Hiker’s Guide to Leave No Trace – By guest blogger, Hiker

Hiker, promoter of "leave no trace" travel.

Hiker, promoter of “leave no trace” travel.

As a regular hiker I’ve noticed my human friends’ nasty habit of leaving their trash on the trail, along waterways, and generally making a mess of the woods.  I really don’t understand this since I’m a “leave no trace” hiker myself.  I always take care of my personal business off the trail in a discrete location. I never carry my chew toys into the woods because it would be easy to leave them there by accident.  I always finish every last bit of my food.  “Leave nothing but footprints,” that’s my motto!

Trash picked up on the OHT.

Trash picked up on the OHT.

The motto for human folks seems to be, “Prove you were here by leaving lots of trash or building structures for no reason!”  They carry plastic bottles or aluminum cans filled with water, soda pops, beer, and all sorts of concoctions.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with a nice cold beverage, but some humans leave their empties right where they had their last sip.  They don’t mind carrying a full bottle into the woods but an empty bottle is too heavy for their pitiful, exhausted human selves to carry out.  They deserve an ankle bit for that!

Useless structure built along the OHT.

Useless structure built along the OHT. Photo was distributed to others by the builder of this structure.

Sometimes they build huge fire rings when a small one would work much better.  They stack rocks behind waterfalls as if they’re going to make a shelter there.  They cut trees and stack limbs, living out some type of pioneer fantasy.  They carve their initials in trees or bridges as if others are going to want to see this.   Humans have developed better ways to share information than carving on trees and rock, yet some persist in doing this.

Trash in this fire ring was irritated me.  My master packed it out since we were close to the end of our over-nighter.

Trash in this fire ring irritated me. My master packed it out. This fire ring is way too tall for this dog to warm up beside. Sometimes smaller is better.

Sometimes they leave half-eaten food and trash in their half-burnt fire rings.  Oh, that’s a beautiful sight for the next campers who come along.  Just the other day I was walking along a trail and found sliced potatoes buried right beside a fire ring.  My master was none-too-happy with me and it took a lot of encouragement on his part to get me moving down the trail again.  Those potatoes smelled really good, especially cooked in all that butter.

Some humans want to put up big ugly signs saying, “Don’t bury food…Don’t throw trash on the trail…Don’t chop on healthy trees….Don’t build a house here….Don’t take a crap on the trail or by the water…don’t, don’t, don’t.”  Only problem is that many humans who can read don’t and, those most likely to leave a mess think signs don’t apply to them.

One pack of humans got together and called themselves, Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics.  They have some tips for leaving the woods in good shape.  Of course, I can’t resist a few clarifying barks, too.

1. Plan ahead and prepare.  “This is my weak area.  I’m mostly thinking about my next meal but humans should plan so they don’t damage things.” – Hiker

2. Travel and camp on safe, durable surfaces.

3. Dispose of waste properly.  “Please!” – Hiker

4. Leave what you find.  “My master likes to look at old stuff in the woods so if it’s rusty, leave it.  He’s wondering about the history behind the artifact.  I don’t concern myself with such things.  I just want to know when we eat.” – Hiker

5. Minimize campfire impact.

6. Respect wildlife.  “Especially dogs.”  - Hiker

8. Be considerate of other visitors.  “This includes controlling pets which applies to me.  Master tries to keep me on a leash when others are on the trail but if I get away from him and come running up, my only goal is to lick you all over and find a new friend.  I mean no harm but do apologize for wetting you down.” – Hiker

Hiker looking for someone to lick.

Hiker looking for someone to lick.

Trash along the trail.

Trash along the trail.

Walk, Eat, Sleep, Repeat, Continued – Fairview to Tyler Bend and a New Hiking Partner

We did not want to lose momentum and conditioning from our first two outings and were anxious to get back on the trail. We selected January 16-20 to finish our third leg of the trail to complete the whole 180 miles of the Ozark Highlands Trail.   To read about our eleven days of hiking the first 125 miles go to Walk, Eat Sleep, Repeat.

Packing was much easier for this outing because my third supply bag was still together and ready to go.  My gear arrangements from the previous two legs of the hike were still fresh on my mind.  One new addition was a zero-degree sleeping bag.  I would find that this bag worked well as a blanket until temperatures got down into the mid-twenties.  Then it was time to crawl in and zip up!

We were anticipating some of the best hiking weather yet and wouldn’t be disappointed.  We had temperatures from the mid twenties to the 60s.  The following layers and a dry bag with base layers have kept me comfortable and safe in any conditions I’ve faced here in Arkansas.

Warm layers

Warm layers

L to R top: Food bag, cook pot, Esbit stove, cup L to R bottom: sleeping bag, mattress, tent poles and tent.

L to R top: Food bag, cook pot, Esbit stove, cup
L to R bottom: sleeping bag, mattress, tent poles and tent.

We arranged a shuttle with Mark at Haggarsville Grocery and planned to come off of the trail between 2:00 and 3:00 p.m. on Monday, January 20th.

Moonset from Fairview Campground.

Moonset from Fairview Campground.

We camped at Fairview Campground so we could get an early start the next morning.  This moonset seemed to promise good travels.  I slept in the back of my Jeep in my 20-degree bag so my backpack would be undisturbed and organized for the trip.  It felt good to cross Highway 7 the next morning heading east.  This would be the last paved road we crossed for the next fifty miles.

Crossing Richland Creek at the CCC Camp

Crossing Richland Creek at the CCC Camp

Richland Creek drainage next to the CCC Campground.

Richland Creek drainage next to the CCC Campground.

Creek crossings were easy but looking at remnants of earlier snow while standing in a cold mountain creek will numb your feet within seconds.

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We were beginning to fear that water and a campsite would not appear on our second night but this spot didn’t disappoint.  We enjoyed a nice view and one of our coldest nights of the trip.  I found that by slipping my water pouches under the edge of my tent floor I could avoid having frozen water the next morning.

New Hiking Partner:  A third hiking partner joined us on our first night out.  We were setting up camp at mile 138 when an emaciated black lab appeared.  We ignore her in hopes that she would reunite with her owners but the next day she quietly followed us for fourteen miles.  At the end of that day we gave in and shared some of our beef and turkey jerky.  These were limited rations because neither of us packed much extra food. Bob said, “If we’d known we’d have a dog, we would have packed some Alpo.”

This black lab demonstrated good outdoor skills as she curled up in a nest of leaves next to a log. The following morning we feared we were going to witness the death of this dog but she persevered and continued mile after mile with only limited rations from our small surplus of food.

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Later in our trip our junior hiking partner discovered the joys of avoiding cold conduction from the ground by sleeping on a foam sleeping pad.  Though she was skin and bones, we witnessed an improvement in her energy even with limited food.  We were amazed by her persistence on the trail and at creek crossings.  She was committed to following us for the 40+ miles to Tyler Bend!  We wondered if she would last.

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Historic structures along the Buffalo River

Historic structures along the Buffalo River

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A number of historic structures can be found along the trail in the Buffalo River section of the OHT.  These can be so much fun to explore that it is sometimes difficult to maintain forward progress in hiking.

Breakfast and coffee in bed.

Breakfast and coffee in bed.

I chose to prepare my oatmeal and coffee in bed on this coldest morning of our trip.  It is important to set the Esbit stove away from any tent surface to avoid fire hazard.  Never burn a stove inside of your tent unless you’re wanting to end your outing early or have a death wish.

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This sign at the beginning of the last four miles of the 165-mile original trail made the distance seem more real.  We would complete the 165 miles, cross Richland Creek and continue fifteen more miles to complete the present 180 miles of the OHT on Monday, January 20th.  We had to hike upstream for a short distance to find a wide place on Richland to cross since it is pretty deep as it draws closer to the Buffalo River.  We were glad not to be crossing the Buffalo because it looked deep as in over our head deep.  If we were ending our trip here at Woolum a Buffalo River crossing would have been necessary.

A third hiker joined our group around mile 138.

We took turns staying with our new hiking partner while the other hiked up the Narrs (Narrows) next to the Buffalo River.  This was my first time to climb up on this sidewalk in the sky.  It was a thrill to finally experience this beautiful and unique geological feature of our state.

The Narrs, a sidewalk in the sky.

The Narrs, a sidewalk in the sky.

Looking toward the southeast side of the Narrs

Looking toward the southeast side of the Narrs

Looking down the northwest side of the Narrs toward Skull Bluff.

Looking down the northwest side of the Narrs toward Skull Bluff.

Moderately confused.

Moderately confused.

We weren’t lost, just a little confused for an hour or so…

We carefully followed yellow horse trail blazes but when those blazes led us to a river crossing we knew something was wrong.  We filtered water and began to backtrack in hopes of correcting our mistake.   We started feeling a whole lot better when our revised route led us across Calf Creek and then back into the woods.  We were relieved to find this sign indicating we were right where we wanted to be!

A sign was needed on the road where the trail branched off to Grinders Ferry. One white blaze there would have kept us on the OHT route but as it turned out we saw some beautiful open fields and needed to replenish our water anyway.

Collier Homestead

Collier Homestead

On our last night we camped in a cedar grove not far from the Collier Homestead.  Mr and Mrs. Collier and their children began to homestead this property in 1928 with 15-cents to their name.  They grew a variety of crops, worked as hunting and fishing guides and raised their family off of the land through hard work and grit.

Fireplace in Collier Homestead

Fireplace in Collier Homestead

Remnants of insulation on a wall of the Collier Homestead.

Remnants of insulation on a wall of the Collier Homestead.

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We were disappointed that the visitor center was closed due water damage repairs.  We were looking forward to reading more about the area while waiting on our shuttle.  A sign on the door said it would be open January 21st.  Joey, a UPS driver exercising on his lunch break, shared his cell phone so we could confirm our arrival with our shuttle.  We enjoyed sharing the story of our third hiking partner with him.

Joey taking a break from his lunch break workout.

Joey taking a break from his lunch break workout.

Buffalo River at Tyler Bend

Buffalo River at Tyler Bend

It felt good to splash cold Buffalo River water on my face and arms while waiting for our shuttle.  Hiking 180 miles of the Ozark Highlands Trail had been everything I’d hoped and more.  All expectations were exceeded which is typical of backpacking experiences.  I was looking forward to a warm shower and my wife’s wonderful meals but I was also beginning to plot my next long hike.  Where to go from here? So many trails and so little time…

Update on Hiker, our third travel partner: 

Hiker is currently my guest.  I’m enjoying watching her gain strength with some moderate but regular nutrition.  She is gentle with young children and has good manners.  The only time she appears aggressive is when she glides through the woods at high rates of speed.

We had several great suggestions for names.  I went with Hiker since the sound of this word projects well in the woods and it describes one of her strongest attributes.

The following pictures show Hiker’s progress beginning at Tyler Bend and the end of her OHT hike.  She was pretty exhausted.

Hiker on January 20th after completing 40+ miles on the OHT with limited rations.

Hiker on January 20th after completing 40+ miles on the OHT with limited rations.

Hiker exploring Little Frog Bayou on the Lake Alma Trail.

Hiker exploring Little Frog Bayou on the Lake Alma Trail.

These pictures were taken on Hiker’s first four-mile hike around Lake Alma just five days following her 40+mile trek after being abandoned and near starvation on the Ozark Highlands Trail.  She was looking and feeling much better after her visit to Dr. Green at the Alma Animal Clinic.

Hiker picking her route down a bluff portion of the Lake Alma Trail.

Hiker picking her route down a bluff portion of the Lake Alma Trail.

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Hiker on February 3rd having gained about 7 pounds from January 20th.

Hiker crossing a bridge on the Lake Alma Trail on February 3rd, fourteen days after her arrival in Alma. She was enjoying the snow and managed to acquire a snow-beard from playing as she hiked.

Hiker on February 22, 2014

Hiker on February 22, 2014

Hiker after thirty-two days in Alma.  She’s stronger than ever and loves to travel by trail!

Hiker on March 18th, carrying her own food and stronger than ever.

Hiker on March 18th, carrying her own food and stronger than ever.

Crossing Little Frog Bayou with two days of dog food in her backpack.

Crossing Little Frog Bayou with two days of dog food in her backpack.

 

Hiker's March 24-25 trip on the Shores Lake, White Rock Mountain Loop, and Salt Fork Creek.

Hiker’s March 24-25 trip on the Shores Lake, White Rock Mountain Loop, and Salt Fork Creek.

 

Thru Hike patch earned for hiking the first 165-miles of the OHT.

Thru Hike patch earned for hiking the first 165-miles of the OHT.

Walk…Eat…Sleep…Repeat – The Ozark Highlands Trail

The idea of this hike began with a recurring and nagging thought over a period of months… “I want to hike the Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT) end to end.”   I had hiked most of the trail in pieces and random order but never in sequence from beginning to end.  I planned to hike it alone but when hiking buddy Bob mentioned that he would like to join me I was pleased.  He has great outdoor skills and he’s a strong hiker.  As a practical matter, the trip becomes safer with a second person, especially since we have a compatible hiking pace and mutual respect for each other.  We were pleased to welcome another fellow hiker and good friend, Steve, into our group for the second leg of the trip.  We would have been happy to have him for the whole outing but his work schedule wouldn’t allow this.

We decided to do the OHT in two stages, taking a couple of days off for Christmas.  As it turned out, heavy rains changed our itinerary and dictated that our last five days of hiking would occur later in January so we could avoid the Buffalo River crossing at Wollum.

We decided to do the OHT in three legs: Five days followed by two days for Christmas.  We would then hike six days, completing the final leg in January with an additional five days.

Planning and packing took lots of time but the anticipation is an important part of the enjoyment.  Packing equipment is similar to other shorter trips.  The challenge was to prepare food for 5-6 days of hiking at a time.  I kept my dehydrator running for a couple of days with the goal of avoiding commercial dehydrated meals and their high salt and funky taste.

Dehydrated gold potatoes

Dehydrated gold potatoes

Determining which clothes to pack was a challenge. Winter in Arkansas can bring a range of temperatures.  Nighttime temperatures were expected into the twenties with daytime temps anywhere in the forties to sixties.  One very important piece of equipment is a waterproof stuff bag. In this I place a base layer to ensure that I have dry clothes at the end of the day when I crawl into my tent.  As an added step I place these clothes in a freezer ziplock bag.

Backpack pile taking form

Backpack pile taking form

In the above picture you’ll find my sleeping bag in a waterproof stuff stack, orange waterproof bag for clothes, tent, ziplock with base layer, food bag for one leg of the trip, stove, water, etc.  This pile eventually takes shape after going over a checklist several times.

Backpack loading and ready to go.

Backpack loaded and ready to go.

Finally we begin!  Bob and I met at Lake Fort Smith State Park and stepped off of the concrete sidewalk leading to the beginning of the OHT.  It felt good to be on the trail with only 180 miles to go.  During the first few miles we saw three raccoon and a bald eagle.

Beginning

Beginning

Raccoon next  to the OHT.

Raccoon next to the OHT.

One of many camping sites we were to see over the course of our hike.  There was always an ample supply of water and firewood.

Making camp

Making camp

Dehydrated potatoes and squash

Dehydrated potatoes and squash

Yummy …  I did discover that the potatoes are much better if allowed to re-hydrate for an hour or so before cooking.  This wasn’t always possible which just resulted in chewy but tasty potatoes.

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I carried a notebook and pencil and had great intentions of reflecting on each day and recording my thoughts.  By about the second day I realized that this was unlikely.  On a long hike, the days have a rhythm and flow to them.  My “to do” list became very simple and consisted of doing things that related to meeting basic needs while on the trail.  On my third night I wrote what was to be my “to do” list for the next eight days, “walk, eat, sleep, repeat.”

That pretty well summed it up so I put my pencil and notepad away and began focusing on the trail, not my thoughts about the trail.  I let my mind fall into the natural rhythm of walking 6-7 hours each day.  After making camp, filtering water and preparing the evening meal, I let my mind flow back over the trail and enjoy the scenery once more without any obligation to write about it or learn from it.  I began to enjoy the natural silent times around the campfire when no one felt obligated to speak.  A story or comment might come out of the silence but there was the luxury of time to really hear and think about what was said.

I commented to Bob and Steve that I was really struggling to get by with only eleven hours of sleep each night.  By the time you sit around the campfire until 7:00 p.m. it’s been dark for almost two hours.  Your body says, “Hey, I’m getting cold.  Why don’t you get in that warm sleeping bag and let me rest!” I found that my body could use this extra time for repair and maintenance.  The trail, combined with rest, added a new type of strength unlike what I felt from typical daily workouts.

Falls along Spirits Creek

Falls along Spirits Creek

Crossing a swollen Spirits Creek

Crossing a swollen Spirits Creek

Day 2 and 3 brought light rain then heavy rain.   I couldn’t resist taking a picture of Bob crossing Spirits Creek.  He normally doesn’t use a stick whereas I use two hiking poles to stay erect while crossing creeks.  His balance is impressive.  On this day however, he used a stick to probe the floor of  the normally clear Spirits Creek.   Strong rains made all creeks cloudy with sediment.   I was delighted to be on the other side.

I turned my camera to a waterfall spilling into Spirits Creek using a tree as a tripod.  Then the camera was placed deep within my waterproof stuff bag for the remainder of the day due to rain.  My only regret was failing to get a picture of what would have been our next creek crossing.

About five miles later, Fane Creek made Spirits look like a trickle.  We ended up bushwhacking down the west side of Fane Creek for a half mile to a bridge and then following the road back to the trail to continue on.  Seeing the Rock House was a relief.  We were thoroughly wet, somewhat chilled, and hungry.

Refuge from the rain in the Rock House

Refuge from the rain in the Rock House

Waking in the Rock House

View of a faint rainbow from the Rock House

A rainbow to the east followed through on its promise of better weather to come.  We began to dry out while hiking the next day.  Hiking over Hare Mountain resulted in some colder temperatures, probably down into the twenties.  We wondered what the water levels at Harrods Creek would be like.  Nothing like anticipating another bushwhack!  What we found was a somewhat swollen Harrods Creek but we crossed without difficulty.

Frosty hiking as temperatures plummet.

Frosty hiking as temperatures plummet.

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One of many waterfalls along the trail.

Frost flower

Frost flower

Colder temperatures produced some little rewards along the trail.  Frost flowers could often be seen during the morning walks.  Once the sun came out they vanished.  I enjoyed this little heart-shaped frost flower and took a pic to share with my wife who enjoys finding naturally occurring heart shapes in nature.

Frost Flower

Frost Flower

Nice lunch spot overlooking the Mulberry River Valley

Nice lunch spot overlooking the Mulberry River Valley

Passing the 100-mile marker.

Passing the 100-mile marker.

Making the first 100 miles felt good!  This left 25 miles to hike over the next two days and then 55 more miles to hike later in January.

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Jerky snack

Cedar Creek

Cedar Creek

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Hurricane Creek Wilderness Area

Icy bluffs along the trail.

Icy bluffs along the trail.

Hurricane Creek

Hurricane Creek

Hurricane Creek

Hurricane Creek

Bob building a fire.

Bob building a fire.

Sawyer waterfilter

Sawyer water filter

Waterfall along the trail.

Waterfall along the trail.

Hurricane Creek Wilderness Area

Hurricane Creek Wilderness Area

Detail of rock formations in the Hurricane Creek Wilderness Area

Detail of rock formations in the Hurricane Creek Wilderness Area

The Hurricane Creek Wilderness Area contains a maze of house-size boulders.  The work of time, water, and temperature changes could be seen on the face of these boulders.  I found it difficult to keep going through this section of the trail.  My hand kept spontaneously reaching for my camera.

Finished the first 125 miles at Fairview Camp Ground.

Finished the first 125 miles at Fairview Camp Ground.

The final climb from Hurricane Creek up to Fairview Camp Ground on Hwy 7 really kicked me good.  It was as if the trail was anticipating my departure and wanted to leave me with that good feeling of total exhaustion!  Wildman, who hiked many long trails during his long life, used to say he would find himself hiking slower as he approached the end of a long hike.   He didn’t want it to end.  I now understood what he meant.  The climb, combined with my wish that the hike wouldn’t come to an end, made for a slow and reflective pace.

As we finished this leg of the outing I found myself wishing I could just continue on without stopping.  I was firmly entrench in the rhythm of the trail….walk…eat…sleep….repeat…

To read the rest of the story go to Walk, Eat, Sleep, Repeat, Continued.

In Praise of Trail Maintainers/Volunteers!

On a recent hike of the first 125 miles of the Ozark Highland Trail I was reminded of the importance of trail maintainers/volunteers.  We saw evidence of some great work that has been done over recent months and years.

Then I returned to my “home trail” and what I saw really amazed me.  Volunteers had obviously descended on the Lake Alma Trail and done their magic.  Following recent ice it was difficult to make it around the four-mile loop but today I enjoyed a relaxing hike, noticing evidence of trail work at every turn.

Volunteers are the reason we’re able to hike the beautiful trails of Arkansas!  As a novice hiker I assumed that trails rarely needed attention.  A few years ago I tried to hike a small neglected trail and realized the impact of volunteer trail maintainers.  Now, as an experienced hiker and occasional trail volunteer myself, I know the value of the work done and the satisfaction derived by doing trail maintenance or trail building.

If you’ve never participated in a trail workday, I would encourage you to try it.  You’ll enjoy a good workout and end the day with a deep sense of satisfaction and service to the wilderness and your fellow hikers.  Thank you volunteers!

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Chopping trail out of the hillside.

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Lunch break under a beautiful bluff overlooking Indian Creek.

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Duane, engineer and volunteer, looking at trail grade.

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Dale building a trail he would then adopt to maintain, the Dawna Robinson Indian Creek Spur Trail.

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Keeping trail volunteers fed is a big job!

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OHTA Crew on Hare Mountain

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Lunch break

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Enjoying fellowship and the satisfaction of a good day’s work in the Hare Mountain area. Left to Right: Mike Lemaster, President of the OHTA, Bob Robinson, Chris Adams, and Roy Senyard, Trail Maintenance Coordinator for the OHTA.

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Volunteers picking up trash on the Lake Alma Trail

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Harry McWater, the driving force behind building the Lake Alma Trail, visiting with volunteers.

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Cleaning up the Lake Alma Trail.

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Arkansas Master Naturalists helping with trail building.

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Volunteers in the Marinoni Scenic Area of the Ozark Highlands Trail

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Roy Senyard, Trail Maintenance Coordinator for the Ozark Highlands Trail.

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Joe, clearing the Lake Alma Trail.

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Cliff, building some new trail at Lake Alma.

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Volunteers having breakfast before working in the Hurricane Creek Wilderness of the Ozark Highlands Trail.

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Mary is one hard worker when it comes to trail maintenance! She is shown here on the back porch of Mirkwood Cabin during a work trip on the OHT.

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Using crosscut saws in the Hurricane Creek Wilderness

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Using crosscut saws in the Hurricane Creek Wilderness

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Bob Robinson, a “heavy lifter” when it comes to trail maintenance.

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New tread being tested after recent side-hilling work.

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Let it Snow – My Snowy Loop Hike And Hot Tea

I wanted to go play in the snow.  The only difference made by my fifty-plus years of life experience from those early play-days in the snow is that I now dress a little smarter.  I layered up, grabbed my camera, and headed out to walk the Lake Alma Trail, beginning from my house…much safer than driving.

The roads were quiet with occasional traffic.  I had to laugh when I passed a mailbox that is normally left open along the highway.

Snow in the mailbox.

Snow in the mailbox.

The power and weight of ice and snow is deceptive.  What appears so light and fluffy carries many pounds of weight.  Looking closely at a pine it’s easy to see how the weight of ice could snap a tree.  As a child, I remember hearing what sounded like shotgun blasts in the distance as ice snapped large pines in the woods behind our south Arkansas home.

Ice, then snow on pines.

Ice, then snow on pines.

The sky was still dark but didn’t seem to be planning more precipitation but I had a zip-lock bag for my camera just in case.  I always enjoy the simple design of this little church north of Alma on Highway 71.  By walking into the woods behind this church, I can access the Lake Alma Trail.  I often pick up trash on the highway in front of the church with the idea that this is my little toll fee for using their property to access the trail.

Little church on Highway 71

Little church on Highway 71

Once on the trail, the magic began.  As I came along the water I stood and enjoyed a quiet and peaceful scene.  I wasn’t completely alone because there were footprints on the trail.  Someone was out there so maybe I could make the whole loop without being stopped by downed trees.

Lake Alma

Lake Alma

The power of ice was evident along the trail in several places but it was still possible to get through.  Notice the round trail marker at the base of the split.  It appeared that the larger tree on the ground fell across the top of this oak and brought it down.  I tried to imagine the sound this must have made.  Then, I tried to imagine how we would cut this damage off of the trail.

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My little crampons and gators earned their cost today.  The last time I wore the crampons was last Christmas in the Grand Canyon.  The gators were a pain to put on, due to lack of practice, but they kept the snow out and my feet stayed nice and warm.

Crampons and gators

Crampons and gators

The value of gators became clear as I realized it would be necessary to cross Little Frog Bayou at an alternative location.  Undergrowth vegetation had been pulled down over the trail.  I didn’t really want to crawl in the snow so I did a wet crossing, discovering that the gators did a good job of keeping water out of my shoes.   I bushwhacked up the other side of the creek and got back on the trail.

Little Frog Bayou

Little Frog Bayou

Had to stop at the Hexagon House to see it in snow.  Locals have several theories about the early occupants of this little structure.  It could date to the 1920s.  It uses concrete so an earlier date is unlikely.  The little fireplace is well built and uses firebricks, not just stone.

Hexagon House

Hexagon House

For weeks on my early morning hikes I smelled a dead deer before finally seeing the remains on rocks ten feet from the trail.   The snow left only one side of the six-point rack showing.

Remains of a deer that died along the trail.

Remains of a deer that died along the trail.

Walking on down the trail I came to one of my favorite spots.  I was tempted to turn around at the Little Frog Bayou crossing but seeing this formation motivated me to cross and continue the loop.  A short hike to the east of the trail takes you to what I like to call Little Pedestal Rock.  I wanted a picture in snow.

Little Pedestal Rock

Little Pedestal Rock

As I approached the dam, I came across my “fellow hikers” who had also made it around the Lake Alma Trail loop.  I realized it was getting late and picked up my pace toward home, glad that I’d packed my headlamp.  With the heavy clouds and short winter days, it was already getting dark at 5:20 p.m.

Walking home I felt a sense of thankfulness that I’m able to walk and enjoy the sights my feet will take me to.  I’d had several hours of fun playing in the snow and was now ready for home and some hot food and tea!

My favorite tea cup.

My favorite tea cup from Shang Tea in Kansas City.

While having my hot tea I was reminded of a wonderful book titled, That You May Know Us by Elsie Warnock (my mom).  This story was included in one of the many letters my father wrote to mother while he was in Korea.

“We went on a recon of the area we were to occupy soon.  What a way to spend a winter where it was seven below zero and the high for the week was 38 degrees!  There was one long lasting plus to living through this cold weather and that was thanks to a British portable aid station.  I was on a cold march of several miles with U.S. troops from the front to a reserve position.  We ran across the aid station that was serving tea with cream and sugar to everyone who came by.  I have never tasted such good tea in all my life and have enjoyed hot tea ever since.  But for fifty plus years, I’ve tried many combinations of tea, sugar and cream but never have matched the flavor of that cup of tea.  Maybe the ingredient that has been left out was a long cold march in the snow.”

A Special Place Somewhere in the Ozarks

Mirkwood Cabin

Mirkwood Cabin

This is a special place located in the Ozark Mountains.  Several guys went in together back in the 70s and purchased a piece of land located in the Ozark National Forest that had been designated as a wilderness area.  They spent years building this cabin using timbers from a cabin close to Siloam Springs, Arkansas.  The timbers date to around 1852.  While planning where to locate the cabin, they discovered footings for a previous cabin located exactly where they determined to place this cabin.  They also discovered a well located a few feet away from the kitchen area of the cabin.

The owners of this cabin are generous in providing hospitality to others.  Those who are guests see it as a  treasure and show respect for this special place.  There is no electricity or plumbing but there is a surplus of quiet and beauty.

Front porch of the Mirkwood Cabin

Front porch of the Mirkwood Cabin

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Window in the loft.

Window in the loft.

View from the front porch.

View from the front porch.

Dining table and lanterns.

Dining table and lanterns.

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Looking up into the loft.

Changing Seasons Along the Trails

Lake Alma Trail at sunset.

Lake Alma Trail at sunset.

I love the changes in season.  New colors always seem to surprise.

Fall leaves along the trail

Fall leaves along the Lake Alma Trail.

Season change often brings beauty right under your feet if you’re noticing.

Old roadbed on the Ozark Highlands Trail.

Old roadbed on the Ozark Highlands Trail.

What might be an ordinary roadbed that follows the path of the trail glitters with color.

Sweet gum leaf at a wet crossing on the Ozark Highlands Trail

Sweet gum leaf at a wet crossing on the Ozark Highlands Trail

Little scenes of beauty surround you and are easily overlooked.  Following the crossing of this little creek in the Hurricane Creek Wilderness Area, I was captured by the beauty of the path I’d just traveled.

Hurricane Creek

Hurricane Creek

Progress down the trail was slow because my camera kept calling to me to please stop.

Hurricane Creek

Hurricane Creek

Hurricane Creek

Hurricane Creek

Lake Alma Trail

Lake Alma Trail

Back home again.  We’ll end where we began with the evening sun lighting up the 3.8 mile trail at Lake Alma.

Walking the Sun Down

Lake Alma Trail at sunset.

Lake Alma Trail at sunset.

An evening walk can relax the mind and spirit.   What to pack? Water, headlamp, and your thoughts.  This evening’s walk began at sunset  so the last couple of miles were in the dark except for the headlamp. Enjoyed the night sounds and chilled air.  Recent rains have the creeks flowing again.  The cares of the week fell along the trail and I ended the walk feeling lighter and stronger.

My “miles matter” self-challenge continues.  I’ve hiked just over 500 miles since July 1.

Only in the Ozarks of Arkansas

Mike, president of the Ozark Highlands Trail Association, got permission to park on a man’s land close to where we would be doing doing trail maintenance around mile 52 of the Ozark Highlands Trail.   While Mike was visiting with the landowner the man asked if Mike liked muscadine wine. He said yes, so the landowner produced this bottle and said he’d picked the muscadines along the trail.  He said he didn’t like wine, just enjoyed making and sharing it.    Notice the duct tape label.

Muscadine Wine from the Ozark Mountains

Muscadine Wine from the Ozark Mountains

Sure enough, we came across some muscadines on the trail.  Very tasty.

Muscadines ripe and ready to pick.

Muscadines ripe and ready to pick.

We actually did some trail work but throughly enjoyed lopping our way through one of the most beautiful areas of the state.   Had a nice lunch while visiting with a father-son duo from Oklahoma.  Explored some small caves up above the trail while taking a short break from the lopping.   All in all, a pretty nice way to spend a day.   Thankful for the beauty of the Arkansas Ozark Mountains.

Small cave in the Marinoni Scenic Area

Small cave in the Marinoni Scenic Area

Marinoni campsite

This little campsite made a nice spot for lunch and conversation.

If you’re interested in hiking this section of the OHT, check out this blog which includes driving directions.   http://wp.me/p2VEN9-a