Pigeon Hill | 52 Hike Challenge 2017 | Hike 7

The Park

Oh Kennesaw…every time I’m here, I have some kind of issue. This hike was full of all kinds of “adventures”…and lessons learned.

The Hike

Well. This hike was actually intended to be a short trail run. Starting at the Visitor Center, jogging along the Visitor Center Cutoff Trail, then cutting back at the Camp Brumby Cutoff and returning to the Visitor Center via the Kennesaw Mountain Trail. I got my run in, but missed my turn for the Brumby Cutoff. I should have just turned around and headed back the way I came, but I thought I’d head around the Camp Brumby Trail and take a short cutoff trail I saw on a map in my hiking app. Unfortunately when I got to that turn…there was no built trail. So I kept going. At this point I had settled in and knew it was going to be a much longer day, but I still thought there was a way around the Little and Big Kennesaw Mountain peaks. Wrong.

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The “Detour”

I preach the ten essentials, but for this hike I really didn’t do much prep, and suddenly found myself without enough food or water. I was hiking about 5 more miles, hundreds of feet of elevation and in much hotter and more exposed temperatures than I had planned and packed for. UGHHHH…lesson learned, Mother Nature.

As I rounded the Pigeon Hill Trail to start climbing Little Kennesaw, I was quickly warming up. I realized I would probably need to ration my water. Had I not been so wiped from the beginning of my hike (I ran, remember? probably another reason I was so wiped out), this would have been really enjoyable. I was on a new-to-me trail that was quite pretty, and I even stumbled upon a cactus! I didn’t expect to see that on a bald mountain top in Georgia. As I climbed French’s Rock Trail, I started to feel a little off balance. Not quite disoriented, but it was clearly time to stop, eat something, and drink some of the little water I had left.

The Return

After this break I felt a lot better, and headed towards the Kennesaw Mountain summit. From the top, there are two ways down. Although I wasn’t prepared like I should have been, there are still lots of little decision points along the trail (like picking when to eat and drink). Heading down the mountain was one of those points. I could head down the trail, or walk the road, which added distance to my hike, but in case I got into REAL trouble, I could signal one of the cars driving the road that connects the parking lots at the top and bottom of the mountain. I felt so terrible I went with the road.

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Luckily, I made it down just fine and made a beeline for the water fountain at the Visitor Center. After chugging water and scarfing down whatever food I had left on me, I felt well enough to drive the few minutes to get McDonald’s. It’s amazing how fast some salty fries and a sugary Coke can snap you out of a big bonk. At this point I felt fine and headed home, resolute to carry what I SHOULD when day hiking from now on…

Have you ever had a big bonk on a hike? What did you do? How do you plan for your hikes?

Bonus Bummer

After this hike I went to get my husband some soup. He was sick and had requested Panera. While leaving the restaurant, a car backed into mine, capping off a day of…”adventure” ūüėÜ

Relaxing in the warm midday sun

Barataria Preserve | 52 Hike Challenge | Hike 4

When you think about wild animals and Louisiana, what comes to mind? Gators, of course. So for Hike 4 of my 52 Hike Challenge I headed to Barataria Preserve, part of the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, to look for some of these local reptiles.

 

The Barataria Preserve

The Barataria Preserve is a large area of protected wetlands just south of New Orleans. The area is rich with plants and wildlife, especially birds and alligators. The preserve is part of the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, a group of six sites that highlight ecological, historical and cultural treasures of southern Louisiana.

 

The Ranger Walk

The Barataria Preserve offers free ranger-led walks five days a week, so I started my visit with one of these short hikes. Our ranger was extremely knowledgeable about the history, plants and animals of the area. He was also great at spotting tiny, camouflaged snakes along the boardwalk path. We walked the short Visitors Center Trail and learned about native plants, invasive animals and wetlands creation. Most interesting to me was the effect of Mississippi River flood control on these wetlands.

Guiding and controlling the river helps avoid the flooding of populated areas. When the river and its streams flow naturally, the waters deposit silts that build up wetlands areas. By redirecting water, sediments are not deposited and wetlands sink. As wetlands sink, the vegetation changes dramatically, which also effects animal life. The short Visitors Center Trail displays this change in a short and dramatic way. The beginning of the trail is lush and green, full of cypress trees and palmetto palm. By the end of the quarter mile boardwalk trail, you are standing in what looks like open grassland. Seeing this shift over such a brief distance had a big impact on me. It also highlighted the complexity of human impact on our environment. How can we protect people and property while maintaining these important wetlands?

Along this eye-opening trail we spotted several snakes. We heard there was an alligator further up the path it was gone by the time we reached the reported spot. Major bummer, although we did see a trail where an alligator had pulled itself through the grass, leaving a narrow, flat path. After this walk I decided I wanted to see a little more of this park and try to catch a glimpse of a gator, so I headed to the Bayou Coquille Trail.

 

The Bayou Coquille Trail & Marsh Overlook Trail

Bayou Coquille Trail and Marsh Overlook Trail combine to form a 1.8 mile out and back hike. The Bayou Coquille Trail has several markers along the path pointing out important historical and natural occurrences along the path. Beautiful old oaks and giant palm fronds line the wide, clear rock path.  This path seems to be popular with birders. While this trail was beautiful and interesting, the real action started once I reached the March Overlook Trail.

I had heard at the Visitor’s Center that a lot of gator sightings had occurred recently along this trail. I had read that you typically only see an alligator’s eyes peeping over the surface of water, so I was scoping things out, hoping to just get a glance of one. Turns out it’s not that hard.

About halfway down this path I had my first gator encounter. A sunbathing gator just off the boardwalk path, maybe about four feet long, kinda skinny. I also saw one swimming/crawling through the aquatic plants.

 

 

About 3/4 of the way down this path was a much larger alligator, maybe 6-7 feet in length and much broader. This guy/gal was sunbathing directly next to and parallel to the boardwalk. This one made me a little more nervous as I cautiously walked by. I would have loved a photo more at ground level of one of these prehistoric beasts, but gators judge others by height so it’s dangerous to make yourself look any smaller than necessary.

I completed this path, ending at an overlook point over a grassy marsh where I saw a feral pig running through the very tall grasses. These animals are a real problem for parks and hikers. They are destructive, eat just about anything and can be aggressive to humans who get too close.

 

The Return Hike

When retracing my steps to return to the beginning of this trail I heard a low growling sound. I stopped on a bridge with many fellow hikers to watch a pair of alligators growl a bit before settling back down in the marsh. It seems like this growling is part of a mating/territory ritual, but if you know any more about it, please leave me a comment below!

 

 

A bit further down the path I got a good look at an alligator climbing out of the water to sun itself. I could really see how it used its stubby little arms to crawl, and watching it swish its long tail was like being in a prehistoric time machine. They really are like living dinosaurs. Getting an up close look at the sunning gators was cool, but watching some in action was even more interesting.

 

 

The last creature I noticed was a turtle, hanging out in the water. Nature’s camouflage is really incredible and I’ve found that the only way I really notice these critters is to slow waaaay down. I was stopped along the trail, chatting with some fellow hikers about the growling gators when I noticed the turtle. It’s almost like when I slow down or stop my eyes can “adjust” and I’m able to see all kinds of new things.

 

The remainder of the hike on this gorgeous day was uneventful. Have you explored wetlands in the southeast US or Louisiana? Ever had a gator encounter? Scared of wild pigs like me? Tell me about it in the comments!