On October 27th Newton packed up his 1998 Toyota Tacoma and at 5:am left home for the North Shore of Lake Ponchartrain. In particular he was headed to the house of his hiking partner Lazarus who was going to join him on a 24 hour overnight that was to serve as Newton’s cure for his cabin fever.
Lazarus had recently completed another section of the AT. Newton had been unable to join in on the section hike of the AT and needed to get out of the cabin badly.
Newton arrived at Lazarus’ house at 6:30am and it is still dark. After enjoying a hot cup of coffee Lazarus’ gear is loaded into the Tacoma and they’re off to the Kisatchie Wilderness.
There would be another 3 1/2 hours of driving including a 30 minute bottleneck in traffic before they would arrive at the McDonalds in Alexandria, LA for “lunch” at 10:30 am. They actually got to see something neither of them had seen before in that McDonalds.
When they arrived breakfast was still being served and the menu above and behind the counter only showed breakfast items. They were there in front of the counter when the menus “rolled over” to reflect the lunchtime menu selections. Now one more of life’s little mysteries is no longer a question mark in their minds.
Lunch over they were back on the road to the Kisatchie Wilderness and the Backbone Trail also known as Louisiana’s Little Grand Canyon. Little is an operative word here since the trail is 7.6 miles long and the elevation changes from low to high points vary 300’. But this trail does offer some beautiful opportunities for pictures and good camping areas. They would encounter temperatures ranging from a low of 44 degrees to a high of 60 degrees with very little humidity. There would be a NNE wind averaging around 12 mph that would be buffered by the trees most of the time. In short the conditions would be perfect!
Newton and Lazarus arrived at the trailhead at Noon and leave the trailhead 10 minutes later headed down the Backbone Trail.
They see that Hurricane Isaac had not been kind to the trail or the Kisatchie Wilderness in general. There were patches where the blow downs presented some real opportunities for bushwacking. Most of the trail was open and passable but some of the areas challenged the memory as there were still some missing trail markers due in part to an earlier “controlled” burn that FS had done back in February.
With the ups and downs, twists and turns of the trail in front of them they hiked the trail sometimes engaged in conversation and other times walking along in blissful silence listening to the wind in the trees and observing the beauty of the forest.
They arrived at what would have been their campsite way too early to set up camp. It was also found to be really exposed to the wind that at times was gusting up to 20+ mph. A decision was made to hike on down the trail and seek a more desirable campsite. That is when the first of a few of life’s little surprises began to reveal themselves. After losing and reacquiring the trail and negotiating a few blow downs Newton noticed two hikers approaching from the other direction. One was a man in his 30s and the other was a 5 year old “seasoned” hiker carrying his own pack. These hikers would soon be joined by Mom and a 4 year old “seasoned” hiker also carrying his own pack. In this group was the family dog who was also wearing a pack. Newton and Lazarus spent some time enjoying a conversation with this hiking family. They learned that this family were regulars on the Backbone Trail and traveled along its twists and turns many times a year. The 4 and 5 year old boys were not out of breath and well up to the task as was evidenced by their “willingness” to share in the conversation. It was a good time.
Newton and Lazarus learned from this family that there was another camping area further down the trail that might suit their needs better. They parted company with the family thanking them for the information and proceeded on down the trail. The camping area was supposed to be just past where the Backbone Trail and the High Ridge Trail intersect. The camping area was found at approximately 2:30 pm. It was also exposed to the wind and it was still way too early to set up camp. Many changes in plans were discussed. The final outcome was to hike back to the intersection of the two trails and strike out down the High Ridge trail. It is here that another of the weekend’s surprises presented itself. It seems that Newton had remembered reading that the High Ridge Trail could be combined with the Backbone Trail for a 17 miler. While this is true, Newton also “wrongly” remembered reading that it eventually looped back to the Backbone Trail at the first rejected campsite.
Down the High Ridge Trail Newton and Lazarus hiked, dodging and bushwacking around blow downs. They pressed on until the trail seemed to play out. Still believing that the trail looped back to the Backbone they searched for the continuation of the High Ridge Trail that was believed to be obscured by blow downs and overgrowth. Lazarus stayed at the point where the trail really had played out and Newton, while staying within earshot, did a little more bushwacking to find the “continuation” of the trail. After finding and assuming to be what he thought was the continuation of the trail he called Lazarus forward. These two hikers walked on down this well-defined and open section of trail believing they were on their way back to their first rejected campsite. They were mistaken and were on their way to the next surprise of the 24 hour overnighter.
Newton and Lazarus had mistakenly gotten on to the Red Line. This was basically an unimproved FS road that skirted the edge of the Kisatchie Wilderness. They had walked out of the wilderness area and were well on their way to the interstate highway.
After walking for almost 5 hours they realized that they were not on their way back to a campsite. It was at this point that this 24 hour overnighter became an episode of Dual Survival with guest stars Newton and Lazarus. They considered retracing their steps back to where the High Ridge Trail played out and they had gotten on to the Red Line. Newton questioned whether or not they would be able to find the end of the High Ridge Trail in the now diminishing light. Highway noise was able to be heard to the left of the Red Line that they were on and a decision was made to walk towards the vehicular noise and attempt to hitch a ride back to their original starting point. The option was considered to just set up camp and wait it out until morning. That option was not to be needed or really ever considered as being desirable. There is something to be said for at least knowing you are on the trail you planned to hike on when you set up camp.
As agreed, Newton and Lazarus set out walking towards the sounds of civilization and “rescue” just like they do on Dual Survival. A left turn off of the Red Line pointed them towards their goal of a “hitch” back to the trail head where their hike had started. After walking for about 30 minutes a hunter on an ATV was spotted heading towards them. Newton waved at the hunter and he waved back but did not appear to intend to stop. At this point Newton waved again as if to flag him down and get him to stop, which he did.
The hunter asked how they were doing to which Newton replied; “If we were any more lost we’d be having a wonderful time”. The hunter replied; “You’re kidding”? Newton said; “Not one bit”.
What transpired afterwards was an example of what we refer to as Trail Angels and moreover evidence of the fact that there are some really good people left in this world. The hunter asked if they were in need of a ride. They answered yes and he pulled out his cell phone and called his father who lived nearby to come and pick them up and give them a ride back to where they had started the day. Newt and Laz walked another ¼ of a mile to where the hunter’s truck was parked and waited for their ride patiently. They were not disappointed. In about 10 to 15 minutes the hunter’s father arrived, picked up them and their gear and brought them back to their starting point for a do-over. Handshakes and expressions of gratitude were exchanged and offered. The hikers’ benefactor drove away and they once again started down the trail in search of the first suitable campsite.
The light was beginning to fail and after about an hour of walking they came upon a camping area that seemed tailor made for their needs. There was a fire ring complete with a supply of firewood stacked nearby the fire ring. This was another in a list of this trip’s surprises. It was a good surprise. The area was protected by trees shielding campers from the wind and there was ample area to set up two solo tents. Newton had been wanting to try out his Lightheart Gear Solo tent that he had purchased back in December of 2011. He also was ready to try out his new ProLite Plus short inflatable sleeping pad. This was also the first real hike for his newly made MyOwn pack.
Packs were dropped and the hikers set about putting up their tents, building a fire and cooking their supper.
As the light dimmed they were gifted with a beautiful sunset and a rising full moon.
The wind at the campsite was dead calm and the temperature was mild not cold. That would change later. The temperature went measurably down and Newton open up his clothes bag and dig out his insulated pants, wool Buff and light gloves as added insulation from the cold.
Lazarus set up his Sierra Designs tent without the rainfly as the prediction was for absolutely no chance of rain. Newton set up the Lightheart Gear Solo with the rainfly staked out. He believed the forecast but was interested in seeing the tent fully pitched thought it would help retain some heat during the night.
Laz related the next morning how the full moon had acted like a bright night light in his SD tent with no fly and made it difficult to get to sleep.
Newt found that the staked out fly on his tent did help with heat retention somewhat but noticed condensation on the underside of the fly. It has been dead calm when they turned in and remained that way most of the night. Some wind might have helped lessen the condensation.
Newton was up early and witnessed a beautiful sunrise.
Newton and Lazarus decided to forgo breakfast and broke camp to hike out early and drive to the Cracker Barrel restaurant for a good old country breakfast. They hiked back down the way that they had hiked in to their campsite. It is amazing how different things appear in the light of the morning as opposed to the dimming light at dusk. Newton was leading and looking for the trail markers…
…since this was his first time “unwinding” this trail. These two hikers arrived back at the trail head where they had started “twice” in 24 hours.
What followed was a 30 mile drive to the Cracker Barrel restaurant in Alexandria, LA. After being seated in the restaurant and looking over the menu they noticed that the best breakfast option on the menu was called the Old Timers Breakfast, fitting as both of us are in our late 50s.;-)
The title of this trip report very nearly became "Getting Lost with Newton and Lazarus".
So if Newton and Lazarus invite you to go hiking with them be prepared. With Newton and Lazarus, It’s Always an Adventure!