Saturday, March 17, 2018

Croom B Loop Day Hike, Withlacoochee Forest, FL, March 11, 2018

Distance: 10ish miles (B, BC and AB Loop)

Trailhead: This hike starts at the Tucker Hill Day Use area, 26414 Croom Road, Brooksville, FL. The area opens at 8:00 a.m. and there's a $2 fee to park.  B trail starts just past the kiosk - same side of the street as the fire tower (I've included a map at the end of this report). 

Croom Tract is one of three areas in the Withlacoochee State Forest. The tract has three hiking loops (A, B, and C) and connector trails. A portion of the Florida National Scenic Trail (referred to here as the Florida Trail), orange blazed, runs within the Croom tract.  The area is also widely used for horseback riding and off-road cycling.

Yesterday Carol and I decided to backpack in to the primitive campsite on B Loop, spend the night and hike out in the morning - a good chance to check out the condition of our overnight gear. 

Any water needed must be brought in to this site.

Day 1: Trek in five miles.  We got to the Tucker Hill Day Use area around 2:30, paid our parking fee and informed the camp host (host lives across the street) that we planned to spend the night at the B Loop primitive campsite.   We were disappointed to learn that a boy scout troop was also camping there; though located five miles down the trail, the site is actually less than a quarter mile from Croom Road (trail crosses the road near the Nobleton Croom intersection). We decided to keep the original plan but first drove there, spoke with the scoutmaster and dropped off our water.  The scouts were already set up - apparently you can reserve a backcountry site if you have five or more intending to stay the night.

After parking back at Tucker Hill, we headed on foot doing the five miles to the campsite counter clockwise (it was after 3:00 by then).  Skies were overcast and gray and we worried we might lose the light we needed to set up our site.  But we got there about 4:40 and were having dinner in the daylight.

Parked here. B Loop is beyond this kiosk. Keep in mind that the Croom tract has many equestrian and off road cycling trails.  Stay on the trails with the vertical blazes (not rings - those are horse trails).

Carol checking out some flora.

After about a mile we went left onto B-C Loop for 1.24 miles, then connected back up with B Loop. 

Open pine flatwoods, well marked.

There are quite a few forest road crossings on these trails, each well signed so it's easy to to orient via the map.  

Several miles beyond the B-C Loop/B Loop junction the trail turns left.  I don't have a photo of this intersection -  it's clearly a trail junction and consists of hand made signs and Florida Trail orange blazes.  Turn left here onto the Florida trail.  Don't go straight, don't take the Silver Lake Connector. It's confusing because the sign also indicates going straight will get you to Croom Rd and we knew our campsite is on the other side of Croom Road.  But if you go left you spill out right at the place on the road where we stopped the car to stash our water.

Trail crosses here. Site is on the other side (north side).

We picked a flat spot and pitched the tent and hammock. The scouts were quiet; we were far enough away but did enjoy hearing their ceremony and the applause. They quieted down early enough (but were up very early).

Fairly close to the trail.


As with most woodsy overnights, I woke up a few times to hear an owl hooting and another nocturnal creature shrieking (more mysterious than unpleasant).  I awoke as dawn was breaking (thanks to the scouts breaking camp).

A bit of the moon shining through this early morning.

After they left we checked out the main part of this large primitive campsite.

Fire pit and sitting log.

Plenty of room for camping.

Day 2: Trek out <5 miles. Packed up and back on the trail we hiked back at a decent pace - the day was warming up.  

It didn't take long to reach the A-B/B/A Loop junction.  Several handmade signs here and it can be just a bit confusing but we went left toward Tucker Hill (and our cars).  The Florida Trail continues straight, onto A Loop (see previous report).

This area of the trail has small ups and downs, something you don't see much of in Florida flatwoods. I love a trail with character!

A Loop is straight if you want to add another 1.5 miles.

We're back with the blue blazes.

Exactly 2.78 miles later we were at our last trail junction. We went left and ten minutes later the Tucker Hill fire tower was in our sites.

There's another primitive campsite here.

Yellow blazed.

The Croom Tract is one of my "go to" places because of the ups and downs (small inclines that - for me - are a big deal in Florida).  I had a chance to check out my gear for an upcoming trip, and to see what this loop was all about. I hope to do C loop sometime soon.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Alston Tract, Upper Hillsborough Preserve, Zephyrhills, Florida, February 6, 2018

Alton Tract, Zephyrhills, FL, 2/6/18

Mileage:  11.6 miles (Loop)

Trailhead: The trailhead is located at 42144 Deems Road, Zephyrhills.  My Garmin (and Google maps) got me there no problem. The trail is just beyond Mosaic Company's facility. 

Hiked with Lindsey and Daisy today. Alston Tract has dozens of geocache* locations so we figured if our hike wound up being one big dirt road walk we could still get excited over finding caches.  And that' s exactly how the day went.  

The Alston Tract's hiking trails are nothing more than a series of roads within a labyrinth of other old roads.  (For more information on this tract, visit Southwest Florida Water Management District's web page)

Things to note:
 - We were in the sun for most of the hike.
 - Parts of these trails can be under water (just puddles today).
 - The map has numbers that match small signs posted at trail junctions, making for easy navigation BUT more than once we found ourselves at a junction with many road options and had to guess the way. 
 - We had no idea of distance from one point to the next and didn't intend to do over 11 miles today, but it's easy to make up time and distance on flat road.

We arrived at the trailhead/picnic area around 9:15 and grabbed a map from the kiosk.

Parking lot/picnic area.

Daisy sprinted ahead as we passed piles of lime rock and cows grazing.

Soon we got to marker #2, which marks the beginning of the loops. Here we chose to head north to #6, then #7, up to #12 where we found several caches not far off the trail.

 Following the map up the perimeter was easy as we checked off geocache sites.

Found a cache.

Daisy leads the way!

Number 11 is very close to 7 (see map below).  

We arrived at marker #12, where we poked around for a few more geocaches, then headed for junction number 13.

We arrived at junction 13 - the top of the map - and turned right.

At #13.

The road continues and a few minutes later there's a right turn.  There's also a road straight ahead.  The sign indicates we turn right (which we did) but we were only somewhat sure that was the way. 

The road straight ahead has a fence, we assumed marking a boundary.

The rest of the hike is in open field, as seen by the photo below. Pressed for time but still confident we could complete the loop quickly, we continued our moderate pace.

Lindsey and Daisy in front of the trail we took.

We were going the right way (small arrow sign in the distance).

There are small paths and other roads along the way and it's a ways between markers 13 and 10 so we were relieved when we reached #10.

At marker #4, we were confident that we were almost done. #4 marks a three way junction and the map appears to be indicating the quickest way to #3 (and back to the parking lot) is to go left, which we did.

We went left here. 

We found a nano cache here!

Turns out that's not the quickest way, in fact going left put us on the wide loop, a much longer way.  A sign would have helped, something like "this way to parking lot."

Rather than turn around once we realized we were headed away from (and not toward) our cars, we picked up the pace and completed the long easterly loop that (eventually) took us to #3.  

A few puddles were around.

Just before marker #3 we hit a boundary and a very interesting clearing.

At marker #2 we went left, completing our clockwise circle and heading back to our cars.

Back at #2, the beginning.

The junction.
High water gauge.

We got back to the car around 2:15 and headed out.  Not a lot for cool things to see on this hike but searching for the geocaches made it fun and interesting. 

Our route.

Route shown here in yellow.

*There are several geocache apps for your phone, complete with locations and tracking. We used the information on Lindsey's phone and a handheld GPS.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Blood Mountain Loop, Georgia, December 6, 2017

Blood Mountain (4,459') via Byron Reece, Appalachian (AT) and Freeman Trails 12/6/2017

Mileage:  6.4 miles (lollipop loop)

Elevation gain: 1,600'

Trailhead: This hike begins at the Byron Reece Trail at Neels Gap.  From Ellijay, Georgia take GA-5N/GA-515 E for about 20 miles, and go right to continue on US-76 E for another 20 miles.  Turn right onto Earnest Street and then left on to Blue Ridge Street. At the traffic circle take 1st exit to Cleveland Street and travel for 12 miles.  Trailhead parking is on the right. Note: In season, the lot fills up quickly; you cannot park in undesignated areas.

At 4,459', Blood Mountain is the highest point on the Georgia portion of the Appalachian Trail and the sixth highest peak in the state.  This extremely popular day hike has fine views and a stone shelter to explore.  If the trailhead parking lot is full, parking in non-designated areas is not allowed.  You can modify your route however, as there are six other access points (see photo below).

Hiked with Rich today.  When planning our trip to northern Georgia our Florida hiking friends insisted Blood Mountain was a "no miss" so we included it in our plans, though the trailhead is a one hour drive from where we were staying.  

Byron Herbert Reece memorial plaque.

It was a chilly, very windy and cloudy 34° on a weekday and we figured it'd be just us out there but there were several cars already parked when we arrived.  We were prepared for the cold this time and the bite was not so harsh as we endured at the start of our Springer Mountain hike two days before (see previous report).

Limited parking here.

The forest service is strict about overflow parking; they don't allow it but there are other options, all longer hikes with more elevation gain. 

Other options to access Blood Mountain Wilderness.

The first part of the trail is under a canopy of rhododendrons.  The trail was wet from heavy rain the day before.

Switchbacks allow for an easy gain in elevation.  The path has switchbacks, slabs, and a modest cut that runs along the easterly side of the mountain. 


We weren't sure what we'd find in the way of trail conditions given the temps so we brought our Microspikes.   Fortunately the steady wind dried the upper portions of the trail (though we did see iced trees on peaks in the distance).

Steps are popular on this trail.

The lower area resembles a bowl with gentle up slopes opposite the mountain.

The wooded slopes opposite the trail.

In no time we were at the junction of the Reece, AT and Freeman trails.  We went right, stepping on to the AT heading south.

Trail junction. We would come up behind this sign on our return.

The wind was fierce and in the distance we could see the mist rising from neighboring peaks.  

Rocky trail cut into the mountainside.

As the trail rounded a corner the mountain blocked the wind providing relief from the cold and the roar.

The trail swings away from the summit (checked our GPS) and we're certain this portion of the trail is a reroute.  Eventually the path turns right and heads up, back toward your goal.

A few boulders.....

We reached the slabs. Here the blazes are on the rock and snow cover could make for some guesswork as to where to go.  If unsure, pick the most likely opening in the laurel and head there.

Slabs are easy to walk on when dry!

The southerly mountain scene from the top of the slabs is lovely, our first unobstructed view today!

Bare, wicked trees in the foreground, deep blues beyond.

After a bit of meander, (and wondering, "Are we there yet?") we reached the summit.  No sign, just a USGS summit marker.  It's a quiet summit today, breezy here but lonely; there is a bit of a view.  We took a few photos and continued to the stone shelter.

The shelter is quite the structure, with an interesting history.  It was built in 1937 for hikers by the CCC and went through a recent refurbishing (see related article).  It's a two room structure that used to have a usable fireplace.  We had lunch there.

Back room.

Fireplace and register.

A remarkable viewpoint just right of the shelter caught our attention.

Northerly mountains - still misty.

After lunch we continued our hike.  From here the trail drops down quickly, with one sharp left just below the trail (watch for it, especially in winter).

That tight left turn.

Several trails meet the AT: Duncan Ridge (at 2.6 miles), Slaughter Creek (at 3.05 miles), and finally the Freeman trail (at 3.5 miles). We met a group coming up the Duncan Ridge trail (they'd parked at Vogel State Park).  

By the time we reached the Freeman trail the wind was ferocious. Someone had set up camp near the trail junction, the tent fly taking abuse from the gusts.

The dark clouds, screaming wind and trees swaying frantically were spooky. It's like winter in the White Mountains when the fierce, all-consuming wind would howl and roar, reminding us that we were allowed there by the good graces of the mountains, hoping nature doesn't decide to change things up and put us in peril.

We turned left onto the Freeman trail.

The Freeman trail is narrow and leafy.

And rocky.

The blue blazed trail swings widely to the south before returning to the AT junction. It's a combination of open woods (late fall) and leafy grassy groves with some small boulders to get down.  A few ups added to our total elevation gain.   

As we made our way, temps started dropping and the dark gray clouds were becoming a bummer.  There'd be no sun today!  

Eventually we returned to the junction of the AT. We went straight across to the Byron Reece trail.

Apparently a misspell.

Getting back to the car was quick. We jumped in and warmed up.

There were about a dozen people on the trail today. (At the parking lot two women were headed toward their car after a week of backpacking. They decided to cut their trip short when the temps dropped.)