Thursday, April 13, 2017

Backpacking in the Hocking Hills (yeah, it's possible)

    In looking at regional locations for a quick weekend backpacking trip with some scenery, I settled on the Hocking Hills Region.  Don't get me wrong, Zaleski is nice and there is some scenery, it's just not like the Hocking Hills. Yes, you heard that right, Hocking Hills.  Even with the "parking lot attractions" and the tourists, it turned out to be a place where you could find some solitude on the trail between the major attractions and the tourism wasn't overly distracting.  I know, sounds crazy, but it actually is a nice trip.  For this trip, the 15 year old and myself turned this area into a 20 mile or so overnight backpacking trip with fantastic scenery.

     First of all, you need to talk to the park office at the Hocking Hills State Park Campground to be able to get an overnight permit for your car since the park officially closes at dark - you don't want to get your car towed and as long as the rangers know what is going on, you're good.  The park office and the rangers could not have been more pleasant and helpful once we explained what we were trying to do.  Secondly, you'll want to reserve a "family walk-in campsite" for your overnight stay, which cost us $23, because they don't let you camp just anywhere on the trail and this is by far the best option.  This hike-in only campground, which is nicely situated a bit away from the actual state campground (39 26.17698, 082 31.59930), has nothing but a water spout and a dumpster near the entrance gate and few pit toilets placed at various locations on the hike-in trail.  As a backpacker, the fact that your site may have a fire ring and picnic table is just a bonus.  Once you've covered those bases, your ready to start your trip. 
    We parked at the Ash Cave parking area, put the overnight permit on the dashboard, and took off from there.  You'll be a bit of an oddity carrying a full pack in this location and the little kid tourists will want an explanation, but it's a great place to start with the scenery. After heading up the stairs past the Ash Cave waterfall (above), you'll head over towards Cedar Falls using the Buckeye Trail.  Cedar Falls is a nice place to take that first break before descending into the gorge.

     Cedar Falls is one of my favorite areas in the region and after hiking down to view the falls, we hiked back up out of the falls area and started on the rim trail towards Old Man's Cave.  The rim trail provides a nice hike above the gorge bottom and sends you near the Rose Lake overlook, before getting into the Old Man's Cave area.

After Rose Lake, another mile or two puts you near Old Man's Cave.  Fight the urge to get down in the gorge from the rim trail and instead, make your way over to the Upper Falls.  You will want to get into the gorge and all that tourist riddled eye candy in the morning before anyone else gets on the trail.  

Now comes the tricky part.  You can hike over to the campground office from here using the Buckeye Trail, make your way through a meadow over to the road that the walk-in campground is located upon, and then hike the road.  This, however, isn't recommended.  The road is curvy and butts right up to a rock wall on one side, making this a pretty dangerous option in these days of distracted driving.  Instead, I would go up into the state park campground, meander around until you find the easternmost campground loop, and then take a gravel service road over to the general area of the walk-in campground.  Our campsite was .5 miles from the gate, so we found ourselves walking a couple of extra miles to get water for dinner and to throw trash into the dumpsters.  All told, the trip from Ash Cave to the camping location turned out to be 10.5 miles.

     After breaking camp in the morning, we headed back to Old Man's Cave.  This time we went down into the gorge by the Upper Falls.  By getting there before 8AM, we had very few tourists to contend with and the gorge was the highlight of the trip.  After passing the lower falls, we continued on the Buckeye Trail (Grandma Gatewood Trail) through the gorge and back to Cedar Falls.  By doing the rim trail on day 1 and the gorge trail on day 2, we didn't have to retrace our steps and essentially made this section into a loop - I would highly recommend this route.  There were quite a few active waterfalls dropping into the gorge from the rim because of recent rains and that made the trip even better.  By this time, there was a little bit of activity between Old Man's Cave and Cedar Falls but no traffic jams.

       The trip from Cedar Falls back to Ash Cave is a retread of previously covered trail but there is no way around that unless you want to hike the road.  We saved the Ash Tower Lookout for the return trip.  From our camp back to the Ash Cave parking lot, we hiked another 8 miles and it turned out to be an unexpectedly nice short weekend backpacking trip.  If you are tired of backpacking Zaleski, Shawnee, the Twin Valley Trail, or any other local official backpacking trail, this might be your best bet for local eye candy on a short weekend - I would highly recommend it.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

5 Knots to Rule the Universe!

Knot making is one of those essential outdoor skills that seems boring and out-of-date, what with all the fancy new nite-ize contraptions and little plastic or aluminum doo-dads that people use these days.  Well, I'm here to tell you that if you know 5 basic knots, you'll be able to rule the universe.  I'm not kidding - you'll be able to rig tarps, guy out tents, make clotheslines, and do just about any other outdoor task requiring knots.  Below, you'll find a fixed hitch, an adjustable hitch, a way to tie two ropes together (bend), a loop, and hitch that acts like a pulley.  What more could a good outdoorsman need?  Don't answer that.  And add a couple of more knots to the list (not listed this time around) and you'll be able to saddle up and DdRT up a tree.  So, in no particular order, here they are:
1.  Two half hitches on a quick release - holds tight around a tree or post, the harder you pull, the tighter it gets.  You can't adjust it - that's the way it's supposed to be, as a fixed end of a ridgeline for example.  And the icing on the cake is that it is very, very easy to learn.  The quick release part is missing from the diagram below but I'm sure you'll figure that out.

2.  Adjustable Cawley Hitch - I love this hitch.  It's easy to remember and does it's job nicely.  I use this knot just about anytime I need an adjustable line anymore, and its very similar to a prusik loop.  There is an outstanding discussion of this knot in the following link - the discussion of the hitch starts at 1:34 and ends around the 2:50 mark.  Setting up a tarp with a ridgeline

3.  Sheet bend on a quick release - My favorite way to join two ropes.  I use this so often it's completely indispensable.

4.  Bowline - What can I say, if you need a loop, this is your knot.  Period.

5.  Power Cinch Knot - Cliff Jacobson's favorite and mine too.  I use this knot any time I really need to put a bunch of tension on a line, you can really crank on this one.

There you have it.  Now, go out and rule the universe.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Caesar Creek State Park near Waynesville, Ohio has quite a few nice hiking and mountain biking options to go along with the boating opportunities on the lake.  I've become enamored with a little five mile hike that I start in the gorge (created by the namesake creek), leave the gorge by way of the levee, and make it into a loop by turning around near a horseshoe shaped waterfall called Flat Fork Falls (below).

 The Army Corp of Engineers has done an outstanding job with the gorge area, including the maintenance of the Gorge Loop Trail and all of its stairs, and the levee climb provides a bit of elevation change to give the hike a little bit of an Appalachian feel.  You do have to walk a tenth of a mile or two along a road on top of the levee before diving back into the woods, but that road crossing provides a beautiful view of the lake on the north side and an equally nice view of the gorge to the south.  I've put together a track of the route, "Caesar's Creek Gorge to Flat Fork Falls" that can be used to follow this path.  This particular route is especially enjoyable in the autumn as the trees are in the midst of their annual display of color (see photo below).

Friday, April 4, 2014

I look at the prices of new outdoor gear and wonder how the hell the average, middle class person can afford to purchase anything new.  Obviously, people are buying the gear because retailers are selling it for those prices, but how can your average dirt-bagger afford to pay $200 for a pack, $250 for a tent, another $100 bucks on a sleeping pad, and still have enough money left over to pay for the gas to get to the trail head?  I've decided to go with ingenuity instead of consumerism.  For example, I saw an ultralight bear bagging kit for $50 online.  It consisted of a stuff sack to put the food in, 50' of light line, a carabiner, a second smaller stuff sack for rocks, and an "odor proof" clear plastic waterproof container.  Seriously?  $50 plus shipping? First of all, there is no odor proof clear plastic bag.  Somewhere in the woods a bear or a raccoon is laughing his ass off after reading that marketing ploy.  I'll pack my trail food in a Ziploc that's already in my pantry and it will be just as useless at keeping animals from smelling the food.  Secondly, I have quite a few stuff sacks that came for free with second hand gear I bought off of eBay.  I've got all kinds of light cordage laying around so I'll just use some of that.  And the last time I went to a conference for my job I got a handful of carabiners that should work just fine.  With all of the great how-to videos online, you could easily modify most techniques to work with what you've already got in the garage or basement.  Don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of solid, affordable, high quality gear that lasts for years and years and I've bought my fair share of those things.  It's just a shame that retailers won't produce a line of useful gear for the weekend warrior that's affordable - they'll have to take a little less in terms of profit margins but they will get normal people like me to shell out some cash on new gear.  Kind of like that old $30 Coleman Sundome tent I have from 15 years ago that is still perfectly serviceable and will be for years to come.  It's great for canoe camping but its just not sexy. Oh, and one more thing while I'm on my soap box.  Living in Ohio, I spend most of my camping and backpacking time in the area.  We don't have many bears to worry about.  It's those sneaky raccoons and mice that destroy your food bag and dig through your pack.  Someone needs to make a cheap, raccoon proof bag that local retailers can sell to those of us around here - I'd pay for that.  Hey, wait a minute, maybe that could be me...then I could cash in.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Look, there's no time for a thru-hike when you've got a job, a wife, kids, and no money left over in the bank account after getting groceries because your 14-year old son eats more than a bear after hibernation.  So what's an old, family-man hiker to do?  You can't just sit around and let your tent turn to nylon dust.  What you do is you find a few hours of free time a week, locate a few nice local trails where you can get a hike of  3 - 15 miles in at a stretch, and you do a lot of day hiking.  OK, so the tent may turn to dust anyway, but you can still put a solid 5lbs. of essentials and a snack in your pack and hit the trail.  Where I live, there are at least 3 or 4 parks and trail systems within 20 minutes of my house that will let me get in a 5 miler.  I can stretch a couple of the parks for about 12 to 14 miles on a weekend.  If you log your miles in a spreadsheet, at the end of the month it starts to look like something.  Then, if you get really lucky and find a free weekend, you might be able to drive into the Appalachian foot hills about 2 hours south and take on a 25 mile backpack trail - if you hike it slow, maybe 8 miles a day, and set up camp early, you might even get to put that ol' tent up twice on the trip.  You know, now that I'm thinking about it, this might be tougher than pat yourself on the back if you're in your 40's and still log over 60 hiking miles a month while holding down a job, keeping your wife (moderately) happy, making it to the kids' games, cooking dinner, building the shelves for the laundry room, etc, etc...

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Glen Helen

It's true that Ohio isn't exactly known as an outdoor paradise, but if you look hard enough you can find some pretty slick geology, a bunch of hidden arches, and even a few thigh burning hills in the Appalachian region of the state.  More importantly, though, you can get a good solid outdoor experience within an hour's drive of our "land of the devil winds" any day of the week.  Don't get me wrong, you won't find the Half Dome equivalent near Dayton, but let me give you an example.  There's a great little town just up U.S. Route 68 north of where Tecumseh was born (yes, that Tecumseh) and only 10 minutes from where Simon Kenton ran the gauntlet (yep, that Simon Kenton) called Yellow Springs.  The town is named for a couple of springs that can be found in Glen Helen Nature Preserve, and I mean to tell you, that place is a gem.

You can park at the lot on Cory Street in Yellow Springs  and dive right in to some fantastic geology.  You'll see the springs, a waterfall called "the cascades", a nifty little gorge, a nice pine forest, and a geological pillar if you follow the trip chronicled here.  If you do the 4-5 mile loop, you can get in a really nice day hike that rivals any high quality hike you'd get just about anywhere in the country with the exception of those "high end, name brand, Backpacker magazine wishlist" type hikes that most of us with families don't have time to do anyway.  Give the Glen a shot if you are in the area - you'll have a hard time finding a better 5 mile day hike anywhere in the Midwest. And if you've got the time, turn this trip into a 12-miler by connecting to the John Bryan and Clifton Gorge trail systems.