Technology on the Trail, Yes and No

I have a friend who often says, “Just because it can be done with technology doesn’t mean it should be.” For example, there’s nothing better than a good old fashioned compass on your belt. It’s lightweight, always turned on, and has no batteries to run down.

Just a few of the technology choices backpackers have when hitting the trail.

Just a few of the technology choices backpackers have when hitting the trail.

I don’t usually discuss gear, but the heat and humidity of Arkansas have me inside except for early morning jaunts around the lake with Hiker-dog. I’m going to share one type of technology that I now carry when hiking solo and a second piece of technology I carry if the backpacking trip is extended.

I’m not a big proponent of technology on the trail, but I do want my loved ones to have peace of mind and confidence that I’m alright out there in the woods.

inReach

inReach Explorer

One thing my compass can’t do is communicate my location to others. A few months ago I purchased an inReach Explorer so my wife would know my location when I’m solo hiking. I entered her email and phone as a contact so she can go to a mapping program that shows my location and route. Using the inReach, I can send text messages to my contacts from anywhere regardless of cell coverage. The messages pop up on the map showing my location. I turn the unit on when I leave the house, toss it in my pack and forget about it. It sends a location every ten minutes to conserve battery use.

I’ve been shopping for a way to charge my inReach and GPS. I only carry a GPS when doing trail scouting and writing, but the inReach is with me whenever I go solo. I find that scouting, writing, and photography almost require that I hike solo because the going is so slow. Hiker-dog even loses patience with my snail’s pace when doing a trail review.

Guid 10Plus Solar recharging hit

Guide 10Plus Solar recharging kit

I purchased a solar panel that I think will work well (although I resent its added weight). It would be good for a group of backpackers to have one of these units available to keep a cell phone, inReach,GPS and camera charged as needed. It is easy to use and easy to position facing the sun. Items being recharged can go in the shade behind the unit. I left my inReach in the sun for the photo and size comparison.

Another charging option is to use the battery pack to recharge items. The pack includes a built in LED flashlight to assist in making connections. It was nice of them to think of that.

Netted zipper pocket.

Netted zipper pocket.

Everything packs up pretty conveniently when you fold the solar panels closed. A netted zipper pocket holds the rechargeable batteries, charger wires, and maybe even a piece of technology in case you want to store it all together. The dimensions are 6.5 x 9.5 x 1.8 inches when closed. The cost is around $120.00. It weighs just over a pound which is a lot in backpacking weight.

I’m sure there will be improvements in performance and weight of solar units, but this will meet my needs for now. I just felt a strong urge to pack my iPod on my next trip… Think I’ll let the birds, creeks, and coyotes take care of my hiking music. “Just because it can be done with technology doesn’t mean it should be.”

Front of the package when closed.

Front of the package when closed.

Trail Work in July?

A few weeks ago I was appalled to find some major tree blowdowns on my adopted section of the Ozark Highlands Trail. I’ve bragged that since my section follows the Jack Creek drainage, it’s protected from winds and ice. We weren’t so lucky this time.

From the pattern of downed trees, a microburst must have passed through a portion of the area and dipped into my quiet little valley. Large trees fell like dominoes, some across the trail.

Mike LeMaster and I decided to work this section from Dockery Gap (approx.  mile 10.5) west to around mile 6. Out-and-back, this came to around 9 miles with numerous stops to cut and clear. Mike likes doing some trail maintenance in the summer to stay in shape for the busier maintenance and hiking months in the fall. We got a good workout on this day!

Mike cutting the first tree encountered.

Mike cutting the first tree encountered.

We found several large trees across the trail between mile 9 and 10, but this wasn’t the worst of it.

Typical

Before photo: Typical “blowdown” encountered on the trail.

This was the scene in several spots on the trail. We first had to determine the trail route through multiple downed trees and then Mike began to do his chainsaw magic. My job as “swamper” was to pull stuff off of the trail and stay out of the way.

After

After

Large oaks toppled head-high across the trail at one creek crossing.

This large trunk was head-high across the trail close to a creek crossing.

One of the things I asked Mike to agree to was that I carry the chainsaw. It was the least I could do after he sawed on this July day with a heat advisory in effect. I later learned that Mike was looking forward to a cool dip in Jack Creek at the far end of our maintenance route. I was looking forward to filtering a fresh batch of water (upstream from Mike) for our return hike to Dockery Gap. It was nice to cool off and unusual to have so much water in the creeks in July!

Jack Creek close to mile 6

Jack Creek close to mile 6

I want to say a big thank you to Mike for braving the heat and helping me with my section of trail. As president of the Ozark Highlands Trail Association (volunteer position), he takes a hands-on approach to leadership! It felt good to walk back through the areas we’d cleared earlier. While working this section, I concocted a plan to backpack from Lake Fort Smith to White Rock Mountain and on to Fane Creek in the fall. Can’t wait to see this area again….in cooler temps!

Mike, a master sawyer!

Mike, a master sawyer!

Exploring Upper Jack Creek in the Ozark National Forest

Small cascade above a pool.

Small cascade above a pool.

My reason for hiking down the upper section of the Jack Creek drainage on an old roadbed was to see if I could find an access point for my 4.3-mile section of the Ozark Highlands Trail. I maintain from the Dockery Gap Trailhead west to the second Jack Creek Crossing. I carried my cellphone as a camera to save weight and avoid damaging my real camera while bushwhacking.

As often happens, the Ozark National Forest rewarded me with unanticipated beauty. As the upper Jack Creek flows toward the Ozark Highlands Trail, it carves its way through a high-walled canyon. The rock walls contain several rushing cascades. Hiker-dog and I enjoyed stopping along the creek for the views and to pick off ticks. Tis the season for ticks and such. I look forward to returning to this location with my real camera in fall or winter!

Pool on Jack Creek

Pool on Jack Creek, tan from runoff of recent thunderstorms. 

Hiker enjoying the water

Hiker enjoying the water

Jack Creek 3

Canyon walls next to Jack Creek

Canyon walls next to Jack Creek

Evidence of old homestead next to Jack Creek

Evidence of old homestead next to Jack Creek

View upstream from the top of a rushing cascade.

View upstream from the top of a rushing cascade.

Memory Falls on Father’s Day

Cedar Falls

Cedar Falls

I enjoyed the short hike down to Cedar Falls at Petit Jean State Park, remembering many hikes with my father and friends on this trail I’ve traveled since childhood. Passing a large boulder or pressing my hand across the intricate patterns of erosion on a rock wall might prompt memories I hadn’t thought of for years.

My father is unable to hike this trail now, but I’m thankful for the time we spent together on this and other trails over the years. He had an appreciation for nature and that was one of many gifts he passed down to me.

After I spent a few minutes with Cedar Falls, a father and son duo approached. I enjoyed catching a few shots of their enjoyment at the base of the falls and wondered if this place would become a memory bank for them as it had for me. IMG_1351rr

While hiking away from the falls, I waded out into the creek with my camera and tripod for the following shot. The warm water felt good as reflections danced off rock surfaces. I did happen to think about the snake I saw a few minutes earlier that slipped from the trail into the water but figured he wouldn’t mind my short visit into Cedar Creek.

Cedar Creek below the falls.

Cedar Creek below the falls.

After hiking back up to Mather Lodge, I looked out across the Cedar Creek valley and thought of the times I’d spent there with family. I thought about one daughter’s soft singing as she and her older sister and my wife and I stared at the stars from this bluff one night. I thought of a family photo we took on the bench close by. I thought of how, as a child, I used to stand and stare at the rock walls on the other side, wondering how the flow of water over time could form such beauty.

I felt thankfulness for my daughters though miles sometimes separate us. I felt thankfulness for my parents who are still able to experience trails through the photos I share. I’m thankful to have my father and thankful to be a father. Happy Father’s Day from Cedar Falls Trail.

View from Mather Lodge

View of Cedar Creek valley from Mather Lodge

Daddy and mother at Petit Jean State Park during the 1980s.

My parents on a Petit Jean State Park trail during the 1980s.

A Rainy Day on the Ozark Highlands Trail and My Least Favorite Camera

summer thunderstorms

Summer thunderstorm clouds today.

Recent heavy rains combined with some wind caused tree blowdowns on my adopted section of the Ozark Highlands Trail. I’d always bragged that my section was pretty easy to maintain because it’s down in the protective Jack Creek drainage, but my luck ran out this time.

Mike, friend and expert sawyer, was planning to do some cutting, and I was going to “swamp” (clear out what he cut). Rain meant chainsaw work wasn’t an option so I decided to take Hiker-dog and survey the damage, cutting what we could with my little handsaw. We found several trees across the trail, and I noted locations, but the real pleasure was in taking a few photos in between thunderstorms throughout the day.

This cone flower next to the trail was drinking in the sunshine on a mostly cloudy day.

cone flower

cone flower

Hiker was excited about spending a whole day on the trail. She likes the water, so rain was no problem. She only jumped when a loud of clap of thunder surprised us while working. When we stopped at Jack Creek for a break, she did a little grooming.

OHT Hiker resting We came upon a little friend hanging out on a log across the trail. I paused for a photo. Hiker-dog was focused on squirrels and never noticed the snake up above. OHT snake

Because of the rain and plans to do maintenance, I left my good camera at home. But, I ended up seeing a few things that needed to be captured so my cellphone filled in. Since there’s no reception down in the Jack Creek valley, I kept my phone turned off and stowed in a water-proof bag until needed as a camera.

I enjoyed the challenge of taking photos using what I consider my least favorite camera, the cell phone. We were soaked through and through, but it was a beautiful day on the trail.

Quick word about trail maintenance: Adopting a section of trail is a great way to help keep it open. Visit the Ozark Highlands Trail Association or other trail groups in your region to get involved. Below is a picture from before and after I did a little work with a handsaw.

Before saw work.

Before saw work.

After some sawing and hauling.

After some sawing and hauling.

No nonsense day hiking guide for the novice hiker

IMG_8410rr

What do I wear?

What do I take with me?

Where should I go?

When should I go?

What are the dangers? Will a bear get me?

Many questions come to mind when you consider taking a hike for the first time. We’re going to consider these questions and be sure we have some simple answers before heading out. A few good questions can keep us out of trouble and ensure that we want to continue hiking after our early experiences.

Disclaimer: This is not an all-encompassing day hiking guide. These are just my thoughts based on personal experience and a few mistakes along the way.

Oboz hiking shoes

Oboz hiking shoes

What do I wear?

You can wear almost anything and get away with it on the trail. Don’t worry about fashion, but function. We’ll look at this from the ground up since feet are very important to hikers.

  1. Socks are among a hiker’s most important pieces of clothing. I use SmartWool socks, but there are other options. Don’t wear cotton socks unless you like blisters and soggy, smelly feet. Any tennis shoes of reasonable strength are fine for day hiking. Don’t go purchase a heavy pair of hiking boots unless you just want to. I don’t even wear heavy boots when backpacking. I use low-top hiking shoes. I like Oboz right now, but whatever feels good on your feet should guide your decision.
  2. Pants – If the weather is nice, any pants will do. If it’s cold, I prefer anything but cotton pants. Cotton gets wet (making you colder) and then will not dry out in the humid Ozarks until a few days later. When hiking in the Ozarks I almost always wear long pants because of undergrowth, briars, and ticks.
  3. Underwear – For a short day hike, you can use cotton, but as you work up to longer hikes, you’ll want a pair of undies made from a fabric other than cotton.
  4. Shirt – A cotton shirt in summer is alright but if there is a chance of colder temperatures, something like an UnderArmor t-shirt will keep you warmer than cotton.
  5. Hat – A hat is good for sun protection and heat retention, depending on the weather. I accidentally left my hat in my car at the Grand Canyon once and was thankful I had a bandana to tie into a makeshift hat. In some conditions, a hat is a necessity!
  6. Rain protection (especially in cooler temperatures) – A light rain jacket can be wadded up in the bottom of your daypack and forgotten about until needed.
  7. Gloves – Anything but cotton and only if needed. I wear some cheap army surplus wool glove liners when I hike, and they’re fine. I also have some nicer gloves for colder weather but am nervous about losing them. They hook together which is nice for storage in my pack. Finding one glove is more irritating than finding one sock in the drawer.
Hiker-dog says,

Hiker-dog says, “The less you carry, the better you move.”

What do I take with me?

As little as possible is my short answer, but there are some essentials you’ll want to have depending on the conditions.  This list is drawn from the ten essentials that are published in many forms. Below is my list roughly by personal priority.

Filtering water from Spirits Creek.

Filtering water from Spirits Creek with a Sawyer Filer

  1. Water and access to water – Put your water in a bottle or a bladder in your pack. One expert hiker friend, Grey Owl, swears by prune juice bottles. He gave me a couple, and I use them all the time. I carry a small Sawyer water filter in my daypack in case I run low. It doesn’t add much weight and has made me a few friends on the trail when others needed water.
  2. Food – Snacks that you’re used to eating are what you should take on the trail. This is no time to try something new in the food department.
  3. Extra clothing – Think protection from the elements. If it looks like rain, carry rain protection. If it looks like cold, carry an extra layer. My all-time favorite is an insulated vest. Stuff it in the bottom of your pack and it’s like a little insurance policy against a cold snap.
  4. Navigation – Don’t assume that you can’t get lost on a well used trail. Like Jeremiah Johnson, “I’ve never been lost, just confused for a month or two.” Fortunately, I’ve only been confused an hour or so, but it can be a little scary if you’re not prepared. A trail map of the area you’re hiking can make or break your trip. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. Sometimes I just copy the appropriate pages from a trail guide and put them in a zip-lock bag. A compass is important. Even a general idea about directions can save you some grief. Don’t count on the compass app on your phone or GPS. Batteries don’t last. I have a small compass/thermometer that ties to a belt loop or my day pack. It’s always there.
  5. Illumination – A small headlamp or flashlight in your pack can be a big help if a hike takes longer than anticipated and you’re walking the last part of your trail in the dark. I carry a small LED light in my day pack at all times.
  6. Sun and bug protection – A little sunscreen can make you a happy and healthy hiker. Bug spray around the cuffs of your pants can discourage ticks. A little spray around your hat area can discourage deer flies and mosquitoes if you’re hiking in summer. Check for ticks often. If they get attached and stay awhile, your chances of getting one of several tick-borne diseases increase. I can usually feel the little guys climbing up my legs and pick them off before they attach.
  7. First Aid supplies – I like a zip-lock with some bandaids and any medicines I might need if stranded for a while. Keep it simple and light and then forget about it until you need it. Avoid purchasing a first aid kit because it will not be customized for your needs and you’ll be carrying unnecessary stuff.
  8. Fire – I carry a lighter. Don’t smoke, but I always have a lighter with me just in case I need a fire.
  9. Emergency shelter – This is simple to do. Cut a 8-10-inch hole close to the bottom of a large trash bag. I stuff it in the bottom of my pack and forget about it. I can put the bag over me and sit inside for shelter. The small opening allows me to see and breath but protects me from the elements. I’ve never used this but it’s like that cheap insurance policy I mentioned earlier.
  10. Most ten essentials lists include repair kit, but for day hiking I don’t carry any tools other than a small pocket knife. One of my hiking poles has some duct tape wrapped around it for emergencies. I’ve used this twice to reattach a shoe sole for other hikers.

OHT Map

Where should I go?

The short answer is, “Hike anywhere your feet will take you.” The longer answer is to put in a little thought and planning before you head out. When in doubt, hike fewer miles. Begin with 1-2 trail miles. I say trail miles because hiking on most trails is more demanding than walking a track. I learned this lesson once on the Seven Hollows Trail at Petit Jean State Park. I figured we could do four miles in just over an hour since that was what it took on a track. Over two hours later as it was getting dark, my wife and I finished our exhausting hike. Even as an experienced hiker, I always allow about one hour for every two miles of hiking distance.

Pick up one of Tim Ernst’s guidebooks and look for trails close to home. If you’re traveling, Google the area to see what hiking trails are available. I came across a couple of hikers on the Lake Alma Trail who were from Nebraska. They’d checked the web and found our trail. They were delighted with the hike and looking forward to a meal in town before hitting the road refreshed and relaxed.

Fall leaves along the trail.

Fall leaves along the trail.

When should I go?

The short answer is to go as often as possible. In the Ozarks, we have a large hiking window. My favorite months are October through May. September is iffy. Fall and winter are prime hiking months. June, July, and August are good months for early morning day hikes or some trips out west at higher elevations. Sometimes you’ll catch a cool snap in the Ozarks during the summer months, but that’s rare.

What are the dangers?

The dangers are few and not what you might expect. Bears and snakes are not a concern. Just don’t step on or antagonize a snake and you shouldn’t have a problem. Bear sightings are rare because of the noise hikers make, and our smell usually cues the bear to our presence. I’ve only seen one bear in Arkansas, and that was at a distance. I don’t carry a gun when hiking because it adds weight and addresses none of the real hazards of hiking.

Hazards to avoid through preparation (in no particular order): dehydration / heat exhaustion / hypothermia / ticks / mosquitoes

Deer season coincides with some of the best times of year to hike. I tie a hunter-orange bandana to my day pack year round and avoid impersonating a deer while in the woods. I’ve never had a problem.

One of my readers reminded me of the importance of telling a friend or family member your itinerary, even if it’s a short day hike. Do this whether hiking alone or in a group. I write my trail location and route on a note and leave it with my wife in hopes that she’ll want me to be found if I become lost. If my wife is with me on a hike, I’ll email my itinerary to a trusted hiking buddy.

A couple looking at Hawksbill Crag in the distance.

A couple looking at Hawksbill Crag in the distance.

Get linked up and get out!

You might want to join a hiking club in your area, but check the descriptions of their hikes carefully, so you don’t end up exhausted or with a stress injury. Most hiking groups schedule hikes suitable for novice hikers. The truth is experienced hardcore hikers still enjoy a nice scenic stroll with their camera. In my area, the Fort Smith Trailblazers do a lot of great day hikes. The Ozark Highlands Trail Association and Ozark Society also do group day hikes and backpacking trips of varying difficulty. Hiking with others is a great way to accelerate your knowledge about hiking and hiking locations to explore.

Hiking has enriched my life, enhanced my health, and connected me with some great folks. It’s a great big beautiful world out there. Get out and enjoy!

Small spring next to the trail in the Ozarks of Missouri

Small spring next to a trail in the Ozarks of Missouri

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Vivid Roaring River Spring

Roaring River in Missouri

Roaring River

This morning while hiking at Roaring River State Park in southern Missouri, I was fascinated by vivid greens and browns as they blended in fast flowing and trout-filled water.

Roaring River

Roaring River

Roaring River Spring

Roaring River Spring

Roaring River Spring drew me in with it’s subtle beauty and strength. The surface of this spring, which flows up from a canyon-like cave far below the bluff, seems to hide the average flow of 20 million gallons of water each day. This cold spring produces the rapids downstream, filled with color and life.

Roaring River Spring

Roaring River Spring

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Vivid.”

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A Right Wrong Turn

Flat Creek Bridge

Flat Creek Bridge

My wife and I took a turn too early off of Highway 39 while driving a scenic route in Missouri. After about 100 yards on a small paved road, a sign said, “Pavement Ends.” This was our cue to turn around, but not before exploring the rustic bridge a little farther down the road. What started out as a wrong turn became a pleasant stop and gave us a taste of rural Missouri Ozarks.

As often happens, a wrong turn is really a right turn providing special sights to explore. Sometimes I wonder how many special places we pass each day as we rush to our planned destinations.

Jenkins, MO

 GPS 36.775911, -93.685915

Flat Creek Bridge

Flat Creek Bridge

Flat Creek Bridge

Flat Creek Bridge

Flat Creek Bridge

Flat Creek Bridge

Flat Creek Bridge

Flat Creek Bridge

Underneath Flat Creek Bridge

Underneath Flat Creek Bridge

Underneath Flat Creek Bridge

Underneath Flat Creek Bridge

Underneath Flat Creek Bridge

Underneath Flat Creek Bridge – Jenkins party spot

Looking upstream from Flat Creek Bridge

Looking upstream from Flat Creek Bridge

Flat Creek Bridge

Flat Creek Bridge

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “On the Way.”

No Cookie Cutter Accommodations Please: If not a tent, then a B and B

Walnut Street Inn Bed & Breakfast

Walnut Street Inn Bed & Breakfast, built by Charles McCann in the 1890s at a cost of nearly $6,000

One of my hiking buddies always opts for a mom and pop restaurant over chains when possible. I’ve picked up this practice and have now applied this approach to selecting overnight accommodations. When not staying in a tent, I prefer a bed & breakfast over one of the chain hotels.

Becca and I recently made plans to celebrate our 36th anniversary, so something a little nicer than a tent was in order. We had never visited Springfield, Missouri and wanted to explore a little of the Missouri Ozarks.

Because of our wonderful experiences during repeated stays with Mike and Rhonda at Mountain Thyme B&B just outside of Hot Springs, Arkansas, we decided to look at the bed & breakfast options in Springfield. Pricing of bed & breakfasts are comparable to hotels, but the food, fellowship, and personal attention far exceed even the nicest of hotels.

Mountain Thyme

Mountain Thyme B&B, off Arkansas Highway 7, two miles from the Ouachita Trail

We were pleased to find Walnut Street Inn, located right downtown on historic Walnut Street. We enjoyed a wonderful breakfast and then explored Springfield by foot. A short drive put us in the Springfield Conservation Nature Center, with a variety of hiking trails.

We stayed in the Cottage, part of the Walnut Street Inn two doors down the street. A third building, The Carriage House, is located behind the Walnut Street Inn.

The Cottage B&B

The Cottage B&B

Here are a few photos from the Walnut Street Inn.

Walnut Street Inn

Walnut Street Inn

Inside the Walnut Street Inn

Inside the Walnut Street Inn

Outdoor dining area

Outdoor dining area

Antiques in the main house

Antiques in the main house

Porch columns in Victorian style

Porch columns in Victorian style

Detail of a window in the Walnut Street Inn

Detail of a window in the Walnut Street Inn

Walkway outside of our room

Walkway outside of our room

One benefit of staying in Springfield is hiking beautiful trails at the Springfield Conservation Nature Center and Lake Springfield. The Walnut Street Inn owner, Gary Blankenship, gave good driving directions to these areas. I would rise early and hike before breakfast, then have the day to explore the area with Becca. We walked several miles each day and had some wonderful meals together!

The Walnut Street Inn Bed and Breakfast – No cookie cutter accommodations, but a wonderful place to stay!

Springfield Conservation Nature Center

Springfield Conservation Nature Center

Springfield Conservation Nature Center

Springfield Conservation Nature Center

“Driving the Buffalo” in Do South Magazine

Eric Scowden, Photographer

Buffalo River photo by Eric Scowden

Below is the link to an article I wrote for a wonderful regional publication, Do South Magazine. I always learn a lot by doing this type of writing. I want to say a special word of thanks to an outstanding local photographer who allowed me to use a couple of his photos. The opening photo showing a panorama of the Buffalo River and the elk photograph were both by Eric Scowden.

“Driving the Buffalo” from Do South Magazine, June 2015

Use the following link to read Do South Magazine: http://issuu.com/urbanmag/docs/dosouthjune2015_digital/45?e=5352110/13115800