How to Prepare for Multi-Day Backpacking Trips

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Short break with a light pack.

A reader emailed several good questions while preparing for a backpacking trip on the Ozark Highlands Trail. I enjoy responding to these type of inquiries and decided to write this post. 

Many trip failures can be traced to the planning process or something overlooked in preparation. Even on the best of trips, I usually learn of things I should have done differently, often related to travel distance, packing, or food.

What follows is not intended as an all-inclusive guide, and there’s no “right way” to prepare and pack, but some of the lessons I’ve learned and resources shared here might inform your preparation. I include links to some items mentioned, but am not endorsing products or sources. I prefer to use my local outfitters, suppliers, and bookstores for most backpacking purchases.

Planning the route: Since a good friend, Bob, and I recently completed 88 miles on the Ozark Trail and we’re presently planning our second outing on the trail, I’ll use it as an example. After determining an overview of the route, usually looking at online resources, I order or print maps. The Ozark Trail Association website is very useful for this. Most long trails have associated websites that are helpful in planning.

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Online overview map of the Ozark Trail

I printed Ozark Trail maps but purchased section maps because of ease of use and durability. To be sure I ordered the right maps I used this map that labels the sections.

Since portions of the Ozark Trail haven’t been built yet, our goal is to walk the finished sections. We began working our way from south to north with the Eleven Point, Between the Rivers, and Current River sections. For this hike, we’ll continue north on the Blair Creek, Karkaghen, and Middle Fork John Roth sections.

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Portion of Ozark Trail Association map

For me, planning campsites involves guesswork and looking at topographical maps. I cut post-it notes into strips and stick them to the map where I think we might camp. I move them around while planning, sometimes even after changes are made while on the trail. I sometimes enjoy not knowing exactly where we’ll stop to spend the night.

Determining when and where water will be available is part of route planning. Sometimes you have to make informed guesses. Monitoring rain in the area you’re going to hike and contacting locals can help you determine if smaller creeks might act as water sources. Last fall when hiking dry sections of the Ouachita Trail, we planted water caches for insurance, but this involved driving to pick up empty jugs after the trip.

How many miles to travel each day is a common question. When in doubt, go short and enjoy the views. It’s easy to bite off too many miles and end up injured and having to leave the trail. With a pack between 18 and 26 pounds, 10-12 miles is a good distance for me, but there’s nothing wrong with a 6-mile day. I occasionally do 14 and might go longer after I correct my foot issue (see the next topic).

The feet: The most common saboteurs of multi-day trips are down at the end of our legs. Feet are so far away that it’s easy to ignore them. Things we hardly notice on dayhikes, become serious problems when walking day after day with 18-35 pounds on our backs.

On our first 88-mile section of the Ozark Trail, the third toe on my left foot was a problem that reared its ugly head beginning about day four of eight. This same toe was a problem earlier on the Ouachita Trail, but I tolerated the discomfort on both trips.

After the Ozark Trail experience, I found a good podiatrist. He used a spacer and small lifting device to correct this wayward toe’s position, the result of a childhood injury. If something hurts, check it out. It might be an easy fix.

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Comparing worn and new shoes

When hiking, doing gentle stretches each morning and evening can avoid problems. Using some lotion on the feet each night after cleaning also helps prevent blisters. Pack a file for smoothing the toenails during your trip.

Wool blend socks help prevent blisters. I use Darn Tough Socks. They last! Comfortable shoes are also essential, and I go light as possible with footwear as in low cut hiking or trail running shoes. No need for heavy boots!

Resource: My favorite (and only) book about this subject is Fixing Your Feet by John Vonhof

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Packed for the John Muir Trail

Packing light: Pack weight is a challenge, especially for multi-day trips when the addition of food increases weight. Looking at the “big three” has helped me. Shelter, sleep system and the pack itself – These three are the big weight items. If you swap a 4-pound tent for a 1-pound tarp, that’s huge! Sometimes I’ll use a tarp, but I have a 2-pound tent I also use depending on anticipated conditions. Moving from a heavy sleeping bag to a down quilt and silk bag liner has reduced weight for me.

Many never think about the actual weight of the pack, but some are close to 5-pounds. Having a fancy suspension system doesn’t reduce the weight your feet and knees are feeling so go as light as possible with the pack. Most ultra-light packs do fine with loads of 15-30 pounds.

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Next, I go through the pack to see what I can leave at home. Example: toothpast and toothbrush – I don’t need them. I take floss and use a green twig to clean my teeth as I walk in the morning. I’m veering into the “too much information” category here, but this was the first example that came to mind. I consider Wet Wipes a luxury item but worth carrying. Cleaning up before getting in the bag liner reduces the stink and makes sleep easier.

OT small containersI pack needed items in small containers when possible to save weight. No need for a tube of foot cream or sunscreen, so I estimate what might be needed and pack that amount. As you can see from the photo, I still had foot cream, sunscreen, first aid cream, and Dawn Soap at the end of eight days. The floss is for size reference, but I’m looking for smaller floss containers. I despise plastic floss picks when I see them in the woods. Whatever you use should be placed in your trash bag and carried out. I use an empty coffee bag for trash because it’s light and can be folded down to the size needed. At the end of the trip, the bag goes into the trash. 

Clothing: I wear one outfit for the duration of the trip. Layers are added depending on the expected weather. I use a silk weight base layer for cold hiking and an even lighter layer for sleeping. I like to carry a down vest and, if temperatures in the low 20s are forecasted, I’ll add my down pants for sleeping if the quilt needs extra help. A hat for the sun is essential. For a warm hat, I use a stretch-fabric tube (brand isn’t important). Beanie hats work well too, but they tend to be heavier and aren’t as multi-use.

Deciding what needs to remain dry is essential. I pack my clothes and personal items in a waterproof stuff sack, then place that along with my down quilt inside a trash compactor bag. The compactor bag fills cracks and crevices in the pack to utilize space and has kept items dry on rainy days.

OT umbrellaWhen I expect rain, I pack an ultra-light umbrella. This is a personal choice because I’d rather have some wetness on my lower body and not be sweating and cold all over. I sweat under the best of rain shells when hiking hard in moderately cold temps.  The umbrella gives me a little roof to walk under, but it’s not for everybody. I’ve also used a poncho which kept my upper body dry, but I still get clammy.

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Esbit stove, windscreen, cup and pot

Fire, Food & Water: Like most backpackers, I have a varied collection of stoves. My hiking buddy carries an MSR WhisperLite. It’s great, but I need something simpler. I’ve used a PocketRocket when at higher elevations (like the John Muir Trail) but for the Ozarks, I like my Esbit Stove that uses two Esbit fuel tabs per day. Sometimes I’ll build a fire for cooking if there is an existing fire ring.

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Meal in homemade cozy

Food can get heavy! I avoid freeze dried meals because of their saltiness, expense, and packaging. I prefer using powdered soup mixes, instant potatoes, and Knorr side dishes as a base with my own dehydrated vegetables and meat added. I purchase dried chicken from Mountain House and add it to most meals. I repackage all in ziplock bags. Results are best if I place the chicken and vegetables in water when I first arrive at camp to increase their hydrating time.

In the Ozarks, bears aren’t usually a concern. I never carry bear spray and only used a bear canister once in the High Sierras of California where it was required. I use a bag for food and tie it in a tree, but mainly to keep the little critters out.

Water is heavy! One liter is just over two pounds. Its storage and treatment can add even more weight. I avoid Nalgene bottles because they’re heavy and bulky. I use a Platypus 70 oz. pouch for water storage and it doubles as a pillow filled with air and wrapped in fabric. I use one-liter Vapur collapsible bottles while walking. They’re light and fold up when not in use.

OT AquamiraI typically use Aquamira drops for water treatment but carry it in smaller bottles with a tiny bottle for mixing.

Sawyer filters are light and effective. They’re cheap, so I usually carry one in my daypack even though I rarely use it on multi-day backpacking trips.

IMG_0127rrI must interject a note about coffee here as I consider it essential! I sometimes use Mount Hagen instant, but you end up with a small wrapper to carry out. My tastiest morning brew involves using espresso grind coffee and leaves no trash to carry out.

Here is a link to my Backpacking List. It’s a working document that I update from time to time.

Resource: Ultra-Light Backpackin’ Tips by Mike McClelland – I love this book!

Physical preparation: The best way to prepare for backpacking is to walk with a backpack. I put magazines in my bear canister and place it in an extra pack for this purpose. I love my rowing machine, but biking, running, or any similar exercise will be helpful in preparing for backpacking. Lunges, squats and toe raises are going to be helpful but be careful not to start a new activity in the weeks before a long trip because an injury will interfere with preparations. Rest, nutrition and safe stretching are all important to general health and in helping you avoid illness prior to your trip.

Resource: The Stark Reality on Stretching by Dr. Steven D. Stark – This book shows safe stretching techniques and points out the dangers of some common stretches.

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Eleven Point River in Missouri

I’ve shared what I think are important things to remember when preparing for a multi-day backpacking trip. I’ll update this post as questions reveal other areas to include.

Enjoy your planning! If things go well, you’ll gain lifelong memories of indescribable beauty and the satisfying sense of personal accomplishment. If things don’t go as planned, you still might have great memories of your time in the wilderness, but with the addition of new learning to apply on your next trip.

Five Star Trails at REI

Five Star Trails: The Ozarks in REI, Dallas

While I love the long trails, I enjoy a good dayhike! If you need a great guidebook for the Ozarks of Arkansas and Missouri, check out my book, Five Star Trails: The Ozarks.

Coloring Our World: 88 Miles on Missouri’s Ozark Trail

IMG_1147rrWhile working on Five Star Trails: The Ozarks, I scouted several trails that followed portions of Missouri’s Ozark Trail. Those experiences left me wanting more.

IMG_1562Using the Ozark Trail Association website trip planner, I entered how many days were available for the outing and decided on a south-to-north trek following the Eleven Point, Between the Rivers, and Current River sections for a total of 87.6 miles. I rounded our total trip mileage up to 88 since we poked around in the woods a couple of times where the trail became difficult to follow, mostly around the Peck Ranch section.

On Friday, November 2, I drove up to Fayetteville and picked up Bob, then drove about 5 hours to Powder Mill, east of Eminence, Missouri. Jerry Richard (Richard’s Canoe Rental) met us promptly the next morning and shuttled us to the Western Terminus of the Eleven Point River section close to Thomasville. Our itinerary was simple from there. Just walk 88-miles back to my truck at Powder Mill (AKA Owls Bend on the Current River).

IMG_1138rrAs we set foot on the trail Saturday morning, we were immediately captured by the fall colors. The first day flew by, and we arrived at Bockman Spring early in the afternoon.

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Bockman Spring

The cave is closed, but a photo could be taken from the door frame to the bluff built by earlier inhabitants. I used my headlamp to “light-paint” the cave’s walls during a 15-second exposure. We filtered our water from the PVC pipe that carried water from the cave to a metal catch basin in front of the spring.

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Bockman Spring

While preparing our evening meals, several friendly locals on four-wheelers drove up, and we visited about our itinerary. They had many questions about the trail and the distance we would travel over the next few days. The first day for gun hunting would be November 10, but we had hunter orange for the final days of our trek.

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Coffee, eggs and bacon bits

After a rainy night, I woke to the silhouette of trees against a dull morning light. Drops of water falling from nearby trees sounded like hundreds of little animal steps. I prepared egg crystals and bacon bits with coffee while warming under my quilt.

Packing lightweight food that would satisfy and provide fuel for the miles took some planning, but I was pleased with the results.

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Chicken, rice, and veggies

Mountain House dehydrated chicken combined with Knorr meals or instant potatoes made excellent dinners! The addition of selected dehydrated veggies added flavor and balance. I’m looking forward to including examples (and samples) from my backpacking menu during my March 3rd, 2019 presentation for the Friends of Hobbs State Park.

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My small umbrella was put to good use as drizzling rain fell on and off the next day. I began to walk a familiar trail included in my guidebook as we passed the McCormack Lake spur. We stopped for a break at a view of the Eleven Point River I’d looked forward to seeing again.

IMG_1310rrAfter passing Greer Recreation Area, we followed the upland route. We toured the well maintained Bristol Cemetery that contained grave sites from the 1800s and early 1900s.

After thirteen hilly miles, we made camp four miles into the Between the Rivers Section. As the sun went down, coyote howls echoed through the surrounding woods with a stereo-like high fidelity purity.

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The tarp combined with bivy sack as a groundcloth, air mattress, and down quilt kept me dry and warm. I like the closeness I feel with surroundings when using a tarp. If strong thunderstorms had been in the forecast, I might have carried my tent instead.

Monday began cold! Rain started around 11 a.m. and continued throughout the day, slacking up around 6 p.m. My camera was safely stowed inside my waterproof stuffsack so no photos from that day.

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Cotham Pond

Tuesday treated us to more water than we’d expected on this typically dry section of trail. We found good water and sunshine at Cotham Pond. A starry night and strong coyote songs followed that evening.

The next few days sailed by as we covered miles and found water plentiful along the trail. Mint Spring was a special place with its soft green color.

 

We didn’t see any elk in the Pike Ranch Conservation Area, but saw more deer than we could count. The trail got sketchy at a burned out area, but we found our way. Trail markers were sometimes plentiful but more often spaced so that they reassured us we were on the right path. As part of our planning, we passed through Peck Ranch a couple of days before the route would close for hunting season.

The trail became easier to follow once we got north of Peck Ranch. Climbing up Stegall Mountain was exciting as distant views revealed themselves while we walked through stunted, windblown oaks. We spent a few minutes on the glade mountaintop taking in the beauty then continued toward the Rocky Creek section.

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Rocky Creek held wonderful water. I treated it lightly with some Aquamira drops. Our seventh and last night on the trail was our coldest yet. The next morning was a delightful chilly walk to Klepzig Mill followed by several cold creek crossings. Bob said, “The cleanest parts of our bodies are definitely our feet!”

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The water of Rocky Creek and adjacent creeks was clear and cold! I enjoyed watching this small leaf dance on the surface of the water and follow its shadow on the rock below.

We walked across a field of frost flowers on this sunny morning. I couldn’t resist the temptation to take a bite from one of the large ice formations.

As we approached our final Current River crossing over the Hwy 60 Bridge, a pickup truck pulled up and one of our deer hunter friends from day one at Bockman Spring greeted us. We enjoyed a short visit before continuing to Powder Mill Trailhead and our trip’s end. The only backpacker we met in eight days was Joe B. going the opposite direction early in our hike.

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Current River from the Hwy 60 Bridge

We looked forward to a good meal but drove east for a while before stopping at Mountain Grove to have a delicious dinner at Grove Family Restaurant. Great service! Great food!

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Bob and Jim

We were thankful to conclude our colorful trek on the Ozark Trail still feeling healthy and strong. Maybe we’ll return and explore more miles of this beautiful trail in the future. Like my dayhikes from three years ago, this first longer walk on the Ozark Trail left me wanting more. Check out the links at the end of this post to read of our other long hikes.

A note of thanks: We passed hundreds of cuts, old and new, that cleared our way on the trail. We saw areas recently maintained and the white tree blazes were essential to following the trail. Bob and I have adopted sections of the Ozark Highlands Trail in Arkansas, so we appreciate the work it takes to keep a trail open. Thank you to the Ozark Trail Association (OTA) and the many volunteers who give their time to Missouri’s Ozark Trail!

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Evidence of volunteers with the OTA

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

A Few Steps in Paradise – The John Muir Trail in the High Sierras of California

Ouachita Trail’s First 51 Miles at the (Im)Perfect Time (Includes links to posts that complete the 223 mile trail)

Writing Through The Ozarks

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A wet Hiker-dog waits patiently as I photograph a waterfall in Missouri’s Hercules Wilderness

In November of 2012, I began this blog as an online scrapbook to record my adventures on the trails. I hoped it would help solidify memories of good times and lessons learned. It has more than fulfilled this wish. Sometimes I skim back through posts to relive the joy of previous trips and get inspired to explore some more.

An added benefit of writing is that others have chosen to virtually travel with me on the trails. Some have been inspired to hike as a result of this blog, and that gives me great satisfaction! This site is now approaching 150,000 hits and has more than 1,600 subscribed followers.

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A couple of months before beginning my blog, I wrote my first article for @Urban Magazine, now Do South Magazine. That portion of my writing journey is in a post entitled “When in Doubt, Write.”


In October of 2014, my blog opened another door. I received an email from Tim W. Jackson, an acquisition editor with AdventureKEEN/Menasha Ridge Publishing. He said they were looking at adding an Ozarks guidebook to their Five Stars series and asked if I was interested in authoring the book. I quickly did a Google and Twitter search and confirmed that Tim was a real person. I then realized I owned several Menasha Ridge publications. Tim began to answer my questions and thus began our long-distance work on a guidebook that would consume every extra moment of my time for the next two years.

At first, writing this book felt daunting. My mother says, “When in doubt, take a step” so I began. There was research, hiking, recording GPS tracks, writing, and photography, then the cycle continued, building in ever-expanding layers. There was also lots of driving with Hiker-dog in her crate. She loved exploring the new trails and revisiting the familiar ones.

Even at its most difficult stages, I found great joy in this work. The team at Menasha Ridge Press was wonderful and helped make Five Star Trails: The Ozarks an amazing resource for exploring the very best trails in the Ozarks of Arkansas and Missouri. I take great pride in this book’s accuracy, readability, photographs, maps, and the wonderful routes included.

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After the book’s publication, Marla Cantrell shared some of my story in an article entitled, “When in Doubt.” Marla had been a coach and mentor to me ever since my first published article in Do South Magazine.


I hadn’t anticipated how much fun it would be to share adventures and backpacking skills while promoting Five Star Trails: The Ozarks. Presenting at the Arkansas Literary Festival was a treat as well as various state parks and hiking groups.

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Presenting to a group of 90 at Hobbs State Park

After the Arkansas Literary Festival, I learned that my book was included in the 2017 Arkansas Gems List. It was a thrill to see Hiker-dog’s cover photo on the poster.

Arkansas Gems poster 2017

  • If you love hiking or know someone who does, get Five Star Trails: The Ozarks.
  • If you’ve used Five Star Trails: The Ozarks, write a review on Amazon. I’m proud of that this Five Star Trails guidebook has a five-star rating. screen-shot-2017-01-14-at-7-58-59-am
  • If you have a group that would enjoy hearing about the Ozarks, John Muir Trail in the High Sierras of California, or Grand Canyon of Arizona, please pass along my contact info. I can be reached at OzarkMountainHiker@gmail.com

It’s been a fun ride with Five Star Trails: The Ozarks and the journey continues. Enjoy your trails! Jim Warnock

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While it’s a pleasure to see The Ozarks on bookstore shelves, the real thrill is seeing it in use! These young hikers shared this photo from one of their Ozarks trips. Thanks Trey!

Watch for the November issue of Do South. It includes my article, “Walking Through Winter,” one of our best seasons in the Ozarks.

Five Star Trails at REI

REI in Dallas 

The Trail Never Disappoints

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Yesterday’s steady rain promised potential waterfalls this morning, so Hiker-dog and I set out early. I never tire of walking the Lake Alma Trail. It’s always slightly different, depending on the light, weather, and my frame of mind. This morning, it was exactly 50-degrees, so my sometimes weather-related mood was pretty optimistic.

As we approached the creek below McWater Falls, I heard a soft flow. When we arrived, the waterfall greeted us in beautiful morning light. After Hiker-dog had her bath and a drink, I placed my camera on a tree root for a half-second exposure.

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McWater Falls on the Lake Alma Trail

After picking up some trash, yes, trash right here at the waterfall, we began our walk back, picking up several other trash items on the way. I noted that some litterbugs were not adhering to the guidelines I wrote for these folks in another post. A couple of new pieces of trash had obviously been thrown off the trail, making them harder to retrieve.

As we walked back through the picnic area and across the dam, a bright morning sun beamed down its warmth, revealing hints of approaching fall colors on this trail that never disappoints.

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If you’d like a map of the Lake Alma Trail, open this pdf: Alma Park Map 2017

Quick Shakedown in the Ozarks

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Light rain with temps in the 50s… I must go now! So, Friday evening I arrived at Shores Lake as the sun went down, leaving a dim, soft light. The trailhead parking lot was empty.

I begin most walks with intense anticipation but felt a dull obligation this evening. I needed a shake-down outing in the rain in preparation for future trips, and my hiking buddy needed some time in the woods.

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Beginning the trail after sunset 

Thankfully, it only took a few steps on the trail for that sense of duty to drop away, replaced by feelings of magic while walking this familiar route in deepening darkness. The last couple of miles required a headlamp.

Seeing only the trail details right in front of me stimulated memories of previous walks on this path. Memories associated with each turn of the trail came back clearly like repeated hits of deja vu. As I walked past a couple of my favorite waterfalls in the darkness, I thought of past treks when I enjoyed these scenes in daylight.

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Little Roaring Falls on White Rock Creek

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Bedtime beverage

In the misty drizzle, it was easy to set up the tarp so that my down quilt stayed dry inside the trash compactor bag until I was ready for sleep. The small umbrella was helpful during the walk and while making the evening’s hot toddy.

The rainy night left me well rested. When I woke at 4 a.m., the sky was clear and the air was chilly. I felt great, so we packed up and started walking, thinking Salt Fork Creek would be an excellent location for breakfast. Walking the sun up was a treat! 

Shortly after passing the intersection at the short spur to White Rock Mountain, someone said “good morning” from inside his tent. I’m sure he was relieved that Hiker-dog wasn’t a bear.

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Important sign on the approach to the top of White Rock Mountain

The downhills east of White Rock Mountain were the most difficult footings I encountered in darkness. No falls, but two close calls and a little rock-skating here and there.

As we approached Salt Fork Creek, we saw headlamps from a campsite. A camper’s dog joined us and played with Hiker-dog. The two of them had a great time while I sat close to my stove to protect the boiling water from their prancing.

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Salt Fork Creek had clear water

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egg burrito

My dehydrated egg crystals turned out great, but I’ll pack some bacon bits next time. I dipped out some clear Salt Fork Creek water for coffee and treated another pouch full for the day. A couple of breakfast bars completed my meal as we backtracked a short distance to the East Loop Trail and continued south.

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The woods and rocks surrounding the trail were a welcome sight after so much night walking. We saw evidence of trail maintenance by the OHTA all along the trail. I think Hiker-dog appreciated this cut!

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Before arriving back at Shores Lake, the trail crossed this stream that flows down to Salt Fork Creek. This water level is pretty typical of fall in the Ozarks. You can usually find water pockets, but sometimes, creeks are bone-dry this time of year. I still had water from Salt Fork Creek, so we continued and arrived at the trailhead relaxed and ready for lunch (and an afternoon nap).

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Shakedown thoughts: The following are my thoughts about a few recent pieces of equipment or practices. I’m not that gear conscious so you won’t get technical info here. Often, I can’t remember the brand names of items while on the trail.

Headlamp – The little Nitecore NU25 headlamp worked well. It’s rechargeable so only repeated uses will tell how long the charge will last, but with the low setting I used most on this outing, it should last several hours. The higher settings were great for scanning the campsite before departing. I carried a Petzl with the retractable strap for backup. I’ve used the Petzl for several years with good results.

Coffee recipe: Details of my trail brew are available on another post, My Morning Brew: Great Coffee on the Trail. I’ve used Mount Hagen instant with good results, but my current coffee brewing method doesn’t leave any trash to carry out.

Hoosier Hill Farm Premium Whole Egg Crystals: Practice making these at home and you’ll have a protein-rich breakfast on the trail. I’m not finding this product now, but hopefully, it’s available or will be soon. I measure the crystals into a small ziplock, then add salt and pepper. When the water boils, I add a few drops of olive oil and then the egg mix. If it’s too thick, I add a few drops of my coffee since I’m mixing in the cook pot. If it’s too watery, I pour off the excess after the eggs scramble.

Shelter: I’ve used the Zpacks tarp in light rain, so this outing gave me a slightly stronger test though I’m looking forward to getting it out in a heavy rain for a final test before using it on the Ozark Trail this winter. My Big Agnes tent is a good option if I lack confidence with the tarp, but I like the lightness of the tarp. The Big Agnes was my John Muir Trail shelter and it worked well. If I hike the High Sierras again in summer, I’ll take my tarp.

Hot Toddy recipe (for medicinal purposes): Put a little bourbon in a cup (depending on taste). Boil a cup of water and add 4-6 whole cloves toward the end of the boil. Pour into cup and stir in a pinch of True Lemon crystals. Enjoy!

Everything is Holy Now

Quote Mary Chapin Carpenter  copy

As I loaded my pack for a fall trip in the Ozarks, this favorite quote came to mind and made me think. What do I really need to carry with me when walking a trail? Then a larger question came to mind. What is it I need on this walk through life?

What I’ve thought was indispensable to a happy life often proved to be insignificant clutter, based mostly on what our culture proclaims we must have. Much of what we label as sacred has shown to be hollow, or at best, a shallow imitation for holy.

I’ll place a few essentials carefully into my pack – food, water, shelter, and coffee. In addition to the pack, I’ll carry my mind and a pounding heart. The trail will provide the remainder of what I need.

As I receive what the trails have to offer, I sometimes whisper this song. “Wine from water is not so small, but an even better magic trick is that anything is here at all.”

Boondocking in the Ouachitas and Lake DeGray

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Early morning view of the Fourche LeFave River.

Where the South Fourche LeFave River crosses Highway 7 just south of the Hollis Store, you’ll find a beautiful little campground suitable for tents or small RVs. There are no hookups for water or electrical, so some would consider it “boondocking.” I posted a short review of this campground on FreeCampsites.net, a great website when preparing a travel route.

We made camp in the dark, thankful for a break in the drive after a full day’s work. As anticipated, this was a great overnight stop for Becca, Hiker-dog and me on our way to Lake DeGray to meet up with family members. Avoid this campground if heavy rains are in the forecast since it’s in a flood zone.

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Campsites include a picnic table, tent pad, lantern pole, fire ring, and a grill.

Our 20-foot “tent-on-wheels” was a perfect fit and slept nicely in the cool mountain air of the Ouachitas. We set up in the dark and did some early morning exploring the next day before heading south on Hwy 7 toward Hot Springs and then Lake DeGray.

Hiker-dog loved the woods surrounding the river. Since we had the place to ourselves, she could roam leash-free. In addition to the well-appointed campsites, there are pit toilets, bear-proof trash cans, and a group picnic pavilion. These well-maintained pit toilets were luxurious by thru-hiker standards.IMG_0358rrIMG_0410rrWe’d packed water which was good because the campground kiosk said no water was available due to vandalism though no obvious damage was visible.  A short unmaintained path leads up beautifully built stone steps to what looks like a pump house next to Hwy 7.

 

 

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Steps leading to stone pumphouse

 

We enjoyed walking back to the bridge and checking out the tools being used to build a replacement for the 1933 structure. I hope there are plans to relocated it for a footbridge because of it’s beautiful form and character.

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I couldn’t help but think of a dental drill when I saw the machine that held the 10-foot wide drill bits used to bore into the earth before pouring concrete pillars. Some of the rebar forms were already in place.

 

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Our early morning drive to DeGray State Park was fun as we anticipated seeing this area we’ve enjoyed since our college days. We arrived early and spent time walking and enjoying a lunch at the Lodge Restaurant.

The next morning, Hiker-dog and I went for a walk. She enjoyed running along the muddy shoreline, kicking up chunks of dirt as her paws pounded across the soft soil.

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It had been years since I walked the short Towering Pines Trail, so we did it both ways to get a little more distance.  Sure enough, there were tall pine trees that reminded me of the woods behind my childhood home in south Arkansas.

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It didn’t take long to warm up, so Hiker-dog was glad when the trail passed close to Lake DeGray for a quick bath.

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The Saginaw Railroad Trail is a very short trail, but still worth doing because it follows an old narrow route that was used in the early 1900s to harvest virgin timbers at a time when humans thought forests were inexhaustible. Teams of mules dragged the felled trees to the rails where they were then transported to a lumber mill.

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Hiking on an old railroad bed

Even walking the roads to and from trails is a pleasure at Lake DeGray State Park. This view in early morning mist presented itself as we headed back toward the campground after our walk.

IMG_0482rrOur afternoon family hike was a pleasure later that day though I wished for the cooler temps we’d enjoyed earlier. I was proud to see my daughter’s fitness level and ease on the trail.

IMG_0595rrIt was a good time with family and made me think back to earlier dayhikes with my daughters. My only regret is that we didn’t do this more often during their childhood. I felt intense gratitude for the beautiful ladies they’ve become.

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Dayhike with daughters at Petit Jean State Park a “few” years back.

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Lake DeGray

Advice for Littlerbugs

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View of Lake Alma from the dam

This cool rainy morning was perfect for picking up trash on the Lake Alma Trail. The sight of trash in the Ozarks sometimes interrupts my enjoyment of the walk. I try to contain my emotional response to seeing an abandoned cup because it confuses Hiker-dog. She’s always happy in the woods and worries if I’m not enjoying my time, too.

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I’ve wondered what folks are thinking when they toss trash on the trail, so I decided to Google it. Didn’t find any explanations of the litterbug’s inner thinking, but the Journal of Applied Social Psychology published a study that confirmed something I’ve long suspected: “The littering rate was…lowest in a clean environment.” I was surprised to learn that positive (“Pitch-In”), and negative (“Littering is Unlawful”) signs had the same minor effect on reducing litter. It’s sad to see anti-littering signs in natural areas.

Since they are not likely to stop, I decided to list a few pieces of advice for litterbugs. If you know anyone guilty of littering, please pass these along.

  1. Leave your trash on the trail rather than tossing it off of the path where it’s difficult for volunteers to retrieve in poison ivy and greenbriers.
  2. Leave the labels on your water bottles. When you tear off the label, volunteers then have two pieces of trash to pick up. This pisses off some volunteers, and we don’t want to see angry people on our hiking trails.
  3. If you are unable to resist the urge to take a dump right next to the trail, please pick up the book, How to Shit in the Woods and give it a read.
  4. Please leave contact information on your trash (or next to it in the case of human excrement), so we can fill your email inbox with words of thanks for practicing “courteous” littering and providing us with volunteer opportunities.
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Hiker-dog on top of the LAT Dam

We only saw a few pieces of trash on the trail this morning, but cooler temperatures reminded me that Arkansas’ hiking season is just around the corner. I’m looking forward to sharing Five Star Trails: The Ozarks at several fall events. I might even include a few Leave No Trace reminders just in case any litterbugs wander in by accident.

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Five pieces of trash were found on the trail with the remainder found in the picnic area.

My Morning Brew: Great Coffee on the Trail

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I love coffee! On the trail, even the most disgusting instant coffee tastes pretty good, but if we can have gourmet coffee while “roughing it,” why not?

I once felt guilty about my coffee obsession, but many nutritionists now say it’s a healthy drink, so I feel no shame when enjoying my morning shot of stimulant.

There are many instants and brewing techniques out there, but I’ve learned that less is best. Some cringe when they see my backpacking version of “cowboy coffee,” but this is similar to the way professional coffee tasters do their work, so it has some credibility. It also fits into the ultra-light approach because no special equipment is required.

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What you’ll need: A cup, spoon, boiling hot water, and espresso grind coffee. A coffee shop will do the espresso grind for you. I like a dark roast bean. The important thing is that this coffee is a powder-fine grind. Regular grinds result in a chewy brew with less flavor.

The brew:

  1. IMG_0127rrBoil creek water and pour into a cup.
  2. Add a rounded teaspoon of espresso grind coffee and let it sit on top of the water for a minute.
  3. Stir the coffee and let sit another minute or two.

Enjoy a great cup of coffee, but don’t drink the sludge at the bottom of your cup. It’s biodegradable, so there’s no mess and no fuss!