Quick Shakedown in the Ozarks

IMG_0708rr

Light rain with temps in the 50s… I must go now! So, Friday evening I arrived at Shores Lake as the sun went down, leaving a dim, soft light. The trailhead parking lot was empty.

I begin most walks with intense anticipation but felt a dull obligation this evening. I needed a shake-down outing in the rain in preparation for future trips, and my hiking buddy needed some time in the woods.

Shores Lake Tr

Beginning the trail after sunset 

Thankfully, it only took a few steps on the trail for that sense of duty to drop away, replaced by feelings of magic while walking this familiar route in deepening darkness. The last couple of miles required a headlamp.

Seeing only the trail details right in front of me stimulated memories of previous walks on this path. Memories associated with each turn of the trail came back clearly like repeated hits of deja vu. As I walked past a couple of my favorite waterfalls in the darkness, I thought of past treks when I enjoyed these scenes in daylight.

White Rock creek

Little Roaring Falls on White Rock Creek

IMG_0700rr

IMG_0698rr

Bedtime beverage

In the misty drizzle, it was easy to set up the tarp so that my down quilt stayed dry inside the trash compactor bag until I was ready for sleep. The small umbrella was helpful during the walk and while making the evening’s hot toddy.

The rainy night left me well rested. When I woke at 4 a.m., the sky was clear and the air was chilly. I felt great, so we packed up and started walking, thinking Salt Fork Creek would be an excellent location for breakfast. Walking the sun up was a treat! 

Shortly after passing the intersection at the short spur to White Rock Mountain, someone said “good morning” from inside his tent. I’m sure he was relieved that Hiker-dog wasn’t a bear.

IMG_0709rr

Important sign on the approach to the top of White Rock Mountain

The downhills east of White Rock Mountain were the most difficult footings I encountered in darkness. No falls, but two close calls and a little rock-skating here and there.

As we approached Salt Fork Creek, we saw headlamps from a campsite. A camper’s dog joined us and played with Hiker-dog. The two of them had a great time while I sat close to my stove to protect the boiling water from their prancing.

IMG_0718rr

Salt Fork Creek had clear water

IMG_0713rr

egg burrito

My dehydrated egg crystals turned out great, but I’ll pack some bacon bits next time. I dipped out some clear Salt Fork Creek water for coffee and treated another pouch full for the day. A couple of breakfast bars completed my meal as we backtracked a short distance to the East Loop Trail and continued south.

IMG_0736rr

The woods and rocks surrounding the trail were a welcome sight after so much night walking. We saw evidence of trail maintenance by the OHTA all along the trail. I think Hiker-dog appreciated this cut!

IMG_0767rr

Before arriving back at Shores Lake, the trail crossed this stream that flows down to Salt Fork Creek. This water level is pretty typical of fall in the Ozarks. You can usually find water pockets, but sometimes, creeks are bone-dry this time of year. I still had water from Salt Fork Creek, so we continued and arrived at the trailhead relaxed and ready for lunch (and an afternoon nap).

IMG_0771rr

Shakedown thoughts: The following are my thoughts about a few recent pieces of equipment or practices. I’m not that gear conscious so you won’t get technical info here. Often, I can’t remember the brand names of items while on the trail.

Headlamp – The little Nitecore NU25 headlamp worked well. It’s rechargeable so only repeated uses will tell how long the charge will last, but with the low setting I used most on this outing, it should last several hours. The higher settings were great for scanning the campsite before departing. I carried a Petzl with the retractable strap for backup. I’ve used the Petzl for several years with good results.

Coffee recipe: Details of my trail brew are available on another post, My Morning Brew: Great Coffee on the Trail. I’ve used Mount Hagen instant with good results, but my current coffee brewing method doesn’t leave any trash to carry out.

Hoosier Hill Farm Premium Whole Egg Crystals: Practice making these at home and you’ll have a protein-rich breakfast on the trail. I’m not finding this product now, but hopefully, it’s available or will be soon. I measure the crystals into a small ziplock, then add salt and pepper. When the water boils, I add a few drops of olive oil and then the egg mix. If it’s too thick, I add a few drops of my coffee since I’m mixing in the cook pot. If it’s too watery, I pour off the excess after the eggs scramble.

Shelter: I’ve used the Zpacks tarp in light rain, so this outing gave me a slightly stronger test though I’m looking forward to getting it out in a heavy rain for a final test before using it on the Ozark Trail this winter. My Big Agnes tent is a good option if I lack confidence with the tarp, but I like the lightness of the tarp. The Big Agnes was my John Muir Trail shelter and it worked well. If I hike the High Sierras again in summer, I’ll take my tarp.

Hot Toddy recipe (for medicinal purposes): Put a little bourbon in a cup (depending on taste). Boil a cup of water and add 4-6 whole cloves toward the end of the boil. Pour into cup and stir in a pinch of True Lemon crystals. Enjoy!

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. 

Favorite Old Trails With a Favorite New Friend

Had a great day sharing some favorite old trails with my “new” hiking buddy, found on the Ozark Highlands Trail in January of 2014.

IMG_6282rr

Shores Lake to White Rock Mountain Loop Trail is one of my all time favorites in Arkansas. I’ve done it as a day and overnighter many times. Part of the attraction might be its proximity to Alma, but the real attraction for me is the water, scenic valleys, and the visual payoff of passing by White Rock Mountain. It dawned on me that Hiker-dog had never done any of this trail, so we decided to remedy this and drive through the little community of Fern to Shores Lake.

I’m working on a trail guide and decided a few months ago that this entire loop trail would not fit the book’s criteria for a typical day hike. However, the first section of the West Loop fits beautifully. The plan was to get GPS readings from Shores Lake to the White Rock Falls and then drive up to the White Rock Mountain Loop Trail. These two trails together gave us about 8 miles for the day (or maybe 10-12 for Hiker since she does a lot of off-trail sprinting).

Cascade at Bliss Spring

Cascade at Bliss Spring

We met up with a delightful group of Boy Scouts at the Bliss Spring crossing. They were taking care of the environment and obviously had strong adult leadership for their troop.

Little Roaring Falls

Little Roaring Falls

White Rock Creek was flowing. We left Hiker’s pack and my hiking poles on the trail and scrambled down (no trail here) to check out the Little Roaring Falls. “Little Roaring Falls” is my name for this waterfall because you’ll hear a low roar as you approach. Hiker loved this spot and took the opportunity to explore over, under, and around the falls. She also had a good swim below the falls.

Hiker exploring Little Roaring Falls

Hiker exploring Little Roaring Falls

IMG_6266rr

I wished for a cloud cover, but it was a crystal clear day making for less than ideal photography lighting.

White Rock Falls

White Rock Falls

We continued down the trail, arriving at White Rock Falls at 2.8 miles. We returned to Shores Lake for  a roundtrip hike of about 5.6 miles; a perfect day hike!

White Rock Creek

Hiker taking in the view of White Rock Creek as we returned to Shores Lake.

Other than the scout group, we passed by a nice couple from Little Rock and then saw another couple beginning their hike as we finished. I remembered Tim Ernst’s comment during his photo presentations, “The Ozark Highlands Trail is Arkansas’ best-kept secret!”

Great trail maintenance work was done in early fall on this trail. Because of the loss of parts of the tree canopy in areas, maintenance can be challenging, and it’s a tribute to the volunteers of the OHTA who maintain this trail. Check the OHTA website for trail maintenance dates. Good fellowship and good work! ozarkhighlandstrail.com

IMG_6359rr

We drove up to the Top of White Rock Mountain to hike the 2-mile loop trail. It had been several years since I did this loop on a foggy day, so this was like a brand new hike to me.

The sign saying to keep an eye on your children gave me pause. I guess Hiker-dog could be thought of as a child at less than two years old, but between the two of us, I was more likely to fall. In fact, children suffer falls less often than adults. Maybe this sign should read, “Children, keep an eye on your parents.” I decided Hiker would be careful around these high bluffs.

Ice on the east side of White Rock Mountain

Ice on the east side of White Rock Mountain

Some massive ice flows covered portions of bluffs, especially those protected from the sun.  Some snow remained on the east side of the trail but it was now a slush and safe for walking.

West side of White Rock Mountain

West side of White Rock Mountain

It took a while to walk this short loop trail. Found myself gawking at views every step of the way. If you do this hike, glance at the trail often to ensure you don’t go over the edge while being entranced by the views. Thank you to the volunteers in the Ozark Highlands Trail Association for trail maintenance! I saw a lot of evidence of work done last fall.

Hiker-dog and I would like to spend a few days camping on White Rock Mountain and exploring this loop with my camera in different light and at different times of the day. Rustic cabins close to the trailhead are nice options, too, but Hiker is definitely an outside dog!

West side of White Rock Mountain

West side of White Rock Mountain

White Rock Mt.

White Rock Mt.

Shelter on the southwest side of White Rock Mt.

Shelter on the southwest side of White Rock Mt.

Getting there:

Shores Lake Campground – Take Exit 24 from I-40 and drive north on AR 215 for 9 miles to Fern. Follow AR 215 right at 9.4 miles.  At 12.2 miles, drive straight off of AR 215 onto Bliss Ridge Road. Turn right into the Shores Lake Campground at 13.6 miles. The trailhead is at the north side of the campground.

White Rock Mountain Loop – Continue past Shores Lake Campground on Bliss Ridge Road (dirt) for 4 miles then turn left onto White Rock Mountain Road.  After 2.2 miles, turn right and drive the final 1 mile up to White Rock Mountain. Continue past the White Rock Mountain Campground, caretaker’s residence, and cabins. The White Rock Mountain Loop Trailhead is at the end of the road. Total distance from I-40 is approximately 21 miles.

Travel Theme: Mountains

White Rock Mountain, in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas

White Rock Mountain, in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas

White Rock Mountain is one of my favorite mountains because it is beautiful in every season and especially friendly during winter.  The Ozark Highlands Trail passes across White Rock at about mile 18.  I like traveling to White Rock because the trailhead is only 45-minutes from home which means more time on the trail and less time in the Jeep.

Campsite with a view on White Rock Mountain

Campsite with a view on White Rock Mountain

Camping on White Rock is a treat.

White Rock camping 2

This picture of the morning after the previous picture demonstrates just how quickly conditions can change on this relatively low elevation mountain (2,320 feet).

There are overlooks for viewing sunset and sunrise on a 2-mile loop trail on top of White Rock Mountain.

Sunrise from White Rock Mountain

Sunrise from White Rock Mountain

 

On the Ozark Highlands Trail just east of the spur to the top of White Rock

On the Ozark Highlands Trail just east of the spur to the top of White Rock

 

Visit http://wheresmybackpack.com to get more travel themes and possible locations for your own travels.

White Rock Creek along side the Shores Lake White Rock Loop Trail.

White Rock Creek along side the Shores Lake White Rock Loop Trail.