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Monday, January 31, 2022

Pike State Forest 2 - Day 62

  Can you believe I've been on the trail for two full months? Seems too fantastic to be true, and yet, here we are.

Today, we went over two ridges: Green Ridge and Greenbrier Ridge. The snow is still impeding progress, but not as much. It's almost gone on south slopes, but on the north there are still several inches. Almost all our miles today were off road. At the end of the day the trail was difficult with lots of fallen trees, and some logging. But, as you can see, we had sunshine again. The temperature got to about 37 degrees in the afternoon. sunshine on snowy trail

In some places we were on bridle trails. This horse camp made a nice place for a break with a place to sit. picnic table in the woods

The trail over Greenbrier Ridge is named for Jim Sprague. Jim was one of the first people associated with the Buckeye Trail to fully support the North Country Trail following the same route for many miles. I wish I had a picture of him to share, but I don't have one with me. I believe he's still alive. Jim Sprague Trail

The view from Greenbrier Ridge was awesome. We ate lunch at another horse camp, taking it all in. The camera just can't capture it. For about 180 degrees we were surrounded by hills of various shades of blue. view from Greenbrier Ridge

Best find of the afternoon? I saw the seed pods of an orchid. I'm not quite good enough to just look at the seeds and identify most of them yet. Downy Rattlesnake Plantain seeds

But I dug under the snow, and the leaves are persistent. I thought at first it might be a new species for me. I thought there were two kinds of these orchid with the white veins. But, it's only my old friend, Goodyera pubescens, Downy Rattlesnake Plantain. Still, a great find in the winter. Botany forever! Downy Rattlesnake Plantain

Our knees were tired at the end of the day, but we did great given the conditions.

Miles today: 10.3. Total miles so far: 865.3.

See Pike State Forest

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Pike State Forest - Day 61

  We actually started Pike State Forest yesterday, and we should finish tomorrow, so I'll show you scenes in two batches.

This state forest is about 12,000 acres and consists of lots of wooded ridges. Yesterday, we went over Butler Hill and past the Butler Family Cemetery. Butler Cemetery

It was nice to have some different colors, even if it is just dead grass and winter shrubs. Butler Hill Butler Hill

Today, we climbed Smith Hill first. The sun was out! It sent cheery rays through the trees. We passed over a little saddle. sun through trees

Then we went up on Turner Ridge. Turner Ridge view

We could see the valley that carries Rte. 124 below us. But then, we reached a spur of the ridge, and it was really neat to be able to see the valley on both sides of that point of the ridge. Turner Ridge view

We did 7.1 miles in the forest, then added some road miles a little farther ahead. The snow is still making the trail difficult. Not really enough for snowshoes, but just enough for tough going. The snow is melting, though, and we are going to finish the state forest tomorrow.

This little one was watching me from the trees. whitetail deer

Oh yeah, we forded one creek with our trash bags. We are getting rip-snortin' good at that!

Miles today 12.1. Total miles so far: 855.

See Fort Hill- Fantastic

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Fort Hill, Try #2 - Fantastic! - Day 60

  Let's begin this story by telling you that I've "anticipated" this trail section for days. I last hiked this section in 2006- admittedly a long time ago. However, there were notes in the FarOut app from 2019 that said this trail was horrible and impossible to find, so there was a real possibility of a repeat of my previous adventure. Except that my solution in 2006 would not have been acceptable today.

I'm going to start by sharing the story of my 2006 hike with you. This is an excerpt from North Country Quest. This is from Chapter 82, "Wish You Were Here," written as letters to my hiking buddy Marie, who was not with me on that trip. You can skip to today's story if you don't want to read this much, but it will give you a better understanding of why I didn't want to start this piece of trail at 2:30 yesterday afternoon.
Wish you were here. Another gorgeous fall day with temperatures in the 70's! It's hard to believe that the weather has been so congenial. On the other hand, it's a good thing because otherwise today's adventure might not have been so pleasant.

Can you tell that I've set you up for what happened next? I'm sure you are laughing already! I reached Baker Fork in good time with an easy walk. The trail was marked both with blue blazes and metal disks with the Ohio Historical Society logo. Twice the chance of being sure I wouldn't lose the treadway! I knew that the creek would need to be waded in sandals so that didn't alarm me, although the path on the far side did seem to be less used. At the crossing, huge limestone boulders framed the creek, so I had to take time to snap a couple of photos. Indeed, the trail didn't look very good at first, but then it improved. The treadway was fairly well compacted, and every time I began to get worried about being on the right path, sure enough, I would find a trail marker. Continuing this way, I hiked along for about an hour. My concept of maintenance is a bit stricter than had been applied here. I often had to push through chest high saplings encroaching on the trail, or find a pathway around toppled tree-tops lying across the way, but I always, eventually, found a marker to reassure me that I was where I desired to be. I was writing the story for this section in my head: "I didn't get lost but I don't know why," when the path ended in a pile of fallen logs at the base of an enormous beech tree. I hunted all around the tree for a pathway, but there was none to be found. As usual, my first reaction was anger. I've learned to deal with this by making myself take a short break and thinking about what to do next. So I sat beneath the huge beech and ate a snack. Looking around, I realized that the beech was so large that it would make an easy landmark, and so I made ever larger circles around the tree, but found only the trail which led me back to the last marker I had passed. But once there, I found another fairly well-defined treadway angling toward the creek, so I followed that, but it soon ended in leaves and weeds. Resigning myself to a different story for the day, I headed for the creek thinking that I would just follow it until the trail came back down to cross it again, heading east.

On the way down a valley to the water I passed more limestone formations, now so large that they could never be called boulders, which implies a separate identity for each rock. They were now cliffs which nearly met above my valley, and on one side a round-mouthed cave bore evidence of use by other "explorers." I wished for you to take my picture in such a perfect protected space. When I reached the creek I donned my sandals again and began the walk south following the creek. There were genuine cliffs on one side or the other, or both, making it necessary to continue wading most of the time. The water was not chilly, and the air was warm, so this was not unpleasant. However, the rocks were slippery as snake oil and just as deceptive as to the angles of their surfaces and their depths. I try really hard to be careful when I'm hiking alone and concentrated on keeping two points (either two feet, or one foot and the hiking stick) on solid footing at all times. It was slow going, but I was making steady progress. I figured at the worst I would have to follow the creek for a bit over two miles until it crossed Route 124.

Suddenly, either from carelessness, or some of that snake oil, down I went into the water, dunking my butt. That was the least of my cares. A sharp rock cracked my right shin, just below the kneecap, and I knew this might be trouble. I stood up, checked to see that the camera was dry, and took a peek at my knee. I could hardly believe there was no blood streaming down my leg, but once again my tough skin came to the rescue. One angry red welt marked the point of impact which was already surrounded by a bruise two inches wide and three inches long. I took a tentative step or two and decided that although it hurt like billy-oh, that there was nothing really damaged. My philosophy is that it's better for an injury to keep it moving than to baby it. This was an especially good philosophy for today, since that was my only choice.

So, for 45 minutes I continued downstream, always looking for that missing trail crossing, while the cool water soothed my aching shin. It was obvious that I was past the trail by now; it must have gone to the creek immediately after the final marker I had passed. When I came to a gully on the east side of the creek which looked like it could be ascended, I made a decision. There was clear sky showing through the trees at the top, suggesting either a road or a field. So I switched back to the boots and scrambled up the rocky gorge to where it met a farm lane leading down to a road. The farmer himself was headed up the lane on his modern green tractor with a hay fork on the front. We met near the cow pasture. "I'm sure I'm trespassing," I began, "but I lost the trail on the other side of the creek."

"No problem," he chuckled. "People get lost over there all the time."

I explained how I came out on his property, and asked him the name of the road below, which he identified as Tanyard Road.

"Just where I want to be!" I promised him, and marched off to continue my journey.

At the corner where Tanyard meets Route 124, a lady saw me. Of course I was still soaking wet, and covered with gray mud. She exclaimed, "Are you lost?" I assured her that I was not, but had misplaced the trail on the other side of the creek for a while. Apparently the local population is used to rescuing hikers from that section. She said that just yesterday a woman and two little girls had appeared at 5 pm; they had been hiking since 10 in the morning, and had no idea where they were. She had taken them back to their car at Fort Hill. She asked me if I wanted a ride.

"No thanks, my car is ahead of me," I explained. She asked what she could do to help me, and I let her refill a water bottle.

"You must walk a lot," was her final comment. She was shaking her head as I marched on.

I reached the village of Sinking Spring at 2:30 pm, and still had six miles to walk. I bought an ice cream sandwich and held it on my bruise for a couple of minutes before letting it fulfill its destiny as part of lunch. I hadn't been the least bit hungry until then, and you know that I don't usually do well when not fed mid-day. Although I didn't think I was still angry, that's often a reason for my hunger sensors to be suppressed, so I suppose I was fuming internally. Well, no harm done in the long run, and I sure saw lots more of Baker Fork than most hikers. The experience was just the sort of wild, lonely adventure I have been longing for. As a planned excursion, it would have been awesome!*

We delayed our start a little bit this morning because it was -4 degrees when we got up. By the time we started hiking at 9:30 it had warmed to +8. I know that doesn't sound like a great improvement, but it was. The snow was crunchy and the air was sharp, but the SUN was shining.

I have to also share our Bible verse for the day. It was custom designed for this adventure. We determined last night that the NCT now follows a different trail through Fort Hill than it did in 2006. We were carefully noting what to do at trail junctions we encountered in hopes of staying on the correct path, which, thankfully, no longer fords the creek. We needed to take a left at the first junction and right at the second. Here's our verse. Proverbs 4:26,27 Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. Do not turn to the right or the left. Keep your feet from evil.

There you have it! Direct instructions to not turn right, and then not turn left!

We entered the Fort Hill property and quickly came to Baker Fork. It's down there between those cliffs. Beker's Fork

Imagine our delight and surprise when we encountered trail signs with "you are here" markers at the junctions. trail marker

The dolomite cliffs and outcroppings were impressive, as I remembered. dolomite cliff

However, today, there was no angst about not being able to find the trail. hiker under dolomite cliff

What the trail was, however, was difficult. It was constantly hilly, with jumbled rocks and roots under the snow, so we couldn't see the footing. I also couldn't stop taking pictures. dolomite cliff

We were moving at just over 1 mile an hour. But we wanted to take it all in! dolomite cliff

There were even amenities like bridges and a couple of stairways. trail bridge

Am I happy? You bet! hiker on snowy rocks

We continued past this section into Pike State Forest. The sky was a gorgeous North Country Blue. Hard to beat a day like today! blue sky through trees

That said, we did short mileage again. Our later start and slow speed, coupled with the difficulty level, made us decide to stop for the day at the first place we left a car. It was going to involve a lot of extra driving to add another short piece to the day, so we went grocery shopping instead.

Miles today: 7.0. Total miles so far: 842.9.

*North Country Quest is the book that covers the second half of my first hike of the NCT. It is available only from me. Email me at jhyshark@gmail.com for more info, or see Books Leaving Footprints for another excerpt.

See Strait Creek Bluffs Nature Preserve

Friday, January 28, 2022

Strait Creek Bluffs Nature Preserve - Day 59

  Today began with quite a surprise. This wasn't in any of the forecasts! snowy morning

Bill has left, but Nikki planned to hike with us most of the day. She traveled with us to the start, but had to be in a Zoom meeting part of the morning, so she was going to catch us after the road walk part. The snow made the road portion beautiful. snowy landscape Then we entered a section that wasn't off road when I was here before. We headed up from the highway into Strait Creek Bluffs Nature Preserve. trail going up hill

We quickly climbed above the road and could see the creek culvert and valley below us. snowy landscape

For about 2 miles we wandered the bluffs above Strait Creek. It was difficult walking in the snow, with very uneven footing beneath it, but the woods was extremely beautiful. We knew there was a creek ford in our future, but we were prepared. We also tried this a few days ago, but I guess I forgot to put it in the blog. We deployed ultra-strong "flex" trash bags. As long as the rocks aren't too sharp or the creek too wide, they hold up. We got across with dry feet! fording a creek

Just as we were going up the other side, Nikki was coming down to the creek. So we waited for her to join us. Soon, we were again high above the creek. strait creek

We kept climbing, passed some rock cliffs (Peebles Dolomite), and finally reached what I was most excited about-- a "high prairie." There are lots of rare ecosystems in this area. Don't know much about this one, except it has a lot of little bluestem grass. It was gorgeous, ringed with trees and hills frosted with the snow. high prairie

After we made it through this nature preserve, we re-assessed the day. Those miles were so wonderful, but they were difficult. The footing was tricky, and we were moving very slowly.

We decided to do a couple of short road walks (Nikki spotted us- she's not crazy about the road walks), and Denali and I will start fresh tomorrow to do the next off-road section because we KNOW it is going to be difficult, and the shortest distance between two places to park is 5 miles. It didn't seem very smart to begin that at 2:30 in the afternoon. So we'll pick that up in the morning. Then we'll decide how long an off-road piece we can tackle after that.

This is the first time on this hike that I've had to shorten the planned miles due to weather. I knew it would probably happen, and there are enough extra days built in that it's fine. It's just one of the chances I had to take by starting in the winter. The fact that I'm almost 2 months into this adventure, and this is the first weather adjustment, seems almost miraculous.

Anyway, we did shorter miles today, but it was SO beautiful that we don't mind at all. We think we made good choices, and we are going to also break tomorrow into shorter segments, so we can reassess mid-day and not be committed to a "death march" in the afternoon.

Here's the joke of the day. A fat tree with a belly button. tree with a belly button

Miles today: 11.2. Total miles so far: 835.9.

See Ohio Brush Creek

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Ohio Brush Creek - Day 58

  The place we are staying, at MoonDoggie-Liveree, is on Ohio Brush Creek. This is one of the larger tributaries of the Ohio River in western Ohio. In season, you can rent canoes and kayaks here, or rent their lodge. It's great for hikers- not too fancy, but it has the amenities like a nice shower and a kitchen. Moondoggie liveree

Brush Creek passes right by the livery, of course. Nikki (center) and Jamie (left) are our hosts. And we have stayed here a long time because they are so centrally located for this portion of trail. friends

Nikki has arranged a number of special opportunities for us- like the private tour of Serpent Mound. Speaking of Serpent Mound- Ohio Brush Creek also flows past it. And today, we were finally far enough that we walked through there as part of the hike. The Creek almost looks bigger there although it is far upstream from Nikki's. Ohio Brush Creek

This evening we were treated to dinner at The Landing at Brush Creek which is right across the water from Nikki's. Of course we had to drive around on a road. dinner table

What a beautiful place! fireplace

Here we are with owners Sherry and Kirk. Today was Bill's last day with us. We've sure enjoyed having him along. friends

Bonus section: Gentle Hills

Today, we walked over gentle hills with the pointy peaks to our south. We have reached the area that was glaciated by the Illinois Ice Age (100 to 130,000 years ago). We didn't mind the rolling terrain at all. rolling Ohio hills

Miles today: 15.1. Total miles so far: 824.7.

See Allegheny Plateau

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Allegheny Plateau - Day 57

  After I hiked this part of Ohio in 2009, I wrote an article for the North Star entitled, "In Ohio there are No Hills." You and I may find this difficult to believe after seeing our last climb of the afternoon. We started down at the bottom of the valley where you can't see, but can only guess at how far down it is. (500 vertical feet down there.) hiker climbing a hill

Bill likes to generate an elevation profile. It was the same down the other side to the car. Only the down was on a washed-out gully that used to be a skid road. The red dot at the top was us, and the black dot at the bottom was the car. Also 500 feet down.
elevation profile

But while we were at the top there was about a quarter-mile of absolutely flat walking. That is the Allegheny Plateau. All the land in this unglaciated portion of Ohio (and W Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York) was a high somewhat flat area. It severely eroded. In Ohio, that means steep valleys with sharp peaks that remain at or near the elevation of the plateau. Get the picture? No hills, only valleys! Here's one pretty much all by itself, instead of layered in never-ending steep slopes for the trail to cross. sharp pointed Ohio hill

A couple of days ago, I talked about Ohio Shale. But we've also been seeing limestone- more specifically dolomite which is limestone where the calcium has been replaced by magnesium. I was trying to figure out this jumble of kinds of rock that seemed to be appearing with very little sense.

However, today, we walked through Davis Memorial, a really special place where lots of geology is visible, and many rare plants grow. Since January is not a great month for plants, I concentrated on geology.

The longest fault line in Adams County is 6 miles long, and you can see it in the Davis Memorial. On the left is Peebles Dolomite- the curvy rock. On the right is Greenfield Dolomite- the blocky rock. But this fault line is tilted. The Peebles was laid down before the Greenfield. I say "laid down" because these are both sedementary rocks. Adams County Ohio fault line

Later in the afternoon, we saw a cliff that presents things in their natural order. Peebles Dolomite on the bottom, Greenfield Dolomite above that, and Ohio Shale on the top. I think the thicknesses here are somewhat less than in other places, but I finally "got it." The type of rock we are seeing on any given roadside or trailside has to do with how far below the ancient plateau we are. Allegheny Plateau layers

Nikki hiked with us again today, and we had a blast. Some of the formations in Davis Memorial are very cool. Peebles dolomite cliff

End of the day- four hikers, happy that there were no more valleys to face today. hikers

And plants? I saw a couple of rare ones when I was at Davis Memorial before, but I HAVE to come back some time in spring and get some kind of tour from a real botanist. Nikki has a book about the area, and there are all kinds of plants and even ecosystems here that I know nothing about. A hanging prairie? How cool is that?

Miles today: 15.9. Total miles so far: 809.6 Over 800

See Happy Trails with Ben