87 miles, 2 thunderstorms and 7 days later, we stumbled up the steps to the QW Lodge under an overcast sky.
Day 1, Wed, Mar 6 (OT 138.5 to OT 127.6)
Woke up early at the Royal Oaks Inn (Mt Ida) and drove to the Blue Bell Cafe for breakfast and a ride to the trail from Lori (cafe owner). Cold (~20 degrees) but the sun is out and we had a wonderful first day of hiking in sunshine to our first camp at the Bill Potter Shelter after 11.4 miles.
Off we go..
The shelters are wonderful by the way – three sided wood structures with a sleeping platform and (luxury!) a picnic table!
Day 2, Thu, Mar 7 (OT 127.6 to 116.6)
Slept well in the shelter – there was enough room on the sleeping platform so we were able to set our tent up next to Emerson – made it just a little bit warmer. Not as nice today – in the 40’s and overcast. Had our rain gear on most of the day. Camped at Story Creek Shelter.
This was another 11.5 mile day – we are starting easy. Met one group of day hikers heading east.
Day 3, Fri, Mar 8 (OT 116.6 to 100.8)
Managed to get cell coverage long enough to get a weather report and a big storm is coming through sometime after Friday afternoon so we elected to go long (nearly 16 miles) today to get to Fiddler Creek shelter. Stopped at Suck Mountain (yes, that is a real name) Shelter for lunch.
Met a couple of thru-hikers heating east toward Suck Mt. They were just returning to the trail after getting off for the real cold weather. Haven’t seen any animals yet but a lot of scat. We have done about 37 miles – tomorrow we will pass the half way point of the section.
Everyone is feeling good but pretty tired. Emerson surprised us with a little mini bottle of Jack Daniels – he is today’s hero
Day 4, Sat, Mar 9 (OT 100.8 to 90.5)
Good call pushing to the shelter (kudos to Roberta!) as we woke Saturday morning to a major thunderstorm – lightning, rain, pea-size hail and big winds.
Left the shelter about 9:00 after the rain let up. Pretty short day – only 10 miles after yesterday’s 16. Another shelter night (Brushy Creek Shelter) – fourth in a row! Stopped at Brushy Creek CG for lunch and managed to dry out the tent and wash some pants.
Day 5, Sun, Mar 10 (OT 90.5 to 77.2)
13.3 mile day and finish with a big climb up Blue Mountain where we camped for the night. Picked up our water cache at OT 88.2 (this is supposed to be 20 mile waterless section but with all the rain there is actually some water).
We are all pretty tired at this point and the climb at the end of the day was tough. This is our first rough camping (no shelter). Saw two deer coming up the mountain.
Day 6, Mon, Mar 11 (OT 77.2 to 63.9)
Woke to a light rain which we waited out. Finally stopped around 8:45 and we started hiking. Met three section hikers heading east just past Tan-A-Hill spring. Stopped for lunch at Foran Gap Shelter, drying off our tents. Three east bound thru-hikers from Ft Smith showed up and we visited for a bit. Unfortunately I left my hiking shirt there. Darn! Got water at a pretty little water fall just off the trail. Unfortunately Emerson ended up losing his dirty water bag somewhere around here.
Lovely day weather-wise, hazy sun and 50’s, I ended the day in shorts and tee shirt. Trail was not great the last 5 miles, lots of brambles and trees across the trail.
Day 7,Tue, Mar 12 (OT 63.9 to 51.5)
Thunderstorms overnight with some fairly heavy rain. Would have been nice to be in a shelter but our tent did not leak (though Emerson says his did). Waited for Emerson to run back .3 miles to retrieve his lost trekking pole before starting for the lodge and a shower!
The trail was particularly nasty the last 5 miles, rocky, wet and not level but the promise of a warm bed and a hot shower kept us going.
Overall it was a very rewarding week of hiking. We had some very iffy weather but always managed to be either in our tents or a shelter when it got really nasty. We hiked in 70 degree sunshine and 40’s wet and windy overcast. Sometimes in the same day.
The shelters were a nice surprise and came in very handy with the rough weather. The trail is mostly good but very rocky and obstructed in a few places. And every one says it gets worse as you head west. And it can be a tough trail. Some of the pitches are very steep.
We picked a good day for a zero. Another major front is causing heavy winds and rain outside as I type this. But it’s all supposed to pass by tomorrow when we plan to head back out.