So after last weeks aborted trip I took the two nice days that strung together last weekend and headed out to get my woods-time put in. The forecast was:
Thursday: Rain and lows in the mid 30's
Friday: Sunny and 60's lows in the upper 30's
Saturday: Mostly sunny with rain possible overnight and lows in the 50's
Sunday: Rain and just miserable cold.
I headed out on Thursday night to get 4 of the 5 hours of drive time over with. I stayed in Salem, MO at the Walnut Inn. It was just what you would expect for $45.00 per night.
This was my first backpacking trip with my new Dog. My previous buddy died from a lung problem suddenly, he was a 9 year old Husky and he loved to hike but got major car sickness so he could never make the trips to most of my camping spots. We got an Aussie Sheppard mix from a rescue and his name is Smokey and he's a natural hiker (but not as natural a camper!). I outfitted him with a Ruff Wear dog pack so he could carry his own food and a light fleece blanket and misc gear. Total weight on his pack was about 6lbs and he weighs 48lbs. He seems to be ok with the pack and we worked him up to the weight over a couple of weeks.
The basic plan was to hike from the side trail at Rocky Falls further back to the more secluded area near Buzzard Mtn for Friday night. That's about 3 miles back or a little under. Saturday we would head back to Rocky Falls and then tackle the climb up to Stegall Mtn. as a day-trip and return to the Falls area for dinner and sleep. I expected to pack up in the rain and head on home the next day on Sunday.
The first day in was great. Sunny, warm, a nice breeze. We played around the falls for a bit and then headed on in to start the hike. Smokey was not too thrilled with crossing creeks and it took several times before he gave up thinking he was going to get away without doing it. He also hates mud, he will walk many yards out of his way to avoid stepping in mud if he can. Pretty funny.
We ate lunch at a nice little pool under some shut-ins and enjoyed the quiet. I saw a couple people on the trail all day so it was easy to feel some solitude. I setup camp a little beyond there. The woods opened up a bit and allowed you to actually find enough clearing to make a decent camp. I setup for a small fire that night and settled in. Then things took a turn.
The forecast low was hit by 8:30pm and I knew we were in for a cold night. I drank some hot choc. and fed the dog a little of my MH Beef Stew. I hoped that might help us keep warm. By 11:00pm we were flirting with 32*F. Then at 1:00am my dog woke me up with his grumble/bark/mutter noise and I reached out to pet him and found he was shivering. The temp was now 28*F and I noticed I was getting cold too. The Exped 7 was not cutting it anymore for my feet and butt.
Well, there was not much to be done. I was not going to let the dog suffer all night or risk him getting dangerously cold..... so..... in the hammock and under the sleeping bag he came. He thought I planned to kill him for a minute and I was afraid he was going to rip something with his paws but in about 10 minutes he was warming up and in another 10 he was snoring. So there I am with a 50lb dog smashed in next to me. My butt is still cold, my upper body is roasting next to him and my arm is frozen solid because there is nowhere to put it except over my head. I didn't sleep much that night. Go figure.
By 6:00am I was done. My feet were hurting they were so cold, my side was cramping, the dog was constantly dreaming and kicking. It was not warm inside anyway so it was time to get up. I tossed the pup out and got dressed and checked the temp again. 26*F! The forecast was 38. I was not prepared for that at all. Everything was covered in frost and ice. I just worked on getting packed up and getting a little food in me. We got on the trail headed back to the Falls and I was thinking that if the temps started dropping like this again tonight I was not doing another night with the dog.
Day two was great. It got to 70 for the high. The sound of the falls made for a relaxing afternoon and I napped a little in the afternoon breeze. I had a cramp in my back from the previous night so I did not do the climb up the mountain opting instead to just lounge for the afternoon and enjoy the rest. The dog was happy and spent most of the day laying out in the sun or getting into the shade under the tarp if he got too warm. I drug my cooler across the creek to the site and cooked myself a steak for dinner with a forked stick over the fire. It was really good but I used too much salt when I prepped it. Oh well, beats rehydrated mush anyway. That night was just wonderful the lows were in the upper 40's. I was warm and comfortable all night and the sound of the water made for a great nights sleep. I used my sit pad CCF to stuff under my feet in the foot box of my Marmot bag and that really seemed to help with cold feet. Of course being 20 degrees warmer probably helped a lot too.
The dog was comfortable on his bed of leaves covered by his fleece. I folded it in half, staked it down and used the top half for a blanket over him and he actually kicked it off when he got too warm later on. He seemed to enjoy the hiking but he misses his bed at night. At home he sleeps on the foot of the bed and if you let him, the lazy sucker will stay there till 11:00am before he moves.
When things work well the hammock is hard to beat. I might have to look at some sort of under-quilt arrangement for the lows you get in early spring. The Clark is just not the best design for an under-quilt though since the pockets and the quilt are at odds with each other but the Exped just doesn't work for me once you start getting below mid 30's and it's not uncommon to have 20's slip in to the area in March and early April.
I needed that trip. I was sick of being trapped in the house all winter and I was dying to get out and get away for a little while.
You can see the whole album here:
Rocky Falls Trip