Are you tougher than a Kodiak bear? I know a bunch of Boy Scouts who recently proved that they are, indeed, tougher than Kodiak bears!
Six of the older, more experienced Boy Scouts from Troop No. 124 of McComb recently took part in a KODIAK leadership training course, during which they backpacked about 30 miles of the Black Creek National Hiking Trail that winds its way from Brooklyn, Miss., southeast through DeSoto National Forest and the Black Creek Wilderness
Beginning at Fairley Bridge Landing Recreational area outside Wiggins, the first day and a half was spent in the Red Hills area — a series of ridges that was home to the Red Hills community during the 1800s.
All that is left of the Red Hills community is an overgrown cemetery full of the Fairleys, Breelands and Pearces who settled the area from Scotland by way of South Carolina and Georgia.
The terrain is rough and exhausting — moreso than hiking at Vicksburg but not as severe as Clark Creek.
Toward the end of the first day, we found a lovely sandbar to camp on. We probably should have pushed on a couple more hours, but the trail was swinging away from the river and we weren’t sure we could get back to a water source before dark.
Knocking off early the first day made the second day an epic death march through the Black Creek Wilderness. Moving so rapidly for so long, it was hard to soak in the flavor of the wilderness, but we did notice that the entire length of the designated wilderness section was populated with giant magnolias (Magnolia macrophylla), also known as cowcumber. This plant stood out because they are not so common in the Pike County forests that we are used to. I’ve only seen them domesticated in yards in McComb and at LeFleur’s Bluff, though Ernest Herndon tells me they also occur wild in Homochitto National Forest.
Also distinctive about the wilderness section of the Black Creek walking trail were the American holly (Ilex opaca). Around here they are abundant but they usually grow as sparse shrubs, whereas at Black Creek you can frequently see tree-sized specimens.
A third highlight of the wilderness section was crossing Mill Creek on a fallen log. The sun set on us before the end of the hike, and we finished our second day picking our way along the trail by headlamp for an hour or so.
I was impressed that each section of the trail has a wholly distinctive feel to it. The first day was the rugged Red Hills, the second was the wilderness, and as we started the third day it became obvious that we would be hiking on a wide roadway paved in places with gravel but overgrown in grass.
Much of the trail above Janice Landing is edged with young pines, and parts are being being overtaken by some form of brushy shrub that we think is maleberry (Lyonia ligustrina). The occasional streams are often crossed by well-maintained but slippery bridges.
After the strenuous first day and the prolonged second day, we decided to make the third day deliberately casual, so we stopped early and often. We lay for an hour or so in the sunlight beside a rocky brook and stopped for a prolonged lunch. After only five to six miles, we found a perfectly beautiful rocky sandbar to camp on and called it a day.
Unfortunately, that night one of our Scouts came down with a gut virus that he’d brought with him (it was not the water), and he was not any better the next day, so we retraced our steps back to Janice Landing to get him back to a road and to his parents.
Our modified plan was to spend our last day in the wilderness again, this time taking it more slowly so we could savor it, but by the fourth night two more Scouts had succumbed to the viral gut-rot, so with half of the Scouts out of commission, we called an end to our adventures at Black Creek Wilderness.
Even with our hike shortened by a day, we managed to traverse 30 some-odd miles in four days, carrying everything we needed, which qualified all the Scout participants for several merit badges and awards.
Given a long weekend of TLC from the Scout moms, all the Scouts were recovered and perky enough to rattle off a list of things they learned and loved about hiking and camping at Black Creek Wilderness.
I loved it too, but it might take me another year or two to be ready to do another KODIAK trek!