Spring Break Hike
Several weeks ago, my stepson David asked us if we would take him backpacking for Spring Break. I couldn’t let that opportunity pass! A trip that we have planned several times but never made happen was waiting for us. We could start the Eagle Rock Loop , the longest loop trail in Arkansas, in less than 2 hours drive time from home. Monday morning bright and early we packed up the car and headed straight into adventure.
We started at the Albert Pike Rec Area in Langley, AR. We each got our gear out, changed into boots and looked down the trail. Immediately all the information about water crossings that we had read and heard came roaring to the surface. There was a low water bridge and a small stream crossing within 0.1mi of the parking area. It’s going to be a wet day. A fantastic, beautiful, scenic, lovely, wet day. Which meant a slow start because the camera was out. A lot. Within a couple of miles we ran into a large youth group from Illinois who had sheltered overnight in the rain and snow flurries of Sunday. They stayed with us until the first river crossing. It was thigh high (for me anyway, knee high for the guys) and I learned a lesson to last the rest of the trip: Choose your path carefully before you step into the water. It’s cold in there! The group went in search of a better crossing spot and we didn’t see them again. I hope they had a good time enjoying the sunshine after the rain.
One of the most popular sections of the
Little Missouri Trail is Winding Stairs. I found a you-tube video from Exploring Arkansas with Chuck Dovish about this part of the trail. We found the perfect spot for lunch and took our time enjoying peanut butter and honey sandwiches while listening to the rushing water and dreaming about using that rope swing over the deep blue swimming hole on a hot summer day. This part of the hike gave us a lot of small stream crossings, I think we stopped counting at 10 by mid morning. Most of them were rock hoppers but a few were sit down and put on the Tevas or Keens. At one rather deep and wide crossing we ran into some girls from OBU on a day hike. I think they learned some lessons that day too. Like believe it when someone tells you you’re going to get wet. And don’t wear so much cotton. David got to play the chivalrous knight and offered advice from the far side, a hand as they made it across and shared his Shamwow to dry their feet. No ladies, chivalry is not dead. At least not on the trail.
We knew the section of the Athens-Big Fork trail was going to involve multiple steep climbs over mountain ridges so we tried to get one over with before we made camp for the night. We made it up to Eagle Rock Vista about 3:30 p.m. and spent a few minutes enjoying the view. The climb up was moderately strenuous for the old ‘rents, but the boy just went up like he had wings. In the valley we found the perfect camp spot with plenty of room for both tents, off the trail, and next to water. We were pleasantly surprised at the number of campsites along the way. It was still relatively early so we hunkered down for a lengthy UNO game before making our standard first night camp dinner of Mac n Cheese with Summer Sausage. Don’t judge, just understand that some traditions hold dear, even if it means carrying a pound of sausage in your pack. J could barely keep his eyes open and though we all debated about the dangers of going to bed too early lest we all be up at the crack of dawn…we crashed and didn’t get up until after 7 a.m. the next morning.
Finishing the Athens-Big Fork trail will be the toughest part of the hike. We all know it and we’re ready for the assault. Up. Up. Lots of Up. and killer down. Did I mention there was a lot of water too? We had 5 ridges to pass over and lots more stream/river crossings. I can’t believe this was once a mail route between Athens and Big Fork. There is a marathon and a “fun run” in this area. See these people? These people are nuts. This is a tough trail. Look what it did to my boots! These trails are rocky and require sturdy soles and souls. Thank God for duct tape and prayer. Amen.
A recent controlled burn made parts of this trail seem a bit desolate, especially since life hasn’t had time to “green up” even in areas not burned. Still there is beauty to be found in the desolation, you just have to dig a little deeper to find it. Like this guy. He was finding the beauty in a sunny day on the trail until I almost stepped on him. No I did not leave the starburst…snakes don’t like sugar. That’s how they keep their slim figures.
The plan for the day was to hike as long as we could, at least until 5 before we started looking for a camp site. We made it within 0.25 mile of the Little Missouri Falls Rec Area which we thought was pretty good since the last 6-7 miles would be much easier terrain than the day we just completed. After setting up camp and making jambalaya for dinner, I brought out the treat of the day- Chocolates. It’s rare we have the right temps to carry anything chocolate and they were a welcomed treat out there in the woods.
The morning started out a bit cloudy and threatening. We stopped at the Falls to take in the view.
Pretty soon we came to a section of the trail with multiple crossings of the Little Mo River. I don’t know what it looks like in the Summer but it was flowing fast and was knee to thigh deep on me at every crossing. At the 3rd big crossing of the morning we caught up to a couple from Texarkana who were on their first backpacking trip. They had camped on the opposite side of the river from us the night before. We had a nice chat and were back on our way. About 2 miles from the end of our trip, the clouds parted, the trail became green and life was good. The boy was making it hard to keep up with his long legged strides and I unfortunately could not help but break into song every few minutes. This is an annoying trait, I recognize and embrace it. A few more small stream crossings and we were back to the low water bridge, tired and grinning from ear to ear. And most likely smelly. And most certainly carrying good memories in those heavy packs.