223 Miles and DONE!

After sitting out an historic weather event that brought cold temperatures, rain and 50 mph winds to the lovely Queen Wilhelmina  Lodge (our rest day after seven days on the trail) we set out to complete the final 51.5 miles of the Ouachita Trail under a bright sunny (but cold and windy) sky.

Heading our or the last 50 miles!

Day 9, Thu, Mar 14 (OT 51.5 to OT 38.0)

After yesterday’s windy, rainy day this was a nice surprise. Still windy but sunny as we head out.

Mid-continent cyclone on our rest day.

Fantastic weather all day. Trail was wet but significantly better than the other side of the lodge. First five miles followed the scenic byway before heading down to the Kiamichi River. Eight river crossings of the river. Eight! And we got wet on nearly every one.

Ran into a couple of east bound hikers, Christopher and Shane. “Hey, You aren’t the people drinking beer in the lodge on Facebook are you?” Yep. They spent the horrible weather day (yesterday) in a shelter. 

East bound thru-hikers (Christopher and Shane) that survived the big storm.

Big climb at the end of the day to get to a not so great camp site but everyone is upbeat – three days left! And had some wonderful views today. And we are now in Oklahoma – passed over the state line a few miles back.

The intrepid hiker.

Day 10, Fri, Mar 15 (OT 38.0 to OT 25.2)

Tough day – not as long as yesterday but lots of vertical – nearly 3,00o feet.

New OT mile markers. Hard to see and harder to read.

Did the 39 switchback Winding Stair ascent to the Winding Stair Shelter to end the day.  Stopped at the aptly names Red Spring for some badly needed (and very iron flavored!) water and lunch.

Aptly named Red Spring

Already occupied when we got here – Norris (Tampa) and Scott (Broken Arrow).  Nice couple of section hikers who gave us Jolly Ranchers! Had one big water crossing that resulted in Emerson going for a swim.  Only 25 miles left!

Tired hiker nearing the shelter.

Day 11, Sat, Mar 16 (OT 25.2 to OT 13.2)

Gorgeous day. Sunny and 50’s and the wind has finally died down. Met lots of day/section hikers (weekend and spring break?). Stopped at Winding Stair CG to dump garbage and use the toilets – no water though. Trail has been generally good but sometimes a bit rocky and steep.

Yes, that is the trail. Note the blue blaze on the middle rock.

Then to Dead Horse Spring for water. But no horse.

Dead Horse Spring and much needed water.

Camped at a lovely rough spot with cell coverage! Used the coverage to called Lori (Blue Bell Cafe)- our car is waiting for us. Nice surprise.

Emerson enjoying camp

Day 12, Sat, Mar 17 (OT 13.2 to OT 0.0)

Another beautiful sunny morning! Last night was a bit warmer – definitely in the high 30’s so will be a bit warmer today.

Decided to stash Bert’s pack and our tents at Deadman’s Pass near our last water cache  bear OT 8.0 (Bert is having some problems with her glute and drooping weight should help). Will pick them up on the way back to Mt Ida.

Horizontal hiking!

Met (and passed) four day hikers that are doing the trail  in short day sections.

You have to have hair like this to trail blog.

We are definitely ready to finish when we roll into Talimena State Park, the western end of the trail.

Waiting for Harold, the park ranger, and our car keys.
The requisite end-of-trail brew. Looks like Bert may have lost hers?

Well, after two years and 223 miles (134.5 this year) we completed the Ouachita Trail. Met some nice people, saw some lovely views, crossed (and re-crossed!) some fine streams and had (at the end) absolutely beautiful weather.  We finished tired and happy. Oh… here is the requisite blister pic..

I’m not even sure what that thing in the middle is…

Queen Wilhelmina Lodge….. FINALLY!

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..

A cold start!

The shelters are wonderful by the way – three sided wood structures with a sleeping platform and (luxury!) a picnic table!

Hikers at a shelter

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.

Intrepid Hikers
Fire experts at work…

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.

Couple of tired hikers having lunch at a shelter
Cool cave on the trail

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.

Looking out at the rain from the back of the shelter.

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.

Cooking dinner – so nice in a shelter!
Relaxing at the shelter

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).

Water cache with Emerson arriving in the distance

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.

Deer on the trail

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.

Pretty waterfall (and tasty water!)

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.

Bramble souvenir from the OT
A few trail obstacles – yes, this IS he 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!

Cute hiker crossing a stream.

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.

The lodge….finally!

Hiker rewards

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.

In Mt Ida – Starting Tomorrow

We arrived in Mt Ida early this afternoon after a cold, two day drive from Denver. Last night is was 15 degrees in Tulsa! Tomorrow promises to start cold (16-20 degrees depending on who’s forecast you trust) but should see the beginning of a warming trend that will bring temperatures back to a more normal range by Friday.

We drove the Talimena Scenic Parkway (which parallels the trail for about 60 miles) dropping off a couple of water cache’s and a food cache at the Queen Wilhelmina Lodge.

Our home in Mt Ida!

We will drive to the Blue Bell Cafe in the morning for breakfast and then  Lori (the proprietor) has promised us a ride the trail (Mile 138.4, where we exited the trail last February) and we will be off!

We did a final pack check and weigh-in while waiting for Emerson to show up. These are our final weights – they are a bit lower than expected because we will be wearing a lot of our cold-weather clothing when we start in the morning. This is with 7 days of food  and 2L of water.


Delayed Start…

With the forecast of an unusual late season arctic cold front blowing through the central part of the country on the very day we had planned to start (Mon, Marc 4) we have decided to delay our start by two days. We will now be leaving from  OT Mile 138 (about 10 miles east of Story, Arkansas) on Wednesday, Mar 6.   As I write this (Sunday morning, Mar 3) it is -1 degrees in Denver and 36 degrees in Mt Ida.

The projections show a 20 degree average temperature rise from Monday to Thursday. After that the temperatures are more typical (40-65) for this time of year. We will probably get some rain but, especially after last year, we don’t want any more sub-20 degree nights.

Ouachita Trail…. 2.0

Getting ready for the trail with two weeks to go. Base weight is coming in at about 15.5 lbs. With 9.5 lbs of food (first 7 days) and 2L of water (4.4 lbs), pack should be just under 30 lbs when we start.

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Everything but the water!

Here is the plan:

  • Drive from Denver – Leave Sat, Mar 2.
  • Overnight in Tulsa  – Sat Mar 2 – long day (10 hour drive) but makes tomorrow much easier.
  • Drive to Mt Ida – dropping off water at two cache sites – 4-5 hour drive:
    1. Cache #1: Deadman Gap (OT 8.0)
    2. Cache #2: OT 86.0
  • AND dropping off our food cache at the QW Lodge (OT 51.5)
  • Overnight at Royal Oak Inn (Sun, Mar 3)
  • Get Lori (or someone) to get us to the trail on Mon Mar 4, OT  138.4
  • Hike for 7 days, 88 miles,  12.6 m/day, arriving at the QW Lodge on Sun, Mar 10. Two nights at the lodge, Sun, Mon, Mar 10-11.
  • Leave early Tue, Mar 12 for the final 51 miles
  • Arrive at the TH early Sat, Mar 16 (Sat) 
  • Get a ride from Talimena State Park (Michael, Ouachita Trail Guide) back to Mt Ida.
  • Spend two night in Mt Ida, Mar 16,17
  • Head home to Houston on Mar 18.

We have all our food.  We plan to share the prepared freeze-dried meals for dinners (what Roberta calls “glop”). I’ll be eating about 2400 calories a day which, for 13-14 mile days is about right.

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