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Old 05-06-2018, 08:57 PM   #1
DSettahr's Avatar
Join Date: May 2007
Posts: 4,600
Charles C Deam Wilderness, Hoosier NF, IN 4/20 - 4/22/18

I've been eyeing Hoosier National Forest's Charles C Deam Wilderness in Indiana for some time now, and I finally had the chance to visit the area a few weeks ago while working in the Chicagoland area. By Adirondack standards, the Charles C Deam Wilderness isn't all that big at 13,000 acres, but by mid-west standards it's phenomenally large. The area is popular among hikers but is also especially popular for horseback riding, and the majority of trails in the Wilderness were constructed with this activity in mind. The trail network allows for multiple different loop options, with lengths ranging from 13 to 26 miles, plus a popular 5 mile round trip side trail out to a peninsula on Monroe Lake. There's also number of officially established and designated tent sites throughout the area, and regulations permit dispersed camping at other locations that are at least 100 feet from any trails or water (similar to the Adirondacks).

Given that my drive to the area was about 5 hours (one way) and I wanted to minimize my mileage on Friday and Sunday to accommodate this, I selected a 21 mile loop itinerary consisting of the Cope Hollow and Grubb Ridge Trails plus the side trip out onto the peninsula. I arrived late at the Blackwell Campground, and after some difficulty locating the trailhead in the dark (and convincing a few campers that I didn't actually work there- my work truck looks official), I was setting off through the darkness. My destination for the night was the first set of designated tent sites on the Cope Hollow Trail, which I reached after about an hour of steady hiking though rolling terrain. I set up camp and was soon fast asleep.

The next morning brought plenty of sunshine and blue sky. Before breaking down camp, I took a bit of time to explore the area around the campsite. Much of the Charles C Deam Wilderness was historically farmland until the time of the Great Depression, and while the area has largely reverted to forest, the old man-made watering holes persist. The sites on the Cope Hollow Trail are located at one such watering hole. I would frequently see others throughout the remainder of my trek, but this first waterhole was probably the largest of the man-made ponds I encountered.

With camp broken down, I set out eastward again on the Cope Hollow Trail. The gently rolling terrain continued, with a few steep but short climbs and descents along the way. The club mosses and may apples were out in force, and it was nice hiking through snow-free terrain and to see green again. I passed into Dennis Murphy Hollow, rock hopped across the small stream that flows there, and climbed out of the hollow again. Before long, I was passed junctions with the Hunter Creek and Martin Hollow Trails, and crossed Tower Ridge Road to arrive at the Grubb Ridge Trail.

The Grubb Ridge Trail follows an old road and clearly gets a lot of use. For the most part, the old road meanders back and forth along the top of Frank Grubb Ridge as it swings first north and then west from Tower Ridge Road. Some stretches of the old road were poorly drained, and the Forest Service had at one point constructed rerouted sections of trail around these parts- but it was clear that most everyone avoided to the reroutes and stuck to the old road, no matter how wet it became. Some of the rerouted sections looked to be pretty poorly maintained.

While following the Grubb Ridge Trail, I also passed a number of well established and obviously frequently used campsites. I was a bit surprised to see so many sites given the lack of water sources on the ridge, but clearly this stretch of trail is nonetheless popular for camping.

Several miles of hiking brought me to the junction with the Peninsula Trail. At this point, I was starting to second guess my original plan of camping on the Peninsula. Throughout the day, and especially on the Grubb Ridge Trail, I had passed numerous groups carrying overnight gear, including no fewer than 3 large scout troops (all in excess of the group size limit of 10 persons), and most of the groups clearly had the same destination in mind. I'm never one to be opposed to the possibility of sharing a tent site when crowding warrants, but I am opposed to the possibility of sharing a tent site with a loud and noisy group, and many of the groups I encountered definitely fit that description. The peninsula was clearly a popular place to camp.

About 2 minutes down the peninsula trail, I encountered two hikers coming up. I stopped and chatted with them for a bit, and asked if they'd seen any campsites open still on the peninsula. They indicated that they'd actually not come from the peninsula, but had actually bushwhacked up from the lake shore to the trail from another campsite further east of the peninsula. They also said that there was an open site not far from theirs- and gave me quick directions on how to bushwhack to it. The descent down off of the ridge through the forest was steep but not far, and soon was I stepping out into a picturesque designated site right on the shore of the lake that was devoid of occupants.

After setting up camp and eating lunch, it was still early in the afternoon. I decided to climb back up to the trail on the ridge and take a stroll out to the peninsula just to see how crowded it actually was. I would return to the campsite by bushwhacking along the shore of Lake Monroe, which would give me a chance to also check out some of the other campsites along the way that were boat-access. I secured camp and hung my food, then scrambled back up to the ridge, and set out down the trail, passing more and more backpackers along the way.

The trail out to the peninsula was pretty straightforward. Along the way, I passed through a few clearings that I believe were once homesteads- one clearing even had daffodils and old bricks, a sure sign that there was once a home there. As I approached the end of the trail, I could hear voices from multiple groups, and as I expected, I arrived to find the area pretty well filled up with campers. It wasn't nearly as bad as I'd been anticipating, but I counted at least 5 or 6 groups camped out within visible distance of the end of the trail, and could hear the voices of several other groups in the vicinity. I was glad to have found a site elsewhere. The trail itself ended right on the shoreline of the lake, with decent views to the west.

I also noticed that the peninsula was covered in invasive plants. I'd spotted occasional multi-flora rose throughout my hike, including some pretty good patches of the stuff near the Blackwell Campground, but the peninsula had a dense understory of the stuff. The ecosystem here was clearly struggling. I was a bit worried that much of my bushwhack along the shore would be spent carefully picking my way through thorny rose bushes, but fortunately the worst of the stuff petered out after about a half mile or so. The ecosystem on the peninsula is clearly struggling, though.

As I started walking north along the shore, it quickly became apparent that pretty much all of the groups that had hiked in were concentrated near the end of the trail- none of them had though to try to disperse by walking the shoreline of the lake more than perhaps a tenth of a mile. I passed through two very nice, and very empty sites in quick succession within the first quarter mile (and put an unoccupied fire out in one of them).

My bushwhack back to camp along the shore was pretty straightforward. Some sections had more multi-flora rose to deal with, but for the most part I was passing through open hardwood forest, with occasional stands of CCC pine plantation. Campsites became pretty spread out, although I did pass through some nice ones (including one on the east side of the peninsula that I made note of the location for, as I will definitely attempt to camp there if I ever make it back for a second trip).

Along the way, I found seed husks from an American chestnut, and old bushcraft shelter, ample signs of wildlife, and evidence of old roads disappearing and reemerging from Lake Monroe (which is a man-made reservoir).

The last bit of the bushwhack got a bit rocky where the shoreline passed close to the ridge, but was still manageable. I did pass one occupied campsite where the group present remarked that they'd "been coming to this lake for more than 10 years and they'd never seen anyone bushwhack the shoreline."

Firewood at my campsite was more than plentiful, so I started a nice fire to sit by and enjoy for the remainder of the afternoon and early evening in camp.

Throughout the day, clouds had worked their way into the region, and there wasn't much in the way of a spectacular sunset but I still was able to get some views at dusk. As darkness fell, the light from several campfires sprung up along the shoreline of the lake- I counted no fewer than 5 fires, but every group was fairly quiet on this end of the lake.

I was up early the next morning, with camp broken down and my ascent back up to the trail on the ridge begun. Even with a full pack, the steep climb back up to the trail went quickly, and soon I was back on the Grubb Ridge Trail, which I would follow the rest of the way back to the trailhead at the Blackwell Campground. For a while, the trail continued to follow old roads along the ridge, passing occasional clearings that were all that remained of more homesteads.

At the end of the ridge, I also passed a small cemetery. Daffodils abounded here, another sure sign that the area was once cultivated and cared for.

After dropping off the ridge, the trail began a bit of a rollercoaster ride, descending into and out of three large hollows in quick succession. The trail was well graded, though, with sidehills and a few switchbacks, so the climbs never felt overly strenuous. Spring was well advanced in the hollows, with leaf out in full progress and wildflowers everywhere (see post below for shots of the wildflowers). Each hollow also necessitated crossing a stream, but the water was low and these were easily rock hopped.

After climbing out of the third hollow, the trail remained along the top of another ridge. From here, it was a relatively short hike back to Blackwell Campground where I concluded my hike.

Overall, it was an enjoyable hike. The crowds heading in to camp on the peninsula were a bit more than I'd generally prefer to encounter on a backpacking trip, but it does seem that much of the use of the area is concentrated on the peninsula and the trail leading to it- with some willigness to bushwhack (or paddle) it's possible even to camp on the reservoir itself away from the crowds.

I also never made it to the trails in the eastern portion of the Wilderness, and I imagine that some of the campsites along the the Sycamore Trail especially receive relatively less use despite being closer to a road. I wouldn't exactly label the Charles C Deam Wilderness as a destination area worth traveling a long distance to see, but for anyone who happens to be passing through the area already, it's definitely worth stopping to spend a day or two exploring the area. The relatively gentle terrain makes this area good for beginner backpacking especially.
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Old 05-06-2018, 09:10 PM   #2
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I also encountered tons of wildflowers throughout my hike- including cutleaf toothwort, lesser stitchwort, spring beauty, violets, celandine poppy, rue-anemone, toadshade (a type of trillium), trout lily, wild blue phlox, bloodroot, Dutchman's breeches, Virginia bluebell, and squirrel corn. I've included a sample of photos below:

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