OHT: Section 4 (Part 1)

Britt’s backpack has been around since the mid-eighties. Someday I want to sit down and write out a memoir for that pack. It may have gone on more good trips than I’ll see in my lifetime. A replacement internal-frame pack in Britt’s size has been found and ordered, so this was the old pack’s last trip. It wasn’t dangerous or exciting, as some of its earlier trips were. But it had one last long weekend in the woods with good friends and clear skies and a bright moon, and I hope that was enough.

2013 01 22 Britts Pack

We began our walk at Lick Branch, where we’d left off hiking a couple of months ago. The trail was level for a bit before beginning a long, slow, all-afternoon climb. Our camping spot was perfect, on a flat spot just above a tumbling bluffline of big sandstone blocks, and a barred owl called through the woods as we set up. We never saw the owl, but he sounded close enough to touch. Worn out, I went to bed right after supper. Continue reading “OHT: Section 4 (Part 1)”

The OHT Project: Section 3

One of our favorite long-term projects is the goal of hiking the whole Ozark Highlands Trail with our friends Britt and Debbie. We figure that if we do one section each spring and one section each autumn, we’ll be finished by the time Mandy graduates from high school. We missed last spring, so we’re one chunk behind, but we’ll try to make it up soon. This fall, we hiked Section 3, from Cherry Bend (on the Pig Trail) over Hare Mountain through Indian Creek, to Lick Branch.

2012 11 08 OHT Section 3 Map

It had been a busy week, so we decided to stay home on Friday night and just leave bright and early Saturday morning for the trail. We picked up the apparently obligatory giant sandwiches at the Turner Bend store before dropping Mandy, Debbie, Hayduke and I off at the trailhead so that Bryan and Britt could run shuttle. We picked up trash and cut up old yucky orange vests to pin to our packs. (It’s the first week of gun season here in Arkansas, a fact that we somehow overlooked when choosing this particular weekend to hike.)

Continue reading “The OHT Project: Section 3”

Sylamore Trail

After a disappointingly short and rainy backpack trip on Buckeye Mountain, our young friend Monkey was eager to try another, more pleasant backpacking trip. We wiggled our schedule around a bit and worked in a weekend trip to the Sylamore Trail, one of my most favorite autumn hikes in Arkansas.

The stretch of the Sylamore between Barkshed and Gunner Pool is about five miles of really neat hiking. For the most part, the trail runs along the bluff well above the creek. In the spring and fall it’s a nice hike, but when the leaves are down there are some really great views through the bare trees down to the pools and ripples of Sylamore Creek. Some of the trail runs under overhanging limestone bluffs and through big weathered breakdown chunks. Continue reading “Sylamore Trail”

Falling Water Gravel Tour

Mandy’s shaping up to be a singlespeed rigid mountain bike girl. She wears plaid and she smells bad and she says she has three speeds: pedal, pedal harder, and walk.

We spent some miles last weekend on gravel roads up near Sand Gap. Jarion decided to play SAG wagon / fisherman, which meant we could ride light and put our gear in his Jeepett. It was a great weekend of grinding up gravel hills, flying down them, wading in the creek, eating steaks in the rain, and playing cards in the middle of gravel roads. Continue reading “Falling Water Gravel Tour”

Ozark Highlands Trail, Section 2

Last weekend we hiked the second section of the Ozark Highlands Trail, from White Rock Mountain to Cherry Bend, with our good friends Britt and Debbie.

The timing was perfect to celebrate Britt’s retirement. After a long career caring for elephants in several states, and one last sad and frustrating year at the Little Rock zoo, he said good-bye to the animals on Thursday. We hiked a few miles together on Friday, and then set up camp near a pretty stream. We made cherry cheesecakes and hung a makeshift “Happy Retirement” banner near the campfire and drank wine together in the dark.

Congratulations, friend. You chose a career in something you loved, something that allowed you to work hard and keep learning. You chose family over money and you chose moving forward over standing still. You made animals’ lives better and you made people smile. We’re looking forward to your next adventures, and we hope you’ll share some of them with us.

Ozark Highlands Trail: Trip 1

Last winter, we hatched a plan to backpack the whole Ozark Highlands Trail with our friends Britt and Debbie. While we’ve all hiked a ton, none of us has spent much time on the OHT. One weekend trip each spring and one each fall should be enough to finish the 225-mile trail by the time Mandy graduates from high school.

20110221 - OHT Part 1-1

We want to do the trail sections in order, from west to east. We started walking at Lake Fort Smith State Park. Continue reading “Ozark Highlands Trail: Trip 1”

Boy-Free Backpacking Trip

Last fall’s all-girl backpacking trip was such a success, Amy and I began planning a second one. I was busy in March, and she was busy all April and most of May, so this weekend before Memorial Day was the first we could use. I reserved the group camp at Blanchard Springs for Friday night, figuring that it would be an easy place for everyone to find. (Plus it has a cool shelter cave, and is only $10 a night, which is amazing.) Debbie and I pulled in just at dark to find Pic and Sue there waiting for us. Amy arrived at bedtime.

Saturday morning, after breakfast and packing, we ran up to the visitors center for parking passes and a map to help find the upper trailhead where we needed to start. We ended up with four maps, all of which looked completely different, and all of which indicated completely different road names for access to the trailhead. (In this area, roads have county numbers, forest service numbers, logging company numbers, as well as names involving actual words.) Any intersection may be marked with zero, one, or eleven road signs, any of which may or may not be visible above the weeds or actually have anything to do with the maps of the area. It took us awhile to find the turnoff to the trailhead. The mixup was clearly my fault, since I hadn’t planned well, but the other women were great sports about it.

We were glad to be finally at the trailhead, so we unloaded our gear, threw it across our backs, and launched ourselves down the trail. Launched ourselves so fast, in fact, that we didn’t have time for a group photo, and I completely forgot my poles leaning up against Debbie’s truck. About a quarter mile into our hike, I sent the rest of the group ahead while I flew back to the truck for them. Starting out again, I nearly stepped on a HOLY SHIT THAT IS A HUGE RATTLESNAKE. I waited on the trail for him to move, and I told myself it was to see his rattle, to be certain my identification of his markings was correct. But really, it was because I could not move.

It was a hot, hot day, and humid, and it’s happened quickly this spring, so we aren’t accustomed yet to the Arkansas summer. Fortunately, four-year-old Izzy had helped Amy pack, so she wasn’t as bothered by the heat.

Sylamore Trail - Spring 2010-2 (Large)

The extension to the Sylamore trail is new and very overgrown, largely because it’s been closed and underused due to damage from a recent ice storm. There were times I felt that we were walking through a rain forest.

I know Sue as a caver, but I had no idea that she’s also quite an accomplished bird-person. She spent the weekend listening for bird calls and identified quite a long list of birds just by their songs. She carried a beautiful Sibley guide along.

Sylamore Trail - Spring 2010-1 (Large)

At Cole Fork, we stopped for lunch. There’s a road crossing here, though there’s not much of a road. We ate lunch and rested next to the little creek, and an LEO stopped by to inquire whether to cars parked there were ours. He kept asking silly questions: where had we parked our cars? (At Cripple Turkey.) Did we have cars on the other end of the hike? (Yes, sir.) Where was that? (Blanchard.) Did we leave them in the day use area? (Yes, sir, right where we were told to, with day parking passes on the dash.) We asked him some questions, which he didn’t know the answers to. We invited him to eat a plant we found. Amy said “He doesn’t know what it is, he has a gun.” We had the very clear impression that he wanted us to be doing something wrong.

Sylamore Trail - Spring 2010-4 (Large)

The extension trail apologizes for its difficulty by sharing its waterfalls with those who visit it. There are two very nice little waterfalls on the ten mile extension, both tucked into pretty little shelters, both big enough to bucket water to filter, both just right for sweaty hikers to stand under.

Six o’clock found us lined up on logs, close together, in a high little pocket of cell phone coverage. Sue cursed quietly at her phone, since she’d been missing work-related calls all day. While she took care of serious business, Amy gave her father instructions on helping four year old Izzy with bathroom things, and pic sang happy birthday to her boyfriend. I leaned gingerly over Sue, deep in conversation, and tried to disentangle Mandy’s earring from her pack strap.

Sylamore Trail - Spring 2010-9 (Large)

We hiked down into the creek bottom, tired and ready for supper and a swim. The campsite we had in mind, which had looked so perfect last October, was completely overgrown and terrible. We found a likely-looking gravel bar and crossed the Sylamore to set up camp there. After cooling off in the creek, Mandy and Debbie set up a bear bag line while the rest of us pitched tents and started supper.

Of the five adults on the trip, four of us brought wine, and the fifth only decided not to at the last minute. We enjoyed cabernet sauvignon with supper and pinot grigio with dessert. I’ve decided that I despise all dehydrated backpacking meals, and in protest made a lovely onion/mushroom/garlic pizza on a Pocket Rocket. I also made six individual chocolate pudding pies, which I thought was hilarious, at least after drinking wine all evening.

We realized at some point that Amy was actually drinking wine out of a plastic cup with a big cross on it, from some long-forgotten church event. This, like the pie, was made much funnier by the fact that we were all drinking wine. Much later we discovered that a slug had pooped in the cup.

Sylamore Trail - Spring 2010-8 (Large)

Pic announced during the evening that this had been her longest backpacking day ever. I was completely shocked–she’d done beautifully, even with a heavy pack, extra layers of clothes (she’s very allergic to poison ivy) and a harder-than-expected trail. We pointed out that the next day, at eleven miles, would let her set that record two days in a row.

After the moon set behind the wooded hills, Mandy was the first to announce “I’m going to bed.” “Why?” we asked. “Because I am a little kid.” I guess she thought we’d forgotten. Later, Debbie and Amy managed to soundlessly raise all our food and trash into the trees while I bathed and Sue and Pic slept.

Sylamore Trail - Spring 2010-6 (Large)

Morning dawned clear and pretty on our private creek.I woke to find that Sue had already retrieved our bear bags, and I put on my boots and took a few photos while our camp began to stir. Sue requested, from her tent, that we repay her by making her some coffee. I think I heard three people volunteer.

Sylamore Trail - Spring 2010-7 (Large)

Mandy had some trouble getting started, too, but a good breakfast helped us all and it wasn’t long before we crossed the creek again to start toward Barkshed. (It was at this point that, balanced strangely with a heavy pack, I almost fell off a tall rock onto my head, but I’m not going to tell that story because it’s extremely stupid.)

The Barkshed campground, even with its usual redneck population and pit toilet, was a welcome sight. No stranger to pit toilets, Amy was well prepared to visit this one.

Sylamore Trail - Spring 2010-11 (Large)

I decided to ‘pack heavy’ so that Mandy could be light on the second day, which allowed her to hike in sandals. She enjoyed being able to wade (or jump) into the creek anytime, without worrying about shoes and socks.

The section of trail between Barkshed and Gunner Pool is my favorite Stone County trail, and one of my top three in Arkansas. It’s beautiful, and it’s interesting, and it’s easy. We all enjoyed it after the overgrown jungle of the extension. We stopped at the swimming hole just before Gunner to have lunch, spread out in the sandy shade above the creek. There were a few other swimmers, but it wasn’t at all crowded, and most of us got into the creek to cool off before eating.

Sylamore Trail - Spring 2010-5 (Large)

Sue started first, and we all trailed across the bridge at Gunner and through the campground to take the turn in the trail to head toward Blanchard Springs. Debbie and Mandy and I hiked in the middle, with Amy and Pic working on their wildflower catalog in the rear. Just as I caught a glimpse of Sue’s pack, two deer ran down the hillside behind us, faster than I’d ever seen deer run. What had spooked them? Debbie thought they were being chased by something big, and I was glad that we were all together right then so I could be confident that everyone was safe. When we caught up to Sue she had three more birds for me to add to her list. Amy reported having seen a beaver.

We saw a turtle along the trail in this section, and a black snake. Mandy seldom hiked with me, but was usually nearby. I heard funny conversations: “Is it poisonous?” “No.” “Oh, good. Can I pick it up?” “No.”

Sylamore Trail - Spring 2010-12 (Large)

Not long after this stop, the trail turned onto an old logging road and headed uphill. And uphill, and uphill, and uphill, up what must have been the longest hill in the county. It was hot, and we were tired, and grateful that we had only another mile or two to hike. Amy, Sue, and Debbie made a group and went a little faster; Pic and Mandy and I trailed behind a little. By the time we reached the top, I was convinced that we’d lost the trail turnoff, and I was right. We continued on a bit and found that not only was the condition of the road improving quickly, but that we could hear traffic noise close by. We decided that since we still didn’t know where the turnoff was, we’d be best served by just hiking out to the road to meet up with our friends at the ending trailhead, so that’s what we did.

Sylamore Trail - Spring 2010-3 (Large)

The last couple of miles on pavement was hard for me. My pack was heavy and I’d been nursing a wet, sore foot for several miles. We arrived at the cars to find that our friends Paul and Dee McIntosh were there to meet us. Sue, Pic, and Amy had been there for a half hour or so, and Amy had just gone back up the trail to look for us. I dumped my pack at Mandy’s feet, Debbie topped off my water bottle, and Paul and I took off up the trail chasing her.

I was relieved when, only five minutes later, we met Amy returning to the trailhead. We were all tired, and jealous of Pic, who planned to spend another night camping at Blanchard. Sue and Amy took off for Missouri, and Mandy, Debbie, and I went with Paul and Dee for a fabulous Hardee’s supper (involving unlimited free fountain drink refills) before heading back toward Little Rock.

I had a great weekend. I learned that the wine store sells little tiny boxes of wine. I learned to bring better maps, and to be sure that everybody has a copy. I learned that I can make good pizza on a backpacking stove. I learned that abject and paralyzing terror is an excellent way to cope with rattlesnakes. I learned never to plan a backpacking trip in Stone County in late May.

More important than any of this, I got to watch my daughter spend a weekend with women who are like the woman I want her to be. Strong and intelligent, graceful and kind. This is what I want for her. This is what I want for myself.

Thank you, Amy, and Pic, and Debbie, and Sue. When the blisters and bug bites and sore legs are all healed, I hope you’ll hike with us again.

Back to the Ranch

David came back this weekend, from Baton Rouge, with his girlfriend Selena and his mechanic-friend, Matt. We really enjoyed meeting Selena and had a good time climbing together. Late in the day, Mandy took off her too-small climbing shoes, set them on the ground next to her, and declared that she would never ever put them on again for any reason. (I guess it’s time for an upgrade.)

The Speleobox at HCR is top-notch, and we nearly always visit the barn to climb through it before heading to supper. This is one is fairly new and very well made and nearly perfectly sized for adults (that’s Selena’s feet as she enters the box).

Matt’s from Colorado, having only recently moved to south Louisiana. He’s a better climber than we are, at least currently. He and Bryan had a great time talking about trad climbing near Boulder and RMNP. We made them ride by themselves in one car, and the rest of us talked about books in the other car. Apparently their conversation veered into other subjects, though, because when we got home at 10:30pm they jumped out of the car and grabbed our unicycle from the garage; Matt says he can ride.

Climbing at HCR with David and Denise

We’re so glad we climbed last weekend! Early this week, David called me at work: he wants to come up. We spend Saturday happily climbing up and down at Horseshoe Canyon Ranch, at Cliffs of Insanity and the North Forty.

Mandy’s proud moment of the day was climbing the first part of Man in Black, a 5.7 that even Bryan couldn’t start without help. (She immediately fizzled and came down, but the first fifteen feet were impressive.) I was glad to find that one route I’d struggled to finish last week (Summer Rain, a 5.7 in the North Forty) was much easier this week. More importantly, the day included Denise’s first outside route (Little Sprout, a 5.6 at Cliffs of Insanity), and David’s first outside lead (Fesic, the 5.6 next to it). We stopped by the barn on the way out to try HCR’s new speleobox, which is INCREDIBLY fun; Bryan couldn’t stop giggling for the first half of the crawl.

We ate a late supper at the new pizza place in Jasper, which was followed immediately by projectile vomit from Bryan. (He’s fine now.) We left Jasper around nine and were home and in bed shortly after midnight.