Hiking Section 3 of the Ouachita Trail

Written by Mary McDaniel.

The plan for the hike was hatched by my friend, Susan Dragoo, last spring to have a girl’s hiking trip on the OT (Ouachita Trail).  Kurt & I had already hiked sections 1 & 2 of the OT on a previous trip, and Susan & I and another friend (Claire Johnson) had hiked section 1 in April of 2011.  So, we decided to hike section 3, with Susan planning to come back later & do section 2 at some point in time.  Several other ladies had expressed an interested in the fall hike, however as the time neared, they all had other commitments or changed their minds, until it came down to just Susan & I doing it.  Susan asked if I knew of any ladies that might be interested, so I shot out an email to few fellow hiking gal friends, and got a response back from my friend Deb Cox that she would be – yea!!!

Section 3 was one of the shorter sections of the OT, only 16.5 miles, so we planned to split it up & do it over 2 days.  We took off work on Friday, so we’d leave early on Friday morning, drive 2 cars down, drop a car at the end point, cache water, then drive our other vehicle to Queen Wilhelmina State Park where we’d begin the hike about midday after eating a packed lunch.  There was no water due to the drought on that section of the trail, so we planned to cache 3 gallons of water at Eagle Gap, which was about mile 7.  According to our trail book there was a good campsite at about mile 10, but Susan had emailed someone & been told that there was also a potential one at about mile 9.5.

Deb emailed that her tent was a bit heavy for just her to carry, as she was used to splitting gear with her husband on hiking trips, so asked if we’d like to share tents.  Well unfortunately, apparently I snore, as well as flip-flop back and forth from one hip to another when camping, so was afraid she’d get no sleep if we shared the tent.  As it was, my 1-man & 2-man tents combined were lighter than Deb’s 2-man tent, so I offered to loan her our 1-man so she wouldn’t have to experience sharing with me.  As the 3 of us met at 6am at my house, we weighed our packs and Deb’s was 27.5 lbs, mine was 28.5 lbs & Susan’s was 29 lbs.  We would share a few items:  Susan was bringing a Jetboil for all of us, I was bringing the wine for the evening (we’d be celebrating Susan’s birthday that evening at camp), as well as a few other smaller items.

The day was warm (upper 80’s), as we finished our lunch at the Queen Wilhelmina SP picnic area & headed off on the trail.  It was just about noon.  The weather was beautiful with blue skies & lots of wind, which helped with the cooling factor.  The first 2 & 1/2 miles of trail were slow going, as it was lots of rocky uphill.  The sweat was dripping off my face!  Susan & I knew from previous hiking trips that we usually average about 2 mph with loaded backpacks, but by the time we crossed the Scenic Talimena Drive to head down the north ridge, I checked the GPS & we were only averaging 1.7 mph.  The rocky downhill wasn’t much of a reprieve as it required careful steps which made for slow going.  We crossed Hwy 270 & then a really cool active train track before ultimately reaching our cached water at mile 7.  Although this was a milestone that we had our sights set on, it wasn’t one we were particularly looking forward to, as it meant MUCH heavier packs for the remainder of the hike until we found a camp spot.

As we started off with the additional poundage, it seemed like I was sooo much slower, however my GPS showed that we’d actually gotten up to our normal 2.0 mph average by that point.  It was around 4:30pm and we decided to continue hiking until 5:30 & then look for the best (flattest, non-rocky) camping spot that could fit 3 tents.  At mile 9 we found one that met all that criteria!  It was just about 5:30, so we had plenty of time to set up camp before dark.  We boiled water for our freeze-dried dinners, then toasted to Susan’s upcoming birthday & chatted until after dark.  It was still breezy, but the trees blocked most of the wind.  We headed to bed after hanging our food around 8:30pm.  At sun-up we began stirring in our tents.  We munched on the wonderful pumpkin bread that Deb had made for breakfast, packed up, and were back on the trial by 8am to complete our remaining 7.5 miles.

The wildlife was extremely scarce, likely due to the drought conditions.  We’d gotten used to the walking sticks, granddaddy longlegs and grasshoppers, but it was still creepy whenever one of the walking sticks would fall on you as you were hiking.  There was one point on the hike when I heard Susan who was behind me call out to ask if I saw the snake that had just passed over the trail in front of her.  I quickly came back & saw the long black snake she was referring to – yuck!  I tried to grab my camera & snap a picture of it, but barely got a photo of its trail as it slithered away.  Our only real glimpse of any wildlife on the trip!

As we neared the end of the trail on that Saturday, we ran across our only other encounter with another hiker, as he headed the opposite direction.  We exchanged hellos & good wishes before departing.  The trail book had mentioned a water fall toward the end of our trail section, which ended up actually being just a small water hole with a few crawdads in it.  We reached our car by about 1pm & gave each other high 5’s for our accomplishment.  We drove back to Queen Wilhelmina, showered in the wonderful campground shower house before heading to Heavener for a wonderful lunch at the Southern Belle Boxcar Cafe.

We got a wonderful blessing when we neared home – OKC was receiving some much needed rain!  Susan had been on the phone with her husband Bill, who also had a big surprise for her:  a brand new Toyota Tacoma for some upcoming overland adventures that they’d be doing together!  How exciting!

It was a wonderful adventure for 3 girls who enjoy the out-of-doors!  We were already planning to come back after Christmas & try to do sections 4 & 5 with our husbands.

Do you see the tail of the black snake in this picture?