Saturday, April 30, 2011

Twenty-two creek crossings! Easter Weekend is the Ouachita’s

This was my fifth backpack trip, second solo. I left home early Friday morning and drove the four hours to the Buckeye TH arriving about 8 AM. I briefly considered leaving the car at the East Caney TH, but was a little anxious about leaving it so close to the creek given how unpredictable spring weather can be; forecasts can change a lot in three days. I also decided I’d rather haul an almost empty pack up the hill Sunday, than a full one that morning. 

The hike began with high winds, cool temps, and fog.  While the fog limited my vistas, it gave a surreal quality to the hike. 
I came to the infamous side trail that seems to stump hikers on this trail. I’d read about it in Ernst’s book and also Ouachita Hiker’s recent comment, so I was ready for it!
It wasn’t too long before I discovered the trail’s namesake.  
I’d seen Red Buckeye blooming earlier in the spring along the Little Missouri Trail, but this is Ohio Buckeye, and is more commonly found in the northwestern and western counties. Beautiful! 

I made it to Katy Falls in time for lunch. Last time I was here I walked across the top of the falls, not this trip! 
After lunch I headed down to the junction and turned west onto the Caney Cr. trail. I hiked down the junction to the first campsite, to gauge the water, as Ouachita Hiker had suggested. It was pretty deep. I decided to hike back up to the trail and continued west and see how far I got. I forded the first crossing with ease, but knew they would get deeper the farther I went. By mid-afternoon I came to the first of a long string of crossings, waded across, and  hiked a ways then decided to backtrack to a grassy area I’d seen on a hill side to camp for the night. According to the topo I’d be spending a while creekside, and decided it would be buggy and there was a chance of rain, so I just felt wiser camping higher. I’d start fresh in the morning with all the crossings. This would also give the creek several more hours to drop out as well.

I made camp early with the intention of journaling a little, and just relaxing in the hammock. It was fairly warm, and I laid my quilts out to air, along with the bugnet, which I ended up not needing. 
Later I found a nice spot away from the hammock and fixed some dinner. I retired back to the hammock and prepared the tarp for the possibility of rain, which came, but only lightly and intermittently. I enjoyed just relaxing in the beauty of my surroundings and listening to nature.
As darkness set in, a couple of Barred-Owls chatted it up for a while, then just as I was about to nod off, I heard what sounded way too much like the scream of a cougar, thankfully far, far off. I wondered the next morning if I’d imagined it.
One disconcerting (and embarrassing) thing I realized while dozing in the hammock, is that when sleeping on my back, I snore! I know this because I startled myself awake several times! This is a most disturbing discovery, not to mention most unladylike!!

The next morning I awoke, had breakfast and spent the day making lots of creek crossings.
 I started the day in my wading shoes and didn’t take them off until I came to the last crossing before reaching the Buckeye Junction sometime after lunch. The water was still up and there were some beautiful scenes.

When I reached the Cossatot I chose not to cross it. I play it safe when I solo and I just didn’t see the benefit since there’s only a half mile of trail to the West TH. 

Along the western trail I saw several animals. The first night's site was on a nice grassy hillside and while sitting in my hammock looking over my map I heard a faint rustle in the grass and looked down. About 3 feet from me was a beautiful black Rat Snake making its way through the grass, oblivious to this person sharing its territory for the evening. I had stuck my camera in my backpack earlier. Curses! I retrieved it later, but not until I watched, mesmerized, as the snake moved out of sight. Earlier that same day I’d seen a juvenile cottonmouth on the trail, with its flat stumpy body. It was that time of year, and gave a whole new reason for watching your step. I have a healthy respect for snakes, but also find them absolutely beautiful!
Just before the Cossatot, I startled four does, and a bit later watched as a tortoise made its way through the woods.

This was my first hike into the west end and I really enjoyed it. Despite all the wildflowers in bloom last weekend, I wasn't able to find any umbrella magnolias or wild azaleas in bloom, but now here were the magnolias! We don't have this type of magnolia where I'm from and they are a delight to see, and unlike our leathery evergreen variety, the new growth of these huge leaves is soft and pubescent. They don't smell as nice as ours but they make up for it by having beautiful bark and branching structure.
I made my way east and by early afternoon crossed Katy creek, stopped for a snack, and ran into the first people I had seen so far. They informed me that some others were camped ahead. I had my mind on the campsite above the creek between the two crossings that were left, and was quite happy to see it was available. I guessed the others had chosen to cross the creek farther ahead, were another great spot is. With a hammock, you really don't need a campsite, but since the snakes and poison ivy was out, it seemed prudent, and I would just like to say I would love to hug the persons that put that amazing camp furniture (ie rocks) around the campfire ring, they were the perfect height for sitting and cooking and flat!!

I made camp, relaxed in the hammock for a while then treated some water for the hike out the next day and cooked dinner. I retired to the hammock and enjoyed the birdsong and peace and watching the sky change color and intensity. It didn't rain overnight and the next morning after eating and breaking camp I headed down the trail. Sure enough there were campers across the creek on the hill, but at 9 o'clock I didn't see them stirring. I hiked quietly by and about 15 minutes from the trail head ran into a father son team hiking with a beautiful well behaved black lab. The first thing they said to me was "what trail are you hiking?"  I wasn't sure what they were asking until we'd talked a while and they said they'd started at the Buckeye TH and taken a wrong turn, and ended up bushwhacking their way down. They weren't sure where the were. I re-oriented them and they decided to hike west, and camp at the junction then head back up to the Buckeye TH the following morning. I thought about them when the weather turned bad Monday and hoped they made it out before the bottom dropped out.
I continued on to the trail head and up the hill toward the car. My only disappointment had been that I hadn't seen any wild azaleas. Then lo and behold they were everywhere along the roadside! The wind was blowing and the shot isn't good, but they WERE blooming!
I love that they chose not to blaze these trails. It adds to the wilderness feeling, even though the trail is quiet obvious in most places.
This was a perfect weekend to spend in the woods, but likely the last for me this hiking season in Arkansas. Soon the weather will heat up, the bugs, poison ivy and snakes will be thick as thieves. It's funny, my original intentions were to switch over to canoeing now that summer's approaching, instead I find myself staring at the large map pinned to the wall in above my desk in search of cooler hiking venues.

Cossatot River and Caney Creek Day Hikes April 16-17

Well the spring showers have begun and the rivers are up, much to the glee of the paddling world. It's been dry for so long. Thursday's storms turned violent over large parts of the south including Arkansas, and Friday was windy and overcast in its aftermath. I arrived at Shady Lake CG Friday mid-afternoon and had my pick of sites. Because of the wind I decided to camp on the Saline in the shelter of the trees. I car camped and got to try out my new POE sleeping pad. AWESOME! 
The Thermarest is now for sale :)

I'd missed getting to do the Eagle Rock Loop with friends the weekend before because of knee problems, and while I couldn't stand to stay home on this beautiful weekend, I'd decided to take it easy by just doing some nice easy day hikes and see how it went.

I got up early and headed for the north end of the Cossatot River Corridor Trail, arriving at 7:30 only to realize the day use area didn't open until 8. Park staff arrived to unlock the gates, I parked and quickly got on my way. So much for being an early bird. It was cool and breezy as I made my way south. I was hoping with all the rain the side creeks would be up and there'd be opportunities to see some waterfalls. What I did see were lots of wild irises in bloom.
My plan was to hike to Sand Bar and back, but when I got to Ed Banks, I decided it was not safe to cross. Silly me, I thought there was an actual bridge there, not a ford. I always err on the side of caution; it's a long way across, one slick spot could spell trouble, and I know a hydraulic when I see one. Instead I had lunch at the nearby campsite and headed back. On the way back I passed a couple of groups of college age kids and warned them about crossing. I recently checked the gauge for that day, it was over 4', having dropped out quickly from 8' after Thursday's storm.
 There were some great river views from up high and it couldn't have been a nicer spring day.

The CRCT is a nice trail and I've now done a section on the north and south ends. I don't care for all the blazes though. At one point on the trail I had each hand on a tree with a blaze. I recently found out that will be corrected in the future, as well as some backcountry camp sites added. There was a great deal of effort and sweat put into this trail and I hope to hike it in its entirety next fall.
My left knee had started giving me trouble again and I wasn't sure hiking Sunday would be possible. Grrr! Sometimes just getting off it overnight works.

The next morning I was up early again and heading for Caney Creek, having tested the knee out first on the hike up the hill to the restrooms. I strapped on the brace for good measure.
My first trip to Caney Creek was only six months ago. Leaf-off is a special time of the year when you can see forever, but Caney Creek in spring is simply amazing! One of my favorite trees, and there are many, are the umbrella magnolias. Not blooming yet, I find their branching structure fascinating and their newly unfolding leaves have a fairy like quality to them.
With all the tender new foliage, I felt like I was walking through a neon green cathedral. Just as I took this shot, a Barred-Owl flew overhead. How amazing to live in such a place!
They wildflowers were blooming, and the butterflies were out in force. I hiked to the Buckeye Junction and back stopping to have lunch where the trail crosses Katy Creek.
I made my way back to the car, disappointed that I hadn't spent a night in the woods. As I drove home I began planning for the next weekend that would remedy that!
I'd passed another solo hiker during my hike; we were both in meditation mode, so we'd exchanged quiet greetings and moved on. I'd realize later, thanks to a note left on my car, that he was a fellow hammock camper and that we'd corresponded before on the HammockForums and I'd introduced him to the Backpacking Arkansas forum. Small world.