A Wintry Irish Wilderness

The winter storm on Christmas left a lot of snow over northern and central Arkansas and vetoed my original plan for a 5-day New Year’s weekend trip in the Ouachita Mountains.  One of several “Plan B” trips was the Irish Wilderness in SE MO.  I was there once before.

This area missed the worst of the Christmas snow but there was still a couple inches on the ground when a friend and I arrived early Friday afternoon at the Camp Five trail head.  It had also started drizzling and that kept up all through our hike in to Fiddler Spring at which time it turned to light but very wet snow that continued well into the night.  It was the first outing for my new Mountain Hardwear Epic rain coat and it didn’t let me down.

There was little flow from Fiddler Spring and no deep pools where you could dip a water bottle to fill it in one go.  You would have to dip something else repeatedly into the shallow water to fill a bottle.  We had enough water that we didn’t need to refill here.

We awoke to a temperature of 30 degrees Saturday so everything outside was now frozen and crunchy, but not uncomfortably cold.  We made our way toward Bliss Spring with a brief detour to the White’s Creek Float Camp, which I hadn’t seen before.  The camp sites have fire rings and picnic tables and there is even a toilet for everyone to share.  Floaters come about 100 yards up White’s Creek to a “dock” where they can tie-up and disembark.

At Bliss Spring, the big trees down in the camp site at the old homestead are still there and still in the way.  Getting a fire started required a bit of persistence but was a huge help in getting socks and gloves dried and even our boots too, to some extent.

We awoke Sunday to a temperature of 18 degrees – the coldest I’ve camped-in so far.  My boots were frozen stiff and very difficult to get onto my feet, my water containers were very slushy, and I had a thick coating of frost on the inside of my rain fly.  We got a fire built to help thaw out while cooking breakfast and my toes eventually warmed.

After a late start (10:30!) we hiked about 9 miles back to the trail head and headed home, with a stop at a forgettable Mexican place in Cabool.

I would have liked to spend more time here.  The whole southern half of the area is devoid of maintained trails and invites a multi-day bushwhack, but with snow already on the ground and more expected Sunday night & Monday this just wasn’t the right time for that adventure.  Most of trees that were down on the trail during my last visit had been cut so it wasn’t such an obstacle course this time.

It was my first time camping in the snow and it was just as unpleasant as I imagined it would be.  I didn’t have much trouble staying warm, but staying dry was another story and I’ve got some lessons learned there.

About Michael R

I enjoy hiking, landscaping with native plants, nature photography, dark chocolate, fine dining, good movies, and old jazz.
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5 Responses to A Wintry Irish Wilderness

  1. pinoakroad says:

    “It was my first time camping in the snow and it was just as unpleasant as I imagined it would be.”
    I love your honesty – yup I am still not convienced to try!

  2. Gary says:

    Interesting trip, thanks for the post. I’d love to know what those ‘lessons learned’ were.

    While camping in the snow was unpleasant, you managed to stay warm. Did you enjoy the trip and come away with a feeling of accomplishment?

    I’m geared up for the cold, but not cold and wet. I’ll have to have a think about that. I’d like to get in a couple of hikes in those conditions before trying a backpacking trip.

    If anyone thinks backpacking in the cold/snow is odd, you’ve only got to show them the picture of the fly fishermen to prove there’s even stranger winter outside occupations.

    • michaelr42 says:

      I did enjoy the trip – I did the trail in the opposite direction from the last time so I saw things from a different perspective. To paraphrase the pilot’s adage: any trip I can walk away from is a good one!

      Lesson #1 was that a waterproof shell for my gloves is mandatory. I’m still shopping around for that.

      Lesson #2 is perhaps to waterproof my boots instead of just using a conditioner/preservative. The Goretex seemed to keep the outside water from getting inside but if the leather itself could be kept dry it would keep the boots from freezing solid.

      I used the TOASTI-TOES toe warmers both mornings here and one morning on the Berryman trail a few weeks ago and they’ve never had any noticeable effect. Disappointing, but before I give up on them I’ll try using them on only one foot. Maybe their heating is more subtle than I imagined it would be.

      • Gary says:

        Good points. I somehow lost my waterproof kayaking gloves, so now I only have my normal woollen insulated ones. Suitable footwear for the cold and wet is something I lack. I don’t think my waterproof socks will do the job on their own! 🙂 We’ve had hand warmers for a few years but never used them.

        For hiking shoe reviews etc, check out Damien’s site http://www.toesalad.com/ They winter hike a lot.

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