Bluffs, Boulders, Creeks and Waterfalls: The OHT

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For months and weeks Pops and I planned and prepared for our Ozark Highlands Trail trip. It got delayed a few times and finally a week ago Wednesday it began. Pops went down Wednesday morning and drove to 3 points along the trail approximately 40 trail miles apart and stashed supplies. We expected it to take us 3-4 days to get to each point. There are not really any stores or places to get more supplies along the route, everything is gravel roads and takes a long time to get to any point on the trail. Driving down, stashing the supplies and getting to the end took all day. Pops parked 3.3 miles past the end of the OHT at Dewey’s Cabin and stayed the night there.

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DAY1: Thursday I left KC at 4am and drove 5hrs to Dewey’s Cabin. I picked up Pops and we drove 3 hrs to the start of the trail at Lake Fort Smith State Park. IMG_20180426_121405450_HDR

We got registered and parked in the long term hiking parking spots then ate some lunch and hit the trail shortly after noon. It was pretty overcast but felt pretty humid and immediately we were surprised by how much of the forest floor was covered in poison ivy. The State Park ranger we registered with made a big deal about how wet the first water crossing would be at frog bayou. She assured us we needed to be ready to get really wet. About 2 miles in we got to it and we did have to take off our boots and put on water shoes but it was not too bad.

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It was actually kind of nice to take off the boots and cool the feet down. There were 2 water crossings there right together where a creek enters the lake. IMG_20180426_132609682_HDR

We dried our feet, put back on our boots and got back on the trail.

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That turned out to not be the only big water crossing of the day.

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Everyday of the hike there was a couple of water crossing that required the boots to come off and there were lots of crossings all the time that you could step across on rocks.

Since we started the day pretty late we hiked pretty late into the day.

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Around mile 10 we started keeping an eye out for a campsite but didn’t see anything we were real excited about. Just before mile 12 we decided we’d better take what we could get if we wanted to have our hammocks up before the sun went down. We stopped just after 7:30pm and got camp for the night setup. We had leftovers from our lunch for the most part and I heated up a cup of tea. It was dark by 8:30 and we went to bed at 9 though there was a full bright moon that felt like a lantern. We both slept good and were surprised how cold we got if parts of us wiggled off our pads.

DAY2: The plan had been to get an early start but somehow I slept in till 7:30. We packed up camp and decided to get a few miles underway before breakfast. IMG_20180426_183545195

I was guessing we would get to White Rock Mountain for lunch but we set a fast pace and kept putting off breakfast. Then we got to a point where we crossed a gravel road saying White Rock was a mile up the road or 3-4 miles on the trail. We were really ready for breakfast but decided to take the shortcut and have breakfast on a pick-nick table in the campground. The road was a pretty brutal steep hot climb.

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In hindsight, we may have been better off sticking to the shady more gradual trail and to have taken our breakfast break first. Halfway to the top we found a good shady spot in the ditch to rest. Pops told me he was too slow and was thinking about getting a shuttle out. I told him we were ahead of schedule and not too slow. I went on ahead to get to the campground and fill our waters and get breakfast going and he took his time. As we made coffee and oatmeal and had handfuls of dehydrated fruit he said he was sure he was done. I assured him we could really slow down and take our time but he said he was not enjoying it and really did not want to continue.

After breakfast I called a shuttle company and we made a plan. He was going to ride back to the start with my keys and take the truck into town. At this point we were at mile 19 and resupply 1 was at mile 40. I was going to hike the afternoon and the next day and meet him at the resupply point in the afternoon. I remembered us deciding on 1pm but he remembers us deciding 3pm. Pops had left his phone and all his extra stuff in his car at the end of the trail. We went through all the gear and I took all the best lightest stuff and gave him all the extra food. I bet I cut 5lbs from my pack.  Then we checked out the view at the top of White Rock.

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It was really nice.

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I had been here last October but the weather was terrible and there was no blue in the sky or green in the landscape.

Then surprised to be solo I got back on the OHT.

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I left the trail head at White Rock where a sign said I was 19 miles from the start but after a mile of hiking came to a sign saying mile marker 19. All the landmarks in my guidebook and on my topo maps had been odd or completely incorrect all trip and I could not figure it out. Having done the trail 6 months before I didn’t remember having this problem. I knew where the resupply was regardless of what mile it was at so I knew I had to get going.

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Eventually I figured it out. Over the years the trail has changed quite a bit. The biggest was probably when they built the State Park at the start of the trail. This shortened the trail by a mile but they kept all the original markers and just gave you a free mile. Then sometime in the last 6 months they must have decided to make it accurate and replace markers. I ended up occasionally seeing the old wrong markers that corresponded to my maps and books and the new markers that told me my real mileage.

It was a hot sunny afternoon and at first I kinda worried about hills and heat and all but then I got into a rhythm and just cranked out the miles. This time of year some trees made shade but others didn’t have enough leaves and the sun would get me but there was always water not far and I drank a ton.

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I carried a LifeStraw bottle on the side pocket of my pack and just about any time I stepped across some water I would dump out the bottom inch of water and fill up with fresh cool water.

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I started to get over how much poison ivy was everywhere and instead focus on how many wildflowers and butterflies were sharing the trail.

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Late in the afternoon I decided to have lunch and cool off in some little waterfalls.

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There were some rough climbs but also some long flat areas to make up time on.

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The late afternoon, early evening I started heading down a slope and it was really nice. I ended up going a bit longer into the day then planned but it was totally worth it when I came to this old campsite at mile 30.

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I was using a different tarp, hammock and cordage then the night before so I setup first thing while I still had the light.

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Then I went down to the creek for a quick rinse/cool off/water refill.

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It was cold but felt great. It was after 7 and I was ready for dinner.

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I cooked a pot of Mexican rice on my stove and added a tuna packet and a bag of sun chips leftover from the first day sack lunch. I also had several mugs of vitamin mio water. Granted I was a bit starving but it tasted so good.

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It got cold and dark fast after dinner and I packed up my gear into my pack and hung it in a tree. I slept even better then the night before but did think I heard something in the night. I didn’t worry about it and trusted my hanging job.

DAY3: In the morning I got up around 6:30 and I discovered my pack and it’s contents were fine but my hat that was on a big rock by me had been snacked on during the night.

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I’m not sure if it was deer or mice or what. It was cold in the morning and I left a warm shirt on and hit the trail. I didn’t even put on my boots because right away I had to cross that freezing creek, I made it fairly dry and warmed up in no time. I got a few miles in and stopped for breakfast around 9am on a big dead log. IMG_20180428_081842261_HDR

I had coffee and oatmeal and was feeling pretty good.

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It was still fairly cool out but that sun was starting to get me so I put on sunscreen and decided to try my charging panels.

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I got hot fast and knew it was just going to get worse so decided to push it till I got to mile 40 and the first resupply. I got there about 11:15 and I was beat. Immediately I left my pack by the road and went off trail a bit to find the bag Pops had stashed.

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It looked safe and undisturbed. I took it back to the road, setup my hammock and tarp and enjoyed some shade, a breeze and being barefoot.

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I had not had cell signal much and Pops didn’t have his phone anyway so I figured I had a few hours to relax. I went through all my gear and the resupply bag and dug through the guide book and the topo maps and planned out the next 40 miles. It looked like right around mile 50 and 70 there were good campsites. I had done 20 miles the day before and was on track to do it again so figured that would be okay. My knees, back, shoulders and ankles were stiff and sore and took a bit to get going but otherwise felt pretty good. It was hot out but otherwise pretty nice and I’d been sleeping really well.

Pops showed up at 12:30 and was amazed to see me as he was thinking we were meeting at 3pm. He had a cooler of beer and a giant fried sandwich for me. We sat in the shade and got caught up on each-others adventures. It was Saturday afternoon in the country and lots of locals were ridding 4 wheeler all over the gravel roads around us. Pops and I planned to meet Monday at mile 79 at noon, just shy of 40 miles in 2 days.

Full of fried bread and Yuengling Beer I got back on the trail in the full heat of the day. I had a rough climb for a bit and thought the lunch may make me sick a few times but eventually got to the top and was rewarded with a nice hike along some bluffs with great views and cell phone service.

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Once I got past the bluffs I entered a nice thick pine forest that offered shade.

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And then it was mostly downhill for the rest of the afternoon and evening. I was pretty worn out at the end of the day but kept going because I knew at mile 50 there was a creek and a campground. Once there I realized it was a Saturday night and a popular spot and though I had only seen 1 couple hiking the campsites were all taken. I made sure to cross the creek before setting up camp and found a nice rocky spot on the bank really close to the water.

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As soon as I was setup I hopped in the water and rinsed all my clothes out and used a pan to rinse my hair and body off.

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I cooked up some rice and put in half a can of pulled pork I had taken from the resupply. It was heavy so I wanted to use it up first. The meal was not bad but I put in way to much red pepper. I made sure to hang everything well off the ground before getting to bed early.

I believe this was the coldest night out. I had on all my clothes and stocking cap but woke up cold in the night a few times. I curled up some and tried to flex my all my muscles a few times to warm me up then would fall back to sleep.

DAY4: I got up just before 6 and packed quick and hit the trail with a quick pace before any other campers were up. It was a nice section and I ate an apple as I hiked and enjoyed a really cool bluff and waterfall area.

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Around 9am I was getting hungry and worn out and passed a cool rocky area to stop for breakfast.

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With my coffee, I cooked up powdered eggs and mixed them with the 2nd half of my pulled pork.

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I took time to figure out where I was and where I needed to get. I had over 24hrs to my next resupply point and had learned to crank out miles early and late in the day and take longer breaks in the middle of the heat of the day. The map showed a few spots that had campsites and most of them paid off but sometimes they were not that exciting or I could not find them and lots of sites were not on the map. It was nice to stop near water.

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It was a wet late morning. and lots of crossing with boots on and off.

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At 11 or so my feet were getting sore and I found a great flat rock I could sit on and soak them.

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I had switched from my good smartwool socks to my cheep costco socks. I had been sleeping in the cheep socks but had decided to rinse the good socks and let them dry while wearing the cheep socks. In hindsight 2 good pairs and 1 sleeping pairs would have been better so I could always be drying a used pair. I discovered my feet were sore because both pinky toes were a blister and there were other blisters around the sides of my heals.  After soaking them and getting them numb I popped the blisters and and wrapped up the sore spots really good.

Right away I felt great but a mile or so in my sweaty feet worked their way right out of the bandages. I left the creeks and after a climb or two was rewarded with landscape views.

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But it was too hot. I was not very hungry but after 1 stopped at a campsite I came across and setup the hammock and tarp.

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This was great. I was all sweaty but swinging there in the breeze I got cool in no time and my feet felt better fast.

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Once things cooled off I set a fast pace and cruised to mile 70 or so where there looked like a big water crossing and a good spot for camping.

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It was an exciting fairly deep crossing (mid thigh) and a really pretty spot. Once I got up on the other bank I found an amazing campsite and knew I had to stay.

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I was a bit earlier then normal and had time to wash me and all my stuff.

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Plus there was a firepit with nice dry wood all ready so I could not help starting a fire.

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I decided to stay up late and cooked more rice and tuna and lots of green tea. My batteries and phone were all full charged so I put on some music while I read my book. I got a nice pile of wood and took advantage of a little rock recliner by the fire.

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Staying up late turned out to be about 9:30 before my sleeping bag was too tempting to avoid. The rapids below me were a bit loud but I still had a great night sleep.

Day 5: I woke up at 6:30 and tried to go back to sleep. My feet hurt and I only had 8.5 miles to my resupply bag and Pops. I could not get back to sleep and had to get up to pee. I took my time packing up camp and cooked breakfast by the remains of my fire. I tried oatmeal mixed with protein powder but it was not good. Protein powder won’t mix well with hot water and it was pretty clumpy. I had a little trouble finding my trail on this side of the creek but followed an old jeep road a bit and came across it. It was a steep and really rocky climb all morning and I decided my feet were never going to make it the planned 160 miles.

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I came up with 2 ideas. Plan 1 was after meeting Pops, take the afternoon off, canoe and then drive to a trail-head 30 miles from the finish and plan on hiking for 3 days 2 nights at an easy pace. Plan 2 if Pops objected was to get lunch with Pops then restart from that same point and meet him 30 miles down the trail in 2 days.

I hiked on feeling pretty good about my new plans. A day barefoot in a canoe sounded really good. At 10:20 I hit the top of the hill and found a road and Pops. I got a Gatorade and a beer and we went off to grab the 2nd resupply bag. Pops was surprised about my plan but seemed to think it would be alright. He had had a rough time since the last resupply with no phone or GPS he could not find the cabin at the end with his car and cell phone. He spent most of a day searching then abandoning the search for the night and getting a hotel room. The next day he went back and eventually found it. He left my truck at the end and had his car, phone and supplies. After getting the bag we drove 40 minutes to get 12 miles away to the Ozone Burger Barn.

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This was my only planned point on the trek to see civilization. The trail crossed a highway 2 miles north of this “restaurant” and we had planned to hike down it for lunch or dinner. I had another Gatorade and beer and remembering the Monte Cristo sandwich ordered the smallest burger I saw.

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Yes, this is the little one.

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Pops had a cell signal so I called a few canoe places and found one that had a boat for us. It was a bit of a drive but once there we signed up for a 5 mile float and timing was perfect to hop in the old van and cruise up the river.

Classic crazy hill billy guy behind the wheel that talked the whole ride. He was really entertaining, really serious about canoeing and told us lots of stuff to look for on our ride. Then we were off

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Also my shoes were off and it was nice.

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We were surprised the river started out pretty fast and exciting and stayed that way the whole time. We thought we may roll over to take on water at several points but really nailed it. We pulled over at one point to swim and have a beer. The rest of the ride was just as good and we were amazed to be back at the car only an hour after we left. We were worried about time but could have easily done 8 miles or more.

So we went to pick up the 3rd resupply bag and then from there went to the trail head at 30 miles from the end. Once there Pops started doubting the plan and decided he would feel a lot better starting more like 20 miles from the end. I had gone almost 79 miles and the cabin was 3 miles from the end so this would still put me over 100 miles. I agreed so we found a new trail-head at a campground and headed there. Once there we unpacked our gear and cut back on anything we didn’t need. I packed up our meals for the remainder of the trip and encouraged pops to pass any extra gear off on me. Just before leaving we realized we were short a bunch of gear. We went through the whole car and our packs again and could not find it. Then we realized it was probably still in my truck at the end.

So Pops decided to stay in a hotel again, drive to the end and then backtrack till he caught me. I was off around 5:30 for my last night and day on the trail.

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I had missed the heat of the day and hopped to make some miles in the cool evening. It didn’t work out that well as my feet were still really sore and the trail was rough for sore feet. There was no nice even dirt track it was all irregular rocky hard stuff.

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After a mile I was ready to call it but there was no wear appealing to camp. I hiked on and on with no nice creak in sight. I was in pretty good shape water wise and decided to mix things up and camp under a big bluff instead.

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It does not look impressive there but it was about 50 ft tall. I was worn out and got dinner going and camp setup. I wanted to be barefoot but the ground would not cooperate so I mostly wore my water shoes as sandals. I had to be really careful as there was poison ivy everywhere at this site.

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It was a lot quieter then near the water.

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Once my site was all setup I moved to the hammock and let my dinner cook besides me.

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Oh man it was good. It was a serving for 4 so I figured I’d eat half and warm up the rest for an easy breakfast but before I knew it there was no leftovers.

I ate in the hammock and just reached down to get my tea going as I was eating. I drank my tea in the dark and went right to bed.

At least that was my plan. It was so so much hotter then the previous nights. I kept expecting it to cool off but it never did. I was way too hot in my bag and just a bit too cold out of my bag. I tossed and turned and adjusted over and over. I got the best level of comfort laying on my pad with my bag on top of me but was still pretty sweaty. I woke up just before 6am not feeling rested. But the end was in sight so I broke camp and got going.

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The last day proved to be pretty interesting. The morning was still in that rocky mess that hurt my feet and I was not sure I could make it but slowly the miles ticked away. Even if they were a little odd.

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I never did figure out what this sign meant or see anything like a landslide.

I worked my way through the rocks and down to a nice creek. Breakfast was a bit late but I needed a water source for cooking and feet soaking. I was relieved to find a really nice spot at the bottom.

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I sat on a flat rock, soaked my feet in the cold water and cooked. As I finished my oatmeal I heard an engine in the distance that slowly got closer and closer till I saw some sort of ATV. 2 guys drove right up to the creek and hopped out. They were in helmets and full work suits and their 6×6 looked ready for anything. We talked for a bit and they were working up the hill for the forest service. They saw me at the bottom in what they call “the hell hole” and decided to make sure I was alright. I figured I was alright enough and they headed back to work.

I dried my feet, repacked and got across the rest of the creek. I could not find a trail marker but there was an old jeep road and a lot of times the trail would follow these a ways. I headed up the road and looked and looked but for like 2 miles I never saw a marker. I was watching the map on google maps on my phone a lot to make sure I stayed going the right direction and it looked like I was always really close to the trail but could never find it. The guide book mentions the trail crossing jeep roads a lot but nothing about following one for mile and not seeing any markers.

The jeep road was a lot easier on my feet, it was going up and down hills but it was not as rocky. Also I saw some interesting signs of animals.

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I had been looking for bear prints or droppings quite a bit and saw a few possibilities but nothing I was sure was a bear. I’d seen a few turkeys, lots of deer, a few snakes, lots of lizards and songbirds. I’d also been looking for elk and since that print above was too big for a deer I was thinking elk. As I walked along I heard a noise and saw a large furry black shape in the thick woods ahead of me. I froze and thought a bear. Bears in this area should be fairly small and I had bear spray and felt prepared. I took a step back, tried to see and then I heard noises that were not bear and noticed lots of the black shapes. I saw bits and pieces of at least 3 big boars and 3 little boars. I would not have been able to get my arms around the big ones. I was actually more worried then when I thought it was a bear. I forgot all about my spray and looked for a place to climb to safety and didn’t see anything promising. I decided to yell and this made them retreat from me about 10 feet. So I clapped my hands real loud and yelled more and then they all took off away from me.

I had pretty much given up on seeing a trail marker when finally I spotted one and left the jeep road.

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I was ready for lunch and stopped in the first shady creek crossing I found.

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While my feet soaked in the cold water I made instant mashed potatoes with bacon.

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I felt pretty good with a full belly, numb feet and a marked trail in front of me. I took an extra long lunch a bit worried about Pops. If he had started early that morning and hiked pretty hard he probably would have passed me on the trail while I was on the jeep road. I was not sure what to do and had not had a cell signal all day. I decided to not backtrack and to just hope if he had passed me he would figure out something was not right and head back. I did not hike far before I stopped and dug a 6 inch hole after my big lunch then filled it in and hit the trail. Immediately I went down and hill and popped out of the trail and onto a dirt road across from this sign.

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I thought I was like a mile from the end on the road but that was an old sign so I was really at 160 and had to get to 164. The road was flat and level and sometimes shady so I hiked as fast as I could. I got cell service on the way and checked in with Pops. He had spent hours driving around back roads looking for access to the end at Woolum but could not find a route that was not blocked by a forest service gate. He was at the cabin and decided to hike the Blue River trail toward Woolum and meet me on my way from there.

I lost my signal but made it Woolum Ford and the end of the OHT.

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This was of course exciting to be at the end and time to get in the water but there was a lot more water then I was planning on. The trail ends where Richland Creek enters the Buffalo River. You can see the river in the background above and I knew I would not be crossing it. However Richland creek did not look much better and I had to get across it or backtrack on the gravel road to a forest service gate. IMG_20180501_151644197

I decided to follow the creek upstream pass the crossing and find a spot to cross or try to swim my pack across. I eventually found a spot that was only knee deep. The current was really strong but I made it across with out a problem. I followed the creek downstream through really tall grass until I found the trail.

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Shortly after getting on this trail I had to climb.

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There were a switchbacks of rock stairs in the side of a bluff to get up but at the top I got cell signal and nice views.

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. This Buffalo RIver Trail seemed pretty different and most of it hurt my feet but it was interesting. IMG_20180501_160713541

Also I stayed close to the edge of the bluff and got more views.

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As I hiked along I again got concerned I missed Pops somehow but figured I must have misunderstood and he was on the trail at the end. I was wrong and somehow we had missed eachother. I reached the car at the end of the trail and he was an hours hike down the trail from me. I had keys so got into his cooler and took off my boots.

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I ended up getting my truck, stripping down for a water bottle shower and putting on clean clothes and fresh sandals.

I was feeling pretty good again when Pops made it back. We drove 90 minutes into town to a pizza brewery in Harrison that was very good.

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Pops got a hotel room and I put on some podcasts and drove home barefoot. I got in about midnight ready for a real shower and a real bed.

 

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