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7/21/2013
  Saturday morning......4:30......westward ho on FR 106 I walked...rain lightly hitting the leaves...and to a lesser extent...me. It looked as if this area had received some good rain over night. "Surely it would pass quickly" I thought. Three and a half miles away from the Athens-Big Fork Trail...should be there in an hour was my guess. I passed a large group-o-campers along the road. Their camp was lit well with five or so lanterns but no soul was in sight. No dogs barked. Onward ho. Getting close to my destination another, yet smaller camp was past...only one lantern lit...a lone dog barked. Some gruff voiced occupant growled something to the effect of "shudduppp you razzinfrazzin mmrff...". The dog obeyed. Most people just let them bark. I was impressed.
  There was a short-cut ahead...an old road that would chop off a corner and shorten my connection to the trail...thus the short-cut status. I found it and followed it...it went straight up the slope then merged with the Athens-Big Fork trail...which also went straight up. The switchback action was minimal. The rain was a bit heavier now but still light. Sunrise was at 6:11...looks like it would be hidden by the grayness. Brushheap Mountain was summited at 6:30. The trail to the top was overgrown with shoulder high yellow flowers with course stalks and leaves...yay! I was soaked as I reached the top and viewed three antlered dear staring at me as if thinking "what tha?". When they realized "oh that" they bobbed off up the ridge. The view was pretty cool but was limited pretty much to south and west. Fog was scattered in some valleys and not in others. To the west there was an interesting striated cliff that angled upward. A future destination. 
  After making my way back down through the flower jungle the trail descended into the next valley in line. East Saline Creek was the stream of the moment. It was a lovely and lush little creek. I gazed upon in with boyhood wonder as I refilled my water storage device. This was my first hike using a bladder and tube that I had always scoffed at in the past. My new filtering unit was the Sawyer Squeeze filter. This system worked well for me and I was impressed by the speed and ease of refilling my bag of water. This valley was not too deep and quickly ascended to the next ridge. There is a vantage point there off the main trail called Eagle Rock Vista that I did not venture to. This climb was hardly even a climb. 
  The sun was out now as I descended into the next valley...the valley of Viles Branch. This creek was named after Jimmy Viles. He was famous for for his Jimmy Viles Corn Fritters that were so popular in the South during the 40's and 50's. The trail down was steep but had a few vistas looking southward into the valley of the Jimmy. On arrival to the creek a left turn was made onto the combo trail of Viles Branch Horse Trail which doubles as the southernmost aspect of the Eagle Rock Loop Trail. As all these trails tend to do...it follows an old road bed along the creek where numerous water crossings await the hiker. Mine were uneventful due to a low flow of water. One water moccasin was found blocking passage but I swept it aside with my trusty spider web removal tool. He ran like a little girl fearing the wrath of the whip-like wand.
  After three and a half miles or so hiking east the next checkpoint at the confluence of Viles Branch and the Little Missouri was in sight. The crossing was shallow and I hit the Little Missouri Trail north with a cool stretch of river just upstream...which I knew would be full of locals...and it was. Unfortunately there is an access road for this end of the Viles Branch Horse Trail that makes it easy for anyone to get to Winding Stairs without much work. The quality of this spot is diminished by this with trash and other debris cluttering up this otherwise unusual rock formation of wonder. I crossed the river above all this and found a pool with no visitors to cool off in and eat a snack. This was right near 12 noon and the temp was 86 degrees. The final leg was mounted and the Winding Stairs trailhead with my xTerra Outdoor Transportation Unit was in sight by 1:00 p.m. Total mileage was 14.4. This was an enjoyable loop. More to come in this area...I assure you. 

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