Chattooga Family Camping Trip

We just returned from one of the most difficult, yet one of the most uplifting wilderness trips that I’ve ever led.

dsc02273Two weekends ago, Dana and I led a “mini-backpacking” trip for families from Hill Country Montessori School. However, the weather did not cooperate. Rain began falling as we entered Clayton, the closest town to our trailhead. Luckily, it was an intermittent rain that did not soak us right away.dsc02306

As we strapped on our packs, I was filled with optimism–everyone had plenty of rain gear, our tents were as new as could be, and our campsite along Dicks Creek was a beautiful location. The weather report had even been downgraded from 90% chance of rain to 70% on Saturday. Maybe sun might even poke through the clouds on Sunday! We’ll have an oasis of dry ground under our tarp and even fire-starter (for the first time ever). We walked the 1/2 mile to the campsite in good spirits, and proceeded to set up camp without rain on our backs.

dsc02284Friday night was lovely. Bob G. got a big fire roaring and Isaac helped him poke at it. Luke told me stories about “Man vs. Wild” and Emma and Christie helped cut up veggies for our meal. We sat around the fire eating and telling stories – including “Jack and the Devil” – until it was time for sleep.dsc02281

Unfortunately, the rain began almost immediately after we crawled into our tents. Hearing the rain pound on the thin nylon kept me up half the night worrying if the campers were getting soaked.

But when we emerged in the morning, we had all stayed dry (except for some drinking water spilled in the boys tent) and somewhat warm. I’d love to say the sun greeted us as it often does after rainy nights in the woods, but that was not to be on this trip. We spent Saturday in drizzle and rain, day hiking, going on “crazy adventures” (as I called some of our woods exploration). Without Bob’s constant and watchful eye on the fire and Curtis, Christie, Emma & Luke’s exuberant hiking up the “crazy steep” trail, the day might have been a drag. Instead, we kept our spirits up, kept our raingear on, and enjoyed ourselves.

dsc02344I told more stories on this hike than I ever have before. The kids heard about Brer Rabbit, Brer Coon, & the Frogs, Jack & the Devil, Jack & the Doctor, Jack & the Varmits, and even Jack & the Vampire (courtesy of Isaac). Leonard, Elizabeth, and Bob set calm and low-key examples for how to deal with bad weather in the woods, and from what I could tell, the kids had a blast.

Saturday night? You guessed it – more rain. People switched tents, leaving one tent totally vacant, and wouldn’t you know it–that was the one that was in a huge puddle when we awoke. Seeing the dreary gray sky and the drip of the rain on Sunday morning, we decided to pack up camp. Then, we noticed our creek … or had it become a river? The creek alongside which we were camped was swollen and brown with silt. This usually wouldn’t be a problem, but the only way out of our parking area was across a ford of Sandy Creek. Had Sandy Creek risen higher than our minivan and Mazda could ford?dsc02297

After the hike back to the car, lugging sodden tents, tarp, and other gear on our backs, we drove toward the ford with trepidation. Sandy Creek was twice as wide as it had been on Friday. Dana waded through and found the most shallow route, then Bob easily crossed in his Expedition. With significantly less confidence, I drove our Mazda through, and made it, followed by Leonard’s minivan. We then piggy-backed or helped the kids wade across in bare feet. Escape from Sandy Creek and on to a big country meal at Rabbit Town Cafe in Gainesville, warm showers and soft beds at home.

How did this trip turn out so well? I credit the families of Hill Country Montessori and their good attitudes and spirit of adventure. Next trip, we’ll DEMAND balmy, sunny weather!dsc02355 dsc02349

Who knew that we’d be roasting marshmellows TWICE on the rainiest weekend so far in 2009? dsc02329dsc02316dsc02310dsc02325