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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.

Saturday

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.

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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.

Sunday

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.

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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.

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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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 …

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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.

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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.

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And let’s not forget the views …

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

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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A tree with arms

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

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

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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.

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We saw some killer campsites along the way …

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… and some very interesting rocks, under water

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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.

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

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… and saw a see-through tree ….

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… and several “sweat lodges” …

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

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We followed the ridge for quite a while …

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

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… and the terraced land, carved by glaciers.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Halloween night hike

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

On Halloween, I suggested to Sarah that we should do something a little different: a night hike. This was the first night hike we’ve done, so we weren’t really sure if we’d like it, or if it would be too creepy. But it was Halloween, and the moon was nearly full; I figured doing something a little creepy would be fun. We went over to Yellowwood State Forest to hike the Jackson Creek trail. We hiked this trail on our wedding day.

It’s just a short trail, a mile and a half, or maybe a little less. The moonlight was so bright that I turned my flashlight off for most of the hike. We have done this trail several times before, and it was very interesting to see it in a different light (so to speak).

The air was cool and crisp. We trod upon a bed of leaves, which both softened our step and hid rocks and roots, which sometimes attempted to make us trip. I spotted a rabbit, and we heard coyotes yipping in the distance. We marveled at the brightness of the moon, and the shadows it cast. We smelled pine trees, and crossed creeks in the dark. We held hands and walked down this familiar path, through these woods that mean so much to us, completely alone together. We had the forest to ourselves. We turned our lights off and stood arm-in-arm under the moonlight. It was perfect. But, it was over too soon.

Suffice it to say, we really liked it. I’m not sure we’ll do night hikes all the time, but there’s very little I enjoy as much as being out in the woods with my wife, and it’s great that we keep discovering new ways of doing just that.

After our hike, I wanted to try a few long exposures. Night photography is difficult, and I had some real problems, mainly with focusing. I need to work on it. But, here are a few shots anyway. I think the second shot may have Venus in it. Thanks to Sarah for being patient as I fiddled with my camera in the dark, even though it was getting cold.

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