Missouri’s Ozark Trail: 76 (all-weather) Miles

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John Roth Memorial

After doing our first 88 miles of the Ozark Trail during a week in November, I was hooked and wanted to hike every mile of trail built so far. The Ozark Trail Association website has a trip planner that helped determine the first leg of our journey. For this trip, we started from the last hike’s ending point and continued north. In the process, we’d complete the Blair Creek, Karkaghne, and Middle Fork Sections of the Ozark Trail, traveling south to north from Powder Mill to the Hwy DD Trailhead.

On Friday evening, we camped near the DD Trailhead so we’d be ready for a Saturday morning shuttle to Powder Mill. We were impressed with the John Roth Memorial and read about his life and his hope that the Ozark Trail would eventually connect to Arkansas’ Ozark Highlands Trail making one continuous walk from Lake Fort Smith State Park in Arkansas to Saint Louis, Missouri. Sadly, his life was cut short in an accident, but his vision for the trail continues.

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Day 1 (Saturday, December 29) The morning began with a cool 27-degrees. Shortly into our walk north of Powder Mill, we came to a special location high above the Current River. I couldn’t resist asking Bob to take a photo of me on this same bluff where Hiker-dog and I once paused while working on Five Star Trails: The Ozarks. The photo I took of her on this bluff became the book cover as you can see below. We laughed that Hiker-dog would be upset if she saw the picture and realized she missed a trip, but carrying seven-days of dog food wasn’t possible for this outing.

After walking just over eleven miles, we made camp north of Harper Spring and remnants of an old springhouse. Water was never a concern during our week as we followed creek drainages and crossed many lesser streams over the route.

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springhouse

My chicken and rice Knorr meal with added veggies and chicken hit the spot. The broccoli was especially good! We were off to a good beginning. 

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Day 2 (Sunday, December 30) Good walking day! We passed an old root cellar that had held up well against the elements and time. 

Rain was in the forecast for Sunday night so we were hoping to make camp before it started.  It was dark by 6 p.m., so I got under my quilt wondering how I was going to get by on just 12-hours of sleep! My body uses the time of rest and recovery since most of the daylight hours are spent walking. I’m always surprised at how well I sleep while camping.

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Small stream flowing toward Blair Creek

Day 3 (Monday, December 31) I woke to mild temperatures and constant rain. We hoped to begin hiking when the rain stopped because the next day was supposed to be very cold and we wanted to avoid having wet clothing and shoes, but the rain continued so we decided to take a zero-day.

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The luxury of time… After a few hours of nothing but think-time, where do your thoughts go? I found that they drifted toward those I love. I thought of my wife’s care and commitment and our beautiful daughters and their many gifts. I thought of my new grandson and how we look forward to watching his growth and learning.

I then turned my phone on (in airplane mode) and read a portion of Ron Carlson Writes a Short Story and drafted some notes. After a day filled with intermittent naps, I still slept through the ushering in of 2019 without any fireworks.

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View of the last 2018 sunset from my front door

Day 4 (Tuesday, January 1, 2019) The morning was warmer than the expected teens, probably in the upper 30s. We had light rain and occasional snow and sleet during the day, so we just walked! As Bob said, “What else are you gonna do?”

We were fired up about being back on the trail and made 18 miles before camping. My typical day with a loaded pack is 12 so this was quite a pull but made easier by the relatively flat route that followed a historic railroad bed once used in logging operations.

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Historic rail line bed that now functions as part of the Ozark Trail

Day 5 (Wednesday, January 2)

At the end of our long walk on Tuesday, darkness dictated that we camp near Bee Fork, so we woke at a low elevation with damp tents. Our first task was to cross the cold and slightly swollen Bee Fork followed by 11 miles before camping at 3 p.m.

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Bee Fork

Day 6 (Thursday, January 3)

We passed through Sutton Bluff recreation area which included a low water bridge across the Black River. The campground was closed but included RV hookups and attractive facilities.

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Small bluffs close to Sutton Bluff Trailhead

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We hiked 12.5 miles through some beautiful and open woods before making camp at 3:15 p.m.

I paused in the middle of Brushy Creek for the following photo to capture the clear rushing water. I used only Aquamira water treatment drops for the duration of the trip.

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Brushy Creek

As we approached Strother Creek, we noticed an odd sulfur smell. Water from this creek runs through lead mine tailings and hikers are advised not to use this as a water source. It looked pretty but smelled funky.

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Strother Creek

A word about campsites: Our final campsite was on a low bench near the Barton Fen Trailhead, an excellent site! We passed several fire rings over the seven days of hiking but chose to avoid those few high-use spots. We didn’t build fires and left nothing more than a small tent-shaped impression in leaves where we camped.

Psychological resources in the Ozarks: We passed several log cuts that reminded us of inkblots. The Rorschach inkblot test was developed in 1921…Funny what you’re motivated to look up after a long hike. Bob took a photo of the star and I got another one that was more random. I thought some of the fungi we saw could also fit with psychological testing…maybe “Ozarks Fungi Assessment of Psychological Associations (OFAPA).”

Day 7 (Friday, January 4)

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Packed and ready to go except for rainfly

Woke to a light rain that must have begun around 4 a.m. Loading the pack under my rainfly went well.

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Light rain began to be mixed with sleet and then became fairly strong sleet. With the high humidity, temperatures probably felt colder than they measured, but we were trucking across a series of small creek crossings at a pretty good pace.

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Bob crossing one of many intersecting streams

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Wet creek crossing and refreshed feet. (photo: Bob Cable)

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Wolf Pen Hollow Waterfall

I thought it was probably noon and was surprised when we arrived at the Hwy DD Trailhead to learn it was almost 2 p.m. Time flies when you’re having fun! We paused to pay respects to John Roth and the many volunteers who make this trail possible. 

It felt great to now have approximately 160 miles of the Ozark Trail completed, and we’re looking forward to more! 

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To read our first Ozark Trail report: Coloring Our World: 88 Mile on Missouri’s Ozark Trail

To read our report of Arkansas’ Ozark Highlands Trail trek: Walk…Eat…Sleep…Repeat – The Ozark Highlands 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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How to Prepare for Multi-Day Backpacking Trips

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Short break with a light pack.

A reader emailed several good questions while preparing for a backpacking trip on the Ozark Highlands Trail. I enjoy responding to these type of inquiries and decided to write this post. 

Many trip failures can be traced to the planning process or something overlooked in preparation. Even on the best of trips, I usually learn of things I should have done differently, often related to travel distance, packing, or food.

What follows is not intended as an all-inclusive guide, and there’s no “right way” to prepare and pack, but some of the lessons I’ve learned and resources shared here might inform your preparation. I include links to some items mentioned, but am not endorsing products or sources. I prefer to use my local outfitters, suppliers, and bookstores for most backpacking purchases.

Planning the route: Since a good friend, Bob, and I recently completed 88 miles on the Ozark Trail and we’re presently planning our second outing on the trail, I’ll use it as an example. After determining an overview of the route, usually looking at online resources, I order or print maps. The Ozark Trail Association website is very useful for this. Most long trails have associated websites that are helpful in planning.

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Online overview map of the Ozark Trail

I printed Ozark Trail maps but purchased section maps because of ease of use and durability. To be sure I ordered the right maps I used this map that labels the sections.

Since portions of the Ozark Trail haven’t been built yet, our goal is to walk the finished sections. We began working our way from south to north with the Eleven Point, Between the Rivers, and Current River sections. For this hike, we’ll continue north on the Blair Creek, Karkaghen, and Middle Fork John Roth sections.

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Portion of Ozark Trail Association map

For me, planning campsites involves guesswork and looking at topographical maps. I cut post-it notes into strips and stick them to the map where I think we might camp. I move them around while planning, sometimes even after changes are made while on the trail. I sometimes enjoy not knowing exactly where we’ll stop to spend the night.

Determining when and where water will be available is part of route planning. Sometimes you have to make informed guesses. Monitoring rain in the area you’re going to hike and contacting locals can help you determine if smaller creeks might act as water sources. Last fall when hiking dry sections of the Ouachita Trail, we planted water caches for insurance, but this involved driving to pick up empty jugs after the trip.

How many miles to travel each day is a common question. When in doubt, go short and enjoy the views. It’s easy to bite off too many miles and end up injured and having to leave the trail. With a pack between 18 and 26 pounds, 10-12 miles is a good distance for me, but there’s nothing wrong with a 6-mile day. I occasionally do 14 and might go longer after I correct my foot issue (see the next topic).

The feet: The most common saboteurs of multi-day trips are down at the end of our legs. Feet are so far away that it’s easy to ignore them. Things we hardly notice on dayhikes, become serious problems when walking day after day with 18-35 pounds on our backs.

On our first 88-mile section of the Ozark Trail, the third toe on my left foot was a problem that reared its ugly head beginning about day four of eight. This same toe was a problem earlier on the Ouachita Trail, but I tolerated the discomfort on both trips.

After the Ozark Trail experience, I found a good podiatrist. He used a spacer and small lifting device to correct this wayward toe’s position, the result of a childhood injury. If something hurts, check it out. It might be an easy fix.

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Comparing worn and new shoes

When hiking, doing gentle stretches each morning and evening can avoid problems. Using some lotion on the feet each night after cleaning also helps prevent blisters. Pack a file for smoothing the toenails during your trip.

Wool blend socks help prevent blisters. I use Darn Tough Socks. They last! Comfortable shoes are also essential, and I go light as possible with footwear as in low cut hiking or trail running shoes. No need for heavy boots!

Resource: My favorite (and only) book about this subject is Fixing Your Feet by John Vonhof

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Packed for the John Muir Trail

Packing light: Pack weight is a challenge, especially for multi-day trips when the addition of food increases weight. Looking at the “big three” has helped me. Shelter, sleep system and the pack itself – These three are the big weight items. If you swap a 4-pound tent for a 1-pound tarp, that’s huge! Sometimes I’ll use a tarp, but I have a 2-pound tent I also use depending on anticipated conditions. Moving from a heavy sleeping bag to a down quilt and silk bag liner has reduced weight for me.

Many never think about the actual weight of the pack, but some are close to 5-pounds. Having a fancy suspension system doesn’t reduce the weight your feet and knees are feeling so go as light as possible with the pack. Most ultra-light packs do fine with loads of 15-30 pounds.

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Next, I go through the pack to see what I can leave at home. Example: toothpast and toothbrush – I don’t need them. I take floss and use a green twig to clean my teeth as I walk in the morning. I’m veering into the “too much information” category here, but this was the first example that came to mind. I consider Wet Wipes a luxury item but worth carrying. Cleaning up before getting in the bag liner reduces the stink and makes sleep easier.

OT small containersI pack needed items in small containers when possible to save weight. No need for a tube of foot cream or sunscreen, so I estimate what might be needed and pack that amount. As you can see from the photo, I still had foot cream, sunscreen, first aid cream, and Dawn Soap at the end of eight days. The floss is for size reference, but I’m looking for smaller floss containers. I despise plastic floss picks when I see them in the woods. Whatever you use should be placed in your trash bag and carried out. I use an empty coffee bag for trash because it’s light and can be folded down to the size needed. At the end of the trip, the bag goes into the trash. 

Clothing: I wear one outfit for the duration of the trip. Layers are added depending on the expected weather. I use a silk weight base layer for cold hiking and an even lighter layer for sleeping. I like to carry a down vest and, if temperatures in the low 20s are forecasted, I’ll add my down pants for sleeping if the quilt needs extra help. A hat for the sun is essential. For a warm hat, I use a stretch-fabric tube (brand isn’t important). Beanie hats work well too, but they tend to be heavier and aren’t as multi-use.

Deciding what needs to remain dry is essential. I pack my clothes and personal items in a waterproof stuff sack, then place that along with my down quilt inside a trash compactor bag. The compactor bag fills cracks and crevices in the pack to utilize space and has kept items dry on rainy days.

OT umbrellaWhen I expect rain, I pack an ultra-light umbrella. This is a personal choice because I’d rather have some wetness on my lower body and not be sweating and cold all over. I sweat under the best of rain shells when hiking hard in moderately cold temps.  The umbrella gives me a little roof to walk under, but it’s not for everybody. I’ve also used a poncho which kept my upper body dry, but I still get clammy.

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Esbit stove, windscreen, cup and pot

Fire, Food & Water: Like most backpackers, I have a varied collection of stoves. My hiking buddy carries an MSR WhisperLite. It’s great, but I need something simpler. I’ve used a PocketRocket when at higher elevations (like the John Muir Trail) but for the Ozarks, I like my Esbit Stove that uses two Esbit fuel tabs per day. Sometimes I’ll build a fire for cooking if there is an existing fire ring.

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Meal in homemade cozy

Food can get heavy! I avoid freeze dried meals because of their saltiness, expense, and packaging. I prefer using powdered soup mixes, instant potatoes, and Knorr side dishes as a base with my own dehydrated vegetables and meat added. I purchase dried chicken from Mountain House and add it to most meals. I repackage all in ziplock bags. Results are best if I place the chicken and vegetables in water when I first arrive at camp to increase their hydrating time.

In the Ozarks, bears aren’t usually a concern. I never carry bear spray and only used a bear canister once in the High Sierras of California where it was required. I use a bag for food and tie it in a tree, but mainly to keep the little critters out.

Water is heavy! One liter is just over two pounds. Its storage and treatment can add even more weight. I avoid Nalgene bottles because they’re heavy and bulky. I use a Platypus 70 oz. pouch for water storage and it doubles as a pillow filled with air and wrapped in fabric. I use one-liter Vapur collapsible bottles while walking. They’re light and fold up when not in use.

OT AquamiraI typically use Aquamira drops for water treatment but carry it in smaller bottles with a tiny bottle for mixing.

Sawyer filters are light and effective. They’re cheap, so I usually carry one in my daypack even though I rarely use it on multi-day backpacking trips.

IMG_0127rrI must interject a note about coffee here as I consider it essential! I sometimes use Mount Hagen instant, but you end up with a small wrapper to carry out. My tastiest morning brew involves using espresso grind coffee and leaves no trash to carry out.

Here is a link to my Backpacking List. It’s a working document that I update from time to time.

Resource: Ultra-Light Backpackin’ Tips by Mike McClelland – I love this book!

Physical preparation: The best way to prepare for backpacking is to walk with a backpack. I put magazines in my bear canister and place it in an extra pack for this purpose. I love my rowing machine, but biking, running, or any similar exercise will be helpful in preparing for backpacking. Lunges, squats and toe raises are going to be helpful but be careful not to start a new activity in the weeks before a long trip because an injury will interfere with preparations. Rest, nutrition and safe stretching are all important to general health and in helping you avoid illness prior to your trip.

Resource: The Stark Reality on Stretching by Dr. Steven D. Stark – This book shows safe stretching techniques and points out the dangers of some common stretches.

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Eleven Point River in Missouri

I’ve shared what I think are important things to remember when preparing for a multi-day backpacking trip. I’ll update this post as questions reveal other areas to include.

Enjoy your planning! If things go well, you’ll gain lifelong memories of indescribable beauty and the satisfying sense of personal accomplishment. If things don’t go as planned, you still might have great memories of your time in the wilderness, but with the addition of new learning to apply on your next trip.

Five Star Trails at REI

Five Star Trails: The Ozarks in REI, Dallas

While I love the long trails, I enjoy a good dayhike! If you need a great guidebook for the Ozarks of Arkansas and Missouri, check out my book, Five Star Trails: The Ozarks.

Taum Sauk Mountain: Missouri’s high point and home to Mina Sauk Falls

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Hiker-dog seemed to appreciate the beauty of rocky cascades above Mina Sauk Falls.

Hiker-dog and I camped on top of Taum Sauk Mountain with the plan to hike the Mina Sauk Falls Trail early. It was a cool night at 27-degrees. We rose early, excited to hike a loop trail that includes the high-point of Missouri.

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The section of trail to the high point of Missouri is paved and handicapped accessible. Beyond that, the trail turns to dirt and rocky paths.

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The Missouri high point at 1,772 feet reminded me of Arkansas’ high point on Mount Magazine (2,753 feet). Hardwood forests surround both high points rather than expansive vistas. The impressive views from these mountains are closer to the mountain ridges at lower elevations.

You’ll see a commemorative plaque and a trail register to document your visit. Be sure to step up onto the boulder so you’re officially at the highest point possible.

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Rocky overlook 

There are several nice overlooks along this loop trail. Paths through lichen-covered rocky sections are marked with trail posts and orange arrows.

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Water twists its way down toward Mina Sauk Falls. As you begin to hear the water flowing, the trail intersects with the Ozark Trail. Hiking down the rocky Ozark Trail about a tenth of a mile takes you to the base of the Mina Sauk Falls. It’s worth the side-trip!

A Native American legend tells how the Mina Sauk Falls were named. The version linked here was printed in the Southeast Missourian in 1935. It could be called a Missouri Ozarks version of the Romeo and Juliet story.

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Junction to the Ozark Trail and the base of Mina Sauk Falls 

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Mina Sauk Falls

Spend some time at the base of Mina Sauk Falls, beautiful even when water flow is subdued. Imagine Mina Sauk of the Sauk-ton-qua tribe leaping to her death over these falls, enraged over the unfair death of her Osage warrior love.

After enjoying the falls, we climbed back up to the junction and continued along the creek on this loop trail. We couldn’t resist a second look at Missouri’s high point as we neared the trailhead.

On the last section of this loop, we encountered the same two hikers we’d met the day before at Maramec Spring. I thanked them for recommending the walk down Maramec Branch to the bridge. We’d only met two other hikers on the trail on this cold morning, so I chalked this up as another “small world” experience.

As we walked to the Jeep passed the sheltered trailhead, I thought about the crowds that must flock to this location during the warmer months. We like Taum Sauk Mountain in winter!

Taum Sauk Mountain Mina Sauk Falls Trailhead

Taum Sauk Mountain Mina Sauk Falls Trailhead