Ascent of Torreya Challenge Tract High Point on 2014-05-18

Climber: William Musser

Date:Sunday, May 18, 2014
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Torreya Challenge Tract High Point
    Elevation:270 ft / 82 m

Ascent Trip Report

Specific Details:

Second day, we got up early and parked at the main parking lot near the picnic area. This is one of the higher elevations in the park. We depended down he blue connector trail to the rock bridge and over to the well marked "Torreya Challenge" and climbed the ravines counter clockwise (against the mile markers) as it would leave less gain on the back loop. The creeks were all flowing nicely. There were many different habitats to hike through and I explored the tops of a few hill tops and practiced using my GPS. The trail meanders the ravines in a very interesting pattern. When you near mile marker 2 there is a jeep trail unpaved that bisects the trail. To the west will lead you to a knoll and the 262 spot elevation on the USGS map (and on the way some dog cage). But the highpoint is in the opposite direction towards the primitive youth camp near the jeep trail. The northern most extent of the Orange Trail will have you climb through the clay escarpment up on to a pine ledge that is about elevation 265 then back down to the Rock Creek crossing where water was flowing full on our hike. Nearly all of the creek crossings had nice bridges. The entire hike took us about 3 hours and 45 minutes and was 7.5 miles (averaged 2.0 mph)and around 1,500 feet of total gain.

General about the Hiking in Torreya State Park:

In general, the hiking in Torreya State Park is unique to any state park or forest I have enjoyed in that it has tremendous diversity of habitat and topographic relief uncommon to the state of FL. The park sits on some ravines and bluffs of clayey sands that have etched numerous creeks and tributaries that are slowly eating the landscape to find equilibrium with the might Apalachicola River. It had rained a lot recently, and the river was far above the elevation of 40 that the USGS maps had indicated we might find. I am sure the water was at least elevation 50 and based on our GPS likely higher near 60 feet. But, the bluffs above the east side of the river reach elevations approaching 300 feet above sea level so there are some interesting views.

The creeks bottoms in the park vary from about 80 to 100 whereas the ridges and sandhill tops vary from 240 feet to 270 feet. The result is a wonderful forested area with 200 foot deep ravines to explore that takes you in and out of a many habitats from riverine floodplain, to bottom tupelo –cypress swamps, to mixed hardwoods to oak-hickory-maple forest to mesic-xeric turkey oak-laurel oak up to longleaf pine-sand pine wiregrass communities. I saw at least 4 species of pine; 10 oak; 3 maple, and 3 magnolia, and several hickory species along the walks. I have never seen so much needle palm in my life. But the real highlight is the highly endangered Torreya trees that are protected in the state park. These ancient yew-cypress like trees are unique looking and only 4 species still found today in China, Japan, and California. It is a very special plant to see growing in the woods. The park also has a lot of herpetofauna and watch out for copperheads and similarly looking grayish rat snakes.
There are 2 major loops. The western loop is in the historic state park boundary along the Apalachicola River and has about 7 miles in the loop trail (Orange) and another 3.8 miles of connector trails (blue blaze). There is one USGS named feature in the park “Logan Hill” which is the eroded ridge remnant carved by the river with only a 45 foot prominence but stand 200 feet above the river at normal water level. There is no view from the top of this feature but it is clear understory and right off the main trail and easy to find. There are nice views along the hike but not on the hill top.
The state park highpoint is in the sandhill area very close to the park entrance. One nearly walk right over it on the Orange Trail and thus can bag it simply form the blue connector parking area. That is no fun. I recommend doing the entire loop and earn it from the river. There is over a thousand feet of gain along this looped trail if you spend the half a day to enjoy hiking all 7 miles of Orange. There is no view at this technical highpoint it is simply your gain destination and the highest place in the historic park.

The park has expanded beyond that shown on the historic USGS map and the Torreya Challenge tract is larger than the western historic tract. There are no facilities there but another equally long and challenging hiking loop (Orange Trail) that is connected to the Western Orange loop by a blue connector trail. There is about 6 miles to the do the full Torreya Challenge Loop and meander through its ravines and habitats. Easily another 100 feet of total gain to complete. The technical HP in this Challenge Tract is located over by the Torreya Challenge Primitive Camp which has a ranger access road. Both of the state park HPs are about 270 feet. All other similar features that top out at 270 or even 280 are just outside current park boundaries on private land so enjoy some of the highest bluffs in this county (but not the county HP which is about 10 feet taller). There is also an old house form the 1830s that you can get a tour of called the Gregory House and it sits on a bluff on the north side of the western Orange Loop. The best view of the river is from this 160 foot drop. Interestingly, the blue trail up from the river to the house is an archaeological site where the confederate forces places 6 cannons along the ridge to keep Union gunboats from advancing up the river during the civil war. History, threatened species, copperheads, numerous tree species, some loblolly pines that were enormous, and old southern house and a long strenuous walk in a beautiful woods by a massive river. Kind of sums up the trip.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:1608 ft / 489 m
    Total Elevation Loss:1590 ft / 484 m
    Round-Trip Distance:7.5 mi / 12.1 km
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:1013 ft / 308 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 18 ft / 6 m; Extra: 995 ft / 303m
    Loss on way in:995 ft / 303 m
    Distance:4.5 mi / 7.2 km
    Route:Blue Tr to Rock Bridge to Torreya Challenge South
    Start Trailhead:High Parking Lot  252 ft / 76 m
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:595 ft / 181 m
    Gain on way out:595 ft / 181 m
    Distance:3 mi / 4.8 km
    Route:Torreya Challenge North back to Parking
    End Trailhead:High Parking Lot  
Ascent Part of Trip: Torreya

Complete Trip Sequence:
1Logan Hill2014-05-17 a275 ft / 84 m
2Torreya State Park High Point2014-05-17 b1275 ft / 389 m
3Sixteenth Hill-Three Rivers State Park High Point2014-05-17 c182 ft / 55 m
4Torreya Challenge Tract High Point2014-05-181608 ft / 490 m
Total Trip Gain: 3340 ft / 1018 m    Total Trip Loss: 3209 ft / 978 m

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