Boy Free Backpacking in the Irish Wilderness

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This autumn’s Boy-Free Backpacking Trip was the first weekend in November, in celebration of Amy’s having taken the PE test the weekend before. It was planned by Miss Pic the Iowa Chick, and it couldn’t have been better. Well, it could have been better but that didn’t have anything to do with Pic. She chose to have us spend parts of three days in the Irish Wilderness in Oregon County, Missouri. Everyone from last spring’s trip was there again (Mandy and I, Debbie and Amy, Pic and Sue) and we were joined by Amber, Kathy, and Patti. And lots of snacks, including Godiva pumpkin truffles.

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We arrived at various times on Friday, at the Camp Five Pond trailhead. CRF monitors a number of caves in the wilderness area as part an agreement with the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, so we were asked to do bioinventory work in a handful of them since we’d be in the neighborhood. (Please note, all caves in the ONSR are CLOSED due to White Nose Syndrome.) The hike to the first cave was lovely, and the group not working in the cave went on to set up camp.

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On the way to camp, the caving group got a little turned around and hiked an extra mile or three. I was told later that Mandy was philosophical when she heard they’d made a mistake. “Oh” she said, sitting on a rock to rest. “If we’re in the wrong place, I’m going to have to eat another candy bar.”

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It was a problem easily solved, though, and it wasn’t long before we were all together, at Fiddler Spring. Mick had somehow broken (or perhaps just failed to fix, or maybe both) Sue’s tent, and she and Patti had a terrible time putting it up. We had to use a tent splint and some half-rotten medical tape to make it work. After a good supper (complete with chocolate-strawberry cheesecakes) we all went to bed.

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But nobody slept very well, except Mandy. We’d expected the overnight temperatures to get down near freezing, and we’d all packed for that. But we all shivered, all night, except Mandy. I wasn’t miserable, just chilly enough to wake up several times. Some of the other women, though, were very cold. The next morning, Debbie was furious with her sleeping bag, until she realized that the water in her nearly-full 1-liter Nalgene was frozen solid. A check of the weather later indicated that it was probably closer to 20 degrees where we were camped. No wonder we’d been cold! (Due to a combination of her nested down bags and her ability to sleep through anything, Mandy seemed to have been perfectly comfortable all night.)

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A leisurely breakfast made everybody feel better, and we left camp late but much more cheerful. It was a beautiful, clear Saturday, and the crisp, newly-fallen leaves all but hid the trail. There were a few blazes, but not many – Mandy hiked in front because she likes it, and she’s good at finding trails by the way they feel under her feet.

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We had more cave-monitoring to do, so we split up the group again. Sue and Pattie would set up camp at Bliss Spring and be waiting for the rest of the group, drinking tea next to a blazing fire, when we arrived. Just in case they needed to leave a note, we sent them off with pink flagging tape and a sharpie.

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We did our work and we got to Bliss Spring just before dark – but Sue and Patti weren’t there. It was getting cold and night was falling, and there wasn’t a thing the rest of us could do that would feel useful. The two missing hikers were self contained, with their own tent and cooking gear and a way to filter water. They’re both capable people, and we were pretty confident that the only real problem was the poorly blazed and buried trail. We were subdued as we ate supper (with flan for dessert) and we discussed what to do in the morning, in order to find the missing hikers. We went to bed concerned about them, but not really worried.

The night was chilly but not as cold as the previous one. We were eating breakfast when we heard cursing in the woods. It was Sue and Patti, fine though not too happy about having had to sleep on top of their broken tent. Sure enough, they’d lost the trail in the leaves (at exactly the spot Amy and Amber had predicted) and had camped only a half mile or so away from where we were.

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Stories were told, and some attempts at lecturing followed, but Sue said “Patti, give them some cookies so they’ll shut up.” Much relieved to be together again, we packed up and hiked the eight miles back out to the cars, where we loaded up and said goodbye.

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