Sugar Jack Spring – Land Between The Lakes – North/South Trail

Mark Eaves and I

Last year I got the opportunity to hike the North South Trail with some friends. I didn’t get to hike the whole thing because of prior engagements but I did get to hike from Golden Pond to South Welcome which is 30 miles. With that being said, when they were coming through the north side, after leaving Night Rider Shelter, they somehow missed Sugar Jack Spring Shelter.  So Mark and I decided before we go on the full hike this year, we needed to do a recon mission to find this shelter and we did.

This is that story.

We met on Friday morning and drove to Smith Bay campground. It was a cold day and the wind coming off of Kentucky Lake didn’t help to warm it up. We gathered our things and began to make way towards the North-South Trail. Unfortunately, we had a mile and a half to walk before ever reaching the trail. It was a walk down and up some of the tallest hills I had ever experienced on the trail but it was also used as a forest road for off-roaders to drive and go mudding, which we experienced on the hike back.

When we reached the trail, there was no marker to inform us which way back to the campground so Mark set up a tree limb to remind us to cut off the trail onto the forest road so we wouldn’t miss it on the way back. Upon reaching the trail, my groin was in sharp pain and because of my dilemma when I hiked last year, I believed I was getting dehydrated so I began to chug some water which I thought had relieved the problem because the pain subsided (I found out after the hike by my chiropractor that I was straining a muscle due to turning my foot outward).

It was a rather chilly hike. There were quite a few ups and downs but nothing remarkably memorable. After a couple of hours into the hike, we decided to sit for some lunch. We found an old tree that had fallen and sat down. It’s always an interesting feeling taking off the 30 lb. pack after a couple of hours hiking. You lean forward as if you were still carrying it and your balance is terribly skewed.

A couple of things I did experience on the hike to the shelter was my first fall. Because of the mud, we were being extra careful but you can only be so careful. So when we were walking down an embankment, I slipped and fell on my tush. It didn’t hurt but sure got me all muddy. Not a pleasant experience. Later, we got to see a live armadillo. I have never seen one that wasn’t road kill so that made for some interesting entertainment. We thought it was a possum at first but sure enough it had tactical gear on. Armadillo all the way.

There were plenty of small creek crossings that we made note of because we knew rain was coming in that night and we were interested on what the hike might have in store for us on the return. Some bridges had been constructed along the way but we easily remarked that more needed to be built but due to the remoteness of the trail in some areas, I’m sure it would be a feat to get supplies to those areas to construct the bridges.

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When we reached the Forest Road 139, we began to keep our eyes peeled because this is where Mark believed they kept towards the trail and missed the side trail that takes you to Sugar Jack Shelter. We eased our way down the road intentionally bypassing the North-South Trail junction. At this time my feet began to scream because there is something about walking on a gravel road that does that as opposed to the trail. About a mile down, we began to see where another gravel road comes into FR 139 and we could see that the yellow diamonds were pointing in the direction to take the gravel road to the right. What seemed like another 3/4 mile and we came to a creek.

We noticed the Sugar Jack Shelter on our left but couldn’t tell what side of the creek it was on and the yellow diamond seemed to communicate it was on the far side of the creek. However, we couldn’t find a trail and so we began walking toward the shelter through a field. We quickly realized we were on the right trail, stepped across the small creek and felt welcomed home by the site of a small metal shelter and fireplace along with a makeshift mud oven someone tried constructing.

We spent some time a lot of time gathering firewood. We knew the temperature would be dropping soon and the wood that we found was rather wet due to previous rains that had come through. While Mark continually searched for firewood, I decided to set my hammock up. This is another story in itself and I have somewhat shared that story below in a video. This was my first time setting up a hammock and I am grateful for John Renken letting me borrow it. I decided I wanted to try a hammock this year because all last year I used a tent and the ground hurt my back considerably. I had heard you get better sleep in a hammock so this year is the year of the hammock.

After setting up, we started the fire and watched the weather as we talked. The beautiful thing about hiking with friends is there rarely ever seems a lack of conversation. There is always something to talk about and when you have nothing to talk about, you always have the weather, gear, or God to talk about. We made our dinner right about sundown and waited for the front to move in. Our weather apps said it would be moving in about 6:30 but didn’t arrive till about 8:30. I was mostly concerned with my hammock getting wet because of my makeshift tarp.

Finally about 8:30 pm when the rain came in, I decided I would go ahead and go to bed, so I said goodnight as Mark rolled over in his nice comfy warm sleeping bag and I made my way in the rain about twenty feet behind the shelter to my hammock. As I was getting in I remember one rule that Renken had told me. Because the hammock has a bug netting on it, he said not to tie it up so high that when you get in the hammock it pulls on the netting and rips it. Well… I didn’t do that. Instead, I sat right on the netting and my big butt ripped it from the tie strings.

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I got in the hammock and got situated while the rain hit my tarp mere inches from my face and I tried to sleep with the fear of something going wrong before I woke up; the hammock falling, me getting drenched, or a widow maker falling on me. By midnight, I woke up and needed to use the little boys forest. It was still sprinkling rain, but it wasn’t enough to get me wet. I turned my head lamp on and looked down to get my boots and that’s when I realized I was sitting on them. Somehow, the hammock had slipped down the tree  and I was just inches off the ground. I got my boots on, slipped out of the hammock and relieved myself. I then tried to fix the hammock but quickly realized I really don’t know what went wrong and if it did it again, I wouldn’t make it to morning before I would be laying on the ground. I decided to roll my bag and mat up and head to the shelter.

When we woke in the morning, the rain had gone and we tried to get a fire going but no luck. We made a quick breakfast and began to pack up and head back to the truck. Because it was a four hour hike, we knew we had to have fun with it so we joked a lot and killed time as we walked talking about nonsensical stuff. For lunch, I was excited that Mark shared his salmon and tortillas with me. If not, it would have been beef jerky and cliff bars.

I knew the hike back was gonna be a hard one but I didn’t realize how hard. With all the mud, creek crossings, and ice, it made for a very strenuous hike and by the time we reached the truck, I was in a lot of pain. About two miles from the truck, my shoulders were aching a little but it was more so my groin and my feet. I almost wanted to quit it began hurting so bad. We also had to deal with, because of the rain, jeeps on the forest road tearing up the mud making it near impossible for us to walk. We were slipping and sliding everywhere and I believe this contributed to my pain.

When we did make it back, I was very relieved to be able to sit down. This by far was the most painful hike I had been on since starting hiking in March of 2013. In some ways, it scares me because we will be hiking the full 60 miles in a month and I hope that I don’t feel near the pain I had on this trip.

But it was a fun trip and I learned a lot of things and life ain’t worth living if you ain’t learning.

Happy trails!

The hike

The Hammock Debacle

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