November 11, 2018

Lone Oak Trail, etc.

  • 4 miles
  • 4:09 duration
  • 1,837 feet elevation gain
  • 32º low, 57º high
  • 9 geocaches found
  • 3 cache resurrections
  • 1 DNF (did not find)
  • 2 geocaches visited (previously found)

LakeBum (Rob) and I have made a few visits to Buffalo Mountain Park in the last year to hike and geocache and had found nearly all of the geocaches there. However, there is one trail that leads up to the park from the back side that we had not yet hiked, and it had two geocaches on it that we needed to log. In addition, a new geocache was placed in April at Tip Top, the apex of that trail.

When we talked on Saturday about hiking the next day, I threw out three choices. We settled on the Lone Oak Trail so that we could log those three caches. I also hypothesized that it would be good conditioning for us as we prepare ourselves for hiking The Channels on New Year’s Day. According to the online maps for Buffalo Mountain park, the Lone Oak Trail is 1.5 miles making it a 3 mile round trip. We felt we could do that fairly quickly, and still have time for a shorter hike nearby to find another cache, as well as log several other caches in the area.

When Rob picked me up at 8:30 am there was frost on the ground. I was prepared for a cold day with several layers of clothing. We arrived at the trail head along Dry Creek Road and started up the trail at 9:14. It was 32º, but sunny. Almost immediately after starting, we both paused to pull on gloves because our hands were cold.

We immediately started climbing through two switchbacks and then the trail leveled out for a short distance along the creek. Just over .10 mile we stopped to look for the first geocache. Another cacher had searched for it in April but could not find it.

Our phones pointed us across the creek and up a steep hill. We each picked a spot to cross and began scrambling up the slope. I had identified a tree that looked like a likely hiding spot and headed directly to it. There was a large depression in the earth where the tree met the ground, and I started poking around in it with my hiking stick until I felt something solid. Moving aside the thick layer of leaves, I found a rock and under it the plastic geocaching container. I was thrilled to have found it so quickly! This cache had last been found in January 2017 making this our first cache resurrection of the day (finding a cache that has been lonely for a year or more).

We moved on up the trail and at the next switchback saw a small waterfall a little further up stream. We considered going up stream to take photos of it, but I was eager to find caches so suggested we do it on the way back. I also thought we might be able to see if from above further up the trail when it switched directions again. Rob wisely said, “The sun will play havoc with us by then,” but I stubbornly kept going up the trail. I should have listened to him.

The section of the trail between our first and second geocache consisted of eighteen switchbacks as the trail climbed 450 feet in .6 mile. We were quickly far too high above the waterfall we had spotted to see it from the trail.  A hiker passed us after the second switchback, and soon after that a trail-runner passed us. He wasn’t even breathing heavily. After he was out of earshot I said to Rob, “If I ever tell you that I want to come run these trails… just SHOOT me!”

As we climbed, the forest cover became thinner and the sun began to warm us. This area of the mountain was burned by a wildfire in 2008 so much of the vegetation is new growth since then: shrubs, undergrowth and small trees. I soon shed my down jacket and Rob took off his sweatshirt. We stopped for breathers several times on this climb and were thrilled to finally reach the last switchback and location of the next cache.

There was a very nice picnic table here, and we marveled at the effort it must have taken to haul the materials and tools up the trail to build it. The coordinates for the cache took us deeper into the forest past the table. This cache had actually been disabled by the owner because another cacher had logged a DNF (did not find) in April. In my backpack I had a replacement container in case we were unable to find it.

I once again honed in on a likely looking spot, thinking that was where I would hide the cache if it were mine. The cache was not there, but I began using my hiking stick to poke around in the leaves nearby. I suddenly heard the beautiful “thunk” of my stick hitting a metal ammo can and called out, “Got it!” “WHAT?!” yelled Rob. “antbedy, you are on FIRE today!”

As he made his way over to join me I worked to free the container. It was wedged under a fallen tree but came loose with some digging and wiggling. I then attempted to open it without success. I dropped it on the ground and banged it a few times with my stick, hoping to loosen the seal, but still could not pull it open. After all, this cache had not been opened since March of 2015 – more than three years! I handed it to Rob and with a couple of sharp tugs he managed to pull it open.

The container was packed full of swag. There were several fun-looking toys inside, a bumper sticker that read, “Real Men Wear Kilts,” and even an undershirt. It appeared to have been new when it was placed in the cache, but Rob said he didn’t need it and left it for a future cacher. We signed our names to the logbook, happy to have scored our second cache resurrection for the day. These finds are even sweeter when another cacher has searched for but failed to find them!

Once we had placed the cache in its intended hiding spot, we sat at the picnic table for a rest and a snack. The name of the cache we had just found was “’bout halfway” but the cache owner said in the description that this point was only about 1/3 of the way to Tip Top. We could see our destination in the distance, and could tell that it was a much higher elevation than our current location, but at least the trail stretching out ahead of us appeared to be fairly level for some distance.

In fact, over the next .5 mile the trail had a gradual climb of less than 200 feet. Then we  began climbing higher up the side of the peak we had seen from our resting place. And higher. And higher. We encountered several more switchbacks as we climbed. In some places the trail was only a foot or so wide with a thick covering of leaves and a steep drop to the side of the trail. As hard as the climb uphill was, I began to dread the descent. I could only imagine how slippery and treacherous it could be coming back down.

As we got within .10 of the cache, the trail became even steeper. Our legs screamed at us as we trudged upward, stopping occasionally to catch our breath. Finally, we reached the top and I was overjoyed to see another sturdy picnic table. I went directly to it, shed my backpack and climbed up to lie on it. I knew there was a geocache nearby waiting to be found, but all I wanted to do was rest for a few minutes. I gazed up through yellow leaves on the branches of towering trees to see the deep blue sky above, enjoying the rich colors.

I finally got up to enjoy the view around us. We had a 360º view from this high point. To the north we could see downtown Johnson City and ETSU. To the west we could see the hills and valleys of Washington County south of Jonesborough. To our east and south were mountains as far as the eye could see. We spent some time taking photos and picking out landmarks.

Finally, we decided to search for the geocache. This search took longer than the two previous. The hint told us that the cache was under a rock at the base of a tree. Our phones were confused about which direction we should go to search for it, so we just began checking all of the likely looking trees.

Eventually, both of our phones pointed us in the same general direction, and we converged on one tree. I began to dig around in the leaves at the base and found a small rock. Under it was a small pill bottle covered with camouflage tape. We looked at each other and shook our heads. We had climbed to the top of this mountain for such a dinky little geocache? I said, “Well, the description DID say that the reward was the view.”

We did have a nice surprise when I opened the cache. Inside were two $1 bills so we each pocketed one. Typically, we would trade even for any swag found in a cache, but we felt that perhaps because only one person had found the cache before us, these might have been the FTF prize and they left it behind.

Since it was nearly noon by this time, we took advantage of the lovely picnic table and sat down to eat our lunch. When we had rested for a while, we began the trip back down.

The descent was not nearly as frightening as I thought it would be. The leaves had mostly dried by this time so they were not too slippery. We hiked quickly but carefully back down the trail, only pausing briefly a time or two to take photos or to let hikers coming up to pass. At one point I saw a runner coming toward us, and realized it was Jason Onks who was the director of Buffalo Mountain Camp when it flooded in 2012. We chatted for a few minutes and I told him what I had said to Rob earlier about shooting me if I said I wanted to run the trails. Jason laughed and said, “I will just run until I get tired and then turn around and head back.” After we had moved on down the trail, Rob and I joked about that, with him saying, “I wouldn’t get across the road from parking before I had to turn back.”

Eventually, we reached the switchback next to the creek, and I went off trail to follow it upstream toward the waterfall we had seen that morning. As Rob had predicted, the sunlight made getting good photographs impossible, but we took a few anyway before hiking the last stretch back to the truck.

Our mapping devices showed that this hike was actually a four mile round trip rather than three. Along the way we had seen an abandoned trail that appeared to lead straight up the mountain rather than zig-zagging up as the current trail does. This would have cut out quite a bit of distance, making it closer to the three miles as noted on the map, but that would have been a tough climb. We were happy to add a little distance to the hike. There were already enough steep sections of this trail!

Once back in the truck, we checked the time. We decided against hiking another mile round trip for the nearby cache we had seen on the map, but wanted to log some others in the area that had shorter walks or were park and grabs.

The first was just a short distance up Dry Creek Road and was a puzzle cache that both of us had solved some time ago. When we had parked, we had to cross the creek in search of the cache. There were some rocks that we could use, but we were both glad for waterproof boots since we would have had wet feet otherwise.

Once again I made the find based largely on instinct and the hint. The container had quite a bit of water inside and the log book had black mold along the edges, but we were still able to sign it. This was our third resurrection of the day since this cache was last found in October 2016 – over two years ago.

About six miles further out Dry Creek Road, we pulled over again so that Rob could log a cache. I had logged this cache six years and eight days before, only a month after I started geocaching. It was my 12th find and the first ammo can that I had ever found. As we sat in the truck at the parking area, Rob said he might have to skip this one because there was the strong smell of a dead animal. I insisted that he needed to do it anyway, knowing that he would enjoy this find and the unique area where it is hidden. I assured him that since the cache was 400 feet away, we would be nowhere near the smelly carcass.

We exited the truck and followed a rough path toward the cache. It led us toward Dry Creek over and  around large rock formations. I had told him that it was like a “mini Channels” referring to the hike we will be doing New Year’s Day. The Channels are a maze of slot canyons winding among huge sandstone boulders.

As we neared the creek, we could see below us the passage that leads between the rock formations. It is not as impressive as The Channels, but is still a really cool place. We followed the path through the rocks and circled around below them to find the cache. I enjoyed watching Rob look for it and remembering my own search so long ago. After he had signed the log book, I searched back through it to find my name.

After he had logged the cache, we took time to explore the area a little more. I knew there was a waterfall nearby but had not taken time to find it on my last visit. We continued down the trail until we reached the creek. I paused to take some photos of some small cascades. When I finished, Rob was nowhere in sight, so I followed the creek upstream looking for him. When I spotted him, he waved for me to join him. I climbed over some large rocks to where he was standing, and there was a beautiful, double waterfall. What it lacked in size, it made up for in character. I was glad to finally get to see this waterfall that I had long heard about but never experienced.

We agreed that this would be a beautiful spot to have a picnic. I even suggested combining it with a CITO (Cache In, Trash Out) event to clean up all of the trash left behind by other visitors.

Once back at the truck, we continued on our journey, stopping for a two traditional caches and a multi-cache along the way. The first traditional cache was hidden in an area between two roads. The cache description had advised us to approach it from the less traveled road. However, the climb from that direction was quite difficult. I ended up staying on the road while Rob signed the log for both of us. He then continued on up to the highway and walked the long way around to get back to the truck.

The second traditional had us parking at a church and walking across a field past the playground to find the cache. I spotted it on the ground under a pine tree from several feet away.

The multi-cache required you to take information from a historical sign and use it to determine the final coordinates. Rob had solved it prior to our trip using information he gleaned on the internet. We found it in a guardrail.

We then stopped at a another church to search for cache that had not been found for over two years. It appeared to be hidden on the other side of a ball field next to the church.  Unfortunately, it seemed to be missing. Ground Zero is just a couple hundred feet from a nearby home and there was a dog there barking furiously at us. We did not feel comfortable walking around on private property searching for a cache that is likely gone, so we logged it as DNF (did not find). We also reported the situation to the geocaching reviewers so that it can be reviewed and possibly archived.

We had one last cache on our to-do list for the day, and it too was missing. Since the hiding place for it was obvious and it was in a good location, we replaced the missing container and made note of that in our logs.

Feeling as if we had had a successful day, we headed toward home. Along our route was a cache that Rob had not yet found, so we pulled over allowing him to log it. This reminded me that there was one nearby that I had never had the opportunity to log, so he stopped once again so that I could log that one. It was in the parking lot of a busy strip mall, and on all of my previous visits there were too many cars and people around. On Sunday afternoon the lot was deserted, so I was able to finally log that cache.

This was a day that demonstrates the diversity of the game. We found caches that required a strenuous hike as well as ones that are “park and grabs” and everything in between. Best of all, we had an enjoyable time together and saw some beautiful sights.

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