Eagle Rock Loop Part 2: Little Missouri

In June 2010 a flash flood swept through Albert Pike Campground on the Little Missouri River killing 20 people. Since that time most references to the park online mention that it is closed due to the flooding. More than two years later I still remembered the news of the flood and the little kids who were killed in that horrible episode but I did not realize how bad it actually was on the river as a whole. According to one news site I read, the river climbed 7 feet in depths during a few hours time and was moving at 7 miles per hour. I thought a lot about those people as I drew closer to Albert Pike on this section of the trail and the nature of the journey made that almost mandatory.

The flooding not only washed away the Little Missouri Trail but it buried it as well. Except for a short section near Albert Pike Loop C, I found hardly any trail blaze on this section of the trip. Generally I could still find the trail if the blaze is gone but not here. The trail is just gone. In its place are washed up trees and other river debris, new ponds and stretches of swampy areas that I was forced to cross to continue north. Also in the two years since the flood acres of thorns and thistles have grown up all along the Little Missouri. Bottom line, if it was not for the GPS unit I was carrying, I would have been literally and figuratively up the creek on this section of the trail. The path was relatively level compared to what I had come out from but that was not the main issue. The main issue was finding my way without getting trapped in thorns and mud. It was horribly exhausting. After more than an hour of this I finally gave up on the trail.

 

I had looked forward to seeing Winding Stairs but the condition of the trail and the relative nature of my journey to just stay north, kept me from getting too deep into that area. As far as I know I missed it. This went on for some time until I had finally had enough. There is a degree of anxiety and stress that kicks in when the trail is not present and you  realize you are having to find your path by way of GPS. Keep in mind, I get lost on the way to my bedroom closet sometimes. So much for the leisurely stroll!

 

I finally gave up on ever finding the trail and set my targets, both GPS and mentally on Albert Pike. If I could get there I before nightfall then I would be good to go. Seeing as there was no trail and I was not 100% sure that was on the right path even with my GPS. (Remember, I had just accidentally misused the GPS unit to divert myself away from Eagle Rock on the prior section.) I took of my pack for a bit and took a rest then looked at the map on the GPS. I was on the east side of Blaylock Mountain by this point. My bushwhacking was requiring me to cross back and forth across the river in search of possible trail sightings and less dense brush. I saw by the map that although it would require some climbing I could actually go over the eastern corner of Blaylock Mountain and soon arrive at FR 106. This would then provide a certain path all the way to Albert Pike. I imagined it being level and shaded the whole way too. I thought about it while I downed a bottle of filtered water. The risks were that I would be away from the river as a water source in case I was wrong. I was pretty confident in the GPS though. So long as I could get to the road I would be fine.

 


That’s what I did. I was closer I had figured and actually got to FR 106 within about 45 minutes. From there I kept walking toward Albert Pike. It was not a level road and there were some incredible hills that really exhausted me. Shade was also a fantasy. Worse than all of that though were the gnats. As long as I was walking they were on me and harassing me. I sprayed some OFF on me but that was like candy for them. The only time they would leave me be was when I would take a break and sit down. Whenever I was standing they were on me. I imagined I looked like Pig Pen from Charlie Brown walking down the road with this swarm all around me. It was driving me nuts and I kept waving my hands left to right, one ear to the other trying to scare the gnats off but to no avail.

 

I have never been to Albert Pike before so I got a little turned around when I came to a little parking area with bathrooms on FR 106 and thought it was Albert Pike. Once I paid attention to the GPS I realized I had another couple miles to go. Unfortunately, all but the last 1/5 mile of that seemed to be on an uphill winding clay road. On one of the last breaks I took in my uphill climbing toward Albert Pike I pulled out the guidebook to try and find some sort of reference point for where the trail should be once I arrived as I would be coming in on the road rather than the assumed trail.

 

It looked simple enough. The trail skirted along the river and then moved away for a bit. There was the marking on the map for some rocky bluffs which would tell me I was on the right track and then after that the trail intersected with the river again. Despite all the bushwhacking I had laid out some good miles that day. I would be getting into Albert Pike around 630pm  and could enjoy a nice dinner next to the river and hopefully much better trail conditions the next day in the easy still anticipated 10 mile river stroll to the completion of the loop.

 

The last bit of road into the part was a welcomed descent. I saw the bathrooms and a little map that showed the park hanging with some signage along the road. This was the day use area but I did not see anyone there although all the gates were open. I identified my location on the map, it was basically identical to  what was in the guidebook. To the left I quickly eyed some clean new blaze which got my hopes up. I followed it up into the hill away from the parking lot. I dreaded another climb but knew it would be my last. I sucked up all my reserves of energy and pushed upward, and pushed, and pushed, and pushed and pushed. The hill was everlasting and as steep as many I had been on during the Athens Big Fork section. Why was this not in the guidebook? I came to some bluffs and could see the river below. I assumed these were the bluff markings on the map in the guidebook so surely I was about to hit the downhill part and would come to the river intersection. Nope. Up, up, up. It was making no sense. The blaze had disappeared once again. The trail conditions were getting more intolerable with a lot of overhanging vines and thorn bushes. The bluffs kept coming and the views were getting better and better as I climbed higher and higher but there I was more less unconcerned with that as my knees returned to their wobbling state and the sweat poured off my head like a waterfall for the swarm of gnats that were determined to die with me.

 

I finally could not take anymore. I had climbed about half a mile and the sun was getting low. I could not bring myself to walk back down the mountain only to have to come back up in the morning. I had one bottle of water still full and figured I could sacrifice the meal I had looked forward to and just have almonds for dinner. I was wiped out. I found an overlook with good rock barriers on it and set my camp up to the safe side of them. It was confusing as to whether or not a burn ban was actually in effect there in the park so I did not start a fire. To escape the gnats I climbed into my tent and remained there the rest of the night.

 

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To the west of the Albert Pike Campground is a trail known as the Mountain Bluff Trail. It climbs up a high ridge to provide awesome views of the park and the Ouachitas atop the steep cliffs that encircle Albert Pike. This trail has nothing to do with the Little Missouri or Eagle Rock Loop Trails. I figured all of this out as I read by headlamp around 9pm that night. That was where I was camping. The water and correct location were several hundred feet below me on the actual trail.

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