I managed to turn Thanksgiving into a 5-day weekend and I chose to spend it thanking mother nature for the Ouachita Mountains. So begins my section hike of the 233-mile Ouachita Trail.
I chose to start with the area between highways 7 & 9 – that’s all of section 8 and the western 1/3 of section 9 – mile markers 160.4 to 191.8. It’s apparently the oldest part of the trail, and some say the most scenic. I was alone with no shuttle so I actually hiked it all twice. Add in the small spur trail between Lake Sylvia (where I parked) and the OT and it comes out to about 64 miles over 4.5 days. It’s by far the longest hike I’ve ever done, and with over 14 miles/day it’s also a new personal best for pace.
Temperatures were pretty nice with the first two mornings at or a little below freezing and the last morning almost not even needing a sleeping bag. There was no precipitation but the skies were sometimes overcast.
I started at Lake Sylvia and hiked west to AR-7, back east to AR-9, then west to Lake Sylvia. This gave me the option of skipping the 9-mile round trip between Lake Sylvia and AR-9 if I needed to. I like that arrangement and will do something similar on future trips where I’m pushing my boundaries.
Notable features along this part of the trail are a complete traverse of the Flatside Wilderness, expansive views from Flatside and North Fork Pinnacles and views of Forked Mountain. The trail passes the Oak Mountain, Brown Creek, and Nancy Mountain shelters – 3 of the 16 Adirondack-type huts currently built (5 more planned).
I ran into a group from the Little Rock Hikers at Brown Creek Saturday afternoon on their way to Flatside Pinnacle and we chatted for awhile. At the Nancy Mountain Shelter late that afternoon a couple young men and their 7 or 8-year-old sons showed up, intending to stay the night. It was their sons’ first camping trip and they intended to sleep cowboy-style around the fire, leaving the shelter to me, so I had no objections.
Overall, it was a great trip. I’d hiked a bit over 13 miles on back-to-back days with full pack on a couple occasions. I didn’t know if I could keep it up for a longer period but I guess I’ve now answered that, and it gives me hope for even longer trips in the future. I felt refreshed each morning with no accumulating soreness or weakness. I need to pack more snacks next time though, as my butt did start to drag late in the afternoons.
The Jones Family Restaurant just south of Perryville took care of my usual post-trip cheeseburger lust.