We headed to bed around 930pm or 10pm. The temperatures really dropped throughout the night. I instructed the ladies that when the alarm went off the best thing to do was to get up and immediately stuff their sleeping bags. We could not lay around and the longer you waited the harder it would be to get out of bed in the morning. It was best to just realize you were going to be cold until you started moving and so get to work at taking down their camp.
I have wanted to take my wife with me on an overnighter backpacking trip for some time. Last year we even purchased some gear for her to do the Hurricane Creek section of the OHT with me. Temperatures dipped below 5 degrees that weekend though and, not wanting this to be her first experience on the trail, I canceled the trip just before we left. In November 2012 we finally had the opportunity to hit the trails together.
The Butterfield Trail in Devil’s Den State Park represents a sort of rite of passage trail for our family. It was my first overnight backpacking trip, the first for my son and as of this past November, it was the first for my wife and 10 year old daughter.
My alarm sounded at 6am the next day. It was still dark outside and I had known it would be when I set it so early the evening before. One thing I have wanted to make sure of this year is to do more early morning hiking. I find that to be the richest part of the day as far as scenic beauty and just a general freshness on the trail.
I had the camp torn down and packed up before sun up but the light blue sky was bright enough to head back to the trail. I was out of water having finished my last bottle with a good morning drink. I had figured out my location before going to sleep the night before. I was 99% certain that if I went back down the trail the way I had come and landed back in Albert Pike I would be able to find my way to the correct trail. At the very least, I would find my way to the river and then locate the trail from there.
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.
I took Friday off of work and the plan was to hike all day Friday and Saturday with a short conclusion on Sunday to be back home in time for church that evening. The drive to the trailhead is about 3.5 hours from my house. Originally I intended to drive up Thursday evening and camp at the trail head then hike out early Thursday morning. I love backpacking in the early morning hours. I move faster and fresher and the trail is just perfect that time of day. By the time the kids got to bed on Thursday night though I realized it would be at least 1am before I got to the trailhead. I could get up early and head out and likely get better sleep still than I would in the bed of my little truck. So I filled my pack and got everything set on Thursday night then got up a little after 3am Friday morning and headed south toward the Ouachitas. Although it was a pleasant little drive I don’t know how many more of them my little Ford Ranger has left in it. It has already gone much farther than I ever expected it to.
This Christmas, I was in the market for new hiking shoes. I had toyed with the idea of going minimalist for quite some time. When it came down to purchasing them, I made the leap with Merrell Tough Gloves. They are stylish enough to wear to work, but “tough” enough for the trail. At least that is what the name wants you to believe. Not wanting to find out that this is simple marketing while on a long trip, and wanting to make sure my feet could handle backpacking in minimalist shoes, I decided to make a day trip first chance I could.
My intention was to get up at 530 for day two of my hike on Section 6 of the OHT. My alarm did not go off though, or if it did it didn’t wake me up. At shortly past 6am the light of dawn did the trick though and started moving around. To warm up in the morning I stuff my sleeping bag back into the compression bag even before getting out of the tent. This little ritual saves some time later on and gets my blood flowing. Once out of the tent I considered stirring a fire back up but since I had already overslept opted against it. I did not want to take time for it to die back out.
The falls I had camped by the night before were certainly a pretty sight. Haws Creek Falls is not too high but it is wide and very comforting. I downed a liter of water then got some pictures of the falls. I decided to wait until I got to the meeting spot with my friends before doing breakfast expecting that I would beat them there. I packed up camp and grabbed some peanut butter crackers then moved on down the trail.
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.
For the past few years at Christmas we have tried to downplay the gifts and up play the time together. We still do gifts for the kids and such but on a smaller level. We take the savings we have and get a cabin off in the woods all to ourselves for a couple of days. In the past we have usually gone up to Eureka Springs for our cabins and have had nothing but good things to say. This year we wanted to be closer to the Buffalo River and found a great little cabin run by Candy over at Cove Creek Cabin. It is fully furnished, sits right in the thick of the hills around the Buffalo and came at a great price. I told Candy I would talk up the cabin on the site here so there it is. Check out the link to reserve.
“We entered the Mississippi the second day, and soon left the state of Arkansas far behind us. Of all I had seen in America is was the one which pleased me most; I may perhaps never see it again, but I shall never forget the happy days I passed there, where many a true heart beats under a coarse frock or leather hunting shirt.” Wild Sport chapter 12, Friedrick Gerstacker
I have never done a book review here on the site but this one I just completed is pretty unique and I think will be of specific interest to those hikers out there who have hiked around Arkansas.
Wild Sport: Rambling and Hunting Trips through the United States of North America is the true recollections of Friedrich Gerstacker and his trip to the US in the 1830’s-40’s. Gerstacker was a sportsman and travelled throughout the Arkansas and Louisiana areas hunting bear, turkey, deer and more during his seven years over here before returning back home to Germany. Much of the book is spent in various areas of Arkansas eastern, southern and northwestern. Any hiker who is familiar with the layout of the land will recognize a lot of the locations he writes about.
I woke up to a brilliant sunset day 3 of the hike. I can’t say that I was truly refreshed from my night’s sleep but my body had relaxed a bit and I was eager for a new day of hiking not least of all because I would have company joining me on this day. By the time I woke up my son Hud was already on the way toward me packed into a truck with Ben and Steve. We had about twenty miles ahead of us to start and finish section five from Ozone to Big Piney. In fact, we would be starting a little further into the trail at Forest Road 1405 that intersects with the OHT about 3 miles past the Ozone Rec Area Trailhead.
I overslept a bit the following morning. In an effort to save my cell phone battery I did not use it as an alarm clock but used my wrist watch. Unfortunately, the alarm was set for PM rather than AM so my intended 6am wake-up call did not happen until around 730am. I did not concern myself with stoking the fire back up but instead had a cup of coffee made from the jet boil. I filled up my water bottles at the waterfall, made a breakfast of almonds, restuffed my pack then moved on down the trail. The Arbaugh Trailhead was indeed just around the corner less than a quarter mile but there was no sign of life there and I was glad I had not pushed on the night before. The scene outside the tent of my settled camp site was even more serene that I had expected.
The weather has been beautiful around here and what with Christmas wish list items being found under the tree it was time for another hike, and this time a hike like no other. I looked at the sections that lay immediately ahead of me and saw that section 4 of the Ozark Highlands is one of the longest on the trail at almost 30 miles from Lick Branch to Ozone. I did the math and figured at a good pace that was a two day hike for me, packed full of fast walking with 15 miles per day. I talked to some friends and they were interested in meeting me for section 5 at Ozone so I figured why not really go for it and add on another 20 miles with an aim of 50 miles total in four days. (more…)
My daughter Phoebe (a.k.a. PB) and I made the trip to Hawksbill Crag a couple weekends ago along with my mom and dad. For as popular as this sight is it comes as a surprise to most that I have never been there. According to the Tim Ernst guidebook it is one of the most popular day hikes in Arkansas. Its location and “need to do” on my day hike list made it the perfect outing for this December Saturday afternoon. PB was not interested in going, a spongy cartoon grabbing her attention, but knowing what was good for her and needing some time with her I gave her a little nudge and she moved along.
We woke up pretty early for day two. My tent is orange so when the light dawns it always at first seems brighter and later than it really is. We had some coffee around the fire then packed up for the trip. I pulled my first aid kit out and secured a knee brace/wrap for my ailing knee. It was not hurting that bad in the morning but I figured better safe than sorry. Hud managed to catch the sunrise with the camera. We had hoped the cold morning air and rising sunlight would produce a fog over the valley that Spy Rock overlooks for the sake of some good pictures but no such luck.
This was by far my favorite section of the Ozark Highlands Trail to date. The scenery was excellent throughout and we hit it at a perfect time of the year as the leaves off in the upper elevations gave access to tremendous views of remaining colors over the lower elevations. It is a strenuous trail but of the first three sections I have hiked so far this one was easily the least taxing physically. There are a couple of deep descents throughout the course but only a handful of ascents and those are measuring no more than 500ft and usually not even that much.
I am in the process of gearing up for section 3 of the Ozark Highlands Trail. This is going to be a 19-20 mile stretch of fairly level trail compared to the previous two sections. It is also supposed to offer some really pretty scenery from the heart of the Ozarks according to the guidebook. As I prep for this hike I am taking my oldest son with me. Those who have followed my posts have read earlier accounts of hikes and camping with my kids. These things are important to me, the time we spend together and the values I get to instill into them almost by osmosis when we get these quality times and experiences together.
I woke up pretty early on day two. It was cold out and very nice in the tent and sleeping bag and as the light had not quite dawned I hung out a while longer in there. Eventually I mustered up the diligence to get dressed and jump out into the clean cool air. It took a while to get the fire going that morning as there had been a heavy dew. I had to find some paper out of my backpack for kindling.
The weather is turning cool and with that the colors of the Ozarks are starting to sparkle in the leaves so this past Friday was a good time to hit section 2 of the Ozark Highlands Trail. Most of the guys who did section 1 with me wanted to do this one but schedules did not work out so I was on my own. That was ok. I was kind of in the mood for a nice solo hike. The section 1 hike was my first group hike except for those I have done with my son. About halfway through the section 2 trail I realized I had been spoiled a bit. I have taken a liking to the group aspect. It’s not just the conversation but the hike itself is more efficient with the right group of guys. The pace is more consistent and the requirement for caution and safety can be lightened just a bit as you rely on each other to cover your back. On your own you have to give a lot more consideration to every decision, realizing that one bad move can have significant ramifications out there in the highlands miles away from anyone else.
When it comes to outdoor recreation and good family fun, Mountain Home, Arkansas is usually best known for its fishing, swimming and golf courses. But with a wealth of rich settings including lakes, bluffs, and not to mention the Ozark Mountains, there are some terrific hikes out there as well. No outdoorsman or nature lover should miss out on taking advantage of the opportunities to hike into the Ozarks if you are in this area.
My son runs cross country and after every meet we always ask him what he learned, what he could have done better. The same goes for hiking. One of the things I like about hiking a trail as strenuous as section 1 of the OHT is that I am pushed to many of my limits and can find areas where strength or adjustment is needed. A good assessment and debrief should be in order as I finish each of section of the trail. Theoretically, by the time I get to the end of the Ozark Highlands Hiking Trail there should be a good deal of proficiency in my outdoor competency and hiking. I know I have already grown and improved through the hiking completed so far so this stands to reason. Here are some things that I have found in need of tightening in my hiking excursions after this trip.
I took my little girl for a campout this past weekend at Devil’s Den State Park. We did a brief hike, she led the way, up the side of one of the ridges, grilled some beef over the fire and concluded the night with s’mores. All in all a great evening that will pay dividends for years to come.
We didn’t oversleep on Day 2 as much as we were just slow to get around. Dawn broke over the camp and Joseph had been up most of the night shivering and trying to figure out ways to get warm. One by one we each got up and made our way to the fire. At just about the time the coffee pot was done percolating no one thought to stand by it for monitoring and the water boiled over causing the pot to fall into the fire. So of course we had to get another pot going and wait for that. In all of our enjoyment of the fresh morning air and campfire coffee we ended up not getting off until around 1130, surprising even ourselves by our slowness. We marched up the creek we had camped near until we found some water deep enough to fill our bottles up, then onward we went.
To begin with it is safe to say that this was the most strenuous hike I have been on to date, especially day 2 of the hike. Prior to this experience,e the Centerpoint Trail return trip out at the Buffalo River was at the top of this list but now falls to a distant second. As I look on the topo maps for the sections still to go on the OHT, I think this is a trend ahead for me.