Leave it like it is!

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Looks like we’re determined to damage the Grand Canyon.  The above picture was from a backpacking trip two winters ago.  Our views across the canyon were unimpeded by the development of hotels or other tourist structures.  We’ve seen enough development around the Grand Canyon.  Present levels of development allow people to enjoy the views safely.  I hope the proposed additional development will not go forward.

Old Trail Revisited

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Certain we’d be attacked by multitudes of ticks, I sprayed down my pants cuffs. By the time Hiker (dog) and I stepped onto the Ouachita Trail at mile 165, the sun was high.  I was feeling a little early trip anxiety because I was violating a long-held practice of avoiding backpacking in July.  The first section is pretty exposed, allowing a lot of undergrowth, but only a few ticks managed to climb up my pants to be easily picked off.

As we approached Green Thumb Spring, I wondered if there would be water.  I’d packed enough to last to Crystal Prong but was concerned with having to share with Hiker if other sources were dry. Hiker saw the water first and lowered herself slowly into the dark murky fluid with an expression of bliss.  I realized the water of Green Thumb Spring was much different that what I saw there twenty years ago, probably due to the difference in seasons.  There was a slow seep below the black pipe where I had filled my water pouch with crystal cold water in a few seconds years before.

The bandana captured a lot of stuff that would have clogged my filter.

The bandana captured a lot of stuff that would have clogged my filter.

To be safe, I decided it would be necessary to filter some of this nasty stuff.  I used my bandana to filter the big stuff before using the Sawyer filter.  This worked well and the water was usable.

Climbing to the ridge just past Green Thumb Spring, I remembered looking to the northwest and seeing Forked Mountain many years before.  I kept glancing to the left as I topped out, but the summer foliage blocked most mountain views.  Still, I enjoyed the memory of my first sight of that odd shaped mountain twenty years before.

Arriving at Crystal Prong was a relief. The water was clear and cool, even on July 3rd.  Temperatures were in the mid to upper 80s with lows during the night around 60-degrees.  It was still summer with mosquitoes and ticks.  The promise of cooler temps was enough for me to make this trip if for no other reason than the novelty of backpacking Arkansas in July.  I didn’t see one other backpacker during my four days on the trail.

Hiker cooling down in Crystal Prong.

Hiker cooling down in Crystal Prong.

Camping at Crystal Prong was a treat.  I’d camped there with my nephew and father twenty years before.  On that earlier outing, I don’t remember learning any significant outdoor skills other than to avoid getting too close to the water in winter.  My nephew slipped while exploring the shore and soaked one shoe which made for some discomfort that cold evening.

I learned a couple of lessons on this, my second visit to Crystal Prong in twenty years.

Lesson one: The “no-see-ums” that seemed so benign were actually biting me during my evening meal.  The little dots they left turned into itchy pinpoints the next day and continued to provide itchy entertainment the following week.  A little repellant would have avoided this.  I’ll know better next time.

Lesson two: Always do a final check of your packing list.  My spoon was nowhere to be found.  I stirred my pasta with a stick and used a small piece of metal from my stove as a short spoon.  Less than ideal but it worked.  As I ate my pasta, I pictured myself drinking potato soup the next night.

Lesson three: Hiker is a good camp guard dog.  You wouldn’t think it because she’s everybody’s best friend, never growling or barking in anger.  During this night, she heard a suspicious sound and gave several barks that were very different than I’d heard before.  She seemed to say, “Noooo! This is our campsite.  Stay away!” She also growled like I’d never heard.  Whatever she heard left the area.

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During the night I heard what I will call a “preachy screech owl.”   The initial long high-to-low screech was followed by a series of random and rhythmic scolding hoots unlike what I’ve heard before.  This occurred two times within a couple of minutes and then all was silent.  Hiker didn’t react to this sound.

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Butterfly at the edge of Crystal Prong Creek

My memory of Crystal Prong from twenty years earlier was much different than the way I found it on this trip.  Still beautiful, yet different.  Hiker and I took a couple of dips in the creek to cool down. The sun slowly set and stars began to peek through the darkening sky.  Lightening bugs soared overhead and across the creek like our own private little campsite meteors.

The next day (July 4) was a marathon hike.  Crystal Prong to Lake Sylva for a little break before beginning the return trip to Brown Creek; a fifteen-mile day.  We were beat so Brown Creek was a pretty sight.  The water was cool and clear.  The fireworks were a nice distant sound that evening and potato soup (supplemented with my dehydrated golden baby potatoes) was delicious.  My newly found spoon worked well.

Brown Creek Shelter

Brown Creek Shelter

Earlier that day we took a break at  Brown Creek Shelter.  I enjoy reading entries from shelter journals and sat on the steps for a while.  As I was returning the notebook, I noticed a plastic Wendy’s spoon in the storage box.  Backpackers and trail maintainers occasionally leave small items that might be of use to future hikers.  I slipped the spoon into my shirt pocket and thought about creamy broccoli potato soup.

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Shelter storage box.

Several hiking buddies call me “Tater” because of my habit of packing dehydrated potatoes.  As I walked away from that shelter, I thought they might change my trail name to “Spoon.”  During a winter thru-hike of the Ozark Highlands Trail, I let my plastic spoon sit on the bottom of a hot pan. By the time I smelled it the spoon was firmly melted to the pan.  After prying it free and sanding it against a rock, the spoon was functional.  It would have worked better if I hadn’t had any front teeth.  The next day we camped at Lynn Hollow and a metal spoon was at the fire ring.  I still have that metal spoon.  The trails seem to provide what I need when I need it, especially where eating utensils are concerned.

Ummm good!  Creamy potato soup and my new spoon.

Ummm good! Creamy broccoli soup with dehydrated potatoes and my new spoon.

 

Evening temperatures were cool.  Originally I’d planned to use only my 2/3-length sleeping pad and silk-weight bag liner.  I thought my 40-degree bag would be too warm, even if used as a quilt.  Turns out that bag would have felt just right.  I’d packed a light emergency bag and used it each night.  I was comfortable.

July 5 was to be a shorter recovery day after the previous day’s 15-mile trek.  To give Hiker a break, I carried her pack but made sure she watched me stuff it into my pack as if this would increase her appreciation of the favor I was doing for her.  We took our time at breakfast then started out at a leisurely pace up and out of the Brown Creek drainage.  We stopped at Flatside Pinnacle and hiked up for the view.  The sun was already high, but the views were a treat.

The view from Flatside Pinnacle

The view from Flatside Pinnacle

 

We’d planned to spend the final night back at Crystal Prong but decided to hike farther to the beautiful little creek we’d enjoyed on our first day hiking in. I had entertained the idea of taking a nap there and hiking on out that same day, but Hiker convinced me to make other plans.  She folded and was down for a long nap while I enjoyed the water and then slept in my tent.  Since we both had some good rest, I decided we’d get an early start the next morning.  Sometimes dogs know best and I was wise to follow Hiker’s lead.

Cool, shaded creek close to our campsite.

Hiker making sure I understood we were done for the day.

Hiker making sure I understood we were done for the day.

July 6 we rose at 4:30 a.m. and began hiking by 5:30, the first 15-minutes with headlamp.  This was some pleasant hiking.  The only challenge was “accepting” the occasional spiderweb.  These Ouachita spiders weave a nasty web.  They are spring loaded and almost push you back when you hit them.  I found that it was much easier to just walk through and let them wrap around you.  Then while continuing to walk, I’d pull from above and below my eyes which would remove most of the web except for my hair.   This strong “spiderweb mousse” pasted my hair firmly into place.

Stopping for a break at Oak Mountain Shelter with spiderwebs holding my hair firmly in place.

Stopping for a break at Oak Mountain Shelter with spiderwebs holding my hair firmly in place.

 

Forty-five miles of walking on just over twenty-two miles of trail filled four wonderful days.  By the time I began to backtrack our route, I was thankful that shuttle plans hadn’t worked out.  Seeing the same trail in both directions gave me a better grip on this section and allowed for a more reflective walk. The memories from past treks on this same ground added a richness to the trip. You never really walk the same trail twice.

Now I’m ready for some new trail!  Next up when the weather cools is Lake Sylva to Pinnacle Mountain State Park.

A few random pics:

Maiden voyage with Solo Wood Stove.  It worked well!

Maiden voyage with this Solo Wood Stove I picked up at Pack Rat in Fayetteville. It worked well!

Dehydrated pasta and sauce.  At home, cook the pasta about 6 minutes then dehydrate.  One of my favorites on the trail!

Dehydrated pasta and sauce. At home, cook the pasta about 6 minutes then dehydrate. One of my favorites on the trail!

Color is a benefit of hiking in warmer weather.

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Hiker trying to carry a turtle.  She gave up quickly.

Hiker trying to carry a turtle. She gave up quickly.

 

 

 

Long Distance Hiking Partner – Thank You Dad

 

My father and mother at Petit Jean State Park

My father and mother at Petit Jean State Park (photo by cousin Sue Warnock, late 1970s?)

I heard a yell from down in the valley and immediately realize my error.  The voice was my father’s, and it wasn’t a happy sound.  I had paused to pick up rocks and throw them into woods down a steep embankment.  It was fun to watch them bounce their way down through the trees.   I didn’t realize my father had hiked down below, and evidently one of the rocks hit him on the shoulder.  When he got up to the piece of trail I was on, he emphasized that I shouldn’t do that again.  It was a good lesson to learn at twelve years old.  Now while hiking I occasionally stop younger hikers from throwing rocks down hillsides and this always reminds me of my father.

While visiting my Uncle Reese in Arteaga, Mexico, years later in the 1990s, I did a little desert hiking with my dad.  I stared at Arteaga Mountain through my uncle’s second floor window and thought it looked like an easy climb with little in the way of vegetation or challenge.  My dad, sister, and her son were up for it.  We consulted with one of Reese’s neighbors who had a topographic map of the area, determined a route, and drove to the foot of this “smooth little mountain.”

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Daddy and me toward the high point of our hike. Daddy used a century plant stalk for a hiking stick (photo by Martha Warnock, approx. 1996).

We were surprised at the steepness of the climbs and the thickness of prickly vegetation.  Cactus plants were everywhere and had a way of reaching out and touching you.

Another surprise was the deceptiveness of the climb.  After reaching one rise, there would be a dip before rising even higher.  We hiked up, then down and then up even more.   This pattern repeated over and over.  We finally reached the peak and enjoyed the view  back down on Arteaga.  Rather than return by the up and down route, we chose a drainage to scramble down and walked back to the car.  A souvenir from that hike was a century plant stalk that my father found and used as a hiking stick.  It was light and strong and still works today.

A few years ago my father and I visited Petit Jean State Park where we’d spent many family vacations when I was a child.  We got in late and set up camp in the dark.  Early the next morning we hiked down the Cedar Falls Trail.  Robins were everywhere, and water flowed in small drainages along the trail.  A flood of  memories came over me as I thought of the many times I’d walked that trail as a child.  The house-sized boulders in front of me sat exactly as they did when I was a child. Although there had been gradual changes over centuries from water, ice, and wind, the changes were imperceptible to me.

We were both growing older in a world that seemed to change a breakneck speed.  The world we worked in had seen tremendous changes in technology and professional practices, yet here along these rocky trails, time seemed frozen.  There was something comforting about the stability of these scenes remembered from childhood.  The little drainages still flowed across familiar rock piles.  Cedar Falls still roared with power.  Deep green moss still clung to the tops of vine-covered rocks.  Bright orange and yellow lichen still caught my eye as we descended the trail.

As I watched my father hike down the trail, I thought about his years of commitment to my mother and our family.  He’d worked hard to provide for us and make it possible for us to explore the beauty of the world and learn new things.  He always had an eye for the beauty of nature, and I was pleased to think I received that tendency as a gift from him.  He took pride in his children and grandchildren, but I knew that he had made sacrifices to provide for us and make our needs more important than his own.

The few hikes I had with my father became special memories.  He is the true long-distance hiking partner, having traveled with me for more than fifty years.  I’m thankful for his many lessons, some verbal but most taught in silence through example.  He showed me how to walk a path with integrity.  Out of respect for my father and his example, I hope to walk as he walked.

Photo taken by my father on his Zeiss Contessa on a visit to Hodges Gardens.

Photo taken by my father on his Zeiss Contessa on a visit to Hodges Gardens.

Photo taken on his Ziess Contessa while serving in the Korean War (early 1950s).

Photo taken on his Ziess Contessa while serving in the Korean War (early 1950s).

Dad taking pictures at Mirror Lake, Blanchard Springs

Dad taking pictures at Mirror Lake, Blanchard Springs

What Makes Hiker a Good Trail Partner?

 

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.

Here are twelve qualities that make my dog, Hiker, a good partner for the trail.   See my January 21st post to learn how I acquired Hiker.

1. She motivates me to go hiking.  She’s my own full-time personal trainer.  She’s always ready to go.  No packing, no fuss.

2. She has endurance and heart.  She just keeps going and going.

3. She’s an ultra-light hiker.  She carries her own food and finds her water sources on the trail.  Some leaves or straw and she’s bedded down for the night.

4. She sleeps through the night.  No absurd barking at the moon.  One exception is her odd tendency to sit in the rain and bark at lightening but she’ll stop once I acknowledge that I know it’s raining…  She can sleep under my tent awning to stay dry.

5. She’s low maintenance on the trail.  Hiker has short brown/black hair so spotting ticks or other issues easy.

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6. She provides free entertainment on the trail.  Watching her dart through the woods chasing movement and sound is a treat.  She probably averages fourteen miles to every ten I walk.

7. She walks well on a leash when needed.

8. She’s friendly to everyone we meet.

9. Hiker is never put off by creek crossings.  She finds the best route and goes!

Hiker crossing Little Frog Bayou on her daily morning walk.

Hiker crossing Little Frog Bayou on her daily morning walk.

10. Her needs are fairly simple.  Worm medicine and insect treatment on the first of each month and she’s good to go.

11. She doesn’t stink like some dogs do.  Oh, she’ll get a little musty smell when wet, but after drying and some open air walking, she’s back to that normal mild dog smell.

12. She’s a loyal friend on the trail.  Never talks back.  Appreciates any attention given but willing to stay in her own space around camp.

 

Relaxing after a good day of hiking.

Relaxing after a good day of hiking.

 

 

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.  Here’s a post four months following her adoption after she’s logged some serious miles: What Makes Hiker a Good Trail Partner?

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 at the west crossing of Hurricane Creek.

Bob building a fire.

Sawyer waterfilter

Sawyer water filter

Waterfall along the trail.

Waterfall along the trail.

Hurricane Creek area

Hurricane Creek area

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.