THIS WAS NOT MY IDEA
So there I was, hanging onto a tree for deer life, halfway up a cliff in Doughton Park. How the hell did I get here? Oh yeah, for once, this was not my idea. My trips occasionally turn out this way, but this time, someone else was to blame. Myron was the one that had suggested bushwhacking up from Caudill Cabin. To be honest though, deep down I knew it would probably turn out this way.
Myron, Dorcas, and Izaak joined Saucony and I for a backpacking trip at Doughton Park last weekend. I've done many dayhikes at Doughton Park, but I had never backpacked there. However, I knew the campsites looked nice, so I was looking forward to the trip.
We met near Yadkinville and carpooled up to the Parkway. When we arrived, it was completely fogged in. The forecast was for rain in the afternoon, but it arrived early. We parked at the Bluff Mountain overlook and found an access to the Bluff Mountain Trail. It was about 10:30 when we hit the trail, heading south parallel to the parkway.
After 1/2 mile, we reached the old Grassy Gap fire road. We followed it down into the valley. Izaak ran off once, but eventually came back. It was a nice quiet walk in the woods all the way down to Cove Creek. We stopped there for an early lunch before continuing on. We crossed the creek twice, and reached the camping area at the confluence of Cove Creek and Basin Creek around 1. We set up camp at a site removed from the others along Cove Creek. It was a pretty spot among large pines.
We had only seen 2 horseback riders on the hike in. However, a couple of groups of dayhikers passed by that afternoon. Later, another group set up camp farther downstream. They were far enough away to be virtually unnoticed though.
That afternoon we walked a short distance up Basin Creek to the grave of Alice Caudill. Alice was killed in the flash food that ravaged the valley in 1916. Nearby was the foundation of a church, which we explored. We debated hiking farther upstream, but the clouds had darkened. A few isolated raindrops helped us make our decision. We returned to camp where we spent the afternoon relaxing. It rained for a couple of hours, and we hid under Myron's tarp. The showers cleared off in time for dinner though. I enjoyed pasta and pesto, and followed it up with some of Myron's homemade brownies. That evening the clouds cleared and the stars came out. However, the wind picked up, and the temperature dropped into the 20's. I didn't have any trouble sleeping, despite the tarp flapping all night.
We got up at 7:30 to a chilly morning. I had oatmeal and some of Myron's homemade sweet rolls. After breakfast we began to discuss our route for the day. Our original plan was to hike to Caudill Cabin and back on Saturday afternoon. We then planned to hike out on Bluff Ridge on Sunday. The weather had changed our plans. However, we still wanted to visit Caudill Cabin. Myron mentioned that they had bushwhacked once from Caudill Cabin up to the ridge below Fodderstack. From there, it's an easy walk back to the parkway. On that occasion, the wickedly steep bushwhack (700'+ in less than 1/2 mile) had turned into mild rock climbing. Myron was confident though that we could make it up without difficulty if we watched our route more carefully. I was up for it, though Dorcas didn't seem enthusiastic. She had bad memories of the first attempt. She agreed to go along with it though.
We backpacked up along Basin Creek. We rock hopped it about 12 times, give or take a few. Along the way we passed the ruins of 2 cabins, with the chimneys still intact. We also passed 2 nice waterfalls. The hike was consistently uphill though, and it was harder than I remembered. We reached Caudill Cabin 2 hours and 3 1/2 miles later. We took a long break to rest and explore the cabin. Inside was a detailed history of the cabin and the Caudill family. The 1 room cabin, which is about 10' X 10', housed 16 people back in the early part of the 20th century.
We stalled for awhile, but eventually we couldn't avoid the challenge ahead. Our proposed route looked steep on the map, and even worse on the ground. The valley we were in was surrounded by steep, rocky walls. It was obvious that going too far east or west would lead us to sheer cliffs. We would really have to monitor our route carefully.
We started out due north on a minor ridge, keeping the main branch of Basin Creek below us. Initially there was a faint path, but it died out quickly. Afterwards, it was simply a matter of climbing up through the brush, trees, and laurel. The biggest trouble I had was getting my pack caught on rocks and branches.
After an hour or so we could look straight down to the cabin. It looked awfully nice down there, in a quiet, sunny meadow. Why did we have to come up here? I have something of a reputation for leading trips on stupid routes like this one. At least this time it wasn't my fault. I felt a little better knowing that I could blame it on Myron. I probably should have known better, but he DID know better. He had already tried this once before.
The farther we climbed the harder it got. Soon we were crawling upward over rocks and under branches. I began to fear that we would reach a sheer, impassable cliff. I really did not want to have to go back down. After what seemed like an eternity we could see the crest of the ridge above us. Beyond was nothing but blue sky. Myron stopped for a break, but I pushed on. I crawled the last few feet and arrived on the tourist trail from the parkway. It had taken 2 hours to climb the 1/2 mile from the cabin. I knew it would be tough, but it was more than I had bargained for!
Myron and Dorcas joined me, and I walked out to Fodderstack to stretch my legs out. It was nice to walk normally again. There were only limited views, so I returned. We then continued our hike up to Wildcat Rock. After a hundred yards we passed the gap that we had been aiming for when we left the cabin. The route there really didn't look any better. We had a late lunch at Wildcat Rock. Below us, Caudill Cabin was clearly visible. Across the chasm from us was the route we had climbed out of the valley. From our vantage point, it still looked horrible.
After lunch I gave Saucony the rest of my water. We still had 5 miles to go, but it was a sunny day and she looked dehydrated. A few minutes later we passed a perfectly good mudpuddle which she refused to drink from. We'll just see if I give her any of my water again! Luckily for me, Dorcas gave me some extra water that she didn't need.
We reached the Bluff Mountain trail, and followed it through the meadows to the summit. It was a clear, sunny day, with great views. From the summit we hiked down on icy switchbacks. I hadn't brought my ice cleats, but luckily I was able to get down without them. Once at the base of the mountain, it was an easy walk back to the trailhead. It had been a hell of an adventure. The first 3 1/2 miles to the cabin had taken 2 hours. The last 5 miles from Wildcat Rock had taken 2 hours. The half-mile climb up from Caudill Cabin had taken 2 hours. It was good trip though. Despite the ideal weather, we hadn't seen anyone all day. I think in the future though I'll be the one to come up with the insane routes. That way we can all go back to blaming me for our misadventures.
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