Ok, so I am a terrible journalist.
I took a notebook and pen out with me, intending to write about our trip when we had down time, and did not do so.
However, I will still attempt to relay some of our camping experience.
We left North Mississippi shortly before 6AM on Thursday and drove north and west into Arkansas. We stopped at Cracker Barrell and enjoyed breakfast, and made great time out to Ponca, Arkansas, where we found our jump-off point. We grabbed our packs and headed to the trail about 11:30AM. The area was gorgeous, and the weather was excellent. It was warm, but not hot, and we had a clear sky. Each of us carried packs weighing between 35 and 40 pounds. The Buffalo River area is woods, mostly hardwood, but with areas of softwood. Its pretty rocky and rugged terrain as well, and we soon learned that the river is often bordered by tall cliffs. Thursday was both fun and tough, which I guess the other days were as well. I recall thinking as the day progressed that if you'd asked me once an hour what I thought of it, you'd have gotten different responses. Like I said, it was beautiful terrain. The trail was well maintained, a dirt path about 24 to 36 inches wide right through the forest. Early into Thursday's hike, we came across numerous tall rock formations right off of the trail, that if we walked out on them, we found ourselves looking out 30 feet or more over the surrounding landscape. I also remember noticing the sun filtered through the trees. It created myriad patches of light on the ground that shifted as the trees moved in the wind. It struck me as being really awesome. Bugs were not too bad, though they were present. We made pretty good time going into our hike on Thursday, and quickly ran into steep terrain. We didnt really have to do any outright climbing, but some of the surfaces probably approached 45 degrees, though there were frequently stone "stairs" available, and these steep inclines were short, probably between 10 feet and 40 feet from beginning to end. The longer, but less steep inclines were probably worse. I would be hard pressed to cite an incline degree, but suffice to say that on the switch-backs, which sometimes were probably as much as half a mile in walking length, the uphill was a real struggle and slowed us down. On flat stretches we could manage about two or two and a half miles in an hour, but the uphill slowed us to a mile an hour or less, I believe. It didnt take long for the packs to grow heavy, and the feet to grow tired. My shoulders hurt where the pack weighed down on my collarbone (and trapezius muscles?). My feet grew sore, and eventually hurt in a tired, sorta-numb way. The uphill stuff was incredibly taxing on my thighs, and I had to frequently stop to catch my breath and let my burning muscles relax for just a moment. Maddie led us Thursday, and she was relentless in her drive uphill. I was amazed that her pace didnt seem to change at all, as she'd just slowly go step after step right up the hill, with me wheezing behind her, and Krissi and Jason behind me. By the time we'd be going for a couple of hours on Thursday, and hit a few hills and had more to go, we were feeling both physically and mentally taxed. The river lies aprox 1100 feet above sea level, and I think we climbed ultimately, on Thursday, to 1800 feet above sea level. But we made it. It was actually excellent to have Maddie leading up the hills. She drove herself on, which drove us on, even though we briefly considered a revolt :P Along the way though we saw some amazing sights, the most memorable was an overlook 300 feet above the Buffalo River. Below us lay a sharp bend in the river, and a broad clear camp area. Across from us and down the river were more steep cliffs of slate grey rock, probably 200 feet in height. It was dizzying, and spectacular. Buzzards were riding the wind currents, below us and above us. It was really awesome.
So Thursday we did 10 miles I believe, between 11:30AM and when we stopped to eat and make camp, which was I believe close to 7PM. We stopped at Horse Shoe Bend for the evening. I recall that we were all super ready to stop hiking for the day when we got there. We went down the trail, right down onto a sheer rock surface that formed the bank of the Buffalo River in this spot. Everyone stripped off their packs and shoes like a bunch of 4-year olds at a swimming pool, and sat on the rock bank with our feet in the water. It felt great. We were tired, and made a supper of packaged chicken, swiss chese and pita bread. We refilled our water bottles from the river with a pump filter that Jason brought. The river water tasted great, and the food was excellent. We pitched camp about a hundred yards from the river, just above it on a 20 or 30 foot overlook of rock and pine trees. We slept very well, though it got damn cold in the night, probably 55 degrees. I heard a visitor, probably a racoon or possum, but none of our gear or food was raided.
We woke Friday morning and had breakfast of instant oatmeal, which we heated water for over Maddie's little camp stove. I brought coffee along which was nice to have, though it tasted like shit (too weak I believe). We took our time eating and breaking down camp. Then we left our packs under some trees and crossed the river to go a mile or so off the trail to Hemmed-in Hollow. On the way, Jason ambushed a sweet baby deer, which ran for its life. We swam in the river, which was cold, but very refreshing. We hiked without our packs to Hemmed-in Hollow, which was about a mile or a mile and a half one way. It was a gorgeous water fall way back.. well, in a hollow. We followed the creek back from the river. It was gorgeous surroundings with ferns and trees and moss and it felt like we were both miles and years away from civilization. The water fall was a small creek, I'm terrible with estimates, but it was probably a gallon per second. It fell from a cliff that I'd guess was about 200 feet above us. It was a hollow, so we stood in a cul-de-sac formed by this tall rock cliff. It was possibly the best thing we saw on the whole trip. We headed back to the river and cross back to our gear. We packed up and headed back to the trail, after first eating lunch beside the river. Thursday had been our most difficult day in terms of climbing. Friday we took it easier, covering about 7 miles, including the easy two or three miles to and from Hemmed-in Hollow. The trail crossed the Buffalo River 5 times, which was particularly difficult for me. The crossings were all in shallow water, usually only knee deep, but sometimes almost hip deep. We were doing these crossings of course with our packs. The Buffalo River is not especially wide or deep or fast, and its a super popular destination for canoers and kyakers. At many points the river is only 20 to 30 feet wide, though it is wider in some places. It has some shallow crossings with some deeper areas. It flows with reasonable speed. I wouldnt venture to call it either particuarly fast or particularly slow. There are some points of rapids though where of course it gets faster and rougher. Anyway, I'd brought some $3 flip-flops from walmart or target along as camp shoes, and these became my water-crossing shoes. The bottom of the river was largely comprised of a mix of softball to baseball sized stones, and smaller gravel and sand. For what seems like most of the crossings, we had the softball sized stones. I quickly discovered that these rocks are relatively slippery, and so you have to go slowly (and remember there's 35 or 40 extra pounds on the back, which does not help with balance). To make matters worse, the current would frequently catch the shoe and move it out from under my foot as I took a step, so when I came down I had half of a sideways flip-flop between my foot and the rock, in addition to the plastic bit painfully tugging at my toes . If this sounds like a bit of whining, I suppose it is. This was the one part of the trip that I really disliked. Uphill climbs were tough, but the crossings were just hell for me. I think it'd have been different had I some better footwear. Anyway, we made it, and didnt have any unwanted spills. Jason was kind enough to ferry peoples packs across during one of the more difficult crossings. The crossings slowed us down some, then we ended up doing some more uphill stuff, so we didnt do very many miles on Friday when it began approaching evening. We had wanted to make it to the next actual camp stop, but didnt feel like we could get there before dark, and certainly didnt want to get caught on the trail when day light ran out. So we came across a flat area around the trail (these were almost non-existant during the uphill or downhill parts of the trail), and made camp about 6 or 6:30PM. We had chicken and pitas for supper and settled in. We heard wolves or coyotes howling in the distance, both in the evening and in the morning. It was quite cool. Also there was a large nest high in a tree near where we camped, and a large bird of prey came in and out of during the evening.
We woke Saturday morning a little tired and sore still. We'd rested, but the trail was taxing us. We broke camp down and hit the trail, made it a few miles to a cleared camp area and stopped to eat and rest. We had a great rest, which really seemed to help our energy level. Replenished water, ate some Chicken and Rice camp meal stuff that was really good. I dumped the 6 or so pounds of Gorp that I'd brought, and didnt need. We napped, I took a veritable sink-bath, and we all cooled off before packing back up and hitting the trail again. Saturday was hot, and the bugs were worse. We picked probably 50 ticks off of us, all together. Almost all of them were just leg climbers though, and had not yet latched on. We made good time on Saturday, as it was much less inclined than the previous days. I led, and felt great on the trail. We did 9 miles on Saturday, and early that evening, came to a campgrounds. At this point we were less than 3 miles from the end of the trail, and we considered pressing on, but some of our party was exhausted, and so we stayed in the campsite, which was very crowded with weekend tent campers. We pitched camp, ate food, had a great cup of coffee, and listened to drunken campers singing (terribly). We slept well, and woke early. We broke camp quickly and moved off to our last leg of the trail. It went fairly quickly and before 9AM we'd come out of the trail and found Jason's car waiting for us.
It was a fantastic trip. It was tiring, exhausting, painful, and a ton of fun. It made me realize that I'm out of shape, but still I'm pleased that I'm not in worse shape. I lost like 5 pounds on the trail. Jason lost 15!! Maddie and Krissi both lost about 5 pounds as well. Krissi lost a toe-nail, and had a couple of blisters, and I think Jason ended up with a blister as well. I have come out of it a little wiser I think, about backpacking and hiking matters, in regards to things like what to take, and what to expect. I'd do it again in a heart beat. It is such a great experience. But I like the comforts of the life that I'm accustomed to.
I'm sure I could go on, and I will try to add some more in a later post, but that's all for now. We had a blast!