We found the visitors center and registered for our hike. We had a quick look around the store, and then bravely went outside to face the torrential rain. We retrieved our packs from my car and quickly put on our rain gear. At this point, we were all thinking that we were going to be in for a continuous soaking throughout the whole week, and with good cause.
The start of the trail is well marked, so we posed for some last minute photos and then hit the trail. I was like an excited schoolchild as I took my first steps onto the OHT. All the planning, build up and waiting for this moment was all worthwhile as I looked at the beautiful views of Lake Fort Smith, and I was beaming from ear to ear. No amount of rain could dampen my spirits; I was exactly where I wanted to be.
The rain began to ease off almost immediately as we started hiking. It continued off and on for the remainder of the day, but it was nowhere near as torrential as it had been earlier. We were fortunate that we had timed it perfectly, so we removed our raingear and enjoyed the views as we hiked past waterfalls on our left and the lake on our right.
The trail was fairly even and easy for the first three miles. We reached the end of the lake and headed to our right, where we met our first and most formidable obstacle: Frogs Bayou.
Frogs Bayou is a river crossing that demands respect. Due to the torrential rain of the past few days, the water was flowing very well, and it was freezing!! The crossing was around 50ft or more across, and was pretty deep in places, especially at the far edges.
We prepared for the crossing with trepidation. Every time I looked across to the other side I had images of the Amazon with Anaconda’s, Crocodiles, Hippos and Piranhas peeping out everywhere. Although I had lived in the United States for over 12 years, I still had an innate fear of snakes and bears, or anything else with teeth or claws for that matter!! I knew it was a foolish fear, and I had in fact seen many rattle snakes during my hikes, but I was still terrified of them.
Both Jeremy and Cesar had brought different footwear for water crossings and camp wear. I had decided that my pack weighed quite enough without adding any more, so I used my trail shoes without socks. Hopefully they would dry out quickly once I got walking again. This actually worked out quite well for me, and was one of the better decisions I had made regarding my gear choices for this trip.
Being brave, I let Cesar lead the way!! I went second with Jeremy going third. Right from the moment my toes entered the cold water my feet and legs wanted to be anywhere other than where they were at that moment. My natural instinct was to hurry as fast as I could, but I knew I had to take my time and ensure I didn’t trip and fall in. The water was flowing pretty fast, and it would have been easy to take a wrong step and end up face first in freezing abyss!!
It seemed to take an eternity to reach the other side. In reality it was about 5 minutes or so, but it seemed like 5 hours!! My lower legs and feet were in agony from the freezing water, and I had more visions, this time of emerging from the water with toes missing from frostbite. At least it wasn’t still hammering it down with rain I kept telling myself as I inched across as safely as I could.
We finally reached safety and were hopping about trying to reintroduce circulation to our lower extremities when we saw two hikers approaching from the opposite direction. They now had to cross the river, and we could stand and watch, gloating over the fact that we had already done it. After a brief conversation where we wished them the best of luck, they waded into the freezing water and underwent the same five minutes of torture we had just endured.
By now it was almost 5.30pm, and there wasn’t much daylight remaining. We found a nice flat area to pitch our tents about 300 yards away from the river, and set up camp for the night.
There was a well-built fire ring available to us, but everything was soaking and it was too wet to start a fire, so we decided not to bother. It would have been nice to dry out and get warm by firelight, but that would have to wait for another day.
As part of my well prepared kit list, I had brought a tarp for cooking under. At around 1lb in weight, I had reasoned that it was a great idea in case of heavy rain. Obviously in bear country it isn’t a wise choice to cook in the tent awning (it’s probably never a good idea in any case), and I had the room in my enormous pack, so in it went.
I pitched it some ways away from our camp site, and we set up our cooking systems underneath it. The bear canisters did make good camp chairs, even if they were slightly hard and uncomfortable. Although a good idea at the time, the tarp isn’t something that will be going with me on future trips. I simply have to reduce my pack weight and size.
By the time we had finished dinner it was pretty dark. The rain was still holding off, but everything was damp and dripping everywhere. We decided an early night was in order, and I happily retired to my tent.
Ever since I can remember I have always enjoyed sleeping out in the forests. The sounds and the smells just make me feel at peace with myself, and I feel at home in this environment. After saying all that, I am still terrified of bears and snakes, so I have never been able to sleep directly under a tarp, or, in better weather, directly under the stars. Although I know it is a totally ridiculous notion, I feel more secure sleeping inside a totally enclosed tent. I guess I figure that if I can’t see them then they can’t see me!! Silly, I know!!