Woke up to a bright, but cool, morning after a fitful night's sleep. First nights are always hard for me and this was no different. I had a headache and just never felt relaxed (maybe some of the blame can be lain at my "cold"). However, in comparison to Damian's night mine was bliss.
We had expected the low temperature to drop into the mid 50*F range. It dropped into the mid 40*F range instead. Damian was just using his Rab Survival Zone bivvy with a z-rest and silk liner plus pretty basic clothing to sleep. It did not work out for him. He found that everywhere the fabric touched him his body got cold. While his trunk was adequately protected by his silk top and Paramo Mountain shirt his legs got exceedingly cold. Even the purchase of a baby blanket at a Walmart (k-mart?) did not really help (yes, he got into his car and went shopping at 02:00 or so.)
When we crawled out of our respective shelters just before 07:00 (Damian a good 15 minutes before myself) the temperature had risen into the mid 50*F realm. We struck must of the camp and went to a local restaurant for breakfast. We returned to the camp and found Beverly waiting for us. We cleaned the place up and followed her to where we were going to drop the car off: near mile marker 5 on the Knobstone Trail (KT) by Big Round Knob. We then piled into Bev's car for the short journey to mile marker 17 and the start of our 11 mile hike back to Big Round Top. Mark was going to meet us there with all sorts of food and drinks (including alcohol) that he has his (and Bev's) children would bring in. Heartfelt thanks.
Damian, Beverly, and I started hiking around 09:30. The Knobstone is Indiana's longest trail measuring 69 miles. It travels through southern Indiana's hill country. The hills, or knobs, probably range in heights from a couple hundred feet to 700 feet. The trail climbs and descends these hills, but they aren't rolling hills and dales nor are they mountainous. The terrain is generally easy enough with occasional steep sections thrown in (and they would be less steep if switchbacks were more heavily employed). While the trail is tougher than Waterloo-Pinckney it is easier than what you would usually find in places like Shenandoah National Park (and certainly the bulk of the Appalachian Trail).
We were going to be treated to pretty fine weather. The temperature steadily rose into the upper 70s and maybe touched 80*F. It was not terribly humid and we did get a gentle breeze now and then. A fine spring day. Clearly, it had rained a reasonable amount of late since we had to cross many small streams so perhaps this lovely sunny day is an extra bonus.
The trail is easy to follow with fairly frequent white blazes marking the path. Even if the blazes were not present the trail would be easy to follow since it is fairly clear what is and is not trail. It has enough people and animal traffic that the tread way is well defined. Since the terrain is hilly instead of mountainous the trail does not have rocks strewn about and that is a blessing. But, it winds around the hills enough that my pace is still only 1.7-1.8 MPH. Maybe I could go a little faster if I was in better overall shape, but I am sure my vision would still slow me down.
Damian, Beverly, and I started at mile marker 17 and I think the morning hiking was quite enjoyable. Damian and Bev were generally a few minutes ahead of me and were able to spend the time chatting. I, as I usually do, hiked with just my thoughts. Sometimes one or the other dropped back and we could chat but that never lasted for very long.
There are some rather steep hills sprinkled along the path. One of them is at Pickly Knob and another can be found at mile marker 11 by 160 (local highway). You go down a steep hill to reach the road and are presented with a lengthy steep ascent right away. At this ascent we decided to break for lunch. It was probably around 13:00. I must say the pepperoni sticks stay with you for a while and though I like bagel and cheese sandwiches they do make you thirsty. I took some time to rest my legs in a position above my heart so the muscles could really relax and the circulation could try and get lactic acids and such out (I did have a small cramp or knot). Doing that and taking the time to do some stretching , like the basic yoga sun-salute, is really quite helpful. Our lunch break, turned into a fairly lengthy rest where we could chat and relax, but we were back on the trail a little after 14:00 and I figured we would reach Round Knob around 18:00. I'm sure Damian and maybe Beverly wanted to get there earlier so they could see more of the air show that was to precede the Thunder fireworks, but that just was not in the cards. I am sure I slowed the party down though I'd like to think I was not a big drag on the pace.
This section of the KT, and maybe the majority of it, is in forest. You do not break into farm land or other grassy plains. We spent our time either climbing and descending hills or on the ridges at the tops of the knobs. But, it always felt like we were getting somewhere so I can't really call any of what we were traversing Pointless Ups and Downs.
By midday the temperature had crested around 80*F but it settled back into the low 70s as the day wore on. We saw very few people as we passed each mile marker heading towards Mark and all the goodies he and his children had carried a little over a mile to Round Knob. Near the end of our day, perhaps 1.5 miles from our goal, we met a group of hikers who were camped out on the KT (just after a grueling steep climb which really took it out of me). They had started at the same place we did and were going to go to the southern terminus of the KT at Deam Lake the following day. By the time I reached them Damian and Bev had a lively conversation going which I took a modest part in upon my arrival (some 6-8 minutes after them).
By now it was around 17:00 and we returned to the trail shortly thereafter knowing that we were nearly done. Damian and Bev pulled ahead and I plodded along, feeling hot and tired but generally pleased with my pace considering my lack of training, I knew that Round Knob was between mile markers 6 and 5 so I was not worried I would miss it. But, true to form I did miss the easier walk up to the top of the knob. I walked around it and then started heading down the knob. I came to a trail intersection and someone, Mark or Damian, called down from on high. My choice: go back up the curve of the knob to the easier climb to its summit which would require a good deal more walking or climbing straight up the side of the knob to the top on the kind-of-sort-of trail that was there. I choose the latter shorter though much steeper route. It took me many minutes to attain the summit of Round Knob I arrived around 18:15: the day was done.
The day did take a lot out of me. I was tired and ready to relax for the evening. After lounging around for a bit I got the tent set up and then joined everyone else around what would become our camp fire to chat and knosh on crackers and cheese while sipping ice cold Coke. Even though we had not arrived in mid-afternoon I still think everyone had a good time and I wonder how much of the air show my companions could have seen from the vantage point of Round Knob in any case. As it grew dark fire wood was gathered for an evening camp fire and we shared ham and cheese sandwiches (with nicely flattened, nee crushed, bread courtesy one of the "pack train" who had sat on her pack... I'm not complaining bread always gets squished on the trail!). We also were able to enjoy the variety of alcoholic drinks that had been brought (we did not get to them all or even get very far into what we had). I must say that I think the hot chocolate and baileys went down the best and that Jack Danials and Coke is alright but I still prefer Jack alone on the rocks.
The fireworks began around 21:30 and though I saw one now and then for me it was really a bust. I was happy to enjoy the company of my fellow travelers though. I think they enjoyed the show they were able to see and if Bev and Mark were disappointed it is probably mostly because they have seen and felt the full force of this annual Kentucky Derby season event before.
The evening had begun to cool off into the upper 50s and we retired to our tents around 22:30. I wrote some of this journal then but put it down for the night around 23:00 The nearly full moon and camp fire glow made the evening bright but I found it pretty easy to fall asleep after a long and full day. I awoke a couple times during the night but overall I slept much better than I had the previous evening. I do think I may get a pillow like the one Mark has. It would be more comfortable than my fleece pillow case which I stuff with clothing. More pillow like. It probably only weighs a couple ounces.
Damian slept much better this time than he did the night before. He was using his tarp and the Macpac Overture bag besides his basic clothing he had put on his Frogg Toggs and I'm sure that made a big difference even though the temperature did manage to dip into the mid 40s.
Beverly was the first up this morning. Damian, after his cool night of sleep was next. I woke up round 07:00 but did not emerge from the tent for fifteen or so minutes though I did respond to a comment that was made about my VB shirt. Mark was the last one up. I think we all had good rests and we started breaking camp and having simple breakfasts with plenty of coffee (provided by Mark et. al. again... thanks...). Michael, Mark and Bev's son, and two friends of his arrived to help carry the extra stuff back to the trailhead around 09:00 (08:00 Indiana time) and we hit the trail shortly thereafter. The walk out to the car is a bit more than a mile and for once I was the person who made the right turn instead of the one losing the trail and needing a little help finding it again. I need to toot my horn when I can. It doesn't happen often. The hike out was easy enough with the exception of the final hill that just kept climbing up and up towards the road that lead to the Jackson trailhead. This was where the trail mixup occurred. But, even with the mix up I think I reached the parking lot around 10:20. Damian and Michael drove back to the trail to check on Mark who was making slow steady progress himself, just not quickly enough for some people (it is hard to walk with someone whose hiking pace is vastly different, usually slower, than your own). But, the entire group was re-assembled by 10:35 or so. Beverly, Damian , and I headed our own way while everyone else headed back to Mark and Bev's home around 10:45.
Our intrepid trio had decided to go to Clifty Falls State Park to do some hiking near the many streams and waterfalls in this park. We arrived around noon and made our plans for the day's hiking. Those plans were shattered when we found a bunch of DNR vehicles parked in all the spots at Huffman Falls. Clearly a change of plans was needed and we came up with one. Off to Hickory Grove to drop off one car and then we drove to Tunnel Falls to start our trek.
Tunnel Falls is not a huge waterfall by any stretch of the imagination. It is pleasing enough. What gives these falls their name is the tunnel, complete with dripping water and a tunnel length puddle of water, that runs through a rock formation that you can walk through if you wish. There is also a trail that goes around (and above?) the rock if you would rather not brave the tunnel. Beverly chose the latter route while Damian and I entered the modestly dark, certainly total darkness was never achieved, tunnel. I picked my way along trying to avoid the deepest water and yet keep enjoying the cool rush of air, the sound of water, and the darkness that was present. Damnian moved ahead and talked with another day hiker as they zipped through the tunnel to the other end. In fact, the trail at the far end of the tunnel was harder to negotiate that trail in the tunnel had been. But, I joined everyone else a couple minutes later and learned that the fellow Damian had been chatting with also lived in Fort Wayne, IN. so was a "neighbor" to him. We then moved on toward Huffman Falls where we decided we would have lunch.
I screwed up at this point. The trail sign-age threw me and I ended up well behind my companions. I was not sure where Huffman Falls were and I chose a route that I thought may be right but I changed my mind deciding it led to the road and turned around. I heard Damian call out to me and since I thought he was in front of me I acknowledged the hail and kept going back towards the trail I felt was the right one to take. He yelled something else to me but I did not hear him and so I continued down the trail and soon reached Huffman Creek, a lovely creek with plenty of water running through it, and I sat down to have lunch. A few minutes later Damian and Beverly joined me and I learned that Huffman Falls was at the top of the trail to the road that I had turned my back on and that what Damian had yelled to me was, "wrong way!"
We changed our plans again and decided to walk along Trail 2 which follows a creek bed to Trail 5 which would take us up to Hickory Grove and Bev's car. Trail 2 spends much of its time actually on the creek bed of Clifty Creek. If the water were high the trail would be underwater. Instead it meanders along water smoothed, but still time consuming for me, rocks as it crosses from creek shore to shore numerous times as it climbs towards Clifty Falls. At times the trail climbs on to the bank above the creek and you walk through many water loving low lying plants, trees, and red buds that are clearly thriving by the creek. The scenery is quite a bit different from what we saw when walking along the tops of the cliffs in the park near Tunnel and Huffman Falls.
A couple times I was somewhat unsure where to go and if Damian or Bev hadn't called out my progress would have been quite a bit slower as I tried to figure out which way to go. This is not a trail I would pick to do by myself. But, in a group, even one that spreads out like ours, this trail affords a wholly different view of the park that I think is worth the wet boots that I acquired. On one of the final creek crossings and I slipped into a deep water hole and had to plant the second foot in the same hole to keep my balance.
We met many more people day hiking today than we had on the KT. Couples, families, small groups, all out for a good time. We met one person though who was having a bit of difficultly finding her way around. I gave her my map and Damian and Beverly tried to lend her aid but I'm not sure she wanted to hear what they had to say. Oh well. After parting company with that one person we climbed up from Cliffy Creek, on Trail 5, to the road and Hickory Grove and Bev's car.
We drove to the park's namesake: Cliffy Falls. You cannot get very close to these falls since the main path to them is currently under repair and therefore closed. But, we could see them stair stepping there way down some 80 feet to Cliffy Creek below. After enjoying the view and chatting with a couple who caught Beverly's eye since he has the same backpack as Mark we piled back into the car for the return journey to Tunnel Falls to retrieve Damian's car and prepare to leave the park and go our separate ways: Damian and I to his home and Beverly back to her home and family.
I want to again thank the Shepherds for all the help they gave in making this trip even more fun. Mark and his "pack train" brought an awful lot of stuff to Round Knob for everyone to share (to bad more people were not there) , both Beverly and Mark are excellent company, and Beverly had good ideas about things to see in Cliffy Falls State Park. I also want to thank Damian for being a vital link in making it even possible for me to come on this trip. If he hadn't been willing to drive out of his way to get me in Albion, Michigan and then to the Waterloo, Indiana Amtrak station early this morning (April 17) then this trip would not have been possible for me. Thank you everyone! I hope you all enjoyed my company too.