Ushering in Spring on the Ozark Highlands Trail

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trout lily

This trout lily peeped up through the leaves and whispered, “Spring is near.” Mike, a fellow hiker, noticed these small wildflowers as we passed. I stopped and spent a few minutes looking and listening to what the subtle blends of color might be saying about the approaching spring.

The open woods revealed a contrast between the trout lily’s tiny voice and the soft roar of wind through the overhanging leafless hardwood canopy.

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On the OHT southeast of Arbaugh trailhead

Our route began at Arbaugh Trailhead, north of the little town of Oark, and headed east and south on the Ozark Highlands Trail. Kerry, a strong hiker and mountaineer, led our group of twelve. We enjoyed a short level walk before beginning a long steady downhill toward Lewis Prong, a beautiful stream flowing just enough to require a wet crossing.

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After crossing, I sat to enjoy the flow for a moment before moving on. Maybe recent practice at slowing down was paying off. In the past, I might have hurried on down the trail, but pausing gave me a chance to enjoy Lewis Prong and this rushing cascade downstream from our crossing.

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Turner Hollow made a nice lunch stop. Doug found the perfect sitting-rock with a view.

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We crossed several creeks that day under Kerry’s watchful eye.

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Waterfall Hollow was littered with downed trees from ice storms of the past. We saw evidence of trail maintenance all along this section. Randy, the adopter of this section, and other volunteers had spent many hours here, and we were thankful.

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The climb up and over Moonhule Mountain was tough followed by smooth sailing down to Hignite Hollow where we camped.

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As the sun went down, we began to enjoy the warmth of a fire as well as conversation and marshmallows. I used the fire to cook my broccoli cheese soup with dehydrated potatoes. The temperature probably dipped down into the upper 30s on this clear, star-filled night.

The next morning I was up at first light and headed out for a short hike with camera in hand. I hiked along the trail and then down an old roadbed to a drainage that led back to Hignite Hollow Creek. It was a pleasurable hike, especially where the creek formed small cascades that shimmered in the morning light.

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Morning coffee before continuing toward Ozone Campground

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Boomer Branch was a dry crossing though the water was clear and inviting. Once on the other side, the route continued up and away from the creek. Mike stopped for a photo as the group headed out.

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After a short climb, we followed a beautiful ridge walk before descending to, and crossing, the Mulberry River. At my feet’s request, I remained standing in the creek a few extra seconds. The cold water felt good on tired feet and legs.

Some tough climbs awaited us as we moved away from the Mulberry and eventually to Ozone. A familiar looking trout lily stood silently as I passed. It seemed to be saying, “Hope you enjoyed your springtime hike. Think of this cool morning next July!”

I thought about how much this little stretch of trail had given me during my two-day trek. Gifts from the trail are often more than expected, and this hike was no exception.

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A Tent on Wheels?

My home on the trail after lessons learned (all under 32 pounds).

On the right is my home on the trail after years of lessons learned (all under 32 pounds).

My first experience with backpacking was a disaster. My pack was too heavy. My shoes were too tight. Temperatures were too high, and mosquitoes were swarming. I loved backpacking and was hooked! I continue to backpack now, twenty years later, and continue to learn with every trip.

Why would a backpacker who prefers ultra-light travel want what I’ve sometimes called with a smirk, “a tent on wheels?”  I’ll answer this question later.

Before I started backpacking, I purchased a pack, sleeping bag, tent, and camp stove. I use none of those original items today even though they’re still intact. Knowing what I now know, I would have bought a different piece of equipment in every case.

Purchasing the wrong tent on wheels (or travel trailer) would be an expensive mistake. My wife and I planned a trip to Buffalo Point and rented a camper trailer from a local dealer. They were great to work with and provided us with a Dutchmen Kodiak 24-foot unit that weighed about 4000 pounds. The interior was very nice, and the air conditioner worked well, an important feature in July. It was the perfect camper trailer because it offered everything we could want at a size and weight we “could” tow.

Dutchmen Kodiak 24-foot

Dutchmen Kodiak 24-foot

From our three nights at Buffalo Point, we knew we wanted a lighter camper. Just because you can pull it doesn’t mean you should. As in backpacking, lighter is better but involves some trade-offs (or sacrifices). We determined what was essential for us.

1. A flush toilet and shower

2. A bed and dinette area that are separate and can be left set up, allowing one of us to take a nap while the other reads or writes at the dinette.

3. A weight limit of 3000 pounds and length limit of 20-feet. These were arbitrary numbers but gave some guidance.

4. That we tow the RV with our present vehicle (Jeep Grand Cherokee) since I plan to drive it for several more years.

While not essential, we liked fiberglass exteriors for durability and resistance to hail damage. We also liked a fiberglass roof better than a rubber roof if we had a choice.

What were we willing to sacrifice?

1. We were willing to go with a much smaller bathroom.

2. We didn’t need an oven but wanted to be sure we had a microwave and a stovetop burner.

After enjoying our rental experience, visiting with campers at Buffalo Point, walking through many travel trailers, and reading reviews, we began to lean toward the Forest River RPod. The R-179 floor plan with its spacious kitchen (by RV standards) and a separate dinette and bed best met our needs. The dry weight was around 2700 pounds. The length was 16-feet (20 with the hitch).

We located a dealer with an R-179 in stock and were impressed after walking through, crawling under, and generally kicking the tires. We reached a good price and made the purchase a few days later. Working with the knowledgeable folks at the dealership got us off to a safe start with our little trailer.

RPod 179

RPod 179

While pulling the travel trailer home, my Jeep purred “thank you.” I realized no extended mirrors would be needed and liked being able to view the rear wheels for reference when turning or staying centered in my lane.

Why a tent on wheels?

I love backpacking and will continue to do extended outings, but also enjoy day hiking. A travel trailer will increase our flexibility in getting to the trails we want to explore. We like the idea of having a comfortable base camp at the end of the day. My wife loves being out in nature and doing day hikes, but is not into backpacking. I love being with my wife and having time to visit in the evening and enjoy meals together. It’s also nice to have a secure and dry location for a camera and computer when reviewing trails.

We’re looking forward to some trips into Missouri soon and welcome any recommendations on day hiking locations as well as RV parks. We’re new at this, so suggestions and advice about RV camping are welcome!

Check out this tiny combined toilet shower. “Navy showers” are recommended, so you don’t use up the 6-gallon hot water tank. You can see the bed that remains set up beyond the bathroom.

Toilet and shower

Toilet and shower

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We were surprised at how much space the single pull-out adds. The dinette and refrigerator are housed in the pull-out.

Dinette and kitchen.

Dinette and kitchen.

Hopefully, my next pictures will be on location at Lake Fort Smith State Park. The scene below was from a couple of months ago 0.2 mile from the campground.

Shepherd Spring Waterfall

Shepherd Spring Waterfall

Looking forward to winter and some multi-night backpacking trips with my 32-pound n0-wheels load. Still a backpacker at heart! I’m just a backpacker with one tent on wheels.

Unexpected Pleasures of Distance – Thoughts on a Passage by Colin Fletcher

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Excerpt from The Thousand Mile Summer, by Colin Fletcher

Excerpt from The Thousand Mile Summer, by Colin Fletcher

As Colin Fletcher’s thousand miles approached its conclusion, he became nostalgic and experienced mixed emotions about reaching the end of what he called “The Walk.”  He captured what many backpackers feel as they fall into the rhythm of an extended trip.

In the passage above, Fletcher became aware of the many sounds and sensations of his long distance walk and how they “had become as much a part of The Walk as deer tracks in the dust or the champagne taste of mountain water.” He reminds us to enjoy the sound of our boots on the trail, noticing different tones and inflections, depending on the type of soil, snow, or rocks. He even finds comfort in the weight of his pack. You know you’re having fun when you start “enjoying the self-reliant feeling of the pack’s weight!”

Prior to this passage, Fletcher described how his “apartment” was set up each day when backpacking. I could identify with his “office,” organized in his boots stuffed with notebooks, pencils, and glasses next to his head. His “kitchen” began a few inches away from his boots. He described how “domestic details” like heating water for morning tea had become automatic without any wasted motion or thought.

I never met Colin Fletcher who died in 2007 at age 85, but knowing an Arkansas hiker named “Wildman” was like meeting Fletcher’s kindred spirit.  Wildman (Carl Ownby) lived well into his 80s and hiked thousands of miles.  He used to slow down as he entered the last stages of a trip because he didn’t want it to end. I wonder if it was because he was going to miss his “tiger juice,” a mixture of several undisclosed beverages. He assured me it wasn’t the “tiger juice” but because he loved hiking long distances so much.

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“Wildman” Carl receiving an award for his years of service to the Ozark Highlands Trail.

Colin Fletcher’s books, The Thousand-Mile Summer and The Man Who Walked Through Time, are two of my favorites. The Thousand-Mile Summer has a copyright of 1964. My hardback copy, found in a used bookshop, is a first edition. It has no great monitory value, but it’s a treasure to me.

Graphic on the title page of The Thousand Mile Summer.

Illustration on the title page of The Thousand-Mile Summer.

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 ignored 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.

Seeking Something Grand

View at dusk the evening we arrived at the South Rim.

View at dusk the evening we arrived at the South Rim.

The perfect antidote…

Need a remedy for that lethargic feeling you get during the winter months?  Here’s an antidote that works for me.  The plan?  Assemble a group of good friends and hike one of the natural wonders of the world:  The Grand Canyon. 

The Grand Canyon Crew

The Grand Canyon Crew

Our crew included father/son duo, Scott and Boone Hardy, Bob Cable, Steve Cattaneo, and Dale Fudge.  We came from a variety of career backgrounds but were united in our love for the beauty of the outdoors.  We’d backpacked the Ozark Mountains together but this would be a more involved outing.  A trip of this type is only as good as each participant.   By the time you’ve spent a few days backpacking with someone, you know if there are major character flaws.   I could vouch for each of these guys and knew they would work well together.

Directions for getting to the canyon are easy; drive west to Williams, Arizona then north.   Directions for being ready to enter the Grand Canyon are a little more complicated.  We completed training hikes and runs for conditioning.  We requested backcountry permits four months in advance and waited nervously until approved.  We combed through piles of backpacking gear in repeated attempts to eliminate all but the most essential items.  I felt a great sense of accomplishment after packing four days of food, clothing, and shelter in under thirty pounds.

Weighing packs at the Back Country Office

Weighing packs at the Back Country Office

Too much weight could be a trip-ender while attempting to hike up the nearly 5,000-foot elevation gain from river to rim, the equivalent of climbing more than 500 office building floors while covering miles of uneven terrain and ever-changing conditions in winter.  As Bob said, “There’s no such thing as bad weather… just the wrong clothes.  Pack wisely.”  A small percentage of the nearly five million visitors who see the Grand Canyon each year hike below the rim and several hundred of those are rescued inside the canyon.   Lack of preparation is commonly cited in trips that end badly.

South Kaibab Trail

South Kaibab Trail

We entered the Grand Canyon on December 28, 2012, on the South Kaibab Trail.  Temperatures ranged from the teens on the rim to the forties at the bottom of the canyon. We spent two nights at the Bright Angel Camp Ground, allowing time to explore the Clear Creek Trail on the north side of the Colorado River. Then came a strenuous climb up to Indian Gardens Camp Ground.  At the top of a series of brutal switchbacks called “Devil’s Corkscrew,” Boone said, “That section of trail definitely lived up to its name!”  The final day would include about 3,500 feet of elevation gain during the hike up to the South Rim.

Devil's Corkscrew on Bright Angel Trail

Devil’s Corkscrew on Bright Angel Trail

A visual feast…

Having dined on holiday food during the previous weeks, we were now enjoying a wide menu of visual feasts.  That first night Scott was full of energy and wanted to explore the silver bridge since we’d crossed the more historic black bridge earlier on our hike into the campground.   This turned into three miles of night hiking but was well worth the effort.  While standing at the Colorado River, we watched a full moon rise over the canyon rim.  Reflections of moonlight softly painted inner canyon walls and reflected on the churning river’s surface.

Moon rise from the Colorado River

Moon rise from the Colorado River

On day two we hiked Clear Creek Trail, filled with remarkable rock formations every step of the way.  The trail seemed to pull us along sweeping views of the river and inner canyon.  Scenes continuously opened up and changed with the steady passing of the sun.  While pausing at one overlook, Dale, who was visiting Grand Canyon for the first time, said, “I’m so thankful that I got to do this trip.  I’ve never seen anything like this.  It’s just amazing!”

Clear Creek Trail 1

Along side of Clear Creek Trail

View of the Colorado River from the Clear Creek Trail.

View of the Colorado River from the Clear Creek Trail.

A constant companion while camping at the bottom of the canyon was the soothing sound of Bright Angel Creek, named by John Wesley Powell during his exploration of the area in 1869.  It is clean, clear, and cold!  I took an hour to explore the creek with my camera, wishing for a longer day as the sunlight faded.

Bright Angel Creek flowing through the campground.

Bright Angel Creek flowing through the campground.

On our third evening in the canyon, a short hike from Indian Gardens Campground turned into a wildlife outing on Plateau Point.  A California condor enjoyed showing off his aerial finesse, swooping so close that I heard a deep whoosh from his wings slicing through the air.  The introduction of condors into the park appears to have had some success and this condor exemplified confidence in his new canyon home.  Several mule deer were grazing close to the trail.  They gave me a dismissive glance as if stoically accepting my visitor status in the canyon.

Condor at Plateau Point

Condor at Plateau Point

Mule Deer

Mule Deer

A winter wonderland…

After a dinner of homemade dehydrated pasta at Indian Gardens, a light snow began to fall as darkness came over the canyon. All sounds were muted except the gentle crackle of icy snow against the roof of my tent.  The next morning we woke up to a winter wonderland.  Several of us softy sang the song by that name as Steve, the early riser, fired up his stove for coffee and oatmeal.   Then it was time for the final push up Bright Angel Trail to the South Rim.  This would be a personal test for me physically and I felt some nagging anxiety about the severe elevation gain on a snowy route.

Breaking camp at Indian Gardens for the for the hike up the Bright Angel Trail.

Breaking camp at Indian Gardens for the for the hike up the Bright Angel Trail.

As we progressed up the trail I found myself walking slower and slower, not from the climb, but from a desire to make the experience last longer; I didn’t want it to end!   Every few minutes I’d stop and stare as the sky and light changed our view back into the canyon.  One minute the canyon appeared dimly through a frame of clouds.   Moments later, clouds would dance gracefully as they roamed freely through the upper canyon, sunlight slicing through and settling along the face of fire-red walls trimmed with snow.

View while hiking up Bright Angel Trail

View while hiking up Bright Angel Trail

One elderly dayhiker said in passing, “I ran out of adjectives a long time ago!”  Pictures and words fail in the presence of the Grand Canyon.   Reaching the rim I continued to gaze into the chasm for a few last visual morsels from the beauty below.  I paused and bowed slightly toward the canyon whispering, “Thank you.”  Then I turned to walk away from the edge, carrying images that will nourish my spirit and fill my memories for years to come.

View from close to the top of Bright Angel Trail

View from close to the top of Bright Angel Trail

To learn more:

Grand Canyon National Park web site: nps.gov/grca

Ozarkmountainhiker.wordpress.com

Published in the February, 2013 issue of Urban Magazine, Fort Smith, Arkansas

Backpacking the Grand Canyon in Winter

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Always feel a sense of accomplishment after packing 4-days of food, clothing, and housing. Our group of six had mostly clear sailing on I-40 past Oklahoma City and on to the Grand Canyon in spite of recent snow. We were ready to burn some Christmas calories!

My pack weighed in at 27 lbs. without water.  Anything below 30 pounds is where I like it.  I was afraid my Equinox backpack wouldn’t hold up when I purchased it five years ago but it is still going strong which pleases me given its light weight.

Dale pack

This is Dale’s pack which came in at 29 lbs. without water.

We began our hike into the Grand Canyon on the South Kaibab Trail on Dec. 28th.  We spent two nights at Bright Angel Camp Ground which allowed some time to explore Clear Creek Trail.  Then we hiked to Indian Gardens and camped one night before hiking up Bright Angel Trail on our final day.

Roads were mostly clear from Alma to Gallup, New Mexico.  The first falling snow we saw was in Gallup.  A highlight of the day was our dinner at WOW Diner in Grants, NM.  It had lots of character, good service, and an interesting location sandwiched between a truck stop and federal prison.   Our appreciation goes out to Scott for the amazing marathon driving and arranging hotel rooms for us.

The WOW Diner

The WOW Diner

Backcountry Office scale

Backcountry Office scale

After a night at Maswik Lodge on the South Rim, we caught the hiker express shuttle to the South Kaibab Trailhead.  We were pleased that all packs came in at about thirty pounds including food for four days and water to get us down South Kaibab Trail.

South Kaibab Trail

South Kaibab Trail

The hike down was beautiful.  Beginning temps were in the low teens warming up into the 40s by the river.

View toward inner canyon from the South Kaibab Trail

View toward inner canyon from the South Kaibab Trail

Black bridge tunnel

Black bridge tunnel

Moon rise from the Colorado River

Moon rise from the Colorado River

It was a thrill to watch the moon rise and reflections of moonlight on the canyon walls.  The only picture I could get was this one just prior to the moon peaking over the walls.  My tripod was the black bridge.   Probably about a 6-8 second exposure.

Along side of Clear Creek Trail

Along side of Clear Creek Trail

The dayhike on Clear Creek Trail was a joy.  Interesting rock formations every step of the way and sweeping views of the river and inner canyon.  I hope to return and camp in the Clear Creek area in the future.

The Colorado River and South Rim as viewed from the Clear Creek Trail

The Colorado River and South Rim as viewed from the Clear Creek Trail

Bright Angel Creek

Bright Angel Creek

Our constant companion while camping at the bottom of the canyon was the soothing sound from Bright Angel Creek, named by John Wesley Powell.  It is clean, clear, and cold.

Wayne Ranney with Scott at Phantom Ranch

Wayne Ranney with Scott at Phantom Ranch

Scott was reading a book from the Phantom Ranch lending library when he discovered that the author, Wayne Ranney, was present.  Wayne, geology professor in Flagstaff, and his wife were hiking the canyon.  Carving the Canyon is a great book for those wanting to better understand how the canyon came into its present form.   The writing style is entertaining and makes difficult concepts more easily understood by non-scientists like me.

The hike up Bright Angel Trail was quite a climb.  Devil’s Corkscrew was an appropriate name for this series of switchbacks.  The overall vertical gain in elevation from the river to the rim of the canyon is over 5,000 feet which we covered in two days of hiking.

Devil's Corkscrew on Bright Angel Trail

Devil’s Corkscrew on Bright Angel Trail

The Grand Canyon is massive and literally overwhelms the eyes, but you’ll find unexpected beauty and interest as you narrow your focus to take in smaller scenes.  There were several locations where ice crystals formed over gently flowing water.  I like to call them ice puddles.

Ice puddle along the trail.

Ice puddle along the trail

Clear water shimmered over rocks in a small portion of Pipe Creek.

Pipe Creek

Pipe Creek

From Indian Gardens Campground we hiked out to Plateau point where a condor seemed to enjoy putting on a show for us.  A park employee named Shores had told us we might see a condor here but we never imagined we’d get such a performance.  His tag number was L4.  The introduction of condors into the park seems to be having some success.

Condor at Plateau Point

Condor at Plateau Point

Condor at Plateau Point

Condor at Plateau Point

Several deer were grazing close to the trail as we passed on our way back to the Indian Gardens Camp Ground.

Mule Deer

Mule Deer

Dusk at Indian Gardens

Dusk at Indian Gardens

After dinner I roamed the area and took some relaxing photographs as darkness came over the canyon.  Our last night in the canyon we had 1-2 inches of snow.

Bright Angel Trail

Bright Angel Trail

Our last morning we hiked up Bright Angel Trail in a winter wonderland.  In fact, we sang this tune softly as we came out of our tents.

View while hiking up Bright Angel Trail

View while hiking up Bright Angel Trail

I found myself walking slower and slower, not from the climb,  from a desire to make the experience last longer;  I didn’t want it to end.  Every few minutes I’d stop and stare as the clouds and light changed our view back into the canyon.  For a few minutes the canyon appeared through a “cloud frame.”

View from close to the top of Bright Angel Trail

View from close to the top of Bright Angel Trail

We topped out on the South Rim sooner than I’d expected at the end of day four.  The hike out didn’t seem as difficult as in the past.  Pictures and words fail in the presence of the Grand Canyon.  As one day hiker said, “I ran out of adjectives a long time ago.”  The sun sparkled as it reached the edges of stone bluffs while clouds seemed to dance and bend gracefully as they roamed freely around the upper canyon.  As soon as I reached the Kolb Studio on the rim I began to mentally plan a future trip into the Grand Canyon.

A word about our crew.  Couldn’t be a better group to backpack with.  We represent a variety of career backgrounds, skills, and I suspect, a variety of political and philosophical views, but we’re united in our love for the outdoors and appreciation of our beautiful planet.   I can also provide character references for any of these gentlemen because backpacking tends to reveal character flaws that may not be obvious in day-to-day activities.  I can recommend each of these guys without hesitation!

The Grand Canyon Crew

The Grand Canyon Crew

Video and slideshow which includes an amusing summary of things not to pack.

Arbaugh Trailhead to Ozone on the OHT

Campfire conversation...

Campfire conversation…

The hike from Arbaugh to Ozone on the Ozark Highlands Trail was beautiful!  We hike 8.8 miles the first day and camped at Boomer Branch.   The surround sound howl of coyotes and an owl in the distance were the only disturbances to the silence of the woods and soft sound of flowing water.   The weather was just cool enough to justify a small fire for cooking, warmth and good conversation.  During a silent moment one hiker said, “You know where I would like to be?”  Another asked, “Where?”  “Right here,” he answered.  “This is the best place in the world to be right now.”   Night brought a few light sprinkles with lightning in the distance.

Sunday morning was cool but pleasant.  Coffee made with Boomer Branch’s water was delicious.  We hit the trail by 8:00 a.m. and gained a lot of elevation over the 4 miles to Ozone.

Open birch forest.

Open birch forest.

Highlights included hiking through a forest of beech trees with their deep brown leaves holding on through the winter.  There were some smooth-hiking sections of shortleaf pine woods along the way before hiking back into the Mulberry drainage for a nice cool crossing.  The final mile was a heart-throbbing, thigh-burning pull up to the Ozone Campground on Highway 21.

Crossing the Mulberry River.

Crossing the Mulberry River.

Jack Creek Criminals on the Ozark Highlands Trail

As I hiked east from Dockery Gap to check my section of trail a dad and his four sons approached from the opposite direction.   They had a haggard and disheveled look as they lumbered up the trail loaded down with one-gallon plastic milk jugs filled with cloudy water and overloaded backpacks.  One of the sons carried a rifle presumably for protection from wild bears.

The gun made me nervous, but I relaxed when the dad spoke.  He explained that they had camped at Jack Creek with plans to hike to White Rock Mountain, but now they were wondering how to hike out and where they might get cell phone service to call mom to come get them.  I took my map out and showed them the road they were approaching and how to walk toward civilization.  They explained that their water filter wasn’t working correctly, hence the murky water jugs.  They’d not slept well, were overheated and exhausted.  As I continued down the trail, I thought they’d made the right decision in exiting the forest.

Approaching Jack Creek less than a mile later, I saw smoke and a burning campfire.  There was a hammock tied between two trees next to the creek and trash everywhere.  Thinking someone must still be occupying the site I called out, but there was no response.  It gradually dawned on me that this was the camp left by my exhausted friends who’d just asked for directions.  I extinguished the fire, kicking a large aerosol can of insect spray out of the coals and then collected the trash.

I continued down the trail picking up more trash at each creek crossing.  It appeared that these young men and their dad deposited trash at every rest stop.  After doing a little maintenance I returned to the trashy camp, scattered the now cooled fire ring, and bagged the trash I’d collected earlier.  Then I noticed scaring on a tree next to the creek where they had chopped it with an ax for no apparent reason.  This began to feel like a crime scene.

Some of the trash collected at the site.  Notice the burned aerosol can.

Some of the trash collected at the site. Notice the burned aerosol can.

I had visions of driving up on these fellows as they walked along the road and what I would like to say but then considered the rifle and thought a more diplomatic approach might be best.  As I hiked up the trail away from the scene of the crime, I rehearsed the discussion I would have about the beauty of the Ozark National Forest and how important it is that we care for it and pass it on to our children.  I wished for words to help these men discover a better way to treat the wilderness but, in reality, it seemed futile to try to convert remorseless criminals who enter the forest for recreation and harm it by their very presence.

As it turned out, by the time I arrived at the trailhead to throw my bag of trash in the Jeep, the father and his sons were nowhere to be seen.  I do wish I could have that conversation, but I take comfort in the knowledge that I probably witnessed the conclusion of their first and last backpacking trip on the Ozark Highlands Trail.  If I just had some assurance that they don’t have access to four-wheelers I’d feel a whole lot better.