Ouachita Adventure Part I

My poison ivy rash has died down, the bug bites are mostly gone, and it’s time for me to write about last week’s trip before the memories also start to fade. Two weeks ago, I was making final plans for the menu and activities when I first heard about the tragic Arkansas flooding, in the exact location we had planned to visit. I made a last minute change to a different location, without begin fully aware of its challenges. I did know that the risk of flash floods was much lower, but that brought on a different set of challenges.

We made good time to our destination, including a lunch stop in Paris (Texas), but met difficulty when we stopped to cache water along the road near a trail intersection. A radiator valve stopper had broken and we were losing coolant fast. It took some time, but we fashioned a temporary replacement and drove carefully to our trailhead, now an hour behind schedule.

That’s where I discovered that some of the guys were not too well prepared. We had a few late additions, and while I sent them the packing list, they didn’t attend the pack check, so I didn’t get a chance to evaluate their gear ahead of time. Likewise, I don’t think that they read the itinerary–they seemed surprised that we would be leaving the car and not coming back to it for several days. To their credit, nobody put up too much of a struggle as we started down the trail.

We arrived at our campsite late, and just as the rain started falling–we had seen threatening clouds through the trees for the past hour or so. There was a mad rush to set up the tents before everything got too wet and dark. I decided to wait on my personal gear and set up the dining fly instead so that we could keep the food dry. It was too dark and wet for cooking, so we had lunch for dinner. The daddy longlegs tried to take over the dry area under the top, but I fended them off.

After the rain ended late that night, the temperature cooled off and I got a good night’s sleep. The next morning while waiting for the gear to dry I went looking for water. The big storm did nothing to fill up the nearby creek bed, but after following it through endless spiderwebs I eventually found two small cloudy pools. We didn’t end up using them, but it was an indication of the water problems yet to come.

The last member of our party, one of the fathers, arrived at camp during breakfast. He had to work the day before, then drove up and hiked in from a much closer trailhead. We quickly made a plan–he and our van driver went back to the close trailhead to try to figure out how to fix the van. We agreed to meet them at lunchtime; they showed up right on schedule, had fixed the van, and brought back lots of fresh water.

Although things seemed to be good as we started on our way, I could see the beginnings of our next set of challenges. We had about six miles to go and it was already afternoon. Because we hadn’t hiked very far, nobody was hungry for lunch, which we would need to cook because of the previous night’s choice. But off we set, and for the first hour or two things were just fine.

Then one of the adults started to have problems on the trail. He lagged behind farther and farther, and eventually just couldn’t go any farther without a long break. I stopped with him, but the rest of the group was farther up the trail. Eventually they must have stopped; they sent two people back to help with the pack.

By the time we all got together, everybody had different ideas about what to do. It was late afternoon and we still hadn’t eaten lunch, so some people wanted to do that. Others were getting restless from the long stop and wanted to forge ahead. So we split into two groups again; one went ahead, while the other stopped for some food. We cooked it as quickly as possible, then got on our way.

When we joined up again, it was after six and people wanted to take another long stop. I could tell that everyone was getting tired, so I forced them to have some snacks. We were still at least a mile away from camp, and I was worried about the water situation when we got there. I invited anyone who still had good legs to go ahead with me and check out the camp. It felt good to finally stretch my legs and get moving, and we got there before long.

The campsite was nice, but the only water immediately accessible nearby was in a stagnant pond. I didn’t want to rely on that, so I headed off down a nearby forest road. I probably hiked more than a mile, but found only dry creek beds. By the time I got back, everyone else was arriving, and I let them set up and work on dinner. I took another look at our guide, and it recommended getting water from a creek that we had crossed just before arriving at camp. At the intersection with the trail it was dry, but just downstream there was a small pool. I dug it out, so that the next day it would be large enough for us to dip our water bottles into.

It had been a pretty long day and everyone was happy to eat and go to bed. But overall, things were looking good, because we got safely to our destination. The weather was hot, but not too hot, and our only real challenge going forward would be water–and even there we had some options, even though they weren’t the best. We even had a plan for the next day. This post has gone on long enough, so I’ll add more soon.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Ouachita Adventure Part I

  1. I’ve been on pins and needles for a week now after this post Mark. You need to finish it up so I can get some closure.

    -Matt

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