Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Hard Labor Creek State Park: Lake Brantley Trail (Part 2)

March 2nd. (Continued from…) It’s the time of year when there seem to be more rainy days than not. I wanted to fit something in to a ‘dry’ day and decided to check out Hard Labor Creek State Park. I’ve driven through the park many times and rowed Lake Rutledge on several occasions but I’ve never hiked in the park.

I wanted something different from the short nature trails in the center of the park so I decided to hike one of the equestrian trails. I had a copy of the Gerogia State Parks Hard Labor Creek State Park Trail Map and my handheld GPS to trace my trail. 

My first choice was to hike part of the Lake Rutledge Trail which didn’t seem to have the same elevation gains that I anticipated would be involved in the Lake Brantley Trail, particularly since I was braking in new hiking boots. As it happened, I abandoned the Lake Rutledge Trail and decided to hike at least part of the Lake Brantley Trail.

The route I took. This includes the first section, and return, along the Lake Rutledge Trail.

I crossed the road and had no difficulty finding where the trail entered the woods. There was a ‘dismount’ sign and a number 15 trail marker (although I have no idea what the number indicated. I decided to hike the trail in a clockwise direction because, based on the park map, the trail would follow the contours for the climb would be more gentle.

The trail was fairly level at the beginning and passed an ephemeral pool not far from the road. 

I could feel the breeze from the west and expected that these woods, which would receive the breezes coming from westerly directions, would be drier than the woods on the east side of the road which were in the lee of the ridge down which Fairplay Road ran.

A Resurrection Fern (Polypodium polypodioides) just getting started on the leeward side of the tree. This was the only specimen of this fern that I saw on this hike.

The trail began a long descent parallel to a gully towards the lake. The slope on the other side of the gully was strewn with large boulders.

On the trail, I found a specimen of Old Man’s Beard (Usnea strigosa) covered with fruiting bodies. It’s not unusual to find clumps of Old Man’s Beard that have been stripped off the main colony in high winds.

Some furry creature had been hunting for food since the last rain. Possibly a possum or a raccoon.

The trail switched back up the gully to cross the creek...

Looking down the gully.

Looking up the gully. The creek probably dries up in summer but there’s sufficient moisture to support the Christmas Ferns (Polystichum acrostichoides) that had colonized the embankments along the bottom of the gully.

What looked like a recent sign that directed trail users to turn back south. It did look as if the trail went straight uphill. At this point I became a little concerned that the trail had been redirected and was not going to lead to the gray trail. I certainly didn’t want to be forced to hike the complete trail on this occasion. But I didn’t want to turn back and climb a steep trail if a more gentle trail back up the hill lay ahead.

As I headed south, I caught my first glimpse of Lake Brantley through the trees.

The trail descended much more gently to a short distance from the water. I could have walked over to the waters edge without any difficulty but there weren’t any wildflowers and I was a little more concerned with where I was on the trail to do too much time-consuming sightseeing.

Some lichen, probably a Parmotrema sp., with fruiting bodies. Not quite as pretty as the specimen I found at the Piedmont NWR recently, but laden with fruiting bodies.

The trail followed the water and I expected that, according to where I thought I was on the park map, the trail would continue straight ahead to the place where I’d find the sign for the Gray Trail to take me over to the Green Trail that would return me to Fairplay Road.

The trail was marked by green paint on the trunks of trees.

The trail then angled away from the water and started to climb, angling back towards the east according to my GPS. I was obviously still on the trail – there was the green paint high on the trunk of a tree - but where on the trail?

Then the trail began to climb more steeply. 

A creek ran to the left side of the trail. I came to a ford on the strean. A large sign on the far side of the creek indicated that the Lake Brantley Trail went to the left. I forded the creek but became nervous that I was starting on the beginning of the 8.8-mile trail option, something that I didn’t want to do on this occasion. From across the creek, I could see a wide path up the hill.

I crossed back over the creek and walked over to investigate. In the shade to the right of the trail, was a sign that indicated that the wide path going up the hill would return me to the stables where I had started from. (The actual sign was in deep shade; this sign was at Fairplay Road.).

Looking back down the trail. As I walked up the hill, I could see the tracks of very large tires, similar to those on tractor-like vehicles, indicating that this was an access road to the creek. At the top of the hill, it was clear that this was a road. I followed it as it went southeast until I found a green trail sign pointing east. After following the road for a short distance, it joined another road which took me east and back to Fairplay Road. I had already decided that I would talk back to my car on the road rather than the trail east of Fairplay Road.

When I got home I decided to compare the trail on the park map with the trail trace on my GPS to figure out where I actually hiked compared with the trail marked on the park map. It appears that I had reached the short-cut Gray Loop marked on the park map although I didn’t find the #16 or #18 markers on the park map or any reference to the ‘Gray Loop.’

It’s important to note that, due to scale issues, trails on maps like the park map may not show turns in trails with the detail with which they actually occur. It’s also important to note that the trail was obvious when I was following it - with green markers, either posts or green paint marks on tree trunks – and there was very little chance of straying from the trail. In some respects, I had complicated the issue by having a GPS which traced my tracks and showed the trail in more detail than the park map was able to. Although I would note that I have used a GPS to show me where I am on trails to compare with more-detailed trail maps with considerable success.

In this instance, it would have helped to have the sign indicating the direction back to the stables in a more obvious place such as the open area at the approach to the creek ford and clear signs to the ‘Gray Loop.’ Had I not been suspicious that I was going to be embarking on the longer trail option if I followed the sign across the creek, I may have gotten into trouble by undertaking a longer distance than I was really equipped to do on this day. In any case, I did go back and find the sign that set me on the right path back to the road and to complete the hike that I intended. I hope that, at some time, I can hike the complete trail.

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