Over the weekend of October 23 - 25, 2015, Chip Wiles and Robbie Russell planned a backpacking, camping and trout fishing trip to Harpers Creek Wilderness, Wilson Creek Valley, Pisgah National Forest, between Grandfather Mountain and Collettsville. They graciously invited me (Bob Laney) to accompany them.
We carpooled in Chip’s car from his house in Lynnwoode, North Wilkesboro. After going through Lenoir, NC, we set off cross country on small county roads to Brown Mountain Beach on Wilson Creek. From there we drove to milepost 7 and parked at the trail head. Our backpacking route was Forest Service Trail 260. This trail is fairly popular and we passed maybe a dozen fishermen, backpackers, day hikers and runners in 3 days.
My experience is that many (most?) Forest Service and wilderness area trails are poorly signed and marked. It is easy to get lost trying to follow them. Ironically, the Mountains to Sea Trail (MTS) is similarly poorly marked and signed. I am personally familiar with many places where those trails have a big, obvious fork that is not signed, so it is impossible to tell which way to go. Unfortunately for us, our Trail 260 overlapped several miles of the MTS. That circumstance spelled double trouble.
I had two maps with me: the plasticized paper map published by the National Forest Service; and the USGS map downloaded to my DeLorme GPS. One map showed our trail crossing Harper Creek three times within about four miles from the trail head. Of course, the other map showed no creek crossings. And neither map showed the MTS anywhere. Soon before we got to our expected campsite, we came to a fork. The wooden trail sign said that spot was where the MTS trail left Trail 260 and angled uphill away from the creek. No sign explained which way to go to stay on Trail 260, which we wanted to do. So, we consulted all our sources of information – both maps, our GPS location, my compass, tea leaves and licked our finger to hold up and feel the wind. Our best guess was to stay on the larger, flatter trail that was closer to the creek. We had a nice hike to the Harper Creek Falls, where the trail promptly disappeared. After much guess work and back tracking, we figured out that what was marked as the MTS was, in fact, the continuation of Trail 260 to our campsite.
Without further travail we found a wonderful campsite at a big, flat location with several fallen logs for benches and closely adjacent creek water. Robbie and I set up our Sierra Designs and Big Agnes backpacking tents. Chip was more adventuresome and camped in a hammock with a tarp. Then Chip made his supper, and all his meals that weekend, with his standard, homemade, ingenuitive dried dishes. I departed from my usual freeze dried fare and made a Cajun jambalaya in a frying pan with red and black beans, rice, fried summer sausage slices and creole seasoning. Yum! On a side note, I have put on about 35 excess pounds in the last several years. You can see my beer belly pooching out in all my photos. In an effort to lose weight, I did not eat (and brought back home) all six of the cream filled oat meal cookies that I took for desserts on this trip.
That night we enjoyed a sweet smelling campfire courtesy of Robbie. Soon after we were washed by the cool, calming light of a clear sky, nearly full moon and bright stars.
The next morning we hiked upstream on Harpers Creek and tried our hand at trout fishing. Chip and Robbie each used a lightweight, simple, Japanese style fly rod outfit without a reel. I have a fly fishing outfit but it is so unfamiliar to me that I left it home. I used my spinning rod and reel with Mepps and Rapala lures. We all had trout sightings, follows and bites. But nobody actually brought a fish to land. They all escaped in one way or another. We got far enough up the trail to see that there is at least one trail creek crossing. We did not make the crossing because there is no log bridge, there are no rocks for hopping across and it was too deep and wide to wade without removing our boots, socks and pants. We would need sturdy sandals for a future crossing.
For most of my younger backpacking career, my feet were as tough as needed. I bought most of my boots mail order without attempting to obtain a perfect fit, and yet I almost never got blisters. Then, as I have gotten older, I have struggled for several years with blisters. Despite trying a half dozen styles of boots in the last 10 years, none kept my feet comfortable. Now, I am happy to announce that I seem to have stumbled across a successful combination. I wear Cabelas silk weight synthetic liner socks; Wright Socks medium weight double layer wool blend socks; and Salewa MS Alp Trainer Mid GTX boots. The latter two items are advertised as preventing blisters. I have not yet worn this combination on a really long trip, like 60 miles through the Wind River Range, but so far so good.
Another difficulty that I have encountered as I have aged (not so gracefully…) is my gradual loss of strength, balance and flexibility. [Did I hear Paul Anderson say “yoga”?] Just about everything about backpacking requires some kind of strength, balance or flexibility: carrying a 35 pound pack for 10 miles up a 6,000 foot mountain, bending down and crawling into a tent or thrashing around in a tiny solo tent trying to take off and put on three layers of clothes. What I have found is my biggest problem is being able to squat to answer the call of nature # 2. I can barely do it anymore. It is an unbelievably tippy, straining struggle. If anyone can suggest a solution, I am all ears.
Sunday morning we got up early to break camp and hike out in time to beat the predicted rain. We had a misting rain several times Saturday and Sunday, but no real wetness beyond dew. A good time was had by all!