This trip we were going to be one man short as Eric "Hoot" has been having back issues and will need surgery soon, so he was out for this trip. Bob and I planned on meeting Tuesday Sept 30th in Joplin and dropping his car off at a parking lot around mile marker 58 and then going together back to Lake Ft. Smith State Park and the official start of the trail for a Wednesday morning start.
What could go wrong?
Getting There Day 1
The drive for me was about 450 miles from my house to the trail head.
I was worried about Bob's Jetta behind me
While there was some nice scenery along the way (Above), it did take us a couple of hours to go the 17 miles to find the parking lot
We checked into the Sky-Vue lodge and retired to our rooms to eat our dinner, which had now soaked the bag with grease- Yummy! (it was actually quite good)
DAY 2- Getting on the Trail
This was the charming church across the street, lite up in the morning sun light
The sunrise from the back deck of the Sky-Vue motel was indeed lovely.
The Ozark Highland Trail starts at Lake Fort Smith State Park in Mountainburg and the visitors center was new and very nice.
Bob and I were both carrying the same backpacks on this trip- Zpacks Blast Cuben Fiber packs. Bob had the new Hybrid Cuben and I was using the older lighter cuben material. I was also trying out a Zpack Cuben Fiber chest pouch to carry my phone, camera, snacks, etc.
We were both in the 17-20 pound range including all food and water.
The picture above is the view just behind the visitors center. the State Park has camping for tents, RV and a paved trail system down to boat docks for the lake.
There was very little water flowing anywhere. It has been unseasonable hot in the Midwest for the last part of September and the beginning of October. The forecast was for the weather to change in just a couple of days, probably while we were out on the trail.
A common plant I would see along the trail here (Purple BeautyBerry) not very good tasting according to the description, but butterflies like it and animals will eat it if they have too.
Bob along Lake Shepard Springs. The reservoir was completed in 2007
Smaller plants and mushrooms along the trail
Our fist major water crossing was Frog Bayou Creek, one of the main creeks that feeds the lake. It was dry. We managed to find a pocket of water. This would be how we would find water the entire trip. When Bob and Eric had done this section before a years ago this was full. (That was in May)
Mr. Turtle beside the water pool
Some wetlands of Frog Bayou with water and pretty flowers
Bear? or Skunk? we couldn't decide, but this was right on the trail.
I had downloaded the trail maps onto my phone using the PDF maps App by Avenza (free) and this worked very well.
more unusual fungus along the trail.
our major water source before the end of the day was Hurricane Creek. It was also very dry. We again found pockets of water, but since we couldn't count on anymore water we had to carry 3 liters each the last 3 miles of the day and that was back up 1000 feet of elevation gain in the first two miles
The trail was very overgrown for most of the trail leaving the State Park (and even in the Park in spots) and it was very buggy with lots of gnats buzzing around us.
We arrived at mile marker 13 and the end of our day by 5 pm. We did manage to find a grove of cedar trees to hang in and got in our hammocks as soon as possible to escape the really BIG horse flies that bite!
A view from my hammock (above and below) it was very hot today in the 80's with the same for humidity. Even during the entire night I didn't need any quilt as I was sweating for most of the night.
I would have like to show some pictures of our hammock set ups, but the bugs were bad in the evening. Bob and I were carrying the same set up- Warbonnet Ridgerunner Bridge Hammocks. I was using Hammock Gear 40 degree under and top quilts and Bob had the Warbonnet Lynx quilts. Both of us have Hammock Gear Cuben Fiber Tarps.
DAY 3- The "critter" day
We were out of the hammocks and ready to walk at 8 am. In the first 15 minutes of the day Bob almost stepped on our friend below laying in the trail- A 4.5' Copperhead. I have seen rattlesnakes before on the trail in North Carolina and Virgina but even with all my hiking in my home state of Missouri were they are prevalent as well. I had never seen one live on the trail. Our guy was paying attention to us as you can see from the photo as he is looking directly at me, but he quickly got bored with us and moved on. I was impressed when he stretched out to cross the trail as to how big he actually was.
A few more miles down the trail and we found Bear scat on the trail.
We ended up seeing 4 snakes ( all the rest where little- ring snake, bull(black) snake, garter snake, and our friend above), and some white tail deer along the trail today.
There were very few views along this trail and most of it was in a green overgrown tunnel. the day was cloudy and the weather was going to change soon, but the humidity was very high with no wind at all. The trail maintenance on the OHT was awful and Bob and I started to wonder, early in the day, if this was going to be like this the entire 58 miles of the trail we had to do this weekend
This is were we were able to get water at a couple of springs crossing the trail that just had a trickle of water coming from them.
By mid afternoon we had enough of this type of walking. there was no prospect that the trail was going to get any better for the 30 more miles we had to go in the next couple of days. We came out of the woods at Potato Knob at mile marker 24. It had taken us three quarters of the day to cover just 11 miles and we were bloody and exhausted. Bob had meet a women that works near by that had shuttled him last year and we called her to come pick us up.
On the way back to Lake Fort Smith State Park she confirmed that the entire trail was just as overgrown and the OHT had just started to work some trail maintenance. To be fair we had encountered some improved trail between mile markers 14-17 today and she confirmed it took 10 people 3 days to clear that section.
With the reputation the OHT has as being a good trail (as good if not better than the Ozark Trail in Missouri and an older trail organization) I wondered aloud how they could allow the trail to get in such a sad condition.
The Ozark trail in comparison is a dream to walk compared to the OHT. Even under staffed and underfunded as the OT is, the trails are always clear and graded well over its whole length and frankly if I was a member of the OHT I would be ashamed.
A photo later that night. I stopped on my drive back home as it was getting late. I had cleaned up the blood by that point!
We had a little trouble going back and finding Bob's car at the trail head we had left it at. I took us about 2.5 hours to go 70 miles to where we had parked it, but we did get to see some more back forest roads of Arkansas!
I am glad I went down to see the OHT finally, but I doubt I will be back. the trail certainly was in bad shape, but I didn't it had nearly the views of the Missouri Ozark Trail or something like the Superior Hiking Trail in Minnesota. The people, as always, you meet around trail towns that run small business' are always great and that certainly was true for the owners of the Sky-Vue lodge, the Rangers at the State Park, and Paula, who came and picked us up.
So we abandoned our hike at 24 miles as it just wasn't fun anymore! Bob was done in and I really had to agree
1st day- 13 miles 8 hours
2nd day- 11 miles 6 hours
Thanks to Bob for some of the photos above and organizing the trip. We will get one completed together one of these days I promise.