Today was my last day hike of Spring Break, as the forecast says we’ll have several inches of snow on the first official day of spring. How rude!
This day, however, was the sunniest and warmest of the break and perfect for a day hike. I set off to Elk City Lake, which I reminisced about in an earlier post when I discovered the Table Mound Trail along the eastern shore of the lake. Well, there is another incredible trail there which also carries National Recreation Trail honors – the 15-mile Elk River Trail. It runs from the western end of the dam along the northern shore of the lake and then along the bluffs above the north bank of the Elk River all the way over to highway 160 near the eponymous Elk City.
This trail was so long it took me three afternoons to finish it via three looping round trips from its three trailheads. I hiked the eastern three miles on February 27, the western four miles on March 7, and finished off the central section today in my longest day hike to date. The entire trail is most impressive, zipping up and down the magnificent limestone bluffs, but I confess I found the two ends the most enjoyable. Today’s central section had few unique features, although it was an enjoyable slog.
I drove to the trailhead at the never-finished Oak Ridge Day Use Area and set out rather late – it was 2:15 pm. Even with the recent transition to Daylight Savings Time, that meant I would need to be quick about things today to get it done in the light. There would be no snack breaks or long photo sessions on this hike.
The central trailhead is the most obscure and the log book bore that out – no one had signed it over the past month, although no doubt others had been there and not bothered to register. I scrawled my signature and headed east to finish out the big section of trail there back towards the lake. I passed one family camping out and finally reached where I’d been on my first hike on the trail back on Feb. 27, which turned out to be 5.91 miles from the central trailhead. I then wheeled about and retraced my steps. Passing the family’s campsite, one inquired how far I’d gone. When I said I’d gone six miles from the trailhead and was now going back out six miles, they commented on how I must be in splendid shape. I was too vain to point out that I compensate for my long day hikes with abominable eating habits, and too modest to inform them that 12 miles would not be my stopping point this day.
You see, when I’d turned around on my hike from the west end on March 7, I had not yet reached that central trailhead. And on an aerial map it looked like a small gap to be closed. I wanted to be able to honestly say I’d walked every bit of the trail – twice. So I tramped on past my car westward, only to discover to my chagrin that the trail wound about quite a bit, making it another 1.33 miles to fully close that gap. I had quickened my pace as sunset was approaching, so when I encountered two adult scouting-types on the trail they seemed rather startled to see me traipsing quickly by. Soon I found their associated camp of youngsters, who were quite polite but then one blurted that I wasn’t supposed to see them. So I don’t know if their campout was against some rule or other, but it certainly didn’t bother me. I had a gap to close and the light was fading.
Finally I closed the gap and could wheel about again and return to the car. The youngsters politely cheered me on as I zipped by in the dusk towards my car. I managed to reach it at 7:45 pm before the light was gone, although the sun had set ten minutes earlier. My feet cried out since this was the longest day hike I’d ever taken. My prior record was about 13 miles at Eagle Creek in Oregon in 6.75 hours last July, whereas today I’d made 14.5 miles in 5.5 hours. Whew! I really let my iPhone GPS flog me onward today to ensure I hiked the whole trail. And they say technology makes us lazy!
Here are the slideshows from each of my Eagle River Trail hikes: