Summer vacation 2015, part 2: Thunder Ridge Wilderness & Apple Orchard Falls (Virginia)

My brother and I hiked through part of the Thunder Ridge Wilderness, across Apple Orchard Mountain, and down to Apple Orchard Falls.  It was just under 8 miles for the round-trip, a bit more than half on the AT and the rest on the Apple Orchard Falls Trail.

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Summer vacation 2015, part 1: Blue Ridge Parkway, James River, and Crabtree Falls (Virginia)

2100 miles, 9 days, 6 states, 527 photos; summer vacation is over.  I began by driving east on I-40 and then up I-81 to an area northeast of Roanoke in central Virginia – a route that offered almost all new scenery for me.  I spent 4.5 days with family that now live in this area.  It’s mostly in the George Washington National Forest and very close to the Appalachian Trail and many others so I was able to do a little hiking.  The Blue Ridge Parkway is also very close, with many sightseeing opportunities.  Add in some stops on the way home, and I’ve got material for 4 more posts to come ASAP.

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Late spring update

Contrary to appearances I have not vanished.  In the 7 weeks since finishing my section hike of the Ouachita Trail I just haven’t done any one thing that seemed to deserve a blog post.

The first 5 of those weeks were kinda wet but I found 10 days that were relatively cool with a low chance of rain so I could do some work on both the Highlands and Ouachita trails.  I cleared brush along about 8 miles of trail that has been inadequately maintained.  The Highlands segment is probably now “under control” but the Ouachita segment will probably still need a lot of work this fall and next spring.

My sister and brother-in-law visited for 3-4 days.  One day we went to Mt Magazine for some sight-seeing and then did a tour of the wine-producing area just north of there around Altus.  I don’t drink wine but I’ve been wanting to see the wineries.  They do enjoy wine and went home with almost 2 cases, I think, from the Post and Chateau Aux Arc wineries.  We had dinner in the Weinkeller Restaurant in Wiederkehr Village.  The food was fine, but not anything special.

The last couple weeks have been dry with heat indexes over 100.  I’ve been shifting attention back to the to-do list at home that was abandoned when backpacking season began last fall.  Painting, landscaping, and some minor plumbing projects are underway.  By the end of the summer I might even be able to finish unpacking from the last move.

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Queen Wilhelmina State Park

There are 3 short trails at Queen Wilhelmina State Park that have been on my to do list for a while and I found myself in that neighborhood with a bit of free time so I checked them out.  Note that the lodge is still closed for remodeling and is expected to reopen “in summer 2015″.  The campground is open but has recently been without water.  That is supposed to be fixed by early summer.

The Lover’s Leap trail is about a mile long loop with ends on the north and south sides of the lodge.  The northern leg is shared with the Ouachita Trail so I had seen that part but the remaining 2/3 or so waited until today.  There is a surprising amount of elevation change for such a short trail and some great views, especially from the Lover’s Leap Overlook (which is nearer the north end).

The Reservoir trail is a 0.4-mile spur from the Lover’s Leap trail on the south side of the lodge.  It heads down hill (250′ elevation drop) to an old stone reservoir that served the hotel (built 1898) that originally stood about where the lodge is now.

The Spring trail is about .5 miles and is across the highway (north) from the rest of the park.  The east end is behind the Wonder House (which I did not investigate), the west end is directly across the highway from where the Ouachita Trail enters/leaves the woods west of the campground.  There is a spring here near the east end that would be a good source of water for backpackers when the state park has no water (like now).

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Ouachita Trail – Deadman Gap to Talimena State Park: the grand finale

With the completion of the segment from Deadman Gap (mile 8) to Talimena State Park (mile 0) today comes the completion of the double section hike of the Ouachita Trail that I started 5 months ago.  Officially, that’s 445 miles but the GPS track puts it about 10 miles shorter.  I’m sure I’m not the first person in history to do it but I like knowing that I’ve done it.  Of course, it’s not  as big an accomplishment as doing a through-hike even once.Ouachita Trail.Deadman Gap to Talimena SP.2015-04-25.002 Continue reading

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Ouachita Trail – Winding Stair Campground to Deadman Gap

The weather was beautiful Friday – perfect for hiking – so naturally it was one of the rare Fridays that I needed to work.  The forecast for Saturday and Sunday had a good chance of thunderstorms pretty much all day but I said I was going to finish this trail ASAP no matter what it took, so Friday evening I headed southwest.

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Ouachita Trail – State Line to Winding Stair Mountain

Whew, what a weekend!  I finished section 2 of the Ouachita Trail – from mile marker 46.3 at the State Line west to mile 23.7 near the Winding Stair Mountain campground, and as usual did it twice.  With a climb up the west end of Rich Mountain, the east end of Winding Stair Mountain, and over Wilton Mountain from both directions, this was one of the more physically demanding trips I’ve done in this area.

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Ouachita Trail – Foran Gap to State Line

This weekend I hiked the area between the Foran Gap Shelter – just a bit east of US-71 – and the Arkansas/Oklahoma state line, meaning the completion of that tiny bit of section 4 left from the last trip, plus all of section 3 and a bit of section 2.

This segment goes up and over that part of Fourche Mountain west of Foran Gap, across the “toe” of Black Fork Mountain, up the side of Rich Mountain to Queen Wilhelmina State Park, and then west along the ridge a few miles to the state line and the boundary of the Kiamichi River Wilderness.

Rich Mountain is the second-highest peak in Arkansas and has some spectacular views – not only from the trails but also from the highway that runs along the ridge.  It’s a must-see if you’re in the area.

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Buffalo River trail building – Spring 2015 progress

The spring trail-building session along the Buffalo River will end a bit early on Friday April 3 due to Easter, and the camp will be packed-up Saturday.

Despite several rain days we got more than 1 mile of trail built.  In addition to the many veteran volunteers were students from Texas State, Illinois, and Central Arkansas Universities who spent all or part of their spring break working here.

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Ouachita Trail – Brushy Creek Mountain to Foran Gap

Section 4 of the Ouachita Trail is almost complete.  I’ve gotten as far west as the Foran Gap Shelter, less than a mile east of the US-71 trail head.

I left off at mile 91.4 last time, and headed back out there March 6 to continue.  The plan was to park at the FR 76 trail head at about mile 88.2 and hike east to 91.4 and back, then west to US-71 and back over the three day weekend, about 47 miles.

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