I had an interesting weekend in the Bell Mountain Wilderness in the St. Francois Mountains of southeast Missouri on a Sierra Club beginner’s backpacking trip. This time I was part of the crew – the sweep for one of the two groups.
The St. Francois Mountains are apparently one of the oldest exposed geological formations in North America – almost 4 times older than the Appalachians. Much of the rock we saw – including house-size boulders – was granite instead of the usual dolomite or limestone. It’s thought that this area would have been an island in the ancient sea. The glades featured oak trees stunted by the harsh conditions.
It’s a 5.5 hour drive and with a stops for fuel, lunch, restrooms, etc it took even longer. Here we’re getting ready at the east trail head, with the sun sinking fast.
We hiked in about 4 miles to the 1702 foot peak and it got dark along the way. Many people seem eager to do a night hike but I always suspected that it would not be interesting and I can now report that I was correct. You can’t see the scenery so what’s the point? This was also my first time setting up camp in the dark and it was no big deal if you have a headlamp (as I also suspected). Almost as soon as I got the tent up I noticed dew forming on the outside and knew it was going to be a damp night.
The next morning there was a lot of fog between the hills, almost blocking the sun:
Here’s Fearless Leader looking at maps on what is probably his most favorite rock in Missouri……because of the vista it offers on a sunny day:After breakfast and a crash course in map reading and navigation, we headed off for a day hike where there are no trails – down the steep side of the mountain…
…and arrived 700 feet lower at Shut-Ins Creek where we refilled water bottles.
Then we crossed the creek and the real fun began – a climb 500 feet up Lindsey Mountain. Most of this was rocks up to about 2 feet in diameter that were covered with leaves so you never really knew what you were stepping on. Very challenging!
We stopped in a glade on a ridge about 150 feet below the summit of Lindsey and had lunch. From here we could look back at Bell Mountain, try to see our tents on top, and think about what was coming after lunch.
Yeah, after lunch we headed back down through the boulders…
…across the creek, and back up the side of Bell Mountain via a different route.
Near the top, things got really interesting when we needed to climb back up through the ledge.
We ended-up on the other side of camp, about 100 yards from where we started, with a great sunny view.Barely visible here in the center of the horizon is the new upper reservoir of the Taum Sauk pumped storage plant on Proffit Mountain. The old reservoir failed in 2005 and wiped-out part of Johnson’s Shut-Ins:
Sunday morning we headed back to the east trail head and saw the scenery we missed Friday night.
We had temperatures of 41 degrees Saturday morning and I was very comfortable in my new 35 degree sleeping bag – even without night clothes of any sort – so I’m feeling more confident that it will work for the majority of my trips. I had several new experiences, met new people, was able to help some of the first-time backpackers, and took another step on the path of becoming an outings leader for the Sierra Club so it was a pretty good weekend!