This past weekend was quite over due. Robin and I hadn’t been out backpacking together since last winter (2012). Although Javan and I hadn’t actually spent a night out in the woods in an even longer period, we had turned a couple of high-mileage planned overnights into even higher mileage day hikes.
We started planning the trip about a month ago, initially agreeing on the last weekend of March, but the weather and other circumstances pushed that out a week further. In return, we got near perfect weather this weekend. I had a route mapped out that took us from the Turkey Pen Road trailhead along the South Mills River Trail for about 10 miles before ultimately coming back to the trailhead via the Turkey Pen Trail. Total mileage for the trip was right at 20, and the elevation profile, at a glance, looked leisurely. As seems to be the norm with trips Javan and I do together, it turned out to be a LOT more strenuous than the map and elevation profile indicated. You’d think we would expect this by now. Regardless, we had packed for a fairly easy trip (i.e. not weight-conscious) and even brought real food (as opposed to dehydrated stuff).
We arrived at the Turkey Pen Road parking lot around 11:40 Saturday. Javan and I decided to start along the South Mills River trail and stop somewhere around Buckhorn Gap Shelter, thereby front loading mileage (~ 12.5 miles) and leaving a shorter trip Sunday, just in case the weather changed or something else unexpected happened. The two of us had done this exact piece of the South Mills River Trail almost this same time of year back in 2011, yet we both still failed to remember all of the river crossings. We knew there were a few, but I’m fairly certain I counted 12 crossings on Saturday. Robin and I had Max along with us on this trip, our border collie mix who is turning out to be a great trail companion. Due to his small size and the swift water, he needed to be carried across the river each and every time, so I carried him using his harness, like a suitcase, while his legs paddled in the air. Imagine doing isometric upright rows with a 45 lb dumbbell and holding it for 2 to 5 minutes per crossing! Fortunately, I was at least cognizant enough to alternate arms, so both of my shoulders are now in equal pain.
Other than the numerous river fords, Saturday was fairly uneventful. We made camp around 6 PM on a grassy, abandoned Forest Service road after seeing that the shelter area was overrun by a group of Boy Scouts (I swear there were 15-20 tents). I had planned to use my newly acquired Hyperlite Mountain Gear 8×10 cuben flat tarp and review it, but the weather was so nice we all cowboy camped under the stars. Robin and I heated up our BBQ pork, which was excellent. Javan cooked his steak on a rock (see pic, below) over the hot coals, and polished it off with the help of a still-ravenous Robin and Max, of course.
After a night of somewhat restless sleep, Robin and I watched a beautiful pink and orange sunrise over the horizon. We dozed back off for a while, then all eventually stirred out of our bags/quilts, packed up some, and cooked our breakfast: fresh bacon and eggs. Then we loaded up and hit the trail. Unlike Saturday’s river miles, Sunday’s section was, for the most part dry with ridge walks, quick ascents to mountain tops, and even quicker descents to gaps. If you’ve never been hiking in the Southeast, this trail is a shining example of how the lack of switchbacks can make ascents and descents pure Hell. Javan and Robin fared much worse than I did, physically, and both limped the last half mile at a snail’s pace, nearly carrying each other to the car (Javan having ditched his ill-fitting shoes and hobbling along in his socks). By this time, even my own knees were screaming in agony. We left the parking lot around 1:45 PM and headed home to clean up before going out for a hard-earned dinner and drinks at The Cantina with Javan and his girlfriend, Katherin.
Ultimately, we had a great trip. There was a little bit of everything in regards to scenery (rivers, altitude, and views), and we enjoyed some real food, a nice fire, and near perfect weather. Max seemed to have a blast as well, despite a little anxiety during the river crossings. This was the first trip I’ve been on since acquiring a Sony RX100 camera, and I put it to good use. Since recent past trips I had swapped from a point-and-shoot to a Nikon D7000, and then reduced to a Sony Nex-5N, both of which turned out to be a bit too cumbersome for heavy use. The RX100 takes excellent photos, even when used like a traditional point-and-shoot (in full auto mode), and is quite pocketable, so I always had it handy. This was also my first time using a Sawyer Squeeze water filter, and yes, it’s as good as everyone says.
You can enjoy all of the photos from our trip here – http://www.flickr.com/photos/uallas/sets/72157633191386736/