CHEERIO

 

 

I spent last week working in a small town in Indiana.Over five days, the weather never changed.Temperatures stayed in the low 30ís, with constant fog, drizzle, and ice.It isnít the worst place Iíve ever been, but itís probably in the bottom five!By the time I got home Friday evening, I was ready for a hike.Unfortunately, the weather forecast for the weekend didnít look any different than what Iíd suffered through up north.

 

Bob, Joel, and I planned a hike at Stone Mountain State Park on Saturday.I met Bob in Statesville and Joel near Yadkinville.We rode with him from there to the park.

Our tentative plan was to try to hike from the park up to Camp Cheerio.Joel and Bob did this hike 10 years earlier, but neither of them remembered much of it.Would we be able to find our way up there?

 

We parked on the edge of the driveway that leads to rangerís house.We gathered our gear under overcast skies, with a light mist falling off and on.Somehow I managed to corral Boone long enough to get his pack on.I leashed him, since park regulations forbid dogs from running free.Since we would be walking right by the rangerís house, I figured I should adhere to that rule, at least until we were out of sight.

 

We hiked up the driveway, passing a small pond.Just before the rangerís house, we found an old woods road heading up the mountain.Bob and Joel were pretty sure this was the correct route, so we headed that way.Before long weíd worked up a bit of a sweat as we climbed out of the valley.Once the rangerís house was out of sight, I released Boone from his confinement.He went crazy, racing up and down the trail.Heíd been cooped up in the house all week, but was making up for it now.

 

We followed a series of old logging roads up the mountain.There were many junctions, and at times we were making guesses as to the correct route.The topo map shows the route to Camp Cheerio, but it does not include many of the old logging roads that crisscross the mountainside.As a result, none of us were very confident about our navigation.I wasnít too worried about it though.I was there for a walk in the woods.As long as we were able to find our way back, everything would be fine.

 

After a number of random twists and turns, an old homestead loomed out of the fog ahead.It was a big building, featuring an old log cabin with a newer extension that was added on.The house was definitely succumbing to the ravages of time, and it looked spooky in the fog. Despite its creepy appearance, we couldnít resist checking it out.

 

We went inside, moving carefully as we crossed the rotting front porch.The interior was full of old mattresses.Holes in the ceiling provided an interesting view of the second floor.Bob found an intact staircase, and we went up for a better look.The upper level looked extremely hazardous, so neither of us left the relative security of the stairs.Eventually we wandered over into the original log cabin, which was more deteriorated.The steps leading upstairs looked unreliable, so we confined our explorations to the bottom level.

 

Briefly I considered eating lunch in there, out of the persistent drizzle, but it was only 10:45.Instead, we resumed the hike.We eventually found the old road leaving the clearing in front of the house.We passed the remains of two other, smaller, structures and continued our gradual climb.

 

A bit later we passed a stream that disappeared underground in several places.Near here we discovered some bones.They were pretty big, so Iím guessing they were from a deer.While we were checking them out, I looked up to see that Boone had found one of his own.He had it in his mouth, and he ran away when I tried to take it from him.

 

Later on, Boone took off.I saw the flash of a deer as Boone gave chase.Several minutes later, Boone came back up the trail, moving slow.He looked exhausted!

 

A bit later we joined a prominent old road.This road was badly eroded, but it looked more heavily traveled.Joel was confident that this was the correct route to Camp Cheerio.We followed it uphill, passing a surprising amount of exposed quartz.This shining path led us under some high tension power lines, which were sizzling from the light rain.†† A bit later, we passed a stone staircase leading up the hill to our right.We checked it out, and found that it led to a fence and a gate.Beyond, a huge new house loomed out of the fog.Apparently we were back at the edge of civilization.

 

On the way back down, Joel slipped on one of the rocks and took a tumble.Fortunately he landed well and wasnít injured.Bob and I were extremely careful descending the rocks, as they were treacherous.We rejoined the old road, and followed it to a substantial stream at a small series of cascades.This was a pretty spot, but rock hopping the creek was tricky due to the slippery conditions.On the far side, we found a barbed wire fence blocking further progress.We could see the camp just ahead, and there werenít any private property signs.We took turns crawling under the fence, and climbed the next hill.Minutes later, we reached another wire fence lining a new road.In fact, the fence surrounded the road, following both sides.This seemed odd, so we decided to follow the fence uphill.Eventually we reached a construction site.Iím not sure what is being built here, but it wasnít very exciting out there in the drizzle.We doubled-back to the creek and pondered our options.

 

Joel and Bob decided to have lunch.First though, I wanted to explore the creek a bit more.I headed upstream, crossing it twice, before reaching a clearing.Here I found a couple of the camp buildings.Just ahead was an earthen dam that contains the campís small lake.I thought about checking it out, but I wasnít sure that I should really be wandering around up there.Instead, I doubled-back to the creek, where I joined Bob and Joel for lunch.Warm soup from a thermos helped ward off the damp chill for a bit, but before long we decided to head back.

 

Initially we returned by the same route.Eventually though, we reached a point where the old road ahead descended into Happy Valley.I thought we could get out to the park road from the valley, and we all agreed to make a little adventure out of our return hike.We descended to the ruins of another old building.From there, we continued down the mountain, following another series of old roads.It was still early afternoon when we emerged from the woods at site #10 in the middle of the parkís campground.From there, we walked through the campground and out towards the park road.Along the way, we spooked a whole herd of deer.Fortunately I had already leashed Boone.I had trouble holding him back as the deer dashed away from us.

 

We reached the park road, and found Joelís truck a few minutes later.At this point it was still early.I wanted some more exercise for myself and the dog.We scrambled for ideas for short hikes nearby.I looked at the map briefly and suggested we check out Bullhead Creek.The topo map shows a trail following the stream, but I had never hiked there before.

 

At the Bullhead Creek trailhead, we discovered that the area is designated for fly fishermen only.There is even a sign there that says ďno hikingĒ.Of course, that just made me want to hike the creek even more.Presumably hiking isnít allowed there to prevent conflicts between hikers and fishermen.There wasnít anybody around today though.We decided to ignore the rules and check it out.

 

We hiked upstream and reached a nice cascade after only a few minutes.From there, we continued a bit farther to the first ford.At lower water it may be possible to rock hop, but that wasnít an option today!I had forgotten to bring a change of socks, and none of us were interested in getting our feet wet.We decided to head back, but now Iím even more curious about Bullhead Creek.Iíd like to go back, but it would have to be a time when fishermen arenít present.That likely means winter, when wading is unpleasant.

 

From there, we drove a little farther, to Widows Creek.There, we made the short hike up to Widows Creek Falls.This is my favorite waterfall in the park, particularly when the water is up.It was definitely up today Ė in fact, it may have been too high!The high water, slippery rocks, and some fallen trees made positioning myself for photography tricky.I managed a couple of decent shots before I dropped my lens cap in the creek.Somehow I was able to retrieve it using my hiking stick without going for an unplanned swim!

 

The Widows Creek Trail (also the Mountains to Sea Trail) runs on the hillside high above the falls.Bushwhacking up the slope to the trail didnít look like a good idea, so we contoured around the hillside following a faint path.Along the way we passed an outhouse.This was odd, as the outhouse wasnít on any sort of official trail.Itís out in the woods, about a hundred yards from the road, and roughly halfway between the trail to the falls and the main Widows Creek Trail.

 

We joined the trail a few minutes later.After a stout climb we passed high above the falls.Then we dropped down to the creek.There are fairly new bridges along this stretch of trail, and they allowed us to hike this part of the MST without getting wet.We followed the trail upstream, through woods and a pretty clearing surrounding another old homesite.The chimney is still standing here, but itís a little hard to spot because it blends in with the trees.

 

We hiked a little farther, before catch a whiff of smoke.We were almost to the Widows Creek backcountry campsites, and we figured somebody was enjoying a campfire there.I didnít want Boone to disturb them, and it was getting late, so we decided to head back.The return hike was uneventful, and soon we were on our way home.

 

The weather had been marginal, and there werenít any views to speak of, but I still enjoyed our visit to Stone Mountain.The hike to Camp Cheerio was interesting for the novelty, but itís probably not one that I would do again.However, Bob and I are already talking about doing a shuttle hike starting in Doughton Park and finishing along Widows Creek.It would be 12 or 13 miles though, so we may wait for the longer days of spring before we attempt it.




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