Sunday, December 11, 2011

Hike 2011.089 -- Piney Trail, Land Between the Lakes NRA, TN

Today was my last visit to LBL for the foreseeable future. I plan to start my drive back to California either tomorrow or Tuesday. Seems weird, because my room still seems pretty cluttered. Except the bottom line is, I just don't have that much stuff here, and most of what I did have is already loaded in the car.

I planned to do most of my packing today, but I figured I still had time for at least a 3-4 hour excursion to LBL. It was important to me, because I didn't want my last visit to LBL to be the same day that my cat died.

From US 79, I headed east, past Paris Landing State Park and across the bridge. About 2 1/2 miles after crossing the bridge, and right as the two-lanes of US 79 narrow to one lane, I made a left turn, heading north on Fort Henry Road (LBL Road #230). The Piney Trailhead is on the right (east) side of 230, just opposite where LBL Road #234 intersects from the west (Road #234 leads into Piney Campground). After failing to find an appropriate roadside parking spot on #230, I turned back around, then drove a bit west on #234, parking less than 1/10th of a mile west of #230, and well east of the "Fee Area" sign for Piney Campground (closed December 1 - March 1).

I got out of my car, and walked back to the intersection. As has often been the case here in LBL, I did not immediately see the trailhead, even though the map said it was right here. I walked a bit to the south, thinking I had seen a road heading into the woods. It was not a road. I walked back north, and found the trailhead marker was knocked over. Heading just a few dozen yards into the woods, another trailhead sign had a large "22," indicating this was exactly where I was trying to get to (Point #22 on the Fort Henry Trail system).

It was about 10:45am, and a brisk 36 degrees as I started my hike. Soon, I saw some interesting ice crystals on the ground, where the water-saturated ground had frozen overnight (last night dropped into the mid- to low-20s). My footsteps mostly crunched as I walked over the frozen mud.

The scenery was pretty much as expected: Mostly barren trees, with a few conifers, a few random deciduous leaves, and moss providing splotches of green among a background of brown leaves, white tree trunks and blue sky. I weaved among the trees, reflecting on my solitude, and thinking of my recently-deceased cat. I never tried to take him hiking. The few times we tried a leash, he didn't find it very enjoyable. But he was a curious cat. Unlike his brother, who usually got bug-eyed and was ready to bolt when confronted with something new, Doc's eyes were wide with curiosity rather than fear. I guess I really worried that his curiosity would be his undoing.

After 1.3 miles, I reached Point 21 on my map. The scene looked very familiar to me. On my last visit here, I would have come down the hill on that trail to my right, then turned down the trail to my left. Of course, that's why I was here, now. The short segment of the Piney Trail I had just covered was one of the few remaining official hiking paths in the LBL that I had not yet trod.

Had time permitted, I would have continued to my right, up the hill for one mile, then taken northernmost segment of the Artillery Trail, which I am not sure if I've walked before, either. Looping up that way, then taking a bit of the Telegraph Trai to the Volunteer Trail, then back the Piney Trail would have made what would normally be a very manageable 6.8 mile loop.

However, I wanted to get back home relatively early, so I'd have time to get some of the car stuff loaded up while it was still lighted and somewhat warm. I was also thinking of maybe dropping by the gift shop at Golden Pond for one last souvenir search.

Pulled out my map, and saw that I could take the Volunteer trail about 1/2 mile north, then catch LBL Road #402 back to Fort Henry Road. A short walk along the shoulder, and I'd be back at my car, while also adding to the number of unique foot miles I would have under my belt.

So, first, the walk to #402. After maybe 1/5 of a mile, I saw another familiar sight: A place where a small creek had eroded a deeper hollow in the earth, and water splashed through this slice. Bits of ice were still frozen on the ledge of stone. With all the recent rain, water also seeped out from under one of many tree roots that anchored this site. It made a relaxing sound. I may try to upload a short video I shot here.

Seemed like less than 100 yards after this seep (which required a modest amount of grace to step over while staying dry), I encountered a wooden footbridge. Just over the bridge was Road #402. This again looked familiar to me. The Volunteer trail crossed the road here and headed up a hill. Instead, I turned left on the jeep trail, and headed back towards Fort Henry Road.

This trail was deeply rutted. The ruts were filled with water, with the top 1/2 inch or so still frozen. Small tadpoles of some sort swam beneath the ice. I don't know what their chances of making it to maturity in such a place might be, but I wished them well.

Popped back out on Fort Henry Road, as planned. Hard to judge distance, since I had to walk somewhat slowly to stay out of the water-filled ruts. By the map, it looks to be about 1/2 mile, again. I walked along the shoulder of Fort Henry Road, back towards my car. Only one car passed me as I walked the just-under 7/10ths of a mile back to my car (measured that on my odometer later). That makes it just about 3 miles for the day.

Afterwards, I headed back to the Trace, then north, to Golden Pond. Stopped at the visitor center/gift shop there. There was a small clearance rack of t-shirts on sale, 3 for $20. I bought three.

I then drove back up to US 68/KY80 and headed west, towards home. Once over Kentucky Lake, I turned into Kenlake State Resort Park, pulled up to an overlook, and took a last few pictures, saying my farewell to Land Between the Lakes NRA. I have some fond memories of this place, despite the difficulty of living apart from my wife most of the past five months, and, particularly, the past week.


  1. Hey Skyhiker, have a safe journey home, sorry to hear about your cat. Looks like you made the most of your time in Kentucky.

  2. Yes, Kentucky was pretty good to me. Really, if it wasn't for my cat dying while I was 1800 miles away, I would have chalked these last few months as a "win."

    Various tasks and the last remaining packing took longer than hoped. Decided to spend one more night in the apartment. DEFINITELY leaving tomorrow morning! If the weather cooperates, I'll be doing a couple of day hikes in New Mexico on Thursday. Possibly some hiking in Arizona on Friday. Will get home either Friday night or Saturday.