Ozark Highlands Trail Section 6 Day 1
It had been over two months since I was last on a good trail and I picked up where I left off on New Year’s Eve at mile marker 99.5 on the OHT. I got out of work at noon on a Friday and pointed my truck down Hwy 16, down 7 and then up 123 at Pelsor. The weather was really beautiful and I couldn’t ask for better at this time of year. I enjoy the drive out through this part of the country. Everything seems so spread out and far from the next thing. There is a little church here or there but beyond that even gas stations are hard to come by after a bit. Meanwhile the drive twists and turns, rises and lowers over the hills and scenic beauty of the Ozarks. It always makes me smile when in the middle of seemingly nowhere I run across a quilt or craft store, with advertising billboards and all. Of course this is way out here in the boondocks. No grocery. No gas. No schools. But hallelujah we have a craft store and how would we survive without it.
I pulled onto the dirt roads that led to 99.5 on the OHT around 4pm. A note to those using the guidebook out there. This road is marked on the guidebook and most other maps as FR 1003 I believe. This is no longer accurate. I think the correct road number is 5447. Even if that is wrong though it has two entrances, an east and west entrance, with a little island in between them where some drilling trucks were parked when I drove through. It is easy to find but not if you’re looking for 1003.
By 430pm I had locked my truck and was on the trail with my gear. The plan was to put in an easy 3-4 miles that evening and then another 3-4 the next morning and I would be meeting some guys at the trail head of Big Piney to start the Hurricane Creek section.
I stopped at mile marker 100 a half mile in and took a photo. This section of trail was very easy hiking and for the most part either level or slightly declined. There were several streams at the Gee Creek drainage area where I stopped to fill up my water. The scenery got really pretty here. Spring greenery is just starting to hit but not so bad that you can’t make out views through the trees. The water in the creeks alternated from crystal clear to a deep green and blue noting the different temperatures flowing through the creeks.
After several creek crossings the trail continues along pretty level with some nice sized boulders and bluffs to the right. I could hear the water trickling through the rocks as I moved along. Somewhere along this area I lost the back of my new GPS unit. I replaced it with some duct tape and the unit was still usable but at a day old it was frustrating to already be losing parts.
I crossed another creek, probably the prettiest and largest that I had seen so far and from there the trail moved along a rocky incline of a ridge. The trail itself is pretty much level but due to the rocks and incline on either side of it a requirement for caution was given. The sun was setting by this time. One of the mile markers I was looking for was either missing or I had just missed it and I probably should have made camp back at that large creek. It was getting dark and I had decided to pitch my tent at the first level ground I saw. That would not be found until I arrived at Haws Creek a whole 5 miles from my starting point. All the ground in between there and that last creek was on a deep incline.
I was surprised that I had gone so far and although the sun was gone for the day and darkness was out there was a bright moon that I could read that Haws Creek campground sign by. I crossed the highway and made for the campground. It was still closed for the winter but I did not really have an option this late in the day so I went around the gate and into the park. The little bridge at the entrance was under water but not so deep that I couldn’t walk across without getting too wet. Once in the campground I was not sure where anything was as I have never been there before. I strapped on my head lamped and moved in. Back on the trail I had seen several boot prints, not to mention one bear paw print. While I was pretty certain I wasn’t going to run into the bear here I did think other campers might be a possibility. Those tracks must have been at least a week old though as I did not find any other hikers and the sign in post I saw the next morning showed no hikers since January.
I was about to turn into the woods in the campground to make camp when the definite scent of a skunk blocked my path. I continued on and found a good spot next to the waterfalls there at the campground. I could not see them too well at night but I liked the sound and new it would be a good sight in the morning. I set up my tent and then tried to get a fire going. I had thought about skipping the fire as I could do dinner with my jetboil but there is something nice to having a fire when you are out there on your own. Wood was hard to come by in the campground but I found an area littered with bark and dragged a lot of it back to my camp site. The fire kicked up pretty quickly. I made dinner then went down to the creek to refill my water bottles. My surprisingly good time meant I only had a mile and a half to hike the next day before meeting up with the rest of the guys. I settled in with that happy thought and drifted off to sleep around 9pm.