Weather, water levels, and schedule conflicts have deterred two previous attempts but the stars aligned this year and I (with a friend) have now done the Eagle Rock Loop – a 27 mile loop consisting of parts of the Little Missouri, Viles Branch, and Athens-Big Fork trails. Rugged Ouachita topography, scenic vistas, geological wonders, and water – lots of it; 9 crossings of the Little Missouri River, 12 crossings of Viles Branch, and more smaller streams than we could count. There is even a hot spring (okay, it’s merely warm).
It’s considered by many to be the most challenging hike in Arkansas and I can now agree. The only hikes I’ve done that were tougher than the Athens-Big Fork section of this loop were in the Colorado Rockies.
This was a 3-night trip, beginning at the Little Missouri trail head and going clockwise – saving the mountain climbs for the last when our packs would be lightest. The water level at the Langley gauge for the Little Missouri River when we started was about 3.3 feet. We managed dry crossings everywhere except the mouth of Long Creek and the last two of the Little Missouri. The deepest water – about knee-deep – was the last crossing.
We had morning temperatures of 16, 26, and 50!, though on this last day, it dropped from 50 to 25 in the 3.5 hours it took us to pack-up and hike-out. It also rained most of this last night though it fortunately stopped about the time we started packing.
A post-trip dinner at the Branding Iron BBQ & Steak House in Mena provided a very nice change from freeze-dried meals. This was a heck of a satisfying trip and a great way to start 2014.