OHT Day 1: An Early Rise, The Start of Trail, and Water Everywhere

Thursday April 11, 2024

04:00- An Early Rise and a Shuttle Ride

We wake up to three sharp knocks on the car door. Ron, our shuttle driver, ‘got there a little early’ for our 7am ride. It works out because it took 3 hours 45 minutes to get to the western terminus of trail, Lake Fort Smith State Park. Ron is a gentle and kind man. He has lots of hiker stories, at least enough to fill a 4-hour shuttle drive. At one point, Ron asks if we have Tim Ernst’s guidebook for navigation. He quickly segues into letting us know that he is Tim’s father-in-law. Day 1 and we are beginning to feel the close knit nature of this trail community.

For those of you who do not know, Tim Ernst is the father of the Ozark Highlands Trail. He built the first 164 miles of trail from Lake Fort Smith to Woolum, with help from volunteers. It is this original section that most people thru-hike or trail run, either all at once or in sections. The Ozark Highlands Trail Association is actively extending this trail all the way to the Missouri state line. It is their goal to connect the OHT to the Ozark Trail in Missouri, to create the Trans Ozark Trail. Eventually it will be 700 miles, but right now is it in several non-continuous segments. The OHTA website names 4 major sections of trail that comprises the current OHT. 

  1. Boston Mountain Section, aka. the original route: 164 miles
  2. Buffalo River Extension: 43.6 miles
  3. Sylamore Section: 31. 6 miles
  4. Norfork Section, including Norfork Trail: 13 miles and David’s Trail: 17 miles

There is a 15-20 mile gap between the Buffalo River Extension and the Sylamore Section that is navigable by bushwhack. The non-continuous nature of this trail made it harder to plan, however we are having fun figuring out how to connect as many of these pieces as possible. Ron asks us how much of trail we are going to hike. We tell him: every section, including the bushwhack.

09:00- Beginning Trail

We finally arrive at Lake Fort Smith State Park! We ask Ron for a photo with him in front of the sign that tells visitors about the Ozark Highlands Trail. The sun is out but the wind is strong, so I stay bundled up. There is an elementary school bus there, so we hurry inside to use the restroom and grab water before they overrun the place. It is a good thing we rushed a bit. The kids were taking bathroom breaks right as we finish.

Us with the one and only, Ron.

We walk from the visitors center down to a lookout spot that overlooks the dam and the lake below. It’s huge! We stop here to make breakfast, as our earlier plans were waylaid by Ron. We eat a little and then decide to get going. The official beginning of trail is… right next to us. It’s too enticing to get going, so we do just that. Breakfast can be eaten on the way.

09:45

We sign the log book.

09:50

We got going! I tap Washerrr’s shoulder and yell “Tag, You’re it!” as I run towards the first blaze. I beat him to trail, the games have begun.

It is a slow start. Washerr loses an item and we cannot find it after back tracking a bit. So we push on. We see some homestead ruins on trail- an old stone chimney and little stone walls. Traces of human touch. 

We cross at least 15 water sources in the first hour. Some small streams and some waterfalls cascading down over rocks. We walk alongside boulders covered in moss. There is even water dripping down from these. Absolutely stunning.

We see a large blackish-grey snake on the side of trail. Probably a rat snake. They look friendly enough, though we still give them plenty of room.

Ruins. Washerrr for scale.

 

A waterfall!

Close up of the moss.

12:00- Our First Water Crossing at Frog Bayou

We make it to Frog Bayou! We have heard stories that this is an intense water crossing, especially when there is recent rain. And it has been raining on and off for the last few days. The crossing is fairly wide but the water is not as deep as we expected. It’s rushing kind of quickly but that does not dissuade us from making our way to the other side. The water is cold but the air is hot, so it feels kind of refreshing. Wet feet is what I term a ‘sensory hell’ for me. I usually avoid it at all costs, as the sensation of squishy toes and wet feet bothers me immensely.

“Sensory hell” is an experience that is usually so overwhelming that I become distraught and dys-regulated. Even if the experience lasts for a short amount of time, the experience itself is enough to swing me into a state of almost panic. To call the experience uncomfortable is an understatement. When I was younger, I had no idea what was going on when I’d touch certain items that would throw me off my cliff of comfort and into a tizzy of internal distress. After getting diagnosed with Autism in 2023, I began to learn more about my experiences and I finally understood more about my reactions to sensory input. My brain gets overstimulated easily, and I learned that having a TBI makes it even harder. I feel like I can handle my sensory hells a lot better as an adult than as a kid, but it’s still comforting to know why it happens and that it’s normal. This is the time to practice self-compassion.

I tried to prepare mentally for all the water crossings. I knew it was coming and now was the time to starting breathing. The cold water and the swift river kept my brain focused on the most important task of getting across safely. Though the discomfort arose, the distractions were more powerful. I made it across with no issues, though the overstimulation comes again once we finish crossing. It takes a lot of patience to regulate though I had some help because…

Washerrr loses a trekking pole on his way across. We watch it float down the river, trying to find a way to retrieve it if it lands on the edge of Frog Bayou. We spend 20 minutes trying to find it, but alas. It is gone. We push on. The only thing to do about this is… hike about it. I tell myself my wet feet are ok, I use them as an object of meditation. I sit with this discomfort. I dislike it, but I stay with it anyway. I tell myself “This too shall pass”.

Crossing Frog Bayou. Photo credit: Kenny “Washerrr” Samsudean. check out more on his IG @washerrrhikes

12:30

We meet Shadow. He is an AT section hiker who is out here to see how far he can get after two knee replacements. We all took a group photo as we don’t know if we’ll see anyone else on trail.

14:00- Lunch with a view

We stop at mile 7.5 for a lunch by a lovely stream. There is a pool of water so deep and serene looking, we want to jump in. We take off our shoes and socks to dry in the sun while we eat. We take a whole hour to rest and eat. Usually I like to eat on the go, however this time around I am grateful for the long break. Though we trained as much as we could for trail… the best way to develop trail legs is on trail. We planned to do 15 miles a day, with no Zero days. This plan seemed reasonable before trail.

It’s getting later in the day and I don’t think we will make it to mile 15 today. That is ok. So far, there have been 55 dry water crossings and 1 wet. We heard there was a lot of water on this trail, so we make a game of it by counting how many crossings there are. There are two categories- dry crossings and wet. Most of them are dry, to my enjoyment.

Screenshot from a video I took of our lunch spot. Trail crosses over the rocks and then goes up and off to the right.

15:00

We depart from our lunch spot to an immediate steep climb. We climb and climb and climb. I am surprised how easily I can keep going. All those weighted squats are paying off. 

Our ascent is steady. We go up and over one smaller ridge that brings us to Hurricane Creek. It feels more like a river. It is too high to cross on any rocks, so we plunge right across after refilling our water supply. According to FarOut there is no water for the next 5-7 miles so we stock up now. 

18:15- Home for the Night

We stop just past mile 13 to sleep for the night. Exhaustion had taken over and it was time for rest. Our plan is to make up the miles tomorrow, which will be easier on a full night of sleep. We did well for today, despite the difficulties that the morning and mid-day brought us.

We got a new tent for this trail, the ZPacks Duplex Zip. We heard mostly good things despite the high cost. We figured this would be an investment piece. Washerrr and I are fairly small people so we opted for the 2 person instead of the 3 person. We want to be able to camp in tighter spots and I am glad we bought this tent. We set it up right next to trail in a small open patch amongst small trees and lots of poison ivy. We are on a descending hill, but we make it work. It takes us more time than normal to set it up. We practiced at home, but Florida is flat, so the hill is an added challenge right now. We know it will get easier the longer we are out here. That is the hope at least. For now, our home is good enough and we crawl inside. I am always surprised how spacious it feels.

I’ve been trying to journal throughout the day, though sometimes that is hard when I feel pressed to keep hiking. So I spend some time before bed filling in the gaps. I do not want to miss writing anything down. I hope that my photos will suffice if my words cannot.

My favorite part of today was the second climb, I love ascending a ridge when you can see the valleys on either side. It always looks so steep from the bottom, but dang the views are stupendous the farther up we hike. There are baby leaves on the trees, so we can see for miles. I think I used the phrase “absolutely beautiful” at least 28 times today. I want to find other ways to describe what I see, but no other words seem adequate.

My feet are a little waterlogged still. I knew this would happen. They are grateful for the rest. I hope my socks and shoes can dry out over the night.

It’s quite windy where we are. The sounds of wind and cicadas fill the forested air. The temperature is starting to drop already despite the sun still peeking its head over the ridge behind us. I am grateful for its final warmth as we head into our first night on the Ozark Highlands Trail.

Our home for the night.

The water count by the end was 62 dry crossings and 2 wet. There is so much water out here!

Lesson of the day: letting go and not letting go.

Mile Started: 0

Mile Ended: 13.5

Total Hiked: 13.5

Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

What Do You Think?