Well, the long-awaited January hike has come and now is in the books for Teams Boone and Sheltowee. In less than a week, Team Trace will step out into the woods for their first adventure of 2022. The threat of heavy snow dominated the first hike. It seemed that thoughts were on the arrival time and the amount of white fluffy stuff we would get. Here is my quick look at Hike One on January 15-16, 2022
Left home at 5:09 a.m. and made it to Morehead. Stopped by McDonald’s for a quick breakfast. Arrived at the Convention Center parking lot. Several people were already loading their “5-pound” drops onto the trailer. A few hikers were sitting in the vans to stay warm and several standing in small groups around the vans.
Everyone was quiet- very quiet. This happens every year during the first and usually the second hikes. Everyone is new and still a little scared (intimidated or uncertain) about the shuttle process and the looming hike. These early-morning rendevous tend to get a little louder as hikers make new friends and form hiking pods. After a hike or two, people understand the process, and things move more efficiently.
Sheltowee Trace Association Director Steve Barbour was there, as well as several volunteers and board members, to load the shuttles for the half-hour drive to the northern terminus. There were a few hikers that were still loading their packs and making final preparations. The thermometer showed 26 degrees when the last hiker climbed into the van to depart.
Arrived at the Northern Terminus with three van loads of hikers at 7:04 a.m. Unloaded, packs swung up and on the trail at 7:20 after the required group photo. The hike started up Henry Short Hollow. As usual, everyone enjoyed the easy and relatively flat hike up the branch until they arrived at the base of the first real climb.
The pace slowed quickly when the elevation suddenly increased, but the ascent to the ridge offered an opportunity to rest and enjoy the “level” ridge run for the next 9 miles. Most hikers found the ridge-hopping much easier after that first climb. The coats came off and the hike settled into the ups and downs of the ridge.
Along this ridgetop, the Sheltowee crosses back and forth into Rowan and Lewis County. The sun pushed its rays through the clouds and poured sunshine down on the hikers about noon. I made it to the Dry Fork stop and turned around and walked back up the trail to check on and check off the hikers from the 6:30 shuttles.
I found everyone in good spirits and enjoying their hike. I hiked the final section back into Dry Fork with several of the 6:30 group. I accounted for everyone and made it down the hill to the Clark Farm. Most of the hikers seemed happy to have someone check on them, but from what I saw, they were all doing well. There were a few who were moving slower than others, but I reminded them that it was not a race or a competition.
Took a few minutes to talk and check on everyone at Dry Fork. Several of the 8:00 a.m. shuttle folks had already set up their tents and were standing around the fire ring. Several more were setting up for the night.
The group I hiked in with finished their snacks and we all headed over the hill to Holly Fork.
We arrived at the Holly Fork camp at 4:11 and found all of our 6:30 hikers set up and ready for the evening. Spent some time standing around the fire and talking. I had the opportunity to see and speak with some of the hikers I had not met yet. Many had questions and several wanted to know what was ahead.
The food arrived thanks to the hard work of the Cave Run Chapter of the Sheltowee Trace Association. Soup, sandwiches, hot chocolate, brownies, and other items were a welcomed treat for those standing around the fire. No one had to be told to get in line to eat.
Hikers at the 977 camp and the Dry Fork camp kept Steve Barbour busy so we did our evening meeting at 6:00 p.m and talked about the next day. I told them about the climb out of Big Tom Brown, the gravel road walk on 977, and the “bunny hops” that lead down into Morehead. Everyone went to their tents except a few who chose to stay up and talk around the fire.
Steve stopped by the camp after helping other hikers. He found everyone at Holly Fork in good shape and most were asleep. He stayed to talk for a little while before taking a hiker and her 5-pound drop to the Dry Fork Camp. Hikers do not realize how busy he stays taking care of those on the trail while they roam the hills. Steve has to balance and manage many moving parts. He makes it seem easy and the Hiker Challenge runs so smooth and precise. I talked at the fire for a bit and then went off to bed after Steve left.
Woke up later than normal on Sunday morning to 20 degrees. Packed up and checked on several hikers who were moving about camp. I watched as a few left early in an attempt to get to Morehead before the snow. Talked to some hikers who were eating and then headed out across the swinging bridge at about 6:15 a.m.
Three miles up the hill and across the gravel to Interstate 64 and then started across 977 about 7:06 a.m. Walked by myself out 977 and then into the woods. The rain and sleet started about 10:05 but only lasted a few minutes. I was headed down the hill into Morehead before it started to sprinkle again. It rained a little harder as I crossed the Morehead campus and walked down Main Street to the convention center parking lot and my waiting car.
Impressions from Hike One
I hiked this weekend with many different people. Some were veteran hikers but many were first-timers. Several were overnighting for the very first time. I can say that I believe the hikers were more prepared than I have seen in the last few years.
I did not encounter anyone with a negative attitude. Many were tired, and others had sore legs, backs, and feet. They did not complain (at least to me). It was cold and there could have been some major issues but it was all taken in stride by the hikers I visited with knowing that the conditions could be endured for one night.
Every hiker kept a good pace and seemed to enjoy the well-groomed trail, compliments of the Cave Run Chapter. Hikers did not seem surprised by the effort that was required to climb the hills. I noticed groups of hikers with similar paces who found each other and walked together.
Lessons from Hike One
From walking and talking with hikers, I think, the following lessons were learned: pack less, talk more, think warm, thank the trail maintainers, appreciate the STA and Steve Barbour, meet new people, believe in you, and have fun.
The biggest lesson was: do not believe everything the weather forecasters say. There was so much worry and fear about this hike that it impacted the opportunity to have an excellent time for some. It was supposed to be a “Snow-mageddon” on Sunday morning. Many feared walking in 8-10 inch snow for miles to their cars. A few had to walk in some snow, but most hikers completed the trail to Morehead before the snow accumulated on the Trace.
The lesson is simple: just hike what is in front of you. Do not worry about what might be and focus on what is. Enjoy the simple beauty the Earth gives you as you walk along whether it is the sun, rain, hot, fog, cold, or even snow.
We will see what we can do to apply these lessons to Hike Two in February.
Good read, thanks Stephen. Hoping your trail ramblings continue for the next 10 months, no pressure.