Walking My Adopted Trail: OHT from Dockery Gap to Lake Fort Smith SP

I’ve wanted to check my adopted section of the Ozark Highlands Trail for several months but life wouldn’t cooperate, so we were thankful for this time. I love this section and Hike-dog does, too. It was a crisp, clear day and water was running perfectly.

IMG_2890rr

Immediately, I noticed the excellent work done by volunteers with the OHTA recently. Several downed trees on the upper ridge were cut out and made for easy walking.

IMG_2903rr

The first Jack Creek crossing was almost a wet crossing but it was fairly easy to step across rocks. A favorite feature of this 4-mile section is that you cross a series of small streams that flow down into Jack Creek. Each of these streams is a visual highlight and different in every season.

IMG_2908rr

Hiker-dog seemed to enjoy having this rock in the middle of one of the small drainages we crossed.

IMG_2926rr

IMG_2917rr

The water in Jack Creek was flowing clear. We met about seven young backpackers having lunch at the nearby campsite. We’d passed a solo teenage backpacker and a father and 9-year old son duo for a total of 10 hiker sightings on my small section. It was good to see so many young people on the trail.

IMG_2934r

Seeing Trout lilies means springtime is near. These little splashes of color dotted the forest floor.

 

 

Hiker-dog at creek

The photo above shows one of the small streams we crossed and a huge boulder that always impresses me. To get an idea about its size, I placed an arrow pointing at Hiker-dog next to a tree for a sense of scale.

IMG_2950rrI filled my water bottle twice, the first time simply dipping into one of the side streams that flow into Jack Creek. The second refill came from this favorite spot where water usually flows across moss-covered rocks before crossing the trail.

I used a small handsaw to cut a few smaller trees off of the trail and used my GPS to record waypoints for future trips out with OHTA chainsaw pros for larger trees, none of which were major obstacles.

IMG_2955rr

Hiker-dog enjoyed several cooling bathes over the course of the day and she definitely exceeded my 8-miles out-and-back distance with her dashes out through the woods. She and I were both thrilled to do this section of the OHT again!

Consider volunteering! Go to the OHTA website and check under maintenance. Use the maintenance coordinator email to see if there is a section you might want to adopt.

Rattle Snake Falls on a warm winter day

IMG_2563rr

Mike next to Rattle Snake Falls

Mike explored this area alone a while back. It had been several years since I visited this spot. I did so by walking the Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT) from Dockery Gap and following Hurricane Creek downstream from where the trail crosses the creek.

I was pleased when he asked if Hiker-dog and I would like to tag along and looked forward to seeing the falls from a different approach. And no, we didn’t see any rattle snakes. IMG_2582rrAfter exploring the falls and surrounding bluffs in the late afternoon light, we followed an old jeep road up above the valley to the stream that feeds the falls. Mike said, “I wonder what’s up around that bend in the creek.” With that, we spent a few minutes walking upstream taking in some nice cascades and reflective pools.IMG_2590rrIMG_2597rr

As we headed back toward Mike’s truck, I asked if I could run back down into the valley to get some photos of the falls in a different light. Mike explored the top of Rattle Snake Falls while I photographed below.

After the sun went behind the Dockery Gap ridge to the west, Rattle Snake Falls took on a softer look and temperatures dropped.

IMG_2614rr

Notice Mike on top of the bluff to the left of the waterfall

IMG_2630rr

IMG_2636rr

When we met back up at the jeep road, we picked up some trash at a nearby campsite. I said this was our small admission price to the beauty down in the valley and a way of giving back.

When I noticed the brand of the beer, I had to laugh. It seems like litterbugs always drink Busch Beer. I never find IPA or Guinness cans trashing up the Ozarks.

The Urge for Going

IMG_4093rr

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.

IMG_4368rr

Frost flower on the Ozark Highlands Trail

IMG_9653

Hiker-dog at the base of Senyard Falls

Lake Alma05_McWater_Falls

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

IMG_9024rr

Loss of a Friend

roy

Roy Senyard on the OHT (photographer unknown)

Roy & Steven .001

On July 28th, the trails of Arkansas and many hiking enthusiasts lost a good friend. Roy Senyard was deeply committed to maintaining the Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT) and served as Maintenance Coordinator for many years. Roy and his wife, Norma, also volunteered on trails in Colorado and other locations out west. 

In 2009, Roy encouraged me to adopt the section of trail west of Dockery Gap. That 4-mile section of trail has meant a great deal to my personal health and sense of ownership of the OHT. 

Roy_7

L-R Roy Senyard and Duane Woltjen, two great builders of trail.

Roy was plain-speaking and didn’t have much patience with folks who talked but didn’t do. He got stuff done, but you had fun and laughed a lot in the process! He was an expert sawyer and made thousands of cuts to clear trails for others to walk.

During the Vietnam War, Roy served as a medic. He was a gutsy guy, not easily rattled while out on the trail. He knew how to get onto the OHT using obscure backroads known by few. There weren’t many forest roads in the Ozarks that he hasn’t driven to access a downed tree or washed out tread.

IMGP7853rr

Roy, on the distant right, taking a break from work on Hare Mountain. L-R Mike Lemaster, Bob Robinson, and Chris Adams.

We used to laugh when Roy gave maintenance reports to the Ozark Highlands Trail Association. He often began by saying there wasn’t much to report and then he’d launch into a lengthy summary of work recently completed and work needing to be done as Norma tried to signal him to wrap it up.

IMG_4486

Roy’s smoky cut

During a US Forest Service chainsaw training, Roy demonstrated a cut on a cedar log. His attention to safety and technique was impeccable, but he had inadvertently put a dull chain on his saw. This became evident to all as smoke engulfed him while making the cut. He was a little embarrassed and may have uttered an expletive or two, but we had a good laugh, knowing he was top-of-the-line when it came to anything related to trail maintenance.

Roy_8

Roy and his wife, Norma, were a team. They both maintained and hiked trails. They thru-hiked the OHT and walked many miles in the Ozarks, Rocky Mountains, and other locations. They loved to bring the grandkids to Hare Mountain and let them experience hiking and nature.

Roy_12

Roy and Norma on the OHT

Roy_10

Preparing for a day hike at Tyler Bend

I’m going to miss Roy. He was the type of friend you might not see for a year, then run into as I did recently at Tyler Bend, and take up as if no time had passed. I’m thankful to have known Roy Senyard and will think and speak of him often, especially when walking the trails.

Roy_9

Senyard Falls_1EScowden

Roy Senyard Falls, named by Tim Ernst in recognition of Roy’s commitment to the OHT. Thanks to Eric Scowden for the photo.

WordPress Photo Challenge: Favorites

WordPress Photo Challenge: All-Time Favorites 

IMG_2198rr

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.

IMG_9675rr

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.

IMG_3798rr

Breakfast at Wanda Lake (John Muir Trail)

IMG_4911rr

Selfie from the top of Mount Whitney

IMG_0566rr

Reflections from sunset over Lake Alma

IMG_5193rr

Ouachita Trail thru-hike 2018

IMG_4368rr

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.

Ultralight Shakedown & Wonderful Walk

IMG_7329rr

Open woods on the east loop trail

To friends, I’ve said, “The older I get, the lighter my pack.” Over the last 20 years, I’ve gone from a very heavy backpack to much lighter backpack. I say “very heavy” because I never actually weighed it or the items inside back then. I’d guess 45-50 pounds because I remember hoisting it to my knee before lifting it to my shoulders in a second move. I also remember the smothered feeling I felt while breathing under its weight.

Moving to lighter loads has been a process over time. By the time we did the John Muir Trail in 2016, my pack was at 32-36 pounds. That included a 2-pound bear canister and food for up to nine days.

This week I tried my ultralight sleep system and shelter. I considered it a “shake-down” hike to prepare for the last 63 miles of the Ouachita Trail coming up soon. My loaded pack weighed 18 pounds with food and water. Base weight (without food and water) was 14 pounds. There’s no heaving this pack, just a smooth swing from the ground to the shoulders.  I’d love to shave off more and approach a 12-pound base weight. It might be easier to lose a couple of pounds in bodyweight. 

IMG_7256rr

Shores Lake White Rock Mountain Loop is one of my favorite routes and close to home. After dinner, Hiker-dog and I drove to the trailhead as the sun dropped low in the sky.

This treasured Bliss Spring that crosses the trail required that I pause for a photo, so Hiker-dog waited patiently.

IMG_7264rr

I love the waterfall that roars softly below in White Rock Creek close to mile 2 but knew a side hike down was out of the question in the fading light. This waterfall was one of my earliest pleasing waterfall photos. I thought about the time I spent there as I hiked past the spur trail.

White Rock creek

Waterfall on White Rock Mt. Creek from several years ago.

IMG_7269rr

White Rock Mt. Creek in fading light

As we approached White Rock Falls, I knew we were close to home for the night. I used a rock as a tripod and took the photo below before continuing across the creek to a campsite close to mile 3. I thought we might stealth camp away from the trail, but the undergrowth in this area changed my mind.

IMG_7273rr

Photo in fading light from a rock tripod

I sat up the tarp by headlamp. It went nicely since I didn’t have to avoid rocks on the site. This tarp is 7 ounces and durable, a far cry from the 5-pound tent I used 20 years ago. After feeding Hiker-dog on a nearby flat rock, I crawled under the quilt. Soon I felt the familiar weight of Hiker-dog curled up next to my feet. She slept soundly all night. I was distracted a few minutes by moonlight through the translucent tarp but then fell asleep in the cool air.

IMG_7280rr

The next morning we packed and began walking by headlamp. It was fun to see the sunrise as we walked. After a breakfast stop, we continued the loop clockwise. Where I most benefited from a lighter load was on the climb up the first couple of miles toward White Rock Mountain. Speaking of “lighter,” I failed to pack one so coffee was cold. Forgetting a lighter was an embarrassing oversight and reminded me it’s important to check that list before I leave home.

IMG_7296rr

Nice signs at junctions at White Rock Mt.

The loop trail follows a portion of the Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT) where you’ll see both blue and white blazes. When we reached the OHT mile marker 19, in earshot of Salt Fork Creek, we turned to the south and began the east side of the loop. A muted sun lit distant hillsides through the clouds, and we had several small rain showers as we walked along.

IMG_7302rr

Mayapples and Dwarf Crested Irises were prolific in many spots. We enjoyed pausing to enjoy the color and variety. With my light pack, I never felt the urge to take it off. Click on the wildflower images for plant names. Yes, I like Crested Irises a lot…

 

 

IMG_7425rrDogwoods were blooming in all their glory. Their gentle clouds of white popped against the light greens of spring.

IMG_7394rr

Hiker-dog walking past one of many Dogwood trees

 

Hiker enjoyed taking a dip to cool off as temperatures rose to the mid-sixties. I filled a water bottle and carried it for the drive home. The next morning I enjoyed a cup of coffee at home from that creek water while planning another hike with my lighter backpack. 

Little Gems Along the Trail

IMG_7052rr

Hiker-dog getting ahead of me

On Friday, April 13th, a tornado damaged several homes and buildings in Mountainburg, Arkansas, about eight miles from my adopted section of the Ozark Highlands Trail. I was anxious to see if winds had caused damage to the woods, so Saturday morning Hiker-dog and I headed out, wondering what we’d discover.

What we found was an open trail with temperatures in the mid-40s. It stayed cool all day as the sun peeked from behind puffy clouds. Quite a contrast from the ominous storm clouds of the afternoon before!

IMG_7081rr

IMG_7085rr

I was thankful for little gems that sparkled with color alongside the trail. In spite of the cold, several patches of Mayapples greeted us with a few hidden blooms below their leafy umbrellas.

 

 

IMG_7056rrDwarf Crested Irises were starting to open and share their pinks and purples.

Later in the day, we passed full blooms, their petals raised toward the sunshine.

Because of the influence of my Arkansas Master Naturalists friends, I now read about the plants I see and was interested to learn that Native Americans used the roots of this Iris for medicinal ointment and tea. IMG_7099rr

Just as I was sensing relief that the trail was intact, unnatural objects started to appear. By the end of our 8-mile out-and-back, my daypack was full of hard foam insulation that had blown over from Mountainburg. I tossed the debris and a little trash on the truck floorboard at the end of our hike.

IMG_7202rr

Several pages of text also appeared next to the trail. I found myself reading these little snippets with interest. I photographed each of the pages then slipped them into my pocket. Were they trash or did they add meaning to today’s walk? Probably a little of both. I did think the chapter title on one page was appropriate given what brought it here.

IMG_7091rr

Excerpt from The Hobbit

IMG_7145rr

The first line of this sliver of a page might apply to several backpacking trips from the past when challenges grew with the accumulating miles.

IMG_7125rr

Jack Creek next to a campsite

I was interested to see the campground at mile 5 of the OHT. It’s an easy hike from Lake Fort Smith State Park and gets trashy sometimes. The area was clean today and carefully inspected by Hiker-dog.

IMG_7116rr

IMG_7129rr

Open views above Jack Creek

IMG_7140rr

Repeated crossings of tributary streams are a special treat on this section of trail. These pretty drainages all flow into Jack Creek as it makes its way toward Lake Fort Smith. One of my favorite stops crosses a flat rock stream. Its slippery surface is avoided by crossing large boulders downstream.

IMG_7168rr

It was a beautiful day to be in the Ozarks. Thankfully, no one was injured by the tornado the previous afternoon. As a bonus, the trail was undamaged other than a few gems (or trash) brought over by strong winds.

Thru-Hiker-dog Completes 180 miles of the OHT

IMG_6816rr

Saturday, March 31, was our day to walk the few miles needed by Hiker-dog to complete the 180-mile Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT). Of course, the OHT keeps growing, but the first 165 miles qualify for thru-hiker bragging rights. Hiker-dog has walked or run every inch of the first 180 miles of the OHT from Lake Fort Smith State Park to Tyler Bend.

IMG_6827rr

Excellent maintenance work made these five miles a pleasure to walk. 

IMG_6916rr

We planned to walk from Fane Creek to the Rock House close to Hwy 23 as an out-and-back for a 10-mile hike. The sounds of water and gentle winds added background music to our day.

We met only one hiker. Ian was doing an out-and-back from the opposite direction, so we enjoyed two short visits in passing.

Wildflowers were a visual highlight today. Mayapples were leafing out, but no blooms yet. There were more varieties than I could photograph and still make timely progress on our 10 miles.

 

 

It was fun to see the Rock House again and remember how thankful I was for this shelter one cold and rainy winter evening after a long hike from Spirits Creek. Today the Rock House only provided shelter from sunny skies. Temperatures climbed from the 40s to the 60s as the day progressed.

IMG_6858rr

We enjoyed exploring the Rock House for a few minutes. A gentleman who lives on Fane Creek wrote to me a couple of months ago to share his, and relatives’, childhood memories of the Rock House.

IMG_6884rr

After getting back to Fane Creek, we took a break at the campsite and alongside the water. I’m looking forward to putting a thru-hike patch on Hiker-dog’s pack. She has no idea that she’s covered 180 miles, but she knows the simple joys of physical movement and exploring the Ozarks with total abandon.

IMG_6917rr

Hiker-dog having a cold beverage after completing the OHT

To learn more about Hiker-dog, check out her resume: Hiker-dog resume 0318