Ouachita Trail Summary

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Team “What in the Blue Blazes” on our last morning.

Our grand plan to complete all 223 miles of the OT failed but we did hike 83 miles over 6 days over some pretty tough trail in some very cold weather. We had two nights with temperatures in the teens and we were just not prepared for temperatures that low. The cold temperatures were not a problem while hiking but made camping and sleeping brutal.

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The OT showing completed portion (yellow).

With rain and more cold weather forecast for the following week we have decided to end this attempt.

We saw some beautiful country and the trail, while very rocky, was generally a great hiking trail. We definitely woud like to come back to finish the trail.

Here’s what we will do differently:

  • Come later. At least a month later in the year (March instead of February). It was just too cold.
  • Take it a bit easier – 12-14 mile days rather than 15-16 mile days.
  • Better sleeping bags (warmer!)

 

 

 

An Early End.

Day 6, Feb 7

Another tough night. It rained most of the night and the temperatures dropped. We woke to trees coverd in ice and a trail that crunched when we walked. Estimating the temperature dropped into the high teens.

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Ice on the trail

Emerson has had enough and has decided to call it quits at the highway crossing 11.5 miles into today’s hike.  Roberta and I are still talking about continuing one more night but as the day wears on and the cold doesn’t let up we decide to follow Emerson.

Walking through a winter wonderland of frozen pine trees is beautiful but COLD!  Forecast for tonight is even colder so we feel comfortable about our decision to end our hike today.

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Cutie hitchhiking into Story, Arkansas

We got to Hwy 298 about 1:00 and began hitching (could not call Lori at the Bluebell Cafe because we had no cell coverage). Got a ride from the second car and were eating a hamburger by 1:30! Emerson joined us a couple hours later and Lori gave us a ride to Mt Ida and our hotel (Royal Oak Inn) for a hot bath and a warm bed.

 

Storm!

Day 5, Tue., Feb 6

Emerson had cell coverage (he has AT&T and we have T-Mobile) so we got a weather forecast that called for rain starting in the afternoon. We started the day having completed roughly 58 miles and wanted to do another 15 miler but with the forecast elected to shorten the day to get to a trail shelter by the early afternoon, making a 12.5 mile day.

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Togged out for rain!

Arrived at the shelter just before 2:00 PM and found another hiker already there. Tim is an east-bound through hiker. He gave us the scoop on the trail ahead and Mt Ida (it’s in a dry county!!!).

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Bert by the fire. Tim, AKA “The Firestarter” is behind

Tim was from Fort Worth and through-hiking by himself. He said the stretch west of AR-27 was harder. Great.

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Emerson in the shelter – our home for the night.

Tim built a great fire. We cooked our dinners and hung around the fire talking, watching the temperature drop and waiting for the rain. The rain started around 5:00, driving us into the shelter and into our sleeping bags for the night.

Brrrrr!

Day 4, Monday, Feb 5.

We had a bad night. The wind picked up and the temperature dropped. We awoke to frozen water bladders and an ice sheen on the pond next to our tents.

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Frozen pond!
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Frozen Hydration Bladder Tube

Was tough getting started but we still managed to get out by 7:30.  Our bladders did not thaw till nearly noon so no water in the morning. The sun slowly warmed things up to the 40’s (we estimate the temperature overnight in the low 20’s) and we were able to stop for lunch in the sun.

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Cold morning on the trail.
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Intrepid hiker crossing a stream

But the day ended well as it warmed up. We got to our camp site after a lovely walk through a sun-dappled forest and the camp site was our prettiest by far.

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Tent site on day 4

All in all a good day after a terribly cold night.  Things are looking up!

It Gets Serious (Day 3)

Sunday, Feb 4.

We started the day early – packed up and hiking by 7:30. It is not light enough to hike much before 7:00 or so. We immediately started the day with a steep climb. The plan for today was 16.6 miles but we quickly realized it might not be possible.

The problem was that we have to at our destination  by 3:30 or 4:00 to get our camp set up, water filtered and dinner made before  it starts getting cold. Decided to go 15 miles today and modified the schedule to keep it around 15 miles. We can still get to Mt Ida in 7 days at that pace.

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Day 3 Elevatin Profile

We entered the National Forest early in today’s hike. The last 10 miles we skirted private lands between the state park and the national forest.

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Entering the Ouachita National Forest

We decided to camp near a pond after 15 miles (44 miles todal). Set up camp around 3:30. Emerson rolled in about 30 minutes later. Started to get cold and the wind picked up.

A Good Start

Our first two days on the Ouachita Trail (which, by the way, I learned I had been mispronouncing – it’s pronounced like “washita”) were hard and cold but lovely.

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The Adventure Begins!

Our Lyft driver fom Little Rock (the trail starts in Pinnacle Mountain State Park, about 20 miles west of  Little Rock) was very talkative – we were her last ride before her weelky rehab session. It was cold (low 30’s) but promised sun and we were excited to be starting.

After a lovely 14.1 miles of slowly warming weather and fairly easy terrain wee “stealth” camped (the “official” campground is a mile off the trail and no water) near a creek.

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Our First Camp Site

We continued west around the north side of Lake Maumelle on the second day.

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Lake Maumelle

Another lovely day in nice weather (sunny but still cold – highs in the 40’s) and, after 14.5 miles (and 30 minutes spent finding the trail at one point) we camped near another small creek.

Water was plentiful the first two days so we all carried about 2L for the day and filtered water in camp each evening.

It got cold early though, temperatures dropped precipitously after 4:00 so we were all in our sleeping bags early.

Gear

With two weeks to go before heading out on the trail here is our “final” gear list. My base is a pound higher than I like but most of that is due to the additional winter clothes and the fact that I am carrying a two-man tent. Roberta has a comfortable 14 lbs base.

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Tent:  The Saddle 2 is a new tent I got for Christmas. It is the two person version of the Notch which I used on the PCT and in Big Bend.  I’m hoping we like it as much as I like the Notch.  It weights  bit more (the Notch was under 2 lbs) but it is big enough for two people. It has vestibules on both sides for gear.

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Sleeping Bags:  We are both using our old Marmot 20 degree bags.They weigh 2-3 lbs and should be good down to 10 degrees or so (the tent adds 10 degrees).

Packs:  I’ll be using my old  Exos 58 (which has over 800 trail miles on it now) and Roberta will be using a new pack – an REI Flash 45. My Exos stripped down (removed the top pocket) weighs less than 2.5 lbs. The Flash 45 weighs a little bit more but still under 3 lbs.

Cooking:  The plan is to use the little BRS3000 canister stove I used on the PCT. This is a cool little stove that weighs just under an ounce. IMHO  canister stoves are the only way to go.  Alcohol stoves take forever to cook anything. The plan is for Roberta and I to each carry one small (110g) canister. In my experience you can can easily get 14-18 L of boiled water with a small fuel canister so two small canisters should see us through the whole trek.

Cook kit will consist of a mug, spork, lighter, emergency matches and the stove.

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Cook Kit

Hydration:  We will use a 4L MSR Dromlite bladder (4.2 oz) for dirty water and have two 2-L Playpus collapsible bottles (1.3 oz each) for clean water. That gives me a total capacity of 8 L. Roberta will have her 2.5 L Osprey bladder and two 1L Playpus bottles. We will use a Sawyer Mini filter for water treatment and gravity to supply the filter pressure. I used this system the PCT and it worked well – hang the dirty water bag in a tree and filter water while setting up camp or eating lunch. I also carry a collapsable Nalgene bottle to use as a pee bottle at night (too cold to go out!).

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Water System

First Aid:  We’ll carry the usual assortment of  meds (immodium, aspirin, ibuprofen, etc), antibiotic ointment, moleskin and small needles (for blisters). Bert will also have her contact stuff and her back meds.

Electronics:  My iPhone 6S running Guthooks navigation app will be our primary navigation aid. I used Guthook on the PCT and never looked at my physical maps. My phone will also be my backup compass, flashlight, and E-reader. Which makes power important – so I have upgraded to an Anker Power Core 10000 (6.6 oz). It has great power density (over 1500 mAh/oz) and should give me 5 full additional charges. Roberta will have her 6S and an Echine 5200 (4.4 oz) external battery pack. We will also have a SPOT satellite tracker – it weighs close to 5 oz but with limited expected cell phone coverage it adds a little security. And a bluetooth keyboard for blogging. Of course.

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Jason’s Electronics (minus iP6)

Clothes:  This will be a winter hike so we will be taking an extra layer. This is my pack plan. Head: Wool hat, buff. Hands: Heavy running gloves and waterproof shells. Top: Rain jacket (with hood), micro-puff, fleece, lightweight capilene base, running shirt. Bottom: Houdini wind pants, hiking pants, mid-weight capilene base.

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Clothes: Left – worn, Right – Packed

OT: The Detailed Plan

Here is our current hike plan, which has us averaging 15-16 miles a day for two weeks with one zero day (Feb 9)  and one nero day (Feb 14, 6.9 miles).

Water

After doing 800 odd miles of the PCT in souther California (especially during the 2015 drought year) I am a bit paranoid about water. Thru-hiker resources for the OT are primitive (compared to the PCT) and the water info is a good example. The FOT website has a water report ( http://www.friendsot.org/index_htm_files/OT_Water_Sources-rev_2016-12-12.pdf ) but it is not updated very often (the report date says it was last updated in January of 2017!) unlike the PCT water report which is dynamic and updated almost daily, allowing hikers to post new info as they experience the trail. The FOT website suggests stashing water at certain places, which is fine for a 2-4 day section hike but really is impractical for a thru hike.   The plan has a few places where water could be a problem and we will just have to be careful.

Navigation

We plan on using the GutHook navigation app on an iPhone as our principal navigation aid. I used it on the PCT and never looked at the paper maps I had   brought. The trail is supposed to be well blazed (at least for most sections) so keeping to the trail should not be a problem. Of course we will have a compass and electronic maps for backup.

OT: Key Dates

The OT runs from just west of Little Rock to Talihina (Ok).  Our plan has us doing the trail from East to West. There are two main reasons for this – ease of access to the start of the trail and the fact that the eastern end is a little flatter (so we can have a few easier days at the start).  We also would have the advantage that Francis could pick us up after we finish (Talihina is about a 3 hour drive from Norman).

We have purchased our plane tickets to Little Rock so we are committed! Here are some key dates for our planned hike: