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2004 Polar Bear at Mammoth Cave

The 04' Polar Bears: Mark Thieman, Greg Shade, David "Fudd" Albright, Jim O'Toole, Paul Darst, Steve Brown, Mike Broderick, Rick Walters, and John Ricks friend.

This years Polar Bear camping destination was the Mammoth Cave National Park, located near Brownsville Kentucky. We arrived on Friday night and camped at Houchins Ferry campground.

Friday night brought snow and wind with temperatures in the low 20's, perfect for a polar bear camper. Houchins Ferry campground is located on the Nolin River, a few miles down stream from Nolin Dam. With high water creeping toward the campsite, the polar bears enjoyed cigars, cigarettes, and a few libations while battling a pecker wood fire. Mike's choice of music entertained some and puzzled others. Rick had large supply of gloves and the longest cigar anyone had ever seen. Steve continued has duties as fire master scavenging for wood that wasn't wet or rotten. Jimmy of course brought his usually load of wood, although smaller than last years wheel barrel load.

Saturday the water had risen several feet and it looked as though the Ferry might not be in service. So a quick call by Steve to the rangers station confirmed the ferry was not in operation this time of year. The plan was made to drive around the north side of the park and park at Temple Hill and take McCoy Hollow trail to the Second Creek Campsite.

After dropping Mikes Jeep at the Wet Prong Parking area, the group arrived at Temple Hill about 12:00. Upon arriving at First Creek Camp, it was obvious that flood waters would effect the location the polar bears would camp. Flood waters had blocked the south portion of the First Creek Lake loop trail forcing the group to try the longer north route. Deciding to have lunch at the barely dry First Creek Campsite, the group enjoyed a variety of cheeses, jerkeys, trail bars and bagel sandwiches.

Not deterred, the group forged north around the lake only to be blocked again. Mike and Steve decided to bushwhack up the creek to see if it was passable. After about 20 minutes they appeared on the other side high and dry. By this time the majority of the group had decided to make First Creek Camp A their Saturday campsite. Mike and Steve however, decided to forge on to Second Creek Camp. After a few Hootie Whoo's Mike and Steve disappeared in the distance.

Click here for dispatch from weiner camp 1. Continue with Mike and Steve

The 1st Creek Lake Loop trial continued along the north west side of the lake eventually merging with 1st Creek Trail. The trail crossed several small creeks and one small waterfall. Mike and Steve arrived at a small campsite on the confluence of the Nolin River and Second Creek. We'll call it Second Creek Camp B. The site was about 50' down a bank and was nearly under water. The area was only big enough for 2 tents, so they decided that it was good the others did not continue on. However later they discovered this campsite was not the official Second Creek Campsite, which was a short distance up the trail and would have been perfect for the entire group.

After setting up tent, the first thing they noticed was the lack of wood. So they spent the remain daylight hours gathering wood from the ridge above and throwing it down to the campsite. More pecker wood led to a night of constant fire managing, which made the time pass quickly.

With an eye on the water level, Mike enjoyed a few of his vices, while discussing work family and religion with his good friend Steve.

The morning brought the sound of breaking ice as the water started to reseed. Steve's snoring prompted Mike to place his sleeping bag in his hammock and try to get some rest. Steve heated water for the two's breakfast (Oatmeal and tea) and being a good squaw, served up breakfast for Mike. After breakfast, Steve fashioned a stawk of bamboo into a fishing pole and tried his hand at catching a fish. His fire building skills are much better than his fishing skills.

After breaking camp about 11:30, the two proceed northeast on First Creek Trail finding the official Second Creek campsite five minutes into the hike. The trail wound it's way along the parks north boundary and passed through stands of pine trees and over sandstone rock. The occasional waterfall and rock house where observered as well as numurous animal tracks. Birds squaked at the two intruders as they passed through briar and fern covered fields.

Arriving at the First Creek Trail head parking lot around 3:00, Steve and Mike where amazed when Rick, John, Jimmy, Greg and Paul pulled up. They had departed almost the same time as Mike and Steve. High fives and stories where exchanged, bring an end to the 2004 Polar Bear camping trip.

Here's to another successful Polar Bear!

2004 Polar Bear Dispatch From Weiner Camp 1

Upon wienering out and turning back to Camp 1 (the trail ends in the water!!), Greg, Jimmy, Mark, Paul, David, Rick and John setup camp. The temp was 34 and the ground was cold and wet, but not frozen. This made for a messy encampment, aka mudd. Jimmy broke out some tunes and while 2003 was the year of Robbie Robertson, 2004 was the year of Rodnie Crowell.

After camp was in order we noticed the water appeared to still be rising. Greg placed a stick at water’s edge to determine how fast it was rising. One hour later it had come up 12 inches. (By late night it crested up almost 5 feet.) Jimmy was given the job of placing his hand out of the tent every hour to see if he could feel water and if so alert the rest of the camp.

Rick’s birthday was Saturday and throughout the afternoon, there were many toasts and congratulations. In the evening we had plans to present a cookie with a match as a candle, but the spirits diverted us from our task and we settled for a good strong happy birthday song. Several makeshift gifts were presented and most if not all drank promptly. (Just by looking at Rick the next morning, you could tell much about his birthday celebration.)

The fire Saturday night was very “hungry”. It required much tending and with the wet/frozen wood, it never really got going even after 4 hours of attention. Wet, frozen pecker-wood does not a fire make.

As darkness dinner was prepared and cleaned up. This was a simpler year for food. Mark as usual had his Johnsonville Brats, and Jimmy had Mom’s famous pork Bar-B-Q and there was a little Merlot but overall just good solid camp fare.

Jimmy and Greg had an after dinner chess game. Greg had the upper hand until Jimmy brought out the secret weapon, and within several moves the tide had turned and “Checkmate” was heard by Jimmy.

A constant line of stories and jokes circled the campfire into the night as the temperature fell. After a late night the night before and a long day of hiking and birthday celebration, most were tucked down in their sleeping bags by 10:00pm.

Morning was beautiful with our the first batch of sun of the trip, sounds of wildlife and the constant crashing of ice. During the night, the water had frozen and then started to recede. As it did, there was nothing to hold the ice up and it would break and crash periodically giving a strange unsettling sound to the forest.

Coffee brewed throughout the morning with sizzling camp stoves of hash browns, sausage, bacon and eggs. A glorious feast on a glorious morning.

A new fire starting technique was invented Sunday morning. After difficulty getting the fire going, The Fireman (Paul), with the help of David and Mark developed a sock-boom; one wool sock soaked with white gas. The results were impressive. The sock-boom even ignited frozen pecker-wood.

Upon breaking camp the group headed 1.5 miles up the steep hillside back to the trailhead. After loading up the cars and cementing the memories of the trip, Mark and David bid farewell. The rest of the group headed out and reached Mike and Steve as they were coming out of the woods. The reunited friends told tales of their time apart and all decided to head to Rick’s boyhood home in Magnolia, KY.

Rick’s simple beginnings and proud family tradition explained a lot of why he is the man he is today. We honored his father William Walters who has Alzheimer’s. We headed back to Louisville to complete the 16th Polar Bear.

We fly in 2005.

Click here for some photos taken by the Polar Bears.
*Click here for a quicktime slide show (*Get Quicktime Plugin).

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