Monday, December 14, 2009

Brawley Mountain

With all this rain, I haven't been on my bike in a while and I'm starting to get that "I don't even feel like a cyclist any more" feeling. Yesterday brought more rain, and even more of that feeling. I mean, yeah, I could go turn 50 miles on the road, soaked, shivering and steadily forcing water into my cables, but it hasn't been that long yet. Maybe next week, we'll see.

Yesterday I hiked all over Brawley Mountain.

...but, it didn't start out so well. Every now and then I make such an impressive mistake that it makes me wonder whether I can really trust myself with a map and a compass. Yesterday's mistake was driving up to Skeenah Gap, mistaking FS640 for FS45 and getting all the way to Hwy 60 before I figured it out. Whee.

It wasn't all in vain. It did give me a chance to take a pic of this weird fountain thing.

 FS640 Fountain

I'd seen it before but I didn't have a camera back then. I guess the area used to be a campground, or a farm, or somebody's mountain estate. Something. Makes me curious. The internet doesn't seem to know anything about it, so who knows. Next time I'll look around a bit. Yesterday I just wanted to get to Brawley.

I did find these two deer across the road from the fountain.


I guess I should say one and 8 tenths of two deer. I'd seen 2 more deer carcasses that day as well, more decomposed than these, chucked to the side along FS640.

Ohhh! And I almost forgot, I'm pretty sure I saw a young bald eagle. At first I thought it was a hawk, but it was shaped different and it was way bigger than any hawk or vulture I'd ever seen and I see those every day in Cumming, at all kinds of distances. It's feathers were mostly brown, but mottled all over with white, and it's breast was mostly white. It was about 40 feet off of FS640, at eye level. I assumed it was a golden eagle until I looked up photos of both. A golden eagle would be awesome to see, but a bald eagle is just that much cooler. I didn't take a photo because it was too far away and very well camouflaged. Deer don't even come out in iPhone photos at 40 feet away. Now I'm kicking myself. I should have at least tried.


I found FS45, right where it was supposed to be, and parked at the gate. FS45 leads to a tower, so it's gated and even in hunting season, the gate is closed unless somebody needs to get to the tower. My plan was to hike out on the road, take an old 4WD trail down to FS82, then either bushwhack back up on one of the ridges, or just take the same trail back up and then take the Benton MacKaye back to the truck.

The road was well maintained and I made good time hiking out. Somewhere on the south side of Tipton Mountain I ran into this:


That's a small field, covered in sawdust, surrounded by bleachers with no seats and light poles with no lights, placed in front of an old Quarry. The internet does know something about these though. Go here, search for "bleachers", scroll down.

There were a ton of turkey prints on the road.

 Turkey Prints

Did I mention the weather. It was 36 degrees and misting when I left my house, but in the mountains, the mist became fog and the temperature went way up. I was overdressed when I got to Brawley proper and shed my base layer for the climb.


I'd kind of hoped for an abandoned tower that was still safe to climb. What I found was well-used and and the bottom flight of stairs was missing. So, pretty much the exact opposite.

 Brawley Mountain Tower

Just as I stepped onto the BMK, I ran into this artifact. I love finding old stuff in the woods, especially if it actually had a purpose at that location, like chimneys, rock walls, dams or, in this case, a concrete pylon. I guess they rebuilt the tower at some point and this was one of the original footings.


Earlier, on the road, I'd looked around for the 4WD trail shown on the map, but there was an overgrown powerline cut right through where it should have been and I didn't feel like getting cut to ribbons. The BMK should cross it. Once on the BMK, I figured I'd look for it again.

I did find a trail, not the trail that I was looking for, but a clean old roadbed, and it was actually heading in a more interesting direction, right down Rocky Knob Ridge. Change of plans: I'd follow it down to FS82 instead and see if I could take the other trail back up.

The trail was clearly got a good bit of use. I did see some ATV tracks, but they were shallow. It looked more like foot traffic.

 Rocky Knob Ridge Trail

At the bottom of the first steep descent, there was a wrecked up hunting blind.

 Wrecked Blind

It didn't look too old, and it didn't look like a tree fell on it. Maybe the wind just had it's way with it.

At Rocky Knob proper, the trail turned into a sidehill on the east side. I took a short trip up to the top of Rocky Knob. I figured, hey, I was right there, I might as well. It was fairly rocky.

 Rocks on Rocky Knob

North of rocky knob, the trail T'ed into a newer old roadbed. That T'ed into another and that led down to 82, exactly where I'd hoped it would. Woohoo!

I took 82 back south to the end and looked around. It looked like there might have maybe, kind of, might have been a road leading east from there, but if so, it was a loooong time ago. There was a very clear trail leading southwest. I took that. From there, I pretty much followed the path of least resistance back up the mountain. Sometimes that meant following an old roadbed, sometimes it meant sidehilling cross country, sometimes it meant just walking straight up or down hill until I found another roadbed. I eventually ended up at Ledford Gap. During all that, I even found the trail I'd originally been looking for, or at least part of it.

I found these two cool things too.

A small cave, formed by an overhanging rock. I always forget to put something in the shot for scale, but it was tall enough to sit up under, maybe even stoop. There was what looked a little like a fire ring under there too. It was totally dry underneath. Might be a good spot to camp.

 Small Cave

There was also this little shelter, or blind, or bunker, or something. Throw a tarp over it and you could sleep there. I've seen a couple of these before.


But I digress.

The BMK crosses through Ledford Gap and I had to decide whether to take it back or stay on the road. I had about 35 minutes of daylight left and it had taken me about an hour to get from the car to the tower. I had about 1/3rd less distance to go back the other way and it was mostly downhill. If I pushed it, I could make it on the road. The BMK was longer. It would be better to be on the road if it got dark.

I pushed it all the way back. Or, at least pushed it for me. I learned last week that I need to get used to jogging again, so I jogged as much as I could. That basically consisted of running for a minute or two until some muscle I didn't even know I had started burning, then dialing it back to a march until it recovered, then doing the whole thing again. I did that all the way back to the truck and made really good time. I beat the sun and even got home on time.

It is amazing how soft I've gotten with respect to running. When I was a kid I ran all over the place. Even in college, I played intramural football and softball. I ran all the time. I guess 10 years of cycling, even mountain biking, was low-impact enough to kill my tolerance. And hiking does not appear to be equal to running. It's so lame that I can't run, I can't even stand it. I've got to do something about that. It's going to be a long road I think, but at least I've got the cardio.

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