Ascent of Ocala National Forest High Point on 2016-02-06

Climber: William Musser

Others in Party:David Musser
Benjamin Musser
Daniel Musser
Date:Saturday, February 6, 2016
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Ocala National Forest High Point
    Elevation:173 ft / 52 m

Ascent Trip Report

My boys planned as Christmas present a backpacking trip like the old times and we were to go to Myakka State Park but the heavy Jan and Feb rains led to high stages and the rangers called David and said that the primitive camp sites were inaccessible and the trails had 2 to 3 feet of water in places. We had to scramble at the last minute for a second location. We decided to hike all across the Ocala National Forest and also check parts of the FL Trail that we had never hiked and Juniper Springs. I set as a goal to find the highest point in this part of the national forest and the highest point in the Juniper Springs state recreational area. As it turns out the Ft Brooks highpoint is about the third tallest in the national park. The journey put us in front of several threatened and endangered species of plants and animals including one huge black bear and some scrub jays. The summary of the trip is as follows:

We parked at Halfmoon Lake south of SR 40. We arrived Friday night and parked our second vehicle far to to the SE at Farles Prairie Recreational Area. We paid $10 to park our vehicles there for 2 nights. There is no longer a campground at Halfmoon Lake but the old grounds are still there off along the steep embankment east of the lake. The rangers told us it was a "day use" area but you could camp anywhere in the forest as long as you were 100 feet from water and 200 feet from your truck. We were in the dark with headlamps roaming through the woods and found a really nice cleared area under some massive sand live oaks and made camp.

The next morning we cooked up a nice breakfast and started along our way. I had pre-programmed a route that would use as little of the larger jeep trails as possible and use much smaller less used fire breaks and ATV trails. There are no hiking trails in this part of the forest. Basically, you have huge power and gas easement, some large forest roads of clay or sand, some smaller clay sand roads with only about 10 feet width - and all of these are very linear and a bit monotonous. They are all used by 4 wheels, trucks, hunters, and joy riders.
Then there are some smaller meandering narrow ATV paths that are 6 to 8 feet wide that feel more like hiking trails and finally some fire breaks between foresting practices that act like trails except where grown over and then they are part firebreak and part bushwhack. We used them all.

One can find this highpoint easily enough as it is on a good linear fire break that is an un-maintained trail that shows up on the aerial . This trail is a break for forestery practices and is off one of he more narrow sandy jeep trails that runs N-S through the scrub all the way to SR 40. That would have been too easy as a mere hike of under 1 mile.

We headed up from the shore of Halfmoon Lake up FR 79-2 till we found one of the nice meandering ATV trails that was like a nice hiking trail heading NE until we intersected NFS 579 and headed NW until we found NFS 121 and headed down the hunters road looking for the fire break trail that is half way between NFS 579 and NFS 28. Finding the fire break heading NE we hiked a half mile between the sand pine to the south and the scrub to the north in areas the fire break was overgrown and was more of a bus whack. My boys enjoyed the bushwhack and using the height of the trees as a compass (the interface between two forestry practices) we easily came out at NFS 28.

We headed up NFS 28 and then found a really curvaceous jeep trail that heads both south and est for about 0.6 miles towards the HP. This area of the national forest is saturated in black bears. We saw foot prints of all sized bears from bubs up to big males in the sand everywhere. At one point the amount of fresh tracks in the sand was so dense I commented to the my sons we better keep an eye out they are everywhere in here and as I turned a bend there was the largest male black bear I have every seen in FL. It raised up standing about 25 yards away, freaked, and high tailed it through the woods. Nothing like that to get your blood flowing. We found the intersection of the two non linear jeep trails that shows on the aerial about 0.4 miles from the HP and meandered now N then E looking for the narrowest place to bushwhack.

We began our bushwhack south in the non scrub where we stumbled on to a freshly cut forestry line that intersected with the fire break trail that heads East by NE right across the high ground. The highpoint is obvious in an area with some sand live oaks and we ate a snack. Coming down we headed east till we hit another linear jeep trail and flowed it south to one of the huge power easements and from here it was about picking the best way to stay within the scrub and get to Juniper Springs next.

We took FR 121 East to FR 13 North which turned paved for a short spill up to the parking lot for ATVs but we turned SE and headed down this large diagonal road (it is un-named) and in many places wet with clay. The plan was to find one of the two North-South dirt roads that intersect this diagonal road and ends up essentially across from the Juniper Spring rec site but I estimated the distances wrong and there are so many extra ATV trails we got confused and we backpacked far to far SE nearing the intersection of FR 599-1 and we headed up into some bad overgrown trails. Turning around and back tracking we found what we thought was the N north road but it was a seasonal ATV trail and winded off again too far to the east. We were getting tired and the rain began to fall and it was time to get our bearings back. Somewhere in this long lost meandering we finally stumbled into a scrub where I got to see 3 scrub jays playing in the myrtle oaks and they were stunning blue! Again, none of the boys got to see them.

Finally with some meandering and orienteering we made the eastern most dirt road out heading north back to SR 40 and as the rain fell harder we found a nice campsite about 0.6 miles from SR 40. We put up a tarp set up tents and made a fire in the rain and my son David who had carried a cast iron skillet the entire way went to work as the cook. David, Ben, and Daniel worked to cook on an open fire, marinated chicken, carrots, broccoli, onions, soybeans, corn, and sweet potatoes and we ate heartily. It rained that night.

We headed out in the morning and paid the $5 fee each to enter Juniper Springs and the second half our our 32 mile trip.
Surprisingly my instruments recorded over 1000 feet of gain for the day as the meandering up and down hills from elevation 35 to 175 eventually adds up.

Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:1139 ft / 347 m
    Total Elevation Loss:1168 ft / 355 m
    Round-Trip Distance:15.8 mi / 25.4 km
    Quality:2 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Bushwhack
    Gear Used:
Ski Poles, Tent Camp
    Weather:Drizzle, Cool
varied from cloudy to rain 58F to 38F
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:299 ft / 91 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 119 ft / 36 m; Extra: 180 ft / 54m
    Loss on way in:180 ft / 54 m
    Distance:3.5 mi / 5.6 km
    Route:varied see TR
    Start Trailhead:Half Moon Lake  54 ft / 16 m
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:988 ft / 301 m
        Loss Breakdown:Net: 148 ft / 45 m; Extra: 840 ft / 256m
    Gain on way out:840 ft / 256 m
    Distance:12.3 mi / 19.8 km
    Route:varies see TR
    End Trailhead:Juniper Springs past sprringhead  25 ft / 7 m
Ascent Part of Trip: Ocala Forest Backpaking

Complete Trip Sequence:
1Ocala National Forest High Point2016-02-061139 ft / 347 m
2Juniper Springs State Recreation Area High Point2016-02-07 b635 ft / 194 m
Total Trip Gain: 1774 ft / 541 m    Total Trip Loss: 1773 ft / 540 m

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