Sunday, September 21, 2008

Ramsey's Draft Wilderness Escapade

We journeyed to Ramseys Draft for a planned two night, three day backpacking trip. The last time we came here, I had just recovered from an ankle injury and found the terrain difficult with hard river crossings and a multitude of blow downs to negotiate.

Not this time! We found the river nearly completely dry, which was hard to imagine. The crossings were nonexistent (rocks in a dry bed), and we found ourselves making good time along the trail. The first night we camped about a mile in at an established campsite as it was growing dark. A chill was in the air, but Skipper got a nice fire going.

The next day we planned to continue along the Ramseys Draft Trail to Hiner's Spring, climb Hardscrabble Knob, and then take a different route back to our starting point via the Hiners Spring Trail, Wild Oak Trail, Bald Ridge Trail, and down the Bridge Hollow Trail for a circuit.

Arriving at Hiner's Spring, we found the water source here very much contaminated with foul water and nothing flowing. The water tasted foul even after pumping, and we were obliged to throw it away. This made the rest of the trip dubious for a second night's stay without water. We decided with the time we were making to cut our trip short by one night and complete the circuit this day.

We ascended to Hardscrabble Knob, which required weaving through the metal bars of a fallen fire tower along with a rock scramble to a modest view of the surrounding mountains.

Arriving back to Hiner's Spring, we then crossed over to the ridgeline via the Hiner's Spring Trail. Along the way, I just skirted a huge yellow jacket nest built inside the ground right dead center of the trail. About ten minutes later I felt as though something was nipping at my leg. Taking off one pant leg, I discovered a yellow jacket had somehow made its way up my pant leg from the nest. Thankfully the bites were only minor and nothing too bad. But at this point we were both suffering other maladies. Skipper had low back issues, and for some reason, I suffered all day with abdominal pain from my gallbladder. Wearing a waistbelt to the backpack only exacerbated the condition, but it couldn't be helped.

We toughed it out though, reaching the next trail, the Wild Oak Trail, well marked along the route with two white blazes, but not marked at all at its junction with Hiner's Spring Trail. We continued on until we reached a small pond, and from our map, here we were to pick up the next leg of the journey, the Bald Mountain Trail. But the trail junction was nowhere to be found. We puzzled over it for nearly twenty minutes, trying to determine where it could be. At last Skipper found an obscure rocky cairn and the trail nearly obliterated by a dead pine branch, but it was the Bald Ridge Trail marked by yellow markers.

If there was ever a time one needed a map and compass, it was here as the trail was very hard to follow. At one point we were walking along the ridge and began to rapidly descend, only to find the trail vanishing. We had no idea where we were. Another half an hour went by as we puzzled over our whereabouts. For the first time, I contemplated a scenerio of a rescue team needing to be dispatched. Skipper a last decided what ridge we needed to be on, in the far distance and nowhere close to where we were. We thought of bushwacking down to intersect with the Ramseys Draft Trail, but the incline was so steep and I was so too fearful of a twisted or broken ankle leg, I refused to do it. So we climbed back up to the ridge we had descended, retraced our steps, and finally found where the trail left the ridge by a marker placed sideways on the tree. Oh, to have those double blazes like on the Appalachian Trail that marked when the trail was going to make a ninety degree turn!

At last we arrived at the Bridge Hollow Trail with another two miles to go and the watch reading 7 PM. From that point, darkness descended, and we were forced to hike by our headlamps down the mountainside (a new experience for me). We finally arrived back at our car at 8:45, taking nearly 12 hrs to complete the 13 mile loop.

Observations: Ramseys Draft Wilderness is not for the faint of heart. Whether there is high water in the creek bed or not, it tests your skills as an adventurer and backpacker, especially if you wander the other trails. Carry a map and compass. Do not rely on water sources farther up, esp in dry conditons, but fill up in flowing pools. Hiner's Spring is contaminated. The Ramseys Draft Trail itself is much better as far as the blow downs and easier to follow, except at the river crossings which will be challenging if water is flowing. The Bald Ridge Trail would be a very scenic hike in early spring with the leaves gone, but note - there is absolutey no water on this route.

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