Mason Ridge: Sun, Canines and closed trails.

We’ve been lucky enough to have great weather for the past 4 days. Even luckier for me because I have Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays off every week plus the vacation day I took on Saturday. So I got 4 days of sun and warm temperatures right before work starts again, the temps plummet and we’re talking about snow again.

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Because it was so nice out today, I decided it would be nice to take the dogs out and hike the Mason Ridge trail that I didn’t get to hike a few weeks ago when I was out of commission for a week with what the Dr. thought was meningitis (until the spinal tap came back negative to my relief). Anyway, today being the beautiful day that it was I packed up the truck and headed back out to Morgan Monroe to check this trail off my to-do list.

As it turns out, it’s a good thing that list is pretty long. After hiking into the trail about a mile and a half and crossing the road that marks the half way point I found myself faced with a notice explaining that the southern portion of the Mason Ridge trail and a large portion of the Tecumseh (40 mile) trail are closed until further notice. You see, they’re in the process of tearing out thousands of trees and destroying huge portions of the existing trails so that they can put in a paved bike trail. Something that those of us who regularly hike out here vehemently lament. After spouting a few curse words and laughing to myself when I found that someone who had come before me had torn one of the signs off the post it was attached to, shredded it and placed the pieces in a plastic bag containing another notice.

As I doubled back the way I came and watched the dogs sniffing and playing along the trail I reminded myself what hiking has shown me since I started getting back into it regularly. That is that life is not about the destination, it’s about the journey. Sometimes that journey is what you’re expecting it to be and sometimes it’s doubling back the way you came. But when all is said and done, it’s what you remember and cherish the most.

Directions and further information are available in the link below.  https://www.alltrails.com/explore/trail/us/indiana/mason-ridge-trail

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GPS route and pictures are linked below.

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Three Lakes Trail: An Epic Winter Adventure

When we decided to hike the Three Lakes Trail at the Morgan Monroe State Forest over Valentine’s Day weekend we knew that it was going to be a test of our hiking skill and fortitude thus far. This 10.5 mile trail is nearly as rugged as they come in some spots. But in the spirit of making bad decisions so that we have cool stories to talk about later over beer, we decided to tackle this behemoth of a trail (by our standards) during a snowstorm and with day temps dipping down to around 18 degrees. Our plan going in to this hike was to complete the entirety of the Three Lakes Trail, then hike a mile or so into the back country where camping is permitted, as it’s not allowed on the Three Lakes Trail, so that we could test out our winter camping gear.

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So we got underway at about 2:30 on Sunday (valentine’s day) and got our first taste of the trail while the snow fell pretty heavily. Now, when we went into this, we knew that the trail was supposed to be tough. Definitely a test of our fitness level thus far. In any case, carrying a 50lb pack full of everything you need to survive in a subfreezing environment for a day or two is a test of anyone’s fortitude. On this occasion we definitely didn’t take into account how much the snowfall was going to slow us down. Having to trudge through 2-3 inches of fresh snow and deal with slick ledges on narrow portions of the trail slowed us to nearly a crawl at some points.

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As it was we had seriously underestimated this trail. After making it about 5 miles in and with night quickly closing in on us, we made the decision that we would have to find a suitable place to wait out the night, test our gear and hike out safely in the daylight on Monday. We could have tried to make it out and not break the no camping rule. But portions of the trail that we’d already been on had become so slick that we didn’t want to chance one or both of us getting injured in the dark with temps in the high teens. So we hiked as far off trail as we could and found a nice camping spot.

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The night went by without a hitch, we got a nice fire going, heated up some food for dinner and warmed up before turning in. We listened to the haunting call of the local coyotes in the distance bouncing off the trees of the otherwise silent forest. Our 0 degree sleeping bags held up to their promise of keeping us warm and alive through the frigid night.

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The next morning we packed up and were back on the trail by 8:15. We rounded the second lake, snapped a few pictures of the scenery. Then both experiences our first winter hiking “oh shit” falls on the trail. Luckily no one was around to laugh at us except for a few hundred Cardinals and some rather unhappy squirrels. We had tackled the southern portion of the trail on day one, we hadn’t known at the time but most of the serious hills were now behind us as most of the northern portion of the trail is flat. This was a blessing for me especially, being over 300lbs with all my cold weather gear and my pack. My legs will be about the size of tree trunks before our next hike. But at this point they were screaming like kids in a toy store when mommy and daddy are on a budget.

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We kept a slow and steady pace for the remainder of the trail, stopped a few times to get water at some of the semi-frozen creeks and to try to talk the fatigue out of my very unhappy calves and quads. But we finished the trail after another 3 hours, we walked off the trail right around 11am on Monday. At this point we were greeted by one of the local DNR employees who told us he’d seen that my truck had been sitting overnight and was about to go check some of the shelter houses to make sure we weren’t stranded somewhere. We recounted the story of our miscalculation, lamented how tough the trail had truly been and got a bit of a scolding where we were told that under most circumstances there is a $200 fine for anyone caught camping on the Three Lakes Trail. But because of the situation he said he understood the necessity. We took the warning, dropped our packs at the truck and ended the first real epic adventure of the year for the Free Range Hikers.

Directions and further information are available in the link below.  https://www.alltrails.com/explore/trail/us/indiana/three-lakes-trail

 

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Complete photo gallery and the GPS map from this trek are linked below.

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Rock Shelter Trail 1-31-2016

This past weekend we decided to hike the Rock Shelter trail at Morgan Monroe State Forest. This has quickly become one of my favorite destinations for quick weekend hikes and I’m looking forward to better weather so that I can start doing some overnights on the Low Gap and Three Rivers trails. I hiked about 3 and a half miles into the low gap a few weeks ago and actually went through a portion of the rock shelter trail. Since the smaller loops connect the larger 10+ mile Low Gap trail.
Anyway, the scenery was so striking last time that I knew we should hit this hike together. They call this the rock shelter hike because of the large walk through cave in our pictures. It’s been signed in several places and looks to be a pretty popular destination for anyone hiking in this area. The center of this trail that is in the backwoods area is absolutely phenomenal. It’s well maintained and the scenery is absolutely beautiful, even in mid-winter when everything is dead. We did get lucky this weekend in respects to the weather. It was a balmy 55 degrees and we quickly shucked our cold weather gear as soon as we got to the trailhead. Of course the weight of our AT packs still makes for a sometimes sweaty hike. While we’re accustomed to carrying weighted ruck sacks from our years in the military (4 for me, 20+ for dad) you really can’t control how quickly you heat up when you’re scaling a backwoods will with 50lbs strapped to your back.
When we first started the hike we followed the trail head about an 8th of a mile to a paved road that takes you about a mile into the backwoods of the state forest. This is an underwhelming portion of the hike as it’s paved with rock and tends to be pretty muddy. There is also a lot of logging going on around this particular trail so it’s not exactly what you want to see on your weekend out in nature. But after about a mile the trail turns off into the backwoods where you zigzag down a large hill into a large ravine with a stream meandering through it. The stream crosses the trail in many spots, so if you aren’t wearing waterproof boots like I have been, you have to get a little creative to keep your feet dry. As you follow the trail through the ravine you’ll notice the terrain change from steep hills to rocky cliffs, the whole time you continue to hike though the ravine following the trail towards the caves at the center of this trail. Now this week we decided to take out our GoPro cameras and record the hike, so most of this will be published to our YouTube channel in a few days, I’ll be sure to link to it from here and vice versa so that you can see the real beauty of this trail.
Once you get past the caves you start heading uphill, this will be challenging for those of you who haven’t been hiking in a while as climbing these hills with weighted packs works your legs more than anything I’ve ever experienced in my life. The trail then follows a ridge for another ¾ mile or so before you come to a fork in the trail leading to the backwoods or back to the trailhead. Since we were just hiking the rock shelter trail, we took the left fork back to the trailhead. After about 300 yards that direction the forest trail turns back into a paved (rock) vehicle trail that leads you right back to the parking lot at the trailhead. The whole thing takes about an hour, maybe longer if you take a lot of pictures or decide to stop for lunch. All in all this is a beautiful trail and a much better way to spend a Saturday and Sunday afternoon than sitting around the house.

Directions and further information are available in the link below.  https://www.alltrails.com/explore/trail/us/indiana/low-gap-trail-loop

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Southwestway Park 1-24-2016

Our goal is to get out and hike SOMETHING every weekend this year. Sometimes we plan big, sometimes we plan small. This week was a small week. We decided to hit up Southwestway Park for a number of reasons. Chiefly for me being that it’s only 10 minutes from my house. When we got there we immediately noticed that this park is well travelled. There were people out walking their dogs, in fact we almost witnessed a dogfight as soon as we got out of our cars, as one of the patrons didn’t realize that just because your dog is nice and you think he doesn’t need to be on a leash, doesn’t mean that every dog he encounters is going to feel the same way.

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Anyway, right of the bat we understood that we were probably going to stick out a little with our loaded packs, hiking “city trails” that are never more than a mile away from civilization. Immediately the gentleman walking with his dogs off leash noticed the same thing and said asked if we were training for something because “[he] can’t imagine your serious otherwise.” We get it, we look funny. But if you don’t spend time getting used to walking on trails carrying a weighted pack, you’re going to regret it when you try to do it for real.

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Moving on, we started the trails and immediately noticed that the trailhead was not well maintained. There were dog “deposits” right in the middle of the trail in several spots and noticeable trash along the trail at the trailhead. That however, is not at all uncommon, since generally speaking people these days are slobs. We decided to take the mountain bike trails as they were a little bit longer and the terrain was a little bit more rough than the almost paved dedicated hiking trails. All in all we spent about an hour and a half exploring the area and especially liked the portion that runs next to the White River. If you’re looking for a casual nature walk I would recommend this trail, if you’re looking for a true hiking experience I would steer you to one of the State Parks instead.alltrails-southwestway-park–11 

Directions and further information are available in the link below.  https://www.alltrails.com/explore/recording/southwestway-park–11

 

 

Low Gap Trail Southwest Loop 1/19/2016

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Today’s trip was along the southwestern portion of the Low Gap Trail (blue loop on the map). This is a very scenic trail in Morgan Monroe State Forest, but is definitely not for the feint of heart. It’s full of challenging terrain and steep climbs. I hiked a little over 3 miles into it (almost back to the southern intersection with the paved road) before doubling back to my starting point. I was planning on hiking a larger portion of the trail, but it was incredibly cold in the morning, to the tune of negative teens with wind chill according to some weather sources. So I waited until afternoon to start the trip. As it was it only got up to 18 degrees as a high but with the terrain I was on it really didn’t seem that cold. This solo trip was more for conditioning and just to see what there was to see in this area than a serious hike. I know I plan on doing a few thru hikes on the full 10 miles of the Low Gap once the weather warms up a bit and I can do some camping in the backwoods. Definitely looking forward to that. But for now, I got a hell of a workout and some pretty awesome pictures.

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Winter Low Gap Trail: 1-10-2016

Low Gap Trail

My father and I hit the Low Gap Trail in the Morgan-Monroe State Forest (Martinsville, Indiana) this past Sunday for a short “get into the swing of things” hike.

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This was my first dedicated hike since I was a kid. We planned this out a week ahead when we heard that we were getting a decent amount of snow, in the hopes of seeing some of the Indiana backwoods in a different light; it didn’t disappoint. While we only actually went about a mile (maybe) into the Low Gap Trail, it was still a workout in the fresh snow. It’s a lot like walking up hills of very fine sand and would be challenging enough for someone in much better shape than myself. As it was, I sweat a lot, got out of breath, and was exhausted at the end of the trip. However we did take the opportunity to get some cool pictures of the scenery since we were the only ones out, aside from a couple of squirrels, in the aftermath of the snow storm. It was a short trip, but was definitely a fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

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Additional information and reviews of this trail are available at https://alltrails.com/explore/trail/us/indiana/rock-shelter

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