Trip Report: Backpacking on the Pees Hollow Trail at Hercules Glades Wilderness

Trail Marker at the western end of the Pees Hollow Trail

My new Hammock arrived last week, and I was eager to take it out on the trail. However, the week was chock-a-block, clearing the decks because I’m at a conference next week. Friday was booked with a customer, and I had a meeting first thing Monday. The question was, whether to try and squeeze something in or wait at least a couple of weeks? I studied the weather and decided I could fit in a quick hike with one night in the wilderness if I left straight after my meeting on Monday (April 9).

Besides spending a night in my new hammock, I wanted to try out some different sleeping gear and make some other minor changes. The original forecast was for temperatures of 35°F overnight.

Quick fix to the tarp.

I decided to take my 0°F sleeping bag and the huge (77″x24″) but warm and comfy Neoair pad (Contrary to what I said when writing up my last trip, while bigger when in use, the Neoair packs smaller and is lighter than the Thermarest pad). Instead of my hiking huaraches, I wanted to try out my hiking sandals (also from Xero Shoes), and with no rain in the forecast I decided to give a heavier Utility Kilt, and my down jacket a trail test. The cooking gear remained the same, but I had two new Mountain House meals to try out; Beef Stroganoff and Breakfast Skillet. I fixed the ripped out grommet in the tarp (damaged on my last trip) by gluing in its place a plastic washer made out of an old page divider. I wanted to try out a larger Tyvek ground sheet, but I couldn’t find the spare Tyvek. Oh well.

The Plan

Gary, on his way along the Pees Hollow Trail.

I decided to go back to Hercules Glades Wilderness, only this time hike the Pees Hollow trail. Pees Hollow is a six miles loop, which makes for a good day hike — if you don’t get lost. As I would be starting later in the day, I would hike the trail clockwise, starting at the western (furthest) end, and hike the mile and a half down to ‘The Cab’ — an old truck cab abandoned in the wilderness — there is a fire ring by the cab, and I’d either spend the night there, or do some exploring and find a spot to camp along what we call ‘Cab Creek’. The next day, it would be fairly easy, but, uphill hike for the remaining four or so miles of the trail to complete the loop.

Day One

It was around eleven-thirty by the time I got back from my meeting, and while I’d gathered everything up ready, it all needed to be packed away. Again I didn’t weigh my fully packed rucksack, but it was 21lbs without water and my 4lb sleeping bag, so probably somewhere around 30lbs. I managed to get out the house and on the road by one p.m. (with one false start where I set off and then realized I’d forgotten to pack coffee).

A little over an hour later and I was on the trail. Taking the Tower Trail to the Western end of the Pees Hollow Trail. The hike down the ridge to the glades was nice and easy.

There is only one spot on this half of the Pees Hollow loop where it’s easy to miss the trail, and that’s a little over half a mile in. After you’ve dropped off of the ridge, you start to go south-west across the glade that is rapidly becoming overgrown. It feels like you are, almost doubling back. After a while, there’s a point where the trail crosses a small creek on the right, and that can be easy to miss.

I stopped and took lots of pictures all along the way, so, it took me a nice leisurely hour and a half to get to the cab. Someone had left a good supply of firewood at the fire ring, but I don’t like to camp right on the trail, and the trees are fairly open here, so I decided to take a look along Cab Creek.

The truck cab, and the near-by fire ring.

After a short walk on this little-used side-trail, I found a nice little fire ring next to the creek. There was a spot I could have hung my hammock across the trail there, but I decided to go a bit further on and set up well back from the trail.

I took my time setting up the hammock – it was very simple. The new buckles are quick and easy to set up and the hammock set really well. The Neoair pad fitted okay diagonally in the hammock. I realized I’d not packed any ‘S’ hooks, so I lashed my rucksack to the foot of the hammock.

As in my last trip, the temperature dropped fairly rapidly, and the last forecast I checked when I got to the trailhead was for 29° overnight, a lot cooler than I was expecting. With that in mind, I decided I’d try having a fire to pass the evening. With plenty of daylight in hand, I collected wood and prepared the fire, and left a nice big pile of prepared wood by the fire ring.

I had dinner sitting under the tarp. The Mountain House Beef Stroganoff was tasty enough but seemed a little salty.

The fire was fun, and with my down jacket to keep my back warm, I was nice and cozy. I also discovered a great advantage of a kilt over shorts. Sitting down, you can drape the kilt over your legs to keep them warm.

The reflective line on the tarp makes finding camp easy in the dark.

It didn’t take long to get a decent fire going.

Day One (We’ll ignore the fact I forgot to turn on the GPS until after I’d already hiked 1/4 mile along the Tower Trail).

Day Two

DutchWare Gear Chameleon hammock. When I first saw this picture I thought I’d set the hammock up wrong. Then I realized it’s just the weight of the backpack pulling the near end down.

The Chameleon hammock was a great success. I fitted the bug net and it helped to keep a bit of warmth in. I’d wrapped the pad in my sleeping bag liner so it was more comfortable to sleep on and used the sleeping bag as a quilt. My nose got chilly, but that was about it. I was very comfortable and warm. Too warm, I got rid of my base layer half-way through the night. I cannot wait to try out the hammock with an underquilt. If I can get it to work, I might be able to extend the temperature range of the underquilt by lining it with my 40°F quilt.

All was not entirely rosy though. I was feeling a bit cool underneath when I woke up and later realized I’d made another rookie mistake. I inflated the pad when it was warm, and forgot to top it up when it got cold, so the pad was a lot less effective by morning than it should have been.

Making coffee got delayed when I couldn’t find the coffee. I knew I had it, and I thought I’d put it on one side for the morning. After turning everything out, I went and retrieved the bear bag, and sure enough, I’d packed it away up a tree. Oh well, I needed my breakfast from the bag anyway.

The Mountain House Breakfast Skillet was very good, I highly recommend it. It became an instant favorite of the Mountain House meals I’ve had so far.

I spent a leisurely morning taking pictures and packing away. I loved how easily the hammock pushed into its stuff sack. It took seconds. Disconnecting the hammock from the suspension I discovered another careless/rookie mistake. At the foot end, I’d got the beetle buckle upside down, which meant the buckle wasn’t being held closed. I was lucky I didn’t get dumped on the floor in the middle of the night.

The double ended stuff sack for the hammock. It’s actually green by I’m told that it changes color invisibly to the human eye when exposed to UV. Who knew, I thought the camera white balance was out.

Beetle Buckles the correct way up …

Back in 2011 We did a similar one-night backpacking trip on the Pees Hollow Trail. Bushwhacking back to the trail from our campsite we missed the trail and found the remains of an old Ozarks cabin. I wanted to try and find it again so I could take some better pictures and geotag it. It was somewhere just before Brushy Creek (a very apt name by the way, it is very brushy!) Half an hour after setting out in the morning, I was moving off-trail to quarter the area looking for the cabin. I was lucky and found it almost immediately. The cabin must have had a great view of Brushy Creek when all the intervening brush was cleared.

Pictures taken, I hiked the short distance to Brushy Creek.

Looking down the creek I spotted a spring box and went off to explore. I then noticed a second spring box, the second one looked to be set up to catch drips from a seep in the bank of the creek. I explored further down creek and there were some excellent looking rock steps where Brushy Creek and ‘Cab Creek’ meet. I spent a while taking pictures and looking around. This would be another nice spot for wild camping.


The confluence of Brushy Creek (left) and ‘Cab Creek’ (right).


Pictures taken and exploring complete, I hiked straight up the creek bed back to the trail (an advantage of wearing sandals or huaraches). Where the trail crosses the creek is well marked, they were the first trail markers I’d seen on my hike so far. Now all I had to do was complete the long climb from the Brushy Creek crossing back to the tower. Enroute I hoped to check on a few old landmarks we’d previously geotagged.

Trail markings where Pees Hollow Trail crosses Brushy Creek (looking east).

Trail marker at the Brushy Creek crossing (looking west).

The climb up from Brushy Creek along the old farm track got my heart going. Once out of the trees, I came to a spot where another ‘unofficial’ side trail joined from the north. I instantly realized this must have been where Ginger got lured off of the trail when she tried to hike the Pees Hollow Trail counter clockwise a while back. I stopped to take a picture to show Ginger and see if I was right, and I noticed a very ambiguous trail marker. Instead of being to the left of the Pees Hollow Trail, it was slap-bang in the middle. There is nothing to indicate that you should follow the trail to the left. I wish I’d had a sharpie with me to draw an arrow on the trail marker.

Very ambiguous trail marker — Take the left trail.

There was one other main point on this half of the loop where the trail was unclear, but there the new trail markers have been well placed and there shouldn’t be any problems.

Trail junction. Make sure you follow the trails that have a marker, or you’ll end up on the glades that run between ‘Cab Creek’ and Brushy Creek.

Trail junction. Make sure you follow the trails that have a marker, or you’ll end up on the glades that run between ‘Cab Creek’ and Brushy Creek.

As I hoped, I found the landmarks I was looking for; the farm track gate posts, the Dodge truck hood, and the remains of an old building.

Old gateposts, on the old farm trail.

Dodge truck hood.

Old cellar, store, or what?

I made one new discovery very near the end of the hike. I saw a spring and spring box, at what has to be one of the sources of the creek that Joins ‘Cab Creek’. It must produce quite a lot of water, as It was a couple of hundred yards off of the trail, and the sound of running water was very clear. I didn’t bushwhack over for a closer look, because I didn’t want to give away any of my hard earned elevation gains. I’ll have to explore it another day.

The end of the hike (the fire tower) is in sight.

Very near the end of the trail. Hwy 125 is at the top of the slope to the left.

I’d started hiking at around 10:15 a.m. and I arrived back at the van at 1:30 p.m.

Day Two.

Lessons Learned

  • The Neoair pad should be good below 32°F — if you make sure it is well inflated.
  • Our new Fluxbag inflator https://fluxbag.com/ worked well.
  • Hiking in a Kilt in the mid 30s°F is not at all uncomfortable, and neither is lounging around by a campfire on a chilly evening.
  • With the Trangia on a cold trip 5ozs of alcohol will heat two meals and three drinks. So allow around an oz of fuel each.
  • Pack a Sharpie to clarify errant trail markers.
  • I need to make hooks to hang stuff on.

Gear

The things I took and didn’t use were:

  • The Emergency Packs and Gear
  • The fire steel and Fire-starters
  • Long pants
  • Cheap plastic rain poncho
  • Water Filter (though I could have carried in a lot less water and filtered it instead).

Things I left behind this time and didn’t miss:

  • Spare paracord.
  • Buck 110 hunting knife.
  • Chain wood saw.

What worked

  • My new DutchWare Gear Chameleon Hammock. It is very well made and the bug net kept in a surprising amount of warmth. Having the ridgeline inside the bug net is very convenient for hanging gear on, making things much more organized.
  • The Deuter backpack was again comfortable and as before, took everything easily with plenty of room to spare. And that included the huge 0° sleeping bag.
  • Utility Kilt. I don’t know if it was the thicker material that made wearing a kilt comfortable in the lower temperatures or not, but it was fine. I was comfortable in it from 34°F to 60°F. I think this might well become my regular hiking attire. I’ll just have to get used to meeting people on the trail while wearing one.
  • Buff. I’ve carried on of these for ages, but not used it. I was surprised how good it was. I turned it into a beanie and wore it instead of my thick Thinsulate hat while I sat around the fire. It was warm and comfortable. I shall be experimenting with it some more. It has the advantage of being very light and compressing very small.
  • Hiking Sandals. These were great and I appreciated the extra depth of sole making some of the more stony and sharp parts of the trail easier to hike.
  • Once again the Trangia stove and the rest of my cooking system worked great. Right now I see no reason to change anything.

Final Thoughts

For a quick first test of a new hammock it all went very well. I’m pleased with the hammock, and looking forward to getting the underquilt so that I don’t have to carry and deal with an inflatable pad. Lugging around the 12′ x 10′ polypropylene tarp is a bit of a chore, so I’m looking forward to the arrival on my lightweight tarp too.

This time I remembered to take powdered milk (not whey powder), and I mixed it into a nice hot cup of cocoa which I drank while sitting by the campfire.

In all, I hiked a tad short of six miles with a total elevation gain (and loss) of 1,000′.

What do you think?