A February Spring walk in the woods

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A February Spring walk in the woods

Postby jyancey » Mon Feb 22, 2016 3:59 pm

When the weather forecast called for record warm temps for last weekend I just knew I had to get out and take advantage of it. I have been intrigued by the Brushy Creek loop in the Roger Pryor backcountry of the Pioneer Forest for some time. That is where I headed on Saturday, February 20.

I got to the Himont trailhead (where a 2.3 mile side trail connects to the Blair Creek Section of the OT) about 1:00 or so, checked my gear and headed down the trail. It is an easy grade following a small drainage to the west. Eventually the creek becomes a virtual gorge, cutting through some massive sandstone layers. The trail itself has been described in these forums in previous posts, so I won't go into great detail here. Suffice it to say, the trail mostly follows an old tramway bed that was used to haul pine logs out of the Brushy Creek area. Thus, it is easy walking; wide, little brush, easy grade and mostly good tread. The gorge is comprised of sandstone cliffs with pickup-truck to dump-truck sized boulders jumbled in the bottom. There are angular blocks and slabs, some with ripple marks, all over the place. It's hard to imagine this area being a beach along a shallow sea! I'll bet there were a lot fewer trees (i.e. none!) and even fewer backpackers (also none!) way back then. Even so, I had the place all to myself, as this is, I think, one of the "hidden jewels" of Missouri. My impression is that very few people know it is here, and it is seldom visited by hikers and backpackers. I'm sure a number of local hunters and ATV riders know it well, but near the end of February all seasons are closed. The sandstone gives rise to stands of Missouri's native pine, the shortleaf. They look, smell and sound wonderful!

The trail intersects a loop at about 1.5 miles in. I elected to follow the loop clockwise, going over several ridges and ending up in Satterfield Hollow, then heading downstream to Brushy Creek and eventually camping at the mouth of Brushy Creek on the banks of the Current River. After leaving the gorge-like creek I ascended a long ridge up to its crest. There aren't really any spectacular views, but as the landscape changes from sandstone to limestone/dolomite/chert, the pines become mixed with oaks. With the west and south facing slopes, warm air temps and plenty of sunshine, I became aware of one of the sweetest perfumes I know; sun-warmed oak leaves and fragrant pine needles! The trail is quite rugged as it traverses the ridges. In places the tread is virtually non-existent due to heavy leaf cover and little traffic. The route is well blazed, however, and it is fairly easy to follow the blue plastic blazes through the woods. I eventually made it down to Satterfield Hollow, where the trail follows the creek. I lost the trail at one creek crossing, but after a little thrashing around relocated it. I also took a spill after stepping on some wet leaves, resulting in a sore butt and a bruised ego. This would NOT be a good place to be seriously hurt, especially solo. I was a little more cautious after that.

I followed the trail to where I thought I should be able to follow an old road down to my campsite at the mouth of Brushy Creek. I either lost the marked trail or got confused (the middle leg of the loop trail intersects the outer loop legs somewhere around there) but I eventually found the road I was looking for. It was getting dark, and I had kept my boots dry all day, but when I crossed Brushy Creek the second time (again, I'm not sure how I managed to do that) I fell again, getting my boots and socks soaked. I finally stumbled into camp just at twilight. I have camped at this spot before, once on a backpack trip from Powder Mill to Round Spring, and once on a float trip. I was amazed at the effects the flood of December 2015 had on the place! A tree I had always used as a landmark was gone, and the banks of the river were heavily eroded and still precarious-looking. The entire site was covered with a layer of sand, and in the woods all the leaves and ground cover had been swept away. There was flood debris in tree branches at least eight feet over my head, well back from the river. Since rain was predicted, I set up my Gatewood Cape shelter and made some grub. After dinner I sat on the banks above the river and watched the clouds play peek-a-boo with the nearly full moon. I had had a rather full day, so I hit the sack pretty early and slept like the proverbial log.

The next morning I awoke to light rain. I had to take a call from nature, but after I got back in my sleeping bag I just lay there and listened to the pitter patter on the nylon a few inches above my face. What a pleasant feeling; all warm and snugged in my nice dry bag and shelter and listening to the gentle rain whispering all around me. The rain didn't last long, so I got up, made a cup of tea, had some oatmeal cookies for breakfast, packed up and hit the trail again. Crossing the creek, again trying to keep my feet dry, I fell again, whacking my knee on some rocks. At that point I decided I would rather have wet socks than broken bones, so I resolved to just ford the creek as needed. I still wasn't quite sure where the actual trail was, but I knew it followed Brushy Creek, so I just started walking upstream. I found an old roadway, and lo! eventually saw a trail marker. On the trail again! The trail actually is located on the roadbed, and it is some easy-peasy walking. Nice and wide, almost flat grade, very pleasant, albeit with several stream crossings. I eventually came upon an established campsite with a huge fire ring made of large sandstone blocks. I stopped there, spread my shelter and sleeping bag out in the sun and had a nice leisurely lunch. After repacking and tidying up, I continued up the creek to the point the trail intersects the north end of the middle leg. The main loop trail then ascends to the top of a ridge with a bunch of switchbacks and steep climbing. On the steep west-facing slopes the woods are very open, with dry cherty soils. Once on top, the trail traverses the ridge, then descends back down to the creek level. I stopped at that crossing and took another break, topping off my water bottles and drying out my socks (and taking an impromptu siesta in the nice warm sun!) After that creek crossing the trail ascends a gentle slope through a saddle, then drops back down to where I had joined the outer leg of the loop. From there I followed the old tramway trail back through the gorge and eventually back to my truck at Himont.

All together, it was a most pleasant walk. Many trails describe their condition as "rugged," although I think that is mostly aimed at the hike-once-a-year crowd, as my experience as been that most trails are actually pretty easy. Not so with Brushy Creek. I would classify it, especially the east side of the loop, as rugged, with some sections being very steep, and in many places hard to follow. In the most difficult sections it is quite well blazed with blue plastic rectangles or flagging tape, but the actual pathway is not discernable. Some sections are almost laughably easy and pleasant (the west side of the loop) but not as well marked.

I have mixed feelings about this trail. On the one hand, it seems like it is not very well publicized by the agency that manages it. In fact, it is nearly impossible to find anything about it or anyone who even knows this trail exists, much less how to find the trailhead or any trail descriptions. Good detailed maps are not readily available. I transposed the trail map from the Pioneer Forest web site to a custom CalTopo map at 1:30,000 scale with UTM grids. A lot of people are missing out on a really great hiking experience in a place with a real wilderness feel to it. That brings me to the other hand. I like having little-visited places around so I can have my own solitude. It would seriously detract from Brushy Creek if it became well known and overrun with tourons. So, my dilemma. I guess my preference would be to keep it under wraps, but I am still puzzled why this trail doesn't get more publicity. At least it is there, discovered or not!
Posts: 57
Joined: Mon Apr 02, 2012 11:51 pm
Location: Central Missouri

Re: A February Spring walk in the woods

Postby slosh » Wed Feb 24, 2016 8:26 am

Thanks for the trip report. Good read. I've been wanting to check out this area and this makes me want to even more.
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Joined: Thu May 08, 2014 9:45 am

Re: A February Spring walk in the woods

Postby DirtRoadRunner » Wed Feb 24, 2016 10:27 am

Nice report, and it is a great trail! I hiked it in January of 2014 and also camped at the mouth of Brushy Creek on the Current River.

It is rough, and it is a hidden jewel. I'm 100% fine with it staying that way - honestly, the country is so rugged and remote that it is NOT a place for a casual hiker at all, so it is best left to those who are really prepared to go somewhere wild.
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Joined: Wed Aug 31, 2011 11:38 am
Location: Farmington, MO

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