December 21, 2019

Bay’s Mountain Park

  • 6.02 miles
  • 3:14 duration
  • 796 foot elevation gain
  • 2 geocaches found (1 FTF – First to Find)

When discussing where we would hike this week, LakeBum (Rob) and I knew that BackWoodsAng had just hidden a new geocache at Bay’s Mountain. It had not yet published on Friday evening, but we decided we would make that our goal, hoping it would publish by the time we got there on Saturday. We knew the general area based on a video Ang had shared, and hoped that we would be able to find it even if we did not have the coordinates.

I awoke at 7:30 am Saturday to the sound of a notification on my phone of a new cache. It was the one we were planning to search for, so all was in place for our hike.

We met in the parking lot at Bay’s Mountain at 9:00 am. I had Andy on his leash, Signal in his favorite spot in the side pocket of my pack, and my beautiful cedar hiking stick in hand.

It was another beautiful December day. The temperature was 36° but there was no wind which made hiking comfortable. The skies were overcast, but there was no precipitation in the forecast.

We set off down the walkway past the Nature Center and started across the dam. Andy was very eager to get on the trail, pulling at his leash. I obliged him with a short run across the first half of the dam. Well, it wasn’t much of a run on my part as I am very slow, but it was the best I could do.

Once Rob caught up we continued the rest of the way across the dam at a fast walk, and then followed LakeSide Trail. We were following the contour of the reservoir. As we hiked next to a narrow cove, we could see that there was a layer of ice covering the water.

We reached the floating bridge that carries the trail across the cove, and I asked Rob if he remembered another hike we once did here on a cold, winter day. During the hike, our steps across the bridge made the ice “sing” as the water beneath it moved.

We could hear some of that beautiful sound today, and used our body weight to bounce the bridge, hoping to make it sound more loudly.

Icy cove

We stopped on the bridge and Rob used his hiking stick to spear the ice, testing it’s strength and depth. He was not able to crack it so it must have been fairly thick here. I enjoyed looking at the interesting patterns it had made while freezing. There was one lonely chunk of ice that stuck up from the rest and I wondered what forces caused it to be in that position.

Andy grew impatient. He was not the least bit interesting in looking, banging on, or listening to the ice. He wanted to hike.

We finally finished crossing the bridge and continued following the Lakeside Trail. In his cache description, Ang had recommended reaching the cache via Front Hollow. However, there was a cache along Back Hollow Trail that I still needed to log, so we had decided to take that route instead.

On the far side of the lake we took a left onto Sweet Gum, following it for a very short distance until it met Lake Road. We turned left on Lake Road and hiked along it for about .6 mile. It is a dirt and gravel track, wide enough to drive on, but restricted to official vehicles only. It is mostly level, but begins a gradual climb as you approach Feagins Gap.

A trio of young, fit mountain-bikers passed us as we hiked. One called out that they would be turning around at Feagins Gap, so we kept an eye out for them, especially as we went around a sharp curve. We wanted to be well out of their way because they would be speeding downhill coming back.

At Feagins Gap is an intersection of several trails. The bikers had stopped here to take a rest. We continued forward without stopping and descended into Back Hollow. At this point, the Back Hollow Trail follows an old road bed, but it is a little rougher than Lake Road.

We had followed Back Hollow Road only .10 or so when we detoured to the left down a side path. We passed the collapsed remains of a barn, and continued downhill to an old smokehouse. I had found a cache here in the past, but it was archived a few years ago. Last New Year’s Eve, Ang had hidden a new cache nearby. Rob was First to Find that cache on January 5, but I had not had the opportunity to hike this side of the park since then.

Smokehouse in Back Hollow

This is a challenge cache. In order to log a challenge cache you must meet the criteria set forth by the hider. In this case, You must have found at least five caches that have the “abandoned structure” attribute. I have found 23 caches that contain that attribute.

Rob pointed in the general direction of the cache and told me he was walking in the opposite direction to “talk to a tree.” Once he was out of sight I did the same, and then looked around for the cache. I found it easily. It was a big, metal ammo can. On the outside Ang had stenciled the icon for abandoned structures and his name. On the inside of the lid he had taped a trail map of Bays Mountain.

I found it, Mom!
I love to find an ammo can in the woods.

I signed the log, took a few photos, and replaced everything as I had found it. Once I rejoined Rob on the path we rested a few minutes and chatted about our choices. He had mentioned that it may be rough continuing along the side path because when he was last here there was a lot of debris and fallen trees blocking it. We could bushwhack up to the road, or we could backtrack up the side trail to the road and then back down it. We decided to take our chances along the trail we were on. As we were talking we saw a lone hiker pass us on the road above. “I hope he isn’t a geocacher,” said Rob. We didn’t want him to beat us to the First to Find.

We also took this opportunity to shed a layer since we had warmed up after hiking this far. I finished the hike in a long sleeve shirt and Rob in short sleeves. The temperature was still cool – in the low 40s – but we were plenty warm since we were exerting energy.

We began hiking along the lower path, and had gone a few hundred yards when Rob suddenly realized his hands were empty. “I left my stick back there!” he exclaimed. He quickly turned and went back to get it while Andy and I waited. While he was out of sight around the bend, Andy whimpered, looking in the direction he had gone. He was worried about our hiking buddy going off by himself.

Where did he go, and why didn’t we go, too?

Finally, Rob reappeared around the bend and Andy’s tail began wagging.

He came back!

Someone had cleared the trail since Rob’s last visit here, so we were easily able to make it back to the junction with Back Hollow Road. Within minutes we were passing the cabin that sits at the primitive camp site. The hiker we had seen passing us a few minutes earlier was sitting on the porch and we called out a greeting to him as we passed.

Just past the cabin, the road becomes much rougher and is the route for a flowing stream. The map marks a spring at this site. Rob stepped off the trail to look for the beginning of the spring. He told me that as a teen he remembered there being a metal pipe coming out of the hillside where he would fill his canteen with fresh spring water.

He also told me about an adventure he had on a previous hike, as he looked for that spring. He was hiking alone and had stepped off the trail into the tall grass to search. He said that he was standing about where he was standing now, and as he looked around he heard a noise that sounded like raindrops falling on the grass. It wasn’t raining, so he looked at the ground and saw that all around his feet were garter snakes writhing about. He knew there were harmless, but suddenly got the heebie-jeebies seeing so many of them and beat it back to the path.

There were no snakes in sight today, so he continued following the water until he could see where it was coming out of the hillside. He did not see the pipe, but since it had been about 25 years since he was here as a teen, that was not surprising. Of course, that gave me pause to think he was a teen 25 years ago. I was already in my 30s by then.

The other hiker had continued on as we looked for the spring. I told Rob it would be his fault this time if that guy beat us to the cache.

We continued along the trail, which now becomes a narrow footpath. Soon we were passing Bill Tipton’s cabin. Rob talked about the cache he had hidden there and how heavy the receptacle was that he had hidden it in. He had carried it in his backpack all the way out here, and was very glad to finally arrive and get it out of his pack. Since I had logged that cache over two years ago and have visited a couple of times since, we continued on.

Past the cabin is a barn, then a short footbridge across the creek. Then we were on Cross Ridges Trail. For the next half mile we steadily climbed 170 feet in elevation. Andy and I have hiked this trail with Rob before, along with a couple of other friends. Andy and I lagged far behind on that previous hike up this trail, partly because he chose the beginning of the trail as a spot to stop and take a very long potty break. Once we got going again, he kept slowing down and walking a step behind me with his tail down rather than leading the way as he usually does. I’m not sure what had him spooked that day, but he was not happy with that trail.

Today he led the way with me close behind and Rob following us. As we climbed, Rob and I talked about the fact that we were both feeling stronger than we have this hiking season. We have finally gotten back into trail condition.

At the top of Cross Ridges is the intersection with Cherry Knobs Trail. A couple of weeks ago we had come down the crazy-steep Cherry Knobs to this point, and then followed Cross Ridges down to Front Hollow.

Today, this was the point where we would leave the trail in search of Ang’s new cache. We started a steep climb up to a ridge, and then followed it toward the cache. We had expected a tough climb, but agreed that it was not as bad as Cherry Knobs Trail!

Rob was about 30 feet ahead of Andy and me when we ran into a patch of thorns. I somehow got myself thoroughly entangled in them and couldn’t move. I let Andy off-leash so that he could free himself, and then worked to extract my own legs. The thorny vines had hobbled me in a figure eight. I used my hiking stick to push some away from my legs, and finally managed to pull myself loose.

How do I get myself into such messes?

By this time, Rob had reached the cache, taken a picture, and sent it off to our nCo friends via Facebook Messenger. He was completely oblivious to my struggles.

Found it!

I joined him next to the cache, a nice wooden birdhouse attached to an old tree. Like a tree we had seen the week before, this one had barbed wire going right through the center of it. Nature has a way of reclaiming what man leaves behind.

Barbed wire swallowed by the tree.

Inside the cache was a gift marked especially for me.

For me?!

Once I opened it, I found this napkin:

Ang told me later that he had come across it a few years ago. He said, “I texted you the question, and you got it right. Didn’t know if you remembered that.” I replied, “Lol. Pretty sure I googled it.”

He had also left two FTF prizes, so Rob and I each were able to take home an inactivated travel bug. After signing the log, taking pictures, and shooting some video, we headed back down the ridge toward the trail. But first, I handed Rob his hiking stick that he was about to leave leaning against the tree. I am well known for doing such things, so it was nice to be the responsible one for a change.

I still had Andy off leash, and he ran far ahead of us as we headed downhill. Too far. Thankfully, he quickly responded to Rob’s stern command to come back, and I put him back on the leash. When I first started taking him hiking, he always stayed very close whenever he was off leash. He has gotten much bolder, so I have to be very careful with him now.

Back on the trail, we followed Cross Ridges down to Front Hollow. At the trail junction we could see that the bunch of mylar balloons we had seen on our last visit were still snagged in a tree. We bushwhacked over to them so that we could CITO (cache in, trash out).

Rob sent this photo to a friend as a birthday greeting.

After puncturing them with his knife, Rob stuffed the whole mess in the cargo pocket of his pants. Kara calls these his “purse pants” since he can carry so much in them.

Rob is having a party in his purse pants.

We then hiked the half mile up Front Hollow Road to Ledbetter Gap, and stopped there to take a break. It was about 10 till noon and we considered eating lunch here, but there was no good place to sit.

From here it is an easy hike of a little over a mile back to parking. We heard the noon whistle at Eastman as we walked by the lake and I commented that it was a just about this point of our last hike here that we heard it.

Along Lakeside Trail we saw evidence of recent work by the park’s beaver population.

I learned something interesting from Rob about beavers. He told me that they will sometimes go to all the trouble of felling a tree, and then lose interest in it. I think that is because some guy beaver goes and starts gnawing on a tree without getting approval from his mate, and then she tells him it isn’t good enough for their house.

When we reached the dam, Andy wanted to run across again. I informed him that Mom was not feeling quite as energetic as she had this morning. He had to be content with a stroll instead.

By 12:20 we were back at the Nature Center. Andy and I waited outside while Rob went in to renew his membership, and then Rob stayed with Andy when I went in to renew mine. While there I got to chat with our friend Ranger Rhonda. She said to make sure we let her know the next time we go paddling so she and her sister can join us again. They had a great time with us on the Watauga earlier this year.

Once again, we sat at the picnic tables near the Nature Center to eat lunch before heading home. We seem to have finished many of our hikes lately before it is time to eat lunch. But, I foresee some longer hikes in our future now that we are back in condition.

Andy is more interested in all the sights and sounds than his lunch.

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