TRIP VIDEO (33 min)
It had been a year since I had taken my boys, 5 year old Samuel and 14 year old Sydney, out on a trip so once again we hit the trail on spring break, this time choosing the challenging Adventure Hiking Trail contained within Harrison-Crawford State Forest and administered by O'Bannon Woods State Park. This trail is one of the toughest and longest (20 miles) in the state. It also is the driest, requiring you to cache water regardless of the season unless there is sufficient snow to melt. As the name would suggest this is a hiking only trail though there are short segments where it joins with horse trails. It was clear that some horsemen ignored the "No Horses" signs in some cases, but the trail was in very good shape everywhere except a couple spots despite there being a major horse event the preceding weekend. Ticks and poison ivy were in abundance though, and the trees were leafed out much more than normal because of the record setting temps in March. The trail is blazed much better now than it apparently used to be. There were only three spots where we had to really look to see where the trail went.
We came in on Monday via Corydon, having lunch and changing clothes before continuing to drop our caches. I had planned to start at 462 and spend up to 3 nights so I dropped at the old Iron Bridge, the Pioneer Shelter (entrance to the Park is free during the week at this point in the year) and the intersection with Cold Friday Rd. I was being extra cautious given the near record heat, not knowing how my boys would do and being told by the office that the Horsemen's Electric Campground was 3/4 mile from the trail. It turns out it's less than 1/4 mile so we could have gotten by with just the Cold Friday cache (we carried 9 quarts total). Previously the most my boys had done was 3.5 miles in a day with MUCH cooler temps. We were starting out in the heat of the day, needing to put in 4.7 miles to reach Indian Creek Shelter.
We set off about 2 PM and let Samuel lead the way. We came to an extensive area of recent logging after about 3/4 mile, which is likely why the Park Office called to verify there were no more detours in place before we left. We didn't even try to find one geocache because there were so many trees down in the valley north of Old Forest Rd. We did find the one across that road near the trailhead though the hint was no longer accurate. Since I don't have a GPS, I rely on compass and topo or satellite maps and the hints to find them. The boys took several breaks and the older son got a hot spot on a big toe we took care of quickly. He actually outweighs me significantly so I figured he'd have as hard a time as Samuel. It wasn't long before we spotted some ticks on Sam's neck and head (good thing I just buzzed him!) so I checked his waist and found more there. He was not at all happy about this, wanting to go back, but we convinced him it was too far to turn back now. :) I had not had a chance to treat the boys clothing with permethrin. We arrived at the shelter to find it already occupied by a youth pastor and six young teen boys on an annual trip. I was disappointed we didn't pass the pond I'd seen on the sat view that was going to be my bearing reference for another geocache near a cave. It must have been off the parallel horse trail. We moved a little farther south and set up our shelters next to a large sinkhole. There were quite a few of various sizes on this ridge. I stuck Sam in the Lunar Duo and stripped off a bunch of ticks 1-4 mm in size from his body and clothes. The poor kid was like candy to them while Sydney and I had none. I determined he wasn't going to lead anymore so Sydney or I could knock them off in front of him. Since it was so warm, I decided to have our ramen-based dinner cold. It had lemon, mint, onion powder and pepper. I realized after the fact that I forgot to add the tuna to it. The boys still liked it. It was a gorgeous sunset on the ridge and the moon was nearly full and bright.
I was pleased that our feet seemed to be doing well after 4 hours of trekking other than just general tiredness and a bandaid on a hotspot. I had taken the boys to Walmart a few weeks prior to get suitable shoes for this journey. Samuel ended up with Nerf shoes which are really like sandals except they have a solid toe. He wore my pair of Darn Tough Vermont 1/4 socks (what he called mountain socks last year) once again, which come up almost like crew socks on him. Sydney had a pair of Ozark Trails hiking shoes (sort of low boots really). They were not breathable and I had thought about boring holes near the soles to drain water but knew there weren't going to be any creek crossings. I think the running shoes like I'd used a few years may have been better, but they have no lugs at all. He wore his BSA socks. I wore my replacement pair of Inov-8 Roclite 315. I've had hot spots on the back of the heel bone with those Walmart running shoes, prior generation 315s and just a short 2 mile in these new 315s. After that short walk I decided to try molding the thermosetting heel counter. They felt no different while I was doing it, but it must have worked since I didn't have to tape that area the whole trip. I wear Injinji socks.
The sun rose to turkeys gobbling in the valley. The boys finally arose and I fixed their oatmeal. We made it to the lean-to I'd heard about in 30 minutes. While everyone else seems to think it's about to fall down, I found it plenty sturdy and it would keep you dry in a storm if it wasn't too windy (the roof is solid but the 3 sides have gaps). You could sleep 2 in it. It took us a little over 2 hours to do the rest of the 3.4 miles to the Homestead Shelter. However, we still had another 1.2 miles to go to reach our water. It turns out you'll come to another old homesite within 10 minutes that had a trickle in the small bed just past it, but I doubt that runs after spring. We made it to Cold Friday Rd in an hour so we continued to average 1.2 mph. However, it took us 2.75 hours to cover the 2.2 miles to the Ohio River Shelter after I let the boys find the next geocache near the trailhead which had an easy hint. We had consumed only 6.5 quarts of water since starting. Though they weren't dehydrated at all I had encouraged them to drink a lot before we had started and now that we had plenty of water. After a while Sydney's other big toe needed a bandaid, but he kept plugging along despite some general foot pain and several steep climbs. He has pretty flat feet and had some long-lasting issues after an ankle injury a few years ago so I was impressed he'd done so well after so much hard trekking. I was even more impressed when we made it to the shelter 5-10 minutes ahead of the church group. While they had left 40 minutes later than us, the last 2 boys finished only about 20-25 minutes faster than we did. The pastor told me he didn't think the shelter shown on the NW section of trail on the park-provided topo map existed. It turns out we ruined their plans at staying in the shelter as they had our's the previous night and they didn't bring their own shelters. I offered to let them have the Shelter with just Sydney since it was plenty big enough (unlike the Indian Creek or Homestead Shelters), but they decided to hike out and end their trip early. Almost as soon as that group arrived a C-130 came buzzing down the Ohio at our eye level. I can only assume they were doing some sort of training flight, but that was an unusual event for the boys to see. I sent Sydney in search of a nearby geocache. It turns out he came very close to it, but it was well hidden. I failed on my first attempt also but managed to find it on my second shot. Compass bearing is 286 degrees from the shelter porch. Sydney beat me at chess so I had him practice working the Windpro to heat our water for our mountain spaghetti. It was a nice sunset again and bright moon. As we settled down we discovered we were not alone. What's a shelter without a resident mouse, right? I suspect there were more.
There were a few brief showers during the night, but it was decent in the morning. I had had chafing from the prior 2 days, which was a new (and unpleasant) experience for me. I can only assume the unusually high heat and humidity is what caused it. I applied a liberal coating of chapstick to the affected parts and things were good to go by morning. Once again a turkey was gobbling it up and this time he was close. Unfortunately, he was looking right at me as I exited the shelter with my camera to go looking for him so he took to flight from the trail 100' away. Today was to be much cooler with 50% chance of thunderstorms so at least it should be closer to what you'd normally expect this time of year. We had Pop Tarts and breakfast drinks and set off for the Pioneer Shelter. We kept Samuel from the lead again as it seemed our strategy helped. While he still had several ticks, it was far fewer than the first day, and Sydney and I now had a few each. I guess I need to resoak my clothes. We did come across our first sightings of a more friendly animal, the eastern box turtle, which we apparently missed the prior two days according to the church group. They are hard to miss when right on the trail. :) However, I did nearly step on or kick one as I was taking video while looking down at Potato Run. I was surprised how such a fairly large creek bed could be bone dry in the Indiana springtime. It took us 45 minutes to make the 1.2 mostly downhill miles. When we got our cache I discovered we had used 7.5 quarts. I still wouldn't bother caching here again in non-winter months, knowing that I can refill at the Horsemen's Campground in 1.6 miles. That segment and the one leading away from the camp to the bridge were the worst ones in terms of illegal horse use though it was only in some steep or soft sections that the damage was annoying. We also came across several more box turtles. We came upon one pair that looked like they may be fighting, but it was confirmed within 100' by another pair that the "fight" was for the male to mount his female partner. So we had an impromptu discussion on the birds and the bees (or turtles in this case). :) You can see the roof of the "comfort station" where the AHT breaks off from the horse trail heading into the camp so you can easily refill, dump your trash and save digging a cathole. While the boys got a kick out of p00ping in the woods sans TP, they didn't pass on the chance to use a "normal" privy. :) That last couple hundred yards of horse trail was a major mess though so I'd recommend detouring either straight up the hill to the east or parallel it on the west side of the trail. We did the latter coming back down to the AHT after I had hosed off Sam's sandals during our lunch break. The trail heading to the bridge lets you see some interesting limestone formations before descending into the valley where it joins a gravel road for 1/3 mile before coming to the bridge. We spent lots of time here because I took lots of pics of it for a friend of mine and the boys played around on a bunch of gravel piles. The bridge has no deck but I had no trouble walking across on the beams. I had originally planned to get our cache from the other side, but there was no point since we had just filled up in the camp. As we left the bridge we came across a DNR employee using a tractor to clear debris from the horse trail. He also had no clue about the shelter shown on the map that the office told me was there when I asked about it while registering. We continued on and once we climbed out of the Blue River valley we started hearing some thunder and 15 minutes later the rain started.
Perhaps I should have made them stop right then because there was actually a flat spot that I could have pitched our shelters. They wanted to continue so on we went, soon getting drenched but having a good time. I told Samuel to make sure to tell me when he got cold. I'd guess temps were mid 60s but there wasn't much wind in the forest. Once we made the clearing where the AHT intersects with horse trails, we initially decided to just keep going. Samuel finally said he was getting cold so I got out his rain coat (glad I had just bought that instead of the trash bag we took last year!). After a few hundred yards, I decided we should go back to the clearing and camp because I figured there was maybe a 1% chance of finding a suitable pitching spot along the trail any time soon and that we'd end up having to walk the whole way out to the clearing by the car. I was also determined to at least look for the "Mystery Shelter" as we'd been calling it. I set them up under a little pine and went back south to explore the little valley where it was shown. I went up and down it and thought I found it for a second, but it turned out to be the rotting shell of a little bus. (Side note: it would be a good Eagle Scout project to add a shelter somewhere along the AHT in this area.) The rain had pretty much stopped while I was gone. I laid out all our options to the boys and let them decide what they wanted to do. We'd already done around 5 miles, and I wasn't sure how much gas they had left to give. They opted to go all the way to the car (~ 3 miles) and go home. As we headed over to the AHT again, I had the idea that maybe it would be quicker to take the horse trail, which was really a gravel road, back up to a real road and then out to the car, saving us a mile and an hour of time (as it was now 6 PM). They thought that was even better so up the hill we went. It was a long uphill mile, but they made it and I left them in the alcove of a locked comfort station while I walked the remaining 3/4 mile to the car. It started raining again as I neared it. We decided to eat at The Overlook restaurant in Leavenworth as I'd seen a few people mention it in the few reviews I'd found of this trail. We picked up our cache at the bridge on our way and arrived literally right before they closed (8 PM on weekdays). They were nice enough to serve us. The boys liked the view despite the rain and fog since the trees on the AHT prevented you from seeing the river very well. We highly recommend the ribs! :) In hindsight, I think we made the right choice. While we could have camped the night, Sam hasn't acquired the taste for storms yet, and I know some went through that night and the following morning.
Things I'd do different: nothing really. I thought the trip went as well as I could have expected except for bailing out on the last 3+ miles of trail. I was proud of how my boys held up overall. I know Sydney's shoulders had to hurt because he'd way outgrown the Pinnacle I had gotten him and I'd guess he had 25 pounds total when we started. I think Sam's shoulders hurt a bit as well since his pack has the straps attached at the center. He carried all his clothing, rain jacket, pillow and quart of water (we'd empty his first). Total weight of all he carried, including the pack, was about 5 lbs. He's small and skinny (38 lbs). So I'm on a quest to get (or make) new packs for them as time and money allow.