Thursday, December 29, 2011

Batona Trail hike, Pine Barrens - 12/28/11

The Batsto River
Dave and I had discussed the possibility of getting out for a hike at some point over the holiday week, and I was pleased to get an email several days ago to the effect that he and Leo were looking at a few dates. We settled on yesterday as a day that would work for everyone, and a day on which the weather was supposed to be pretty good. It was forecast for cold but clear, with a high in the low 40's. Leo's friend Tim would be joining us.

Dave's initial suggestion was for a Pine Barrens hike, which suited me fine. The scenery would be very different from what we would have seen last time out on the Pennsylvania appalachian ridges, and wasn't very far from home. The final plan was for four of us to meet in Springfield near the Blue Route exit at 9am. I had to drop Grace at a one-day gymnastics camp, so I would be closer to 9:15.

Everyone was on time, I grabbed a few juice bottles and a couple of bagels at the bagel place where we met, and then we all piled into Tim's car for the drive to historic Batsto Village, near Hammonton. The drive was uneventful, other than finding our way around a "bridge out" detour. We parked a little after 10:30am, and were ready to hike shortly before 11.

Trail sign at Quaker Bridge
The hike Dave had selected for us was to start in the parking lot of the historic site on the east side of the Batsto River, follow the Batona Trail up the east side of the river, cross over at Quaker Bridge, and then return to the car on the yellow trail down the west bank of the river (between the Batsto and Mullica rivers). It was an estimated 12 miles in total distance, but over easy flat ground. Depending on our pace and stop time, it would take 4-5 hours to complete. Another nice thing about hiking in the Pine Barrens is that there are many geocaches, and I had my gps loaded and ready to get a few. If I could find some close to the trail that wouldn't take too much time for stops and detours, I might be able to have a decent day at that too. As much as I like to take the time to mix geocaching and hiking, I realize that those who are not at all interested (half our group in this case) will soon find it tedious to have me making a 5 minute stop every few tenths of a mile to try to find a cache. Hopefully some of the ones I see on the map will be right off the trail (and not too hard to find).

The weather was as promised, clear and cool. There was a cold breeze pretty much all of the time, kicking up to a real wind in places. Fortunately, we were somewhat protected in the pine woods. The hissing sound of the wind through the tops of the pines would be a constant companion throughout the day though. As Leo noted at one point, the wind through winter pines and bare trees sounds different than wind through leafy trees, and I would agree with him.

The hiking was easy, with the ground being level as expected. A slight up or down slope here or there was the extent of the exertion, other than the pure miles we would cover. I did want to make sure I got a few geocache finds out of the way before I lost track of that, and managed to make three easy finds within the first couple of miles. It's a good thing that I wasn't planning on making too many caching stops though, because after the third cache I needed to replace a drained set of rechargeable batteries. I did so, only to find that the replacement set I had brought were also drained and had not been recharged. Oops. I had downloaded the Groundspeak iPhone geocaching app onto my Christmas present, but the reception was so spotty out in the woods that my geocaching day was effectively over almost before it began.

Batsto Lake, behind the dam
The 6 miles up the east bank of the Batsto to Quaker Bridge took us about two and a half hours at a leisurely pace, and with stops. The scenery was nice for winter, with bare oaks interspersed with scrubby pines and large stands of taller cedars. There was enough variety to keep things interesting, and the few places where the trail paralleled the banks of the little river were especially nice. We saw the same kind of "cedar water" here that we saw in the summer of 2010 on the Pinchot Trail hike in upstate PA. It made me wish for a warm day and a canoe or kayak.

We had a chuckle when we got to the road at the Quaker Bridge crossing and realized what the map referred to as a named road was a dirt and sand road that was little better than some of the fire access roads the trail had crossed back in the woods. These "roads" were on maps and if you didn't know the area, you could very easily show up in a car and expect to be able to drive on them. Depending on the weather and depending on the vehicle, I wouldn't try it. My car would sink to the axles in the soft sand patches.

Batona trail section had been. On the east bank, we were generally on a hiking trail, crossing a number of fire access roads, but usually not following them. On the return loop on the west bank, we spent too much time on these dirt and sand roads, or right next to them. The scenery was still nice, but there is something about a trail vs a dirt road that makes a big difference in my mind.

Batsto Lake, with clouds
Pretty much on schedule, after a slight detour for the last mile or so due to a washed out trail section, we arrived in historic Batsto Village from the west. The village is a collection of shabby old wooden buildings that were cool nonetheless. There were some beautiful views of the lake behind the dam, and I got a few very nice pictures of clouds reflected in the waters. A short walk over the dam itself had us back in the parking lot having covered 12.9 miles in about 5 hours. I am pretty sure that is the longest day I have had hiking as an adult, but I didn't feel too bad when all was said and done. I was footsore, and had some stiffness once we sat down, but my joints all felt good, which I am sure would not have been the case if there had been more elevation changes mixed in. This was a fun hike, a nice day out in the woods with a good bunch of guys, and something I would gladly do again in a different season. I can't wait to come back to this area.

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