Suddenly, you’re nowhere to be found I turn around and everything has changed Looking for a way to work it out I’m trying to find some peace to navigate
The oak tree where I met you And the writing on the statue I still remember every word you said I’m not a soldier but I’m fighting Can you hear me through the silence? I won’t give up ’cause there will be a day We’ll meet again
“We’ll Meet Again“ by TheFatRat & Laura Brehm
For those who don’t know, I started the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) at the Canadian border back in 2021 with the intent of hiking the entire trail. However, around the halfway point I decided to end the hike for several different reasons. There was a short period right after I got off trail when I questioned whether I would like to go back to finish at some point, but it wasn’t long until I started to have the desire to go back and finish. After that, each time I heard the song We’ll Meet Again by TheFatRat & Laura Brehm, it made me dream of getting back on the CDT to finish the trail at some point.
Late last year into early this year I really debated getting back on trail this year. I wasn’t very happy with my job, so I wouldn’t mind quitting that to finish up the CDT. However, I really wanted to get back into fine art printing, and I was in a pretty good spot to give that another try. In addition, I was considering pursuing a long distance relationship, and if that happened and eventually became serious, it would possibly provide a good opportunity to finish the CDT while I uprooted life to pursue that relationship. I eventually made the decision to pursue fine art printing and to try to start building some roots in northwest Arkansas (NWA), and see if life presented another opportunity down the road to try to finish the CDT.
Life presented that opportunity much faster than I was expecting. On the morning of April 20 we had a meeting at work and found out the studio we work in would be getting shut down on July 31 and all the employees would be getting laid off. I was probably the only person in the room who actually had some relief and excitement wash over me. I really wanted out of my job at this point, and this would be a great opportunity to try to finish the CDT. My ideal time for getting back on the CDT is early August, so the timing of the layoff would be perfect for that. I would be getting some severance out of it, which, combined with some PTO time I would get paid for, would help cover some expenses while on trail. After a falling out with a coworker, I nearly quit my job in early March, but my supervisor talked me out of it, and had she not, I would have missed this opportunity. Had I established a serious relationship through dating (locally) earlier this year, I would probably be much more hesitant to hop back on the CDT. It was pretty crazy thinking through all this in that moment.
However, there were some drawbacks to consider. By getting on trail in early August (about a month ahead of the typical CDT southbound thru hiking schedule), the hope would be to try to beat some of the colder weather through Colorado and northern New Mexico (I’m really not a fan of cold weather). This would also allow me some time to take it easy initially, which I would need. However, I would likely have to deal more with the monsoon season and thunderstorms, and thunderstorms are one of my biggest fears while backpacking. It would also put me ahead of most people hiking south on the trail for most of, if not the entire, hike. So it would be quite likely I didn’t end up with any sort of consistent hiking group or tramily. I was really looking forward to doing trail magic again this fall on the CDT/CT, but that wouldn’t be happening if I got back on the CDT. Getting back on the CDT would also not be ideal for my fine art printing. It’s not good for my printer to sit for an extended period of time. I just recently got into a gallery here in NWA. I have a couple opportunities this fall that I would have to change logistics for. I wasn’t a fan of stepping away from my art for 2-3 months just as I felt like I was getting some traction. And, of course, there was what happens after I finish, which is when the stress and anxiety of big life decisions and not having a job would likely really hit me.
With that said, though, I feel like I can deal with all the drawbacks/issues, and I probably won’t get a much better opportunity to try to finish the CDT, so I have booked my plane ticket to Denver and in early August “Lightning” (my trail name from my 2021 hike) and the CDT will meet again for a thru hike. I’ll be sharing more through blogs and social media as I get ready over the next couple months, so stay tuned if you want to follow along.
Before I get to the hike itself, let me give a little background on exactly how I ended up on this hike to begin with. At some point leading up to my 2021 CDT hike I came across Thru-r. Thru-r was created by a thru hiker (“Cheer”) who at that time had completed the PCT (she has since completed the CDT, and is hiking the AT this year) and wanted a way to extend the community found on trail into “normal life.” Leading up to my CDT hike, Thru-r was a great way to hear stories and advice from people who had completed thru hikes, and after my CDT hike it has been a great way to keep in touch with fellow thru hikers.
In late 2022, Cheer announced she was going to organize a group hike of the Trans-Catalina Trail (TCT) for Thru-r members. Normally my two backpacking trips for the year would be in the Rockies (one with my brother and one solo), and participating in the TCT hike would mean cutting my solo Rocky Mountain backpacking trip, but the TCT hike seemed like it would be a lot of fun, so I went ahead and signed up for it. And thus how I ended up on Catalina Island on Apr. 1 to hike the TCT with a group of 9 other people. It was my first hike in California, and my first time (excluding the CDT) backpacking with anybody other than my brother.
On the last night of the trip, we all sat around a campfire and one conversation we had was about our rose (highlight), thorn (worst moment/struggle), and bud (what we were looking forward to post-trip) from the trip. (Thanks Nomen for starting this convo!) As I have spent some time processing this trip, that feels like a good way to cover the trip in this post, so I’ll use that same format for this blog to talk about the hike.
Cacti: On two different occasions I ended up getting some cactus spines in me (first time in my leg and the second time in both feet).
Nose: The weather was a bit on the cool side during the trip (generally in the 50s the whole time), and my nose tends to run when I’m outside in those temperatures. This trip was no exception. I had a runny nose the majority of the time I was out there, and by the end of the trip my nose was raw from blowing it/wiping it so many times.
Budget: I knew going into the hike that I would likely end up quite a bit over budget for the trip (I underestimated what it would cost), so I tried to save some money where I could, which meant I skipped eating some restaurant meals along the trail. It was a bit depressing to be eating a trail meal knowing I could be eating a restaurant meal.
Personal time vs social time: As an introvert, being social takes a lot out of me. The bigger the group, the harder it is. This trip was no exception. I really wanted to connect with and get to know the people on the trip, and I really enjoyed hiking and having a conversation with one or two other people. But when the whole group got together, I typically didn’t contribute much to the conversation. It was a bit of a struggle for me to try and find the balance between being social and getting in some alone time. I was always a bit worried when I was seeking some alone time that it would come across the wrong way to the group.
CDT Decision: While I still say that getting off the CDT around the halfway mark was the right decision at the time, being around other thru hikers often makes me struggle with that decision. On the one had, during this trip, there was praise for people knowing when it’s time to call it quits and get off trail. However, on the other hand, there was conversation about not quitting on a bad day and needing mental toughness and grit to finish a thru hike. These sorts of conversations always get me to wondering whether I made the right call to get off trail or I just didn’t have the mental toughness and grit to keep going when it got tough.
Campgrounds: Every night of the trip we camped in campgrounds with potable water and bathrooms. It was so nice to not have to filter water, to not have to dig cat holes, and to have toilet paper available to blow my nose.
Blackjack the cat: On the second day of the trip we stopped for a little while at the airport on the island (which has a restaurant). I love cats, and as I was walking up to the patio, Blackjack (the resident cat) walked up and let me pet her. There were a couple other times while we were there I got to pet her as well. This was one of the places where I skipped a restaurant meal and had a trail meal instead, which was hard, but while it was depressing to miss out on a breakfast burrito, it was a big morale boost to get some kitty loves.
Weather: With how crazy the weather had been in California leading up to the trip, I was a bit worried about what the weather would be like during the trip. Outside of one really windy day and being a bit on the cool side when not hiking, the weather turned out fantastic and was great for taking pictures. All the rain before our trip had also greened up the vegetation and I’m sure contributed to the abundant wildflowers.
Scenery: Just about the entire trail was really scenic. There were very few stretches where there wasn’t some sort of awesome view. The vegetation was green and there were wildflowers everywhere, which I don’t think is typical. I felt like I was stopping to take pictures all the time (thankfully I had time for it). Where I typically go hiking, there is often some hiking to be done before getting to the really scenic parts, but this trail was very scenic from start to finish.
People: Without the people, this still would have been a cool hike, but the group I hiked with made it an even more memorable experience. Conversations while hiking, at camp, and around the campfire. Knowing what each other had been through on thru hikes. Jokes/conversations that only thru hikers will get. Struggling through difficult climbs together. Playing bocce ball and Apples to Apples. It was a very eclectic group of people, but an amazing group of humans who all had a love of hiking/backpacking that bonded us. It was a “tramily” (trail family) right from the start. It has always been a struggle for me to find friends and social groups where I feel like I belong and fit in, but, for the most part, I felt like I fit into this group right from the start.
Documentation: Having so many people along for the hike resulted in a lot of documentation through pictures and videos. Some people were taking more videos, some people focused on pictures of people and moments, and myself focused more on the artistic shots. We set up a google photo album after the trip was over, and it has been awesome looking through everyone’s pictures and videos, and being able to download those to keep as momentos from the trip.
Friendships: I’m pretty bummed I don’t live close to anybody who was on the hike, but I’m hopeful that friendships made during the trip will last and that I’ll be able to cross paths with some of them again, whether that be while hiking, doing trail magic, traveling through, etc. I’m awful at keeping in touch, but hopefully I can stay somewhat in touch with everybody going forward. This is one way that social media is helpful!
Local Thru Hikers: I found out that one of the hikers from the group (“Excel”) hiked with a couple people from Fayetteville on the PCT. I know of at least two other thru hikers in the local area, so I would like to see if I can get everybody together, and just maybe start a little NWA “tramily.”
On September 3, 2022 I started a backpacking trip into the Weminuche Wilderness, starting at Rio Grande Reservoir and hiking to the south and southwest of the reservoir. The map below shows the route I took. Continue reading for a daily summary of the trip.
I made it to the trailhead at Thirtymile Campground around 3:00 PM. It had looked pretty stormy for the last couple hours driving to the trailhead, but it looked better once I reached the trailhead. The county/forest road getting to the trailhead was rough, and I had to take it easy in a few spots, but I made it there in my sedan without any problems.
I started up the Squaw Creek trail. Right off the bat I ran into some raspberry bushes and had me a few fresh raspberries. I love finding fresh berries along the trail! I had a bit of a scare shortly after that when I pulled out my camera and my battery was much lower than it should have been. When I was preparing for the trip I noticed that the battery was low after I was sure I had charged it, but I charged it again. Now it was low again. I was really hoping it was a bad battery and not something with the camera. I had a spare battery if it was a bad battery. About a mile or so into the trail I ran into “Pseudo Sloth”. I hiked around her for a brief period during my Continental Divide Trail (CDT) hike last year. It was pretty wild to run into her on the trail. She said the trail up to the Squaw Lake turnoff was “cruisy” (aka good for fast hiking), which indeed it was, and I made it to the turnoff for Squaw Lake around 5:30 PM. I was able to get across Squaw Creek without getting my feet wet, which I was very thankful for. I took a quick break after crossing the creek and then continued on towards Squaw Lake.
I got to the lake around 6:30 PM. It was a strenuous hike up to the lake, and I was quite glad when I finally reached it. It didn’t help that it was getting more and more stormy as I went on, so I was pushing harder than normal to get to the lake before I got stormed on. Shortly before getting there it started to sprinkle and right after arriving it started to rain moderately, with some small ice pellets mixed in. I took shelter under a tree, and thankfully it passed quickly. I spent a few minutes walking around trying to find a camping spot. There were 4 other tents already set up, so I was trying to find a spot that wasn’t too close to one of them. Once I found a spot I got camp set up and then made dinner. While I was eating dinner I chatted with a couple of the people camped there. By the time I finished dinner it was nearly dark. I got camp chores finished up in the dark and called it a day.
I was up around 6:30 AM and on trail around 7:45 AM. My camera battery was dead, so I put my spare battery in and hoped that would last the rest of the trip (and thankfully it did). I started the day going from ~11,600 ft to ~12,700 ft, with a pretty steep climb right off the bat. The difficult climb was paid off with some cool views, including down to Squaw Lake. About 30 minutes after starting I got a message from my dad through my Garmin inReach Mini that my home alarm system had gone off, but apparently the police hadn’t seen any issues since he didn’t get a call back. So between the climb, stopping for pictures, and working through the alarm system situation, it was slow going early on. I somehow managed to get cell service just long enough to see that everything appeared to be ok and get the alarm system reset, so that was a relief.
Near the top of the climb I reached a junction with the CDT and continued down that trail. I ran into a couple deer near the top of the climb. The views hiking up to and along the ridge were great, but I was glad to finally have some downhill when I got to the top of the climb. There was a lot of hiking through overgrown brush shortly before I took a break around 10:00 AM. I wasn’t feeling great during the break. I didn’t feel like eating much and had a bit of a headache, but I ate a bit of granola and drank some water. I was hoping to refill water during the break, but unfortunately the creek bed where I stopped was dry. After the break the trail went around a peak/ridge and had some cool views down into the Squaw Creek valley. Thankfully the next creek I came to had some water, so I stopped there and refilled.
At Squaw Pass I got onto the Cimarrona Trail and then had a long climb up to a saddle. I went pretty slow. Shortly after going over the saddle I ran into a couple backpackers going the opposite way. The trail was pretty overgrown in spots on the other side of the saddle. Thankfully the brush was dry. I stopped for lunch next to a creek just before the junction with the Hossick Trail. It wasn’t a great place to stop for lunch, but it was nice being next to the creek (although I didn’t end up getting any water from it).
I got to the Hossick Trail junction quickly after lunch and turned up that trail, after which was a really hard climb from ~11,500 ft to ~12,400 ft. I went very slow. Haha. It was steep, overgrown in lots of spots, and rocky. Thankfully there were some cool views along the way and at the top of the climb to reward me for the work. It’s definitely not a good choice if you’re afraid of heights though, as there is a short section at the top with a very big drop off on either side. I had originally planned to go to Hossick Lake, but when I got to the junction and realized more climbing would be involved, I decided to skip it and head down to the Weminuche Valley to set up camp. I was already pretty worn out.
I underestimated that decent. The trail went from ~11,800 ft to ~8,500 ft. in ~5 miles. By the time I got to the bottom I was so exhausted, and my feet, legs, and hips were all hurting. I was pretty sure I had a blister on one heel. When I reached the Shaw Creek Trail I continued on it and camped next to Milk Creek. I had hiked about 14 miles. I reached camp around 5:00 PM. The way I felt by the time I reached camp rivaled how bad I felt after some of my worst CDT days. I don’t ever remember feeling that bad after a day of hiking outside of the CDT. It was definitely a rough day.
I got my tent set up, made dinner, and then finished getting camp set up. I washed my feet and then looked at other options for routes for the next day. The next day was supposed to have another really big climb right away, and I really didn’t feel like doing that. Thankfully there was a shortcut and much easier route I could take, so I decided to do that even though it involved backtracking about a mile or so.
I spent the rest of the evening doing camp chores, reading, and typing up notes for the day. Not sure if it was the altitude, dehydration, it was harder than I expected, or a combination of all those, but this day definitely kicked my butt. Thankfully the brush wasn’t wet, though, else there would have been lots of “hiker washes”, which would have made it even worse.
On day 3 I was up around 6:45 AM. There was a squirrel right above my tent that decided to be my alarm clock. I can’t remember if I was awake before that or not, but I was a definitely awake afterwards. After getting going I made the mile or so hike back to the junction with the Weminuche Trail and took that trail toward Divide Lakes. I was feeling better in the morning, but was really glad I had decided to take the easier route. The Weminuche Trail seemed like the most heavily used trail I took during the trip. It’s apparently a popular trail for horses/mules, so there were some spots where the trail was in rough shape, but it ended up being a neat stretch of trail. The Elk Park area was neat, and there were a bunch of sunflower looking flowers (but much smaller) along a good portion of the trail.
I stopped at E. Fork Weminuche Creek around 11:00 AM for a snack break and to fill up with water. There just so happened to be some raspberries there as well, so I helped myself to a few of those. I made it to Los Pinos River around 12:30 PM. I had planned to do lunch there, but there wasn’t much shade, so I started up the Pine River Trail and stopped at the first creek that crossed the trail, around 1:00 PM.
The hike up Los Pinos River was pretty easy, and was great for making some miles. I got to the junction with the Rincon La Osa trail around 2:45 PM. Right after getting on the Rincon La Osa trail I came to a Y in the trail and took a path that went to a camp, so I had to backtrack a bit. The climb up the Rincon La Osa trail was difficult, but not as hard as the climbs on the previous day. I ran into a couple more deer on that trail. I found a good camp spot around 3:45 PM at ~11,000 ft and decided to call it a day. I had hiked about 13 miles. I was way ahead of schedule due to my change in plans and it was also starting to look stormy off to the east.
After dinner it started to look like some rain might be headed my way. I went ahead and got my feet washed and started to hear thunder around 7:00 PM. All evening it looked like it might rain. The sunset ended up being really cool with the sun lighting up the rain from the thunderstorms. It was definitely one of the more impressive sunsets I remember seeing from any of my backpacking trips. It started raining just as it was getting dark. I was glad it waited until then. It rained on and off for a bit, but didn’t rain a whole lot.
There was lots of hunting activity on this day, whether that was hunters, a train of mules, hunting camps, etc. If I remember correctly I met three people going the opposite way on trail, all before Divide Lakes. I generally felt better, although my pack was really hurting my right hip, so I unbuckled the pack several times throughout the day to try and help that. I was really glad I had done the easier route.
I was up around 7:00 AM on this day. Between the rain on the outside and condensation on the inside my tent was soaked. I tried to dry the inside up a bit using my towel. There was some frost on the tent at the foot of the tent. I hit the trail around 8:00 AM. Thankfully the vegetation along the trail wasn’t wet, which was surprising. Shortly after starting I again came to a Y in the trail, and once again the trail I chose went to a camp spot, so I had to back track again. I seemed to have a knack for choosing the wrong trail on this trip.
The hike up through Rincon La Osa was really cool. I stopped several times for pictures while hiking up the open valley. I passed next to a hunting camp with some llamas while hiking through the valley. I didn’t see any of the hunters around. There was a bit of a strenuous climb to get out of the valley, but not too bad. After reaching the top I went down into the East Ute Creek valley. It was a bit difficult to find the trail at the top. Shortly after finding the trail it turned into a fairly steep loose gravel trail with a pretty good drop off to one side. Had I slipped on the loose gravel and fell the wrong way, I would have tumbled down a steep embankment about 20-30 feet. It made me very nervous and I took it quite slow. I was quite relieved to make it past that part of the trail. I took a break shortly after that.
After that the trail was relatively flat and good for making some miles for most of the valley, although difficult to see in some spots. It seemed like the least traveled trail of my entire trip. Towards the bottom of the valley the trail steepened and was a bit more difficult with rocks and trees. I put my sandals on to cross East Ute Creek as I couldn’t see any way to rock hop across that. I was able to rock hop across West Ute Creek.
After crossing West Ute Creek there appeared to be a trail that cut NW over to the West Ute Trail. However, I lost that trail after a bit, and there didn’t appear to be a trail where the USGS map showed the trail would be. After wandering around for a bit I eventually found the trail, lower in the valley than the USGS map indicated it would be. That was a bit frustrating but I was glad to be back on the trail. The hike up the West Ute trail was exposed nearly the entire way.
Shortly before lunch I ran into a couple men hiking the opposite way. They were both decked out in camo and everything about them screamed hunters. However, when I asked them if they were hunting, they said no and one of them said his friend wanted to see the area. I’m not sure if they were being smart with me, if they were up there illegally, or they were truly just out hiking, but their outfit was definitely outside the norm of hiking outfits. It was a really odd encounter. Shortly after that I stopped around 1:00 PM at a shady spot for lunch, which was the first shady spot on the trail since getting on the West Ute Trail. I laid my tent and footprint out in the sun to dry them out.
It started looking stormy after lunch. I started hearing thunder around 2:00 PM. I made it to West Ute Lake around 2:45 PM. For some reason it hadn’t dawned on me until reaching the lake that that wasn’t the lake I wanted to be at. My plan had always been to go to Twin Lakes, not West Ute Lake, but for some reason my mind had latched onto West Ute Lake on this day. I wasn’t a big fan of the camping at that lake, and it was still fairly early, so I decided to hike the 4 miles to Twin Lakes and hope I didn’t get stormed on. At a creek crossing about a mile from Twin Lakes I noticed some bear prints in the mud, and shortly after that saw a moose.
I arrived at Twin Lakes around 4:30 PM. My feet were pretty sore, particularly my left foot. I had hiked about 15 miles. There was a storm fairly close with some thunder. It took me a few minutes to decide on a camp spot, and then I hurried as best I could to get the tent set up. According to my map there was an outlet stream from the lake close to my camp, but that wasn’t the case so I went to the lake to get some water. Filling up my water bag in a lake is difficult, so that was frustrating, especially since I was in a hurry. Once I got some water in the bag I noticed there was a definite yellow/green tint to the water. After getting water I finished setting up camp and then ate dinner. Thankfully the storm that was close wasn’t moving towards me.
While dinner was hydrating I washed my feet. I had a couple CDT hikers go by after dinner. I spent some time with my map and compass making sure I could remember how to use them. Thankfully I still remembered. Haha. Late in the evening another really heavy thunderstorm got going. I was so glad I wasn’t under that one. It made for another really cool sunset. I was stoked about having two awesome sunsets in a row. Shortly after sunset the wind picked up and it started to rain lightly, but that was short lived.
I was up around 6:45 AM. I had slept awful. There wasn’t a good place to secure my bear bag with my food, so I had it sitting next to my tent, which had me a bit paranoid. I could also hear animals wandering around outside throughout much of the night. I normally don’t sleep well while backpacking, but this was a really bad night.
I got on trail around 7:45 AM. There were a few elk on a hillside in the distance as I was leaving. Just a bit down the trail I ran into a creek that wasn’t on my map, which would have been much better than the water out of the lake. Oh well. Haha. I stopped to clean my socks from the previous day since they were pretty dirty. I didn’t fill up with water, which I figured I might regret later. The hiking from Twin Lakes to Ute Lake to Rincon La Osa was really cool. It was one of my favorite segments of the entire hike. It was slow going due to climbing and stopping for lots of pictures. Just before getting to Rincon La Osa I chose the wrong trail once again at a Y. It was really cool hiking around the rim of Rincon La Osa after having hiked up that valley the previous day. As I was nearing the end of the rim of Rincon La Osa I noticed a spring next to the trail. I had been rationing water so I was really thankful to find that water source. I drank the water I had and then refilled.
After Rincon La Osa I came to the same junction I had reached the previous day but continued on the CDT this time. There was one last big climb. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Thank goodness for switchbacks. I took a snack break at the top of the climb. On the decent down towards Los Pinos River there was a cool view of The Window and Rio Grande Pyramid. There were also a couple cool waterfalls. I stopped for lunch just before meeting the Pine River Trail, around 12:45 PM. I was really hoping there was water in the ditch next to the trail, but it was dry. Thankfully I still had a bit of water for lunch, and there was a creek a bit down trail I could stop at to refill.
It was already looking stormy when I stopped for lunch. Shortly after getting started again after lunch there were some sprinkles. The trail was nice and good for making some miles. I stopped at Weminuche Creek to refill water. I started to hear thunder around 2:00 PM. On the way down I met some people taking some horses/mules in. The lower part of the trail was really cool. I made it to the trailhead just before 3:30 PM.
Despite changing my plans and going to the wrong lake, I was quite happy with how the trip turned out. I think I got quite lucky with weather and not getting stormed on while hiking. There was a lot of exposed hiking on this route, and not much hiking in the forest, although there is so much beetle kill that even in the forest there isn’t a whole lot of shade. I wasn’t much of a fan of the East Ute Creek and West Ute Creek valleys, but other than that I enjoyed the route. With as much hunting activity as I saw, I would recommend wearing some bright colors if you’re hiking this time of year. It definitely made me a bit nervous not having some bright colors on. If I exclude the hunters and all the people camped at Squaw Lake, I didn’t come across many people at all. That was nice, but it makes it a bit lonely as well. I always enjoy conversation with other hikers. It was a bit of a difficult hike, but definitely worth it!
Back on July 3 my brother and I started a four day backpacking trip in the Wind River Range that took us from the Green River Lakes trailhead over Porcupine Pass, to Heart Lake, to Summit Lake, and then back to the trailhead. This will be a quick rundown of my experience.
Day 1: Green River Lakes TH to Dodge Creek
The drive into the trailhead was slow and rough. The last 15 miles or so to the trailhead was a rough dirt road. Having a more off-road type vehicle would have been preferable, but it was doable in a sedan. We were in a Chevrolet Impala and were typically going at most 20mph, so the dirt road portion alone took about an hour.
We arrived at the TH around 10:30 AM. With it being a holiday weekend, I was worried about finding a place to park at the TH, but thankfully there were still several spots available. We registered at the TH and then got to hiking. We took the Lakeside Trail around the west side of the lower lake. There were some good views across the lake in a few spots, and we ran into a few day hikers along that trail. Shortly after getting on the Porcupine Trail we ran into some day hikers on their way out who warned us of a creek crossing and water flowing on the trail. When we got to the crossing we hiked upstream a bit to try and find a dry crossing, but after no luck we headed back to where the trail crossed and put on our creek crossing shoes. The next half mile or so of trail after the crossing was essentially a flowing creek. We stopped shortly after the crossing for lunch and then hiked in our crossing shoes until we reached dry trail at the bottom of the switchbacks.
Shortly before the turnoff to Twin Lakes and Shirley Lake we ran into some backpackers who had stayed at Shirley Lake and highly recommended it. They would be the last people we would see until late on day 3. We continued on up Porcupine Trail. Instead of crossing Porcupine Creek at the next crossing, we followed a faint trail and then did some bushwhacking to meet up with the trail after it crossed back over Porcupine Creek again. It saved us having to change into our crossing shoes again.
The trail up Porcupine Creek after this was often covered in water and/or muddy, particularly in the meadow areas. Once we got into the meadow areas there were some neat views of the west side of the canyon and some great areas for camping. These were the first good scenic views since leaving the lower Green River Lake. I knew going over Porcupine Pass might be sketchy due to snow cover, so when we reached the last crossing of Porcupine Creek I told my brother that if we were going to turn around that was the point to do it so we could make the most the next three days. We decided to continue on. That last crossing of Porcupine Creek was a difficult crossing. It was around knee deep and fairly swift. I was thankful for my trekking poles. We eventually got to the point where we could tell there was snow over the trail switchbacks going up to the pass. However, it looked possible to cross the snow down low where it wasn’t as steep and then climb directly up to the pass where there was no snow cover, so that is what we decided to do.
Once we got close to the top of the pass, it got really steep with lots of loose rock and gravel. We had to be really careful about our steps. Progress became painstakingly slow and it was quite stressful. At that point, though, I felt like it was safer to continue on to the pass instead of trying to go back down. Just below the pass we were finally able to start using the trail. We made it to the top of the pass just before 6:30 PM. It would still have been an exhausting climb with the trail, but it would have been much less stressful. I wouldn’t recommend going up or down the north side of the pass if the trail isn’t available. Lighting for pictures wasn’t great at that point, it was a bit windy, and it was getting late and I wanted to make it down a couple of miles, so we didn’t spend any time at the top of the pass and started our hike down. I was afraid the south side was going to be the same as the north side, but much to my relief it was much better. I believe we reached the crossing of Dale Creek around 7:45 PM and decided to camp just before the crossing. It was a long, tough day.
I was hiking in trail runners, and due to the wet trail conditions, my socks and shoes were still bit damp when we got to camp. Since we were in a bit of a rush to get dinner and chores done, I didn’t take off my shoes and socks, so by the time I got into the tent for bed my feet were quite cold. A bit after getting into my sleeping bag I started getting pain in my toes, which I don’t remember happening before, so I probably let my feet get a bit colder than I should have.
Day 2: Dale Creek to Heart Lake
We started the second day crossing Dale Creek and then had about a mile of downhill hiking before reaching the New Fork River. I had been worried about crossing the New Fork River due to the ongoing snow melt but the crossing wasn’t too bad. The hike up Palmer Canyon was one of the more scenic stretches of the entire trip. There was lots of stopping for pictures in that stretch. We saw a couple deer in the canyon as well. The climb up and out of the canyon was difficult, but thankfully there was a good trail. We started running into some snow patches near the top of the climb.
As we approached Palmer lake a bald eagle took off from a tree. We stopped at the lake for lunch. It was fairly breezy so we found a spot in some trees to try to get out of the sun and wind. After we finished lunch we continued down the trail to the Heart Lake Trail. We turned down that trail and then stopped at Dean Lake so my brother could do some fishing. He caught several small brook trout in that lake. After that we continued on to Heart Lake. We found a good camping spot at Heart Lake around 4:30 and got camp set up. Heart Lake wasn’t particularly scenic, but it was sheltered and had a great spot to camp, so that was nice. My brother tried some fishing (he wasn’t able to catch anything) and I was able to get some reading in. Overall it was a fairly uneventful day with some great scenery.
Day 3: Heart Lake to Green River
To start out we headed toward Gottfried Lake. Once there we turned onto the Pine Creek Canyon Trail towards Borum Lake. Borum Lake was a beautiful lake, although it looked like it would be difficult to find a camp spot that met regulations. We stopped at the outlet to get some water and then hiked a bit farther before stopping so my brother could try some fishing. He wasn’t able to catch anything out of that lake. It was a beautiful spot to take a break though. After spending some time at Borum Lake we continued on to Summit Lake. We reached Summit Lake around 11:45 AM. Summit Lake was a really cool spot. It didn’t have much to offer for shelter, but it was a really a scenic place. My brother went to do some fishing while I spent some time taking pictures. My brother caught at least one decent size cutthroat.
We ate lunch at Summit Lake and then got back on trail around 1:00 PM to head down to the Green River. There were a lot of snow patches and lots of wet/muddy trail on the way down. When we reached our first crossing of Trail Creek my brother realized he had lost one of his creek crossing shoes between there and Summit Lake. He decided to go back and try to find it, so I hung out at the crossing until he got back around 40 minutes later with the shoe. We kept our crossing shoes on since we had to cross the creek a second time just down trail. My brother slipped at that second crossing and dropped one of his hiking boots in the creek. Thankfully he was able to grab it before it went downstream. There was a snow patch on either side of the second crossing, and it wasn’t particularly pleasant walking though the snow in sandals with wet feet after the crossing. I quickly got to a spot where I could sit on a rock and get my feet dry and into my socks and hiking shoes.
After all that we continued on down the trail. The crossing of Trail Creek just above the switchbacks was a little nerve racking. It was about knee deep and moving somewhat swiftly. Not really difficult, but it was one of those crossings where if you fell in it probably wasn’t going to end well. We both made it across and continued on. There were some fantastic views on the way down to the Green River. Shortly after reaching the Green River we saw the first people since early afternoon on Day 1. My goal was to make it to Beaver Park, so we skipped a camp spot in Three Forks Park. We also skipped a camp spot right before Beaver Park. Beaver Park ended up being littered with blow downs and there weren’t any good camping spots, so we continued on. We ended up hiking another 45 minutes or so past Beaver Park before we found a camp spot that wasn’t right next to the river (about 6.5 miles from the trailhead). It wasn’t far enough from the trail per regulations, but at that point my brother and I were both tired and hungry, and it was getting late, so we set up camp there and hurried and got dinner ready. By the time we finished getting camp set up and chores done it was dark.
Day 4: Green River to Green River Lakes TH
Day 4 got off to an early start. We had planned on getting up at 6:30 AM so we could get out in time to meet some CDT hikers at Elkhart Park TH, but we were both awake at 6:00 AM, so we went ahead and got up and hit the trail around 7. Both of my heels had got rubbed raw the prior day, so I got those taped up before hitting the trail. Unfortunately we didn’t see any wildlife along the river. There were several people camped along the river. We stopped at the upper Green River Lake so my brother could do some fishing. He caught a decent size Rainbow Trout out of that lake. After that we continued on down the trail. At the north end of the upper lake we crossed paths with a moose. Thankfully it didn’t seem to mind us, and it allowed for a really cool photo opportunity. At one point along the lower lake my brother made a few casts but didn’t catch any fish. We made it back to the TH around 10:30, which was much more sparse than when we had arrived.
Outside of the stressful climb up Porcupine Pass this was a great trip. A few of my key takeaways:
I would definitely recommend doing Porcupine Pass after the snow has melted off the trail.
There was lots of wet/muddy trail, but that wouldn’t be an issue later in the season after the snowmelt has finished.
Be ready for lots of creek crossings that will get your feet wet, although there may be some that you could cross later in the season without getting your feet wet.
It ended up being a good combination of lower elevation canyon hiking combined with higher elevation alpine type hiking.
Romance: I knew it was a long shot, and I didn’t have very high hopes, but there was a very small glimmer of hope that maybe I would find some romance and a future partner on the trail. It didn’t happen. Had it happened, I probably would still be going as that would have been a big incentive not to quit. Haha. Not a big disappointment since I didn’t have high expectations to begin with, but still a bit of a bummer.
Trail Magic: I hate bringing this up because I don’t want to sound like I’m entitled to trail magic or that I’m ungrateful for the help I got. I am so thankful for all the help and trail magic I received. From a trail magic perspective, I knew there were much better trails to do than the CDT, so once again I didn’t have real high expectations. However, it was frustrating hearing stories from other hikers about awesome trail magic they had been a part of, not having received anything like that myself. From another perspective, the hike was great for getting ideas for future trail magic I could do for hikers, and I was recently able to drive over to NM for a few days and give some trail magic, which was a blast.
Friendships: Similar to trail magic, I knew this wasn’t the trail to be doing if I wanted a really social experience along the trail. However, I had hoped that I could find a trail family (“tramily”) along the trail and within that tramily make some great friends along the way. Despite the high number of people on the CDT this year, it still ended up being a very lonely experience on trail for me up until the last couple weeks. It definitely made me cherish those couple weeks I had hiking with the group, but I wish I could have had more time with them. Not having more time with them down the trail was one of the biggest bummers for me when I decided to quit.
Quitter/Failure: This didn’t hit me right away, but after I had a bit to process calling it quits, I realized this was another thing to add to my list of things that haven’t gone my way, that I have quit, or that I have failed at (along with storm chasing, fire fighting, selling fine art prints, etc.). I was really hoping prior to starting the trail that this was something I could finish and put on the success checklist. Despite being a great accomplishment, it didn’t help with the struggle of wondering if I’m not trying hard enough, if I quit too early when things get hard, or if I just haven’t found “my thing” yet.
Road Walking: There are a couple different aspects to this. First, the large amount of road walking. I had heard it was a lot of road walking, but it surprised me how much there actually was. Most of it was on backcountry forest roads and not highways, which was good, but it was still a lot of roads. Second, the highway walks were awful on my feet. The highway walks were generally great for keeping a fast pace, but some of the worst blisters I got were after walking on a long highway stretch.
Job Opportunities/Future Location: When I started the trail, my plan after finishing was to find a job and move close to the CDT, preferably somewhere in Montana or Wyoming. I had hoped that hiking the trail would give me some leads on job opportunities. That didn’t happen, but it did give me an idea on the trail towns that would be at the top of my list to live in, which was nice. Ironically, though, by the time I had quit the CDT, I had decided that NW Arkansas was actually at the top of the list of where I would like to end up. If that didn’t work out, I would start looking into jobs in my top trail towns.
Anaconda Pintler Wilderness: Outside of my friend Kate, this was an area that I didn’t hear much about before trail, but it ended up being one of my favorite stretches of trail. I would love to go back there again sometime and take some time to really enjoy it and take it in.
Towns Days: I had thought before trail that town stops would be a nice relaxing break from the hiking. They were a nice break from hiking, but there was often a big chore list to do, so I’m not sure I would say they were particularly relaxing, especially if it was in town one day and out the next. I still loved town days though.
Recovery: The first couple weeks after quitting were pretty rough physically. I must have hurt my left shoulder more than I realized in the fall right before quitting, because after getting home it was sore for a few days. My legs felt awful when I went running. There were a few days when my lower back was quite sore. I found it quite ironic that I never took any pain medication while on trail, but took some a few times for the back pain after I was home. Thankfully after a couple weeks I started to feel a lot better.
Do I Regret Quitting?: After giving it some thought for a month and a half, do I now regret calling it quits early? I still feel like it was the right choice. However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t second guess myself. I often wonder if listening to music on the hard climbs would have made a difference. Someone in our group mentioned this early on in Colorado, but for some reason it never crossed my mind to put in my earbuds and listen to some music during the big climbs. Should I have thought more of all the people cheering me on and sending me encouragement? Seeing the pictures from the San Juans with the fall colors has been a bit depressing. That was one of the things I was looking forward to the most. Some of the hikers in the group I was around were part of a fairly large group in southern Colorado, and had I kept going, I may have ended up in that group, which likely would have been a lot of fun.
On the other hand, I’m really happy I got to participate in the Oklahoma City Memorial Half Marathon. That is always one of my favorite days of the year, and I’m glad I was able to keep my streak in tact (now at 9 consecutive years). I’m also really happy I got the opportunity to do some trail magic on the CDT this year. As I mentioned earlier, that was a blast. Seeing the pictures of the snow and cold weather the last 2-3 weeks has made me pretty glad I’m off the trail as well.
Most of all I keep thinking about how hard it’s going to make it to finish out the trail. If I finish it out, I would like to do it a bit earlier in the year so I’m not having to deal with winter weather, but that would put me in a time where there wouldn’t be many (or even any) other CDT hikers on the trail around me. I would be starting from scratch again with getting my hiker legs (although starting with a fresh body may not be a bad thing). Finally, at this point I would really like to get a job, buy a house, and start getting plugged into and settled into a community instead of continuing to put life on “hold” and having a temporary job and living situation for almost a year. I think the chances of me finishing the trail are pretty small at this point, but we’ll see how things unfold. Maybe we’ll meet again at some point.
So there you have it: a very long response to the question “How did your hike go?”. I’m sure there is still a lot I’m leaving out. Haha.
This three part blog series is my attempt to answer the question “How did your CDT hike go?”. If you missed part one (overview of the MT & ID portion), you can check that out here. As you can tell from the title, this is an overview of the WY and CO portion.
I was super excited to get into Wyoming. It is my birth state, the state where I spent most of my childhood, and it was nice to finally be finished with the MT/ID portion. Ironically, I think this is where things started to unravel on me though. Yellowstone ended up being really easy hiking, but I didn’t find it particularly scenic/interesting. Shortly after that I had a really frustrating town stop in Dubois (the town wasn’t bad, just didn’t go well). Then it was into the Wind River Range (“the Winds”), which was supposed to be one of the main highlights of the entire hike. In the northern part of the Winds I had one of the hardest days physically, and definitely one of my low points mentally/emotionally: the climb over Knapsack Col, where I broke both trekking poles and put a good gash in my shin. In the southern part the smoke returned, so the views were diminished. I rushed through the beautiful Cirque of the Towers area to get over a couple passes before rain moved in. Then a big climb on a cold and rainy morning, followed by awful blowdowns, made for an absolutely miserable day. So while there were some absolutely amazing views and scenery in the Winds, that stretch got heavily tainted by the abundance of miserable moments. Based on how much I struggled with the big climbs in the Winds, I knew I might be in trouble in Colorado and I really started to worry about making it through Colorado.
Lander, WY was a place of big changes in my hike. The first one was with the trail itself. I was going from big mountains into relatively flat desert. This desert section had really worried me since the start of my hike. The second change was that it finally worked out so that I was hiking with a group after leaving town. In the 50+ days up to that point I had done very little hiking with other people. I had run into lots of different southbound hikers up to that point (mainly in towns), but had never been able to consistently stick around the same people for any considerable length of time. I thought it felt a lot like what speed dating must feel like. If the national parks (where camping is regulated) are excluded, up until Lander I believe I only had 3 nights outside of town (out of around 30) where I camped with other hikers. It had been quite lonely, and I was really glad to have some company leaving Lander.
After Lander is the stretch known as “the Basin”, which is the relatively flat desert area I referenced in the previous paragraph. I got lucky and went through the Basin with great weather. It wasn’t near as bad as I had thought it might be (due mostly to the cooler weather I had), but it was still quite boring and monotonous, and I was really glad to have some company going through there to help break up the monotony. I managed to get in 40 miles during a day in the Basin, but it involved hiking the last 1.5 miles or so cross country (no trail) in the dark (with a headlamp), which was miserable and I highly discourage. Haha.
Unfortunately for me most of the group I was hiking with left Rawlins, WY about a half day ahead of me, but they were making a brief stop in a town that I would be skipping, so I knew I had a chance at catching them. I hiked the first couple days out of Rawlins really hard to try to catch up to them. I managed to link back up with a few of them on the third day, which was great, but my legs were completely exhausted. The stretch between Rawlins and Steamboat Springs, CO is when I really started to have serious thoughts about quitting, I think mainly due to exhaustion, as well as being miserable and/or “bored” through much of Wyoming.
After getting into Steamboat, getting some rest, and having what is likely my favorite memory from trail (staying at an Airbnb with several other hikers), I decided to keep on going. If I had been by myself, I think there is a high likelihood I would have called it quits in Steamboat. Despite feeling so exhausted getting into Steamboat and not taking a zero, I actually felt pretty good leaving town. Our group got spread out a bit between Steamboat and Grand Lake, CO, but I was still able to stick around a couple of the people in that stretch. There was a really big climb on the third day out of Steamboat that I really struggled with, but it helped a lot having someone with me to help motivate me to keep going. The next day had another big climb that again was a big struggle. There was a portion of the climb with blowdowns across the trail that were really difficult to get around, which made for miserable hiking and put me in an awful mood. After getting to Grand Lake I decided I would be taking an alternate route that would skip the highest point on the CDT and save me some miles and elevation gain/loss. The big climbs had been kicking my butt, and at this point I just wanted to get through Colorado. I could do a “14er” another time with a daypack if I really wanted to check that off my list.
Although the hike out of Grand Lake was beautiful, it was a bit depressing as well since I knew the group I had been hiking with was going to be split up for a bit. Three of the hikers were getting off trail for a couple days to meet with friends. I was the only one I knew of planning on taking the alternate route, which would likely put me a couple days ahead of every one else. The first day out of Grand Lake was the first day in quite some time in which I didn’t see another CDT hiker and camped alone. Hiking with a group had a lot to do with me pushing on the last couple segments, so I was quite bummed to be without the group. Just before camp I tripped and fell hard, which didn’t help anything. The next day had a big climb up above 12,000 ft. Between the big climb, the cold temperature, the wind, and the exposed hiking, I was really miserable that morning. By lunchtime I was already fairly worn out and demoralized, and I had a decision to make: two more big climbs (with a big descent between them) for the day, or call it quits and head into Winter Park, CO. After eating I decided to call it quits. After that morning, there wasn’t much of me that was looking forward to the rest of Colorado and New Mexico. So on the afternoon of Sep. 5 I hiked my final few miles out to Winter Park.
In part 3, I’ll cover some individual topics about the hike in general, so be watching for that in the next few days.
It’s crazy to me that it has already been over a month since I called it quits on my CDT hike. I get asked all the time how the hike went. It’s difficult to give any sort of short (or even long) answer that does the trip justice. Although it’s still quite difficult to put the experience into words, I have spent some time over the last several days trying to put some thoughts about the trip down in writing. I ended up with three different blogs (including this one). I’ll share the other two over the next few days. Hopefully these blogs will give you a glimpse into the main takeaways I had from the trail and give a decent answer to the question “How did the hike go?”.
When I started the hike, I had every intention of going all the way to Mexico. However, some people may have noticed on my Instagram that I put “attempting a thru hike of the CDT” in my profile instead of a more definitive “thru hiking the CDT”. I knew the chances of actually finishing the trail were quite small, so I felt it was more appropriate to put the “attempting” in the bio until I actually finished, but I also wondered if that was an indication I wasn’t in the right mindset right off the bat.
Starting off in Glacier National Park (GNP) was amazing, and I’m really glad I got to hike through the park. I really enjoyed spending time at camp with Little Red and Chuckles. It was a great way to kick off the hike. It was a bit difficult, though, leaving the park and losing the magnificent views, running into lots of blowdowns, hiking through lots of burn areas, and being alone at camp pretty much every night. I think it made for a more pronounced “honey moon phase” at the start.
I said at the start that if I could make it through the first couple weeks, I would feel good about making it to Mexico. After the first two weeks, despite some rough moments, it was full steam ahead. However, it was around this two-week mark that I really started having issues with my first pack not fitting properly. I bought a new pack in Helena, MT and that pack ended up being worse than my first pack. At that point I had my parents send the pack I’ve used on my shorter trips over the last few years to Anaconda, MT. It ended up fitting better, but it still took my body some time to adjust to it. This whole ordeal made for some pretty miserable hiking over a few weeks.
Unfortunately the pack I got in Anaconda was much heavier than the pack I had started out with, which I knew I might regret in Colorado when the elevation gains and losses were a bigger deal. It seemed to take until early Wyoming before I felt like my body was fairly used to carrying the pack. I really wanted to get a lighter pack before Colorado, but I didn’t want to have another fiasco of trying a different pack and it not working out again. I decided in the end to keep the heavier pack, which may have been a contributing factor to me calling it quits early.
The other big story for me in Montana was the fire detour. There were all sorts of different things hikers were doing to get around the trail closure, which unfortunately ended up scattering hikers until northern Wyoming. I ended up skipping about 150 miles of the CDT, and instead doing a roughly 100 mile walk primarily on highways through the Big Hole Valley. It was a bummer not going through the mountains, but the Big Hole Valley was a neat area. The highway walking was really tough on my feet. Some of the worst blisters I had on trail occurred during this stretch.
Other than the pack issue and the fire detour, the Montana/Idaho section overall went fairly well. There were definitely some really difficult/rough parts, but they were sparse enough that they didn’t taint the overall experience. In the next blog I’ll share an overview of the WY/CO section.
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)
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.