Saturday morning, I dropped Sleeps With Skunks and Orville Bear off at First Creek Trailhead in Mammoth Cave National Park. Our plan was to hike the last section of marked trail we had not already completed together.
I drove three miles to Lincoln Trailhead and parked the car, then rode my bicycle back to First Creek TH. Once there, I stashed the bike and donned my pack with my buddy Dewey Bear and hit the trail. After three years of commercial horsepacking groups in the park, the trails have really begun to suffer.
Fortunately, the trail improved after the first .8 miles. I caught up to SWS about 3 ½ miles in. We continued on to Buffalo Creek, 5.3 miles into the trip. We had gotten off the trail here a year and a half, taking a short-cut up the steep slope .2 miles to Collie Ridge campsite. We enjoyed a quick, chilly lunch here.
At this point, I shuttled SWS’s pack up to Collie Ridge Campsite while she slackpacked the remaining 2 miles to the camp. I headed back down and followed about 15 minutes behind her. I caught up to her just as she arrived in camp.
We took about 15 minutes to rig up our hammocks, underquilts, and tarps.
We enjoyed the weight and ease of use of our new Dutch Clips.
Sleeps With Skunks was overjoyed with how much easier she could unfurl her Speer Winter Tarp with no loops and taut-line hitches causing tangles. She fell in love with the ease of set-up her figure-9's allowed.
And then the real relaxing began.
After a 2-hour nap and some reading time, I emerged and cooked dinner. It was pleasant, and I enjoyed a stroll around camp. The lantern posts doubled as great hang spots for our packs. To my surprise, the evening was cool enough that I needed to wear pretty much all my layers.
SWS gazed up at the stars which finally came out and prepared to turn into her hammock for the night.
As usual, the night’s sleep was luxurious, serenaded by coyotes in the distance. The next morning, I arose and happily cooked bacon and eggs.
The smell was enough to rouse Miss Sleepyhead.
We packed and by 9 AM, we were on our way up the 5-mile Collie Ridge Trail to Lincoln Trailhead and our car. Collie Ridge Trail is actually an old roadbed, still used for maintenance and emergency access.
Along the way, we enjoyed sun-drenched views of the first signs of Autumn colors.
Along the way, we stopped for a moment at Sand Spring Cemetery. It is one of many holdovers from before the area became a National Park in 1940.
In the last 2 miles our pace slowed considerably as we encountered over 40 horse riders, in at least 15 groups. Since safety requires that we step aside and wait for them to pass, our going was slow.
The biggest concern was the number of inexperienced riders on half-broke horses. Despite calmly talking to the horses and riders, being off the trail, moving my sunglasses so horses could see my eyes, and standing perfectly still, half a dozen horses balked at walking past us. Most riders were pleasant and in control, but it concerned me greatly seeing so many on the verge of danger in just two miles.
About 11:15, we left the graveled trail and walked up the .4-mile access trail to the parking lot.
Thankfully, the path was more sandy than muddy and in MUCH better shape than the access from First Creek TH. As we stepped onto pavement, SWS and I snapped a picture at the trail register. We had finally completed the entire 80 or so miles of marked trail at Mammoth Cave National Park.