Trail Report: Rockpile Mountain Wilderness

This was my second time backpacking at Rockpile Mountain Wilderness.  Previously, I had simply hiked more or less straight to the peak of the eponymous mountain, camped there overnight, and then hiked out the next morning.  This time, I had ambitious plans to explore the whole trail system.

I was thwarted.  For one thing, I was in much worse physical condition than I thought.  Looking back, I realize that I have done very little hiking this winter, or even last fall.  On top of that, I had a heavy pack filled with a heavier 4-season tent, a warmer sleeping bag, and extra clothing layers.  The miles took a toll on my body, and I was in pain.  The other problem is that the trails are less of a system and more of a smattering.  I have personally verified that some of the trails on the map simply do not exist anymore.  Other trails are supposed to connect, but I was unable to follow them, and I ended up cutting cross country.  I wasted a good amount of time and energy searching for lost trails and backtracking.  In the end, I cut my plan short, and even then the last couple of miles back to my car were grueling.

I very much enjoy finding beautiful rock formations and waterfalls.  It is even more amazing when you discover them on your own because no one thought to mention them.  I had previously thought that the most interesting thing in the Wilderness Area was the man-made circle of rocks near the peak of Rockpile Mountain.  However, getting off the trail this weekend, I discovered shut-ins in the stream known as Cave Branch and some really spectacular rock formations.

I hiked at least 17 miles, though a few miles were without a pack.  I drank almost 4 liters of liquid.

This was my first time backpacking with my Eureka Alpenlite 2XT.  It is rather heavy for backpacking, but it is a really great 4-season tent.  I enjoyed sleeping in it more than I ever have.  It’s too bad there was no snow or high winds to justify hauling it.  I was also testing for the first time my Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm Max air mattress and my Marmot Col -20° sleeping bag.  The air mattress worked great.  The sleeping bag was way overkill for the temperature (a low of 35°), so venting left me uncomfortably hot in some places and uncomfortably cold in others.  However, the performance was excellent, and I look forward to trying it out on colder nights.

I always eat fewer meals than I expect to.  I planned for lunch and dinner on Saturday, and then breakfast and lunch on Sunday.  Plus snacks.  However, hiking tends to curb my hunger.  I ended up eating a late lunch on Saturday, and instead of dinner, I ate a snack in my tent (rice krispie treats made the night before!).  Instead of the breakfast I’d planned for the next morning, I drank a protein shake I had thrown in at the last minute.  (I love Kellogg’s Special K Rich Chocolate Protein Shakes, but they are no good warm.  However, I realized that if the temperature got down to near freezing, they would be perfect if I simply left them out.  And they were!)  I ate trail mix a couple of times in the late morning and early afternoon, and then I had another late lunch.  I could have saved a few pounds by not bringing two canned meals and the stove.  I didn’t touch the four energy bars or two energy gels I brought.  I’d also brought a bag of no-shell pistachios and a bag of Moon Cheese, which I snacked on with my Sunday lunch, but didn’t really need.

I’ve decided that my Merrell Moab 2 GTX shoes suck.  I previously had some Merrell Reflex II Low Hiker shoes, which I loved.  I used them for about five years until the tread started breaking apart.  I figured anything by Merrell would be good, and the Moab is their most popular line, so I ordered a pair of Moab 2 GTX shoes.  However, I’m not in love with them.  I’ve never gotten them to fit well, and they don’t do anything special for my feet.  No matter what, they chafe at the back of my foot and cause blisters.  Now when I look, I see many negative reviews, suggesting that Merrell shoes aren’t what they once were, either in terms of fit or durability.  I’m going to have to find something else.

The power bank I brought to charge my phone only brought it up to 89% and the leveled off there.  The power bank claimed to be still mostly full, so it wasn’t a matter of capacity.  It was some other problem.  I need to do some testing.  The temperature may have been a factor.  The phone is young and gets good battery life, so I would have survived in any case, but I’d really like to understand what happened.  Update: The power bank works fine at home.  I’m certain the problem was the cold temperature.  In the future, I’ll have to charge my phone inside my sleeping bag when it’s cold.

The road leading to the trailhead is awful.  My car couldn’t handle it, so I had to park a steep mile away this time.  I really need to fix my truck.

I saw a feral piglet.  It was just about the size of a football, and it was brown with black longitudinal stripes.  It was running right down the trail toward me, and if I had realized sooner what it was, I could have shot it.  Or stomped on it.  I thought it was a dog coming down the trail.  A fat chihuahua.  When it got about ten feet away, I realized what it was.  It passed close by and then veered away from the trail, and I stood there like an idiot as it ran out of sight.  Before that, I had just been remarking to myself how much the area had recovered from hog damage from the last time I had been there.  Later on, I did find quite a bit of hog sign.

I also saw a permanent hunting stand, which is illegal in the National Forest and doubly so in a Wilderness Area.  I’ve sent an email off to report it, complete with GPS coordinates and photos.

Next time I visit, I want to explore the rest of the trails, and I want to find the source of Cave Branch (to see if it is a cave, of course).

Lessons learned:

  • Get some hikes in before committing to miles of backpacking.  Don’t start the season with a heavy pack unless I’ve been backpacking through the winter.
  • Don’t pack a 4-season tent that weighs 9 pounds unless I have reason to suspect snow or high winds.
  • Get some sleeping bags with ratings in between 30° and -20°.
  • A pint bag of trail mix is excessive if I also bring a whole gaggle of other snacks.  Be prepared, but also be reasonable.
  • Get off the ridges once in a while, because some of the most interesting sights are in the hollows.
  • Test my technology before relying on it.