Section 10 left off at Charit Creek, but we were picking up at Leatherwood and skipping the 13-miles in between. I had led a beginner's backpacking trip on that section back in May and it was going to have to count for my Hiker Challenge miles because I didn't have time to do that section again this year. 15 miles until I was done! I was so excited! Couldn't believe I've walked over 400 miles this year. That might even be more miles than I've ever hiked previously.
While the sun was shining and the clouds were staying small, we couldn't believe how much it rained overnight. The river was raging and I thought for sure the trail would be flooded and impassible at some point. A mile in, we came to a part where it was indeed flooded. I pushed to turn around and come back another day because I had a feeling we would keep running into parts like this. My brother pushed me to do a little bushwhacking and climb across. I reluctantly gave in and we kept going. Seeing raging creeks and waterfalls all along our way. It was a really perfect day to hike this section- the water was flowing, but not on us. There were so many cool rock shelters and waterfalls on the trail- it is surely the most scenic part of the whole Sheltowee. Once we crossed the river at the O&W bridge, we had a massive uphill climb that was no problem for us seasoned hikers. Once at the top of the ridge, the rest of the hike was pretty easy besides the creek crossings. We weren't going to do this section after a heavy rain without getting our feet in the water. We crossed the creek at Boulder House Falls and were so glad there happened to be someone there to take our picture. We hopped in the water and posed together with the creek rushing at our ankles and the sun glimmering behind us through the "Boulder House". The trail got more scenic as we climbed to the very top of the ridge overlooking the river again. Downhill we went as the last two miles climbed down to the river and followed it to Burnt Mill Bridge. Michael had assured me that we didn't need to shuttle ourselves for this section because his local friend volunteered to pick us up. I believed him so hard, but he was playing a trick on me. Our dad drove down and made a surprise appearance! About 1 mile from the southern terminus, I turned a corner and there he was- just chillin' on a rock! He originally told me he really wanted to come down and shuttle us and hike with us a little, but he had to work. He and Michael conspired to surprise me and he switched shifts to be able to drive down to be there when I finished the trail. It meant a lot that he was there because he is my daddy and my love of hiking comes from him. We crossed the finish line, got pictures on the bridge, and drove up to the Honey Creek Overlook for sunset. It was the perfect end to a perfect day! I am so grateful for my supportive family and glad they are also very passionate about hiking. 333 miles on the Sheltowee this year! DONE!
Despite the utterly discouraging failure last weekend, I formulated a plan to get the rest of the miles done in 3 days. I was so grateful for my brother, Michael, who adventured down to Big South Fork with me driving a separate car. He was willing to shuttle ourselves to complete two disconnected sections of the Sheltowee Trace. We did a 1-night backpacking trip starting Friday morning from Yamacraw, where I left off last weekend, to Peter's Mountain. Then Saturday night, we got a room in the Big South Fork Trail Lodge and are planning on day-hiking tomorrow (Sunday) from Leatherwood Ford to the southern terminus at Burnt Mill Bridge. I know Michael loves hiking and backpacking, but he was an angel to drive all over Tennessee and Kentucky to help me complete the challenge.
We met at Peter's Mountain and took my car over to Yamacraw. It was cloudy, but dry. We had a good first mile and a half until we got to the infamous Rock Creek crossing. It is a very wide creek that can get up to your waist when the water is high enough. It was up to our knees when we crossed it. I gave Michael one of my trekking poles to help him cross the creek without falling over. It did not work. In fact, when he fell, the trekking pole slipped out of his hands and floated off down the stream. The rapid water carried it too far for me to try and go rescue it. Sorry to leave a trace, but I hope someone finds it and can use it. Good thing Michael's fall didn't result in injury, just damp pants and backpack. We sat on the banks and laughed it off as we put our dry shoes back on. Off to a good start, aren't we? Now I had three days to hike with only one pole, but could never be mad at him for losing it. I'm just glad no one was hurt and we could go on. We spent most of the day in the forest, had a short road walk and made it to the new reroute on the Kentucky trail. The trail went uphill to the Blue Heron bridge in the old abandoned mining town. It was the first time we had seen other people all day. We made it to the Catawba overlook around 4:30pm and realized we would have to hike some in the dark if we wanted to make it to the campsite at Ledbetter. We got our headlamps ready and continued on a ridge top. By the time it was completely dark, we walked through this patch of field that would have made a good campsite, but we had to keep going just a few more miles. It was so cool we heard an owl give a little who-who. Night hiking is a really fun thing especially when wildlife comes out. We finally made it to the forest road, greeted by a creepy cemetery. A few more feet and we came to the Ledbetter trailhead where there was a wide open space to camp. We set up and chowed down on like more than half of the food in our food bag. I tried a new Mountain House meal- chicken fajita bowl- so yummy!!! As we got in our sleeping bags for the night, rain started trickling down on our tent. Saturday's 12 miles were tough as the rain wouldn't let up at all and the temperatures were dropping. I was battling that hip pain again, but there weren't any options for bailing at this point. We were soaked to the bone and our rain jackets had been compromised. Even though I was limping half the time, I was still able to appreciate my magnificent surroundings. It was a humbling day. I don't know if I could have done that knowing I had to set up a tent again. Michael and I fast-walked down the forest road back to Peter's Mountain and were so looking forward to checking in at our motel room. Once we were back to our cars and driving back out to Yamacraw to get my car, I was violently shaking I was so cold. Michael's car heater wasn't enough even on full blast. I really didn't stop shaking until we checked into our room and I hopped in the hot shower... not saving any hot water for Michael... oops!
We watched the football games until dinner time and went into Whitley City to a local restaurant where they kill the cows out back. Murf's Bistro had the best hamburgers I've ever had! What an awesome way to end a crappy day. I'm looking forward to the good weather on our day hike tomorrow.
Even with all-day rains in the forecast, I somehow convinced my fiance, Mason, to come along with me on section 9. The plan was to take 3 days to complete all of section 9- Flat Rock to Peter's Mountain. Trail angel Susan Stretch shuttled us and by the time we got to Flat Rock, the rain was holding off for a while. Off we went into the wet woods with orange leaves glistening on the ground. A few miles in the rain picked up and really didn't let up until we reached camp. There were quite a few beautiful rock shelters that allowed us to take a break from the rain. 10 miles later we were soaked to the bone and my feet were wet. I was complaining in my head how much the rain sucked and how nice it would have been if it were dry. Mason was complaining out loud- at least he had new boots that were keeping his feet dry. We made it down to the river and were relieved we found a large campsite. We started to hang some clothes out to dry, but the sky soon started sprinkling on us. How frustrating. It was also frustrating we were tent-bound for the rest of the night, and it was only 6:30pm. The next morning was gorgeous! The sun was up and shining through the wet, sparkling pine trees. Glad we had a dry day ahead of us, we filtered water from the river, packed up camp, and hiked out.... taking a wrong turn at first.... we quickly backtracked and found the Sheltowee as it skirted the edge of the river. I was in good spirits for a mile or two... until I felt a sharp pain in my hip. I've had this pain before on a long hike, but it went away after a few miles. I was concerned, but expecting it to go away. Well, it didn't. After 5 miles, we reached Yamacraw and I threw the towel in. With tears coming down my face, frustrated with my failure, I texted our trail angel, Susan, and she came and picked us up within minutes. I'm so grateful to have people like her around the trail. I was also discouraged because it meant having to put in a great effort to complete the Hiker Challenge before The Gathering (Hiker Challenge award ceremony) in just 2 weeks. There was a good chance I'd have to make 2 more trips down to complete the last 50-ish miles. I had 4 days off work, including Thanksgiving Day to get the miles done. Not impossible, just a lot of shuttling. Stay tuned to find out...
Life's been busy! I skipped section 9 for now... click here to read about my epic adventure in California we took last month. For October's section, I jumped back on the band wagon and did 28 miles through the scenic Big South Fork National Recreation Area. There were about 5 of us that stayed together this section and camped in the wind and rain. It was fairly dry during the days, however. Steve dropped us off at Peter's Mountain and off we went through a section I had never hiked before. Saturday's section was fairly uneventful as Rock Creek was downhill on our right the whole time. The trail ran through the forest with some fall colors still on the leaves. It was a beautiful time to be there and was the only hike I did this year with color still on the trees, so I'm glad I went. Sunday we hiked on the ridge top to the John Muir overlook where we took a brunch break. The view was breathtaking and so peaceful as the sun hid behind the clouds creating a blue and orange watercolor-like sky. Down we climbed into the valley and made our way over to the Big South Fork River. A few more miles of challenging, rocky trail and we had made it to Charit Creek Lodge which was right on the trail. This place is really cool. I couldn't believe I could just walk up and buy a beer, sit in a rocking chair on their porch, and look out over their fields with fancy-looking gardens. I will definitely have to come back and stay in the lodge and enjoy one of their breakfasts or dinners. By this time of day, the sun was shining bright and I was lovin' it. It was pretty blissful walking the trail back up to the trailhead after 28 miles with a beer in my hand and the sun shining through the orange and yellow canopy. I hung out in the parking lot to soak up the sun, stretch, and re-hydrate. A bunch of us were from Cincinnati and we caravan'd out of the Big South Fork's confusing and remote forest roads. I drove home and looked forward to the 2 sections I had left to do in November.
13 map miles
13.12 recorded miles
Last night was terrifying! There were loud, high speed winds and I could hear trees and branches falling all around me. I didn’t know what else I could do besides stay put and take my chances. It didn’t look like any of the trees nearby were dead. I didn’t get good quality sleep but somehow got packed up in a light sleet and trudged on. Today was cold and miserable overall. My feet were wet and it was still fairly windy. My heavy pack was really discouraging me. It just felt like it was getting heavier and heavier. I had a stream crossing that I needed to either take my socks and shoes off altogether or put my frozen boots on. I ate lunch while contemplating what to do. Well putting those boots on was worse than I even expected. It was like wrapping ice around my feet! I hauled my pack over the crossing and my feet warmed up after a mile or two. They really warmed up on the climb up to the John Muir Overlook. The views were expansive. Definitely a highlight of the trip. I just wish I hadn’t been so grey. Thinking about the sub-30 degree temps forecasted, and listening to my aching back, I planned to get off the Sheltowee and take a short cut back to the trailhead where my car was. The shortcut was nice. This time, an actual easy shortcut. Flat trail and road and definitely easy to follow. I ended up back at the car and was excited to turn the heat on! This Sheltowee section kicked my ass for sure! I’ve got to get a lighter pack and train for bigger mileage days! The Hiker Challenge is going to be a challenge for sure!😓
11 map miles
13.11 recorded miles
Well today was interesting for sure. It felt like forever before I made it to Bandy Creek. I woke up too late so I made it there at lunch time. At least I got a sprite from the vending machine to go with my buffalo chicken sandwich. I got my permit and hiked back to the Trace. The next few miles were strenuous because of the mud due to horses. I even saw 2 horses go by and one was super skittish of me. I made it to the intersection of Laurel Branch Trail and decided to use Laurel Branch Trail as a short cut to my campsite back on the Sheltowee at Station Camp. Well this was the interesting part. The map said taking this trail would save 3 miles but what it didn’t say is how strenuous and overgrown it would be. There were major creek crossings. I crossed in my Gortex boots and my feet still got soaked and waterlogged. I lost the trail for about 20 minutes and the trail was rocky and ridden with downed trees. It was very hilly and I wish I had just taken the Sheltowee because it wasn’t worth saving 3 miles for. And actually, it ended up only saving 2 miles according to my gps tracker. The trail was pretty at some points, but it is still winter so the trees in this area were gray and barren. I filtered some water in the creek and made it to a nice campsite a few minutes later. I have 24 miles to go so I’m right at the halfway point. Let’s hope my boots dry some when it drops down to 34 degrees tonight! 😂
I’ve been trying to complete the whole trail this year, but I’ve lost some time and haven’t been able to do sections. I was eager to hike Big South Fork, so I planned a 4-day trip on the Trace down there. I’m playing a little leap frog, so the whole trail will not be done in order. For this section, I’ll be hiking northbound.
11.5 map miles
12.28 recorded miles
Today was gorgeous! I lucked out with the weather and didn’t even get sick on the 1.5 hour shuttle ride! Steve shuttled me from Peter’s Mountain trailhead to the Honey Creek Trailhead. I’ve got about 48 map miles planned for this 4-day getaway. Steve is such a nice guy and I can’t thank him enough for taking the time out of his day to do this long-distance shuttle. He gave me a thorough and complete rundown of the entire section. Like every water crossing and every trail crossing kind of thorough. I have been really excited for this trip because Big South Fork is super scenic and I have 4 days off!!
So Steve took my picture and off I went with the 25-30lb pack that was stuffed with cold gear and rain gear- a heavy combination. The trail wound through the bare trees and orange forest floor. I passed maybe the biggest rock shelter I’ve ever seen. It had a beautiful orange and red ceiling. There were quite some scrambles and one even required army style crawling! I forget my trekking poles and dearly missed them. I’m glad my boots are waterproof because I got them soaked with mud. My feet stayed perfectly dry. Another part of the trail just followed an old flat forest service road and that was a nice break from the rocky parts. I finally reached the Big South Fork River. It is such a pretty color and makes a nice rushing sound. I stopped for a while at a picnic table in the Leatherwood Ford area and ate lunch. Another 3 miles of hiking along the peaceful river led me to the climb to the top of the ridge. I passed by an expansive overlook called Falls Branch Overlook. The ridge top hiking was pretty nice. I crossed a creek and saw some dudes at a nice campsite. I came to another campsite and claimed it for myself. About 4 more miles to Bandy Creek where I get my permit and they have a gift shop. 🤟
Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail
This trail is 333 miles long running from Morehead, KY to Oneida, TN. These blogs are about my experiences backpacking this trail. I've hiked every section at least once and was a class of 2019 Hiker Challenge participant.