Sunday, July 5, 2015

Hike Report: Lost Maples SNA 2015

Donna and I have hiked Lost Maples State Natural Area 3 times now. The first time was in 2005, and the second time was in 2012. You can review both of these hikes, and others we have taken, on the Hiking page of our website, Living the Good Life

I’ve always considered the trails at Lost Maples to be among my favorites. But I have to admit, this most recent hike brought our mortality home. We certainly aren't getting any younger.

Trails are not always the same. Depending on the weather, time of year, and other factors, trails can change, and they can have Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personalities.  We experienced a bit of this on our most recent hike at Lost Maples.

Previously, we had hiked the East Trail, Maple Trail, and the West Trail at the park; however, we had never hiked the West Loop Trail. So, I targeted that section of trail on our recent hike.

When hiking Lost Maples, it is important to know some general information about the park. First, elevation changes range about 400 or more feet in the park. There are 3 trail sections where this really becomes a factor. The 3 major trails (East, West, and West Loop) all have steep ascents to and from ridges in the park. Second, there are numerous streams in the park. These include the Sabinal River, Hale Hollow Creek, Can Creek, and Little Can Creek to name the major ones. Depending on time of year and local rainfall, these streams can be almost dry or they can be torrents.

On our recent visit to Lost Maples, the area had recently undergone some historic flooding. As a result, Donna and I found ourselves in a lot of water during our hike. There were numerous crossings on the trails, and it was challenging to find our way at times.

I wanted to hike the West Loop Trail since that was the only section in the park we had not hiked. We parked our truck at the East/West Trails trailhead (see map). We would hike in from there to the ponds at Primitive Campsite C, then take the West Trail from there. We would then veer off for the 2.37 mile West Loop Trail, and return through Mystic Canyon on the West Trail. According to the map, total mileage should be 7.16 miles.

The hike took us 5 hours, and it really challenged us. Perhaps we need to accept that our combined age is 124 years. Perhaps we need to limit ourselves to easier and shorter hikes. Perhaps we need to stick to trails that are level, or trails that are dry. I don’t know, but I know we were both spent at the end of this hike.

Actually, we did fine the first 2 miles, even though we found ourselves frequently crisscrossing gentle streams of water. But the ascent of the West Loop Trail really made us aware that our legs just aren’t what they used to be. To top it off, the ridge atop the West Loop Trail did not even reward us with views like we had enjoyed on the East Trail on previous hikes. 

Can Creek crossing near the start of the hike. Fortunately, there are some good stepping stones here. We would not be this lucky throughout the day, though.

Our trail goes off to the right -- through the water.

Much of the trail was high and dry, though. Lots of shade for summer hikes, but the canyons limit the breeze.

The hard work is worth it, for you are rewarded with views like this.

View of the pond near Primitive Campsite C

The descent on the West Loop Trail also challenged us, mainly because of all the loose rock, but we finally reached bottom and make our way back to the West Trail. Then we were faced with working through Mystic Canyon, where much of the trail actually followed the stream bed. We found ourselves working our way through water much of the way. When we weren't working our way through water or up and down steep slopes, we were picking our way through fields of rocks and boulders. Our progress was slow.

Example of the rocky beds we found ourselves traversing throughout the day.

This is near the start of the West Trail Loop. The rocks from the dry stream bed almost look like a sidewalk.

Trail along the ridge atop West Loop Trail. Lots of ash juniper, but no views to speak off from this higher elevation.
Through much of Mystic Canyon, the stream bed is the trail. Note the arrow sign post in the very center of the picture on the tree.
Once through Mystic Canyon, we then had another steep ascent to the area where Primitive Camps E and F are located. We stopped near the top, and once again just below the ridge. Our legs were simply giving out, and we were truly struggling at this point. Then we were faced with the descent. It was about this time that Donna informed me that she could see herself living a life without me, especially if I should ever suggest a hike like this again. She even tried calling her lawyer, but she had no cell service in that remote location.

View from ridge on West Trail as we start our descent. Only a little more than a mile and a half to go.
The power of nature! It's amazing that a little stream like Little Can Creek can sculpt limestone this way.

Again, the trail follows the stream bed (see sign at left). This time, though, we got lucky. The stream was almost dry and the large, solid rocks were easy to walk upon.
I guess we need to accept facts. We are not as young as we were 10 years ago when we first hiked these trails with no problems. We are aging, and we need to find trails more appropriate to our abilities. But the scenery on these trails was truly outstanding. I love the streams and the limestone sculptures created by water erosion.

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