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Ozark Highlands Trail, Summer 2004 Thru-hike

    From dawn on Monday, 28Jun04, until 8am on Wednesday, 7Jul04, I solo backpacked the Ozark Highlands Trail. Including a 15 mile section of the Buffalo River Trail needed to get to a trailhead with vehicle access, a little over 170 miles were covered in a little over 9 days. The short time allocated to cover this distance required I spend most of the day hiking and that I hike at a brisk pace. I did not spend time writing detailed notes nor did I take a camera. My concentration was on completing the hike with a potential gift to future Ozark Highland Trail hikers of collected GPS data. (You might also be interested in my Spring 2005 Ouachita National Recreation Trail trek and a Ozark Highlands Trail/Ouachita Trail comparision.) This is my short story of the challenges of and experiences while hiking the Ozark Highlands Trail.

    The trip was a challenge. The weather was rough. It rained for the first seven days. One day it rained at 2am, another at 4am. One day it rained three times, morning, noon, and afternoon. One day it rained from 8am until 2pm. On four of the days, thunderstorms passing directly overhead. The only things I could keep dry were my sleeping bag and sleeping clothes. As I had decided to wear well ventilated shoes (after all, this is summer), my feet were constantly wet. Wet feet means blisters. Then the rain ended, and during the last two days of the journey, I was reminded why people do not hike in Arkansas in July. During these two days, the rain looked like a blessing as rain meant water in the streams and cooler temperatures.

    There were other challenges. Everything required to live for the five days between the mid-trip resupply had to be carried. You must depend on your skill and equipment. You also must have a good wilderness sense. During my hike, several streams and rivers became uncrossable due to the very high water caused by the heavy rains. This required route replans. Once this required a cross-country, trailblazing, re-route. In a very few locations (the very few is a credit to the volunteers who maintain this trail) the trail was very difficult to locate, or very overgrown, making hiking difficult. Using Tim Ernst's Ozark Highland Trail guidebook was essential to navigating through these locations.

    The trip was also an experience. The Ozark Highlands Trail is an excellent hiking/backpacking trail. Especially for the south-central part of the United States. It has natural beauty, not in a grand sense as either the Rockies or Sierra-Nevadas, but in a smaller, more intimate sense. There are numerous small waterfalls and the trail passes either just above or just below these waterfalls. The trail is narrow, sometimes just clinging to a slope. Not anyway like the hiking super-highways found in some wilderness areas. Because of all the rain during my hike, the waterfalls, streams, and brooks were flowing and everything was green.

    The contact with civilization was minimal. This was a solo journey and the wilderness was mine. I saw only two others on the trail, a father on a day hike carrying his 2-3 year old daughter. There is something very nice to stop at a waterfall, have a quick meal and water resupply, and know there is no one within miles of you. The trail was mine, providing an environment to think and to reflect.

    I've been asked if the trip was "fun". My best answer, "Do you think the individuals who conquer Mount Everest think of their accomplishment as fun? In a similar light, completing this backpacking trip was a solo, summer time, conquer of the Ozark Highlands Trail. My accomplishments were meeting the challenges and participating in the experience.

    GPS data collected during the trip can be downloaded to your computer for viewing and downloading to your GPS.
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