The Ouachita Trail Section 6

My hiking destination for this past weekend was the Ouachita Trail in Arkansas.  The trail head my group of seven used was the Hwy 27 trail head.  From there we headed east.

The trail was moderately difficult, first climbing the .9 miles to the John Archer shelter and later climbing up and over Sandlick Mountain to the Irons Fork River on the first day.  The forest is a good mix of hardwoods and tall pines in this section, with a few good viewing points from near the top of Sandlick.  If you are in decent physical shape you won’t have too much difficulty if you take your time.

(L to R from top) Trevor, Taylor, Ray, Tyler, Hilton, Jimmy, and Wyatt.

The shelter journal at the John Archer shelter had a hilarious entry from a guy who made the trip up to the shelter with his girlfriend.  It was a disaster!  They took 3 hours to make the less than a mile ascension carrying a full size air mattress with a powered pump.  He made it pretty clear that his girlfriend was very out of shape.  Once at the shelter they found that they forgot toilet paper (who knew socks made a good substitute?) and were awakened in the middle of the night by an attacking raccoon!  I know they were not having fun, but we had a great time with the story.

The day finished six miles later at an absolutely beautiful site along the Irons Fork River.  Here the forestry service built a concrete bridge that makes for a wonderful spot to sit and enjoy the sunset over the mountains.  An old forestry road about 40 yards off the river made for an ideal camping area without causing undue site impact.

The concrete bridge over the Irons Fork.

At the river we saw some small fish and several small snakes, but nothing to worry about.  The only great concern I have to caution you about is ticks!!!  Wear PLENTY of tick repellent.  The population in wooded areas is high.  We sprayed down heavily and checked our bodies regularly and had no problems to speak of; however, we saw tons of the pesky little buggers.  This is when it is good to have a close friend who will help you look for “riders” on your back, etc.  I sprayed down thoroughly and never had a real worry after that.

Day two saw us taking a late start around 9am.  After crossing the river we immediately started the only real climb of the day out of the river valley.  It was quite steep at places but manageable.  All in all, I found the hike relatively easy, but I tend to compare everything to hiking the Appalachian Mountains.  The Ouachita Trail, or OT, graciously has fewer ups and downs than the AT.

Great views were a regular treat as we continued through the day.  We stopped at the side trail for the Big Branch Shelter around 11 to have some lunch, but didn’t make the trip down to the shelter.

Trail conditions on this section are very good and our advance group of Wyatt, Taylor and myself had no trouble keeping up a fast 2.5-3 mph pace that took us the 10 miles we had for the day in around 4 hours, even with a nice nap at lunch.  We emerged at the Hwy 298 trail head around 1pm.  Hilton, Jimmy, Tyler, and Trevor rolled in about an hour and a half behind us with few problems.

Everyone is in agreement that this is a rewarding hike and we will return in May with our boys group to test their metal.  Jimmy and I did agree, after some discussion, that we would put some variation in our hike plan for the larger group.  In May we will make more use of the shelter sites and use lower mileage days to help the inexperienced kids in the group to cope.  I look forward to going back.


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