Sunday, December 26, 2010

My first backpacking trip - The Ouachita Trail

So this post occurred from 12/14/10 - 12/17/10

One Saturday morning in December, Cam and I decided to get up early and drive to Round Rock for the REI garage sale, hoping to do some Christmas shopping. Well the only ones getting a present were ourselves. I got a nice backpack even though I had never been on a backpacking trip before. Well coincidentally enough, Cameron had the week off of work (he was suppose to go on a hunting trip that wound up getting canceled) so we were trying to figure out something fun to do or a cool place to go. On the drive back I joked, “well now that I have a backpack we should go on a backpacking trip somewhere”. I said this is a joke not because I didn’t want to go, but rather because I thought December was too cold of a month to go. Well that got Cameron way too excited. I saw the wheels turning immediately.

That same night, after a hint of research, Cam decided we were going to the Ouachita Trail, which spreads the Oklahoma-Arkansas border. At this point I was a bit weary. Isn’t it too cold for a backpacking trip? But Cam insisted it was fine. He was already starting to pack for our backpacking adventure. Well I had always wanted to go on a backpacking trip and now was just as perfect time as any before I start working again. The trail itself is 223 miles. We decided on a 30 mile, 3 day hike. Our friend John had done this same trail and recommended it to us. I have to say, I was very excited! I have always wanted to go on a backpacking trip, especially after hearing all about Cameron’s trips he has taken.

So that Tuesday we packed up and drove out to Oklahoma. I couldn’t believe how pretty that part of Oklahoma was. They are actually mountains! Small mountains, but since I live in Texas, small mountains are a delight to my eyes! We got to our campsite right as the sun was going down so we didn’t have a whole lot of daylight. We were the only ones out there. We quickly set up our tent and started a fire. It was chilly already and the temperature was supposed to drop below freezing that night. We sat around the fire, eating some “crackle barrel” which for those of you like me who don’t know what that word means, it refers to post dinner meal over the fire…in our case it was hot dogs. It was a cold windy night and I couldn’t wait to get in the tent to protect me from the wind. I slept in sweat pants, a sweat shirt, and a zero degree down sleeping bag and never really felt warm throughout the night.

That morning the wind had picked up. Cam got up early for the sunrise and took some beautiful pictures. I slept in. We ate breakfast, packed up everything and started on our way. I was so excited. Even though it was cold I was ready for our adventure to start. We almost started in the opposite direction we were planning on going. We stayed at one of the trail heads which was a big campsite so it was actually pretty confusing for us to find the trail start because it was separated from where the trail had ended by a few parking lots and streets. We read the guide book we had a couple times over before we figured out which direction to go. Phew. Now let our journey begin! My backpack weighed about 30-35 pounds (so Cam says) which actually felt good on my back. Day one consisted of going uphill for the first 1-2 miles, and then a steady up and down the mountains for the rest of the day. It was pretty tiring. We took lots of breaks to just enjoy the scenery. The bad thing about hiking in December is that the leaves have already fallen off the trees so the scenery is pretty mundane in some spots, just a bunch of naked trees. The good thing about it is that there are certain parts of the trail where you have just an amazing view of the surrounding mountain side that you would never get to see otherwise. We stopped at a creek for lunch which consisted of peanut butter and jelly sandwich on pita bread. It was tasty and hit the spot. I finished one nalgene of my good purified water and then filled it back up with the creek water. We used iodine drops to purify our water in case anyone is wondering. Once we got further into the mountains we really weren’t affected much by the wind. I was surprised how warm I got during the hike and wound up shedding my warm clothes so I wouldn’t sweat and just kept on my wind breaker. It was grueling going uphill and almost as tiring going down because of the pounding on my legs. We hiked for about 5-6 hours that day and I was happy to get to the trail head we were camping at fairly early, around 4ish. We hadn’t come across anyone else yet. We collected wood and set up the tent while the sun was still out. We started our fire and made dinner, chicken and rice. We made yummy hot chocolate and sat around the fire until dark. It was cloudy that night so we didn’t have a good view of the stars. We were in our tent by 7 and I fell asleep very fast. It was a good hard day for me. Cameron had me lead most the day. There were also plenty of evergreen trees so that added color to the bland brown and yellow leaves that were covering the mountain. Because there were so many leaves on the ground there were actually certain parts of the trail that were hard to follow, which actually made it a little more adventurous! Good thing the trail was marked every few yards with blue paint. That was how we were able to tell if we had stayed on the trail or had ventured off.

DAY 2: We woke up around 8 the next morning. I was feeling pretty achy and sore that morning. We ate our granola bars for breakfast, packed up and took off in search of water. We had finished most our water the night before and were counting on the river being just down the hill. This day was much easier than the first day. We stayed on flat ground most the day. My struggle was walking on the rocky trail. Seriously there were so many rocks on this part to the trail I had to keep my head down just to make sure I didn’t trip. Today was also much warmer than the first day. I was able to just wear my t-shirt and Cam actually went shirtless. The trail had us hike along the river most the day. We took a lunch break and feasted on hummus and pita bread and more granola bars. We pretty much hiked along the same river until we found a fun spot to camp at. It wasn’t a spot we originally planned on but the area looked too good to pass up. It was only 1-2pm when we set up camp. We enjoyed the sunlight, read, took pictures, took a sponge bath, gathered fire, and just enjoyed the quiet stillness. That night (as it was our last night) I started the fire. I watched Cam do it the first 2 nights and was ready to try one for myself. It took me a few tries to get it started but once I did it was the prettiest fire ever. Seriously, it looked almost fake. We made mac-n-cheese and tuna for dinner and drank more hot chocolate that night around the fire. Then I heard a coyote howl that was so loud we think it must have been on the other side of the river we were camped on. Freaked me out! Cam gave a good deep yell and that shut the coyote up and we didn’t hear it again. About 20 minutes later we hear the coyote pack just howling and yapping away. I was ready for the tent by that point. The mountains are much scarier at night. Cam tied all our food up on a tree branch (like a piƱata) so no coyotes could get it. I was a little nervous to sleep this night. I made sure to fully empty my bladder so I wouldn’t need to get up in the middle of the night. It was a warm night and I slept well. My sleeping bag kept me nice and toasty and I actually got hot during the night and had to shed clothes.

DAY 3: That morning we got up, put up camp and made oatmeal for breakfast. I was even sorer today. The day started cloudy and quickly turned foggy in parts. The trail was a little bit of everything today, river trail, mountain trail, flat and hilly, smooth and rocky terrain. At this point I was ready to be done. It was physically my most exhausting day. My legs felt heavy and my back was super achy. We actually decided to trek on and not eat lunch because we were making really good time. I munched on trail mix and tried to ignore my grumbling tummy. Me and Cameron got to this part in the trail where we hit a small road and thought surely we were suppose to go up the road. Well we hiked ½ mile or so up this road only to get to an even bigger road and thought “hmmm, I don’t know about this”. We kept on walking down the smaller road, it was so foggy we really couldn’t see too much in front of us to know whether we were on trail. I didn’t see a single blue marking to show us we were on trail. All of a sudden we were in front of this huge phone tower that was so high in the air we couldn’t believe we hadn't seen it sooner. However it was so foggy you couldn’t see it until it was right in front of us. We obviously were not on the right path. We cut through the woods and get back to the main street and decide to hike back in the direction we had come from and find the trail. We got back to the point of the trail where we had got to the small road and saw that the trail continued on the other side of the road. All we had to do was cross the street. I was pretty irritated by this. I was so ready to be done and we had just walked an extra 1-2 miles in a circle. Maybe if we hadn’t skipped lunch I wouldn’t have been as cranky. We kept going, only 3 miles left. We were in Arkansas at this point. During the last 3 miles the sun finally broke through and the clouds/fog started to go away. I felt better once I saw blue sky again. There were some really pretty scenic views too. This whole trip we hadn’t seen a single person on trail. Solitude. I believe this was the first time I have ever gone 3 days without seeing more than 1 person (Cameron). It was pretty cool! When I finally saw the Queen Wilhelmina Lodge, it was a sight for sore eyes. I had completed my first backpacking trip! We ate a delicious meal at the restaurant and I used the toilet. I have such a better appreciation for little luxuries like a toilet. A park ranger drove us back to our car, it was only a 30 minute drive away. We stopped at some of the scenic turnouts for pictures. It ended up being a gorgeous day. When we got back to the car I couldn’t believe it was over.  30 miles in 3 days.  My first backpacking adventure under my belt! Until next time…

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