Montgomery Bell Trail loop is located at Montgomery Bell State Park. I’ve camped there a few times and recently learned they had a trail to hike so I made plans to hike this 11 mile loop. I downloaded maps, made arrangements and prepared my pack and agreed with my wife that I would go on Black Friday. It’s only 11 miles but I turned it into an overnight hike. My friend Porter agreed to come along with me. When I texted him to see if he was interested, I think he was hesitant till I made the statement that, “It will be just you and me.”
Kevin went on our men’s hike and felt somewhat out of shape so he felt like he was slowing us down. It seemed the lag in time in our texting was him deciding if he really wanted to go but when he found out it would be just him and I, he immediately texted back that he was interested. We were ready and waiting for the day. We watched the weather reports each day as it got closer. No rain which was always good but the over night temp forecast was dropping each day. It made me start thinking about staying warm so I studied lots of videos on YouTube on how to stay warm on cold nights in the woods. They all proved to work because we never got cold.
Black Friday came.
I drove to Porter’s house and off we drove to Montgomery Bell State Park. You have to make reservations with the office to get a permit to stay at the shelters on the trail and you have to get a permit to have a fire. When we arrived we picked up our FREE permits. I just knew that we were gonna have company at the shelter that night by a park ranger to check our permit but nobody every showed up. They might have been watching from afar, we don’t know. We strapped our packs on and took a few pictures and off we went.
Within the first few hundred yards, we were already climbing steps to hit the inner ridge of the park. Reminded us of having to climb a big hill first thing after leaving camp on our men’s hike this past summer. Porter’s keen eye was out the whole time watching for deer and salivating when he saw one wishing he had his gun. We did see a mighty fine one at the shelter we stayed at guessing to be about 8-10 point buck. We saw him as he snorted at us and took off running.
After about 45 minutes or so on the trail we came to a bridge and the maintenance department of the park. The trail followed the creek for a few hundred feet then turned left behind the maintenance building and the parking lot. The grass was walked down as if there was another trail but no blazes marked on the trail. We kept walking without taking the proper direction of the trail through the parking lot. We followed the creek till we realized we were in the front yard of a ranger’s house. I knew the fork in the road having driven the park a few times. We immediately pulled our map out to check our location and concluded that we skipped a small portion, probably a half mile that turned back and met up couple of a hundred yards in front of us. We confirmed with a family that the trail did in fact continue just up the road so we bypassed the portion we missed and picked up as the trail begins to climb up towards to ore pits.
We climbed half way before taking our first break; water and Twix bars to go around. We then continued through the ore pits where the scenery turned beautiful as in a fantasy movie with trails weaving and winding through the pits and trees. Very picturesque. I’m sure the scenery is much better when the grass fills in and the leaves aren’t covering everything making the trail more visible and contrasting the growth. The leaves covered so much it made it difficult to follow exactly where the trail was and markings were sparse.
After the ore pits, we wound down the ridge where we came upon the Samuel McAdow cabin and a church chapel.
The Cumberland Presbyterian Church was founded in 1810 in the log cabin home of Reverend Samuel McAdow within what is now Montgomery Bell State Park.The church is a small denomination of the Presbyterian church with less than 50,000 members in 800 congregations.A replica of McAdow’s cabin now stands where the church was found, and a sandstone chapel commemorating the event has been erected nearby. These two buildings are two of the main attractions in Montgomery Bell State Park. –Wikipedia
We looked around the cabin a moment and walked in the church. I’ve never played a piano with a backpack on and I was beginning to get scared the piano bench was not going to hold all the weight and me too. It creaked along as I played the somewhat out-of-tune piano.
After the cabin and church, we crossed a small wooden bridge behind the cabin made from some very large wooden beams. Close behind us was an older couple. We would leap-frog back and forth a few times on the trail before they sat down at a small day shelter for lunch. We stopped with them to snack and catch our breath and have small talk. They were from Nashville and they were hiking the full 11 miles as a day hike. I thought they were crazy but then again I was the one with a 35 lb. pack and considering sleeping in the cold all night.
We moved on.
The trail opened up to the size that an ATV could move on and finally came to a clearing where there is a cemetery. We stopped for a moment and took a couple of more pictures then moved further. Within the next mile or two we came across Hall Spring Shelter where we stopped for a moment to rest again and eat more Twix bars and water down. The couple caught up with us and began to go the wrong way till we mentioned the trail went by the shelter and up the hill. They thanked us and we never saw them again.
We waited for them to move on up the trail before continuing ourselves. After some time, we finally made it to our shelter, the Woodland Shelter. We got our packs off and immediately began the hunt for firewood. You’d think that we had plenty but we knew that it got dark around five o’clock so we knew we’d need almost double the amount of firewood. There was very little around the shelter so we had to walk some distances to get enough.
After we had gathered enough firewood, we then needed to get water. We had about 8 liters to fill up for the night. We made small talk as we took turns pumping the filter. There was a natural spring coming from under the hill but the water was not moving enough to fill straight into the bottles so we filtered anyway. After getting water, we started the fire and began to set up our sleeping arrangements for the night. We sat by the fire and had some great conversations on life, church, and the day.
We both decided about 9:00 to call it a night. Porter climbed into his bag first while I stayed around the fire to watch it burn down. Then I climbed in. I brought along a sleep system of two very light 30 degree bags. I put one in the other and tied a tarp over me to keep my heat congested in one small area. I put my air pad in between the two bags. I put a bag of “hot hands” on the bottom of each sock and doubled up my socks. I also stuck one on my chest. I had two t-shirts, my fleece jacket and my thermal rain jacket with hood. Not sure I needed all of that but I definitely didn’t get cold while I slept. My hands did get cold a couple of times only because I stuck them outside my bags. I’m most thankful I didn’t have to get up to use the bathroom. Climbing out of all that would have made me cuss.
I woke up at 5:00 the next morning but didn’t feel like rising so I went back to sleep. I woke back up at 6:00 and decided to get up so I got up and built a fire with the coals still burning from the previous night. Porter heard me working on the fire and got up too. We both had breakfast and took our time getting ready to go.
There was an outhouse built just behind the shelter and the night before we both made the comment that we could do without. That morning we both decided that we would use it. I’ve done both so it really didn’t matter to me. I just cleaned the potty seat and did my business. We took our time putting our packs together, threw water on the fire and back to the trail we went.
The second day for me was rather uneventful. There was some rather boring parts on the trail. I decided to listen to my iPod with the volume low enough to hear Porter if he wanted to talk.
We walked past the golf course. Uneventful.
We walked past the golf course on a path that seemed to have been cleared by a bulldozer. It was real muddy and the mud began to cake on our boots. When we neared the end of the path we took our packs off to rest and clean our boots. After about fifteen minutes, we were back on the trail. More uneventful hiking just trying to keep our backs and feet from hurting. Up and down, around the hills over the hills. We found a tree that had fallen across the path and Porter bushwhacked around it. Lots of sticker bushes. Hiking pants don’t keep you from getting pricked. I paid enough for them pants that they should though.
We finally made it to Wildcat Shelter. There was a couple hanging out with three pit bull dogs. They weren’t neighborly. Didn’t even say a word to us. We stopped again to rest. We had about two more miles to go. From here the trail crosses two creeks and heads straight up the hill to follow the ridge all the way back to the visitor’s station. We met a couple more people hiking out, one guy running the trail and another family that was amazed we stayed out all night long.
We finally made it out and got back to the truck. I made the mistake of taking my boots off in the cab to change shoes and I’m pretty sure three days later Porter is still cussing me for that. Stink lingers.
We left the park and headed to an Amish grocery store in Charlotte and had us a fine sandwich and coke. I had me a fried chocolate pie to top it off.
It was a really good hike. All but the uneventful spots that is. Not a bad one. I might hike it again when there’s some color in the woods to see the difference of hiking in the winter and summer. It does make a great overnight hike with some spots for viewing the lakes. But there are not many spots to look out over valleys.
If you’re a hiker, I recommend it.