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Big Hollow North and South Loop – Mammoth Cave National Park

Last week, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit Mammoth Cave National Park. We were there for 2 ½ days of car camping and day hiking. The campground is amazing, and the Park Service does an amazing job. On day two, we hiked the Big Hollow North and South Loops.

First off, I will start by saying this is not the most scenic or challenging trail in the world—especially by National Park standards—but it is still a nice hike, and if you’re quiet and look around, you just might see some very cool things.

The trail starts from the Maple Springs trail head on the western side of the park. To get to it, you will have to take Maple Springs Ranger Station Road from the east and cross the Green River Ferry. The ferry is free but SLOW, so allow for some time to get across. Once at the Maple Springs trail head, find where the connector trail starts and follow it for about a mile. There, it branches off to the North Loop. We decided to take the loop clockwise, so basically just stayed to the left the entire time.

The ferry across the Green River

The ferry across the Green River

The start of the loop

The start of the loop

The flat trail

The flat trail

this is not the most scenic or challenging trail in the world—especially by National Park standards—but it is still a nice hike, and if you’re quiet and look around, you just might see some very cool things.

This trail is a shared mountain bike trail. Unlike other trails in the park, it is not shared with horses, so mud and ruts are minimal, but so are changes in scenery. Elevation change is nominal as well, with only very minor ups and downs. The South Loop is more exciting than the North, since it gets fairly close to the bluffs of the river with a few glimpses of the hills across the gorge. Still, the trail never offers any true vistas, and doesn’t have much in the way of geologic features. There are no caves, sinks, waterfalls, or any such features expected in cave country or even Kentucky in general. In fact, this trail reminded me very much of trails back home in Ohio–only with the presence of Rattlesnakes and Copperheads.

Hiking with the guys

Hiking with the guys

The South Loop sign

The South Loop sign

The view across the river from atop the bluff

The view across the river from atop the bluff

There is a nice spot in the middle of the South Loop that is a bit rocky, and we stopped here for lunch and I hung my hammock on top of a small rock outcropping. This was the only real boulder field type feature I remember seeing on either loop.

Stopped for lunch

Stopped for lunch

Hammock hanging on top of a rock outcropping

Hammock hanging on top of a rock outcropping

Blue blazes along the trail

Blue blazes along the trail

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This area offers some very nice flora and fauna. We saw at least two snakes and lots of birds. We saw a Scarlet Tanager which is hard to describe it’s so beautiful. This bird is in the Cardinal family, and is a bright red with stark black wings. Unfortunately, none of us were able to get a good photograph of it. There’s a lot of other wildlife in the park which we witnessed at the campground, including deer, pheasant, and turkey, to name a few.

I had hoped to get to check out the Sal Hollow Loop while at Mammoth Cave, but it did not happen. Fortunately, we did get to do the heritage trail and Mammoth Dome Sink on the last day. These trails are stunning, with enormous trees, caves going straight down into the earth, bluffs along the river, and much more. I will do a separate trip report on those.

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How Do You Find Time to Go Backpacking? Part 3

This is part three of a three-part blog written by three backpackers (Dane, Rob, and Lance) all answering the same question: How Do You Find Time To Go Backpacking? 

Planning the Impromptu Hike, by Dane

daneWith all of our kids either in college or out on their own, one would think that my wife and I would have all the time in the world to do whatever we wanted.  The truth is, however, that we are busier than we’ve ever been.  In addition to both of us working full time jobs, we are active volunteers at our church and at the county jail. Almost every evening is taken up with some type of volunteer activity.

As with my many of my backpacking friends, my wife doesn’t join me in the woods.  This adds an additional challenge since it means that time on the trail is also time away from loved ones.  Adding family time back into the mix also has to be a focus.

For me, planning a backpacking trip centers around two unrelated elements, which result in two different kinds of trips.  These are impromptu trips and carefully planned trips.

Planned trips are generally longer for me (a week, or extended weekend), and are often farther away from home (like my upcoming trip to Colorado).  They are special events, and require a lot of detailed planning, like finding a shuttle to and from the trail, or a shower when done.  These trips are affected by the availability of friends, shuttles, vacation time, and, of course, money.  They don’t just happen.  We have to make them happen.  Most of us are familiar with these kinds of trips.

But there’s another kind of trip that I often find myself taking.  These are my impromptu overnight hikes.  They occur when I find an unplanned opening in my schedule.  They are almost always to an area that I can drive to in under an hour.  These hikes require flexibility, as well as having easy access to a trail or outback area.   I almost always do them alone.

Even though I call them “impromptu hikes,” they actually require a little advanced planning. By taking just a few, easy steps, you can be ready to hit the trail with very little notice.

Here are some simple steps to take in order to plan for an unplanned getaway:

  • Select a suitable location that can be accessed easily and quickly.  Consider prearranging with a private landowner as I did in this video.
  • Pack at least three meals and snacks in a separate storage bag.
  • Organize your gear in a way that allows you to locate and pack everything quickly.
  • Have a backpacking checklist ready to use. Click here for a sample.
  • Plan your itinerary and write it out before hand, making certain someone is left with a copy.
  • Wait for the right time, then go.

We all enjoy those big, planned adventures to new places.  However, for me, being flexible and deliberate enough to remain spontaneous has meant a few extra nights in the woods each year.

dane

Dane Cramer is a backpacker, Christian blogger, jail chaplain, amateur filmmaker, and author of two books: Romancing the Trail and The Nephilim: A Monster Among Us. Visit Dane’s blog at www.featheredprop.com.


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How Do You Find Time to Go Backpacking? Part 2

This is part two of a three-part blog written by three backpackers (Dane, Rob and Lance) all answering the same question:

“How Do You Find Time To Go Backpacking?”

Finding Time To Unplug From All Things Needing A Plug

By Rob (Backpacking Adventures)

Find time to go backpacking? Time? You think I can find time?

I am a husband, and the father of two daughters ages thirteen and seventeen. My career requires about thirty weeks a year on the road. Then, there are my other hobbies of golf and playing music. There is no chance of me finding time to go backpacking…I have to MAKE time.

Actually, WE need to make time.

A number of years ago, one Saturday afternoon, I was having a glass of wine with my wife Angela, and our conversation ended up on backpacking. Her question was innocent and simple, “when was the last time you went backpacking?”

My answer was frustrating and now hard to imagine.

“I don’t think I have been on a trip since…wow, I think it was the first weekend in June!” I said in astonishment.

This realization wouldn’t have been so bad if we were having our conversation on July 27th, or August 27th or even September 27th. Instead, it was late November. The Saturday before Thanksgiving.

robThe enthusiasm that you see in my videos is genuine. I love the trail. The physical exertion, unplugging from all things needing a plug, and the sense of accomplishment all play a part in building my enthusiasm. I enjoy only having to focus on sleeping, walking, and eating. The trail is my happy place.

We are only on this great earth for but a short time, shouldn’t we be spending as much time as we can by doing what we enjoy?

Now, back to the conversation with my wife.

At some point that afternoon we agreed to the fact that when there is a goal, with a plan that makes it achievable, the goal is usually accomplished. We proved that point to ourselves by sharing examples of our own lives as well as that of our children, family, and friends. That is when it happened. Somewhere between talking about learning how to ride a bike and how to plant a garden is when my wife gave me a goal and a plan to make it happen.

robcal“At least twelve nights a year in your hammock. There are 365 of them to choose from, pick twelve” Angela said.

I sat and listened.

“You will go on one backpacking trip each of the next twelve months.

It may only be a quick overnighter to Morgan Hill (our local State Forest) or it may be a multi-day trip in the Adirondacks, but you are going to go backpacking every month. We will not be sitting here a year from now having this same conversation” she stated.

How could I argue? Why would I argue? What should I say?

“I may not be great at math, but 12 nights out of 365 isn’t a big percentage,” I said with a smile.

We continued to talk about sacrifice, support, and doing what we enjoy. Together we even figured out (with the help of a calculator) that 12 nights is just 3% of all the nights in a year.

Just 3%.

Could I commit 3% of my year to do something that I loved?

That’s how I find the time to go backpacking. My family made it a goal, a simple goal – make the time to do the things you love to do.

What % of your year are you willing to commit to doing something you love?

Please share your answer or how you find time for backpacking in a comment below.

I hope to see you on the trail,

~ Rob

Connect with Rob at Backpacking Adventures or on FaceBook, YouTube and Twitter.

Hi everybody, Rob here. I am a backpacking enthusiast who started documenting my trips via video in 2014 on my YouTube channel. This is when Backpacking Adventures was born. Since that time I have had the opportunity to interact with so many like minded people and the Backpacking Adventures community has become a very important part of my life. To learn about what we are trying to accomplish read more.


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How Do You Find Time to Go Backpacking? Part 1

This is part one of a three-part blog written by three backpackers (Dane, Rob and Lance) all answering the same question:

“How Do You Find Time To Go Backpacking?”

Make the Time to Do What You Love

By Lance (OutLan)

I have always loved camping and hiking. Since I was a little boy, my favorite thing to do was to go on hikes with my family on the trails around my hometown of Dayton, Ohio. I wanted nothing more than to go camping, though my parents were never really the “outdoorsy” type. Their idea of roughing it meant getting a hotel room each summer in Gatlinburg near the Great Smoky Mountains. At the age of 10, all I wanted to do was explore those mountains–to hike, camp, and spend time deep in those woods. Backpacking, I thought, would be the way to really do it. To me, that was the answer. Unfortunately, I never got beyond the planning stages.

OutLanFast-forward to five years ago, after many years of getting tied to desk jobs, starting a family, and not being out in the woods other than car camping, my friend invited me to an overnight “survival” camping trip in November. My gear was old and not up to the task of the snow, sleet, and 18 degree temperature I experienced that night. It was both a horrible and exhilarating night, and I knew I wanted to make a regular a habit of getting outdoors. I wanted to get into backpacking. This would mean getting all new gear, gaining the experience, and making the time to do it. This, I thought, was not going to be easy.

My kids were just two years old when I came to this realization. My wife realized how badly I wanted to make this a part of my life, and reluctantly supported my crazy expenditures and weekend trips out in the woods. Being the father of twin boys, it never really felt right to leave her alone with two babies, but my wife let me go anyway. I know she was not always happy with me going out to the woods, but she also I knew it’s what I loved and was my release from the everyday stresses.

These days, there are multiple things that pull at me on a daily basis. Though my kids are older, it is just as challenging – if not more so – to get away. I have work responsibilities tugging at me almost 24/7, the kids have school and extracurricular activities, and there are the common but important household responsibilities and chores that every husband and father has to deal with. It is never easy to find the time to go backpacking, so I have to make the time. This starts with strong communication with my wife, letting her know when and where I’d like to go, and making sure there are no conflicts in our schedules. She is disinterested in backpacking, and is fine with me going off and doing it alone or with friends. To keep our schedules aligned, we make use of available technologies, like mobile apps, to sync our schedules. There is never really a convenient or “good” time to do it, but certain times are better than others, and it always comes down to timing. Not every trip comes to fruition, but the ones that do are always great.

Time is the most valuable thing we have, and though it’s sometimes hard to balance all of our priorities, it’s still important to make some time for ourselves. This year, I encourage you to try making getting outdoors a priority. Get out there, explore creation. Hike, camp, backpack, and just take in the beauty that’s around us.

Connect with Lance at The Outlan Channel or on FaceBook and YouTube.

Lance enjoys hiking, camping, backpacking, and a wide range of outdoor activities and gear. He discovered YouTube a few years ago as an infinite resource filled with other people who love the same things he does. He decided to turn his passion for photography and the outdoors into an official channel and it has become an addiction for him. He is striving to consistently produce more high-quality content and gain a larger subscriber base from whom he can learn from as well as instruct and entertain.

 


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Day Hike to Eagle Rock – Topanga State Park, California

I was fortunate enough to get to fly to to Los Angeles for a work conference this past week. I timed the flight in so I would have a little extra time to do some playing before I had to check in to the hotel. And, my route took me directly through Topanga State Park–so, I had to do a hike.

Topanga S.P. is considered one of the most amazing hikes in the L.A. area, and now I understand why. Not only is it easy to get to, it’s more challenging and beautiful than I can possibly describe here.

I arrived at the entrance of the park (not the trailhead) ready to hike to Eagle Rock, a prominent sandstone outcropping nearly 2,000 feet high. Parking within the park is around $10, I believe, but there is ample parking on the street just outside the park. This is a very nice, safe residential area and is just a few feet outside the park. It is absolutely worth it to park here if you can. However, be absolutely sure to park to the right of the white line! I was about an inch over and the park service warned me they would give me a ticket if I left it there. They were very cordial and nice about it.

Once properly parked and in the park I started at Trippet Ranch to the Musch Trail. I did this particular loop in reverse of how many others do it–opting to go clockwise up the Musch Trail to Eagle Junction and then back down the Eagle Spring Fire Road. I figured I would start with the up first and have an easy way back down. I think this was a good decision, despite being exposed to the heat of the day on the way down. My legs thanked me for it.

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The Musch Trail

The Musch Trail winds its way up a narrow single track through beautiful meadows, riparian forest, and over quiet stream beds. It’s a beautiful hike with some areas of shade before hitting the open and exposed trail to Eagle Rock. There are some expansive views of the surrounding mountains along the way as well.

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The expansive view from the Musch Trail

Rock outcroppings started to pop up as I ascended, and tiny lizards darted across the path. The trail does get steep in places, and made the cool day seem hotter. The trail is fairly well-marked, but be sure to keep a look out for signs to stay on the right path. The Musch Trail will take you past Musch Camp, a very nice spot with overnight camping for just $7 a night.

I continued up past Musch Camp to Eagle Junction, where I saw a sign to continue to the right to Eagle Rock. I got a glimpse of the expansively huge Eagle Rock from the trail, but it was still deceivingly far away. There was still quite a bit of a hike to go to get to the top.

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Eagle rock from Eagle Junction

Though it’s a fairly short distance to the top, it feels very far away in the heat of the sun.

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The hike to Eagle Rock

Finally, I reached the top of Eagle Rock, with a panoramic, 360-degree view all around of the surrounding Santa Monica Mountains. The view can only be described as “epic”.

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The sign at the base of Eagle Rock

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Small cave at the top of the rock

At the top of the rock, I explored the nooks and crannys, and there is even a small arch/cave that can be explored. BE CAREFUL HERE. The rock is sandy and slippery, and it’s a long way down. The hike up the main side of the rock isn’t bad, and even an acrophobe like myself can do it. This can give a false sense of safety, however, and climbing up and over the top of the rock is dangerous and foolhardy, despite the fact there are many “trails” along it. I don’t advise this.

After getting my fill of Eagle Rock, I decided it was time to head back down. I headed back to Eagle Junction to the junction of the Musch Trail and Eagle Spring Fire Road, where it was an exposed hike all the way back down. Despite it being late March, the trail was dry and hot. I definitely did not pack enough water, and regretted it as my legs cramped on the hike back down. I’d recommend bringing at least 32 ounces per person. And, bring some snacks for the top so you have the energy to get back down.

The road seemed (relatively) mundane and unremarkable much of the way down, until I had about a mile left to go, where it opened up to some of the most gorgeous views I’ve ever seen. Expansive views of open, grassy meadows and a mountain backdrop caused my jaw to drop.

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The expansive view from Eagle Spring Fire Road

A bit further down, the view opened up to the Pacific, where I could see the Pacific Palisades and what I believe was Catalina Island in the distance. This was so scenic it was breathtaking. Had I taken this way up, I would have had a constant view of the ocean. This is the kind of scenery dreams are made of.

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The Pacific Palisades in the distance

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Mountain lion warning

During the entire hike, I was worried about mountain lions, as there are many places they could easily stalk and jump me on the trail. I was warned of rattlesnakes along the way (they are very prominent here). I almost stepped on an unidentified snake that I still haven’t determined what is was. I’ve been told it was a harmless King snake, but it’s head sure looked like a rattlesnake to me. You be the judge.

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Unidentified snake I came across

 

I finally came back down off the trail and back to Trippet Ranch, where my car and a fresh pair of socks were safely waiting for me. There were many other spur trails–including one to Ynez Falls–that I would have loved to have taken, but there just wasn’t any time left in the day. Despite my urge to keep pushing, I had to call it a day and get to the hotel.

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The gorgeous view back to Trippet Ranch

I cannot say enough how amazing this hike was, and I understand why California gets so much attention for its beauty. This place is varied and diverse, with tons of flora and fauna. It’s in a nice area and many of the people I passed were families and friendly groups of hikers. Despite the threat of snakes and mountain lions, I never felt “unsafe” but always kept aware of my surroundings.

If you get the chance to visit southern California, do not pass up this park. It is a gem in the giant jewel necklace that is California. I can already hear it beckoning me back…


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The Camping Hammock Trend – Too Much of a Good Thing?

When I got into hammock camping a few years back, I felt I was on the fringe of the backpacking community. It seemed like very few people were really doing it, but those who were loved it and wanted everyone else to know just how much they loved it. Back then, there were only a few trusted vendors and their prices were fairly reasonable. Today, it seems almost every day a new hammock vendor springs up–each with its own “unique” features (gimmicks?). And, these new gear rigs are coming at a very high cost.

Just recently, I saw a new hammock vendor I had never heard of advertised on Facebook. This vendor wanted $275 for the tarp setup alone, and over $400 with their hammock and suspension. Really? Is that where we are now? This just seems prohibitively expensive, especially to someone just starting out and looking to get into hammock camping.

I’m not against paying high dollars for a nice setup. In many cases, I think it’s worth it and I believe you get what you pay for, but these vendors coming out with these crazy prices just seems a bit extreme, and I think in the long run it’s going to turn more people away from hammock camping. I understand any hobby costs money, whether it is hammock camping, backpacking, golf, or whatever, but it just seems as though there are way too many of these “startups” and Kickstarter type of companies that are attempting to make huge bucks for the sake of the trend.

To any new hammock campers out there, keep your eyes open and don’t just jump on a gear rig because it might “look cool”.  There are a lot of quality vendors out there like Warbonnet, Hennessy, and Dream Hammock–just to name a few–who’ve been doing this for quite a while and really know their stuff. And, they’re likely not going to break the bank while outfitting you with a quality hammock and tarp. Do your research, and check out places like http://hammockforums.net and some of the hammock groups on Facebook. There are a lot of people there who really know what they’re talking about and will steer you in the right direction.