Hungry Mother State Park
- 6.14 miles
- 4:55 duration
- 683 ft elevation gain
- 17 geocaches found
Since I was off for Good Friday, I had planned to make my annual wildflower pilgrimage in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The plan was to meet my sister there and hike the Rhododendron Creek and Injun Creek trails. LakeBum37663 (Rob and tncorgi (Mary) were going to join in on the adventure.
However, the weather forecast was for rain, and the manway along Rhododendron Creek is treacherous in such conditions, and involves creek crossings that may be difficult in higher water levels. My sister had family obligations arise and wasn’t going to be able to meet us. So, we decided to sleep in a little later and embark on an expedition closer to home. Rob suggested Hungry Mother State Park in Marion, VA.
Since geocaching.com is promoting their Planetary Pursuit event right now, this was a better choice as far as geocaching is concerned. There are no caches hidden in the national park, and there are many caches in Hungry Mother Park. During the Planetary Pursuit, geocachers can earn points for geocaches found. These points add up to earn each player virtual souvenirs named after the planets in our solar system.
The forecast for Marion also predicted rain, but we are hardy hikers and have good rain gear. Besides, the temperatures were supposed to be in the 60s and 70s, so we weren’t concerned about being too cold.
We were met at the park by Coach_L42 (Thomas). While waiting for us to arrive, he had come up with a route for us that would allow us to hit most of the caches on the west side of the lake. We picked him up at the Clyburn Hollow trail head where he left his truck. We then stopped at the visitor center to use the facilities and pay for a parking pass. While there, we found our first cache of the day, a travel bug hotel. Since this cache has more than 10 favorite points, it earned us 15 points toward our goal of 500 points before April 9.
From the visitor center we drove to the trail head for Stone Lick Trail. We followed it for 3/4 mile climbing 410 feet in elevation. This was the toughest climb of the day, and we were glad to have it behind us. Along the top of the ridge were three geocaches to be found, and at the first the group elected me as “team scribe” for the day. This means that it was my duty to sign our names to the log sheets.
The light rain that was falling at the beginning of our hike had ended, but a cool wind was blowing atop the ridges. I whined about having cold ears and wished I had brought my beanie cap along. Gloves would have also felt good. I was wondering what had happened to that forecast of weather in the 60s and 70s.
After logging the caches along Stone Lick Trail we hiked along the Clyburn Ridge Loop Trail. It led us along the top of ridge lines for another mile or so, and then we began a gradual descent. There were seven caches along this stretch of trail. We stopped at noon to eat some lunch, but did not dally long as the cold wind encouraged us to get moving again.
One of the caches along the Clyburn Ridge Loop was a nano – the smallest type of cache there is. It is approximately the size of a pencil eraser. Imagine trying to find something that small in the woods! Fortunately, because of the clue, and because Rob had found it on a previous visit, we knew just where to look: on the back side of a particular metal post. However, four different geocachers had not been able to find it over the last year. In fact, the last people to find it were Rob and Mrs. Jack (Dori) in October 2016.
We thoroughly searched the post without finding it. Rob remembered placing it near the bottom of the post, and started digging around in the leaves and dirt at the base hoping to find it. Thinking he heard something fall onto the trail, he instructed us to look there. We had dug around in the leaves for several minutes and had finally decided to replace the cache with a new container when I finally spotted something. The tiny green nano was doing a great job of hiding in the middle of the trail, but not good enough to escape my attention. It was with great satisfaction that we signed the log on this cache. This was a cache resurrection for us – finding a cache that had gone unfound for more than a year.
At the bottom of the mountain we turned to start climbing again, this time on the Clyburn Hollow trail. We had an elevation gain of 250 feet over the next mile or so. It was nice to stop along the way for more geocaches. Rob and I also warmed up enough to stop and remove our rain jackets. There was one short shower later in the hike, but eventually the sun came out.
At the top of the mountain once more, we had a couple of surprises. First was a beautiful view of the lake far below us. There were a couple of nice benches here to sit and enjoy the view, and Mary elected to stay there while we went off in search of the next geocache. We found an ammo can just a short distance into the woods, and were puzzled because the coordinates showed that it should have been 125 feet further up the hill. It was also strange that it was just sitting next to a fallen log, not under a “geo pile” as described in the hint.
We signed the log book and decided to carry the ammo can to the posted coordinates and hide it there. Rob spotted a likely looking hiding place and went to look more closely. In it he found… another ammo can! This turned out to be the official cache for this location. We puzzled over what may have happened here, comparing the physical logs in each container to the online logs. Other people reported having found more than one cache here. Some of the finders who had logged it online had signed one log book, some had signed the other, and a few like us had signed both.
After determining that the first ammo can we found was not a legitimate geocache, we decided to take the container with us. Our plan was to look at the maps once we got home and scout out a good location for it in the park, then hide it on our next trip here. Rob also offered to investigate the possibility that it was an archived cache and try to contact the family that had hidden it. He rearranged the contents of his backpack and found room for the ammo can in it.
We then headed down the eastern leg of the Clyburn Ridge Loop trail, gathering a few more geocaches along the way. At one point, we realized that a cache was only 200 feet or so away, but straight up a steep hillside from the trail. Reading the cache page, we realized that we should have left the trail about 400 feet back to reach it. We backtracked a little way up the trail, and then tackled the hill where it didn’t seem as steep. It was still quite the climb, but we made it to the top and were able to find the cache.
Fortunately, the next cache was reachable standing right on the trail, which was a welcome change by this time in the hike.
We finally returned to the parking area where we had first met Thomas nearly five hours earlier. We logged one last cache there, bringing our total for the day to 17. Of course, enough is never enough for us, so we stopped on the drive home to log a few more, including a virtual and some fun puzzle caches.
This turned out to be yet another great hike on a day that we could have let the weather discourage us from venturing out. I look forward to going back to this beautiful park so that I can explore more of the trails and find more geocaches.
Oh, and that mystery ammo can we found? After we were all at our respective homes we learned that it had been hidden by a family that only had found 10 geocaches. They apparently placed this one and it was never published. EagleJ1970 (James), the hider of the official geocache we found sent me a message that evening. He said that he had found that first ammo can and waited for two months to see if it would be published. When it never was, he went ahead and hid one of his own nearby. Mystery solved! Now, to go hide that can we came home with.