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BLEVINS FARMSTEAD – LAUREL FORK CREEK TRAIL – JOHN MUIR TRAIL – SHELTOWEE TRACE – BANDY CREEK

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Always a good sign I’m arriving!

 

 

 

We had hiked a short section of the Laurel Fork Creek trail in 2015 and although it was cold; the water was freezing and there were numerous water crossings it was an outstanding hike so we decided to do a longer section going in the opposite direction when the weather was better.  This time it was much warmer and the water was lower because it was early October.  Well, it worked out perfectly because with the lower water level there were only a few minor creek crossings and it was an outstanding hike.

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Just about the entire drive down to the BSF the skies were looking ugly and sputtering rain.  Even after we parked the rain kept up for the next few hours.  Fortunately, that was the extent of the foul weather and the rest of the trip was accompanied by gorgeous weather.

We parked at the Oscar Blevins farm again like the last time but this time we hiked the trail part of the way and then backtracked on the road to Jacks Ridge.  We followed Jacks Ridge down to Laurel Creek again but hung a right at the bottom of the hill and took the Laurel Fork Creek trail downhill toward Station Camp Creek crossing.  We had brought water shoes so we were prepared but the creek was low and the crossings minimal so we didn’t need the after all – just rock-hopped each time we had to cross.

We hiked about 1/2 mile before we crossed the creek and passed a few really nice campsites and I had thought about stopping but opted to get a little more mileage under my belt.  Right around this time we passed a large group of about ten hikers which surprised me because I didn’t think this trail was hiked by many people.  We saw another, smaller group pass our camp later on in the evening.  We crossed the creek another time or two and found a really nice campsite that dropped down from the trail past a monstrous rock.  There was already a very large fire pit and the creek was only about feet away and down a five foot bank to the creek so this made an excellent home for the night.  There were plenty of trees that provided my nephew and I good supports for our hammocks.

 

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Night one campsite along Laurel Fork Creek

 

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Great little campsite for night one by the Laurel Fork Creek

 

 

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Plenty of firewood for a good fire

 

 

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Beautiful waterfall next to our camp the first night

 

 

The morning greeted us with a cool chill that was quickly warmed up by the sun once it reached down in the valley we were in.  A group of about four or five people hiked past our campsite as we were eating our late breakfast.  And even though it was quite late I was able to get in a little bit of fishing and caught a few small fish before we figured we better get moving.  It was 12 before we finally left camp and headed down the trail.

We hiked past several really nice campsites on our way down the trail that were every bit as nice as ours.  A rat snake provided us with a little wildlife viewing along the way which was cool and harmless.  Other than that we listened to quite a few birds singing for the beautiful morning.

Just like a lot of the BSF giant boulders periodically made a presence on either side of the trail which gives you the crazy feeling of being in a land of giants.  You just have to wonder where these boulders come from because they look so out of place.  You get the same feeling when you paddle the BSF and look down into the water and see these same giant boulders.  Amazing!

Both the trail and creek take on different personalities and they wind downhill through the forest and zig-zag between the giant boulders.  Parts of the trail become single track at times and then widen as they cross over old forest roads.

As the trail makes its way lower and closer to the trail junction the Laurel Fork Creek begins to flatten out with less drops and the water flows more lazily.  I could see a trail on the opposite side of the creek as well as campsites that were very flat and enticing.  Eventually the Laurel Fork Creek Trail comes to a junction of Station Camp Creek Connector trail – Fork Ridge Trail – Duncan Hollow Road Connector trail.  At this point we crossed over Laurel Fork Creek by way of a wooden suspension bridge that sounded a little scary as it creaked while we were crossing it.  On the other side we passed a few people on horses as they made their way down Station Camp Creek Trail and we hiked up the John Muir Trail.

Before starting up the switchbacks on the John Muir Trail I highly recommend loading up on water.  We didn’t and it was a rough hike because this trail is pretty dry from this point until a good four miles and it’s a long way uphill.  This section of the trail was outstanding and feels a lot like you’re on the AT somewhere in Tennessee or North Carolina – it’s just a wonderful feeling to hike it.  We stopped for a break amongst some large boulders that formed a sort of protected alcove that is quite unique and interesting.  So awesome!  Afterwards we continued on and up as the trail flattens out pretty well and follows the one side of the ridge then up on the ridge.  We crossed over a few bridges along this section one of which I believe may have been over Duncan Hollow which although it looks to be a water source on the map, is barely a nasty little swamp of water that we decided to pass on.

We finally came to a junction that I still don’t see on the map but I’m assuming it’s an unmarked junction between the JMT and Duncan Hollow Road.  Now, this is a little confusing because it absolutely does not show it on my National Geographic Big South Fork map but there is trail signage clearly connecting to a road, none of which is named on the signage.  We hiked a little ways up the road but decided to head back and finish the trail because I’ve wanted to see this section of trail ever since I first hiked out to Angel Falls Overlook and Grand Gap Loop.  Right about here we ran out of water and I was really cursing myself for letting us climb up from the creek without bringing a good liter of water each.  Oh well – live and learn!

Due to the fact that I let us sleep in and we got such a late start we hadn’t hiked nearly as far as I’d hoped by this time and it was approaching 4:30.  I surmised it gets dark around 7:30 and in deep woods the dark would start creeping in around 6:30 so I was really hoping to get to camp at the Fall Branch Trail – Alfred Smith Road – Grand Gap Loop junction at around 5:30 but I was way off with my hopes.  We weren’t even close!  But, we did finally come to a bridge finally and alas there was a decent flow(just barely) of good water that we loaded up on.  We filled everything we had because I figured we would have to dry camp that night.  We hiked until about 5:30 and pulled off the trail and made ourselves a campsite.  This is a beautiful section of trail but there isn’t one campsite from the Station Camp Creek junction to about the Fall Branch Trail junction.  All was well and we settled in for the night!

The next morning brought a pretty awesome hike out because parts of the trail periodically skirt the edge of the rim and it just so happens that these are the characteristics that I really love about the hike out to Angel Falls Overlook.  In my opinion though this whole section of trail is compacted and hard which is due to it being a mountain bike trail.  So, it was pretty tough on the soles of my feet!  I’d say that after about 3 miles we reached the Fall Branch Trail junction and hiked it on into the trailhead by the pool.  We walked the road for a few miles after that until we reached the Lora Blevins Farmstead and of course we had to explore it.  This is one of the reasons why I love the BSF – so many things to see and explore and when you’re exploring it you feel like it belongs to you.

We crossed the road afterwards and hiked down a connector trail back to the Oscar Blevins Farm where we parked.  Another wonderful BSF trip complete.  Now I can’t wait until the next one!

My final take on this hike….

I have to say the Laurel Fork Creek Trail is much better hiked in the warmer months than it is in the colder months.  I took a compact fishing rod/reel so I had a bit of fun catching some fish the first evening.  I will go back and hike more of the Laurel Fork Creek Trail or possibly all of it again in October or possibly March-April.  It’s a much better hike than in November-December when the water is frigid.

As far as the JMT section of this hike well the next time I will pack water from the bottom of the crossing because it’s a long dry section of trail.  Other than that this trail was just as pretty as I thought it would be.  I will be back to hike it again.  In fact, I will do this entire hike again because it’s that awesome of a trail.

Gear for this hike….

MAPS

bsf-map
This is my go to map for all things BSF.

 

FOOTWEAR/BACKPACKS/CONTENTS – LAUREL FORK CREEK 10/8/16 WEIGHT OUNCES
SHOES/BOOTS NOT INCLUDED IN PACK WEIGHT  
MERRELL MOAB VENTILATOR 30.00
TREKKING POLES NOT INCLUDED IN PACK WEIGHT
BLACK DIAMOND FL ULTRA DISTANCE TREKKING POLES 16.00
BACKPACKS  
MOUNTAINSMITH LOOKOUT 45 BACKPACK 66.00
SLEEPING BAGS
COLUMBIA LINER BAG 10.20
QUILTS
ENLIGHTENED EQUIPMENT REVELATION 40 DEGREE QUILT W/ STUFF SACK 17.78
SLEEPING PADS
THERMAREST RIDGEREST SOLITE REGULAR CUT DOWN TO 20X60 12.00
THERMAREST NEOAIR TREKKER LARGE 26.00
HAMMOCKS
GIBBON DOUBLE HAMMOCK 40.00
TARPS
ENO HOUSEFLY 25.00
SEA TO SUMMIT SILNYLON PONCHO TARP 12.90
ZPACKS BATHTUB FLOOR 4.60
FOOD
2 NIGHT 2 PEOPLE FOOD – LOKSAK ODORPROOF BAG/ZPACKS BLAST FOOD BAG 68.00
BASICS
BEAR BAG KIT-CORDAGE/BLACK DIAMOND NEUTRINO CARABINER 4.50
MINI COMPASS AND TEMP GAUGE 0.70
ZPACKS CUBEN FIBER ZIP WALLET 2.00
SAWYER FILTER MINI(2OZ), ONE SQUEEZE BAG(1.5OZ), SCOOP CUP(2OZ) MESH BAG 6.80
SAFETY LANYARD – BG COMPACT SCOUT KNIFE/ADVENTURE MEDICAL RESCUE HOWLER/STREAMLIGHT PICOLIGHT 2.80
TOILETRY KIT – MEDICINE/TOOTHBRUSH/TOOTHPASTE ETC IN OUTDOOR RESEARCH SMALL DRY DITTY SACK 10.40
FIRE KIT: DRYER LINT/LIGHTER/LIGHT MY FIRE FIRESTEEL 2.80
POTTY KIT – DEUCE OF SPADES, INSECT REPELLENT, TOILET PAPER, HAND CLEANER BOTTLE IN NYLON SACK 4.30
CLOTHING
EDDIE BAUER FLEECE PULLOVER 10.60
FALL-SPRING CLOTHING BAG 2 NIGHT SLEEPING BAG WOOL SOCKS/REI PILLOW SACK 11.00
COLEMAN RAIN PANTS 14.00
ZPACKS CUBEN FIBER KILT 1.20
COOKING
TOAKS 600ML POT 1.70
TITANIUM SPORK 0.00
WATER BOTTLES – BLADDERS
SOBE BOTTLE FULL 29.00
PLATYPUS 4 LITER WATER TANK 1.50
PLATYPUS 1 LITER SOFT BOTTLE EMPTY 1.50
LIGHTING
BLACK DIAMOND STORM HEADLAMP IN HMG NANO CF8 CUBEN STUFF SACK W/EXTRA BATTERIES 5.30
TOOLS
SLINGSHOT 4.30
BAHCO SAW 6.70
LEATHERMAN TOOL 5.30
EXTRAS
TEVA WATER SHOES 20.00
SOL EMERGENCY BLANKET 2.50
RUGER MARK 2 PISTOL 50.00
POWER CHARGER 6.30
MP3 PLAYER 0.50
BLUETOOTH SPEAKER 4.50
SUNGLASSES 1.40
TOTAL SUM OF WEIGHT OUNCES 494.08
TOTAL SUM OF WEIGHT POUNDS 30.88

 

This is one of my favorites

 

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Hiking down Jacks Ridge to Laurel Fork Creek.

 

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We have arrived!

 

 

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Back in 2015 we hiked the section of Laurel Creek toward the West Entrance.

 

 

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Boulders!

 

 

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Laurel Fork Creek just downstream of our campsite

 

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Laurel Fork Creek

 

 

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Had to climb the boulder next to our camp.

 

 

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Couldn’t resist climbing!

 

 

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Giant Boulders everywhere!

 

 

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Glimpses of Laurel Fork Creek can be seen through the vegetation along various parts of the trail.

 

 

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Pits in the boulders from weaker materials being worn away by erosion.

 

 

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A black rat snake beside the trail.

 

 

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A black rat snake beside the trail.

 

 

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Giant boulders

 

 

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One of the coolest things about the BSF is all of the rocky grottos and overhangs.

 

 

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One of the many caves formed by the large boulders.

 

 

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Reached the end of the Laurel Fork Creek Trail.

 

 

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There are so many options at the bottom of Laurel Fork Creek Trail that I wish I could hike them all.

 

 

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Time to cross Laurel Fork Creek and begin our hike up the mountain on the John Muir Trail.

 

 

 

 

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Heading up the JMT from the junction. The trail is really beautiful and single tracks and switchbacks up through the forest. Gorgeous section of trail!

 

 

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We could see sections of the creek between the rocks and trees as we hiked up the JMT.

 

 

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One of a few footbridges we crossed while hiking the JMT. One of these crosses Duncan Hollow. On the map it looks like a water source but it was barely just swampy ground unfit for filtering water.

 

 

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Amazing sights on this trail!

 

 

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This was quite interesting! A tree had snapped and fallen but shoots were growing out of it vertically.

 

 

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And this is one of the main reasons why I wanted to hike this section of the JMT. It skirts the rim of the gorge in several spots and makes for some incredible views.

 

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Our hike out the next morning amidst fog made the view somewhat difficult but still beautiful.

 

 

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We arrived at our junction and took the Fall Branch Trail toward the trailhead at Bandy Creek.

 

 

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A campsite that I pass every time but haven’t had the chance to stay at yet. It’s right next to a great water source. I presume the name of the creek is Fall Branch.

 

 

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And this is why I love the Angel Falls Overlook trail – it skirts the rim and provides some amazing views.

 

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Nephew in the largest overhang on the Fall Branch Trail and one of the largest overhangs I’ve seen in the BSF.

 

 

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Love this section of the trail!

 

 

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It was a hard decision not to take the bypass to the John Litton Farm. Anyone who has ever seen it knows how beautiful it is to hike this part of the trail.

 

 

 

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More grottos and caverns.

 

 

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We didn’t stop at Fall Branch Falls this time around.

 

 

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Cool little footbridge!

 

 

 

 

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Nephew climbing one of a few ladders on the Fall Branch Trail.

 

 

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The trail follows right under this overhang.

 

 

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Sheltowee Trace

 

 

 

 

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Arrived at the trailhead at Bandy Creek.

 

 

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Trailhead

 

 

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Blevins Farmstead

 

 

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Blevins Farmstead

 

 

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Blevins Farmstead

 

 

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Blevins Farmstead

 

 

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Blevins Farmstead

 

 

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Blevins Cemetery

 

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