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.
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.)
The first day of hiking was pleasant and uneventful, and we hiked the five or six miles to (and up) Hare Mountain to the highest point on the whole OHT. We passed several old homesteads on the way, gone now except for the stone walls that remain. The handful of campsites on the mountain are well-established and maintained by the Ozark Highlands Trail Association, and their annual campout and get-together there had been just a couple of weekends before our visit. We enjoyed our big campsite with the nice big fire ring and the assortment of stick-built furniture. There’s still a well there, and though it was nearly dry we were able to lower a bucket and get water. The filters had to be cleaned more than once, though, because the water was so yucky.
Hayduke’s had problems with his paws lately while hiking. The woods here in Arkansas are very, well, brambly, and while he generally hikes on the trail, he does make occasional forays out into the woods to investigate things. His paw pads are fine – mostly the issue’s been with getting sticks up under his carpal pad, cutting the bottom edge of it. He’s also getting sticks up in the webbing between his toes, cutting and scraping the tender skin there. We thought it might help to put boots on him, and this was his first trip with the new gear. Not unexpectedly, Hayduke isn’t fond of his boots.
Britt and Debbie are among our very favorite people, and all three of us love hiking with them. They’re smart and interesting and funny and they’re good sports about our quirks. They aren’t fast hikers, but we aren’t fast hikers either – Bryan’s old 15-mile-a-day psychohiking days are over, and we all really enjoy poking around and looking at things together. This particular section of the trail had lots of little drainage crossings, but none of the waterfalls called out in the guidebook were running with water after this summer’s dry spell. Even dry, it was our favorite section of the OHT so far.
Indian Creek, which should have been running deep and wide with water, was reduced to dry rocks with occasional pools. It was fine for us – we had good camping, and plenty of water to rinse off in, and to pump and filter for cooking and drinking – but the level of Indian Creek was a pretty solid reminder that it’s been a dry, dry, dry year here in Arkansas.
Our last day of hiking wasn’t dry, though. Just as we got up and around, things started to get damp. Britt and Debbie skipped their hot breakfast and just snacked while we all packed up camp. It began to rain just as we walked out of camp, though it was light enough rain, and a warm enough day, that we opted for the compromise of protecting our packs with rain covers but not wearing rain gear ourselves.
By the time we got to the Lick Branch trailhead, it was still drizzly and had turned cold. Debbie and I leaned on the covered trailhead sign with Hayduke under us while the other three went to pick up our car. Just after they left, the rain began to fall much, much harder. We added rain gear over layers of fleece, covering the dog to keep him warm. The long shuttle seemed much longer, and we were grateful for the dry cars when they came back to pick us up.
The rain continued as we drove into town to share a last meal before heading back home. There’s something really good about eating a hot sandwich in a place where one could also purchase motor oil, plumbing fittings, and laundry soap.