2/18/11 – 2/20/11
Day 1 – LFS State Park to about a mile NE of Frog Bayou
Arrived at Lake Fort Smith State Park after work about 5:00 on Friday afternoon. Signed in just to check and see if anyone was ahead of us. (I appreciate all the rest of you backpackers, but I do enjoy having a whole trail just to myself.) My trail-buddy Kat & I have had a few false starts this season trying to get a winter hike going so we were eager to get something in this season. With the weather report, though, it was going to be more spring than winter. As much as we love frozen waterfalls and hiking through snow, just a week ago we were digging out of 36″ snow drifts and burning up with Spring fever.
The new state park is real pretty, even if there isn’t much happening inside the visitor’s center compared with some of the other state parks. Maybe it’ll grow with use. The overlook using stone from the original park is a real nice touch. About 5:30 Kat arrived and we loaded up and headed out.
The three miles down to Frog Bayou were nice, easy going. You can tell that a lot of work has been put in recently. Took some time admiring the chimneys and stonework on the spring house. (Do any of you guys know what that square concrete box is? Our guess is a fancified outhouse, considering how close it was to what looked like a homestead.) Dark fell about a mile from Frog Bayou and we had to strap on the headgear. Since this was the first time on this section of the OHT, we didn’t know where we wanted to camp – and we knew we’d have to get on the other side of the lake first anyway.
The trail makes a short little PUD off to the left and, in the dark, we didn’t realize that we missed it until we found the angled trail marker coming off of it. (On the way back Sunday, we climbed up and back down on the nice, new wood steps.) Just as we neared the wet crossing, a noisy group of six or so high-schoolers wearing headlamps materialized on the trail ahead of us. They had parked nearby and were clustered on the rock bar trying to decide whether they wanted to cross or camp there. While we were changing shoes to make the crossing, I heard one girl opine to the group that maybe they should wait and watch us before deciding. That cracked me up and I agreed that if we were swept away and died, they definitely should not attempt the crossing.
It was cold but not difficult, no more than knee-deep on Kat. Got a little deeper on me, but I’m a short fella. The thought of sharing a camping spot anywhere near a group of teenagers put a little skip in our step. We made it about five miles in before we decided to stop and make camp around 7:00. Had we gone about fifty yards up the trail, we would’ve found a nice spot with a fire ring and everything. Both of us are hammock-hangers, though, so as long as we can find trees we’re good. Full moon, nice breeze. Slept like the sinless and woke up to a scramble of geese coming off the lake behind us.
Day 2 – ~10 miles – exploring Jack Creek drainage & down to Hurricane Creek
Original sketched-out plan was to see if we could make White Rock Mt. and back by Sunday afternoon. We were following the Ernst map and he had to go and make a coy reference to 50′ waterfalls upstream a ways. After climbing around on the big-ol’ boulder sitting in the middle of the creek, we decided that we’ve climbed White Rock enough times that we’d rather chase waterfalls than see it again. Ditched the packs behind a boulder, grabbed the camera and took off exploring.
Had a considerable amount of fun scrambling up and down some massive boulders and outcroppings. Found one waterfall that was, maybe 20′ and decided to keep going. Man, oh man, we were glad we did. Found a couple of just amazingly beautiful waterfalls. I think we killed three hours that morning around mile 9 or 10. (Hard to tell, there weren’t many mile markers and the ones we found didn’t seem very accurate.) We monkeyed up to an unhealthy perch and were pleased to see a boot print in the mud. Always good to know you’re not the last idiot in the world.
It was about 11 a.m. when we made it back to the trail and had lunch. I brought a half-pound of smoked mozzarella, a pepperoni sausage, and some garlic crostini. (Kat, if I remember correctly, brought mixed nuts and a Cliff bar. I may be guilty of bringing too much food, but guess who gets to eat half of it?) Sat on a nice flat rock and planned out the rest of the hike. Decided not to hit White Rock this time around and, instead, camp on Hurricane Creek (at mile 11) and explore around there. I was packing a pair of 8 oz filets stuffed into some fleece pants at the bottom of my pack and needed an established fire ring to fully realize my master culinary plan. We made quick work of climbing up to Dockery Gap and down to Hurricane Creek. By 1:30 we had already slung hammocks and were sitting by the creek watching the water go by and debating whether or not we had anything to prove by running up to White Rock and back.
Kat did peer pressure me into taking a dive into the creek, though. “It ain’t swimmin’ if you don’t go all the way under!” Even if it gets up to 70 degrees outside, February water is still cold.
Started gathering wood for a fire. Ate like sultans around four, then stared at the fire and didn’t have much at all to say until dark. Fell asleep swinging in the breeze, listening to the creek sing, and watching the full moon rise like a spotlight. Ended up pulling my wool cap down over my eyes just so I could sleep.
Day 3 – Hurricane Creek to Lake Fort Smith State Park
Last day of the hike, we’ve got the cheeseburger march happening. Ran into a pair of geared-up and camoed guys on four-wheelers with scoped rifles near Jack Creek. They seemed a little surprised at having us appear. They stopped talking and stared at us. We looked at them. One of them said, simply, “Squirrels.” I pointed out the general direction of some campers we passed, hoping they wouldn’t stick around and shoot up the area. About a half-mile away, we heard them driving past on the other side of the creek. Wasn’t until about an hour later that we heard gunfire. From the sound of it, a whole army of squirrels had ambushed them and they were fighting for their lives. I hope they made it out okay. Once we walked far enough away from Squirreled War II, it was nice seeing the green daffodils starting to rise from the old homestead sites. Just enough color to make you believe that spring is around the corner.
Looking around in daylight revealed some crazy multi-level stick-and-shoestring contraption just off the trail near Frog Bayou. Had to go check it out and the best we can figure, was from someone playing Survivorman. Survival, it seems, involved mustard-sauce sardines, Pepsi, and trying to burn a plastic rain coat. I did see something, though just down-trail from the visitor’s center, that just grabbed my heart. Was a mom and dad with four kids. Three of ’em were young teenagers, looked like, and one was in a small type of wheel-chair stroller. Out on the trail. Offered to help the dad get it over a small stream, but he just shook his head and said, “I got it. Thanks.” Let me tell you, I quit grumbling about my sore knees or grousing about having to share the trail. I didn’t get that guy’s name, but any father that’ll go to that kind of effort for their kid is top grade in my book. Forget having the trail to myself, the whole thing is his.
Came off the trail around 1:00. Tore into Springdale just in time to sweet-talk the server at Susan’s Restaurant to let us order (they closed at 2:00). Had a Belgian waffle with a side of cheeseburger. (Full disclosure – I backpack only to justify my gluttony.)
Next hike, we decided, will tackle White Rock. Night hike to the campsite about 5 miles in, take Saturday to Hurricane Creek and stash the packs just on the other side. Take cameras, water, and lunch up to the top of White Rock. Trot back down to camp beside Hurricane Creek for night 2. Wake up and head out by noon on Sunday. Seemed to be a pretty easy trail overall. Even the climb up and over Dockery Gap wasn’t too bad. The trail was much cleaner than either of us expected. I guess we’ve grown accustomed recently to hauling out our weight in other people’s trash whenever we hike the Butterfield. Either this trail doesn’t get much use or the volunteers do a good job of maintaining it.