Once upon a time there was a man who was alive.

Location: Hattiesburg, Mississippi, United States
St. Cuthbert and Disciples in a Boat


Returned late last night from my backpacking trip in the Big South Fork of Kentucky/Tennessee (change of plans from the Smokies). 'Twas quite nice- a couple, er, misadventures, but the land up there is magnificent: wild, rough, and wet. Great soaring cliffs hundreds of feet above their broken feet, beautiful natural arches, deep yawning caves, roaring, tumbling waterfalls- and still fairly primitive. There are signs on the trails, but few bridges. We made almost a dozen fords, some quick and shallow, some deep and nasty. One in particular was nasty: It was on Laurel Fork, a fine, vigourous mountain stream. We dropped down to the ford and gazed upon it with some aprehension. After all, December is a rather cold month for wading mountain streams (yet colder considering there had been a snow- since melted- a few days before). But, like the brave (foolhardy!) souls we are, we forged on across the ford. While Barry slowly worked his way through the bone cold water, I untied my boots and pulled off my socks. Just as I finished taking a picture of my stalwart friend in the midst of the ford, he suddenly cried out: he had dropped his shoe, and it was floating, at a swift clip, down the roaring creek. Now, we were a good six miles and two mountainsides away from our truck, and night fall was nigh. So I raced across the creek, threw down my pack and jacket, and raced off through the woods, while Barry despondently sat down and- I don't know what he was doing. I crashed through the brush and fallen trees, and made for the bank. Catching sight of the shoe racing by, I ran for a curve in the creek, where the water increased speed and rapidity. I waded out into the water- knee deep- disregarding the bone chilling cold, and waited. At last the shoe came around the bend, and I shifted into its path. But och! it drifted behind a log, and, I assumed, was stuck there. So I clambered up the bank and thrust through the brush- only to see the inane thing slip from behind the log and make for the rapids. I knew that if it got past me there we would quite likely never see it again, so I made haste and splashed back down into the creek. By now my feet were quite numb, so the sharp rocks were little discomfort. I grabbed a stick- to short! I grabbed at another, and reached out just as the shoe was at the edge of the rapids. Success! I picked it up and waded back to the opposite bank, my feet and legs freezing, but my prize firmly in hand. I still had to reford the creek up stream and retrieve my boots and socks, but I could hardly feel my feet anyway...

An hour or so later we doused our quick campfire and headed on. That shoe dried out remarkably, and only a bit of the plastic melted. We were immediately faced with another creek crossing, but this one we avoided by scooting across an old fallen long. If you have never crept over a deep rushing creek, in December, with a twenty-two pound pack strapped on, you don't know what kind of fun you're missing. The other logs tossed odd-ways over our log were rather rough- as there was no bark on our log, and the snow being only lately melted made things a bit hairy. I nearly fell in only once, when my foot cramped up as I swung it up over the odd-ways log...

But once past the fords, the trail carried us above the creek. A beautiful trail, and all the more satisfying for having had an adventure to get to it. We camped in a hemlock and beech flat, with a great roaring cascade below us, and a high soaring bluff overhead. Simply wonderful. We had a bit of trouble coaxing a fire, but otherwise, a lovely shieling-place. As the sun sets early, I stayed up for a while (after enjoying the falls by moonlight) reading the Two Towers by candlelight.

Next morning we set off, after a bowl of grits and a cup of lemon tea while perched above the falls, and made good pace down the gorge, stopping frequently to enjoy the many waterfalls that dot the route. Eventualy we broke out into a quilt work of old fields at the head of the gorge- abandoned now for fourty years, they've grown up in thorn and pine and sycamore. We met Station Camp Creek and headed back west, up a new gorge. This creek was shallower and gentler than Laurel Fork, and the day milder, which was good, as we forded it several times. A lovely walk, aside from the rather deep mud in some places on the trail. We arrived at our desination around noon: a backcountry inn called Charit Creek Lodge. We stayed there for the night, and ate dinner and breakfast there- very nice! The lodge is nestled down at thejunction of Station Camp and Charit Creeks, beneath great bluffs on Hatfield Ridge. It is accesable only by foot or horseback, and has no electricity- only kerosene lamps and wood stoves. I had a misadventure with a wood stove and a pair of pants, but I'll save that story for another time.

After reaching the lodge, we struck off up Hatfield Ridge (now minus our packs) and, after climbing to a spectacular viewpoint, came to a fine natural arch, hidden back off the trail. It seems to be little known, as we saw no footprints in the sand beneath. From there, we wandered westwards around the bluffbase. Barry climbed up to a cave perched in the side of the bluff some thirty feet up (plus more when you count the span below the ledge you stand on to reach it), and nearly suffered horrible injury, no doubt. I did not follow, being content with his report. The cave- in sandstone, which is rather rare (I know of one other like it)- goes back quite a few feet, and boasts a nice little spring that has carved some curious rills and chutes in the rock. The stone on these bluffs is a mixture of yellows and grays and great black varnish-like streaks from seeps and springs- very lovely.

On Wednesday, we climbed up out of the gorge to our truck, and, after a bit of spectacular exploring northwards, struck off for home. But story of that, along with various other details, I shall leave for perhaps later. I should like to graciously thank Mr Jones Woods and his wife Joanne for their hospitality and putting us up for the night (we stayed with them Sunday night before heading off for the trail Monday morning), and for the wonderful food- a point of much praise for any weary traveller. Much thanks! I should also like to mention that Mr Jones, besides being a wonderful friend and fascinating character (heh heh!), has done just about everything one can do in sixty-something years. He has hauled old-growth with mules, built an airplane in his bedroom, carved whole horses, built cars from scratch, and been just about everywhere one can go on four wheels. They are a remarkable couple, and as nice as you can find. I did give them a nasty fright once in the Smokies, but that's another story....


Post a Comment

<< Home