Ozark Highlands Trail: Arbaugh to Lick Branch

Our “weather shopping” continued and resulted in a great over-nighter on the Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT) from Arbaugh Trailhead to Lick Branch (east to west).

Recent rains provided us with good water levels at all creeks and even some drainages that are often dry. Bob counted ten times we had light sleet during the first day and evening, but never enough to justify pulling out the rain gear.

The trail provides nice rocks for sitting in the shadow of bluffs and water features.

Parker found an old pot and grill left by previous users of the area. True to our desire to leave no trace, he packed the items out to the next road crossing. He returned following the hike to carry out this and other trash we collected.

To all who use the Ozarks, please pack out what you pack in. Leaving a place better than you find it is part of the fun in backpacking.

A highlight of this trip is the vista you’ll pass between mile 61 and 60.

Conversation and a good meal was made even more enjoyable by the sunset.

When we arrived at the Wolf Ridge campsite, it was occupied by a group of nice folks from Siloam Springs, AR. We found open spots for camping uphill away from the trail so both groups had some space. An old fire ring was close to our tents but we usually opted not to use it and turned in soon after dark.

Gathering water is always a pleasure at the small stream that crosses the trail just beyond the campsite. Parker mentioned that he’d seen water in it when he did a summer day hike through the area, so I’d guess it always has water.

Temperatures hovered close to freezing. Kerry found some ice in a water bottle the next morning. After coffee, we hit the trail.

Crossing the Little Mulberry

The whole last mile of this hike is a visual treat as you pass large boulders before crossing Lick Branch.

We stopped at Oark General Store for a burger after the hike. The wood burning stove and heat of the Angry Hornet Burger warmed us up for the drive home. Bob said as we completed the hike, “This goes in the books as another great outing on the OHT!

Ouachita Trail: Hwy 71 to Queen Wilhelmina State Park

It’s good to be back in the saddle again after a too-long break. Following hernia surgery, I was limited to day hiking for six weeks, so I did a lot of day hiking which helped speed my recovery. Once backpacking was back on my menu, I put some books in my bear canister for weight and walked the Lake Alma Trail with a loaded pack for a couple of weeks.

After some of the climbs on this section of the Ouachita Trail I was glad I did that preparation work. We had a great time!

After recent rains the creeks were all running clean so water wasn’t a challenge as it sometimes is on the Ouachita Trail.

Now that we’re retired, we’ve gotten in the habit of “weather shopping” and heading out during good weather windows. I felt guilty recently and purposely suited up and carried my pack on a rainy day hike just to stay in practice since hiking in rain adds a new set of challenges. On this trip we were expecting cold temperatures at night, but we never dipped below freezing.

Black Fork Mountain Shelter

Kerry packed out some empty plastic water jugs left in the area by previous hikers.

We enjoyed hearing trains and owls during the night. We crossed these railroad tracks close to Hwy 270 as we hiked west. Bob is in the distance stepping across the rails.

As we approached Queen Wilhelmina Lodge, I stopped to enjoy the view. I found myself walking slowly and wishing the trip wouldn’t end. This was a good time to give a respectful nod to the Ouachita Mountains and pause in thanksgiving for the beauty of creation, good friends, and good health. We had a great time on the Ouachita Trail!

Lover's Leap overlook

Bolo Knife Brought Back to Life

I found this model 1917 bolo knife in the bottom of my father’s toolbox. It was manufactured in 1918 in Philadelphia, PA. The before picture shows the knife as it was when I found it. The rough-hewn wooden handle made me think of my grandfather, but I can’t be sure of how it came down through the family. It’s my understanding that my grandfather, Arch Warnock, was in the Army at some point. Another possibility is that my father found it abandoned in an old apartment house he once owned.

I debated what to do with this knife and appreciate Tom Wing’s thoughts about preserving its history. He is a professor at the University of Arkansas in Fort Smith and my go-to person on anything history related.

Through a trail friend (and artist) Gary Alexander, I learned about Steve Thompson and asked him about the possibilities of reclaiming this knife as a useful tool again. As you can see by comparing the before and after photos, he does great work! 

Since the blade was badly pitted and rusted, he cleaned and adjusted the blade and edge. He made a new handle of curly maple. The new pommel (end piece) is made from mild steel and soldered on. The 1917 sheath was long gone so Steve made a beautiful leather sheath to protect the knife. 

The 1917 model knife was originally used in World War I. While reading, I came across the story of Henry Johnson. He was a member of the Harlem Hell Fighters, an all-black regiment. While in France, Johnson’s position was attacked by as many as 36 armed German soldiers. The soldier with Johnson was killed leaving Johnson alone to defend the French position. Henry Johnson, using his rifle, gunstock, and a 1917 bolo knife, drove the Germans into retreat killing several. He sustained severe injuries in the fight but survived. The French Army gave Johnson special recognition and awards. He received no awards from the US Army during his lifetime. He died in poverty in 1929. On May 14, 2015, it was announced that Johnson would receive the Medal of Honor posthumously.

I originally thought I might use this knife for trail maintenance. Clearing brush was one of its uses in the military and its quarter inch thick blade makes this a good application. Once I saw Steve’s work, I knew it would probably not be carried in the woods. I’ll keep it nice and dry as something to be passed down in the family.

Some have asked if I’ll carry this knife when backpacking. Below is my answer. The Swiss Army knife is what I carry when counting pack weight ounces. Bears have nothing to fear from me.

If the Shoe Fits

The same shoe, new on the left and used on the right.

What’s the best shoe? This question has been with me since I began hiking. Often, what is meant is, “what brand do you recommend?” I appreciate the person’s respect for my opinion and experience, but the answer I give is, “Wear the shoe that fits your feet.” To that I would add, “Wear the type of shoe that works for the type of hiking you’re doing” and “Wear as light a shoe as you can get away with.”

Used shoe on the left and new (but already dusty from a trail testing) on the right.

I also recommend that if you find a shoe that works, purchase a second pair. I began practicing this when I used trail running shoes for backpacking. I still use trail runners sometimes but like a little water resistance and additional support of a light hiking shoe.

Recently I decided to get a second pair of the Keens as pictured here. This shouldn’t be taken as a recommendation that you buy Keens. I feel no brand loyalty where shoes are concerned. Keen has a wide toe box which works well for me.

Avoid the stink!

If your shoes get wet, put them under a fan overnight and dry them thoroughly when you get home. I have a powerful blower just for this purpose. Occasionally (as in about every six months) I’ll wash my hiking shoes in warm water and detergent, then put them under the blower overnight. I do it out of respect for the noses of others on the trail.

Sweet smelling shoes after drying overnight.

Some Things Never Get Old

Hiker-dog and I walked the Lake Alma Trail after a good rain to see how McWater Falls was rolling. We weren’t disappointed. We’re never disappointed when walking this trail. It’s special in all seasons, but be sure to check for ticks after walking it this time of year.

McWater Falls are named after Harry McWater who had the vision for a trail around Lake Alma.

McWater Falls from above

New Book, Gift From the Ozarks

I’ve been remiss in posting lately, but my excuse is the new book, Gift From the Ozarks. In this little full color book I tell a story that was too good not to share. This book is available at Chapters on Main in Van Buren and Bookish in Fort Smith or you can order it from Amazon.

I’m pleased to share this story so grab a copy of Gift From the Ozarks.

OHT Ozone to Fort Douglas

Cedar Creek cascade above the pool

The plan was to spend two nights on the Ozark Highlands Trail. After planting shuttle vehicles, we entered from Ozone traveling eastbound. We hiked about four miles and camped close to Little Piney Creek. On day 2, we hiked approximately eight miles and camped at the Cedar Creek pool.

With the limited length of daylight during winter, dinners came early. Backpacking makes you realize how nice it is to read a while and then sleep for around nine hours before rising and walking through the next day. Such a simple agenda is refreshing!

Morning sun on the Little Piney River
Beaver Slide Falls (Slot Rock) is a nice side trip up Lick Creek
Kerry and Bob signing in and glancing at the map.
Bear Skull Falls

Haw Creek Falls is a nice stop along the trail. No one was using the Haw Creek Campground. This is a neat place with picnic tables and fire rings at each site. There are pit toilets too!

Our last day was about seven miles to the Fort Douglas Trailhead, passing through some beautiful country. I caught myself wanting to make the trail last longer by slowing down slightly toward the end.

The last section after Haw Creek Campground is a beautiful walk.

After the drive back to Ozone everyone headed home. It had been at least a couple of years since my last visit to the Ozone Burger Barn, so I stopped in and it was better than ever! I highly recommend the “Vintage Burger” with all the old fashioned toppings. They had a nice fire going outside which made waiting for food a pleasure.

Backpacking Preparation 2: Trails Renewed

Chris enjoying the view along White Rock Mountain Loop

Trail maintenance in the Ozarks is difficult, especially after a wet summer. In September, volunteers begin clearing trails for hiking and backpacking season. The work is hard and often done in the heat. This post sings the praises of volunteers with the Ozark Highlands Trail Association. They view trail maintenance as part of backpacking preparation, and love of the Ozarks!

Small pool on White Rock Creek

Some maintainers carry water filters since, even when conditions are dry, pockets of water might be found in reliable creeks. White Rock Creek pictured above flows most of the year, but on this trip, water trickled between pools.

Lunch break

Here’s a video clip showing the work done with hedge trimmers and weed eaters.

Clearing vegetation with a hedge trimmer head on a weedeater.

Trail work is slow but satisfying.

Volunteers enjoy walking back to vehicles on newly opened trail.

The Shores Lake/White Rock Loop is one of the nation’s great backpacking loop trails and is open, so get out and enjoy fresh trail maintenance! While you’re out there, give the trail some love by leaving no trace of your passing. If you come across someone working on a trail, give them a word of thanks and consider joining them in the future. It will increase your appreciation for all the trails you walk.

White Rock Mountain

Backpacking Season Prep 1: A Tent Renewed

John Muir Trail in 2016

Here in the Ozarks, most of us consider June, July, and August off-season for backpacking. We continue to do day hikes and check for ticks afterward, but sleeping in the woods doesn’t go well in heat and humidity. Officially, September 22 is the beginning of fall, so it’s time to get ready for backpacking season.

I’m the worst about wearing out a piece of equipment, then replacing it, but when you form an emotional attachment with a tent, you want it to last longer. Such was the case with my Big Agnes Copper Spur UL 2 that I purchased in 2016 for the John Muir trip. Since then, I’ve often used a tarp and will continue that depending on the situation, but sometimes having your own private space is best, and this lightweight tent fills that need.

I inspected the seams, which were still looking good with original tape in place, I remembered from my last time out that the rainfly, while still rainproof, didn’t bead water off as it did when new.

I’d never resealed a rainfly, but it was pretty easy. I set up the tent and washed the rainfly by hand with some mild soap. After a good rinsing, I applied NIKWAX Tent & Gear Solarproof. I don’t recommend products, but read reviews of others in deciding what to use.

I let the tent dry in the sun and then sprayed it with the water hose. The water cascaded off and beaded on the surface as desired. As a bonus, the tent looked a lot better because of the light cleaning I did before applying the sealer. Now I’m excited about getting this tent out into the Ozarks on a rainy backpacking trip!

I still have some NIKWAX left and plan to use some on the bottom of my tent and my lightweight backpacking umbrella. I find it more comfortable to use an umbrella in rain rather than sweating inside of a raincoat.

December, 2021 update

During recent backpacking trips, I realized the shock cord running through my tent poles had lost much its elasticity to the point that I was having to stuff cord back inside the poles when setting up my tent. I ordered new shock cord and used the original cord to string it through the poles. It took a little time since it was something new to me, but the results were worth it.

Emotional Attachments: Acoustic or Electronic

Recently, the sound and audiovisual equipment was stolen from our church’s Family Life Center, where worship services are being held while the sanctuary is remodeled. The nice Roland electronic drum set we use in worship services was taken. When I learned of the theft, I felt disappointed, but not feel the sense of loss I expected. 

I realized it would have been a hurtful loss if I lost my 1967 Ludwig snare, mid-70s Slingerland set, or any acoustic drum set because an attachment to the instrument grows when you play it. For me, that same attachment to the instrument doesn’t seem to form when playing electronic drums. 

Sometimes strong feelings come because of an emotional attachment or story connected to the instrument, as is true with our upright piano, a wedding gift from me to my wife. It’s also true for the guitar I play every day, a gift from my mother. An acoustic instrument is a piece of the physical world but unique because it holds the potential for music. 

Playing an acoustic drum adds vibration to the space and is very satisfying. Sometimes it even resonates in your chest. The sounds and responses for each drum and cymbal seem endless depending on where your stick contacts the instrument and the emotional content delivered by the physical touch. 

I think of electronic drums as triggers more than instruments. The woven striking surfaces (drum heads) are fun to play, and electronic drums are convenient tools in some settings, but I can easily play softer or louder than the triggers recognize which can be frustrating.

I’m not opposed to electronic instruments, but I feel a sense of thankfulness when I play instruments with strings, stretched batter heads, and hollow resonating spaces where sounds are born.