We stayed Saturday night in the Motel 6 in Fort Smith, Arkansas. It had been a long drive of 650 miles from Lubbock, Texas, and we were tired from the travel. So our plans that first day were simple – check into the hotel, find a suitable restaurant close by and then retire for the evening, which is exactly what we did.
Fort Smith is a vibrant city that I would like to explore further at some point in the future when I have more time. It seems to have two distinct halves to it with a gap in the middle. On the west side is the old, Wild West side of town. This is where the Hanging Judge’s courtroom is still located and the buildings look and feel like an old Wild West town. This is my favorite side of Fort Smith. Then there is a distinct gap in the middle where buildings and traffic slim right down, then you hit the new, modern part of Fort Smith. This is typical of any city in the western United States that I have seen with plenty of hotels, restaurants of all descriptions, and an abundance of shopping stores and petrol stations. We both like Fort Smith a lot, and I am taking Glenda, my beautiful wife, up there for a visit in May of this year so she can see it too.
After dinner we retired to our room for an early night. We both checked and double checked our gear, repacking it again to make sure it all fits comfortably on our shoulders and backs. I spent an inordinate amount of time attaching my Crocs on and off my pack. Crocs are really comfortable shoes that are great for water crossings and camp shoes. They are lightweight (mine weigh 12.25ozs per pair), and are very popular on hiking trails across the United States.
Cesar thought it was hilarious as I kept adding them to my pack and then taking them off again, going round and round in circles, firstly convincing myself that they would be well worth taking because of the numerous freezing cold water crossings we would encounter, and then re-convincing myself that the 12.25ozs wasn’t worth carrying, and that my trail shoes were quick drying and would work just fine. I must have added them and taken them off at least 10 times each. Finally I decided that they weren’t going, and that the 12.25ozs was not worth carrying. Right or wrong, that was my final decision and I was keeping to it.
We had both spent a lot of time and money reducing our pack weights from last year. With 5 days of food and 32ozs of water my ULA pack came in at 29lbs, which I was very happy with. At least I was until we weighed Cesar’s pack.
I decided that Cesar had been to the Hogwarts School of Backpacking, because he must have performed some wand waving magic on his backpack!! He had a new Granite Gear Aji VC50 panel loading pack, and he decided to leave his Zpacks Hexamid Solo tent at home in favor of the much larger (and heavier) Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2. He brought the much larger (and heavier) Katadyn Hiker Pro water filter in place of his Steripen, and he brought his Vibram 5 Fingers water shoes.
So here he was with a massive hotel suite on his back, with a 25lb water filter and a 2lb pair of water shoes, 5 days of food, 32ozs of water, probably a couple of hardback books for nighttime reading and a nice fluffy mattress for comfort, and his total weight was 25lbs!! That was 4lbs lighter than mine, and I was jealous!!
The next morning we were awake before the alarm went off at 5.45am. One last shower, and then we went to Denny’s for breakfast. From there we drove to Cass where we met Paula White so we could follow her to the Lick Branch Trail head.
We left our vehicle at the trailhead and went back with Paula to White Rock Mountain. It was an enjoyable ride back as we chatted with Paula and learned a lot about the OHT and the Ozarks in general. Before we knew it we were at White Rock Mountain and saying our goodbye’s to Paula. Our adventures were about to begin.
It was 11am when we began our hike, quickly finding the blue-blazed side trail from White Rock Mountain down to the white-blazed OHT. The weather was almost perfect for hiking – around 50F or so and no rain. We found the OHT and turned left onto the trail. We were back from where we left off last year.
We had about 6.5 miles to hike today to our planned overnight stop at Spirits Creek. We had 38.2 miles to hike (plus the blue-blazed section from White Rock Mountain to the OHT, so somewhere just below 40 miles in total), and we had brought 5 days of food with us. We weren’t breaking any records, but this was much better than last year, and it was a pace that I could hopefully achieve.
Our first obstacle was about 2 miles into our day when we reached Salt Fork Creek. It was here that I began to really regret not bringing my Crocs. The creek wasn’t very high and was easily fordable, but it was bloody freezing!! It took my feet quite a while to thaw out and warm up again.
The climb up from the creek to the top of Potato Knob Mountain was a good test of our physical fitness, and I am very happy to report that I passed it with flying colors!! The Kettlebell routines I had endured had whipped me into the best shape I had been in for many years, and I knew at that point that I would enjoy this hike much more than the last one. Kettlebells will be a big part of my life from now onwards!!
We passed a beautiful waterfall on the way up Potato Knob Mountain that would probably flow much better later in the season once the snow melted higher up and the spring rains came. It was a very scenic sight, and reminded us of why we were out here.
By the time we reached Spirits Creek my legs were screaming in protest and I was glad to be resting for the night. We tried to find a suitable place to cross so we wouldn’t have to face it in the morning, but the trail didn’t cross where we were, and the campsite we found was just about perfect, so we decided to stay where we were and cry about it the next morning!!
It was around 5pm by the time we had put our tents up, so we had the time to leisurely eat our dinner and have a hot drink to warm us up. Once the sun started dropping the temperature quickly plummeted, and it got very cold. I was really glad I had brought my Montbell Down jacket as it kept me toasty warm before I retired to my bed for the night.
It went dark early and it was very cold. My legs were sore from the days hike and I was tired, so it was an easy decision to retire early and get into my warm sleeping bag. It was going to be a long night, but I was glad of the warmth and the rest so I didn’t mind one little bit.
Cesar had brought a Western Mountaineering Flight down vest and a Mountain Hardware down sweater (and probably 30lbs of other warm clothing too, but that’s another story!!). They are both amazingly light pieces of gear, and their warmth to weight ratio is nothing short of spectacular.
The sounds of Spirits Creek bubbling and gurgling away were a wonderfully relaxing way to fall asleep. There is something about being in the wilderness and listening to nature’s orchestra’s that is invigorating for the soul, and I never tire of hearing it. This was going to be a wonderful week and I was going to enjoy every second of it.