On: Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A friend and I have been planning a backpacking trip for about 5 months and after changing the dates more times than I can count it finally happened. We had settled on the Butterfield Trail that is in the Devil's Den State Park and Ozark National Forest in Arkansas. The trail is a 15 mile loop that would accommodate our overnight needs while not needing to stretch into a 3-4 day trip; this loop is possible to hike in one day (hard, but possible). Our plan was to drive down on Friday, camp, then start packing early Saturday morning. Our goal was to (of course) complete the trail, but to also see what it was like to backpack with a much smaller group. We had never been in a group smaller than 5 and I know my wife wouldn't feel safe (yet) with me out by myself, so this would have to do.

I must say that I do not have extensive experience backpacking, but these trails were almost terrible in places. It seems that when they were "trail building" they generally stuck to using the water runoffs instead of actual trails. Now don't get me wrong, some of the trails were really nice. Meanwhile some of them were downright hard to walk on. The first 6 miles or so was very tough on the feet and legs because of the terrain. There was only a few major inclines/declines and those were definitely water shed trails...or should I say trials?

The trail (as we were told) was marked with blue blazes on trees, HOWEVER, there were a few times that we lost the trail completely and had to back track and/or look around for the next blaze. Sometimes this would happen while in amongst trees and other while wading through what I call rock gardens where trails are impossible to see. Another thing we noticed was that we knew we were on the trail when we saw a downed tree in front of us. Some of these trees were VERY tall and had fallen along the trail instead of near or across the trail. I am not sure why they are not removing these from the blocked trail. Even with all the ill marked, rough, and blocked trails I still had fun and would do it again. Did I mention horseflies yet?

Day 1:
Left KC at about 1215 hrs. Arrived at Devil's Den at 1705 hrs and barely made it in time to snag the last available camp site (phew). Of course it was the furthest away from the car too.
Visited a scenic outlook where Guy met a local.
Visited the Devil's Den dam, it was pretty neat.

Nothing much happened the rest of the day, but Mr T had Guy worried a bit I think, along with the deer that were across the dry creek from our tent during the night. I woke up later that night to deer snorting and grunting. That is very weird to hear while you are trying to sleep. I can understand why people may get freaked out if they don't have a clue what's going on outside.

Day 2:
Started later than planned at about 0930:
Watched expectantly for Guy to plunge into the only wet crossing, the one that separated our car from the trail head. He was carrying everything we didn't need back to the car so we could begin while I took pictures and topped off the water.
The valley we were leaving behind.
We were the first on the trail so I blazed our way through the spiderwebs...that's always fun. Soon we were out of the Devil's Den State Park and entering the Ozark National Forest which we would be in until we re-entered the park during the last few miles on Sunday.

This is a decent picture of what some of the flat rough sections of trail looked like. Although this does no justice to the rock garden areas. Not big rocks, just lots of them. I mean lots.

We saw a nice place to camp in the Quail Valley. It was like a small bluff and cave with a big open area where signs of recent camping was found; it is near a flowing creek.
It goes back to the left a bit and you can see where the large rock formation on the right meets the formation on the left. The black hole is a small cave. Overall, one of the highlights of the trip.

We lunched at a place called Rock Hole Camp (I think, the gps trail from an outside source was about 60% accurate).
Instead of lounging in the seats, we opted to stretch out on the rocks in the creek for a superb lunchtime view. The water was clear, cool, and music to my ears. That was one of the best lunches I've had in a LONG time.

After lunch we headed back to the trail and set off. After losing the trail a couple times and navigating over the rough terrain we arrived at mile 9.8 (er something) and followed the rough trail down to Junction Camp. We arrived at 1530 hrs with at least 2 hours of hiking light left that would have still given us plenty of time to set up camp. I figure we could have made it a 12 mile day easy. This area was in the flood level of 2 converging creeks and looks to have been used for many years and had about 7 non-official campsites. We choose one close to the creek that had a large fire ring and a nice flat spot without rocks for our tent. We then finished the afternoon collecting firewood, setting up camp, and refreshing ourselves in the creek; the water was nice and cold!
Oh yeah, during this time I killed over 15 horseflies. I have no idea where they came from, but thankfully they weren't too fast and didn't like the open creek areas.
Another couple of backpackers arrived to set up camp at the next site while we were setting up camp but they immediately set up their tents and went to sleep. I think they were a bit tired. They never lit a fire and ( i think) only woke up to get water and eat. Camping with no fire? That sucks. I had something, maybe a raccoon, eat a small hole in my food sack that we left hanging. That damn coon ate my bacon!!! Muther-!! ARGH!!! NOT MY BACON YOU SON OF A BI- Sorry about that...I'm still better he ate a quarter sized hole in my bag and ruined my bacon... Lesson learned, hang bags really high and away from possible stepping stones...or logs.

Day 3:
The next morning we hit the trail before 0830 back up the long rough hill to the BHT Trail, the other backpackers on our heels...only to get to the top and lose the trail. Man, those blazes suck. One of the guys found the trail and we all set off with us in the lead...only to lose the trail again. Sheesh. Where could it be? I don't know but I set off up the hill to find it, and I did. Can you see the marker? The rest of the guys are about 75' down the hill and we had to climb this "stair" up and over what would be a fairly large collection of waterfalls if the rain water was still shedding off the hills. This was by far the weirdest portion of the trail and the hardest to find. Do you see a trail in the pic? Yeah well we didn't see one in person either, we just climbed to the top.

The trail the opened into a nice wide trail with glimpses of nice vistas to the west. We knew we were on the right trail because there were some massive trees blocking parts of the trail and we had to bushwack around and/or through them. Most of the trees still had green leaves so Ike must have knocked some of them down. Later on we took a wrong turn somewhere (not sure because of the condition of the trail markers) and ended up on a multipurpose trail used mainly by atv's and mtb'ers. We managed to find an old trail that met back with the BHT and took the longest, steepest, and roughest climb down of our trip. Hmm.. I think that's why they closed off that section. It was pretty tiring..think BRT from Hemmed In Hollow going down.

The rest of the trail was uneventful and after a time the other guys took the lead while I took some pics of some swimming holes I'd like to hit next time.

We split with our companions at the trail head as we still had a mile back to our car at the walk in camp site. This bridge started us on the trail back:
After getting back to the car we used the rest area's shower and took off for home. We left before 1230 hrs.

So what was the outcome of our expectations?
Setting up and taking down camp takes longer with 2 people. Hiking with 2 people is faster. Cooking is faster with a smaller people to stove ratio. Dehydrated meals are faster than cooking "real" food. Less people equal less potty breaks, less snack breaks, less rest breaks, less time getting water, etc.
While I enjoy packing with all my mates, I also see a benefit to having a smaller group. I don't see myself going on smaller trips very often but, I do see improvements in time management that can be implemented in our large group. I'm seriously not a mile freak but we should be able to do more. Mileage per day limits the types and lengths of trails we can go on. If large groups avg 7/8 miles a day and a small group 11/12 miles a day then the trails available for both are not the same. So maybe large groups should be limited to certain trails while a more smaller, better prepared group, can tackle some of the harder ones.

I'm looking at the Eagle Rock Loop for a possible spring trip; I already have a topo map.

5 comments on "The BHT"

Percussivity said...

Sounds like a great trip aside from the trail marker woes. So it is official then... Missouri trails are in better condition and are by far better marked, but the trade off is slightly less scenic hiking (in general) compared to Arkansas.

I've never seen a tarantula in the wild... great pic! I've been on several hikes with 2-3 people and I'd say your observations are all fairly accurate except that you blame 'large group' size alone for delays. I think it is more likely that in a large group you will have more amateur hikers. If you took a large group of experienced hikes you'd be able to make pretty good time... but then definitely meals and water gathering inevitably take longer unless you bring more stoves and filters. But then you also carry more weight and that is a huge benefit of a large group when you share the load.

It's funny because Coder and I started hiking many years ago with a group of 4 and after a few years, word spread and the trips turned into expeditions because everyone wanted to go. Sometimes it is best to do an unadvertised trip to keep the numbers down.

Guy said...

You forgot to mention the poison ivy along the trail. There was a lot of that as well. I have a GPX file with our tracklog and points of interest if you care to post that. I'm looking forward to the next trip.

Guy said...

Here is a link to the photos I took on the trip:


Maddie's Mom said...

Great Pics! I'm jealous now....I wanna go backpacking! Do you think the little one would be up for it. :)

The Unabashed Blogger said...

I'm not sure you are up for it!