Mickey and I didn't really leave his parents' house much later than we had planned. We were on the road somewhere around 8:30 a.m. and we'd planned on leaving at 8. No big deal. The only problem is that we didn't really plan on the time we'd spend driving on narrow gravel service roads inside the wildlife management area. Actually, I should say that I didn't plan on it. Maybe Mickey had an idea how long it would take us. Part of it is the fact of just how remote the trail heads were. Another part is that you really can't drive that fast on those roads unless you want to fall off the side of a mountain. Another part is that Mickey got us lost.
Mickey navigated us to the bottom of the trail where we left his truck quickly and easily. It wasn't until he climbed into my Prius and we started up the mountain to the end of the trail where we planned on beginning that things started going not so perfectly. Maybe when we saw the happy family of four playing with a giant snapping turtle in the middle of the road, we should have taken it as a sign. Instead, we got farther down the road than Mickey thought and we turned right when we should have turned left. Another turn later and the Prius is driving down a path intended only for ATVs. It was narrower than the others, not covered in gravel and rutted out and full of very large stones. I managed this trail in forward reverse, however. As I'm backing out of the trail after we decided it was't the road to the trail head, two rednecks on four-wheelers drove onto the trail giving me dirty looks. I think they just had their feelings hurt that my fuel efficient hybrid car could manage trails they thought required four-wheel drive. I wish I had a photo of that trail, but I don't. It was pretty rough. But that's right, the Prius is a capable off-road vehicle. Just don't tell Toyota. They might void my warranty if they knew.
We finally got on the trail just before lunch. This was my view for most of the next 24 hours, or at least the parts spent awake.
Actually, Mickey gave up on the hat about five minutes after this when he realized that most of the hike would take place under heavy cover, but he did lead the way more often than not. I took the lead ocassionally and when the trail widened out, we walked more or less side by side, but I had a great chance to memorize the back of Mickey's shoes. I couldn't check out his ass because that would have led to me tripping over the roots and rocks I had to watch out for. Plus, it was covered by his sleeping pad.
Lunch! Mickey had a bagel with peanut butter (which his parents had about three gallons of for some reason) and I munched on a Clif Bar and some trail mix. Right across from us was a tree that Mickey thinks was a Mountain Laurel. I'll take his word for it. I have no clue. Botany isn't one of my specialties.
It had really cool flowers. I had another picture from farther downstream where blossoms had fallen from a tree and collected like little white boats against a partially submerged root, but it didn't turn out. It just looks like round lights in the water.
Speaking of water, there was a lot of it. We started near the head of the Conasauga River and during our first few crossings, it was little more than a shallow stream. Our first crossing was actually where one of the river's tributaries bubbled up out of the ground. It didn't take long before enough separate streams had joined forces to create a flow that was deeper than my waterproof boots were tall. Off went the boots and on went the sandals.
After another mile or two, I started worrying about rubbing a blister into my right pinkie toe, so as a preventative method, I put my socks back on. Sure, this is a fashion faux pas, but this is backpacking, not Paris. Deal with my pragmatism.
We also saw bear sign. The next two pictures are of bear poop. Notice that they're full of berry seeds. That's what made me think it wasn't dog poop. The second pile was also too large for humans (and most people would have gone farther away from the trail than dropping their trousers in the middle of the path). The first photo is the baby bear and the second photo is the mama bear. Daddy bear was shot during hunting season last winter or is a deadbeat dad. He could just be constipated I guess.
The next section of the trail had other signs that hairier travelers had passed that way not too long ago. Several rotten logs looked to have been ripped open, possibly by those same bears looking for grubs.
There was a lot of great scenery, but I'm not going to post all of the pictures. For one, it just doesn't look as good in a photo as it did in real life. There were also a lot of photos and I don't want to spend all the time uploading them. Here's just one shot to sate your need for natural beauty.
Finally, between 6 and 7 p.m. we set up camp, cooked supper (Knorr broccoli and rice with pre-cooked chicken in a foil packet). Here's a shot of camp. Notice that I didn't bother bringing the tent and let Mickey go with his hair-brained idea about the tarp.
Most of the trail was actually pretty easy. The entrance was a little steep, but it was downhill. It worked those muscles in the front of your thighs that you only really use going downhill, but it wasn't something that was going to make you lose your breath. I was starting to think I was in pretty good shape and wouldn't embarrass myself against Mickey's fitness until we decided to make the three-mile roundtrip detour to see Panther Creek Falls. The hike up the steep boulder field wouldn't have been so bad if I hadn't been carrying a big pack on my back, but as it was I felt like I was going to pass out before I could even see the face of the falls. Mickey went on ahead to scout it out while I sat down on a boulder to rest. When I got my heartbeat down to a healthy rate, I decided to carry on without the damn burden. It was still tough going, but at least I didn't die. Plus the falls were worth the pain and exhaustion. I just didn't have my camera because it was in the pack 200 yards downhill.