Thursday, September 15, 2011

Trail Report: Judge Branch Trail - Frozen Head SP - 9/11/2011

Woohoo, all the outside work has been completed and now we just sit and wait. Well not exactly, we still have some cleaning inside to do before the appraiser comes, but until then our weekends will not be spent working all day long. It couldn't have come at a better time either. The weather has cooled a bit and it's September: our favorite month and a signal that our favorite time of year is here.

After finishing up all the outside work on Saturday, we decided that Sunday we would get out for a much needed walk in the woods. Besides, Robin's Trinity Maternity Trekking Pants from Mountain Mama arrived a couple days prior and she was itching to try them out. The only caveat to this: Robin is now limited as to how much she can do. With that in mind, it had to be short, not very strenuous, and most of all something that she didn't need to carry any gear - except her camera, which I don't think I could rip out of her cold, dead hands. So we decided that the Judge Branch trail at Frozen Head State Park would fit to a T.

After waking and getting ready on Sunday morning, we were out of the door lickety split. We headed out to the park on a beautiful, cool, crisp morning. There was a threat for storms later in the day, but we weren't really concerned because we got an early enough start to avoid them. The five of us (Robin and Baby, Kiddo, Clover, and me) arrived at the trailhead shortly after 9:30, geared up and headed down the trail. The trail is a loop trail and begins at the Old Mac Trailhead in the Shelter C parking area of the park. Starting out on Old Mac trail the terrain is flat, smooth, and mostly straight for the .3 miles it takes to get to the Judge Branch Trail. There are several trails that connect to the Old Mac Trail including the Interpretive Loop (now known as the Interpretive Dance Loop - Ashby's new name for that trail where moves such as the Sunrise, Puppy Roll, and The Half Moon Squat can be practiced), North Old Mac Trail, South Old Mac, Spicewood Branch and finally, Judge Branch.

Onward we hiked enjoying the cool morning mountain air, listening to the birds chirp and the leaves on the trees rustle in the wind. We had passed the other end of the Interpretive Loop and continued forward to the start of the Judge Branch Trail, just past the turn off for South Old Mac. When we got to the fork in the trail we saw, at the start of the Judge Branch trail, what appeared to be a table cloth. You know the thin plastic kind that you get for picnic tables. We thought it was odd as it was just sitting on the side of the trail all neatly folded up as if placed there on purpose. It's also at this point that you can take the right fork and head up the mountain on the Spicewood Branch trail, blazed in Purple. We headed to the left to start the Judge Branch trail, blazed in white. The footing at this point is still pretty good, a few rocks and roots scattered throughout the track but nothing to be overly concerned with. The elevation begins to start upwards, but it is a gradual gain up the whole trail.

We continued on our journey taking in the sights and sounds before we happened upon the first footbridge of the day. Off to the side, after crossing, is a nice little spot to walk down to the creek. The creek is deep enough for a dip if so desired. Clover had no problems partaking in this. We let her off the leash and away she went enjoying the cool running water, chasing sticks into the creek, and all around having a great time. Needless to say, she absolutely loves the water. After a short time of her playing and Ashby throwing sticks and rocks for her, it was time to get on down the trail some more.

We spent the next stretch of trail talking about mutant powers and what ours would be. We recently purchased X-Men First Class on DVD for Ashby - so that was one of the many topics we talked about along the hike. Ashby's mutant power would be the ability to blend in to her surroundings. I think she likes Mystique. Mine would be to run at supersonic speeds. Robin, well she didn't have one. I later discovered that hers would be bubble making abilities but that's another story altogether. By the way, after that first footbridge we discovered someone had left their poncho (not the plastic rain type - the old carpet-like native american type) laying on the trail.

A little bit further up the trail we discovered a sponge all by it's lonesome in the middle of the trail. We were absolutely perplexed as to why this might be. First a table cloth, then a poncho, and now a sponge. Somebody must have been in a hurry to get out of Dodge, or they were leaving "breadcrumbs" to get back to camp. The strangest of all, was after a half mile from the first footbridge, we reached the Judge Branch campsite. We walked around the campsite checking things out, and we found that someone had left a rather large tent and tent poles behind. There were no other signs of anyone staying around the camp that day. We weren't sure if anyone would be coming back or not so we didn't bother the tent or anything. It was just laying there all packed up and everything. I don't know who would have lugged that thing back there, but it definitely wasn't a backcountry tent.

After our exploration of the campsite, we continued up the trail with more discussions and more sites to see and enjoy. It was another half mile or so past the camp when we reached the point where the trail drops completely out of site. As you walk up the trail, it literally disappears. When we reached this point, we found a short stone staircase that leads down to the creek where you have to ford across to continue the trail on the other side. Here at the creek, though, we took some time to let Robin rest and to let Clover play some more. This time she wanted to show us her "snorkeling abilities" as she dove her head in the creek after rocks we threw in for her. She's a real nutters sometimes. After a good little break for playing and photo taking, we decided it was time to ford the creek and head on up the trail again.

We were at the halfway point by this time and had a nice incline in the trail before it was smooth sailing down hill. At the top of the small stone staircase of the other side of the creek, Ashby spotted a garter snake on the side of the trail. Now you all know how terrified I am of snakes. Well, Robin had a recently had a moment of generosity and had handed me the camera down at the creek side. She said that I could hold onto it for awhile and take photos if I wanted. But when faced with the snake on the ground, Robin asked if I wanted her to get it's picture to which I declined and said, "I'll do it." I think it surprised her, but I swallowed my fear and got down close enough for a couple of shots. I guess I'm not as afraid of non-venomous snakes, so long as I know what they are and they aren't acting aggressive.

After this encounter we continued down the trail. We coasted the rest of the way down with me stopping for pictures here and there. It wasn't long before we came across the old CCC Dynamite Shack. It's been a few years since we've been by this spot so we stopped for more photo ops. You can tell by the comparison of these photos how much has changed since we were here last.


After departing the shack, we started to hear rumbles of thunder. The storms were building and it had gotten considerably cloudier than it had been earlier. So we quickened our pace a little (and Robin quickened her waddle), and we made it off the trail in no time. On our way out we passed two different couples on their way in. The first was an older couple with an older dog, who was very pretty I might add. Clover got her sniffs out of the way as we exchange pleasantries. The other couple was younger and had just started on the trail as we were heading out. I wondered if maybe they had been the campers, as the guy had a Subway sandwich in a bag for lunch. We also wondered if they had considered the storms that were approaching. We exchanged greetings as we passed each other and were off the trail, heading home before the storms hit.

At the end of the hike we had traveled roughly 2.6 miles with an elevation gain of just over 320ft. The trail is good for the beginning hiker who has a couple of trails under their belts already. It's also pregnancy friendly as Robin didn't have too much of a problem with it, other than the typical "short-windedness" that comes with the territory. The terrain is pretty subtle for the most part. There were only a few rough spots along the way but gentle otherwise. It was a indeed a great little hike.

Happy Trails,
Tim and Robin

Trail Details on Trimble: