ll be back on the trail. Meanwhile, I guess I’ll actually have to make use of the gym membership I’ve had for ages but not taken advantage of. At least then if the hamsters decide to start tap dancing again I’ll be near a medical facility.