Living in the DFW metroplex, it's hard to get to a really cool place to hike without driving a lot of miles. My favorite "close" place is the Eagle Rock Loop in SW Arkansas, and has become a twice-a-year tradition.
A buddy and I took off on Thursday around 11am and drove the 5.5 hours up to the Little Missouri Falls trail head to begin our quick loop. It appears that the forest service is letting the Albert Pike recreation area go back to nature, never to re-open, and the roads going back to the Little Mo Falls area are getting a bit rough for an aging Toyota Corolla. I was worried about the oil pan...
We hiked south on the Little Mo trail about 2.5 miles to a nice campsite beside the river. The water level was very good, but we didn't have any "wet" crossings this first short day.
Friday, we got out of camp around 7:45am, heading south towards Albert Pike and on to the Winding Stair area. I think I ended up putting the Crocs on a total of 7 times this day for "wet" stream crossings. LOTS of water, and everything was GREEN. We stopped at Winding Stair for lunch. I broke out the gravity filter to reload our water supply and took a bunch of pictures. From there, we walked west on the Viles Branch trail. Such a nice stretch of trail with lots of small stream crossings. Our goal was the Eagle Rock Vista on top of the first big climb of the Athens-Big Fork trail, and we got there around 3pm. We walked about 13 miles total and kept a pretty quick pace taking into account the multiple slow water crossings and long lunch. The little camp site at the Eagle Rock Vista is great, overlooking the valley to the south.
I originally had the tarp deployed when we set up camp. It looked like it could rain and we needed to walk down to Saline Creek for camp water and a nice stream bath. Upon return, the sky was crystal clear, so I rolled it back up. Luckily, I redeployed it before bed. The dew was so heavy overnight that everything looked like it had sustained an 8 hour rain. The tarp was soaked, but my hammock and UQ were bone dry. They would have been soaked had I left the tarp rolled up. Lesson learned.
Saturday morning, we got up around 5:30am so that we could hike a little earlier - lots of hard ups and downs + sunny skies = HOT hiking. The fog in the valley came right up to the campsite, and the view across the valley was phenomenal. We hiked out of camp around 7am and had the remaining 6 downs and 5 ups of the Athens-Big Fork trail done by 11am. We turned south along the Little Mo trail and stopped about a half mile down for lunch and a chance to get our wet gear out to dry. My Spinn BMJ lost about 2 pounds at lunch. From there, it was a simple walk in the woods back to the car at the Little Mo Falls trail head. We got to the car around 1:30pm, cleaned up a little, talked to some of the folks at the trail head, and got on the road around 2:30pm. I got home to an empty house and a note telling me to meet the family at On the Border. Fajitas and beer. I won!
Pat and I planned on spending another day out on the trail, and carried enough food for another day, but we just pounded out the miles. We promised ourselves that this fall, we would actually hike slower (yeah, right) and do the trail in three days. That means lots more time in the water. Hope more people will come join us.
Gear to talk about:
Still loving my ULA Catalyst. It's just too big for spring/summer loads. The pack was pretty much empty.
Slept in my TtTTG Light Hiker. I would have liked to have gone netless, but the bugs were just too thick. Slept like a baby both nights. Friday night I stayed pretty much in a fetal position for about 6 hours. Still amazed I can do that in a hammock. Used my Hammock Gear summer Phoenix UQ and Go Lite 1+ down TQ. Perfect combo for late March in Arkansas.
This was my first time backpacking in trail runners. I picked up a pair of La Sportiva Wildcat trail runners from REI. I will never wear boots again. I LOVED THEM.
Can't say enough about the gravity filter system - Sea to Summit dry bag/Sawyer in-line filter. We did have a little mishap and punctured the bag, but a small piece of Tenacious Tape put is back in water making mode in no time.
Last but not least... I tried some OFF! Smooth & Dry bug spray. I HATE DEET and regular OFF! I'd rather just put up with the bugs. This stuff was not oily, did not stink, and kept the mosquitos, ticks, and chiggers away. I would have just used permethrin on my clothes and gear, but ran out of time.