Ouachita Trail Thru Hike

October 22 2019 Ouachita Trail mile 5

I was planning on camping at Talimena State Park tonight and starting the trail in the morning but since Dad dropped me off so early (2:15), I decided to hike a few miles instead. We stashed a couple of liters of water 2 miles in where the OT is near a road, and then we went back to the trailhead. Dad took some photos of me in front of the OT sign and I also met two guys, Shane and JB, out on an overnighter. Once I got started I was glad to not be carrying those liters up a 1,000 foot climb right off the bat. I scooped them up an hour later, pleased to be making these “bonus miles” even though they are just miles. I decided five miles was enough bonus miles and I have pitched my tent just off the trail at an established site with a good view of the sunset. For the first time ever, I packed out cheeseburgers for dinner and they did not disappoint. Many hikers do this and I’ve always thought that it was a good idea and I was right. Shane and JB passed by and we chatted about turkeys and tents, then they made their way down the trail. I’ll probably see them tomorrow.

I’m loving this trail so far and I can’t wait to see what I see tomorrow.

October 23 2019 OT mile 23.8

The Ouachita Trail is 222.6 miles and runs East/West along the Ozark mountains. It has a total elevation gain of 34,360 feet. About the same in loss. The western terminus is in Talimena State Park in eastern Oklahoma. The eastern terminus is in central Arkansas at Pinnacle Mountain State Park, just north of Little Rock. So the plan is to hike the trail and then take the bus home from Little Rock.

This morning started off well and I was on the trail at 7am sharp. I made good time for about two hours then it got rocky. Like PA on the AT rocky. Merciful mercy cats! The miles came slowly and by the time I made it here I was exhausted. I’m at Winding Stair Trailhead and a trail angel left some water. My first trail magic!

October 24 2019 OT mile 43.2

I had just finished packing up my tent when I felt the first drops. I scrambled to pack the rest of my gear in my pack as I finished my coffee. I pulled my pack cover down over my pack and it started raining in earnest. It was about 6:15am when I headed across the road and started up the trail. Winding Stair shelter was about 1.5 miles up on a ridge and I thought I’d stop there to better organize my gear. Once I got within 20 yards of the shelter I couldn’t find it; heavy mist and my own fogged up glasses prevented me from seeing much. Finally I found it and there I reorganized and pulled out my rain mitts. This rain felt like it would stick around.

And it did. A few times it poured so hard I struggled to remember the last time I felt rain like that. Thunder crashed all morning and lightning a few times. After about 10 miles I got to Pashubbe shelter where I met two hikers and two trail angels. The trail angel had hiked in two gallons of water and some beer. They left right as I got there and I met Chris and his dog Owsley and Mike. Mike was getting off trail tomorrow and so he offered me some of his Mountain House meals which I gladly accepted. So nice of him. Chris and Owsley headed out; I’ll probably catch them tomorrow. I chatted with Mike for a bit as I ate lunch. It’s so nice to have shelters on this trail. When it’s raining it’s hard to make a sandwich and here I was, drinking store bought water, taking my time making my sandwich, and relaxing. It was nice. Once I finished eating the trail was calling and so I headed off to get ten more miles for the day. I have a sweet spot right next to the Kiamichi river and its sounds are going to be nice background noise tonight as I sleep in my tent.

October 25 2019 OT mile 57.8 Black Fork Mountain Shelter

The tent was soaked this morning as I got up and going. I remained dry through the night but packing up a wet tent made my hands cold. Good thing I had a big 1,300 foot climb up to the state line to warm up. I crossed into Arkansas from Oklahoma around 9am. Whew! I stopped at the shelter there and met Jeff. He said Chris and Owsley just left and I told him that his buddy Mike says hi. There was quite a bit of garbage around the shelter so we made quick time of cleaning that up. From there it was a nice 5 mile hike over to the Wilimena State Park Lodge where I had my heart set on a cheeseburger and fries. It was very foggy on the hike across the ridge and I passed a creepy old cemetery that was established back in the day when a local girl got treed by wolves and after holding out for a day or so they got her. Horrible.

With that bit of gothic horror stuck in my mind I stopped at the restrooms once I got near the lodge and found hot water. Yay! I washed my face and disposed of my garbage. As I walked through the campground, I met Ron, who runs the trail crews I had just met. They were clearing lots of brambles and blow downs which makes my hikes more enjoyable. I am always very grateful for the volunteers who keep our National Scenic Trails in tip top shape. Ron also told me that he oversaw the building of the newer shelters I’ve seen so far on the trail. Well done Ron!

I saw Chris and Owsley at the restaurant; they had already eaten so I went in and got my burger and a giant cup of tea. I was cold and it was cold in the restaurant. I enjoyed my food and tea and then headed out for the shelter. It was a slow going five miles due to the rocks. I saw two backpackers and their dog who said they were heading to the shelter but they never showed up. They were moving pretty slow and Chris and I figured they stopped to pitch their tent. I was a bit concerned because one of the hikers had her sleeping bag strapped to the top of her pack in a non waterproof bag. Not a good thing. Her bag must have gotten soaked in the rain.

Anyway, turns out Chris is a trail angel for Steamboat Springs and he was talking about some CDT hikers to whom he had given rides. Turns out we know some of the same people. The hiking community is close knit and I love that I can run into someone in the backcountry of Arkansas and we know the same people.

October 26 2019 OT mile 79.9 Turner Gap Shelter

What a long day. Some nice cruiser trail but today was mostly rugged, overgrown and uneven trail that was very challenging. But I made my goal. Made it down to this shelter in the dark. Now that I have a full belly I am going to sleep. Alone in this shelter.

October 27 2019 OT mile 96.3

I slept long and hard last night and so I decided to sleep in until 6am. Ha! Sleeping in. Funny! By 6:45 I was hiking down the trail. Before long it was light. It was nice to have some sun and warmth. I took lots of photos this morning and had fun tramping down the trail. I stopped at a shelter for lunch and to try to dry my tent out, finally. I saw no one today and I wonder if I’ll run into any more hikers on this trail. I’ve seen more trail crew workers than hikers! Which is actually pretty great. Today’s trail was very well maintained for the most part; not like yesterday. In all fairness I did see the crew I saw on Friday out there at the end of the day with their weed eaters trying to fend off the brambles. A valiant effort. I’ve pitched my tent off the trail in the woods next to some pines, and now that I have a full belly I’m going to read until I fall asleep.

October 28 2019 OT mile 116.7 Story Creek Shelter

I had pitched my tent in the woods about 50 yards from the trail under some pines and I slept hard. I was packed up around 6:30am and hit the trail. I felt tired but as soon as it got light I had more energy. I had nice trail all day. The further East I get the better the trail is. It’s not as rocky and overgrown which is wonderful. Around 1pm I stopped at the peak of Suck Mountain at the shelter there. A very nice spot. Well taken care of and clean with chairs! I had lunch and left a message for Lori, who owns the Bluebell Cafe in Story, a small town just a few miles from the trail. I scheduled a pickup with her for 9am tomorrow morning. The eight miles over a ridge and down to Story Creek shelter were classic cruiser trail and I felt magnificent. I got water at Story Creek before walking the .1 to the shelter. What a gorgeous spot. Right now is peak foliage and the colors are so vivid I feel like I’m in a calendar for the month of October. So far I have the shelter all to myself, once again.

October 29 2019 OT mile 127.6 Bill Potter Shelter

I was walking by 6:15am. I only had five or so miles to the trailhead where I would meet Lori but I wanted to make sure I wasn’t late and I also wanted to take my time. Today is kind of my chill day. It’s been misty all day and kind of raining but not really. The trail is nice once again and I end up making good time despite my efforts to take it easy. The Bluebell Cafe and Country Store is a unique little place with lots of old tools hanging from the walls and ceiling, crystals, and knick knacks. I felt at home. I was nice to sit at a table, eat some good food and just relax. Lori took me back to the trailhead around 12:30 and we chatted trail for a bit and it is clear that she cares a great deal about hikers and this trail. It warms my heart. She asked me to call her when I finish to let her know I’m done and that made me feel like I am part of this community. It feels good. I hike for a couple of hours and got to this shelter early; it was nice to get here and do some stretches and read. Tomorrow is going to be a tough day so I want to rest well today.

Sidenote: someone pooped directly behind the shelter and covered it with tp. Jerks.

October 30 2019 OT mile 150.6 Big Bear Shelter

The call of nature woke me at 4:30am and I could not get back to sleep after I took care of business. In the rain. I got back in my sleeping bag and wondered if the Iron Fork River had risen much. There is a concrete bridge but sometimes it floods out. I was concerned. Hence my inability to get back to sleep.

So I made coffee and had breakfast and got going. I knew I had a long, rainy day ahead of me so I had extra coffee. It’s so nice having shelters all to myself, especially when it’s raining. Around 11am I came across some trail magic; a cooler with sodas and a couple of Starbucks iced coffee drinks. I drank one and immediately felt great. Maybe it was the caffeine or maybe it was the generosity of strangers. Both? Probably. As I was hiking up, up, up, a thunderstorm rolled in and I saw Blue Mt. shelter off to my left and made straight for it. I took off my drenched rain jacket and rain mitts and made some hot water on my stove. So nice. Soon, the storm passed and the sun came out for a brief moment. I decided to get back to it and make the last 7 or so miles to Big Bear. Another storm came through but by the time I got here it had passed and the wind came in. I know I should probably pitch my tent in the shelter but I am too tired to care right now.

October 31 2019 OT mile 168.3 Oak Mountain Shelter

I did my best to sleep in but I was cold. I was walking at 6:45am. I was tired all day. It was overcast and cold for hours before I started to feel warm. Fortunately, the wind during the night has seemed to dry all the rain that was on the grass and bushes next to the trail so that’s a bonus. Tonight, if I’m alone again in the shelter I’m heading to, I think I’ll pitch my tent in it for maximum heat. It’s going to be even colder tonight. Normally I’m against tents in shelters but if I’m the only one there, I can make an exception.

I found some trail magic again today; I’m guessing it was by the same person who put out the cooler yesterday since it was the same beverages. This time the coffee drink had no effect on me. While I am loving this trail and enjoy being out here I am also exhausted and ready for a rest. Soon. So I make the most of what I have and go from there.

I got to this shelter early and that’s ok. I dried my shoes in the sun and took care of dinner and pitched my tent in the shelter. This shelter has a covered deck porch which is really convenient and if it were raining I would be stoked. And as I write this another hiker has showed up. And a female solo hiker at that. I’m happy.

Later: Cathy, the hiker who is sharing the shelter with me tonight, was the one who left the trail magic I got today and yesterday. She also was the one who put water in the Turner Gap shelter last weekend; that water saved my butt and I am very grateful for her kindness. It was nice to chat trail and gear with another woman and I enjoyed her company.

November 1 2019 OT mile 189.5 Nancy Mountain Shelter

I was up early and so was Cathy. We chatted as we did our morning routines, which was a pleasant way for me to start my day. I was walking down the trail at 6:15am or so. I knew I had a long day ahead of me, the last day of big miles and big gains. Just after I crossed Crystal Prong Creek I ran into one of the trail crew volunteers I had met last weekend. He was heading over to a massive blow down that covered a section of trail I had just passed. And these guys use handsaws. I told him he had his work cut out for him and he looked happy about that. Trail volunteers make my hiking world go ‘round and I am always happy to talk to them about their work on the trail and how they do what they do. They take before and after photos of their work with the time spent on the project and submit it to get money from the state. Pretty cool.

The rest of the day was uneventful, I did get some good views at certain points and I ran into a beautiful golden retriever and his person, van lifers, who were camping near the trail. They were very nice and we chatted trail for a few minutes. It’s really nice to see people and now that I’m here at the shelter, a group of guys hiked up; they are out for the weekend and are tenting next to the shelter. It’s nice to be by myself, but it is also comforting to know nice people are around.

November 2 2010 OT mile 208.5 Penney Campsite

I was walking at 6:15am and it was a pleasant stroll downhill. I love the last few days of a hike because my pack is light; little fuel left, little food. Just enough to get me through. It was nice walking but once I got out of the higher elevations the landscape changed. Still beautiful but lacking that alpine feel. I met Dean, a tugboat captain from Louisiana who is out on trail for a week. We talked trail for a bit and it was nice. When I got to the junction to the campsite, I followed the white blazes for 200 yards and then the trail vanished. I found it again with my GPS but it was tough. Very overgrown. Then I popped out onto an ATV track which I took uphill here to the campsite. It’s an alright spot with tent platforms so that’s nice. I’m alone this night, my last night on trail. I feel good about this hike and am pleased with the way everything worked out.

November 3 2019 OT mile 222.6 Pinnacle Mountain State Park

I was walking at 5:30am and by 6:30 it was light because of the time change. Nice! Today was more scenic than yesterday and I met several nice trail runners from the area who were kind enough to tell me congratulations. I felt good all morning and by the time I was entering the last stretch in Pinnacle from the parking lot to the end of the trail at the Visitor’s Center I was elated. Some strangers gave me orange wedges and asked me about my hike. Of course they were volunteers; it seems that just about everyone I meet is a volunteer. I think I need to up my game beyond picking up trash on the trails I hike.

I got to the end of the trail and took a selfie in front of the sign and then went to the Visitor’s Center to get my OT patch. And a soda. I sat in the sun and waited for my Lyft to take me into Little Rock and my hotel.

Later:

Well, there is no bathtub in my room but I don’t give a damn. The last time I went this long without a shower was in 1995 on an Outward Bound semester adventure. I was 20. Another lifetime ago, but the same life. Different Cicely. Same Cicely.

4 thoughts on “Ouachita Trail Thru Hike

  1. Cougar: seeing your radiant smile on a trail just makes me so happy! After your knee issues earlies this year, the first word that came to my mind was “unsinkable”!
    The shelters, Brandon, rockin’ those cheeseburgers, the trail magic…sister, you are absolutely killin’ it! Congrats on yet another outstanding thru – hike from one of your fans and brothers! Love and smiles from Minnesota (visiting family and restarting work for a spell). Max

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    1. Thanks Max! I thought about you on this trail and all the fun we had this year on the CDT. Such good times and I’m grateful for our friendship. Thanks again for reading!

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