Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Swamp Tromp

Monkey Creek was bigger than most creeks, but I felt confident that, at least at this particular crossing, I could get through without going into the water deeper than my waist. The water was slow moving as well, so no worries about the current knocking me over or carrying me downstream.

If that was the *worst* I had to face, I would have no trouble. Monkey Creek, up to my waist, then perhaps the rest of the swamp tromp wouldn't go past my knees. Definitely doable.

Onward, always onward, and I was considerably relieved after seeing Monkey Creek. I could do this. =)

Then I smelled smoke again. A shift in the wind? I left the burn behind me, after all. At least I thought I did. Then I noticed a couple of particles of ash floating in the air.

Crap. Ashes! I had to be REALLY close to the burn to be seeing ashes. And a few minutes later, I heard a helicopter. I still had no idea where the burn was actually happening, but I knew it was close and my worries went back to the fire.

Ironic, I thought, how my worried flipped from drowning in water to burning in fire in mere minutes. Only in Florida.

The trail came out on FR 348, and I stopped to make an early dinner. I wanted to hike further, as close to the swamp tromp as I could, but the trail left the Sopchoppy River at this point and I figured it would be the last reliable place for water until the swamp. I wanted to make use of it while I could.

I made a bean and rice burrito--oh so good! While cooking it, a kayaker pulled in at the road crossing. He kayaked down the Sopchoppy for about seven miles and stashed a bicycle there to ride back to his vehicle after hiding his kayak.

My immediate thought was that maybe he knew more about the prescribed burns than I did, and that's what I asked him. He had talked to some forest rangers who originally suggested he should not kayak down the Sopchoppy, or at least wait a few hours to do so because of the burns, and he did see the actual burning.

Not good for me, I thought.

He wasn't sure all where they burned, but he thought it was mostly in the Bradwell Bay Wilderness.

Double crap, I thought.

But it should be a lot better by tomorrow.

Good news, kind of. I'll take what I can get, though.

The man stashed his kayak, and I finished cooking (then eating) my dinner before heading out on the trail again. I figured to get in another three or so miles, but I didn't even get a mile before I started seeing evidence of recent burns.

And after another mile or so, I found smoldering trees and burning bushes. It was time to stop.

Not knowing where all the burning had taken place, I felt my safest option was to camp in the burn zone that had already burned. If I hiked out further, and the flames weren't large or difficult to pass, my fear was the fire would grow during the night and catch up to wherever I set up camp.

By camping in an area that had already burned, I could be certain my campsite would be safe from additional fires.

So that's where I set up camp, about one or two hundred feet away from the area that was actively burning. Kind of like a campfire, and the smoke blew into camp all night long.

Late at night, I could see the orange glow of flickering flames, a rather neat thing to watch. About once each hour, something particularly flamable went up in flames and you could hear a loud crackling until it finished burning and died down again.

And several times during the night, I heard a loud THUNK! as a tree fell, overpowered by the fire.

It was a memorable night! =)

Packing up camp took a bit longer than normal due to my worries about the swamp tromp. In preparation, I bought a number of those super extra extra large ZipLock bags which I intended to use to make sure my pack, or at least its contents, could survive a prolonged dunking in water. My pack is what I'd call 'water resistant'--which under normal conditions is fine, but not acceptable if the pack is completely submerged.

Frankly, I don't know how well my extra super large ZipLocks would work, but they seemed sturdy and a heck of a lot cheaper than true drybags, which seemed like overkill to use just once.

So I stuffed all of the contents of my pack into ZipLocks--sleeping bag, food bag, stove and cookset, clothes, and all into ZipLocks. Only the water bottles didn't get bagged, because that would have been silly. ;o)

The most critical items that need to stay dry--my sleeping bag, clothes, and food--I double bagged.

The burn area I stopped at continued to smolder, but I hiked through keeping my eyes open for flare ups. I followed through several miles of burned and unburned areas before reaching Monkey Creek and the official start of the swamp tromp.

I stopped to snack, unsure how wet it would be over the next five miles and wanting to go in with a full stomache. Monkey Creek looked deep, but I didn't think it would come up past my waist.

Normally I wear a fanny pack around my waist and put things like cameras and snacks in it, easily accessible without having to take off my pack. (I really don't understand why all backpackers don't do this--I couldn't imagine doing a backpacking trip without a fanny pack. If you backpack, give it a try. Seriously!)

Rather than stringing it around my waist, though, I strung it over one shoulder and under the opposite arm like a sash--a trick I used for Big Cypress. Then I put on the pack and stepped into Monkey Creek.

The water was cold. It seemed ice cold, but that seems unlikely in Florida. These aren't glacier fed streams, after all! But I'm a whimp, and any water below 80 degrees is cold to me. =)

I used my trekking pole for balance and it probe the depths of the creek looking for the shallowest path through, which ended up being along the cypress trees (often using the underwater roots as steps) near the downstream side to get across.

The water was the deepest yet I had to clear, well past my knees but--thank God--mere millimeters below my crotch.

On the other side, I checked my pack--the bottom of it might had dipped low enough to get a dunking--but no, it came out completely dry.

The swamp tromp was supposed to last another five miles, but the Monkey Creek crossing was to be the deepest. No sweat. =) It might be slow going, but I felt like I was in the clear now and hoped the water wouldn't pass my knees anywhere else.

The rest of the swamp tromp wasn't even that hard. Most of the trail was completely dry, and the sections with water rarely got deeper than my ankles. I figured I'd give myself all day to get through, and I did it in three hours.

This is Ryan, checking in from Shelton's Store. (That's at the intersection of CR 274 and SR 73 for those keeping track.)


Danny said...

You're making impressive time!

Anonymous said...

all that dreading the swamp for nothing...glad you made it through ok:)
keep on trekking

Anonymous said...

wow, i am so glad that you didn't have to ballance everything on your head.......and all your goods stayed dry......glad you were prepared.......if not you just know it would have beed deeper.

hopefully you have a better night sleep......without keeping one eye open for approaching flames.....not sure how you slept at all that night........maybe it was all the worries and hiking that lets you sleep in the middle of a giant campfire.

stay safe and keep up the good work. at this rate you will be at springer before tax day........ :J


Anonymous said...

I'm sure the flames get closer and the ash thicker each time he tells the story. ;-)

Maple Leaf Red said...

One part in particular cracked me up. Not swimming in water unless 80 or higher! That is so so me! After living on Marco Island in Florida for 18 months (more than a "few" years ago), I find it very difficult to swim in up North (NJ or even worse yet NNY brrr) now. I get about 60 days to swim comfortably.
Well good to see I am not the only picky one about water temp.
Stay safe, Ryan

Maple Leaf Red

Anonymous said...

They use the helicopters to set the fires. They have this little machine that drops out these little balls of fire (essentially ping pong balls filled with napalm) that of course start a nice little fire when they hit the ground.

They will burn thousands of acres at a time in places like Apalachicola NF.

So don't stand up under the helicopters...

Glad Bradwell Bay was dry for you. Kinda shows you how bad the drought has been.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

I had to grin when I noticed your Atlas Quest widget on the left has a photo of a wildfire and the caption "Blazing The Way".

How perfect for this particular post!

Hike on!
~Twinville Trekkers