Finally, some backpacking time! A week ago Chris and I went with my dad, brother and some of their friends from my brother’s old Boy Scout troop to the Eagle Rock Loop in Ouachita National Forest. I was very happy to be getting some hiking in—on mountains especially. I was hoping that part of it would be reminiscent of the Appalachian Trail and I was pleasantly rewarded with birds, vegetation and smells that we saw on our hike of the A.T.
We split the drive up, leaving Houston for Dallas at noon one day, then jumping in the car that my dad, brother and another hiker were in to finish the rest of the way to the forest. We were meeting everyone else at the Little Missouri/Athens-Big Fork Junction Trailhead. Unfortunately the directions we had to get there, once inside the forest, were a little jumbled—turning at forks and somehow we managed to end up taking the wrong split. At Bard Springs we found a map and managed to figure out what forest roads we needed to take to get where we were starting the hike, finally arriving at nearly midnight.
Headlamps on, we found an area with the least amount of poison ivy to set our tent up and hit the sack.
The next morning the rest of the group emerged from the woods near the parking area to eat breakfast and chat. I was happy to see two other women on the hike, the wife of one of the other hikers—also the mother of the other female on the hike. We set off by 7:30 am, crossing the Little Missouri River, which at this point is merely a small creek we could rock hop across—vastly different than what we would see later on in the hike.
We started off on the Athens-Big Fork trail, a trail with 8 ‘peaks’ to go over. If we had been on the Appalachian Trail I’d say it was a mini-rollercoaster. Since it had been awhile since any of us had been on mountains, the first mountain took some time getting up. Slowly, but surely we made it up and over the first peak. Beyond, we saw the next couple we would have to go over.
Going down the first mountain I was reminded of my knees and how badly they hurt after finishing the A.T. I never thought they would recover, but 2-3 months later I finally woke up one morning and realized I didn’t wince getting out of bed or kneeling down to grab something off the floor. Most of the downhills were mild but there was one or two that were more steep than the others and caused a bit of pain going down.
This time of year, with the number of water crossings in this section, carrying a lot of water isn’t needed. Between every mountain is a small creek, mostly rock-hopping sized, and water is easily collected from there.
Chris was excited to find a lot of big leaf magnolias around the forest. He’d just bought one for us to grow at our house, someday—it is currently in a container, so seeing an abundance of them were quite exciting for us.
Due to the varying speeds of the hikers most of the time we waited near the creeks for everyone to catch up. Since we weren’t on any sort of time crunch to get to a destination for the evening it was nice to relax and enjoy the trip instead of breezing by everything.
Chris’ big goal was to be able to fish along the creeks and streams while we hiked. It was late morning before we came across one with a deep enough pool to warrant fishing. Had it been mid-afternoon and the weather warmer, a dip in this little pool of water would have been wonderful!
At lunch we came to the first stream that required taking our shoes off to cross. My brother, Chris and another hiker had gone up ahead and were already there when we arrived. Ahh, hiking lunches—leisurely and relaxing, time to take a snooze, and eat hiker food. Chris and I opted to boil water for every meal—oatmeal for breakfast, beans and tortillas for lunch and hiker meals for dinner.
Luckily we had lunch where we did because the next mountain we climbed was long and arduous, not to mention the afternoon humidity skyrocketed. We didn’t even hit the top of that mountain, a short side-trail would take you to the top, but we rested on makeshift wood benches at the top before heading back downhill.
I’d been looking forward to this vista, Eagle Rock Vista, the whole day as it was the only one providing a real view. Most of the other mountains were shrouded with vegetation and offered no views. The side trail up to this view as short and easy from a campsite near the top.
I’ve still got two more days to share, so stay tuned!