Friday, July 25, 2014

Skating Panthertown

It was a clear cold winter day, and I couldn't think of a better way to spend it than to hike Panthertown Valley.  No particular agenda that I can remember, just a ramble.  It was the usual drive from Fairview until I started up Breedlove Rd, then I started seeing some patches of snow along the sides of the road.  Funny, it hadn't snowed anywhere else...

I stopped and locked-in the front hubs on my old Bronco, just in case.  I was glad I did, because by the time I started climbing the grade up to the gap the road was covered in white.  Shifted into 4 wheel drive.  It was kind of weird - although the snow didn't look packed down it was really slick!  I was glad to be in that Bronco, it was made for times like this.  

 My faithful 1976 Ford Bronco in the driveway of my house in Fairview.  Most of my trips to Panthertown were made in it.

I made it over the gap and to the Salt Rock trailhead, where the ground was covered in white.  I stepped out and almost fell down.  That may have looked like snow, but it was something else!

The best I could tell there had been a sleet storm.  A bad one because it was a couple of inches thick.  Then it froze.  Solid.  My tire tracks were 1/4" deep, but my vibram lug boot soles left no track at all. And got almost no traction at all.  The ice had a slightly granular surface, but it was definitely ice!  

It reminded me of a conversation at work one day as we attempted to do carpentry work on an ice covered concrete slab. We talked about the different kinds of ice - clear ice, white ice, black ice, and the dreaded bust ice. That's what this was!

I calmly and rationally decided that only a fool would attempt to hike in the wilderness alone when he could barely stand up on level ground.  So I got my gear out of the truck and started down the road.  I couldn't believe how slick it was!  I couldn't walk normally because it felt like if I picked up my foot to take a step I would fall  for sure. So I scooted one foot across the ice and then the other, kind of like slow motion skating.  Even that was treacherous! As I started down the hill I was looking for any hump or dip in the surface that I could use for traction.  The top of the sleet had smoothed out really nice before it froze, footholds were scarce!  I would have paid good money for crampons at that point.

 Big Green from Salt Rock

You'll notice I didn't try going out on the rock.  That looked like a slippery slope!
Also notice how clearly you can see the line of the roadbed cutting across in front of Big Green.  Snow or white ice really show up roads and trails!
I slowly shuffle-skated down the mountain.  I don't think I lifted either foot off the ground the whole trip - I never felt stable enough!  

Me inventing the selfie while getting an image of the cliffs on Blackrock Mt.

I finally made it down to the crossroads.  I decided to just take a general tour of the flat parts of the Valley and not attempt the cliffs or Devil's Elbow.  I do have a very little bit of good sense!

First I went down the Panthertown Valley trail as far as the sandbar pool / shelter.

It was really pretty there, and I hung around for a while.  I'm sure I took a break in the shelter to get off the ice!

I turned around there and went back up to the Mac's Gap trail.  (I hear the groans from the "Loop Only" faction, hush up!)  I went out to the turnoff for Granny Burrell Falls.  I had to have one waterfall!

It was a mite skittish going out far enough to get this shot!  I had been holding on to Rhodo branches coming down the trail.

I went back out Mac's Gap and Panthertown Valley to the Deep Gap trail. I went a little way out to the area where there are large campsites on both sides of the trail.  Here I met the only other people crazy enough to be out on such a day.  3 or 4 people were either setting up camp or just hanging around the campsite. We talked for a while, and I decided to turn around and head back out. I wanted to get into the Great Wall area, but didn't want to try fording Panthertown Creek. 
I hadn't covered a lot of mileage, but my nerves were shot!  I was having to focus so hard on not falling it was exhausting. I really didn't want to get injured and have to crawl back out of there!

So I slid my way up that long hill and back to the truck. I have to admit I was glad to get back out unbroken!  I was a little concerned about driving back over the gap on Breedlove Road, but it went fine. I stopped at the top of the gap and put the Bronco in 4 wheel low range and just let it crawl down the mountain. Never had any problem at all, and 2 miles later was on dry road for the rest of the drive home.

That was a completely unique experience for me. Just one more way for things to be beautiful and terrifying at the same time.  Panthertown is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get! 

My trail-route drawn in blue.

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