Backpacking Ozark Trail – Bell Mountain

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Friday I slept in as long as I could. On Thursday night I had gotten nearly all of my packing done and I just had a list of the last few things that needed done. I ate breakfast and took the girls to school, I got my shower in and cleaned up the house. A little after 10 the guys started to show up and we got loaded up in Jon’s little focus. It surprised us all that the focus held 4 guys, 4 big backpacks plus boots, cooler etc. We had been expecting to tie the trunk down with gear hanging out.

After a little shortcut gone wrong and stop for lunch we arrived at the Hwy A trail-head late in the afternoon and started getting ready.

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It was very cold and we were running low on daylight. On the drive up we had formed a plan and it was to ignore the trail and head strait up the “mountain”. We didn’t really have a destination for the hike or need to be anywhere. So we picked out a few random things we wanted to do. Besides climbing the “mountain”, we found a little blue dot we guessed was a pond, we found a creek we wanted to follow and some bluffs to check out.

The map: http://www.ozarktrail.com/maps/detailed/TaumSauk1mile4to16.jpg

Once we were dressed we took a fair-well shot and started the climb.

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Me, Jake, Derrick and Jon (in order from left to right)

The mountain was pretty steep but not too much to climb. We immediately got warmed up and started breathing hard. We climbed rocks, stepped over downed trees and worked our way around the thickest sections. It got a little darker with every minute and that helped us set a fast pace and keep after it.

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It seemed in no time we were at the top and it was dark. We had been going East to North East and once at the top turned strait North. Well north was the goal but the steep slope, boulders, trees, thorns and other obstacles kept us working our way down the hill and side to side. The sun and the moon were below the horizon but we had some stars. Off trail in the dark going down a big slope was a bad idea and I feel really fortunate no one was injured at all. When we were all pretty fed up with dark and thinking about stopping in the next reasonable spot we heard water. We went a little farther and found Joe’s creek. The side we were on was really rocky and steep but in our limited vision it looked flat on the other side. We turned on headlamps and gathered rocks and made a little bridge across.

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Obviously I took a picture the next morning.

The risk of wet boots paid off, we were all dry and there was some nice flat areas for our tent. We even found a divot in the ground for our fire.

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It seemed like a great spot but no one had camped there in a long time so there was a lot of dead firewood around. Our main concern was the fire and dinner so we got gathering wood and started the fire.

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There were dry leaves everywhere so we let the ones around our fire burn up so they would not catch later. Then we unwrapped dinner and put it on the fire. I bought and prepared all our food ahead of time and the guys paid me for their share. I had grilled some chicken and mixed it up with refried beans, black beans, corn and cheese then scooped it into tortillas and wrapped up with foil. We moved some coals off the fire and laid the foil wrapped burritos on them.

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Jon kept the burritos flipping and moving around and the rest of us set up the tent and tossed our stuff in. Then we cooked up some quick rice and opened our burrito wraps.

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They were so good but so so hot. We were hungry and gobbled up the burritos and tried to keep from burning our mouths. They were really good and filling. If I made this meal again I would do it the same but maybe wrap both little burritos in another big tortilla. I’d lightly coat that outside tortilla in salt and oil. I think it would help protect the burritos from the heat and maybe turn into a giant chip to eat w/ the meal.

It was really cold but we were so low there was not much wind and we could huddle close to the fire. The moon came out and it was really bright and full. Eventually we called it a night and hung our packs off the ground, and got ready for bed. I had been wearing canvas pants, under armor shirt and a warm hooded sweatshirt. I changed into long underware and sweat pants, took off my sweat shirt and added 2 more warm shirts. I folded up my sweatshirt and pants and used them as a pillow.

The ground was not too lumpy or hard and pretty flat overall. We were all never freezing cold in the night but we were never warm or entirely comfortable either. Our water was freezing pretty quick before bed so I slept with a water bottle for the morning. Our breath through the night froze and coated the inside of the tent with frost.

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In the morning we all slept in late. We discovered earlier we had all been up for a while waiting for everyone else to get up. The fire had some coals left so we got a small week fire going and started getting breakfast ready.

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We tried to filter some water from the creek but it would freeze in the line too quickly.

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So instead we got some water boiling for coffee.

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In the boiling water we thawed out our hard boiled eggs and cheese sticks and then toasted some bagels.

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We added some strips of bacon and created some really good sandwiches.

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We took our time with breakfast but eventually got everything packed back into our bags.

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Then we made a plan and started out.

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We followed the creek and it was cold.

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We crossed it a few times

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We expected it to get really warm and sunny and it did warm up some but not like we expected. It was a lot more fun going off trail during the day on fairly flat ground.

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As it warmed up we shed some layers and were able to filter water and fill our bottles.

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As we hiked along the creek Derrick was leading and saw something funny. It turned out to be a giant tarp teepee. As we got close a guy came out. It turned out that 5 guys packed in the whole thing including the giant poles. They were doing a traditional civil war era camp. They had planned to shoot and eat squirrels and game for 5 days. It was really interesting, they had a fire in the teepee and said it stayed pretty warm. They had no luck hunting and had to go into town for food.

They showed us where we were on the map and we continued along. It started sprinkling snow on us off and on and the sky got dark and kind of windy. We were following the creek and then started branching away from it toward the pond. We started to give up on the pond and start heading to where we wanted to camp but decided to continue on a little farther. Jon had a feeling and it paid off. Moments later we found the pond.

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It was pretty frozen but we found it and really took a pretty direct route to it. I’m not sure why but it was pretty exciting to find.

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We played for a bit until we heard a mighty crack and felt the ice moving. We all jumped off the ice, put on our packs and started hiking.

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We had snacked a few times since breakfast but not eaten lunch. We left the pond and headed strait East until we reached the trail. Then we took a break and ate lunch.

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We had peanut butter and raisins rolled up in tortillas. Also the whole weekend we snacked on some giant bags of trail-mix and dehydrated fruit. Also I made a loaf of really high protein/calorie logan bread that we ate on all weekend. After lunch we got hiking again. We had some elevation to gain before we set camp.

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We left the creek and thick forest and got unto smaller trees and more rocks.

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Then we reached the highest point and saw the bluffs.

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It was a really pretty spot. There were tons of places to make camp and look out.

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We were a little worried about the weather strong winds were coming and going and we had occasional snowflakes. The temperature was close to being high enough for rain. We ultimately settled on a fire ring that was mostly surrounded by rock and had a big cedar tree blocking some wind.

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On the other side of the tree was a fairly flat though rocky spot. To make the spot better Jon and Jake brought in several tarp loads of leaves and then we put the tent on top of them.

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We were worried about our tent blowing away and the rain picking up at any moment so we moved our food over to the fire ring and put everything else in the tent.

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Then we started a fire and kicked off our boots.

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Our little spot was great. We ate trail-mix, drank port and relaxed.

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The sun eased it’s way down opposite the blufs.

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We boiled some of the remaining water and added noodles, tuna and dehydrated black beans, carrots, squash, and zucchini. It was really tasty but my picture was bad.
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We drank the wine and hung out by the fire.

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Eventually the sun came up and we spent some time looking out over the valley. We saw some lights and they were moving pretty quick and headed right for our fire. We met them there and it was a group of hikers. They had set up camp earlier and spent the day roaming around. They were really friendly and we shared the fire and some stories. They were eager to get back to their camp and cook dinner so headed off.

We went to bed a bit later. It felt quite a bit warmer that night. We had decided to not sleep in so late and just get up as soon as the sun was up.

Jon got us up and it looked like we were just in time to watch the sun rise over the bluffs.

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It turned out we were quite a bit early and we had time to take down the tent and pack up most of our stuff before the sun actually rose.

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It was a perfect spot to watch the sunrise a good start to the day. We were not all that hungry and low on water so decided to hike on a while before breakfast.

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We followed the trail and found another frozen pond.

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We were not starving but decided to get some water and boil it to drink and we might as well eat while we were stopped.

We found a deep spot and a rock and made a hole.

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We scooped out water and then got it boiling for oatmeal and coffee.

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I made up a bag of savory oatmeal before the trip w/ bacon, carrots, onions and cabbage in it. We just had to add it to boiling water.

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It and the coffee really hit the spot. The water we were boiling to drink tipped over so we decided to skip that part and get hiking again. We left the pond and went back to the trail.

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Then we got going pretty fast. After a bit we got to the “mountain” we climbed the first day and took the trail down it.

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It was nice and sunny out and a great morning hike. I started wishing we had another day and were going to keep going.

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In no time we reached the car, slung off the packs and cracked our celebration beers.

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They had not frozen in the cooler in the car but were ice cold and tasted great. After our beers we changed some of our stinkiest clothes, packed up the focus and headed home.

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