Ouachita Trail, Section 6

Ivy the Poodle has never gone backpacking, so we thought we should fix that problem. Our unicycling friend Alyssa decided to make it her first backpacking trip as well. We chose section six of the Ouachita Trail because it’s an easy hike with accessible water. And on beginner trips, it’s nice to use a trail shelter and leave the tents at home.
What a pretty, pretty weekend! It was warm and pleasant hiking; in fact, we had to stop along the way so that Jarion could adjust Kathy’s pants by cutting out the too-warm linings. Continue reading “Ouachita Trail, Section 6”

Ouachita Trail, Section 6

Several polo players have been saying they’d like to go backpacking, and somehow our schedule shifted and gave us a free weekend, and we thought that sounded like a good plan. Bryan brought maps, I brought food, and Mandy brought plastic pirate gear.

OT Section 6-1
Our original plan was to hike section seven of the Ouachita Trail. It’s a pretty 20(ish) miles, and climbs up and over Blue Ouachita Mountain. But it hasn’t rained in awhile and nearly all of this section of the OT is high up, crossing the tops of some drainage areas. The trail shelter is near a spring that doesn’t run all year. So almost at the last minute we realized that since we didn’t want to carry two days’ water, section seven wasn’t a good plan, and we switched to section six instead. Section seven isn’t as high up, and it would allow us to spend the night at a shelter near a substantial stream.OT Section 6-10

Adam has some knee problems, but he’s a good sport and wanted to try the hike. He brought two or three different knee braces and a lot of pain medicine.

OT Section 6-2

We hiked about six miles on Saturday before arriving at the trail shelter, a simple wooden structure with almost four sides. The shelters on the OT are handy for people who may not have lightweight backpacking tents, or who may just want a break from carrying them. If the weather’s bad, it’s nice to have a tin roof and a wooden floor, instead of a drippy nylon tent. And no matter what the weather, picnic tables are handy.

OT Section 6-3

Ruth and I both brought our ENO hammocks. Mandy was called into service (dressed in her lovely military longjohns) to help hang the higher hammock.

Ruth taught us how to flip from one hammock into another, and a great deal of the in-camp entertainment involved watching Mandy and Ruth attempt to do this at the same time.

OT Section 6-7

Our decision to change plans, to the lower section of trail, was a smart one. Not only did we have a creek to play in after a long day of hiking, but there was water to pump for supper and for breakfast the next morning, and there was water at lunchtime on day two as well.

OT Section 6-8

It’s been a busy autumn for all of us, and I think we all enjoyed getting out of town and into the woods for a couple of days.

OT Section 6-9

We’d had a late morning start on Sunday, and at almost suppertime Adam’s knee was starting to give out with nearly five miles to go. Ruth, Vinnie, and Mandy still had a lot of energy, so we decided to split up at a road crossing. Bryan and I stayed with Adam and all six packs. We loaded up the others’ pockets with snacks and a small first aid kit. We made sure they all had jackets and water and headlamps and a map. When they left, we set up our hammocks and waited.

They finished the trail in just under two hours, running a fair portion of it. They got to the car, picked up the truck, had a snack stop at a gas station and a bathroom stop at a church. As we waited, we set up two red blinkers in the woods near our hammocks, so that they could find us easily. And sure enough, just as it got too dark to see easily, the Subaru and the pickup pulled up to take us to a good Mexican supper in Jessieville.

Rainy night of backpacking on the OT

It’s been a long week, a stressful one, and we need to go to the woods. It’s warm, and the forecast rain shouldn’t arrive until early afternoon on Sunday. We think it would be a good weekend to hike section six of the Ouachita Trail with a stop at the Uncle Bill Potter shelter for the night. It’s a long Saturday, though, and by the time we drop the truck at the eastern end and found our trailhead at Hwy. 27, it’s after five.

It’s a spidery day. I take my spot at the front of our little group, crashing into spiderwebs as I walk. (I don’t usually like to hike first, but I am called into service when spiders are present.) I count the webs as we pass, and Bryan and Mandy dutifully yell “thank you!” each time. When I get too warm and take off my hat, I am surprised to find a colorful yellow and black hitchiker.

By dark, I’ve run into more than twenty webs.

As the daylight fades we get out our headlamps but leave them turned off to try hiking in the dark. Bryan, who’s done a lot of night hiking, enjoys walking under the nearly full moon. Mandy and I, on the other hand, stumble all over ourselves and finally give up and switch our lights on. We know that the turnoff to our shelter should be about six miles in, and Mandy and Bryan are watching for it so carefully that they walk right over a rattlesnake curled up napping in the trail. Their feet pass not six inches from the snake. I see it, and detour.

The shelter on this part of the OT is about a half mile off the trail, downhill toward Iron Fork. I sweep out the shelter twice, avoiding the busy wasp nest, while Bryan and Mandy cook our supper. We are awakened around midnight by rain, loud on the metal roof, much earlier than forecast. We all sleep fitfully after that, cozy in our sleeping bags, in our little house in the woods, listening to the rain.

By morning light we see that the shelter overlooks the creek, and we venture out between showers to cook our breakfast and visit the edge of the water. It’s a pretty spot. Since the rain shows no sign of ending, and since we’ve had another very slow morning, we decide not to hike the 12 miles of new trail out to the truck, but just the 6 or so miles back to where we’ve left the car. It doesn’t rain a lot more, but it’s a misty, cool day, and hiking through the wet grass on Sandlick Mountain quickly soaks through my no-longer-waterproof boots.

At the car, we change into whatever dry clothes are left: long underwear, wool socks, fleece vests, plastic camp shoes. My outfit is particularly spiffy, featuring a combination of orange, pink, brown, and red. Our ragtag family draws some looks from the nicely dressed retired folks at Molly O’Brien’s in Hot Springs Village, where we stop for supper on the way home.

We walk into the woods on a warm, bright late summer day, and something changes. We come back out in the rainy overcast of autumn. A new season has arrived, and we are here to see it.