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.
My plan was to park at the Pashubbe trail head, hike east to the state line, retrieve the gallon of water I cached earlier and go .1-mile further to spend the night at the State Line Shelter. Saturday I would hike west to the Red Spring area, or further to Rough Mountain if I could. Sunday I would continue west up and over Winding Stair Mountain to the campground trail head, then turn around and hike back to the Pashubbe trail head.
The weather was expected to be about 72 and sunny Friday & Saturday, about 78 with thunderstorms on Sunday, and overnight lows around 50. I think it actually got a bit warmer Saturday and the Sunday low was a balmy 62. The storms never did materialize – no precip at all, in fact, but it was pretty humid.
Heading east from the Pashubbe trail head, you almost immediately cross Pashubbe creek. It was dry except for a couple scum-covered puddles – not a reliable water source apparently. Then it’s a long climb up Wilton Mountain and down the other side, skirting the southern boundary of the Upper Kiamichi River Wilderness the whole time. Once down from the mountain, you enter the wilderness and follow the river upstream for about 4.5 miles, crossing it 8 times. Water is plentiful in this area and there are many broad grassy areas. It would be a nice place to build a cabin, except for the floods. The trail turns abruptly north and begins the 3-mile climb up Rich Mountain, following one fork of the river up toward its source and leveling-off just as it reaches the state line. Once at that point, though, I saw that I had enough daylight to hike back down to the river and camp in that area so I did, putting me 3 miles ahead of plan.
As I hiked west past the Pashubbe trail head Saturday afternoon I decided that instead of continuing across US-259 toward Red Spring, I would turn around at US-259 and go back to the Pashubbe trail head for the night. Then on Sunday I could drive over to the Big Cedar trail head at US-259 and do the “run” up Winding Stair with a lighter day pack – no tent, sleeping bag, stove, etc. It would also put me about 1 more mile ahead of plan, reducing the time I would be hiking in the rain expected Sunday. The area between Pashubbe trail head and US-259 is nice, with smaller ups and downs, several small creeks where I could have gotten water, and many flat areas with little brush that probably make good camp sites. There’s also the relatively new Pashubbe Creek Shelter a bit west (.25 miles?) of the trail head.
Sunday began with a lighter pack, which would help offset the extra heat and humidity. Almost immediately as you head west from US-259 is the crossing of Big Cedar Creek. Tim Ernst calls this the biggest water crossing along the trail but I think a couple of the Kiamichi crossings would match it. The trail climbs gradually as it follows the scenic creek upstream before turning more steeply uphill to Red Spring. This water does have a very strong iron taste but if it’s all you’ve got then you’ll appreciate it. From there you climb gradually along a ridge up Rough Mountain, around the top to the north side and then give up about 250′ of the elevation you just gained. Cruel indeed. Then comes the ascent of Winding Stair Mountain – Tim says there are 33 switchbacks but I didn’t even try to count them – then climbs more gradually across a ridge with great south views before topping-out at the site of an old fire tower on the highest point of Winding Stair Mountain at 2451′. Nearby is the Winding Stair Shelter – another of FoOTs new ones (5 more to go!). From there, it’s a matter of following the old road down to and across the highway where the trail turns left and continues west. For this trip, it’s the turn-around point. There is a parking area here and the backpacker’s camp is very close so I wandered over to see it. It’s a few tent pads and fire rings the water hydrant was broken. The regular campground is a few hundred feet east so I checked it out too. The hydrant was apparently turned off. I’m learning to not depend on forest service or state park water supplies as they have a way of not being there when you really need them. I had enough water to make it back to Red Spring but I wished I had a bit more.
Wildflowers are still abundant. Some have faded away, others are just getting started. Some notable changes from last weekend were the wild iris and dogwood trees. The poison ivy is also abundant once again. I only saw one pawpaw tree. I think they’re just not as common in the Ouachitas as in the Ozarks. Also spotted were a couple lizards, a snake, some fireflies, and one turkey.
When I started this Ouachita Trail section hike last Thanksgiving I hadn’t given any thought to when I would finish it and didn’t necessarily intend to do it all without a shuttle in out-and-back fashion. It was probably in February that I started seeing that I could do the whole thing, twice, this season so that’s what I intend to do. Of the 23.7 miles in section 1, I’ve actually already hiked about 12.4 miles during 3 other trips but I’m going to do the whole thing again, twice. It will be especially interesting to revisit the west end where I made my first trip to the Ouachitas just 3 years ago. I think now it’s just a question of one long weekend or two short ones?