The Urge for Going

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High ridge on Hare Mountain

I awoke today and found the frost perched on the town
It hovered in a frozen sky, then it gobbled summer down
When the sun turns traitor cold
And all the trees are shivering in a naked row
….
I get the urge for going
When the meadow grass is turning brown

~ Joni Mitchell, excerpt from the first verse of her song, Urge for Going

Winter is such a wonderful time for hiking in the Ozarks! I like it so much, I wrote “Walking Through Winter” for Do South Magazine.

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Frost flower on the Ozark Highlands Trail

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Hiker-dog at the base of Senyard Falls

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McWater Falls on the Lake Alma Trail

Top Ten Posts for 2018

Thank you for letting me share my love for the Ozarks. I sometimes describe this blog as my online scrapbook. I enjoy looking back at previous trips, sometimes to check my memory or relive the joy of the trail. In one of these posts, I reflect on the loss of a friend and the positive impact of his life.

Below I’ve listed the top ten viewed posts from 2018. I hope you’ll sample some of these posts and be inspired to take a hike.  – Jim Warnock

1. Hiking Rush, an Arkansas Ghost Town Photo Tour

2. Walk…Eat…Sleep…Repeat – The Ozark Highlands Trail 

3. Loss of a Friend A tribute to Roy Senyard

4. How to Prepare for a Multi-Day Backpacking Trip

5. Rock House on the Ozark Highlands Trail

6. Buffalo River from Boxley to Pruitt in “Typical” Arkansas Weather

7. Ouachita Trail Completed

8. My Morning Brew: Great Coffee on the Trail

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

10. My book – Five Star Trails: The Ozarks

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Slideshow for the 223-mile Ouachita Trail

Previously, I did a slideshow for the first 160-miles of the Ouachita Trail. When we completed the 223-miles, I never updated the slideshow to include the last 63 miles. It was a wonderful experience so please enjoy traveling along with us for 223-miles on the Ouachita Trail in five minutes.

If you’d like to read the reports of our hike, begin with Ouachita Trail’s First 51 at the (Im)Perfect Time.

 

My First Trail

This kind post from my Cousin Sue took me back in time.

Absolutely still very proud of my cousin Jim Warnock on the publication of his book, Five Star Trails: The Ozarks. I re-read Ms. Cantrell’s review and realized that I was one of those friends who shared Jim’s love of “the Cherokee Trail” at the back of his folks’ home on Calion Highway in south Arkansas. While I did not do any overnights on the trail, I can still smell the pines and hear their needles rustle in the wind. Magical memories! Thanks, Uncle Jimmy, for cutting the trail, and congrats again, Jim!

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1970s photo of “my trail” with my Kodak Instamatic

That little trail and adjacent woods were a palette that colored many childhood memories. There was time for climbing trees, swinging on vines, and looking at the sky in wonder. I once lay flat on my back in pine straw and gazed at a blue sky while strong winds bathed the swaying pines above. My heart felt light, and my mind soared with thoughts of a hopeful future.

Instamatic cameraAs it turned out, my teenage mind couldn’t comprehend how wonderful life would be and the undeserved gifts that would come my way. Hardships? Yes, but by comparison, they were cluttered corners in a large room filled with blessings.

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Walking the Ouachita Trail in 2018

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Giving thanks.

WordPress Photo Challenge: Favorites

WordPress Photo Challenge: All-Time Favorites 

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Fireworks at Lake Alma

Sometimes a “favorite” photo is associated with my pleasure at getting the shot or some technical aspect as with the fireworks above or the waterfall below. The waterfall photo has been on a magazine cover and is on the back cover of my Ozarks guidebook.

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Shepherd Spring Waterfall

More often, a “favorite” photo is more about the experience or emotion I felt when capturing the image. The photos that follow provide anchors to memories.

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Breakfast at Wanda Lake (John Muir Trail)

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Selfie from the top of Mount Whitney

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Reflections from sunset over Lake Alma

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Ouachita Trail thru-hike 2018

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Ozark Highlands Trail thru-hike 2014

Is it a coincidence that the only two heart-shaped frost flowers I’ve ever seen were alongside my two Arkansas long trail thru-hikes? Even with all of the expansive views on these two trails, the frost flowers are significant anchors to my memories of these long treks.

Photo Challenge: Ending of the Day

WordPress Photo Challenge: Rise/Set

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This sunset brings back memories of a recent evening on the Ouachita Trail. Love those moments of reflection while waiting for water to boil.

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Lake Alma Trail

This is a favorite place to view the end of the day on my evening walk. I enjoy the always varied painting of the sky.

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Lake Alma Trail close to the edge 

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Reflections from sunset over Lake Alma

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Lake Alma Trail at sunset.

More about the Ouachita Trail  Ouachita Trail: Just Add Ice

To read more about the Lake Alma Trail (including driving directions) A Trail for All Reasons 

Icy Home Trail

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Years ago we asked my youngest daughter about vacation ideas. This young lady is now more widely traveled than her father, but at that time she named several options that we’d already visited. When asked why she liked these places, she said, “Because we’ve been there.”

After 160 new miles on the Ouachita Trail, I understood my daughter’s feelings and looked forward to a walk on my “home trail.” The familiar Lake Alma Trail is comfortable, but continues to provide new sights or sounds. Today was no exception.

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McWater Falls

With temperatures in the low 30s, ice remained from the previous days of temperatures dipping into the teens.

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McWater Falls

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Ice patterns at the edge of Little Frog Bayou fascinated me. I ended up spending some time along the shore while Hiker-dog enjoyed some leash-free time. IMG_5466rrI’m thankful for the comfort of a familiar trail and my little hiking partner’s energy. Below are a few ice patterns I noticed while on our home trail walk. 

I’m looking forward to sharing the Ozark Highlands Trail and others at Hobbs State Park on Sunday, January 21st at 2 p.m.

Ouachita Trail: Just Add Ice (160 miles completed)

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You must rise early with temperatures in the 20s to see frost flowers. That’s what I’ve told friends who express disappointment that they’ve never spotted them. Our second of four days on this 37-mile trek (MM 51-88) provided an unusual opportunity to see frost flowers all day. Skies remained overcast, and temperatures stayed below 30. These little guys slowed my progress on the trail as they called for me to stop to capture images throughout the day.

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Frost flowers provide endless varieties of asymmetric shapes. Bob noticed the following frost flower which is only the second example of a symmetrical heart-shaped frost flower I’ve seen. I was thankful to capture this image since my wife enjoys finding heart shapes in nature.

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Another almost symmetrical shape was next to the trail. Bob and I were hiking apart at the time but later realized we’d both noticed this one and took photos.

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On several north-facing hillsides we saw displays of white that looked almost snow-like but were actually ice crystals that dropped from nearby trees.

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The week before Christmas, our wish for rain was granted (“Just Add Water”). This was a “just add ice” week on the trail. I felt anxious during our first day of hiking anticipating temperatures into the 20s with my 20-degree down quilt. Experienced backpackers will say bag ratings just mean you won’t die at that temperature, not that you’ll be comfortable. By wearing a base layer top and down pants, I slept comfortably under my quilt.

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Black Fork Shelter

We stayed at three shelters, Black Fork, Foran Gap, and Turner Creek. Scott, who completed Ozark Highlands Trail over the last couple of years, joined us for an overnighter at Black Fork Shelter. He commented that this was his first shelter camping experience and that it was enjoyable.

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With cold temperatures, we thought our water cache at Hwy 71 might be frozen. We’d placed our jugs under a large tree trunk surrounded by leaves and were surprised to find our water was ice-free. Small creeks in the area were flowing so the water jugs weren’t necessary but saved us lost time from filtering.

At Turner Creek, we met only the second backpacker we’ve seen on our first 160 miles of the Ouachita Trail. Kurt, from Oklahoma City, was thru-hiking east to west, so we shared scouting reports with each other. We were able to tell him about Tan-A-Hill Spring (pictured below) where Kurt would be collecting water the next day.

 

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Cold temperatures and lots of available firewood justified nightly fires for warmth and cooking

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The Ouachita Trail provided beauty and interest at every turn. Trees sometimes limited vistas but extended horizons reminded us of the expansive country that surrounded us.

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One of many rocky outcrops along the trail.

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Turner Gap Shelter from the approach spur trail

After shuttling and picking up water jugs, we ended our hike surrounded by an icy-cold cloud at Queen Wilhelmina State Park as we enjoyed a large burger.

Kurt, who we met earlier, had bragged about the Rich Mountain Country Store at the base of the mountain, so I stopped for a cup of coffee to go. I ended up enjoying a visit with the witty and entertaining store owner, Steve Watson.  This is a place I’ll come back to in the future!

Other Ouachita Trail Thru-Hike Posts: Ouachita Trail’s First 51 at the (Im)perfect Time / The Ouachita Trail: Just Add Water (Mile 88-160) Due to dryness (at the time) and available days, we did the first 51 miles, then skipped to mile 88-160 the week before Christmas. After Christmas, we did miles 51-88 included in this present post.

The Ouachita Trail: Just Add Water

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Early morning vista from the trail

Ouachita (Wash’-i-taw) is a word I’ve heard all my life. As a child, I knew “Ouachita” as the name of my parents’ college. The Ouachita was also a large river that flowed through Arkansas and close to my home. It was imprinted in my memory due to a very cold dunking I took during a winter float trip.

With this hike of 70+miles, Ouachita’s Native American translation as “happy hunting grounds,” resonates with me. I would add “VERY BIG hunting grounds.” Again and again, I found myself pausing in awe of these massive woods.

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Bob approaching one of many large pines in the Ouachitas.

After completing a very dry 51 miles of the Ouachita Trail using several pre-planted water caches, we decided to skip 37 typically dry miles and begin at the Buck Knob Trailhead close to mile 88. We had wished for rain during our last hike in hopes that creeks would collect water for our next outing. On this hike, our wish was more than granted!

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Day 1 (Dec. 16) We placed one water cache with our names and dates of travel written on the side of the plastic jugs. Then we hiked from Buck Knob Trailhead to Big Brushy Shelter as the sun went down. I’d tossed an Arby’s sandwich in my pack for a quick supper. I threw the meat on the grill and toasted the buns. A fast food sandwich never tasted better. There was a light sprinkling of rain that night.

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Gage fixing breakfast

Day 2 – 3 (Dec. 17-18) Woke to a soft fog and hiked to Fiddler’s Creek Shelter with occasional light rain and drizzle. Temperatures were warm, so wetness wasn’t a concern. As the evening fell, Gage joined us at the shelter. He was thru-hiking from east to west, and we enjoyed visiting around a warm fire. He would be the only backpacker we saw during our eight days on the trail.

The next day was a short distance to Suck Mountain Shelter. We arrived at 1:30 p.m. after walking an extended ascending roadbed.

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The Suck Mountain Shelter completed the series of structures covering the length of the Ouachita Trail. The newer shelters include extended front covers and shelves as well as gravel surface in the porch area. We marveled at the amount of work and funding it must take to prepare sites, transport materials and complete the construction. The final structure is solid and meant to last!

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We considered ourselves visitors to the shelters. Permanent residents included mice, dirt daubers, and barn swallows. We saw evidence of wasps from warmer seasons. During the night stereophonic coyote calls bounced around in the valleys below.

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Barn swallow nest

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Sunset at the Suck Mountain Shelter

Day 4 (Dec. 19) We had a rainy 14-mile walk to the John Archer Shelter. It was one of the earlier designs and perched unobtrusively on a hillside away from the trail. Dry clothes felt good when we arrived, and it didn’t take long to eat and crawl under my down quilt. It rained all night with periodic rounds of hard rain.

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Ranger John Archer Shelter

Day 5 (Dec. 20) We began our walk in a drizzling cloud wearing our wet clothes from the day before. Later in the day, we caught some of the only sun we’d seen in three days.

A concrete walkway across Irons Fort allowed us to cross high and dry. We spent a few minutes enjoying the views upstream and down. I later learned that in 1981, John Archer and a group of Ouachita Mountain Hikers came to this concrete bridge that had recently been built by two men from Mount Ida.

Archer wondered if the bridge withstood recent flooding of Irons Fork. He wrote, “When they came to the bridge the first comment I heard was, ‘Isn’t this a beautiful place!’ The hikers were looking up and down the creek. That made my day.” Read more in John Archer’s concise History of the Ouachita Trail 1970-1997.

Following Irons Fork crossing, we came alongside a tributary with small cascades that called for more exploration. I could have spent a whole day walking up that stream with camera and tripod, but we had trail miles to walk.

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Irons Fork concrete bridge built in 1980

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The view up Irons Fork

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Tributary to Irons Fork

After covering 12 miles, we arrived at the long downhill spur trail to Big Branch Shelter. We were relieved to find good water, though I had to backwash my Sawyer Filter between every filtering session. During the night, we listened to distant coyote calls, but our thrill came from the howls within our very own Big Branch valley. Amazing sound!

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Big Branch

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Glancing skyward while huffing and puffing my way up Blue Mountain.

Day 6 (Dec. 21) We had good weather for our hike from Big Branch to Blue Mountain, passing through great open woods. I was smitten with nostalgia during the climb as I thought back to hiking this section as a four-mile out-and-back over twenty years ago. I was surprised and a little disappointed in how difficult today’s climb felt. I chalked it up to carrying a loaded pack and the fact that I’m twenty years older than the last time I walked this trail. I looked forward to seeing the shelter that I visited then and was relieved that, unlike my body, it didn’t show its 20-years of wear.

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Blue Mountain Shelter

Day 7 (Dec. 22) It rained all day with only one pause as we got our water cache close to the Ouachita Pinnacle. It was a cold walk but only 8 miles to Big Bear Shelter, next to a small seasonal stream labeled as having “fairly reliable water.” After the rain of the past four days, it was flowing nicely, but we were glad to have our water cache and avoid lost time filtering. I privately plotted another hike to this area in the future to explore rock outcrops in this valley and to place a new journal in the shelter.

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Rock outcrops across the seasonal stream at Big Bear Shelter

During the night temperatures dropped, and rain raged strong. We were thankful to be inside the Big Bear Shelter! I slept warm under my down quilt with slight feelings of dread as I anticipated having to put wet clothes on the next morning.

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One of several vistas from the last day

Day 8 (Dec. 23) We enjoyed a 9-mile walk to the Highway 7 Trailhead. It was cold, and my feet were wet, but the big woods of the Ouachitas were beautiful every step of the way. The miles clicked off steadily as images of a big post-hike meal filled my thoughts. A hot, crispy catfish dinner from The Shack in Jessieville filled the bill as we planned our next excursion on the Ouachita Trail!

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Trip Advisor image

Equipment fail but high praise for True Grit Running Company: I’m sorry to report a shoe fail. I had high hopes for my Altra Timp trail running shoes, but with only 125 miles of the Ouachita Trail completed, they must be retired. I’ve liked the wide toe box, sticky soles, and platform, but they’re not built for dirt and rock trail hiking.

When I returned these shoes to True Grit Running Company, owner Melissa exchanged them without hesitation and set me up with another pair of shoes that will meet my needs. I’m thankful for locally owned businesses like True Grit, and helpful service-oriented people like Melissa!

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Altra Timp Trail Runners with holes worn through the upper fabric.

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Replacement shoes from True Grit Running Company

Best of 2017 OzarkMountainHiker

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Here are my top five posts in no particular order based on views for 2017. Following these five are my personal favorites for 2017, posts that were particularly rewarding to write or that reflect on an experience I enjoyed on the trail. 

In 2012 when I first started this blog, I had no idea that it would provide such enjoyment and learning. Thank you for reading and letting me share my love of the trails! Pass OzarkMountainHiker.com along to others who love the outdoors. 

Ouachita Trail’s First 51 at the (Im)Perfect Time

Walking Toward Authenticity: Nimblewill Nomad

Hiker-Dog’s Adoption Trail 

Exploring Arkansas Features the Marinoni Scenic Area

Completing Our Goals in the Ozarks

Personal Favorites 

When in Doubt, Write 

A Special Guest on My Home Trail

New Strings

Evening Walk in the Marinoni

Hiker-Dog’s Resume