Trail Support on the Ouachita Trail: Foran Gap Shelter to Ouachita Pinnacle
Alternative title for this section of the OT:
We Couldn’t Have Done It Without You, Dad
Seriously, from the moment my dad join us, we plowed through the miles every day.
He would move all the gear in his truck and we hiked only with day packs on.
It’s just weird how much faster you can hike without a giant pack.
16.5 miles to FS Road 76 (MM 85.5)
We woke up before dark. It was a super cold morning (31 degrees!) We quickly powered up with coffee and bars before packing up. My dad loaded everything he could carry onto his pack and hiked the mile back down to his truck.
The sun was just starting to come up and you could tell it was going to be a beautiful day!
Kandace and I headed on down the trail, feeling light!
We hiked 10 miles before lunch. I could not believe it. Plus my joints were just so happy with less weight. My ankle was thanking me all day.
In addition to lighter packs, there were fewer rocks on this part of the trail. Softer footbeds + lighter packs = A great day on the trail!
We had tuna for lunch, much improved with some mayo and mustard packets we got at the Queen Wilhelmina Lodge. And we still had leftover cookies and pj&j’s from lunch with our friends the day before. Everything tasted amazing as always.
After lunch we climbed to the top of a ridge where we could see for miles.
The sun was so bright and warm that we hiked without coats on for the first time. It was glorious.
My dad found a spot to camp near a forest service road and then hiked back toward us from the other direction. He met us around Mile Marker 82.
I didn’t realize how far we still had to go after he met us. We had been walking so fast all day that I didn’t realize how tired I was. I kind of hit a wall about a mile after we met up with Dad, so it was a push to get those last few miles. But Dad had cold beers waiting for us in the truck when we arrived.
We set up camp in a clearing just off the forest road. Dad made shrimp and grits for dinner, one of his camping specialties.
Then we sat by the fire and watched the stars come out.
It was a super cold night, so we were grateful to be in a tent. It was so much warmer than being in the shelters. Plus we had luxuries like blow up mattresses and pillows!
Also the coyotes were active all night long. I woke up several times to their shrieks. Often it sounded like they were right outside our tent. I was grateful for a bit more of a barrier between us and them.
7:30am-3pm Hiked 15.4 miles to Fiddler Creek Shelter (MM 100.9)
The next morning, it was still cold. But it was wonderful to wake up by the car and get to have eggs and orange juice for breakfast.
Dad told us he would break camp and we could go ahead and get on down the trail. We were pumped that we were going to hit the 100 Mile Marker on this day!
Between us we headed off with one little day pack.
We continued along more gentle pine needle footbeds as the sun came out and the sky turned all blue again.
Another gorgeous day!
Again we climbed higher up to views of the Ouachita Mountains.
With the leaves off in the winter, you can see for miles and miles.
Then we dropped back down to a valley and to Big Bushy Campground where Dad met up with us for lunch.
We stayed well-fed from this point of the trail on. And a beer with lunch, yes, I don’t mind if I do.
We continued after lunch back up out of the valley.
Again, we were logging way more miles without packs on.
All day we anticipated the 100 mile marker, getting closer and closer to the goal.
This might have been our prettiest day yet. And even though we woke up to 29 degree temperatures, the afternoon brought sunshine and warmth.
We celebrated with swigs of whiskey at the 100 mile mark!
And just a little further down the trail, we found Dad and our shelter for the night.
We got there around 3pm, so we had a good bit of daylight left to enjoy being in camp.
We had fried rice with shrimp and fish for dinner as the sun was setting on the hillside.
Fiddler Creek turned out to be one of our favorite shelters. We loved how it is situated on the hill.
We enjoyed the fire pit until we were too cold to stay out any longer, and the three of us had the shelter to ourselves.
We could still hear the coyotes in the distance, but they weren’t near as close as they had been the night before. Still, when we went to sleep, Dad put one of the hiking poles near his sleeping bag, just in case.
7am-4:30pm Hiked 17.8 miles to Forest Service Road 149 near Muddy Creek (MM 118.7)
We woke up early to get going for a long day.
We quickly downed coffee, eggs and bagels and then we were on our way.
From Fiddler Creek Shelter, you head downhill immediately to Fiddler Creek.
We stopped just long enough to refill our water at the creek.
We used a steri-pen for water on our whole trip. It worked great and we were thrilled to not have to carry a pump or anything else more substantial.
The steri-pen is an ultraviolet light that sterilizes any invisible critters so they can’t wreak havoc on your digestive system. I’ve used it now for several backpacking trips without ever getting sick, so I’m a big fan.
It was another gorgeous blue sky day!
Dad kept telling us to enjoy it because the weather was supposed to turn later in the week, so we were soaking it up.
We reached Suck Mountain Shelter at 10:45am! We weren’t even hungry enough yet to eat lunch, but we had to stop and enjoy the sun (58 degrees!) for a minute in these chairs. Suck Mountain is one of the only shelters we saw with chairs! Such a treat!
We stopped later in the woods for lunch at around 1pm.
As we ate, I looked at the map and figured out we had 4.5 miles left to go to Story Creek Shelter.
The trail went up and down more time than I could count before we reached the shelter. We were exhausted when we finally made it there around 3pm.
We were planning on staying there for the night.
Story Creek Shelter was built in memory of the son and nephew of some of our dear friends, so we were looking forward to seeing it.
It’s a beautiful shelter, happily situated in a valley near Story Creek.
Dad was there when we got to the shelter, but he hadn’t been able to get his truck close enough to get our camping gear to the shelter. So he said we were going to camp somewhere else, but first we needed to hike back up to his car.
Kandace and I were so tired that we intentionally didn’t make eye contact. We just sighed and kept going.
We climbed the 2 and 1/2 miles out of the valley and back up to the ridge, walked through more trails and more woods and finally, when it felt like we were losing the sun, we saw the car.
We ended up setting up camp almost right on the trail at a spot near the Forest Service Road where the car was parked, near Muddy Creek.
We fell into seats by the fire, where we gobbled up our dinner and chatted in the firelight for as long as we could hold our eyes open.
Then we crawled into bed so very tired from our 18 mile day.
If there were coyotes nearby, I never heard them.
8am-3:30pm Hiked 15 miles to Forest Service Road 78 (MM 133.5)
We started a little slower on this day since we were still tired from the previous day’s miles.
We even had a morning fire and a slower breakfast. Extra cups of coffee.
I do love a slow camp morning.
It was also a sign that the weather was warmer since we weren’t feeling like we had to hurry and get moving in order to stay warm.
It turned out to be our most gorgeous day.
At 72 degrees, it felt like summer.
Our freezing cold river days felt so far behind us now.
My body (especially my feet) was sore and tired from the day before, but I just kept walking.
We hit more milestones and trailheads. It was amazing how the miles just kept piling up.
We walked through lots of pine forest on this day, again heading up to ridges with views all around.
Sunshine and blue skies make us happy!
I spent a lot of my summer days as a child swimming in Lake Ouachita and we were getting closer to being able to see the lake from the hills. I remember all along the way to the lake there are rock shops because there are so many crystals and collectible rocks in the Ouachita Mountains.
We started spotting rocks that I might have seen in a road side rock shop as a child, if we had ever stopped at one.
We had our lunch at Irons Fork crossing. I soaked my ankle in the cold water and enjoyed the sun on my face.
I have seen this bridge covered in water before in other hikers’ photos so I was grateful we’d had a few days without rain now and we were able to just walk right across.
The trail climbs again after Irons Fork, so we pushed on back up into the hills.
One foot in front of the other until the trail leveled out again on the ridge top.
We reached Round Mountain Vista sometime around 3pm and then it was an easy descent to a clearing near a forest road where my dad was already set up to camp.
It was such a treat to not be freezing cold. Even after the sun dropped, the temperature hovered around 50. Balmy compared to some of our other nights on the trail.
The wonderful thing about Arkansas in December is that you can have such a wild range of temperatures in just a few days.
We were a little sad to see the sun go down on this perfect day. We knew the weather was changing (we would see rain and snow before we finished the OT), but we didn’t know that it was the last time we’d see blue sky and sunshine on our trip.
We soaked it up while it lasted!
We stayed up by the fire, reading our maps and planning our next few days. We decided that we would get up early and break camp before the rain came in.
Our hike the next day was supposed to take us to the top of Ouachita Pinnacle.
Instead, my dad suggested that he drive us to the top of the Pinnacle and then we could hike it backwards, back to where we were parked already. That way we would be able to do more downhill than up. And, because it was supposed to be really raining by the afternoon, he would take us to a hotel in Hot Springs Village when we got down.
So we went to sleep with our plans made. Kandace was dreaming about a shower at the end of the day and I was psyching myself up to hike in the rain.
Hiked to 13.5 miles to Ouachita Pinnacle (MM 147)
We had camp broken by 7am to get started.
Dad drove us down some rough dirt roads to drop us at the top of Ouachita Pinnacle as planned.
We quickly found the trail and started walking down it back to where we came from.
At first it was just foggy and misty, which was beautiful actually.
I love a misty hike in the woods.
Taylor Swift’s new album (Evermore) had dropped over night, so we both downloaded it and listened to it while we hiked through the fog.
I hadn’t used my headphones (or phone) hardly at all on this trip. I was always trying to save my battery, and I also love hearing all the noises of the forest.
But this day, we both listened to music as we hike quickly trying to beat the storms.
It started raining heavier about halfway through the morning. We both got pretty soaked, but somehow knowing that your’e going to have a hot shower at the end of the day makes it a little easier to keep stomping through the rain.
I thought this part of the trail was lovely. On a prettier day, you could have seen Lake Ouachita for sure.
And the forest floor was covered with delicate reindeer moss.
And the rain made all the greens brighter.
Walking downhill as quickly as I could was probably not the best idea for my ankle, and I had a couple of stumbles.
By now I was so used to falling I was starting to laugh every time it happened. I had one fall that hurt enough that it slowed my pace for a while, but eventually I made it down.
When I spotted the car, the rain was starting to fall harder.
As soon as we got to Hot Springs Village, the bottom fell out of the sky.
It rained so hard all afternoon and all night that we watched it through our window in awe.
After our showers, we went out for Mexican food and margaritas. Then we crawled into cozy beds. Such a treat!
It was strange to be in a hotel so close to my home. (Hot Springs Village is only about an hour from Little Rock.)
But that also meant we were getting closer and closer to the end. We had made it 147 miles!
We mapped out the rest of the trail from our hotel room before falling asleep to the Hallmark Christmas Movie Channel.
As the rain fell outside, I said a prayer of gratitude for a dry bed and for my dad showing up as trail support on the Ouachita Trail.
So so grateful!