November 10, 2019

Steele Creek Park

  • 6.02 miles
  • 5:26 duration
  • 1197 feet elevation gain
  • 6 geocaches found during hike (1 before)
  • 1 DNF (did not find)

Since LakeBum (Rob) and I prefer hiking in cooler weather, it is time to start the hiking season in earnest. I found myself with a free day on Sunday, so texted him Saturday evening asking if he wanted to do a “shortish” hike the next day. He was agreeable, and asked for suggestions. I had been thinking for a while about returning to Steele Creek Park in Bristol. I had hiked there a few years past and logged a handful of caches, but knew there were several more awaiting my signature.

We got a little later start than usual, leaving my house around 9:15. On the way to Bristol, Rob asked if I had logged the Woods in the City hide behind the WalMart. I answered that I hadn’t, and asked if he had. He replied no so I immediately changed lanes to make the turn and said, “Challenge accepted!” We both love to find BackWoodsAng hides.

There was a very short trek up a steep bank into the woods from parking. There we searched for several minutes before Rob finally located the cache lying out in the open. We signed the log sheet and hid it back in a good spot that matched the hint. We slid back down the leafy hillside and made it back to the car without incident.

We began our hike at Rooster Front Park at 10:13 am. I was proud of myself for remembering to grab Signal the Frog when I left home, and I placed him in his usual spot in the side pocket of my pack.

Rob had solved a puzzle cache that was located fairly close to parking, so we headed into the woods along the creek in search of it. We soon realized that it was straight up the hill above us, so decided to tackle it from the trail instead. Thankfully, after a few switchbacks, the trail took us right to the cache location without having to bushwhack. I made the find on this cache, the only one that I would find all day.

As we continued up Lake Ridge Trail, we talked about our next stop. Both of us had found the next cache on this trail, and I had found the one after that. we had also both logged the EarthCache near the trail head.

Curious, I pulled out my phone to see how long it had been since I found those caches. I knew that it was during a hike with my Czech friend Jana when she had visited us. When I saw the date, I chuckled out loud and stopped Rob to show him. That hike was on November 10, 2015, exactly four years from today.

I remember that that was also a mild fall day. Like today, there was still some color in the trees and the sky was clear and blue. I believe today’s temperature was a bit warmer. I had dressed expecting cold weather today; flannel-lined hiking pants, a long-sleeved shirt and a hoodie. I had a knit cap and gloves in my pack, but they were totally unnecessary. The temperature at the start of our hike was not quite 50° but it soon warmed up to the high 50s.

Rob had already shed his sweatshirt at our first stop. By the time we reached the next cache, I was ready to take off my hoodie and was wondering why in the world I thought I needed flannel-lined pants! While I readjusted my apparel, Rob crossed the creek and began looking for the cache. He was having trouble finding anything, so I checked my log again to see what I had written. Unfortunately, I had not said anything helpful. I crossed the creek to help him look. I was drawn to one particular tree, but didn’t find anything there.

Since the last cacher had logged a DNF, we decided that it was likely missing. I happened to have a few suitable containers in my pack, so we picked one and replaced it. The owner of these caches is not active anymore, so we did not want this one to be archived.

Over the next half mile or so the trail continued to climb steadily. Along the way we chatted about life, and at one point Rob said, “I’m surprised you didn’t bring Andy today.” DARN IT! I had fully intended to bring my canine hiking buddy, but had totally forgotten him that morning as I got ready. I’m a bad mama.

I was happy to stop at the location of the next cache. It took us several minutes of searching to come up with the cache. When Rob finally found it, I realized I had nearly been standing on top of it a few minutes earlier. However, I was looking on the wrong side of the fallen log that it was hiding under. When he approached from a different angle, he found it easily.

There was still a little bit of a climb ahead of us, but not so steep as we had already encountered. I was in the lead at this point, and was startled by a sound nearby in the woods. A deer huffed a warning to its companions that danger was approaching, and we could hear them dash off through the forest. A deer huff sounds like a giant sneeze. In addition to serving as a warning to other deer, it clears the nasal passages to enhance the deer’s ability to sniff the air for danger.

A short distance further brought us to the highest point of our hike. Another cache was hidden at the top of this ridge, and we began looking for it. Once again we looked for quite some time before Rob finally spotted it. All of the caches in this series are micros, which can be very hard to find in the woods. Why do we do this? For the satisfaction of having found them.

This particular cache was hidden in plain sight – hanging on the side of a small tree. Once again, Rob finally approached it from the right angle to be able to find it. In the meantime, I was about 50 feet away, going from tree to tree, searching in vain.

As Rob signed the log sheet, he asked what time it was. I looked at my watch and saw that it was 11:55. “Five minutes till lunch,” I replied. He said that his stomach agreed with that so we decided to eat here. At some point a large tree had fallen across the trail, and sections of it had been cut to clear the way. These made the perfect seats for lunch, especially when topped with the thin pads we both carry in our packs. These make hard rocks and logs a bit more comfortable, keep our fannies dry, and ward of the chill that can creep in from sitting on a cold surface.

I happily pulled my thermos from my pack, and dug into the still-warm chili inside. My mother-in-law Martha makes delicious chili, and it was just what I needed to fuel me for the rest of the hike. I also had a favorite trail snack with me – Lays White Cheddar Poppables. Rob had a yummy looking turkey, spinach and muenster sandwich.

Yum!

As we sat and ate, I enjoyed the beauty of our surroundings. The leaves remaining on the trees were a variety of colors: green, orange, yellow and red. Tall, thin trunks reached up to a brilliant blue sky.

My lunchtime view

Around me I could hear the sounds of the forest: animals skittering about looking for food, the breeze in the trees, the crunch of my Poppables between my teeth. That last sound was actually kind of annoying, but I couldn’t figure out how to eat them more quietly. An airplane passed over at low altitude, likely landing at Tri-Cities Airport. A few minutes later I heard the sound of a plane again further to the south and wondered if it was the same one circling around before landing.

I was surprised at the lack of people along the trail today. It was such a beautiful day, I would have expected more. We had only seen one other person, a disheveled man near the trail head who may have actually been camping out in the area. Before long, Rob echoed my thoughts about the absence of hikers. Great minds think alike.

After we had eaten we gathered up our belongings, repacked our packs, and headed off in search of more caches. We were now descending from the ridge at a fairly steep grade.

Halfway down the slope we stopped to search for a cache right next to the trail. The hint said “Parallel with the trail” and there was a fallen log that fit the bill. Rob stood on the trail as I checked the most likely spot – the root end. Not finding anything, I continued alongside the log searching every likely-looking spot. Eventually, Rob left the trail to help, starting at the top and working his way downhill. He finally found the cache in the first place I had looked. My mojo was definitely absent today!

We continued on, stopping when we came to a sharp bend in the trail – the location of the next cache. We spent nearly 40 minutes here, searching for the cache. The vague hint (Curve around this one) did not help at all. Rob texted our friend Lob the Huntsman (Ray) for help. He was able to give us very specific information on what we were looking for and how it was hidden, but we could find nothing matching what he described. It had just been found in March, but that cacher had written in her log, “Yeah-I found it! I don’t know how but I did.”

I had also found in the online logs a photo of a group that had found it in 2016. I was able to pinpoint within a radius of about 10 feet where they were standing for the photo, using specific trees that appeared in the background. None of this information helped us find the cache. We finally moved on, logging this one as a DNF.

The trail branched just beyond this point creating a loop. During lunch we had decided to take the right fork, log the three caches on that side of the loop, continue a short distance around to find one more, and then backtrack to the main trail so that we could follow it around the lake.

We found the next cache fairly easily. And by we, I mean Rob found it. I was just along for the stroll today. Well, I did provide the writing utensil – my favorite type of purple gel pen – and I was the driver. Other than that, Rob did most of the work. Oh, and he stole my pen at the end of the day. Jerk.

At another trail junction we turned right onto the Overlook Trail. I remembered from my hike with Jana four years earlier that we had hiked to the overlook and back.

Trail sign

I had pulled up on my phone app a cache that was just off this spur trail. When I mentioned that we had come abreast of it, Rob said he was navigating to another cache that was ahead of us on the trail. We decided to continue to it, and then get the nearer one on our way back. When we reached the overlook, the first thing I noticed was that there was very little view from here. The vegetation has grown up over the years, obscuring the view of the lake and park below. I could just catch glimpses of it through the trees, and it was certainly not photo worthy.

The second thing that I noticed was that we were still a long way from the cache – over 400 feet away – and it was straight downhill. We stopped to read some previous logs, which mentioned possibly taking the long way, taking a wrong turn, or it being a very deep valley. I felt we could continue on from where we were to reach the cache. Rob was feeling we should go back to the main trail and tackle it from there.

Once again he texted Ray, who advised that he had gone down from the overlook – way down – and that there was only one way back up. I joked that he must mean the escalator is the only way back up. Rob said that with our luck, it didn’t work on Sundays. I believe I have mentioned in the past that we both have a strange sense of humor that gets even more stupid when we are tired.

Knowing we would have to climb back up the steep slope, we headed down, and down and down. There was no trail. We simply followed our compasses in the general direction of the cache. Did I mention it was down? According to the stats logged by my Garmin watch, it was 120 feet of elevation drop in a distance of 400 feet.

We finally reached an area that leveled off somewhat. I asked for the hint and Rob said “geo-pile”. Great. Another really specific clue. NOT. He pointed down the slope a little further and said, “What about that?” We could see a grouping of rocks and a stump piled together. That looked as good as anything else, so we headed toward it.

Rob moved the stump aside. It had rotted enough that the roots no longer held it in the ground. I picked up and looked under a few rocks. Nothing. We poked around a little more, then decided to look elsewhere. I moved downhill in one direction and he moved uphill in the other. We searched everything in sight before coming back together. Rob texted Ray for more help. He replied that it was about knee to waist high. I checked a pile of downed trees that would offer that type of elevation. Rob moved back uphill a ways to check another location.

He called out more details as Ray sent them. It was a coffee can hidden in a stump. I went back to the stump Rob had set aside and checked it again. Still nothing. The location of it was exactly at the coordinates we had been provided. I used my hiking stick to dig through the leaves, sweeping back and forth to clear the forest floor in a six foot wide path downhill from the location in case it had been swept downhill by wind or water.

We both scoured the hillside for more stumps and went far off course to check a few. I kept returning to our original location, convinced that was the correct spot. Nothing else matched the description from Ray. At least the view of the lake was better from this location.

Steele Creek Lake

After searching for 40 minutes, we decided that the cache was missing and needed to be replaced. Once again I dug through my pack to find a container, log sheet and baggie. As I signed the log, put it in the baggie and then in the pill bottle, Rob prepared the area with rocks to hold it in place. We then placed the container among the rocks, and covered it with the dead stump.

We checked the time and found it was already 2:22. We decided we needed to climb the hill, find the one cache we had passed on the spur trail, and then hoof it back to the car, leaving the rest for another day.

That’s a whole lotta up. Where’s the escalator?

A whole lot of whining, grunting, and joking about the non-existent escalator finally got us to the top. We made our way to the location of the next cache. It had already been replaced once by our friend BackWoodsAng, but had not been found by the last two searchers. We looked in the area he had described in his log, and not finding the cache dug in my pack for another replacement container. Rob signed the log I provided and I bagged, and inserted the log in the container while he used his knife to dig an appropriately-sized nook in a piece of dead wood. He inserted the container in the wood, and hid it in the end of a hollow log.

We gathered our belongings and talked about our best course of action. The shorter distance to the car was the way we had come, but involved a pretty significant uphill climb and lots of other ups and downs. We could also descend to the lake, and then take longer, but mostly level, graveled trail around the lake. I voted for the shorter, but rougher route. I guess I’m a glutton for punishment.

I checked my watch to see how far we had come so far. It showed we had hiked 4.25 miles which seemed excessive considering the trail to this point was probably more like two miles. Had we really traveled an additional two miles off trail searching for the caches? It was likely a combination of that and poor satellite reception in some of the deeper valleys causing my watch to lose GPS signal. By this time we had been on the trail for four hours and 18 minutes.

We made fairly quick work of the return trip despite the rough terrain. We finally met some other hikers on our way back – two different young men hiking with their dogs. Along the way we both commented on features we didn’t remember from the hike in. One in particular was a footbridge that neither of us remembered crossing before. However, other familiar sights and the occasional red blaze painted on a tree assured us we were on the right path.

They must have built this bridge after we passed through earlier today.

After hiking for 55 minutes we reached the dam that creates the lake. Rob suggested that we cross the dam and finish the hike on the gentler trail on the other side. I was happy to do that as it would give me the opportunity to take photos of the waterfall next to the dam.

I stopped on the dam to take a photo of the colorful trees and blue sky reflecting in the water, then descended the other side. We crossed the bridge below the waterfall, pausing there long enough to take some pictures.

It was then a short hike back to the car. When we arrived I noted that we had indeed traveled less than two miles back to the car, making a total of 6.02 miles for the hike seem a bit high. However, I am logging it here as that distance, because we DID do quite a bit of wandering off-trail while searching for caches. I would estimate however, that five miles might be closer to accurate.

As I reflect on this hike, I have to laugh at myself for suggesting it as our first of the season. However, it is very typical of my adventures with Rob that a hike become much more strenuous and lengthy than we expected.

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