Ouachita Trail Completed


Crystal Prong

Bob and I walked the first 160 miles of the Ouachita (Wash’-i-taw) Trail before and after Christmas, so only the last 63 miles stood between us and completing our thru-hike. Several things occurred to keep us from getting back out there, but May 2-6 was finally determined to be the time.

The woods had changed greatly since we came off the trail at mile 160.  Now deep greens of spring limited views and warm humidity weighed in as part of the pack load.


IMG_7962rrBy one mile into the hike, pollen was evident on my pants cuffs as I walked through thick foliage.

We passed a small broken crag, extra special because of the clear water flowing softly. I topped off my water and snapped a photo.

Later, we filled up for the night at Tom Thumb Spring. It was barely a trickle, so I dipped carefully using my cup.


Watery crag

Wednesday night was spent on White Oak Mountain on a long ridge with many possible sites. We built no fires on this trip since the temperatures were warm, and we wanted to limit our impact. The evening meal was more delicious than I’d expected. A simple Knorr side dish with a dash of olive oil was gourmet surrounded by open woods after a good first day’s walk.


I slept well in the cool winds and light rain that fell on and off through the night.


Crystal Prong was the highlight of our second day hiking. It was more beautiful than I remembered. I did a wet crossing to cool my feet and give me a chance to take photos. The opening image on this post is upstream and the following photo is downstream.


Downstream from Crystal Prong crossing

Flatside Pinnacle is always a treat, even with hazy skies in midday light. Strong winds make you concentrate while standing close to the edges. Contrasting greens of early spring popped far below.


Our only planned stay in a shelter was the second night at Brown Creek Shelter. I walked 1/2-mile from the shelter to Brown Creek for water, and an approaching thunder began on my return walk. Hard rains and a wonderful, booming thunderstorm followed while we had supper inside the shelter.


Good water was usually easy to find on the Ouachita at this time of year.


Hiking along Maumelle River, we had the feeling of being in south Louisiana with cypress knees along the water’s edge. For the third night, Bob wisely selected a campsite on a high ridge over a spot where the river was flowing quickly, and mosquitoes were few.


When we arrived at Hwy 10 and Lake Maumelle, we took a break at a roadside park. The remainder of the hike would roughly follow the lake’s north shoreline that we were viewing from the park.


I caught myself thinking of Nimblewill Nomad and his Route 66 trek while walking a section of Hwy 10 just feet from passing vehicles. Drivers were courteous in giving us clearance as they passed.


Reentry into the woods was just past the bridge and easy to miss from the highway. A pleasant walk in the woods characterized most of the remaining miles. The trail crossed several small levees that provided excellent footing. Some bordered small ponds and some stood alone making us wonder about their function.



Completely dry insoles and shoes

We finally dried out completely on the last evening, camping well away from the trail. We attempted to follow the trail to Penny Campground but ended up on an old roadbed and stealth camped without leaving a trace.

Clear skies prompted me to leave the tarp hanging close by and use only the bivy to keep out the bugs. It was warm enough to make sleep a little difficult, but the miles traveled lured the body into a good night’s rest.


Bivy sack zipped up for bug protection

I used my second teabag of the trip that evening and enjoyed sipping while walking and exploring the area.


We got an early start and clipped along at a good pace on the last day, stopping only for water and a quick lunch. Approaching Pinnacle Mountain, we realized our thru-hike was almost complete. We passed our first hikers in five days around mile 119 and then saw several on the Base Trail around Pinnacle Mountain leading to the Visitor Center.


We’d laughed earlier while talking about the obligatory group photos that take time away from walking. Still, we had to stop for a photo before completing our trip.

My oldest daughter was our shuttle, scheduled to meet us at the Visitor Center. She drove up two minutes after we arrived and we began the drive back to the Hwy 7 Trailhead followed by the trip back to Northwest Arkansas.



Last mile marker just under a mile from the trailhead

I’d begun this 63-mile section with feelings of sadness, but the trail did its magic, leaving me physically tired but inwardly strengthened and peaceful. It also left me with memories of the beautiful Ouachita Mountains.

We had the added benefit of feeling a sense of accomplishment that we’d now completed the entire 223-mile Ouachita Trail from Talimena State Park in Oklahoma to Pinnacle Mountain State Park a few miles east of Little Rock, Arkansas.

Below are links to previous posts from our Ouachita Trail thru-hike. We experienced the trail in all types of conditions by contrasting December with May.

Ouachita Trails’s First 51 Miles at the Imperfect Time 

The Ouachita Trail: Just Add Water

Ouachita Trail: Just Add Ice 

A fine minute slideshow following the whole route.

Old Trail Revisited


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hiker cooling down in Crystal Prong.

Hiker cooling down in Crystal Prong.

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

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

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

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

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


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


Butterfly at the edge of Crystal Prong Creek

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

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

Brown Creek Shelter

Brown Creek Shelter

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


Shelter storage box.

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

Ummm good!  Creamy potato soup and my new spoon.

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


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

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

The view from Flatside Pinnacle

The view from Flatside Pinnacle


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

Cool, shaded creek close to our campsite.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

A few random pics:

Maiden voyage with Solo Wood Stove.  It worked well!

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

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

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

Color is a benefit of hiking in warmer weather.


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

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