Wednesday, December 03, 2014

The Lone Star Hiking Trail

I've lived in the Texas for over 5 years and only recently have I heard about the Lone Star Hiking Trail. I asked around for first hand experiences and not even the people who grew up in Austin or Houston have ever heard of it. I decided to extend my annual back-to-nature / anti-materialism Black Friday hike into a multi-day backpacking trip to test out the trail.

I took with me two friends who were wanting to give a longer backpacking trip a try. I decided to create a loop out of the Lone Star Hiking Trail and Little Lake Creek Loop Trail to keep things interesting for the group. According to the trail website, we were going to be out during hunting season which put restrictions on where we camped.


Day 1: 6 Miles
We met up early in the morning, loaded up the car, and headed out to Trail Head #1. The drive out to the trail head was pretty straight forward. I had brought fresh apples for us to eat before heading out but we forgot about them.

Without much fanfare, we headed out in the trail. Not far along the Lone Star Hiking Trail was the turn off for the Little Lake Creek Loop Trail. We soon came across a quaint little stagnant pond. We continued hiking on what was a fairly easy going trail. We hit the turn off for Sand Branch Trail right at another small pond and followed that up to the turn off for the campsite.

Sand Branch Camp

The campsite was small but sufficient for our needs.

There were some downsides to the campsite.

First, we had a terrible water source.  After setting up camp, I went to pump us cooking water for dinner.  The only water source I had found was the pond at the turn off for Sand Branch Trail which was unfortunately stagnate.  I've never pumped such dirty water.  I had to clean my filter every 16 oz or so and, despite having a 2 micron filter, the water came out yellow.

Second, throughout the afternoon and evening, we heard gunfire from the hunters which isn't the most appealing interruption for a relaxing day in the woods.  We also had howling in the distance from coyotes, we presume.  There was some rustling in the brush around us but we never determine the cause.
Preparing a fire at Sand Branch

Backpacking Thanksgiving Dinner

We had a pleasant imitation of a Thanksgiving dinner.  Our main course was stuffing.  We mixed boiling water with chicken-flavored Stove Top stuffing, added a couple cans of chicken, and then tossed in some craisins.  We then mixed boiling water with two different flavors of Idahoan potato flakes and gravy for some delicious mashed potatoes.  We also baked a sweet potato per person in the camp fire.  We topped all this off with pumpkin pie flavored Larabars.

Overall a delicious, satisfying, thanksgiving dinner without being gluttonous like we would have back home.


Day 2: 12 Miles
It was a bit chilly in the morning.  Unfortunately, I overestimated the effectiveness of the sleeping bag and bivvy combination I had loaned to one of my friends. I was the only one who was warm last night.  The cold had me delay pumping water for our hike as long as possible.

Today's hike was pretty rough.  The trail was less travelled with more spider webs with ginormous spiders, more logs crossing the path, bridges that were out, rough terrain, etc.

On the plus side, we crossed several different types of areas.  Some areas were full of pines, deciduous, brush, ferns, or even bamboo.  We also had the combinations thereof and the mossy tree areas.

I had forgotten the importance of pacing ourselves and so we didn't have any breaks until we found we needed them.  One was up at the Pole Creek Campsite.  I'm glad we didn't plan to camp there because there wasn't even a stagnate lake to get water from.
The ferns were reminiscent of Jurassic Park

Caney Creek Camp

The camp marker
Unlike the previous campsites, Caney Creek didn't have any built-up wooden trail signs marking it but instead all we had was a tiny little marker on a tree.  Everyone setup camp while I took care of our water situation.

I had expected Caney Creek to be a great water source for us but it was stagnant and shallow, not worth pumping unless I absolutely had to, so I went exploring.  I decided to see if Caney Creek was better further upstream.  On the walk to the Lone Star Hiking trail I came across a flowing creek that at first glance seemed too shallow and muddy.  I then came across a stagnant creek.  Eventually I arrived at roughly where the Lone Star Hiking Trail crosses Caney Creek and it was all dried up.  I went back down to that flowing creek and found that the water was actually perfectly clear, I was just seeing the sand on the bottom.  I also found some deeper parts to pump from.  The main downside left was that it had fairly steep and high banks which made pumping uncomfortable.

Tonight we ate more traditional backpacking food.

The noises at this campsite were worse than Caney Creek.  We had no rustling bushes and fewer gunshots but we had more howling and there was some unfamiliar sound that most closely matches with what I'd expect an animal growling while mauling its prey would sound like.


Day 3: 12 Miles
We pumped, ate, packed up, and headed off.

We went north to finish off Little Creek Loop Trail and took the turn off on the Lone Star Hiking Trail to head back to Trailhead #1.  The trail was in good condition with no spider webs across the trail, few logs to step over, and had very few creek beds for us to go down and back up from.  There were decent bridges in different sections.

After yesterday, we had considered taking North Wilderness Trail as a shortcut but the hike was so much easier today that we had decided to stick to the long way.  We took breaks at Trail Head #3, a log on a service road on the edge of the Little Lake Creek Wilderness which is also the turn off for a primitive campsite, and at Trail Head #2.  Tired and sore, we eventually reached Trail Head #1 where the car was.

I tend to end hikes with cans of fruit to refresh us but instead we ate into the fresh apples that we had forgotten about when we left

We used a McDonalds in Navasota as our opportunity to use a real bathroom.  We then didn't eat until we got back home.


Lone Star Hiking Trail: At least the first 11 miles of it make an enjoyable hike but past that it looked like it got a little rough.

Little Lake Creek Loop Trail: The first 6 miles were smooth and it got very rough afterwards.

Sand Branch Camp: Cozy little camp with a terrible water source

Caney Creek Camp: Pleasant camp with a really good water source 5 minutes north on the trail

Pole Creek Camp: Decent camp with no water sources that I could find.

The overall area: Compared to the other options in Texas, this is a great hike.  The variety of flora was great.  This is Texas, so you can't expect sweeping views.  I prefer my hikes to remove me from civilization which this trail doesn't provide.  We saw houses, heard gun shots, and crossed roads.  The upside is that if someone gets injure, you can get them out more quickly.

The drive: Depending on your carrier, you might not have reception once there.  Be sure to be prepared with maps for the drive back.

Equipment: I mostly used the same equipment as I did in the past.  My boots died on a smaller trip since then and I replaced them with Hi-Tec boots and they worked great.  I'm disappointed that my friend was cold in the Uber Bivvy but my expectations might have been a little too high.  I've still not tried it myself to see how it is first hand.  The weight was great though.  Since the hike was local, I got to use my traditional hiking pack (an 15+ year old Kelty with an external frame) and I continue to love that pack.  I will be sad when it finally gives out on me.  My friend borrowing my new Thermarest Z-Lite SOL reported that it was warm and comfortable.