I have had quite a few questions about the gear I will be carrying on my Continental Divide Trail (CDT) hike, so I figured at least a few people would find a blog post about my gear interesting. I have made a couple last minute changes this week (shoes and video equipment), so I’m crossing my fingers those work out. My pack weight is definitely on the heavier side compared to others thru hiking the CDT, which makes me a little nervous. I’m still debating whether or not to leave the umbrella and sandals at home to save a little bit of weight, but for now I plan on bringing them. Outside of the weight, I feel pretty good about this gear, so I don’t anticipate a whole lot of changes along the trail other than getting rid of the snow gear at some point, but we’ll see how it goes. Pictures and a list of my gear are below.
One common joke in the thru hiking community, although with some truth behind it, is this: you pack your fears. If you fear getting cold, you may bring extra clothes. If you fear animals (or other humans), you may bring some sort of weapon. Two weeks from today my parents and I will be hitting the road for the drive up to Glacier National Park (GNP). While I’m really excited about my upcoming adventure on the Continental Divide Trail (CDT), and whatever happens after that, there are definitely some fears and things I’m not looking forward to, and I have done my best not to pack extra for them. I figured some people would be interested in these, so here is a blog post dedicated to my fears, potential struggles, and cons related to this adventure.
Base Weight: Base weight is the weight of your pack, excluding consumables (food, water, fuel, etc.). Generally the lower the better, although at a certain point it becomes a safety (and comfort) issue. I knew my base weight would be on the heavier side for a couple reasons. First, due to carrying my camera gear. Second, I’m leaning more towards comfort than “ultralight”. I’ll definitely have a heavier pack than a lot of people on the trail, but after putting a lot of thought into it and a doing a couple shakedown hikes, I’m comfortable with where I’m at. If I change my mind I can make changes as I go along. If you’re interested in the gear I will be starting out with, stay tuned to my blog as I plan to post a blog before I leave that shows/lists all my gear.
Nasty Water Sources: In the desert portions of the trail there are likely to be a few nasty water sources that I don’t have any choice but to drink from. Between my filter and tablets, I’m not too worried about getting sick from drinking the water. It will just be overcoming the mental mind game of having to drink the water from the source.
Cold Weather: I’m not a big fan of cold weather, which is pretty ironic considering my top places to move after finishing the trail are much colder climates. In general, the part of the day I look forward to the least while backpacking is the time between getting out of the sleeping bag in the morning and the start of hiking, as it’s generally chilly in the mornings. Packing up gear in the cold is no fun, especially when it’s wet. I’m sure there are going to be plenty of cold mornings while hiking, and I’m sure there will be entire days that end up being cold. Historically I have pretty much always made a warm breakfast in the morning while backpacking, but to be a little more efficient and get to hiking quicker, I plan on eating stuff for breakfast that doesn’t need cooked. Hopefully getting moving sooner will help out on cold mornings.
Hike Your Own Hike: This is a popular mantra among thru hikers. The basic premise is pretty simple. If you want to take an alternate route, take the alternate route. If you want to spend an extra day in town, spend an extra day in town. Do the hike how you want to do it, not how others want to do it. While it seems really simple, it isn’t quite so. What happens when I’m hiking around a person or group of people I really enjoy being around, and I want to do something different than the person/group? Will I do my own thing, or will I go with the group? Will I change my pace just to stay with a certain person or people? There can be some really hard decisions around hiking your own hike. Hopefully I can get to the end and be content with the decisions I made.
Going Poop Outside: Had it not been for the Colorado backpacking trips last year, this probably wouldn’t be as big of a worry. If you read my 2020 Lessons Learned blog, you know that I went poop a lot more on the Colorado trips than I had on previous trips. On the second trip it was particularly hard to find spots where it was easy to dig a cat hole. It was also fairly difficult to dig cat holes along the Ozark Highlands Trail. It’s not particularly enjoyable when you have to take a poop and you’re struggling to dig a cat hole. Hopefully there won’t be a lot of instances like this, but I’m sure there will be some.
Rattlesnakes: My guess is, on the animal front, most people would say grizzly bears or mountain lions are their biggest fear (I frequently get asked if I’m bringing some sort of weapon to protect myself). For me it’s rattlesnakes. Grizzly bears and mountain lions are intimidating, for sure. However, in all the backpacking I have done, I have yet to see a mountain lion, and I have only seen one bear (a long way off). Thus I probably realize the chances of having a run in with either of those is fairly small, and a run in that results in injury even smaller still. However, I have heard a lot of thru hikers say they have come across multiple rattlesnakes. What scares me so much about rattlesnakes is the difficulty of seeing them, and thus getting too close without realizing it. I haven’t heard of any thru hikers who actually got bit, but I have heard plenty say they got quite close to the snake before realizing it was even there.
Thunderstorms: I talked about this in my 2020 Lessons Learned blog. I love thunderstorms, unless I’m caught outside during one. With thru hiking, chances are quite high I’ll be stuck outside during one, probably several. There are several stretches of trail where there won’t be much cover either. This will probably be the most prevalent, and dangerous, fear I run into during the hike.
Annual Trip With My Brother: My brother and I have done a multi-day backpacking trip in the mountains each year for the last 7 years. In part due to hiking the CDT this year, it’s not looking promising for getting our trip in this year, and it will be a bummer if we break the streak. But we’ll see what happens. Maybe we’ll be able to work something out.
Letting Facial Hair Grow: I’m not a big fan of letting my facial hair grow out. I generally don’t go more than 3 or so days without shaving unless I’m backpacking. I currently don’t plan on shaving during this trip, which means it’s not going to take long for my facial hair to get longer than it has ever been before. We’ll see how that goes.
Over-Romanticizing: I have listened to so many people talk about their thru hikes and all of them have been overall positive. There have been bad days mixed in, but overall positive. Late in 2020 I read the book The Nature Fix by Florence Williams, which puts a really positive spin on spending time out in nature. In January I read Journeys North by Barney “Scout” Mann, which is about the journey of several people along the Pacific Crest Trail, and it was wonderful as well. I worry that all this is giving me too high of expectations for the hike, and I may not be prepared for, or I’ll struggle with, the difficult days when they happen. What if I get out there and it’s not living up to my expectations? Part of me thinks I should listen to a couple people who didn’t have a good experience on trail to help tamper my expectations. Haha. I’m definitely going to have to keep the quote at the bottom of this blog in mind.
Post Trail: This is the biggest fear of them all. Many hikers talk about getting “post trail depression” after completing one of these big thru hikes. Going back to “normal” life after an adventure like a thru hike can be quite difficult. I’m hoping job searching afterwards, as well as photo/video editing and potentially putting a book together, will at least give me something to keep me busy and prevent me from getting too down. However, if the job search starts to take a while, I could definitely see it being a struggle. What if things don’t work out? What if I can’t find a job I want? What if I’m stuck living with my parents for months and have to get a job I don’t like?
At this point you’re probably asking yourself, “Why does he even want to do this hike?” Haha. While this is a long list, I think the potential pros in the end far outweigh the potential cons. I have plenty of reasons for doing this hike, which you can find in my blog I posted announcing my hike.
And maybe it’s like that with every important aspect of your life. Whatever it is you are pursuing, whatever it is you are seeking, whatever it is you are creating, be carful not to quit too soon. As my friend Pastor Rob Bell warns: “Don’t rush through the experiences and circumstances that have the most capacity to transform you.” Don’t let go of your courage the moment things stop being easy or rewarding. Because that moment? That’s the moment when interesting begins.Big Magic – Elizabeth Gilbert
Back in mid-March I had intended to hike Woolum to Lake Ft. Smith (LFS) all in one go. Due to blisters on my heels I decided to call it quits at Ozone (after 79 of 164 miles). You can read the full trip report here. After calling it quits I was hoping I could get the blisters healed up enough by Easter weekend (when I had a couple days off work) so I could finish up the Ozone to LFS section. One of the blisters wasn’t healed up quite as much as I would have liked, but I felt it was good enough to go ahead and give it a shot, so on the morning of March 31 I set out to finish the Ozone to LFS section. This blog will dive into the day by day details, with some overall thoughts at the end. Mile markers (MM) are approximate.
Day 1: Ozone to Lewis Prong (MM 85-72)
My alarm went off at 4:30 A.M. and I was on the road to LFS around 5:15 A.M. My parents were meeting me there and would shuttle me to Ozone. I got to LFS around 8:15 A.M., made a quick trip to the restroom, transferred my stuff to my parents’ car, and then we hit the road. I remembered my sunglasses this time. We arrived at Ozone around 10:00 A.M. It was quite chilly. I put on my rain jacket before I started to help keep me warm. Just after hitting the trail it started to sleet, and then a few minutes later it started to snow. It snowed for a few minutes, pretty heavily for about a minute or so. It was pretty crazy. I had expected some rain, but wasn’t expecting any snow. I wasn’t sure if that was a good or bad omen.
I was a little nervous about crossing the Mulberry River, simply due to having “river” in the name. Some of the creek crossings had been a little difficult, and the only other river crossing (Buffalo River) had been quite difficult. When I reached Mulberry River I was relieved. Many of the creeks I had crossed were larger than the Mulberry. Haha. I ended up taking my shoes and socks off and crossing in my sandals. It looked like it would be quite a while until the next major crossing so I decided to keep my trail runners and socks dry. I wanted to try and do as much as I could this time to prevent blisters. Shortly after crossing the Mulberry I stopped to take off my rain jacket. I eventually got to Boomer Branch around noon. I stopped and had lunch at the creek.
I hit the trail again around 12:20 P.M. It got fairly windy at the top of the ridge between Hignite Creek and Waterfall Hollow. I stopped for a break in the Waterfall Hollow Falls area. I was a little bit worried about my feet. They hadn’t blistered, but they felt like they might. I ended up deciding not to tape them up. I took a break for a few minutes and then switched my outer socks for dry ones. (I was wearing liner socks and outer socks.) After that I continued on. The Waterfall Hollow Falls area was a cool area. It was slow going through there with my break and time spent taking pictures and video.
There were several different creek crossings around the first crossing of Lewis Prong. I was able to do all of them in my trail runners and only got my toes wet. At the second crossing of Lewis Prong I didn’t see any way to get across without getting my feet wet, and I decided to do it in my trail runners since I was fairly close to camp. When I got to the third crossing of Lewis Prong I decided there was no way I was crossing where the trail crossed. It looked way too deep with a strong current. I ended up going downstream a bit and was able to cross only getting my toes wet. That crossing was another really cool spot. I spent lots of time taking pictures and video there. I reached my planned camp spot just on the other side around 5:00 P.M. I thought about going another 3 miles to the next marked camp spot on the map, but decided against it.
I was a little bit rusty getting camp set up. Haha. After camp was set up I started making dinner. Around 5:45 P.M., in the middle of making dinner, Chris and Adriene showed up. They asked where the next camp spot was, and I told them about a mile down the trail. They decided to call it a day and camp at the same spot. I was happy to have some company to spend the evening with. They were from Michigan and were hiking the trail from Dockery Gap to Richland Creek. I believe at one point I mentioned getting ready for the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) and they said they plan on doing the Appalachian Trail (AT) next year. It was fun to get to talk about those plans.
I realized shortly before bed time that I had forgot to mention a camp spot just down the trail across the creek. Kind of felt bad about that. I had really bad gas the entire evening, so they may have wanted to be at a different site. Hopefully they don’t hold it against me. Haha. We all hit the sack around 8:00 P.M. I listened to a podcast for a while before trying to get to sleep.
Day 2: Lewis Prong to Lick Branch (MM 72-55)
On my second day I was up at 6:45 A.M. It was quite chilly. I had frost on/inside my tent. I was on trail around 8. It had been great to share a camp spot with Adriene and Chris. As was the norm for camping next to a creek, there was a big climb right away. The Arbaugh trailhead was at the top of the climb. The trail then descended down into Lynn Hollow. That was a really cool area. That was an area I likely would have enjoyed spending some more time exploring. After climbing out of there and crossing CR 6220 I came to a camp spot and took a snack break. After eating a snack, resting my feet, and snapping a few pictures, it was back on the trail. Between my start for the day and MM 65 there were a lot of waterfalls. Probably one of the better stretches of trail for a large number of waterfalls. After mile 65 there was another pretty good climb.
At this point it was getting close to lunch time and my water was starting to get a little low. The map didn’t show any streams until MM 59. I wasn’t going to make it that far before lunch. Just before noon I ended up coming to a small stream near MM 63 that had just enough water going over a waterfall that it allowed me to fill up my bottle. I stopped there and had lunch. It was a little bit of a scramble to get to where I could fill up my bottle, but I was glad to have some more water. As I was eating lunch a woman walked by with her dog. It appeared they were out for a day hike as the woman had a small pack. I swapped socks before hitting the trail again at 12:30 P.M.
There ended up being several small streams after that which weren’t marked on the map. The stretch of trail between MM 61 and 60 was really neat. That stretch had some of the best overlook views of the whole trail. Most of the overlook views are hindered by trees, but this stretch had some more open overlook views. When I reached a camp spot near MM 59 around 2:30 P.M. I decided to take a snack break. That was a cool camp spot. It was a little bit of a walk to water, but if you have a way to bring some extra water back to camp, it’s a great spot. The last three miles to camp were pretty rough. It was a big descent followed by a stretch that was really rocky, with lots of loose rocks. Definitely tough on the feet. I reached the lone wet foot creek crossing of the day right before camp. I switched into my sandals to cross. I got to camp around 4:00 P.M. This ended up being my least favorite camp spot I stayed at along the whole trail. It’s right at the Lick Branch trailhead and next to a road. It had been a long day already, and I wasn’t sure if there were any other spots just down the trail, so I decided to stay.
After getting to camp I dried out my tent footprint and the bottom of my tent. Once those were dry I got camp set up. After that I soaked my feet in the creek for a bit, made dinner, and then typed up notes for the day. This day was a nice change from the “normal” OHT day. Instead of several climbs, descents, and creek crossings, it was one big climb at the start, a 10 mile stretch of relatively little elevation change, and then a big descent at the end, with only one wet feet creek crossing. It was a nice change of pace. Despite being at a trailhead and next to a road, I didn’t see anybody that evening.
Day 3: Lick Branch to Hare Mtn. (MM 55-41.5)
On day 3 I was up at 7:00 A.M. There was a truck that drove by shortly before I got up. Once again I had some frost on/inside my tent. I was on the trail around 8:00 A.M. There was a climb up to Briar Gap before descending a bit to the Marinoni Scenic Area. That was one of my favorite areas along the whole trail. I spent some time at one of the waterfalls getting some video and pictures. I could have spent a lot more time in that area exploring, taking pictures, etc. After Marinoni there was about a mile stretch of walking in lots of pine stands above a drainage before descending down to Indian Creek. The stretch between Lick Branch and Indian Creek was probably my favorite stretch of trail.
I reached Indian Creek around 10:15 A.M. I stopped at the camp area before the creek and took a snack break. After the break I put my shoes back on knowing I might have to take them right back off. I didn’t want to walk to the creek in my sandals in case it was really rocky. I got to the creek after a short walk and determined the shoes would be coming off and I would be crossing in my sandals. Haha. One of my favorite waterfalls of the trip was around MM 47. It wasn’t the largest by any means, but the colors and the rock formations were really cool. I kind of regret not getting any pictures, but there were trees in the way and I didn’t feel like scrambling around to try and find a good picture spot.
I made it to Herrod’s Creek around 12:30 P.M. There were 4-5 stream crossings one right after the other. I crossed them all in my sandals. After the last crossing there was a campsite I stopped at for lunch. While I was eating I had a couple other backpackers go by, and then right as I was leaving a couple deer went by. I hit the trail again around 1:00 P.M. with 5 miles of uphill ahead of me before my camp spot. I wasn’t looking forward to that. It ended up not being too bad, but the last little bit of the climb was pretty tough. The views at the top were great though. At the top of the climb was Hare Mountain, the highest point on the OHT. There is a huge camping area at the top. There aren’t any creeks nearby, but thankfully there is a water well at the top. I was very thankful for having the Guthook app that made me aware of the well, otherwise I would have had to haul extra water there or camp somewhere else.
After getting to camp I got my tent footprint and bottom of tent dried. I then filled up my bottle and a bladder with water from the well. The bucket at the well leaked really bad, so it was a little bit of a circus trying to fill up the bottle/bladder before all the water leaked out. Haha. After that I got camp set up. Since I was on top of a mountain and had some spare time I figured I would try to post an update on social media. I ended up having service, but not quite good enough to post, so instead I typed up notes for the day. As I was doing that I noticed someone else setting up camp at another spot. I decided to walk down to the overlook area just outside the camping area and on the way stopped and chatted with the other backpacker (Clay). After chatting with him for a bit I went down to the overlook area, got some better cell service, and posted an update on social media.
After that it was dinner time. Near where Clay had set up camp there was a random picnic table. I would like to know the story behind getting that up to the camp spot (there are no roads that go up there). I grabbed my stuff for dinner and joined Clay at the picnic table. As we were eating dinner another backpacker showed up. It turned out to be Rob, the creator of the OHT Facebook group. After I finished eating I took my stuff back to my camp and had to take a poop. I mention this because someone had left a shovel at the camp spot, and I immensely thank whoever did this. I hate digging cat holes with my little backpacking trowel. The roots and rocks in the soil along the OHT made it fairly difficult. The shovel made it so much easier. Haha. After that I rejoined Clay and Rob at the picnic table and we chatted for a bit. The wind made it quite chilly, and we all had to bundle up. At sunset Rob and I went down to the overlook area and passed Angie and Karey as they came into the camping area. After staying at the overlook area for a few minutes we came back to camp and I decided to call it a day.
Day 4: Hare Mtn. – Spirit Creek (MM 41.5 – 23)
On day 4 I was up at 6:45 A.M. There was no frost and I had very little condensation inside the tent. That was nice. I packed up a bit and then took some video and pictures of the sunrise. I finished packing up and then joined Clay and Rob at the picnic table to eat my breakfast. A little while after I got there Angie and Karey got out of their tents. It was great starting out the day at the picnic table with the four of them. I was the first one to leave camp at around 8:00 A.M. It was nice to have a downhill to start the day for once.
There were great views just down the trail from the camping area. I spent a little while getting some pictures and video. It was quite chilly with the wind. The prior evening both Clay and Rob had mentioned something about running into a guy on the trail who had hurt his knee. He had decided to quit his hike and his partner had kept going. Right about mile 39 I ran into a guy walking towards me wearing a hoodie, sweatpants, and smoking a cigarette. I knew right away this was the same guy Clay and Rob had talked about since they mentioned the sweatpants. He asked me if I had just crossed a road, which I confirmed. He then turned around and walked a little ways back to where he had apparently made camp, with me following. He had apparently got some sort of directions from someone before his cell phone died. He told me thanks for confirming the road. It was quite odd. It definitely seemed like he was out of place. I would have liked to helped some more, but I wasn’t really sure if it was a good situation to be getting myself into, so I kept going once he turned off to go to his camp.
As I started to get closer to highway 23 it sounded like there was some sort of rally car race happening on the highway. Once again, quite odd. Haha. Once I got to the highway I finally figured out it was large groups of ATVs on the highway. Shortly after crossing the highway I made it to the Rock House. That thing was pretty cool. I took a snack break there and then took some pictures and video. There were a whole lot of ATVs that went by on the highway while I was taking my break there. Shortly before reaching Fane Creek I ran into a couple people hiking back out who had camped there. I got to Fane Creek around 12:45 P.M. I was hungry and pretty worn out. I used my sandals to cross the creek and stopped for lunch on the other side. While I was eating lunch several ATVs went by on the road across the creek. They seemed to be everywhere on this day.
I got back on trail around 1:20 P.M. and a short while later ran into a couple guys who were camping at Fane Creek. There was a difficult climb out of Fane Creek, but there were several miles afterwards that were good for making miles, with the exception of several mud pits. I stopped at a little creek shortly before the Ragtown trailhead for a snack break and to fill up water. After that there was a difficult climb up to the trailhead. As I got close to the trailhead I started to smell smoke, but it wasn’t really smoky so I wasn’t sure what the deal was. Shortly before reaching the trailhead I ran into a guy going the opposite way who warned me I was coming up on a prescribed burn area, but he said I could go through it. Sure enough, after crossing the road at the trailhead, the trail went into an area that had just been burned. It was pretty eerie walking through an area with logs still smoldering.
There was a camp spot right where the trail met Spirit Creek. Rob had actually recommended this spot since there were a couple cool waterfalls right there, but it was in the area they had burned. The wind was also blowing smoke up from the south. Thus, I decided to continue on to a camp spot further to the south hoping that it would have less smoke and be out of the burned area. I was able to rock hop across the creek where the trail crossed. There were several really cool waterfalls along the creek. It was a neat stretch of trail. I got to the camp spot at around 4:15 P.M. Thankfully it was outside of the burn area, but the area just across the creek was still in the burn area, so it still smelled like smoke. I wasn’t sure if there would be any other options relatively close if I continued on, so I decided to set up camp there.
After getting camp set up I soaked my feet in the creek for a bit, typed up notes, washed a pair of socks, and then made dinner. Shortly after finishing dinner a group of four other backpackers went by the opposite direction. It turned out they were all from Oklahoma City. It was cool running into a group from OKC. I listened to a podcast before trying to get to sleep. After it got dark I could look back up the trail and see a little bit of fire in the burn area. That was pretty crazy.
Day 5: Spirit Creek to Lake Ft. Smith (LFS) (MM 23-0)
On day 5 I was up at 7:00 A.M. I didn’t have any condensation on the inside of my tent. That was awesome. My plan starting the day was to make it to Hurricane Creek (MM 10). Since it would be a shorter day I thought about going back up trail a bit to check out the waterfalls I had skipped the day before, but decided against it. I hit the trail around 8:00 A.M. There was a hard climb up and out of Spirit Creek followed by a descent to Salt Fork Creek. Just before reaching Salt Fork I met a couple from Florida hiking the opposite direction doing LFS to Woolum. I got to Salt Fork at 9:40 A.M. It looked like I could rock hop across. Just before getting all the way across my left foot slipped off one of the rocks and went into the creek. That was frustrating. Had it not been for that I would have made it across with getting my feet minimally wet. There were a couple guys on the opposite side of the creek who said they were doing the Shores Lake Loop. After looking at my map that evening I believe they had missed a turn, so hopefully they didn’t go too much farther before figuring that out. There was another tough climb after that up to White Rock. I made it to the trail register around 10:30 A.M. and stopped at the campsite there for a break.
The two climbs that morning had worn me out. I wrote in the trail register something along the lines of “All downhill the rest of the day” and took a long snack break there. I hit the trail again around 11:00 A.M. It looked really smoky. I was hoping I didn’t have to go through any more prescribed burn areas. About 30 minutes after leaving White Rock I stopped at a small creek to fill up with water. Based on the map it didn’t look promising for water along the trail to Hurricane creek, so I filled up my bottle and most of one of my 2L bladders. As I kept walking, I started to realize the trail wasn’t going downhill, and came to the conclusion I should have written “generally downhill” in the trail register. Around MM 16 I passed three really small kids with (I’m assuming) their mom and grandma. Major kudos to the mom and grandma as it appeared they were carrying everything for the kids. They each had a fairly large backpack on.
After crossing FR-1003 the trail got fairly rough. It was on the side of a steep mountain in an area that had somewhat recently had a controlled burn done. There was very little shade. I finally found a spot at MM 14 to stop and have lunch around 12:30 P.M. There was a tree large enough to block enough of the sun to give me a shady spot to sit and have lunch. Definitely not ideal but it worked. I was really glad I had filled up the bladder with water since it allowed me to mix up an electrolyte drink and have some water to spare for the rest of the hike. I got back to hiking around 12:50 P.M. A little while after that it finally dawned on me that there was a relatively flat stretch of trail for several miles after White Rock and that it wasn’t all, or even generally, downhill the rest of the day. Only the last couple miles down to Hurricane Creek were downhill. I had seen that when looking at the map the day before, but for some reason I had thought it was all downhill when I reached White Rock. Haha.
I didn’t run into another decent creek until shortly before Hurricane Creek. This made me really glad I had stopped at that creek shortly after White Rock to fill up. If you’re hiking between Hurricane Creek and Salt Fork Creek in a drier time, you’ll likely want to pack extra water in that stretch. I’m not sure if the creek I stopped at dries up when it gets warmer and drier. I believe you can go into White Rock proper and fill up if you need to, but that’s some extra hiking.
About a mile before getting to camp my body decided it needed to take a poop. I ended up pushing through to camp. I crossed Hurricane Creek in my trail runners and immediately went to dig a cat hole after getting to camp. By the time I was finished digging the cat hole the urge had mainly gone away. I left the cat hole and walked back to camp. While walking back to camp I realized it was only 2:30 P.M. I walked around a bit to try to get the urge to come back, and finally got the poop out a few minutes later. After that I decided to go ahead and try to get to LFS before dark. I’m not sure what made me all gung ho all of a sudden to knock out 10 more miles. I dried my shoes out as best I could, switched socks, and got some food out to eat along the way since I likely wouldn’t be stopping for dinner. By the time I got back on trail it was 3:00 P.M. I figured if I was able to make 2 m.p.h. like I had been most of the trip I would get to LFS by 8:00 P.M., which would be just about the time it would be getting too dark to see without a headlamp. I figured I could make better time than that though, especially with not stopping for dinner.
I had one last big uphill climb to do right off the bat that took me to Dockery’s Gap. After Dockery’s Gap it was all generally downhill or flat. I knew this for sure. Haha. As I was going down the other side towards Jack Creek I ran into a group of 3 day hikers going the opposite direction and then down at Jack Creek I ran into a group of 3 backpackers going the opposite direction. I believe it was around mile 6 I ran into a group of three people who had set up camp for the day. I was excited when I finally saw the lake, but that was short lived as I realized I had to hike a ways around the lake. Haha. The last major creek crossing was Frog Bayou. Clay and Adriene from my first night had started their hike at Dockery’s Gap since the water level at Frog Bayou was apparently too high. It had been a few days since any significant precipitation so I figured the water level should be pretty low, but there was still a little bit of uneasiness about what I would find when I got there.
I made it to Frog Bayou around 5:15 P.M. It wasn’t a bad crossing at all. Most of it was about ankle deep, with a short stretch that was a little deeper. When I got to the other side I found a couple tent stakes on the ground, which was pretty ironic since I had lost two tent stakes on my OHT hike a couple weeks earlier. I picked them up and put them in my pocket. (In another ironic twist, I apparently left these at my camp spot at LFS as I can’t seem to find them now.) Just after MM 2 I ran into a family who had decided to do the Shepherd Springs Loop and had underestimated how long it was. They asked me if I had a map or knew how to get back to the campground. I told them to keep following the trail and it was about a mile and a half to the campground. I think that surprised them a bit. Haha. They’ll have a good adventure story to tell.
I made it to the trailhead at LFS at 6:45 P.M., much earlier than I thought I would make it there. I got a selfie by the sign and then went to find a camp spot in the campground. After getting a camp spot I made dinner, got camp set up, and then typed up notes for the day. I ended up covering about 23 miles in about 11 hours, with roughly 1.5 hours of break time. I was really happy with that. I was really sore laying in bed that night though.
This west half of the trail seemed to have fewer “wet feet crossings” than the eastern half, and it seemed to get drier as I went west, although the stretch from Dockery’s Gap to LFS had quite a few smaller creek crossings. That was definitely nice for keeping the feet dry, but I often found the creeks to be the more scenic sections of the trail.
There were lots more people out during this trip, which I’m sure had a lot to do with the better weather and holiday weekend. I enjoyed getting to spend a couple nights camping with other people.
On Friday and Saturday there were lots of ATVs out. I never actually crossed paths with any, but I could see them and hear them. Not really a big deal, but definitely wasn’t super peaceful hiking.
Although they sound really uncomfortable, the rock recliners at many of the campsites were awesome after a long day of hiking. I loved getting to a campsite that had those.
I thought the trail got quite a bit less interesting the last couple days. In particular the stretch after getting down from Hare Mountain to Dockery Gap. There were some scenic spots, but overall I found those last two days to be the most “boring” days.
I saw very little wildlife while I was out hiking. The only large wildlife I saw in the 164 miles were a few deer. Not a big deal for me, but if you’re looking for wildlife, this may not be the trail to choose.
I highly recommend taking trekking poles. There were countless times they saved me from completely falling when I tripped on a rock, root, branch, etc. They were also really helpful for the creek crossings. I would hate to try and do the hike without them.
Between all the entry points, this is a great trail for all sorts of different hikes. Day hikes, short sections hikes, or a thru hike. If you’re itching to get some hiking in outside of the normal summer “big mountain” hiking season, I think this is a great option.
Although it would have been great to do it all in one go, I’m actually really glad it worked out the way it did. It was a great experience and I definitely think it helped to get me prepared for my CDT hike.
Favorite Spots Between Woolum and LFS (in no particular order)
- Bloyd Ridge
- Cedar Creek
- Marinoni Scenic Area
- Hare Mountain
- Lynn Hollow
The main goal of my Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT) hike earlier this month was to use it as a “shakedown” hike for my upcoming Continental Divide Trail (CDT) hike. I wanted to get some systems/routines worked out, figure out if there was any gear that I didn’t like or that didn’t work, etc. There was plenty of new gear to test out. In order to mimic my CDT hike, I took along several pieces of gear I normally wouldn’t have brought along on this hike. This blog has some thoughts on what worked, what didn’t, and planned changes. (You can read my trip report here.)
Pack: Once I figured out how to wear the pack correctly and got it all adjusted, I was quite happy with it. There are three main concerns I have with it though. First, the waist straps. I have to have the waist straps cinched down as tight as they will go. Hopefully if I lose some weight along the CDT it won’t cause the pack to stop fitting. Second, the water bottle holders. Getting my bottle put back in on this pack is much more difficult than on my other pack. Third, there is really no spare room. It might be a little tricky figuring out how to carry extra water for parts of the CDT. I think as long as I don’t have a big food carry and big water carry all at the same time, I’ll be ok. Also, I don’t think this is quite as comfortable as my other pack. But, even with all that said, overall I was pretty happy with the pack, especially for saving a couple pounds over my other pack.
Experience in wet weather: I haven’t done a whole lot of hiking in wet weather. I have been stormed on up in the mountains, but I have never had day after day of rain and creek crossings and have done little hiking while it was actually raining. It was good to finally get some experience in that type of weather. My rain gear kept me dry from the rain, not so much from the sweat, which is a problem with most, if not all, rain gear. I quickly learned to tuck my shirt into my rain pants when it’s raining, otherwise the bottom of it gets soaked. Other than my tent (which I’ll discuss later), I didn’t seem to have any problems with water getting somewhere it shouldn’t be. Based on the forecast when I started the trip, I expected to be walking in the rain much more than I actually did. Although the experience was good, I was glad I didn’t have a lot of walking in the rain.
Mileage: I was quite worried about being able to string several 15ish mile days back to back to back. After I got my pack figured out, and excluding my feet, I was actually quite happy with how my body did. I was definitely sore and worn out at the end of each day, but I was able to make the mileage I needed, and my body seemed to recover pretty well each night. I even was able to get in just under 20 miles one day. I’m not sure how I would have felt by the end had I done the whole 164 miles, but this was at least an encouraging sign. I hope to start off a little slower than that on the CDT, but it was good to see how my body handled this mileage right off the bat. As long as I can get my feet figured out, I’ll feel pretty darn good about the physical part of it.
Creek Crossings: One of the things that made me most nervous during the trip was creek crossings. There were only two that ended up being fairly difficult: Buffalo River and the west crossing of Hurricane Creek. Thankfully I hit the water levels at a good time and made it across safely each time.
Maps: I had started out mainly using the Guthook app, but as I went along, I found myself looking more and more at the OHT Backcountry Maps from Underwood Graphics. It was really nice to pair the maps with Guthook as one often had a camp spot listed that the other didn’t.
Water: Speaking of Guthook, I was a little curious starting off since water sources on Guthook often had several miles between them. I brought bladders to carry extra water if needed (I actually wanted to try a big water carry at some point). Shortly before starting I had someone mention that “water was everywhere” and they were correct. There are many, many creek crossings that aren’t marked in Guthook. Some of them may dry up during certain times of the year, but I would be willing to bet there are a lot of them that don’t. So there is no shortage of places to stop and refill water.
Foods: I tried several foods on this trip that I hadn’t tried before. I really liked the yogurt covered raisins and dried mango for snacks. I’ll have to keep those in mind for future trips.
What Didn’t Work
Footwear: as I mentioned in my trip report blog, this is an obvious one due to the blisters. I’ll definitely have to figure out how to prevent those. I think next hike I’ll try using liners and different socks as well as lacing my shoes a little different. Hopefully that will help. But it was just as much about the constantly wet feet. I wore trail runners and crossed the creeks with those on. I didn’t bring any other shoes. Between the rain and creek crossings, from day 3 on my shoes were rarely dry. It was really annoying to get to camp and have nothing else to wear other than wet shoes when I wanted to dry out my feet. One option to fight this would be to bring waterproof boots and separate shoes to cross the creeks. This would help a lot where there is relatively shallow water running along the trail that gets into trail runners. My big problem with this is that it would add a lot of time to creek crossings. I had days where there were as many as 4-5 creek crossings that would have required changing shoes, which could add upwards of an hour spent crossing creeks. If you’re not on a time crunch, not a big deal. But if you’re trying to knock out some miles, this is less than ideal. What I’ll likely do if I hike the second half of the trail is bring some sandals to wear around camp at the end of the day. That way I can at least try to air out my feet for a bit at the end of the day. I’ll also likely bring an extra pair of socks (three pairs total) and try to change out socks a little more often. This shouldn’t be as big of a problem on the CDT, but it does have me reconsidering whether or not I want to bring along my sandals.
Camera: bringing along my DSLR has always been a hassle, but one I’ve been willing to put up with for short trips. I didn’t take my DSLR on my first couple backpacking trips and I still regret not doing that. However, after this trip, I realized that I likely won’t want to deal with the DSLR for 3,100 miles (distance of the CDT). I have already bought a Sony mirrorless camera to use instead, so the bulk and weight of my camera gear will definitely be going down, although it will be offset some by bringing along a gimbal for video purposes.
Umbrella: This is one of those items I normally wouldn’t have brought on this trip, but I plan on taking it on the CDT, so I wanted to give it a try. I tried it out right at the start of the trail while I had some room on the dirt road and quickly realized that I needed to figure out a different way to mount it. I was able to mount it, but it was so low I could only see a few feet in front of me. I’ll have to try and figure out a way to mount it a little bit higher.
My Mind: I forgot my sunglasses in my car, and then forgot a tent stake on two separate occasions. Hopefully I don’t have that frequent of instances of forgetfulness on the CDT.
Tent: In order to cut down on weight I bought the REI Flash Air 2 tent, and this was the first trip to use that tent. Between the condensation on the inside (an issue for all tents with that type of design) and issues with water getting inside the tent when it was raining, I wasn’t a huge fan of it. I believe the main issue with water getting in the tent was due to a bad seam, but I know there was also a little bit of water splashing into the tent when it was raining heavily. I’m debating on whether or not to use my old tent (which I like better but would add around 1 lb to my weight and I’m already on the heavy side) or exchange for a new Flash Air 2 and hope that the water getting in is due to a manufacturing defect on the tent I have.
Phone Case: I used a brand new waterproof case on my phone for this trip, and at some point mid-trip it broke. The piece used to turn the phone on/off silent fell out. I was able to put it back in, but it wasn’t in there very well. Thankfully that didn’t cause any issues. I have already purchased a different case to try on the next hike.
Slow Getting Going In Mornings: I got better towards the end of the trip, but some of that was due to not eating breakfast at camp and not brushing my teeth. It also didn’t help that I spent several minutes every morning but one drying off my tent. Hopefully I can get a little better at getting going in the morning as I get systems and routines worked out.
Sleeping Pad: This worked with the exception of apparently not being waterproof. This was another new piece of gear for this trip. I honestly like the sleeping pad I was using before much better, and it is waterproof, but it is much, much louder when I move around (which I do a lot), so I decided to go with this one. As long as I don’t get water in the tent, this shouldn’t be a big deal, but it was still a bummer to find that out.
Foods: I found out that I’m not a big fan of Idahoan potatoes (at least the mix I got). The Idahoan potatoes mix was also a ton of food. I could barely finish it. I also realized after I got home that the two pasta mixes I brought along required milk, which I didn’t have with me. Not sure how they would have turned out without the milk. Haha. Note to self: look at ingredients needed and instructions when purchasing food to bring on trail.
So, although cut short, the trip definitely did what it was supposed to do in providing feedback. I think it will actually turn out to be a good thing to make some tweaks and try those on my next hike (hopefully the second half of the trail). A second hike should give me some good practice with the new camera. I’m going to need it. And fingers crossed the blisters aren’t an issue on the next hike!
On March 11 I started a hike of the Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT) in northwest Arkansas that was supposed to go from Woolum to Lake Ft. Smith (LFS), a total of 164 miles. I was using it as a “shakedown” hike for my upcoming hike of the Continental Divide Trail (CDT). In other words, test out gear, systems, etc. to figure out what worked and what didn’t and allow time to make needed changes prior to starting the CDT. Due to a blister that kept getting worse on my right heel I called it quits at Ozone, 79 miles in. This blog is a day by day account of the trip, with some overall thoughts at the end. Mile markers are approximate.
Day 1: Woolum to Dry Creek (MM 164-153)
Day 1 started with my alarm going off at 4:30 A.M. I got stuff packed up and put in the car and hit the road to LFS around 5:15 A.M. I arrived at the park around 8:15 A.M., used the restroom in the visitor center, transferred my stuff to my parents’ car, and then we hit the road to Woolum. I realized about 20-30 minutes after leaving my car that I had left my sunglasses in my car, but at that point I didn’t want to take the time to turn around and get them. As we were going through Harrison we noticed the Walmart, so we stopped there so my parents could fill up with gas, and I went in and found some sunglasses to use on the trip. We got to Woolum at 11:30 A.M. I ate lunch, said goodbye to my parents, and hit the trail at noon.
Right off the bat I had to cross the Buffalo River. I had seen a post on Facebook just a few days prior of a couple guys swimming across the river at the end of their hike. I really didn’t want to swim across and get completely soaked right off the bat. When doing some research on this crossing I had come across a blog post that said it was apparently possible to cross without swimming by going upstream just a bit. I took several minutes trying to figure out where the most ideal crossing appeared to be. The image above shows approximately where I finally decided to cross (red line). It was impossible to tell how deep the river was all the way across, so I just took my best guess and thankfully I got lucky and it didn’t involve any swimming and I didn’t fall in. At its deepest it was just over my knees. (I’m 5’9” and the St. Joe gauge was at just over 5 feet at the time.)
After getting across I stopped to get the gravel out of my shoes and then continued on. It started out with a dirt road walk for about the first 4 miles and then took off on a trail. The trail was a bit difficult to follow due to being covered in leaves, but it was well blazed so that helped. It rained lightly for a little bit around 2:30 P.M. I got into my rain jacket, but it never ended up raining hard enough to really need it. Overall the weather was really nice for the hike. After 11 miles I got to Dry Creek at around 5:00 P.M. and decided to stop for dinner. I had an Idahoan potatoes mix for the first time and wasn’t a fan of it. Thankfully I had put some jerky sticks in it which helped. It was a lot of food as well. I was wishing I had split it into two servings. It was good to find out I’m not a big fan of those though.
After I finished eating it started to drizzle, so I hurried as best I could with a new tent to get camp set up. My tent requires trekking poles to set up, and as I was setting it up I realized one of my trekking pole tips was caked in mud. I went to the creek to wash it off and had a heck of a time washing it off. I’m not sure if it was mud or some sort of animal feces or what, but it was a pain to get off. I finally got camp set up, brushed my teeth, and did some planning for the next day. I could already tell my heels were starting to get sore and possibly blister, so that worried me. I typed up my notes for the day, listened to a podcast for a bit, and then called it a day.
Day 2: Dry Creek to Falling Water Creek (MM 153-138.5)
My alarm went off at 6:00 A.M. and I was up shortly after that. I had a decent amount of condensation on the inside of the tent. It had rained a bit overnight so the outside of the tent was wet as well. I packed my backpack inside the tent and dried off the tent as best I could before taking it down and putting it into my backpack. I hit the trail around 7:15 A.M. It was much longer than I would have liked between getting up and hitting the trail. It would have been faster had I not spent time drying the tent and eating breakfast. I was in fog for the first couple hours of the hike. The hike up and out of Dry Creek was really cool. There were likely some good views I missed out on because of the fog, but the fog was really cool as well. The picture above was taken that morning. I also found out the fog was handy for making it easy to see spider web strings going across the trail.
I got a little bit confused when I hit the Stack Rock trailhead as the blazes ended for a bit and Guthook didn’t show a short section of the road. I finally figured it out and continued on. It looked like they had recently completed a controlled burn in the area. The morning hike was difficult with lots of boggy/marshy and rocky areas. Definitely not good for feet that already seemed to be getting blisters. I ended up running into Benjamin right before Richland Creek and we stopped and chatted for a bit. He had driven down from Minnesota and was going from LFS to Woolum. It was nice to visit with someone else on the trail. I actually forgot to ask his name, but there was a trail register just down the trail that I was able to get it from.
I got to Richland Creek at around 11:45 A.M. It had been beautiful hiking weather all morning. I ate lunch next to the creek. There was a couple car camping not too far away. It was a cool spot. I hit the trail again around 12:45 P.M. It was a pretty steep climb out followed by a pretty steep descent. The trail was a little easier on the feet. My shoulders and heels were killing me though. I played around with some adjustments on my pack to try and help the shoulder pain. I knew if I didn’t figure something out I wasn’t making it the 164 miles. By the time I reached camp at 2:45 P.M. I hadn’t made a whole lot of progress in helping the shoulder pain. I was really glad to finally get to camp. I soaked my feet in the creek for a bit and then set up camp. As I was setting up camp I realized I was short a tent stake. I figured I must have left it at my camp spot that morning. With the new tent I was using I didn’t have to pull the tent stakes out of the ground to put up the tent, so I must have forgot to pull one out of the ground when I was packing up. Ironically I had considered putting in a couple spare stakes prior to the trip but decided not to. I ended up using some cord that came with the tent and wrapping that around a rock which worked fine.
Shortly after getting camp set up it started to rain lightly. I hopped in my tent and went over the plan for the next day. After that I laid down until around 5:00 P.M., at which point I got out and cooked dinner. Thankfully there was a break in the rain long enough for me to get to have dinner outside of the tent. After dinner I got into the tent and listened to a podcast for a bit. While I was doing that it started to rain again. I was hoping it would stop raining so I could get out of the tent to brush my teeth, but I finally gave up on that and brushed my teeth inside the tent. I ended up spitting into the bottle I used for for drink mixes (rinsed it out the next morning). Not ideal, but it worked. Haha. After that I called it a day.
Day 3: Falling Water Creek to Buck Brn (MM 138.5-122)
I got up about 6:15 A.M. on day 3. My tent was wet again in the morning due to the rain. I noticed when I was packing up that my sleeping pad had got wet and soaked through. It wasn’t sopping wet, but it was definitely damp. That was a bummer. I ended up hitting the trail around 7:30 A.M. I stopped just down the trail for some photos. As I was finishing that up it started to rain. I put on my rain gear and actually needed it this time. Before long it was raining fairly hard. Having to do a tough uphill climb out of Falling Water Creek in my rain gear with it raining fairly hard wasn’t very pleasant. Even though I wasn’t getting soaked by the rain, I was pretty sure I was getting somewhat wet from my sweat. Haha. I was really glad to reach the top of that climb. It rained pretty steady for the first 4 miles or so, and then on and off after that. Although it wasn’t particularly pleasant, it was good practice as I haven’t done much hiking in the rain. I learned that I need to tuck my shirt into my rain pants, otherwise the bottom of it will get soaked.
When I reached the Ben Hur trailhead I stopped and signed the trail register. I took off my pack while doing so. After that I had a lightbulb moment with my pack. I ended up putting it on a little bit higher than I had been, and messed with a couple other adjustments, and that ended up helping a lot. After that the shoulder pain wasn’t much of an issue. There were still a few instances where they would get sore, but nothing like they had been up to that point. I was really thankful I finally got the pack figured out. Except for the initial climb in the morning and the descent to Richland Creek, most of the morning was fairly easy walking. There wasn’t a whole lot of rocky sections, which was nice. The area around Richland Creek was really neat. I should have taken it slower through that area, but I was frustrated with being wet and figured it was a good time to make some miles since I didn’t want to get my big camera out. I had to get my feet wet crossing Richland Creek.
I stopped at around 11:30 A.M. to have lunch next to a creek between MM 130 and 131. Just as I started to take off my rain gear it started to rain lightly. I ended up having lunch in a light rain/drizzle, which was frustrating. I got back on trail around noon. I was finally able to take off my rain coat around MM 128. Shortly after that I ran into Boy Scouts Troop 397 doing a short section hike from Fairview to the Moore CCC camp. I chatted with a couple of their leaders for a few minutes. They gave me a heads up that storms were in the forecast for Sunday night. I was already aware of that possibility when I started the hike, but it was nice to get an update and confirm that was still in the forecast.
I got to Fairview Campground around 3:00 P.M. I took my rain pants off and took a break for a bit. I had a snack and used the restroom while I was there. I got back on the trail around 3:30 P.M. There were two miles left until camp, all downhill and fairly steep at times. Between Fairview and camp I ran into a group of 7 people doing a section hike from Ozone to Fairview. They let me know the Hurricane Creek crossings were doable, although one of them was difficult. That was good info to have.
I got to camp around 4:30 P.M and got camp set up. The rest of the evening was my normal routine with dinner, typing up notes, and planning out the next day. Between the rain and creek crossings, my feet were wet pretty much the whole day. I was definitely tired of wearing wet shoes and socks by the end of the day. I went to bed knowing that the next day would likely be a rough day.
Day 4: Buck Brn to Haw Creek Campground (MM 122-102.5)
On day 4 I was up at 7:00 A.M. It was still pretty dark when I got up, and it threw me off for a couple seconds when I saw 7:00 on my phone, but then I realized it was due to the time change. It had rained yet again overnight, so this was another morning with time spent drying the tent as best I could with my towel. I hit the trail at 7:45 A.M. I knew it was likely to be a long day. There was a camp spot around 16 miles in, which was ideal distance wise, but it was up on a ridge and it didn’t look like there was water anywhere near. Between the lack of water and thunderstorms in the forecast, I wasn’t too keen on that spot. Anything shorter would have put me a bit behind schedule, so I decided to try to make it to Haw Creek Campground, which was just under 20 miles. In addition, I wanted to get across the second crossing of Hurricane Creek, which was about 13 miles in, before the storms came through. So in addition to be a long distance day, I needed to hike it pretty hard to try and beat the storms. Ideally I would beat the storms to the campground, but at a minimum I needed to beat them to the second creek crossing. Thus why I wasn’t too thrilled about the day. Haha.
The first four miles didn’t get off to a good start for making good time. It was really rocky and it was a really cool stretch of trail. If I had to pick a favorite spot during this trip I would pick the Bloyd Ridge area. I took a little bit of time and snapped some photos but I would have loved to spent some more time going through that area. The trail got better for making time and miles once I got down to the Hurricane Creek area. Not too long after getting close to Hurricane Creek there were a couple light blue blazes intermingled with the white blazes. That threw me off a little bit. After that the blazes were few and far between for most of the day, especially compared with the rest of the trail up to that point. As I was hiking along I texted my dad through my inReach and asked him about the storm timing. He said storm chances started at 1:00 P.M. and peaked from 3:00 P.M. to 7:00 P.M. I felt comfortable that if the storms were later in the afternoon I would likely be ok with getting across the second creek crossing, but if they were as early at 1:00 P.M. I might be in trouble.
I made it to the first crossing of Hurricane Creek at 11:15 A.M. It was a fairly wide crossing, but it never got above my knees, and wasn’t too swift. After I got to the other side I took a break for a few minutes to eat some trail mix and then hit the trail again. This stretch between the first and second crossing was where I had the most trouble following the trail my whole trip. It wasn’t bad by any means, but there were a couple areas where I actually lost the trail and it took me a minute or two to get back on it. I believe both times I missed a turn in the trail. I made it to the second crossing a little after 1:00 P.M. This one definitely looked more difficult than the first one. I took a couple minutes scouting out different crossing options, and where I finally decided to cross it looked like there was a short part that was fairly deep and swift. It ended up being a little over my knees in a couple spots, fairly swift, and was a little bit slick. I would say it was the second hardest crossing of the whole trip behind the Buffalo River. Thankfully I made it across without going in though. It may have been a wild ride if I had slipped and gone in.
When I got to the other side I took a longer break than I had originally planned. For a few seconds I thought I had left an insole on the opposite side, but then realized I had left it in my shoe instead of taking it out prior to crossing. That was a relief. I ate some food and drank an electrolyte mix. While I was there I noticed the tape was coming off my right foot. I pulled it off and noticed the blister was fairly large and had opened up. I wasn’t too thrilled about that. I went ahead and took the tape off my left foot as well. I hung out for a bit to let them air out some before taping them back up. I ended up taping up the right foot again and leaving the left foot without tape. It was starting to look stormy so I put on my rain pants shortly before leaving, and then finally hit the trail around 1:45 P.M., thankful to have made it across before the storms came through.
The next goal was to get up and over the ridge before the storms came through. It started to rain lightly around 3:15 P.M. when I was walking across the top of the ridge. It rained lightly on and off for the rest of the afternoon, which was really annoying with trying to decide what to do with my rain gear. There were at least 2 or 3 iterations of putting my jacket on, hiking a bit, and then taking it back off again, which required a stop each time taking it off or putting it on. I finally made it to camp around 4:30 P.M. I was so worn out. My feet had had it for the day. The campground was nearly empty. There were several tents set up in a spot, but nobody to be found. It was kind of odd. I found the fee station and looked at the info. According to one of the signs, the campground didn’t open “until the Friday prior to the third weekend in March,” which would mean the campground was closed. There was also a sign warning of a flash flood risk, which didn’t make me feel real comfortable. Haha. There was a $10/night fee, but all I had with me were a couple $20 bills. I thought about going farther, but I was so worn out I decided to stay. I didn’t pay at that moment and figured I would see if I could get some more info on if the campground was actually open and/or if I could find somebody with change for a $20.
I picked one of the camp spots near the entrance to the campground and got my tent set up. I believe a little after 5 was when I started to hear thunder. I got everything put into my tent, and not too long after that it started to rain pretty hard. Shortly after it started raining the group of people that the tents belonged to showed up. Shortly after getting into the tent I started making dinner, and while I was doing that a stake come loose on my tent. I had to get out in the rain to put the stake back in so one side of my tent wouldn’t fall in. I also had a little bit of an issue with water splashing in to my tent when it was raining hard, and I believe there was some water coming through one of the seams in a corner. So a little bit of a frustrating stretch. I finished up dinner, typed up notes for the day, charged my phone and inReach, and made plans for the next day. I made a run to the bathroom shortly before going to bed while there was a little bit of a lull in the rain, and brushed my teeth in my tent once again. It was a long day, but I was so glad to have won the race against the storms.
Day 5: Haw Creek Campground to Little Piney Creek (MM 102.5 – 88)
On day 5 I was up around 7:15 A.M. It was a rough night. I’m a side sleeper, but it was uncomfortable to sleep on my sides due to sore hips. It also was uncomfortable to lay on my back because of the blisters on my heels. Haha. Since it was going to be a shorter day (“only” 13 miles) I took my time getting out of camp in the morning. Due to all the rain my tent and the tent footprint were a mess. I dried off the tent as best I could. I ended up taking the footprint to the nearby creek and got most of the mud washed off of it. After I got nearly everything packed up I went over to the creek and got some pictures (see picture at top of post). It was a really cool area. Unfortunately, due to all the rain, the water had turned from the beautiful blue color to brown. That was a bummer. Just as I was about to leave I ran into who I assumed was the campground host (he was cleaning the bathrooms). There were also a couple other spots at the campground that had been taken after the rain started. At that point I figured the campground was actually open. I asked the host if he had change for a $20, and he was able to give me change. That was awesome. After chatting with him for a bit I hit the trail just before 9:00 A.M. and paid my fee on the way out. The trail provides!
Right after leaving camp I had to cross the creek. Thankfully it was an easy crossing. There were a couple good photo ops right after I started. That seemed to be a theme of the trip. There ended up being several creek crossings in the first 4 miles that required getting my feet wet. I took my socks off and removed my insoles for the first couple, and then just decided to walk through the rest of them. There were lots of marshy/boggy areas and small creeks running down the trail as well. The descent down to Cedar Creek was a neat area, but I ended up slipping on a rock and falling on my way down. My left side took the brunt of the impact. I scraped up my elbow pretty good, but that seemed to be the worst of it. It could have been a lot worse. It was probably overdue. I was actually quite amazed I hadn’t slipped and fallen on a wet rock up to that point. I had come close a few times, but never fully fell.
I made it to Cedar Creek around noon. That was a really cool area. I stopped at a camp site and had lunch, and while doing so had some of my stuff laying out to dry out. It was nice to get some stuff dried out. The morning had started out foggy, but it burned off pretty fast and turned into a beautiful day with blue skies. I was so thankful to see the sun. I realized when I started to get stuff out for lunch that I had put a pretty good dent in the bottom of my water bottle when I fell. Thankfully I hadn’t punctured it, although I had a couple bladders I could have used if needed.
I got back onto the trail around 12:30 P.M. and finally put the sunglasses to use for the first time. The trail on the climb out of Cedar Creek was a bit crowded. There was lots of brush close to the trail that made it hard to use my trekking poles. Still easy to follow the trail though. It got somewhat windy on the ridges in the afternoon. There hadn’t been much wind the whole trip up until that point. It still wasn’t bad though. Bear Skull Falls was another really cool spot. Unfortunately the light wasn’t great for pictures. There were lots of downed trees on the climb out of Lick Creek. It kind of felt like a tree graveyard. It had happened a while back and all the trees that fell across the trail were cleared. I had originally planned to stay at a camp spot near MM 89.5, but I got there fairly early and wasn’t a huge fan of the spot, so I decided to go to another spot a mile down the trail. I got to that spot around 4:00 P.M.
I got camp set up and in the process realized I must have left another tent stake at Haw Creek Campground, since I was now down to four. That was really frustrating. Thus I ended up having to use a couple rocks this time. You would think I would learn my lesson after the first time. After camp was set up I washed my hiking clothes off in the creek, and then took a sponge bath myself. While I was doing this I was in my underwear and somebody happened to drive by on a nearby road. Thankfully they didn’t look my way, otherwise I’m sure they would have been pretty surprised. I put on my sleeping clothes and hung my hiking clothes to dry. I was hoping they would dry out before the sun went down, otherwise it was going to be a cold start to the next morning. I tried not to move around camp much since it meant putting on my wet shoes. I eventually decided just to walk around camp barefoot, which probably wasn’t the best idea. Thankfully I never stepped on anything sharp. I made dinner, looked at plans for the next day, ate a snack, and then got everything put in my tent. Thankfully my hiking clothes dried out for the most part. For some reason my phone went through 75% of its battery during the day, so I go that charged up during the evening. I’m not sure if I left video mode on for a while at some point or what.
As I was about to call it a day, I pulled the tape off my foot and noticed how large the blister was getting. I knew at that point I should probably call it quits. I may have been able to make it to the end, but my right heel probably would have been quite ugly by the end. I texted my parents through my inReach and they said they could pick me up at Ozone the next morning. That was great. After that I hit the sack.
Day 6: Little Piney Creek to Ozone Campground (MM 88-85)
For day 6 I was up at 7:15 A.M. There was a little condensation inside my tent, but not as bad as it had been, likely due to the fact that I was finally able to leave my rain fly open overnight. Even better, I finally had a morning where the outside of my tent was dry. It was so nice not to have to mess with drying off the tent. The hike to Ozone was only 3 miles. I decided to leave tape off of my foot for the hike. I had told my parents I would be there around 9:30 or 10:00 A.M. I hit the trail a little after 8 and had to cross Little Piney Creek right away. I struggled with this crossing. Haha. It looked fairly deep where the trail crossed. Just upstream from the trail there were a couple logs that went across the creek, but one of them was several feet above the creek, and there was nothing to use for balance. I didn’t feel like sitting and scooting across, and I didn’t trust that I could keep my balance all the way across. I went back and forth a few times in my debate on how to cross, and eventually decided to cross where the trail crossed. That almost went bad in a hurry. The bank where the trail meets the creek is quite steep. As I started to go in, the bank gave way a little bit and I started to slide in. I was able to catch myself, mainly due to my trekking poles, but I noticed that it was likely at least thigh deep, if not deeper. I was able to get out and went upstream just a bit and crossed where it was much shallower. I should have done that all along. Haha.
The second crossing of Little Piney Creek wasn’t a big deal. The climb up to Ozone was fairly tough. I was glad I did it in the morning when it was cool. I reached Ozone around 9:45 A.M., and my parents showed up about 5 minutes later. I got my stuff put in their car and it was off to LFS.
Although it was a bummer to quit early, there was still lots of great lessons/feedback learned in the time I was on the trail, and I had roughly doubled the mileage I had done on any previous single trip. It might actually be kind of nice to make a few tweaks and try those out on the second half of the trail. I’ll cover most of this in my gear blog. The biggest takeaway for me was footwear. This seems like an obvious choice due to the blisters, but it has just as much to do with the wet feet as it does with the blisters. I don’t remember the first couple days being too bad with wet feet, but from day 3 on it was rare for my shoes to be even remotely dry due to rain or small creeks running down the trail or large creek crossings. I’ll get into the footwear discussion more in my gear blog. It will probably be a somewhat lengthy part of that post.
In my opinion most of the trail wasn’t that particularly beautiful, but there were definitely some really cool/beautiful spots and sections. I think it would be more beautiful once the vegetation starts to green up. However, at that point it’s likely warmer weather and you’ll have to deal with more ticks, so definitely some trade offs. I never spotted a tick on me, which blew my mind. The blue color of the water (as long as there hasn’t been a recent heavy rain) is amazing. Although the trail was a little bit difficult to follow in spots due to the leaves, it was really well blazed for the most part. Thank you to everyone who has put the blazes along the trail. Those were really helpful. They are so frequent in some spots that you go a couple minutes without seeing one and you start to wonder if you’re off trail. Haha. Also thanks to everyone who does trail maintenance. There were thorny bushes all over the place along the trail, which I’m sure makes trail maintenance difficult and sometimes painful. Between the rocky sections, the potential for constant wet feet, and not so level trail in some spots, the trail can be pretty rough on your feet. I would definitely say it is maintained trail, but not “groomed” trail.
The leaves were a whole new experience. Like I already mentioned, they made it difficult to follow the trail in some spots. It was also really annoying not being able to see some smaller rocks underneath the leaves. You never knew when you were going to take a step and land on a rock you couldn’t see. I can’t even imagine doing this trail in the fall after the new leaves have fallen. It was also pretty annoying to have the leaves get stuck to my trekking poles. However, I’m sure I would have been walking through a lot of mud if it wasn’t for the leaves, so I was thankful for that aspect of them.
Finally, a huge thanks to my parents who put in around 800 miles shuttling me around. I’m very thankful to have parents who are willing and able to do that for me.
Hopefully there will be a part two coming soon, but we’ll see how things to over the next couple weeks.
I haven’t said much about the CDT since posting my announcement that I’ll be hiking it, and there have been some developments in the last couple weeks, so I thought it’s a good time for an update.
A couple weeks ago I had some realtors come by to start the discussions about selling my house. All of them said my house would sell quickly (and at a price I was happy with) based on the market right now. That was encouraging. I got a realtor picked out, and then it was a matter of figuring out when we would need to list it, which would depend on when I would be leaving work.
When I gave my notice at work back in October, I told them that I could stick around until either mid-April or mid-June. I learned this past week that they will be keeping me around until June, which really wasn’t much of a surprise. With that in mind my realtor and I decided to list the house in early May. That makes me a little nervous since it gives some time for something to happen to the housing market. I looked into apartments that would do short leases, and wasn’t particularly thrilled with what I found. They were either more than I want to pay, or weren’t particularly appealing. After that I did some reading about forecasts for the housing market, and pretty much everybody seems to think it should stay fairly hot this year, so I think I’ll take my chances and list the house in late April/early May. Fingers crossed!
I have gone through my gear a couple times this month and weighed stuff and tried packing it into my pack. After the first round I realized it weighed more than I would prefer, so I purchased a new tent this past Friday to drop a couple pounds. I was hoping to avoid that, but it was needed. Even with the new tent it is heavier than I would like, but I don’t plan on making any other changes at this point. There will likely be a gear blog after my Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT) hike next month.
The June start date means I will be starting at the Canada border (likely mid to late June) and going SOBO (southbound). There are pros and cons to this:
- I would rather finish in the mountains at the north end than in the desert at the south end.
- Starting in the mountains will be harder than starting in the desert.
- I will break my streak of consecutive OKC Memorial races (currently at 8). There was a small chance I could still make the race if I started in April and hiked NOBO, but I won’t be finished in time going SOBO.
- Later start date hopefully allows some more time to get COVID under control before starting, although I’m not too terribly optimistic.
- San Juan Mountains should be a lot better going SOBO (assuming they don’t get some major, early snow storms). NOBO hikers generally run into a bunch of snow in the San Juans, and it’s fairly common for them to take an alternate route through there. The snow should be gone by the time I go through, and there were a lot of SOBO hikers last year that had amazing fall color pictures in the San Juans. I’m hoping I can time that right.
I’m sure I’ll think of more pros/cons over the next few months, but that’s what I can think of right now. While it’s definitely nice to have the starting point/timeframe figured out, there is a lot about the start that is still up in the air. Last year a good chunk of Glacier National Park (GNP) was closed, including the official CDT route. I believe most people did a road hike on the west side of the park. I don’t think any official decision has been announced yet in regards to what will be open this year. I would definitely like to hike on the official trail through the park, but if that is closed, I’ll have to figure out another route to the Canadian border. So lots to be figured out there still.
Other than that, not much more to put out there at this point. I have had a few people ask if I’m busy planning the hike. There really isn’t a whole lot to plan with the hike itself. More of the planning/preparation will have to do with life stuff (selling the house, getting storage figured out, getting business stuff sorted out, etc.). Haha. Really for the hike itself it’ll mainly be figuring out a start date and point, and then figuring out where I need to send resupply boxes and if I want any particular gear sent to a particular place. I’ll probably spend some time pretty soon figuring out alternate routes at the northern end in case the CDT in GNP is closed. I do still plan to do a “shakedown” hike on the OHT in mid-February to test out new gear and make sure I’m happy with everything. I’m really looking forward to that. There will definitely be some pictures and updates after that.
I’ll keep everybody updated as more things come into focus.
This year I was able to get in three different backpacking trips: Eagle Rock Loop (AR), Weminuche Wilderness (CO), and South San Juan Wilderness (CO). The links will take you to the trip summaries. Each trip was quite unique, and each had lessons to be learned. I have compiled the main ones I can remember below.
Hikes outside the “big mountains” can be quite difficult. I figured, being at lower elevation, and with no huge elevation gains or losses, that the Eagle Rock Loop wouldn’t be too challenging. It ended up wearing me out a lot more than I expected. The ups and downs were pretty much straight up and down (no switchbacks), and the bunches of small ups and downs definitely added up. I’m sure it helped being at lower elevation though. For not being in the “big mountains”, I was actually quite impressed with this hike.
Wear rain gear when hiking through wet vegetation. It rained a decent amount early in the Weminuche Wilderness trip. For some reason it never crossed my mind to put on my rain gear the second day while hiking through dense, wet vegetation until after I was completely soaked. I think part of it was that I didn’t realize we would be walking through so much wet vegetation, and another part of it was I didn’t realize just how wet the vegetation would be. My brother and I learned our lesson pretty quickly, and on the third day we put on our rain gear before we hit the trail since it appeared we would be walking through wet vegetation again.
Bring more toilet paper than you think you need. Probably TMI for some of you, but I’ll explain: For whatever reason, on previous backpacking trips, I would rarely take a poop during the trip. As soon as we got back into town, I would need to go, but during the trip, I usually didn’t. I figured the Weminuche Wilderness trip would be more of the same, so I didn’t pack a whole lot of toilet paper. However, on that trip, I ended up taking a poop every day but the first, I believe. I’m guessing it had to do with the change in food. We ended up running out of toilet paper at the end of the third day. My brother made it back to the campground before he had to go again, but I had to use some natural material to wipe on the fourth day of the trip.
Rock chucks can be destructive. You can read about the destructive rock chuck in my Weminuche Wilderness trip summary. The picture at the top of the blog is just one of the pieces of gear that it damaged. For whatever reason, all the gear it decided to go after was my brother’s. I felt pretty bad for him. We had camped around rock chucks before and never had any problems, so it didn’t even cross our minds there would be any issues. I have since heard of other people having this problem as well. It definitely made us wary of camping around rock chucks in the future!
Filter/bottle freezing prevention. My brother and I changed up how we did water on the Weminuche Wilderness trip (more about that here). I left the cap for my bottle in the car when we hit the trail. After the cold front came through, I was concerned that the temperature might drop below freezing. Normally I would put the filters in Ziploc style bags and then keep them in the sleeping bag overnight, but I realized that I didn’t bring any extra Ziploc style bags for this. I also realized that, without my cap, I couldn’t seal my bottle without the filter on it, which meant I couldn’t keep it in the tent overnight if the filter was in my sleeping bag. Forgetting the Ziploc style bags was an oversight on my part. I knew to bring those and just spaced it out. Leaving the cap was definitely due to not being used to using a bottle.
Write down the parmesan amount (or add it before). For the Weminuche Wilderness trip, I tried several Backcountry Foodie recipes for dinner (more about that here). I believe all the recipes I tried called for parmesan cheese, and they had recommended using single serving packets to help the cheese last longer. Instead of dumping the cheese into the spice packets when I was preparing the meals, I brought along the single serve packets and was going to put the parmesan cheese into the meal when I was making it in the backcountry. What I didn’t realize was that the backcountry instructions for the meals didn’t include the amount of parmesan cheese to include. So I just had to wing it. Haha. In the future, I’ll likely go ahead and put the parmesan cheese in the spice packets while I’m preparing the meals at home instead of bringing the single serve packets with me.
Don’t cinch my pack too tight. On the first day of the Weminuche Wilderness trip, it felt like my pack was riding a little bit too low on my waist, so I cinched the hip belt down pretty tight. After we reached our destination, my right hip/upper thigh/groin area was really, really sore. It hurt way more than it had done on any previous trip. The only thing I could think of was that I had the hip belt a little bit too tight. I didn’t tighten it up quite as much the rest of the trip, and never had that problem again.
Be thankful for trail crews. There were sections on all three trips where I had to deal with lots of blow downs, or the trail wasn’t even existent. It made me realize just how nice maintained trails are. So big shout out and thank you to all the trail crews out there maintaining the trails! After I finished my South San Juan Wilderness trip, I ran into a trail crew in the parking lot that had just finished doing trail maintenance. It was the first time I had ever run into a trail maintenance crew. I would have loved to stay and chat with them for a while, but I wanted to get the “mouse in my car” situation taken care of as fast as possible, so I didn’t stick around. I’m not sure if I’m more mad at the mouse for trashing my car or causing me to miss that opportunity to chat with the trail crew.
Mice can get into closed vehicles. On a camping trip a couple years back I had a mouse get into the passenger compartment of my car. I figured it got into some stuff I had laying on the ground that later got put into the car, or managed to jump in the car when the doors were open at some point. After getting a mouse in my car a second time on the South San Juan Wilderness trip, I was a little bit baffled. I was pretty sure it couldn’t have got into anything I left laying around, as I was pretty careful about not doing that. My dad ended up doing some research online, and apparently it’s somewhat common for mice to be able to get into the passenger compartment of a closed vehicle. I had no idea. Definitely nice to know. Will be better about leaving food in the car from now on.
I have a love/hate relationship with thunderstorms. I love the sound of thunder in the mountains, and it’s nice to get the cloud cover in the afternoon to keep it cool in the tent. I’m not a big fan of laying down to rest in a hot tent. However, probably due to my meteorology background, and living in Oklahoma for the last 13 years, I have a healthy respect for what thunderstorms are capable of. I also know there isn’t really a good place to get protected from lightning while backpacking. Thus, I always get stressed when there are thunderstorms while I’m backpacking. If I remember correctly, every day of my South San Juan Wilderness trip involved thunderstorms nearby, so that trip definitely brought this out.
Using GPS has its pros & cons. When I was learning about thru hiking early in the year, I discovered there were apps I could use to show my location on trail maps. I thought this was pretty cool, and decided to give it a try on my Colorado trips. It wasn’t really necessary on the Weminuche Wilderness trip, although it was handy to pull up the maps and see exactly where we were. On the South San Juan Wilderness trip, it came in much more handy. On the second day there was a point where the trail completely disappeared for quite some time, and had it not been for having the GPS to use, I very well might have turned around. Later on there were a couple “trails” marked on my maps that ended up being cross country routes across high plateaus, which weren’t marked very well with cairns. It was really nice to be able to pull up the maps with GPS and see if I was headed in the right direction, which I often wasn’t. Looking at the GPS also made me realized I missed a turn at one point, and had I not looked at GPS, I probably would have gone a ways further before I even realized it. However, I also noticed with using the GPS that I wasn’t paying as much attention to terrain and features to understand where I was. Had I not had the GPS, I likely would have spent more time looking at maps to figure out certain terrain/features along the trail, and then paying more attention to terrain/features as I hiked. In my opinion, that is probably the better way to go. Also, on those cross country routes, I have a feeling they may have been better had I just figured out what heading I needed, and used my compass to follow that heading, instead of getting off the route, realizing it with GPS, heading back to get on the route, and then repeating many times. So while it definitely is a powerful tool, I think there is definitely a place for map and compass skills, and an awareness of what to expect in regards to terrain and features on the upcoming trail.
Leave me a comment about any lessons you learned on the trail this year!
First off, for those of you who subscribe to my blog and got the unintended teaser email about this post Thursday night, sorry for any confusion. I posted a password protected version to have a couple people proofread, and I had no idea WordPress would send a post notification out to everybody for that. Now I know. Haha.
Second: hopefully you have a few minutes, because it’s going to take you a few minutes to read through this.
From the outside looking in, I think most people would likely conclude that life is going pretty well for me. I’m a bachelor with a six figure salary. My job has fantastic benefits and time off. I own a house and have been able to remodel it over the last 4 years to make it my own. I could likely pay off the mortgage in 2021 if I wanted to. I have family relatively close. I have been able to get in a couple big backpacking trips each year for the last couple years. I have been able to put a lot of money towards retirement in the last few years. I started my own business in 2019 to try to start selling fine art prints at art shows. There are probably quite a few people who would like to be in this position. Why would anybody want to throw this away? And yet here I am on the cusp of doing just that.
Let’s rewind a little bit back to September 2019 when I read the book “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed. The book is about Cheryl’s journey on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). After reading the book, I made this post on Facebook:
I didn’t really put much thought into it at the time for all the reasons listed in the opening paragraph. I also wasn’t quite sure if a big thru hike was for me. Little did I know the sequence of events that were about to unfold over the next year or so.
In early 2020 I had ads for Backpacker Magazine start popping up in Facebook, and after seeing the ads for a little while I decided to subscribe to the magazine. Not too long after I subscribed I watched an interview they did with Chris Burkard, who was photographing cover images for them at the time. After that I started to follow Chris on social media, which introduced me to the “Mountain and Prairie” podcast. This was shortly after I had started listening to the “Out Alive” podcast by Backpacker Magazine. After getting into those two podcasts I started listening to some other podcasts, with many of the podcasts having themes around hiking, getting outdoors, and chasing your dreams.
Then, in June 2020, I had an epiphany: I could attempt one of these long thru hikes if I really wanted. People with no backpacking experience had done them. People with less money had done them. People in worse physical shape had done them. There really wasn’t anything saying I couldn’t do it, other than the fact that it wasn’t the “expected” or “safe” path to follow, particularly for someone in my position.
However, I knew doing a long thru hike meant quitting my job. Although my job isn’t something I’m really passionate about, it’s so good that, even though I’m not passionate about it, quitting it was a huge drawback to doing the hike. Chances were quite small I would find something with the same pay and benefits post trail.
The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized I could use the opportunity to make some big life changes. Although it would appear that life was great, that wasn’t the whole truth. Ever since college, whenever I have tried to go down a path I’m personally interested in, I have essentially had the door slammed in my face. Meteorology didn’t work out. Fire fighting didn’t work out. Fine art hasn’t worked out (although I’m not completely giving up on this quite yet). In addition, my social life has pretty much been non-existent over the last few years. Outside of some social events for work and a few dates here and there, I haven’t had any sort of social life. It has been quite some time since I could say I had any close friends. For the most part this hasn’t bothered me, but I think it has been wearing on me lately. Speaking of dates, I’m 32 and single, which gets me frustrated a lot of times. If I remember correctly, over the last 6 years, I have only had 8 dates with three different women. Some days I would like to have a significant other, but I know the chances of finding someone single, around my age, who doesn’t want to have kids, and isn’t a dog person, are ridiculously small. There are other days I’m not even sure I want to be married. So this has provided a lot of mental wear recently as well. Finally, I have loved living in OKC, but the smaller town lifestyle has become more appealing to me recently, so I would like to give that a try if possible.
So although I would be giving up a lot, I saw it as another opportunity to pursue something I’m interested in, and a chance to work on improving some other areas of life as well. After putting a lot of thought into it, I was leaning towards taking the risk of giving everything up and attempting the big thru hike. On Labor Day weekend 2020 I broke the news to my parents that I was thinking about all this. They were stunned/dumbfounded. They said they would support me if that’s what I wanted to do, but I’m pretty sure they thought I was crazy, and I’m not sure they thought I was really that serious about it. If they had votes, the votes would definitely be against me doing it. Ironically, that same weekend, my brother made some sort of comment about me never leaving Oklahoma City, at which point I broke the news to him I was thinking about this.
At this point, my plan was to hike a 164 mile stretch of the Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT) starting right after Christmas as a sort of test/prep hike. I had learned about this trail earlier in 2020 while hiking the Eagle Rock Loop in Arkansas. If hiking the OHT went really badly and I decided that thru hiking wasn’t for me, I would scratch this whole idea. If it went well, I would put my notice in at work in January, which would give them time to plan for my departure and get someone trained to take my place before I left in April or June.
It wasn’t too long before I had a wrench thrown in my plan though. In late September, the company I work for announced a merger with another company that would likely close in January 2021, which would likely be followed by layoffs. I hadn’t planned to tell my employer about any of this until after my OHT hike, just in case I decided it wasn’t for me after that. However, I really didn’t want to wait until January/February to give my notice at work, and possibly have someone get laid off that would have stayed to take my place (or have people scrambling to adjust layoff plans last minute). I also knew there was a small chance, if it worked out right, I could volunteer to be part of the layoff and get a layoff package. It was definitely a struggle deciding what to do.
Then, in October 2020, I listened to a Hiking Thru podcast episode with Lani Advokat, in which she talked about the difficult conversation with her employer about deciding to do her thru hike. It was encouraging to hear someone else talk about that aspect of doing a big hike. Also, in early October, I got this email from Erin Outdoors:
Most certainly a mass marketing email, but it was like it was meant just for me. After both of these, I finally decided it was time to tell my employer, and pretty much commit to taking the risk and attempting the thru hike. In mid-October I broke the news to three people at work who would need to know to start putting plans in place. At that point it was pretty much a made decision, and it was just about getting plans in place to make it happen. Last week it was made public at work that I would be leaving. It was nice to finally get that out and not have to keep it a secret. Unfortunately, just a day earlier, I found out that a minor medical procedure was going to have to be rescheduled to when I was supposed to be hiking the OHT, so the OHT hike will have to be delayed. I’m hoping I can still get to that sometime in the next 3 months or so.
So, in summary, it was really a sequence of small events/nudges over quite some time that convinced me it was the right choice to make, and the right time to do it. I feel like it’s time for a change if I want to go down the path I would like to pursue. It’s honestly just as much about the opportunity for life changes as it is about the adventure of the hike itself. I relate a lot to these two quotes that I have heard recently:
“I know life is going great, and I could milk this for all it’s worth, I could milk this, this moment in my career where I’m kind of elevating. But if I don’t stop, and I don’t consider what I could do for the long term health, of not only me, but of my career, to do something meaningful…it’s in those moments of great success you have to learn to stop, and maybe even take a step back, and be like ‘What am I doing to sustain my own health?'”Chris Burkard – Rich Roll Podcast #554
All I need to do is be happy, be confident, and do the things for me. If I’m going to do something, it has to be just for me, and for inspiring others in a good way. And feeling that freedom, that opens my mind and opens my heart to reconnect why I’m a rock climber…The passion for what we love to do, our purpose in life, is stronger than any economic limitations, so money is not an excuse.Fernanda Rodriguez – “¡Venga, Venga!” – Dirtbag Diaries Podcast
Will this make sense to most people? I don’t know. I have actually been quite surprised by the positive reactions I have got from most people. There are definitely some days where I still question whether or not it makes sense to me though. It’s scary for sure. For someone who likes to have everything planned out, it’s quite scary to just “go with the flow” and go down a path with an unknown destination. I could look back on this a few years from now and see that it was the best decision I have ever made. I could also look back and see that it was the worst decision I have ever made. But in my gut, it feels like the right time and place to try it and take a leap of faith, and I’m going to hold onto the popular mantra of thru hikers that “the trail provides”.
Which trail am I going to attempt? I will be attempting to hike the Continental Divide Trail (CDT). The CDT is a roughly 3,100 mile trail that goes between the Mexico and Canadian borders, sticking close to the Continental Divide. You can find out more about the trail here. You can follow me on my journey on my Facebook page or Instagram page. I will likely post some blogs leading up to the hike, but I’m not planning on blogging during the hike. If you would like some more insight into these long thru hikes, there are plenty of resources out there. The Homemade Wanderlust Youtube page, Elina Osborne’s Youtube page, and the Hiking Thru podcast are three of my favorites.
You can read more about my “why” for making this leap below.
- Adventure/Experience: I did a semester of study abroad in Australia while I was in college. Although there were plenty of bad days during my study abroad, I still look back on that experience and wish I was still there. I don’t see the bad days, just the amazing experience as a whole. Based on what I have read/heard from others who have done these long thru hikes, they are a very similar experience. Although there were some really difficult and bad days in the experience, pretty much everybody who has finished one talks/writes about it being a life changing experience (in a positive way). I’m totally up for another one of those types of experiences.
- Job Change: My job for the last 7 years has been great. I’m really good at it, I have worked with some wonderful people, and it has brought me to a fantastic place in life. However, it isn’t related to something I’m personally passionate about, and I’m not sure I can see myself doing it for another 25-30 years. As I mentioned earlier, essentially everything I have tried to pursue that interests me has hit a dead end up to this point. I’m hoping hiking the CDT will give me the opportunity to come across people who can connect me with job opportunities I’m interested in, and see if a different path works out after finishing the CDT.
- Location Change: Oklahoma City has been a wonderful place to live, and I rarely thought about leaving prior to coming up with this idea. It will always have a special place in my heart. Despite growing up in a very small town, I have always considered myself more of a city guy than a small town guy. However, over the last couple years, I have started to feel like I might like the more laid back lifestyle of a smaller town. As much as I have loved the city, I want to try going back to a small(er) town close to the CDT. I would be able to get out and do more (short) backpacking trips, I could be a trail angel (more on this below), and I feel like the lifestyle would be less stressful. This isn’t to say I won’t end up in another large city post trail, but all other things being equal, I would prefer to try the small town lifestyle.
- Friends/Community: This is the one part of life that really hasn’t gone well over the past few years. I have always struggled making friends. It was hard when my family moved to New Mexico. It was hard when I went to college. It was hard when I studied abroad. And ever since my group of friends fell apart back in 2014, I really haven’t been able to find any sort of solid support group. I’m 32, still single, and I can count on one had the number of women I have dated in the last 6 years, and on two hands the number of dates I have been on in that same time span. Most of the time I don’t really mind being a loner, but there are definitely times I wish I had a group of good friends. From what I can gather, the thru hiker community seems to be a great community to be a part of. I’m hoping that, during my hike, I can make some life long friends in this community. Granted, of the three “Triple Crown” trails, the CDT is by far the least traveled trail, so it will be harder on that trail, but hopefully I can still make a few great friends along the way. I’m also hoping, by moving closer to the mountains, that I can find and be a part of a community who shares a love for the mountains.
- Marketing photography: I spent most of the first half of 2019 preparing to start selling fine art prints of my photos at art shows, and started selling at shows in the second half of the year. I haven’t had much luck selling my photography at shows. I think a lot of that is because I started out with my prices too high, and by the time I was getting my prices to where they probably should have been to start, COVID hit. I also wonder sometimes if it’s just not the right market for it around here. I’m hoping this trip will allow me to get my photography in front of a lot more people who wouldn’t otherwise see it, and then have some opportunities crop up from that.
- Trail Magic Insight: Helping out hikers on these long thru hikes is generally referred to as trail magic, and people who do it on a consistent basis are often referred to as trail angels. If I’m going to totally upend my life, I would love to move somewhere close to the CDT (or possibly even the PCT), where I could take part in providing trail magic and give back to the hiking community. Doing a long thru hike myself would give me great insight on what some good ideas for trail magic would be. This would also be a great way to expand my connections in the thru hiker community, and possibly make some great friends.
Picture from my first day on my first solo hike. The fall colors were fantastic!
The first several backpacking trips I did were with my brother, and I really enjoyed doing the trips with him. However, I got to the point where I had enough vacation and the finances to be able to do a second trip each year, and I knew my brother wouldn’t be able to join me for that second trip. Thus, I had a decision to make: was I willing to do a backpacking trip solo? There were definitely some things I thought would be nice about it, but I was also fairly nervous about it. I decided to go ahead and give it a try, and back on this day in 2018 I started my first solo trip. You can read about the trip here. I have done three more solo trips since. So with several trips with my brother, as well as solo, what do I prefer? Before I answer that, let me list off my main pros and cons with solo backpacking.
I can go when I want. I don’t have to work out the logistics of going with someone else. I don’t have to try and find a time that works for someone else. I can plan a trip when it works best for me and go.
I can go my own pace. When we aren’t going uphill, my brother will generally keep up with me. However, I generally go uphill faster than him, and he is generally slower than I am at crossing creeks (taking shoes off, crossing, putting shoes back on). I’m also willing to do more miles in a day on my solo trips than with my brother. Most of the time it’s not a big deal, but occasionally I’ll get a bit annoyed having to wait on him. On the flip side, I’m often stopping to take pictures, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he gets annoyed sometimes from that. So it’s definitely nice solo hiking to be able to go as fast or as slow as I want (or stop for as many pictures as I want).
Free to do what I want. I’m big into photography, and my brother is big into fishing. Thus, when I’m on a trip with him, I generally try to plan camp spots next to a lake so he can get in some fishing. When I’m on a solo trip, I don’t have to worry about that, although I generally try to camp next to lakes anyway since they often make good photo ops. Haha. It’s also nice to be able to leave when I want, stop when I want, etc. My brother is really good about going along with my plan, but I’m likely willing to do some stuff solo that I wouldn’t do with him along.
More room in the tent. Even on my solo trips I take along the two person tent my brother and I use on our trips. It is so nice to have the extra room in the tent for sprawling out a bit more while sleeping, and for storing gear.
Different experience. There is just something different about getting out into the wilderness alone, especially in an area where you don’t see anybody for days. It probably isn’t for everybody. Even as someone who spends a lot of time alone normally, it can be a little uncomfortable at times.
Can’t split up gear. While I don’t save a whole lot of weight or room in my pack when my brother and I go on a trip, I know I save some. Every little bit of weight I can save is definitely a bonus.
Nobody to share the experience with. When I get to the top of a pass, camp at a beautiful lake, see a herd of elk, etc., it’s a bummer not to have somebody to share the experience with. I love having those shared memories with my brother.
It can get lonely. Particularly at camp. Being alone while I’m hiking doesn’t generally bug me. However, I tend to get to camp early in the afternoon, and spending the rest of the day at camp alone can definitely get lonely. This can obviously depend on the trip. If you’re hiking somewhere popular, you may see a lot of people hiking and be camped around other people. If you’re like me and try to avoid popular areas, you may go days without seeing anybody.
Bigger safety risk. This was my main concern when I was debating whether to solo hike. The only time I really feel less safe solo hiking is when I’m in grizzly territory. Outside of that, I don’t feel like there is significantly more chances of things going wrong while solo hiking. The bigger issue comes up when something does go wrong when solo hiking. I have started taking a Garmin InReach so I can check in each evening, and at least have the ability to send an SOS if something goes terribly wrong. Between my experience solo hiking and having the InReach, this concern has weakened some.
So which is my favorite? Both. I love having the experience of doing a trip with someone, and getting in a solo trip, each year. I definitely understand the solo thing isn’t for everybody though. And honestly, if I absolutely had to choose one, I would choose to have somebody along for the adventure. But don’t be afraid to at least give solo backpacking a shot. You’ll get a lot of crazy looks when you tell people you’re going alone!
For a short background on this series, see my first post.
S.T.O.P. slide from PowerPoint by Steve Lagreca
I have covered lots of lessons learned over the course of this blog series. There are likely many more small lessons I didn’t include. To close up this series, I want to cover what is probably the biggest lesson I have learned over the course of all my backpacking trips. This is to stay calm, think, and don’t rush when things don’t quite seem right or don’t go to plan. The S.T.O.P. acronym above is a great thing to keep in mind.
On our first trip, this may have resulted in me actually knowing we were still headed in the right direction, instead of just having a hunch/hoping we were. When I couldn’t find the trail in the Tetons, this could have resulted in me finding the trail again instead of taking the more dangerous route. When we were pumping water on the Highland Park trip and it got hard to pump, this may have saved us from having to cut the trip short due to a broken filter.
I could go on and on with this. There is a moment on nearly all of my backpacking trips where this would have likely saved or did save me some trouble. This S.T.O.P. acronym is often aimed towards people who are lost, but it comes in handy in many other situations as well. Rushed/hurried decisions, or those made while panicking, often aren’t the best decisions, and while you are backpacking, there can be severe consequences for bad decisions.
So when something goes awry in your next backpacking trip, S.T.O.P. Take a breath, relax, think, and take as much time as you can to make the best decision possible.
One more thing I want to touch on: you don’t need the best gear to do backpacking. My brother and I started off with a lot of cheap equipment on our first trips, and we were able to do the trips. Over the years, I have upgraded nearly all of my equipment to better equipment. It definitely helps in the comfort department, but it’s definitely not necessary. So don’t think to start out that you need to spend a boatload of money. You can definitely start off cheap like my brother and I did and work your way up to better equipment over time.