Walking in Circles: A New Book

Many backpackers dream of taking epic, once in a lifetime thru-hikes that take months and cover thousands of miles. The author is not one of those people. For me, the best thru-hikes are those that are still epic, but take weeks, rather than months to complete.
The Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) is one of those trails. At 170 miles, the distance is less intimidating than many, but the experience is still amazing. This is a great trip for anyone that wants to immerse themselves in a possibly life changing adventure, but doesn’t want to give up the life they have to do it.

Make no mistake, this trail is not an easy hike. It weaves through the Sierra Nevada after all. However, the scenery is amazing, thru-hike logistics are simpler than most and navigating the loop is pretty direct. Come along with me and discover all the specific challenges and rewards of a thru-hike around the TRT through my new book: Walking in Circles: Backpacking the Tahoe Rim Trail. As an introductory offer, the E-version is only 99 cents when purchased through Amazon during the month of January. Be warned, however. Once you’ve finished the book, your bucket list may have gotten a little longer.

 

 

Trail Report: East Fork Backpack Trail

I had been looking for a couple decent days in December to get out for “one more” backpacking trip. It was a combination of needing to test/review some new equipment and just wanting to get out again before winter really set in. The forecast wasn’t looking good, with the “pick day” of the week set to have a high temperature of 40 with overnight lows expected in the high 20’s. Not great, but the best of the foreseeable future, so I decided to head out on a relatively local overnight; the Backpack Trail at 4,900 acre East Fork State Park. The 15 mile lollipop loop has a couple official camping areas on it, including one at the most distant spot. That’s the one I was heading for.

You need a permit to spend the night on the trail so I stopped by the park office at around 1 pm. There are two official camp areas and I chose the more distant of them. The paperwork was painless and the permit was free. I also learned that I had the only permit given out for the evening. Apparently, everyone was smarter than me. There was no problem finding a spot at the trailhead parking lot and got rolling by 1:30.

I spent the afternoon hiking 8 miles out on the trail. With partly cloudy weather the temperature peaked around 40. With that I was comfortable wearing only hiking pants, a nylon t-shirt and a lightweight fleece pullover. The path was well constructed and well marked. A couple creek crossings involved rock hopping, but most gullies were bridged. For the first several miles, the trail was either flat or rolling, going to great lengths to avoid steep drops and climbs by skirting several of the creeks feeding Harsha Lake. (The lake was formed as a flood control measure on the East Fork of the Little Miami River.) Throughout the stretch there were some nice views of the 2,600 acre reservoir.
At a bit over 6 miles, I hit the loop part of the trail and grading changed significantly. The flat portions were still flat, but I climbed and dropped steep 100 foot elevation changes three times in the last mile and a half. The sun was setting by the time I arrived at Camp 2. There were plenty of choices to set up my tent and a few small buildings as well. One was a three sided shelter reminiscent of those on the AT. It seemed in decent condition. Two smaller sleeping shelters appeared to be significantly rougher and the two hole latrine was woefully short on doors. As the light was fading, I kept the inspection short and hustled to set up camp.
My tent was quickly up and I dove into it to pull on a Brynje shirt and long underwear that I was testing. Some hasty scrounging resulted in enough wood for a small fire just as the weak December sun dropped below the horizon.

I was pleasantly impressed with the instant warmth the “Thermos” provided. Rather than digging through the pack for more clothes through the evening, I was able to enjoy eating my Subway dinner and possibly (hypothetically speaking) drained a small flask in comfort. The full review of the base layer is over at TheTrek.co.

Through the night the wind rose and sleet would occasionally rain down. I was staying comfortable in the tent I was testing until I heard a loud pop underneath me. My immediate thought was, “Crap, my air mattress just blew out. I’m going to freeze my ass off.” However, a quick inspection showed that the mattress was still holding air, I had just lost some of the internal baffles. The mattress was now shaped a little less like a mattress and little more like a giant football. It took a little work to stay up on the cushion and off the frozen ground, but with careful positioning, it worked out fine.

Nights are long in Ohio in December and when I started breaking down camp at 7 am, it was still dark. It was also windy and I was getting hit by a light shower of ice pellets. With enough clothes, I was able to stay warm, other than my hands. My lightweight nylon gloves were no match for the cold. My fingers were frosty enough that breaking down camp became difficult and by the time I was ready to hike out there was no need for a headlamp. However, I was still early enough that I saw several turkeys just leaving their overnight roosts.

Continuing around the loop, it appeared most people went back out the way I had come in. The trail wasn’t quite as obvious and with everything covered in fallen leaves, I had to backtrack a time or two. It wasn’t long though, until I was back on the “stick” of the lollipop.

Despite the temperature in the 20’s and a biting wind, I generated enough heat by walking to stay comfortable. Unfortunately, conditions began to deteriorate and I was soon walking through a localized snow squall. The flakes stuck to my fleece, and while I was still relatively warm, I was soon going to be damp. Time to add the rain jacket. If nothing else, the slight snow cover made the walk out feel much less repetitive than it otherwise would have been. Several sightings of deer through the flakes also added to the interest.

Light snow cover highlights the trail

I continued hiking and the weather eventually improved a bit. At around 11 am I got back to my car where my thermometer read 24 degrees. It wasn’t an expedition up Everest, but a good trip nonetheless. The East Fork Backpack Trail turned out to be a good option for quick overnight. New backpackers or those starting later in the day might also make use of Camp Area 1. It’s less than four miles in and is located before the steeper climbs. There are also a couple “unofficial campsites along the way. I asked one of the Rangers about them. Obviously they aren’t recommended, but if you run out of daylight or endurance and need to use one, he seemed fine with it.

Day one route to Camp 2

Trail Report: Wildcat Hollow Trail

Most backpacking in Ohio is fairly regimented. The trails are well marked, which is a good thing. Camp areas are typically laid out with a restroom or privy, set spots to camp and potable water nearby. Again, nice to have. However, there’s a more natural option; a trail where there is no restriction on where to camp, no restrooms and no potable water. For some, this type of backpacking seems better; less domesticated and more wild. In Ohio, a trail that fits that description is Wildcat Hollow.

Located in Wayne National Forest, the trail is near the town of Glouster and Burr Oak State Park. Its 15 mile length wanders through rolling hills and stream bottoms. A privy is located at the trailhead parking lot, but that is the extent of the amenities. If you want any other creature comforts, you need to bring them with you.

Here’s your water

I’ve backpacked several of Ohio’s loop offerings in the past with an old work colleague, Bill. Looking for a different challenge, we decided to give Wildcat Hollow a try. Looking at an early November weekend, the weather looked promising; no rain, not too cold, so we headed out on Friday.

Not wanting to shock the system too much, we eased into the experience with a big lunch at nearby Burr Oak Lodge. The food is great and, not that I would care, they have an extensive selection of beer on hand.

At the trailhead at 2:30, there were several other cars in the lot. The day was cloudy and cool, nearly perfect for hiking. We both shouldered relatively heavy packs containing 3+ liters of water and headed out. Almost immediately we came to a creek crossing. Recent rains had expanded the width of water a bit, but after a short search, a spot was found to cross while keeping my trail runners somewhat dry.

After a quarter mile the trail forks and we decided to walk the loop clockwise. In retrospect, the other direction might have been better. There were several creek crossings over the next mile or so that would have been easier (and dryer) had the streams been given another day to recover from the recent rains. The other direction on the loop quickly climbs out of that valley.

Regardless of the calendar, there was still some fall color

Despite slightly damp feet, the hike was pleasant. The trail was well designed and maintained and there was still some significant fall color to enjoy. Several nice campsites have been established by previous campers early on the trail and a couple of those were occupied. We met no other hikers actually on the trail however.

The trail includes a short road walk (1/4 mile) past an old abandoned one room schoolhouse before returning to the woods and major pine plantings. Other signs of past disturbance included multiple small oil wells along the path.

Night comes pretty early in November and a bit over 5 miles in, we spotted an established campsite near a small creek that would work for the evening. By 6 pm, the tents were up and my freeze dried entrée was history. I suppose the creek water could have been filtered, but we had packed in enough to avoid that decision. Plenty of downed wood was in the area so we had ample heat as the temperature dropped through the 40s.

Morning arrived clear and cool, perfect for hiking. The trail continued in the same manner with rolling hills and an occasional creek crossing. Apparently, in the summer months the creeks tend to be dry so don’t count on them for water. In addition, ongoing signs of previous mining and oil extraction would make me think twice about drinking even filtered water from the streams. The best bet is to bring all your own water and just enjoy the scenery. There are no major overlooks, but pleasant just the same. We only met two other folks that were hiking the entire route. They were two friends that met up every five years to hike the trail.

By afternoon, it had warmed up enough for cold blooded hikers

The day rolled by with more of the same, though fewer creek crossings. There were a number of great campsites and all of them more than a mile from the parking lot were empty. The sites among the pines looked especially inviting. Eventually, we dropped off a long ridge to the end of the loop and out to the parking lot. The original plan was to make the short walk over to Burr Oak State Park’s backpack trail and hike a few miles to one of the official park campsites. While a lake view, water hydrant and restroom were appealing. Its location right next to a parking lot was not.

Since I had stashed additional water in the truck, a change of plan was easy and obvious. We refilled our depleted water bottles (possibly also grabbing a few beers) and headed back into the wild, Wildcat Hollow, to camp among some towering pines.

Some items are worth the extra weight