Ozark Highlands Trail
(Updated June 2014)
I only spent six days on this beautiful trail, but that was enough to get an idea of it. It was cold and ice covered my tent. But there were no bugs, and I saw not another human being for three whole days. I was in a ferocious thunderstorm that kept me in the tent for almost an entire day, but at least I was warm, dry and had The Imitation of Christ as my companion. Rivers were a problem, especially after the storm. The trail itself is full of ups and downs. Anyone who plans to walk it had better be in shape.
I packed gear suitable for winter backpacking, so the pack was heavy. It turns out that I could have taken a lighter tent, but who could have known? My pack was a Kelty 50th Anniversary external frame---an old friend used all through the jungles of Central America---the tent an MSR Fusion 2, my bag a Marmot down Aguile. Food was the backpacking norm: oatmeal, coffee and Ramen---remember, a backpacker ventures forth to walk not to eat! The ice cream and Chinese food will be back home awaiting you.
I also packed a bear canister and a .44 Magnum. I do not go into the wilds without the ability to bring down any animal I might encounter. On my day out I met four other guys hiking the entire trail. They were all armed, though with 9 mm autos. Their firearms were packed away, which I thought a tad risky. My revolver was right on the hip belt of my pack. I always remember that while it is cool to get out into the forest, it is better to return.
Inexplicably the MSR stove I used, a brand new WhisperLight Internationale, failed on the last day. So no breakfast, alas. I have used MSR stoves all of my career, but always the more substantial XGK II expedition model. For the first time since I began to solo backpack, I was not able to repair a stove in the field. From now on I will use the XGK II. It is as loud as a jet but has never failed me.
The expert on this trail is Tim Ernst. Ernst is a bit of a fanatic about Arkansas trails and photos. I had his guidebook with me. It is essential for knowing about water sources and campsites. He is also the expert on the Ouachita Trail.
All photos were taken with a Nikon CoolPix P60.
Update June 2014
I returned to this trail in June, 2014 with my friend Dustin Damery. He had backpacked 14 days with me some years ago in the jungles of northern Guatemala. We began at White Rock Mountain and ended at Fane Creek, spending four days on the trail. We were always accompanied by thunder, lightning, rain, ticks---and at the end, hypothermia. But it was still a great experience, though it reminded me that, all things considered, backpacking in the rain is not as pleasant as backpacking under a clear sky. Rum and tobacco certainly helped.
The photos below were taken at White Rock Mountain, Salt Fork
Creek, Spirits Creek and Fane Creek.
The photos below were taken at White Rock Mountain, Salt Fork Creek, Spirits Creek and Fane Creek.