Friday, April 18, 2014

A Leap of Faith

Please note that the date has been changed to 27-29 June due to scheduling conflict with some Father's Day plans. Everything else remains the same.

Proposed next trip involves some bushwhacking through the woods.  We have a map and a narrative description of the route.  Nobody in our group has been there before. Other folks have been there and they left a marked trail---we have to trust that those trail markings are still there.  But we also have GPS and compass back-up.

Parking will be at the Lone Star Hiking Trail Parking Lot #8 northeast of New Waverly.  A simple mapr of all the LSHT Parking lots is here:

This will be a Friday night to Sunday morning trip--June 27th to 29th.  Arrive any time on Friday and set up camp there at Parking Lot #8.  Around 8:00 PM we'll start serving a pot luck dinner.  Bring something to share and we should have a good meal, especially if Uncle Mike breaks out the Dutch Oven.  I'll be bringing charro beans from my favorite Tex-Mex place.

Saturday morning we will decamp and hit the trail for a four mile hike to Niederhoffer Lake.  The first 3 1/2 miles will be on the well marked Lone Star Hiking Trail.  The last .45 miles we will be following some engineers tape marking a route previously explored and charted by members of the Lone Star Hiking Trail Club:

Here's the written directions, with the GPS coordinates of the lake:

NEIDERHOFFER LAKE N30 38.652 W95 23.225
 (from Four Notch Trailhead on FS 213)0.00 FS 213 trailhead and hunters camp.  Head northeast.
0.33 Four Notch Loop/Main Trail junction (0.33 mi). Turn to the right and go southeast. You will come to a camping area for hunters; in another 100 feet is FS 223.
1.52 Cross FS 223 (1.19 mi); in another 100 feet you will see the hiker's sign. Enter woods. Trail turns to the northeast. 
3.26 Cross Boswell Creek (1.74 mi)--prone to flooding during heavy rain. Watch for mushrooms in the Boswell Creek bottoms.  
3.45 Main Trail intersects Neiderhoffer Branch (0.19 mi); watch for hunter’s blind to right; head southeast. You will see a trail sign shortly. (This is not an official trail so we are hesitant to mark intersection officially). 
3.90 Neiderhoffer Lake (0.45 mi);  
The numbers in bold before each paragraph above are the cumulative mileage for the hike with 0.00 being Parking Lot #8, and they coincide with the little black circles you see on the map.  The numbers in parenthesis ( ) is the mileage between each point.

Normal speed on an easy trial like the ones we have in the Sam Houston National Forest is about 2 miles an hour.  If we take one break for water and slow down a bit in the off trail portion, we should make Neiderhoffer Lake about 2 1/2 hours after we leave Parking Lot #8.  This is a good strategy for summer weather hiking as if we leave not later than 9 AM, we can avoid hiking during the hottest part of the day.  We'll eat lunch, set up camp then each of us can have some alone time with God, fellowship with old friends, make new ones, explore the lake, and do some fishing if you want to carry the gear four miles.  I'm told there's good fishing in that lake.


~~Shelter for two nights.  If you don't have any, get in touch with me, or post on the Facebook page and we'll get you fixed up.  You can use a tent, bivy, hammock, tarp, or cowboy camp in a sleeping bag or blanket.

~~Food:  Something for the pot luck Friday night, and your own breakfast, lunch and dinner Saturday and breakfast Sunday, or make arrangements with a buddy to share, or make shout out on the Facebook page, e mail me, or get in contact somehow to share with somebody.  You can bring stuff that doesn't need cooking, but if you have stuff that needs to be warmed up, you should get a canister stove as there's no telling at this point whether or not a burn ban will be in effect. If a burn ban is in effect, the only cooking devices allowed will be a stove that can be shut off and won't spill fuel if it falls over, and there's a hefty fine if the Forest Service finds you with a prohibited stove or a campfire.

~~Water, and/or a filtration device.  I have a filtration bag that is designed for groups and will be bringing it, and other folks will be bringing pocket filters, but you shouldn't rely on these for all your water as failures do happen (in fact, it happened to my pocket filter not far from this lake last year).  I also carry bottled water with me along with my filters, and try to use that for drinking and the filtered stuff for cooking.  No safety issue there, it just tastes better.  The rule of thumb in this climate is one gallon of water per person per day. A gallon of water weighs 7 pounds.  I'll be carrying a gallon of water along with my filters.  Water is probably the single most important thing to bring along and have easy access to in this part of the world, especially after the first of May.

~~Bug Juice.  One thing you can do is go down to Tractor Supply and get some permethrin.  They sell it in spray bottles and mixes.  Its used to keep stables and barns bug free.  Its toxic to humans in its liquid form, but it dries quickly and stays lethal to insects after it has dried.  Spray the outside of your sleeping gear and it will reduce the chances of you being bothered by bugs.  Its long lasting---I only spray my stuff once a year.  You should also get some DEET for smearing or spraying over you body.

~~A simple first aid kit.  You don't need the platoon level trauma kit.  A couple of bandaids, some alcohol wipes, iodine, Mercurochrome, or other disinfectant, Neosporin, asprins, a few feet of gauze bandage and adhesive tape,  stuff to take care of scrapes and small cuts.

~~A compass if you know how to use it.  Print out the map and directions above (email me and I can send you a bigger PDF of the map) and put it inside a ziplock bag.  You can also print out one of these maps:

Each of those shows the same thing, just in different levels of detail.

~~A Bible or a device with a Bible app.

A note on electronics:  a phone can save your life, but only if the batteries are good.  Charge it before you leave the house, then shut it off once you get to the campsite and call your wife to tell her you made it OK, then don't turn it back on until you need it in an emergency or you've gotten back to the Parking Lot Sunday morning.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Little Lake Creek Loop And The Road Less Travelled

A man was walking in the woods with his Grandson when the young man asked him what Heaven was like. "Take a look around you." the man said.  "God spoke this into life in one day. Think about what he can do in two thousand years---that's how long he's been working to prepare Heaven for us so far."

John Moore and I met at Riverpointe Church at 0800 Saturday and I tossed my gear into his truck, then we shot over to Niners in New Territory for a quick breakfast.  The drive to Montgomery seemed to fly by, and as we pulled into Parking Lot #2, Uncle Mike was there to meet us.  No, he's not clairvoyant, he just needed to recharge his phone about that time.  We said our hellos and I introduced John, then John  and I headed down to the end of Forest Service Road 211A to drop off the possibles for dinner, then a slow drive down Bethel Road to see if the exit of an abandoned road I wanted to explore was obvious from what passes as the main road---it wasn't. We headed back to the parking lot and donned our packs then Uncle Mike joined us on the trail to the campsite, about 3/4 mile from the parking lot on the Little Lake Creek Loop, just south of where that trail crosses FS211A.

We set up camp and John took a look at our hammock set-ups. I think there may be a hammock in John's future.  The campsite was chosen because we'd be having a campfire to cook some hot dogs, and this site already had a fire pit that had been used recently. The recent rains had made things a bit soggy, but John found a good spot and of course Uncle Mike and I were off the ground.

John , Sarge, Uncle Mike

After hiking down to the end of FS211A to get the possibles for dinner, Uncle Mike said a prayer for the weekend, for the future of the Men's Ministry, and that we hear what God is saying to us out here in His Creation.

Since this was to be a weekend of beginnings, getting to know each other, and discussing what God has put on our hearts about this kind of Wilderness Ministry, we hadn't planned to do a lot of hiking.  The KISS principal does better service for beginnings and discussions about beginnings.  On previous trips to this location, a pond had been discovered next to a long abandoned road.  The USGS Topographical map of the area shows it as Forest Service Road 211E, and that it emptied out on Bethel Road---that's what John and I were trying to find before we parked. We were looking to see if there might be a better and more private campsite along that road---something with a bit more elevation that wouldn't turn soggy in the rain and be a bit convenient to that pond so that water might be filtered there, and close enough to Bethel Road that heavier camp gear could be dropped off for a short hike in.

The entrance to FS211E is just a few yards east of the Little Lake Creek Loop on FS211A and is actually pretty visible at that point.

It doesn't take long, however, for this road to become an object lesson in the temporary works of man versus the eternal works of the Creator.
Just a few decades ago, this road was part of a larger network  that existed in the area as the forest here was cut down to provide the wood for houses in Houston near the turn of the last century. Even the ponds that dot the forest here were created by Man to provide water for various steam apparatus used in that endeavor. All of them are slowly being reclaimed by the Maker.

The track pretty much melted into the woods after about a half mile, but I had loaded an ap to my tablet called Maprika that works with GPS on the tablet to show your position on the PDF maps of the LSHT posted to the LSHT Club website.  If you have an android device, its pretty handy.  We came upon some engineers tape tied to bushes and checking their location with the Maprika ap showed that someone had come before us, probably with a GPS, and had marked the track. After checking a couple of times, we became pretty confident that following those would lead us to Bethel Road.  After a short bit, the road became a bit more obvious again.

Even so, God is in the process of making it right in His eyes.  We found a good palaver log and set down to discuss our Faith and some of the things God had shown to us on even such a short hike. 

From the songs of the birds, to the sweet fragrance of the sassafras root...

to the pungent aroma of the fat wood created during the wondrous process He designed to replenish and reclaim Creation--and which can be used by sinners and saints alike to warm themselves and cook food...

to the deceptive simplicity of a tent spider's web...

to the hearts and flowers found in a bed of clover...

to dogwood blooms seeming to hover as a cloud in the forest...

or the intricate patterns traced on a pine tree trunk as sap forces its way out to close the gaps...

or the juxtaposition of delicate new flowers pushing their way through the charred remains of fallen trees....

The works of God are beautiful to behold, and a feast for all the senses he bestowed on us.

The works of Man?

Not so much.

But even here, we see a message:  

19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust[a] destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light,23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.[b]

Perhaps what we saw on this walk was God's way of using the comparison of His works and His Creation to those of Man to show us what treasures await us in Heaven, and what we can expect from this world.

When we returned to the campsite, we found that Jeff  (Cookiecoon) had arrived and was just about done setting up. He had arrived in time to make the hike with us, but explored an alternative route to the campsite which allowed him view certain portions of the Lone Star Trail not on the original itinerary.

Hands were shaken and introductions were made once again, then we went around the business of collecting firewood and getting ready to cook dinner. Sticks were cut to skewer hot dogs upon, the condiments and buns laid out and the fire set ablaze. Jeff brought a pie (!) which he warmed by gathering some coals between two small logs and placing the dish on them with a sheet of aluminum foil on top.

Apple pie with a wood smoke flavor---now that there is a dessert.

John got a bit jealous of the collapsible chairs the rest of us had brought and not to be out done, he dragged one from the forest over to the fire.

There's nothing in this world better than Campfire Fellowship. We sat around the fire for several hours talking about our Faith, our churches, our gear, camping, hiking, and where we go from here. We agreed to keep meeting at outings like this one on a somewhat semi-regular schedule, to work within our own churches to Create and Cultivate Wilderness Ministries, and to network between each other for information exchange and support. A Facebook Group has been created to help achieve that end.

Around 2200, we started feeling faint drops of the rain that had been promised for earlier in the day., so we each retired to our individual shelters. The rain held off until the wee hours of the morning when its pleasant and restful to hear it fall on your tarp or tent, and then stopped in time for breakfast. Jeffery was the first one up and out as his rig is the most lean and efficient, and history was made when I was not the last man packed and ready to go.

John and I had made two trips in to the campsite, one for our gear and another to bring in the dinner arrangements (except Jeff's pie), we had twice as much gear to pack out.

It was a great time. The weather held until the right moments, it was cool, but not cold. The Fellowship was fantastic, the food good, and we all slept great. Well, except maybe John---but like I said, I think there's a hammock in his future. Looks like we're going to do this again in June.