Bangert Island

   I had the day off today, and didn't want to waste a winter afternoon in the 40s.  The sun was kind of going in and out, but it was pleasant out, so I layered up (long-sleeved wicking shirt, a fleece, and a mid-weight fall jacket, as well as stuffing an emergency hat and gloves in my pack) and headed out to a place I haven't visited before, Bangert Island. This was not in my last edition of 60 Hikes (and is apparently only an "island" when it floods, I guess), but seemed fairly close by and a reasonable length for someone who has NOT been hiking enough recently.  The trail runs about 4 miles (though it is a series of loops that allow for much shorter hikes if you are looking for something a little more easy going), and the trails were very easy. Parking is confusing though. The trailhead and the book both say you can "park on either side of Old South River Road," but there aren't any signs indicating whether this is true or not. There are a few areas on the road that look like you can pull off onto them to park, but since there were no other cars there, I was nervous. There is also a tiny parking lot that isn't clear whether it's for the trail or for the police station. I parked there and was not ticketed.

   This is clearly a popular biking trail.  Most of the people I saw on the trail were bike riders, and most of the tracks I saw were from bikes as well. This may also have to do with the fact that you actually have to cross the Katy Trail in order to get the Bangert Island trailhead.   The trail was VERY muddy, for the most part, and I imagine in the summer time there would be lots and lots of mosquitoes (though I bet it would be extremely pretty and green).  In the winter, bugs are certainly not an issue. The landscape is eerie, but in a very beautiful way. There is something very special and different about winter hiking. All the greenery and flowers and colors have been sapped, but there is still a lot of beauty. There were so many trees on this hike, just rising up out of the gray mass of leaves on the ground, and lots of tangling vines that crawled up trees and created canopies and masses of mazes above my head. And so many of the trails take you so close to the river that at times you can hear the tiny waves lapping up on the sand, the birds sitting on the dead trees floating in the shallows, and the barges that occasionally pass by.

   I have to say one of the drawbacks of this hike was the proximity to highway 70.  Granted, I think it is near impossible to get away completely from the noises of civilization... airplanes, for instance, will follow you everywhere, and there are always dogs barking or very distant car honks, even on some of the more remote trails I've been on. But the highway was the main sound for the entire first trail, the 1 mile Kurtz trail. The river view you were met with was beautiful, but flanked by the highway to my left, and the large and slightly garish casino across the water. Not exactly the views I had been hoping for, but I guess you do what you can when you're in the middle of civilization.

 However the other two trails were much quieter. The Sandy Loop (1.3 miles) was, as the name suggests, sandier. This was actually great, since it meant far less mud and so a much more pleasant walk. This was my favorite trail of the whole hike. This is where the vines went just crazy, creating an almost fairytale look. For half the trail, you walk right up near the water's edge (I actually sat on a log and ate my lunch while watching the river), and the highway gets distant enough that you can barely hear it for most of the trail. It was truly a peaceful, very pretty trail. The last trail, the Slough Loop (1.5 miles) was very muddy and gray again, but still very pretty in that eerie winter woods way. Parts of it were a bit quieter (a bit of this trail runs almost parallel to the Sandy Loop practically in viewing distance), and parts of it were noisier with the highway and the busy streets of St. Charles nearby coming back into view. 

Overall, despite the noise pollution, I liked this trail a lot. I'd be curious to see what it looked like with actual leaves and plants that were alive. This is the first hike I've taken for awhile, and even longer since I've done a hike solo. It gave me time to try to relax my mind and get some fresh air, of which I'm grateful.

Cuivre River

    I had the chance to visit someplace I hadn't gone before, Cuivre River State Park, which is pronounced "Quiver River," at least in Midwesterneese.  The park was a bit confusing to figure out, as the signs weren't too easily spotted and one of the main roads had been shut down (as well as the main visitor's office being closed, so that there wasn't really anyone who could be much help.  My father and I had originally planned to do the Big Sugar Creek trail at this park, but the leaves were so heavy over the ground that the trail was almost impossible to find and the trail wasn't exactly overly marked. I would love to return to this park and try again in the spring.

    Instead we ended up doing the Lakeside Trail that runs all around the lake, which was marked off in my book as being one of the easiest hikes in the park, running about 3.5 miles. It was fairly easy, but still had some challenging bits. Especially since the lake looks deceptively small and round, as if you can see the entire perimeter. Don't be fooled though! The lake has quite a few twists, turns, and random inlets that keep you guessing: sometimes I would think we were about to turn around and start heading back to the starting point, which looked very close indeed, only to turn into another inlet and have quite a ways to go! The start of the trail was quite confusing, as there was a bridge I assumed you had to cross to start the trail, but instead you have to walk across the rocks that don't look like you should be walking on them.

This was a peaceful, beautiful trail. I don't think it was even really marked, but it hardly had to be... the trail was clear cut and easy to find, and simply followed the shore of the lake the entire way.  Sometimes you were a little bit above the water, but a lot of the trail you are walking directly against the shore.  There were almost no other people on the trail, and the single-track dirt trail was perfect for keeping hikers to smaller groups.  We noticed a LOT of trees that had been seemingly attacked by beavers, shells in the water, and lots of birds to listen and watch.

   I forgot to update this hike when it happened, so I'm backposting this entry. I'm sure I had far more to say about the trail, but can't remember. I can say, though, that I really enjoyed this trail and would certainly do it again, and would like to revisit this park to try out more of the trails they have to offer.

Updating materials and meeting the author who started it all...

    REI always has some really interesting opportunities in the classes and talks they offer. I recently attended a talk and slide show about the best hiking and camping in Illinois and Missouri, with authors John Schirle (author of The Best in Tent Camping: Illinois: A Guide for Car Campers Who Hate RVs, Concrete Slabs, and Loud Portable Stereos) and Steve Henry, who I have mentioned and referenced on this blog probably a hundred times, author of the book that got it all started for me, 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of St. Louis: Including Sullivan, Potosi, and Farmington (as well as a book about tent camping in Missouri and mountain biking in the Ozarks).

    While it may sound somewhat ridiculous to be excited to meet Steve Henry, I really, really was. I am the kind of person who gets excited about meeting authors in general-- I am a reading nerd, and books play a huge part in my life. Hiking is a strangely recent thing in my life. While I've always since childhood been obsessed with the idea of nature, living in it, and climbing mountains (I wanted to be Heidi when I was 4 years old, even though I never climbed ANY mountains), actually getting out and hiking was a rare occurence.   I graduated from college over 4 years ago, and about 40 pounds heavier than I am now. Hiking started a change for me. I didn't do it to lose weight, but it helped keep me active, gave me peace of mind and an escape from the work week, a place where my brain could finally relax and wander and stop worrying. The book helped me start easy and slowly start to challenge myself more and more.

Needless to say, both authors were really interesting and informative. I bought two books (pictures posted below (both books put out by Menasha Ridge Press), and hope to use them both a LOT (even though I haven't been hiking in awhile, whoops).  I met Mr. Henry after the lecture so he could sign my NEW updated copy of 60 Hikes, which I've been meaning to buy for awhile. He was very friendly and I told him about this blog and how much the book had helped me in my hiking experiences. He seemed very interested and willing to let me ramble, and even said he may have crossed this blog a couple times while researching the last edition for the book, because it sounded really familiar to him!!!!! While maybe he was just being kind, if that is true, that would be SO AWESOME.

Yes, I geek out sometimes.

Found: Taum Sauk Mountain pictures (October hike)


Pickle Springs & Hickory Canyons

*NOTE* This blog entry somehow got re-dated  and I can't remember when it was originally posted.*

Today was an absolutely amazing day for a hike. The temperatures reached the 60s after months of me suffering from cabin fever. My father and I drove down to Pickle Springs and Hickory Canyons down near Sainte Genevieve, Missouri. It turned out to be a perfect time to try out my new hiking poles too, because the trail was muddy and often still covered in slush, snow, and plenty of ice! But we didn't let it stop us from exploring, though we did have to be extremely careful and take our time on the trails. The sun was warm, but down in the rocks and valleys the temperature would drop noticeably.  The ice formations were absolutely beautiful, and there was the constant sound of water dripping from the ice and running through the streams from the melting snow. I had been to Pickle Springs before, but never to Hickory Canyons. Hickory Canyons was wonderful, and reminded me a bit of the Little Grand Canyon I visited a couple months ago.

The Highest Point in Missouri: Taum Sauk

   It's been a gorgeous, if warm, October so far, and the leaves seem to have changed overnight without me having a chance to even truly enjoy it yet! I don't really know how that happened; one minute the world is green and full, and the next the trees are brown and yellow and red and many have already lost some of their leaves. I'm hoping to get plenty of hiking done before the winter landscape takes over.

 Taum Sauk Mountain State Park is a good two hour drive from St. Louis, even more so if you get the driver lost on the way down and end up taking a longer, if very scenic, route (I'm not a very good car navigator, apparently).  Taum Sauk mountain is part of the St. Francois Mountains, and is the highest point in Missouri, standing 1,772 feet above sea level. According to the wikipedia article, while it is the highest mountain in Missouri, Taum Sauk is not the biggestt mountain in Missouri (that would be Black Mountain) because Taum Sauk "rises from an already elevated plain." Weird!

The park at the top of Taum Sauk offers camping too, and I'm seriously planning on doing some hiking and camping up there. The main trail, Mina Sauk trail, is a 3 mile loop. However you can meet up with the Ozark Trail about half way down the Mina Sauk and go about twelve miles to Johnson's Shut Ins, where I hiked last October. It's a more rugged and less maintained section of the trail, so you certainly would need the whole day to do it. I kept thinking how perfect it would be with two cars... leave your campsite at either Taum Sauk or at Johnson's Shut ins, and then drive to the other site and hike the Ozark Trail between them, camping at your first destination. This may be something I try next year in the spring or summer.

The Mina Sauk Falls trail is about 3 miles long in a loop. It starts at the very tip top of Missouri, at the highest point, and then you start hiking downwards to the Mina Sauk falls, which Steve Henry in the second edition of 60 Hikes within 60 Miles described as the states longest waterfall, "132-foot cascade over rugged volcanic rock ledges."  Of course, this time of year the fall was nearly bone dry, with only a trickle here and there and a couple of calm pools. I would love to see the falls when there is actually water. The panoramic views of the surrounding St. Francois Mountains, especially with all the fall colors, was gorgeous and totally worth it. It was a perfect place to sit, have some water and a bite to eat, and enjoy the scenery.

The trail itself is actually somewhat rugged, for a short 3-mile trail. It is very, very rocky, with some climbing involved. I was very glad I wore my boots, which have served me well over the last two years. The extra ankle support and firm soles really saved my feet and kept away some near ankle twistings. The trail was well walked, but not overcrowded (it was a Sunday, so I expected some families and so on). The trail was slightly more difficult than I expected, at least, and it was a nice chance to do something other than a peaceful walk through the woods. As you descend from the highest point of Missouri, which is fully wooded, you go through lots of glades and wooded areas, with wildflowers even in October. I love the Missouri glades.  The trail from the falls then begins to ascent back upwards, joining up with the Ozark Trail for a mile or so before diverging back to the trail head (the Ozark trail continues on). The trail is definitely upwards, but never is it overly strenuous. We slowed our pace quite a bit on the way back up, but were steady and I didn't feel out of breath or overtired. After walking up and through more glades and rocks, you know you're back at the top when you hit the quietly wooded trail again.

My father and I actually took at detour at the falls to follow the Ozark trail the OTHER direction, down the mountain into the valley (the section of the Ozark Trail I would hike if I was hiking from Taum Sauk Mountain to Johnson's Shut Ins, as I mentioned earlier) to see what is called the Devil's Tollbooth, a "50-foot passage through an 8-foot-wide gap in a 30-foot-tall volcanic rock" (Henry, Steve 193).  Steve Henry said this would be "a gentle but rocky descent" down next to the falls, but I found it very steep and hard to follow and very difficult! Probably because I lost the trail downwards and ended up climbing and scooting down a much harder way than was necessary. Once down, though, it was climbing over rocks, walking through the woods and over ponds, and climbing through and around fallen trees (it looked like this section of the Ozark Trail hadn't been maintained in quite a while). It was a very long mile to the Devil's Tollboth, and another mile back, so my father and I actually did about 5 miles on our trip. It was a very cool bit of rock, but I was awfully tired already by time I got there. And let me say, the trip back UP the falls to join back with the Mina Sauk Trail was hard!

All in all, this was a beautiful and fantastic trip. The ONE big drawback was that the entire trail, I was plagued by gnats. Billions and billions of gnats buzzing in your ears, flying in your eyes, getting stuck on your sweaty arms... I'm not sure if this is a usual thing for this trail this time of year, or if the swing back into 80 degree weather brought out critters that might not usually be a worry. Either way, the gnats were exhausting and extremely bothersome. However, the trail was a good workout, a great short length, and absolutely gorgeous!

I can't seem to find the cord that goes to my camera at the moment, so I will go back and add pictures to this entry as soon as I find it.

Meeting people from the internet... they weren't axe murderers

  ...or at least as far as I'm aware.

This weekend I had the fortune to try something completely different! A friend I used to work with has a food/life/everything in between blog called Real Fit Mama: Diary of a Wanna-Be Health Nut (which you should check out, by the way).  She had really wanted to attend the healthy-living blog convention, but was unable to, so she set up one of her own! While I wasn't sure my blog at first applied (I figured I needed to be a food blog  or a marathon runner), Maria convinced me that indeed, my blog IS about healthy living! While I don't hike for health reasons (I walk at my own pace, whether it be fast or slow that day, and take far too many pictures, scenic breaks), it is one of the primary reasons I think my health took a turn for the better over the last couple years. Hiking and eating better helped me lose nearly 40 pounds over the last four years. Not only do I have more energy, I am more independent than I've ever been and have more self-confidence.

   We met on Sunday at Pi Pizzeria in the University City Loop area. Quite a few people had said they were going, but in the end it was just three: Maria, myself, and Hannah, from the blog HannahViolin (which is amazing, by the way). I admit at first I was a little nervous, as I figured I should have done some research and found out who was going and checked out their blogs first, it wasn't awkward at all. I hadn't had much of a chance to hang out with Maria in ages, and meeting Hannah was brilliant.

We ate plenty of pizza (deep dish Berkeley) and I had a small caprese salad, both of which were amazing (I also drank lots of diet coke; soda is a weakness of mine I have not been able to give up).  We talked about our lives, our blogs, and everything in between! It was a really nice experience, one I'd be glad to repeat.

Pere Marquette State Park - camping & hiking

  This weekend I finally took my first step towards doing something more than hiking. A friend (who is much more experienced in camping and backpacking than I am) and I drove into Illinois to Pere Marquette State Park. Our plan was to camp overnight on Friday and then pack up and do a day of hiking. A few experiences in car camping should give me an introduction before I start trying to backpack. I haven't done any camping except for one night camping for a float trip, and girl scout camp when I was a child (though I slept in A-frames for that).

We arrived later than planned, so after driving to the campsite (which was busy but not overcrowded) we had to use my car lights and headlamps to set up camp. Having only set up the tent (which I borrowed from my father) once, in a living room, this was a challenge, but I got it done. Then we built a fire in the fire pit, which was difficult with the wind but we got a pretty good sized fire going, and made s'mores. Don't judge, I hadn't had them since I was a kid! They were delicious! After the fire was out and dead, I got in some AMAZING star gazing. It was more stars than I've seen in a long time, and it was mesmerizing. I could have stayed out there all night, it was so clear and the stars were so bright. But instead I laid out my father's Therm-a-rest prolite 3 and sleeping bag  (I had to borrow an outdoors sleeping bag from the friend I was with) wearing plenty of layers and a hat and fell asleep.

Aside from an absolutely terrible sinus headache that woke me up and kept me awake for about 2 hours that night (thank goodness for the first aid kit with plenty of painkillers stashed inside!), I was warm and cozy despite a drop to about 47 degrees and wind. In the morning, my friend and I built a small fire so we could have coffee and tea, packed up camp, and went to explore the trails.  Camping was amazing. The stars, the feeling of being in my own tent listening to the sounds of the woods as I fall asleep (while there was some noise from the other campsites and nearby RV campsite, the noise died down at a fairly reasonable hour), I just loved it.

I don't know why I hadn't tried out the trails at Pere Marquette before. They are well marked (the visitor's center has a very helpful map as well) and very well varied as well. We decided to connect a couple different trails to make one of the longest loops we could. We started at the Goat Cliff trail (1.5 miles) which leads mostly up to McAdams Peak, which gave us a beautiful overlook of the River. We then took the Hickory trail (we did a bit less than the full .5 mile it runs) to Hickory North tail (we did a bit less than the full 1 mile it runs), to the longest trail in the park, Fern Hollow (2.5) miles, then back to Hickory South trail (1.5 miles), for probably a total of around 6.5 miles. Parts of the trails were very uphill and more difficult, others were more level. We saw bluffs, rocky areas, wooded secluded areas, with some trails fairly well traveled and other (mostly Fern Hollow) much more secluded. My friend is an avid birder, and she was loving all the birds there were to hear and see. It was a gorgeous hike that we took our time on, stopping for lunch and pictures and snacks.

This was a fantastic first camping experience for me, and I loved the trail system at Pere Marquette. I definitely would do the drive to visit again.

Classes and updates...

I attended a backpacking basics talk at my local REI, as well as attended a book tour of a woman who walked 1,000 miles around Lake Michigan, also at REI.  The backpacking class gave me a lot of really good information for an amateur starting out, and I even learned how to tie a new knot and about the Pacific Crest Trail bear bag hanging technique. I am also excited because being short finally comes in handy... I can get a sleeping bag for much cheaper because I can fit into a child's size, and it is more appropriate for me to use one anyway because of the issue of too much room at the bottom of the bag during colder weather.

Tonight I go to Pere Marquette State Park just over the river in Illinois for my first car camping experience! It will drop slightly below 50 degrees tonight, so I hope the gear I am borrowing from my friend help me with that! I'll let everyone know how all these went soon.

Lone Elk State Park revisted

  I revisited Lone Elk State Park this weekend with a friend, Molly, who moved back to St. Louis after finishing up her graduate work in Virginia (the friend I visited Shenandoah National Park with in August). I haven't been there to Lone Elk in nearly two years, but it was far better than I remembered. We hiked the trail going the opposite direction this time, and without leaves all over the ground the trail was very easy to follow and well marked -- I remember last time I went I found the trail nearly impossible to follow in the fall, so this was a huge improvement.  Parts of the trail are VERY overgrown though, it is obvious it hasn't been maintained in quite a while. We ran into Elk on the trail and had to go around them at one point, but other than that the trail was beautiful and a really great 3 mile walk. I really enjoyed this trail a lot, especially since it had been so long since I had walked it.

I seem to have misplaced any pictures I took during this hike, but the old blog post from 2009 can be viewed here.

St. Francois State Park

  This weekend I visited St. Francois State Park (or "St. Francis" as it is pronounced in Missouri, as all French names are butchered) with my friend Tanya. I was excited to go here because it was new, and the drive wasn't all that bad, about an hour or a little more. We chose the Mooner's Hollow trail, which runs about 2.7 miles. This is an absolutely beautiful little trail that we drove right past when we entered the park, but eventually found our way back.

   I really liked this trail. The woods were cool and you follow water for a great deal of it. While not overly difficult, there were a couple climbs here and there that at least kept your heart working, and it was nice to watch the stream following the trail, dipping in and out of sight as the trail works its way through the woods. My favorite spot on the whole thing is where the trail crosses the water. It's a beautiful crossing, with a pool just upstream where people were swimming and wading, and the water flows down over the smoothed rock bottom creating a small waterfall effect. It was incredibly peaceful, and I wish that I had spent more time there.  The rest of the trail is a little more meandering, going up and down through the woods, and even a few glades. A lot of the trail was very rocky because of the creek it follows, but with good shoes it wasn't too much of a problem. There were even wildflowers to still enjoy even this late in the summer. This was a gorgeous short hike, and I would definitely visit the park again to try out the other trails.