Swamp Splash

Starting Out
By Daniel R. Smith
  |  Gorp.com

I can't say I didn't have fair warning.

Fellow hikers had told me that the southernmost part of the Florida Trail - the 35 to 40 miles that pass through the Big Cypress Preserve — was frequently underwater and constituted one of the more remote and challenging sections of the entire foot trail. To add to the difficulty, I planned to start my hike in early December. Although it was technically the beginning of the dry season, the previous fall had seen an unusually active hurricane season, and the water had not had much time to run off. Also, since the entire route is pretty much at sea level, there aren't too many places for water to drain.

Not only is the trail often underwater, but the heavy rains and hurricane winds often rip the bark — and thus the blazes — off the cypress trees, making route-finding difficult. Because this section is so remote and often flooded, Florida Trail volunteers have resorted to using helicopters to drop them into some of the most isolated sections. When I learned that they usually carry collapsible stools just to have a dry place to sit on breaks, and that they tie hammocks to trees to provide a dry place to sleep, I started to wonder just what I was getting myself into.

Two friends — fellow hikers from the Appalachian Trail who live in south Florida — generously volunteered to check out the section for me. The reports were, let's just say, interesting. The first time they tried to drive to the southern terminus, the access road was completely underwater, and we started talking about portaging canoes. But by the time I was ready to fly down to start my hike, the road was passable and water was, supposedly, receding. Both of my friends (John Lanier and John Hanlon) signed on for the adventure, as did Kevin Butler, the vice president of relations for the Florida Trail Association.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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