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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Ouachita Trail, Section 3

I wanted to start out fresh, west to east, to see if we could hike the whole 220-mile trail in a year or two. I even bought the newest edition of the Ouachita Trail guidebook, just for the occasion. We’d intended to take Martin Luther King’s three day weekend to do section one. The 90% chance of rain on Saturday changed that, though, because none of us wanted to start out a January backpacking trip with a day of rain. The revised two-day hiking plan called for section three instead, starting from Queen Wilhelmina State Park.

In the parking lot there, we met a dayhiker from Texas. “How long have you been making HER do this?” he asked, gesturing toward Mandy, next to the car, fiddling with her hiking poles. I understand that most twelve year olds don’t think carrying a 20-pound pack seventeen miles is a great weekend, but we assured him that Mandy was in the woods because she wanted to be.

Before long we left our dayhiker behind, doing a pencil sketch at a pretty overlook. Some time after lunch, we picked up a cache of water we’d left near the FR 516 road crossing, and pumped our bottles and platys full, too, since day two’s hike will be along a ‘razorback ridge’ with unreliable water supplies.

We camped in the creek bottoms past the crossing. Bryan and Mandy enjoyed their Mountain House freeze-dried beef stew, and Mandy expressed great disappointment that tomorrow night we’d be off the trail, so she wouldn’t be able to eat the macaroni and cheese she’d picked out. I’m glad they like this stuff, but I still can’t find freeze dried food I like. I’m going to start eating oatmeal for supper, too, I guess. We dutifully hung our food and toiletries from the trees. Since we found evidence of a previous fire we built a small one, too, though it was chilly enough that it really didn’t help a lot.

There are plenty of evident camp spots on this section of trail, many with fire rings. We saw one right next to an old, old stone wall mentioned in Ernst’s trail guide. I can’t help but wonder what story the wall could tell. Who lived here, way back when this narrow road trace was the way to school, or to the store, or to the neighbors’? How far away were those things? What was life like, in these woods, all those years ago? We run across evidence of people living here seldom enough that, when it happens, it’s worth spending some daydream-time on.

Day two’s hike was similarly pleasant and uneventful, except for sore feet and tired hips. The weather was nice; quite warm for January, but still pretty chilly in the wind. Bryan, with his Adventure Watch, pointed out that we were finding the mile markers exactly a half-hour apart: we were still making two mph, even on this very rocky section of the trail. Just at dusk, we arrived at the Highway 71 road-crossing. We loaded up the truck and headed back to pick up the Subaru, and some supper, and to start the long drive home in the dark.

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.

Holiday Backpack

Over the weekend Mandy and I manged to help Aly build a compost bin (Happy Valentines Day honey!) and then go backpacking on the Ouachita Trail.

The three of us hiked from Flatside Pinnacle to Crystal Prong Creek and back again. We crossed several tributary’s to the main stream and they were all flowing pretty good due to the recent rains.

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After returning to Flatside, we said goodbye to Aly and headed for Brown’s Creek Shelter. We hiked 7.3 miles today and were glad to see the shelter when we got there. We hoped no one else was around (and they weren’t) but one never knows on a holiday weekend.

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That evening, after our freeze dried dinners, our applesauce and candy dessert and our roasted marshmallow dessert (roasted on the skewers the Lopez’s gave us two Christmases ago) we killed some time by drawing space aliens with an LED light and a long exposure time. BTW… Mountain House freeze dried dinners have proven to be pretty yummy. Tonight, I had Spaghetti and Meatsauce while Mandy had Beef Stroganoff; both were yummy.

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We got up the next morning, moved slow because we had no where to be… no school & no work. We had some freeze dried scrambled eggs with ham and bell peppers, instant oatmeal and some hot chocolate. Afterwards we packed up and headed for our vehicle which we had parked 4.9 miles from here.

When we stopped to pump some water from Brown’s Creek, I heard some rustling in the leaves nearby. Upon inspection, it turns out the rustling was a lizard! The lizard actually ran on to the trail and up Mandy’s leg 🙂 When she tried to catch him he managed to run away and we thought he was gone but when we started hiking again, he showed up on top of her head!


While hiking today, we noticed that many of the aluminum Forest Service mile markers had been supplemented with newer looking markers on a nearby tree. While these new markers were pretty, I don’t know how useful they are since they are above eye height (I tend to look down when hiking) and they are on the side of the tree facing the trail which makes them hard to spot from a distance.

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We had a good hike… 12.2 miles over two days. Mandy carried a crappy schoolbag style backpack which hurt her shoulders a bit. We are looking for a decent backpack for her but we’re having trouble finding one that will last a couple of years and doesn’t cost more than our packs!

At the end of the day we were tired and ready to head home for a bath and to meet Mom for a Chinese Buffet dinner.

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