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Camping at Jackson-Washington State Forest

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

Last weekend, Sarah and I went camping at Jackson-Washington State Forest.


We had some things to do earlier in the day on Saturday, so we didn’t get down there until late in the afternoon.

We were a little worried about going on this particular weekend, because it was opening weekend of firearms deer-hunting season. We arrived to find that the place was nearly vacant. We picked out a nice campsite in a pine forest, and we basically had an entire campground to ourselves. We set up camp. By the time we were done, it was dark. We set out for a night hike.





We hiked the Sawmill Hollow Interpretive Trail. We had hiked this once before, during the day. It felt quite different at night, and we saw glowing eyes looking back at us a few times, illuminated by our lights. We stopped at a bench and turned our lights off. Suddenly, we could see a lake. Sometimes, you have to turn the light off in order to see. It was a wonderful hike of about two miles, and we had a lot of fun.

By the time we got back to our campsite, we were very hungry. We had brought some pork chops to cook. I got a fire going and Sarah cooked the pork chops for a few minutes in a skillet, on our propane stove. Once the fire was ready, we moved the pork chops onto the grill over the fire. It’s hard to judge how long to cook things this way, but we got it just right this time. The meat was tender and juicy and picked up a lot of the smoke flavor. Some of the best pork chops I’d ever had.

We got to bed fairly early … we were tired, and there wasn’t much else we wanted to do anyway.


We woke up reasonably early on Sunday … but not too early. I’m not sure what time it was … nor was I too concerned with the time. One thing I enjoy about trips like this is not having to worry about the time.

I had slept quite well. Sarah did not sleep as well, and she had a headache. I built a small fire and we had some breakfast.




Another nice feature of our campsite was that it was within very close walking distance of Knob Lake. This lake had been drained last time we were here, but it has been filled back in.


After breakfast, we packed up our campsite and headed over to the trailhead for a hike. We wanted to hike Trail 1 up to Mount Baldy (aka Pinnacle Peak). Longtime readers of this blog may recognize this as the place where I proposed to Sarah back in February of 2008. It’s an out-and-back trail, one mile each way, but it’s very rugged and feels a lot longer. Later, I would hike some additional trails. Here’s a map and elevation profile.

View 2009-11-15 Trails 1, 2, 3 at Jackson-Washington SF in a larger map


The trail starts with a long climb up to the remains of an old observation tower. The climb starts gradually, but soon steepens.




From here, the trail traverses a series of hills. It goes straight down the hillside — so steep it’s hard to even walk down. Then it turns and goes straight up the next hill. It repeats this pattern a few times. It’s hard, but the scenery is beautiful.









We reached the top to find a group of people hanging out, their kids goofing around, etc. This certainly put a damper on the romantic aspect of the hike, but we stuck around for a while and they eventually left. In the meantime, we took in the views and ate some lunch.









We headed back the way we came … and the repeated hills were just as difficult on the way back. But we were in a good mood and enjoyed it anyway.




After a while, we were back at the old observation tower. We discussed the possibility of hiking more. Sarah didn’t feel up for it, but she suggested that I go and hike some more and meet her back at the car. Just as we were debating whether Rob would go with me or with Sarah, he laid down on the ground, obviously very tired. That settled that …



So, we parted ways here, for a little while.  I wasn’t really sure how far I’d be hiking, or how long it would take me. I settled into a rather vigorous pace. I figured the hills would be a little easier on this trail (Trail 2);  it was described as “Moderately Rugged,” whereas Trail 1 had been “Rugged.” However, these hills were just as difficult — if not even harder. The trail was never flat for very long, it was always going up, or down, steeply.

However, the views were spectacular. I almost forgot I was in Indiana; the land surrounding these huge hills (“knobs”) is quite flat, which makes the hills seem much bigger. And the trail followed some narrow ridge tops, with drastic ravines on either side.




You could say that these trails are not very well-designed. Generally, they go straight up each hill, and straight down the other side, with no attempt at making the grades more manageable or the climbs more gradual. However, these trails had a unique character all their own, and I felt that the design (or lack thereof) gave me a better appreciation for the sharp relief of the landscape.



And let’s not forget the views …



The map showed an overlook on a short side trail. I reached the side trail, only to find the trail blocked, by this:


I made my way through the debris, and there were some nice views, but not really much better than what I had been seeing along the main trail.



From here, I headed back. I would take Trail 2 until its intersection with Trail 3, which would take me back down to the car. The hiking was still quite difficult, for a while.

But, did I mention the views?



Eventually, I got on Trail 3. It was a little easier. There were still a few ups and downs at first, but they weren’t as steep as Trails 1 and 2.


After a couple of hills, the trail descended rather sharply, for quite a while. I reached the bottom, where I was finally on flat ground. I crossed a creek, and almost immediately reached the parking lot.


Incredibly, this hike was under four miles. It felt a lot longer, with the relentless hills. But the effort paid off with some great views.

My wife was waiting in the car for me. I don’t think she’d been waiting too terribly long … I really booked it during the second half of this hike. We relaxed for a few minutes and talked about the hike, and then drove home.

Camping trip in Hoosier National Forest: Part III

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

This is Part III. Please read Part I and Part II first.

I slept much better than I usually do when I’m camping. I mostly attribute this to the fact that I brought a real pillow AND a smaller pillow with me. For whatever reason, I’ve got to have my pillows! I did wake up a couple of times during the night, but I fell back asleep right away.

I woke up, squinting as the sun was shining brightly. I heard the pitter-patter of a mouse running around my tent. I had no sense of what time it was. It felt like I had slept in, and I hoped Dave hadn’t been up and waiting for me for too long. It turned out it was 8:30, and Dave had also just gotten up.

Dave started a small fire and I heated water for coffee and oatmeal. We also had donuts … which were quite tasty, but surprisingly cold.



I’m a coffee lover, and I had purchased some Starbucks “VIA” instant coffee so we could try that. It was extremely convenient, as it was just instant coffee in pre-measured packets. I thought it was pretty good. I preferred it with cream and sugar … if it had been a little bit better, I would have had it black. I wouldn’t buy it all the time, but it was perfect for camping — no need for a percolator or French Press or other device, and we still had good coffee.

Anyway, after we had breakfast and coffee, we headed over to the fire tower area for some hiking.

We were doing the Old Axsom Branch hike in the Deam Wildnerness area.  I had never done this hike before … most of it is unmaintained or has no trail at all. It seemed like something that would work better with a guide. Dave has hiked this trail numerous times and knows his way around, so this worked out perfectly. Here’s a map.

View 2009-11-08 Old Axsom Branch Hike in a larger map

The hike started along a fire road on top of a ridge. We then turned off onto a trail that followed another ridge for a bit, before descending into the ravines below.



A tree with arms

Once in the valley, we followed a creek for a bit …



And bushwhacked through a meadow to this old cabin. As you can see, a tree fell on it recently.




Soon, we reached Lake Monroe. Apparently if the water is high, the part of the hike down by the lake can be quite difficult, if you have to hike on higher ground with more shrubbery. The lake looked beautiful, as always, and we hiked alongside it for quite some time.




We saw some killer campsites along the way …


… and some very interesting rocks, under water



Soon, we started a long climb up to the top of a ridge. There was no trail, and the first section had a lot of brush, making for a challenging hike. At the same time, leaf cover made it difficult to avoid rocks and other obstacles.


We had some nice views of the lake along the way …


… and saw a see-through tree ….


… and several “sweat lodges” …



… and a bent tree, apparently this was an Indian technique to indicate a turn in the trail.


We followed the ridge for quite a while …


… and eventually reached a spot with some great views of the lake


… and the terraced land, carved by glaciers.


We decided this was our lunch spot. Dave had brought some pita bread, salami, pepperoni, and leftover steak from the night before. This made for a delicious lunch.


We rested for a while and ate some lunch, enjoying both the cool breeze and the warm sun.  We looked out above the water … way, way above the water … above our position on the ridge, even … in time to see three bald eagles soaring across the sky. It had taken a lot of work to get here — bushwhacking through brush, and hiking up to the top of the ridge. But it was well worth it.

After lunch, the hiking was varied. We had more ridgetop hiking, some bushwhacking, and followed a faint horse trail for a while.



We reached Terrill Pond, which Sarah and I have visited a couple of times before. It’s always beautiful, and on this day, the lily pads were changing colors. Just lovely.




Soon, we were back on the fire road and headed back out of the woods. But we had a couple more miles to hike from here. We checked out a few campsites along the way … there are lots of great options for backpacking in the Deam Wilderness.

At the end of the hike, we’d gone about six miles. It was a lot of work, but it paid off.

We returned to our campsite to pack up the car. We got all ready to go, and Dave’s car wouldn’t start. The battery didn’t have enough juice. After a few failed attempts at finding someone to jumpstart the car, I called Sarah and she agreed to come pick us up. She had to buy jumper cables, but I’ve been meaning to get some for a while. I’m glad we have some now. Dave’s car started right up when we jump-started it. We headed home … what an awesome camping trip!

Camping trip in Hoosier National Forest: Part II

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

Note: this is Part II of a three-part series. Read Part I here. Part III will be forthcoming.

When we left off in Part I, we had just prepared for the second ride of the day, this one at night. It was completely dark when we started, but we brought plenty of lights. Of course, that means I don’t have any photos of this ride. However, here is a map.

View 2009-11-07 HNF MTB Camping Trip 2 18-20-19 in a larger map

As we left our campsite, we heard owls hooting some more. We pedaled down the gravel road briefly, and all was quiet except the crunch of the gravel beneath our tires and the whooshing sound of the wind blowing through the pines. We turned onto trail 18, but not the same portion we rode earlier in the day. This section, we had ridden a few times in the past.

On the trail, the surface was gravel, briefly, before changing to dirt. As before, everything was covered in several inches of leaves. Once the gravel ended, the trail conditions varied, with some smooth, dry sections, and some muddy ones.

This trail normally features a blistering descent, but between the mud and the leaves and the fact that it was dark outside, it was slow going, and required a lot more effort than usual just to keep moving — even when going downhill. It was still fun, and we really appreciated the few places we were able to coast. Did I mention it was dark? The moon hadn’t come out yet, unlike some night rides/hikes of the past couple of weeks.

After we reached the bottom of the long hill, we rode through creek bottoms for a while, where trail conditions were better than we expected. We had to push our bikes up part of the long, steep, eroded climb up to the intersection with trail 20.

Normally, the descent on trail 18 is the highlight of this ride. But this time around, trail 20 was the star of the show; it was in better shape, and its twists and turns were a lot of fun in the dark. I led for a while, and was doing well until I missed a turn and suddenly, the trail just ended. I had to slam on my brakes in order to avoid riding into some trees. We laughed it off and backtracked to the proper trail.

This ride was very different from our earlier one. We were more focused on riding, and there was less conversation. This also allowed us to really take in the sounds of the forest: once again, the pines … more owls … a few unidentified noises. But mostly just leaves rustling in the wind and being trampled by our tires. The moon never really did come out while we were riding, but the stars were fantastic, and a planet (venus, I think) looked quite bright. Not bright enough to light our way, but it was a very bright dot in the night sky.

Trail 20 spit us out on another gravel road. We did some climbing on the road and then turned onto trail 19. The last five miles back to our campsite were mostly uphill, alternating gradual climbs with steep ones. This was the hardest part of the ride. We were tired and hungry, and this was our second ride of the day. The mud and leaves made climbing very difficult. We made it, eventually, but it was rather grueling.

We returned to our campsite. Dave had a solid fire going in about 10 minutes, without even striking a match. We made dinner — Dave made steaks, and I cooked beans and pasta. All while drinking some very tasty beer. We weren’t exactly roughing it …




Eventually, the moon rose. But we didn’t see it for very long — we were too tired to stay up.


Dave went to his tent first. I stayed by the fire to watch the stars for a few minutes. But not long. I was worn out, and we had a hike planned for the next day.

To be continued …

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