Monday, July 1, 2013

Henry's First Backpacking Trip at Zaleski State Forest

As I mentioned earlier, I had plans to take Henry on his first backpacking trip this summer. After going to the zoo on Sunday, I decided it was time to go. The forecast was iffy, 50% chance of rain, but it looked to be that way all week. I decided we could chance it. On the drive to Zaleski, we got caught in one major thunderstorm, but it was clear and sunny when we finally got to the area. I had promised Henry a snack before we started--and I wanted to get some extra calories and fluids in us before we set off--so we stopped at the Lake Hope State Park lodge for sustenance. Then we were ready to hit the trail:

We were oh so clean then:

If you have the Zaleski map handy (if not, look here), my plan was to hike A-F-H, skipping the B-C-D-E southern loop, camp at H, then hike out through G-M-N-O-P. We got screwed up right from the start: the first choice was either towards B, or the Owl Hollow Loop. I haven't hiked these trails in probably eight or ten years, so my memory was pretty hazy. But I knew we didn't want to go to B, so we took the Owl Hollow Loop. The trail got off to a nice start:

I should have been concerned when we came across this "new" 150 year old cemetery:

Hmm, I didn't recall that cemetery being there before, nor all of these caves:

We ended up walking the Owl Hollow LOOP (the name should have been a clue) in a circle, coming right back to the start. 1.5 miles of walking wasted.  For try number two, we started with the other option, heading towards B.

This turned out to the be the right choice, and we found the cutoff trail that short cutted us to F. The trail was pretty good so far, and we took a well earned break there:

And then things got worse:

And even worse--shoulda brought the machete:

Lots of blackberry vines and other stickers and thorns added to the fun.

We took another break to rest our tired and now muddy feet:

As a side note, since I haven't been backpacking in many years, I don't currently have any hiking boots or even anything close. Instead, I wore my Merrel barefoot running shoes, which turned out to work great: excellent trail feel, light weight, quick drying. I didn't miss the heavy, clomping boots at all.

We started on the trail around 3:30 or 4:00, and about 6:00 a light rain started to fall. The trees mostly kept us dry, but forging through the undergrowth still got us pretty wet. About 7:30 we finally found our way to the campsite at H and set up camp:

If you're looking for an inexpensive, roomy tent, I heartily recommend the Eureka Spitfire 2. Plenty of room for my 6'3" self and another adult, or a kid and lots of gear. And it's waterproof, which came in handy on this trip.

We fired up the stove and enjoyed our freeze dried chicken and noodles:

We hung around for a bit, but finally tucked in around 8:30 and read Henry's story book. A thunderstorm hit around 4:00 am, and then it rained continuously until about 7:30. In the morning, we packed up our wet and dirty tent, had a quick bite for a cold breakfast, and hit the trail. With the trails in such poor shape, my new plan was to hike through G to M, and then take route 278 back to the trailhead.

Henry was excited (and I have to admit, kind of scared) to find this turtle:

We spent about two hours of mud, vines, and bugs (but not much rain) until we could finally hear the cars on the road. We emerged from the forest to find... point K. About 180 degrees from where I wanted to be. Pick your choice words here... I can only partially blame some logging in the area which screwed up some of the trails. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.

So we hit the road. We marched north, away from our car, climbing up route 56 until it intersected with route 278 south. The sign there said five miles to Lake Hope SP, where we were parked across the street. These shoes are made for walking:

On the plus side, it was a great morning for walking: cool, shady, mostly downhill or flat after the initial climb to the intersection. But we were tired, and hungry, and tired. We eventually gave in and started putting our thumbs out for every south bound vehicle. Who passes up an adorable six year old with his thumb out and his teddy bear? Everyone, apparently. No one stopped or even slowed. Some people did wave. Thanks.

We took a break at every corner barrier:

I checked later, we ended up walking 6.3 miles on the road, after 1.6 miles of slow trail going (and after another 6 miles or so the previous day) But finally we had the end in sight:

I promised Henry the can of Coke I had in a cooler for being such a good sport about the long walk. He celebrated with it:

Then it was on to a well earned lunch (driving in a few minutes the stretch along 278 that took us over two hours to walk):

And an equally well earned rest:

I later asked Henry what his favorite part of the backpacking trip was: "the Coke." Least favorite: "the walking." I wonder if he'll be ready for another trip this summer? Certainly not to Zaleski!


  1. If you are taking on backpacking, this small list of helpful advice will surely be an asset to you while you prepare for your trip!

    backpacking advise

    1. Thanks, but I think the machete would be even more useful. Or a compass.


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