Back in October, my friend John organized a backpacking trip for four of us to hike part of the Current River section of the Ozark Trail. We would start at the Peck Ranch trailhead on October 14th, and end up at the Powder Mill trailhead on the 16th. Although we did face a few difficulties along the way, I think that we would all agree that we had a good time in the end.
We left early in the morning on Friday to begin the approximately five hour journey to the trailhead(s), which are a few miles outside of Eminence, MO. The decision was made to take two vehicles, so that we could shuttle ourselves from one trailhead to the other. After a lunch stop in Eminence, and dropping one vehicle off at Powder mill, we were on the last stretch to the Peck’s Ranch trailhead in the early afternoon. As we were driving down, we noticed that the leaves seemed to have changed color more as we got closer to the trail. The hope was that it would give us a spectacular view from our planned first night campsite on the top of Stegall Mountain. However, as we approached the trailhead, we also noticed that the low-lying clouds were beginning to rest on the hilltops.
The four of us in our group represented a pretty good variety in terms of backpacking experience and styles. Our experience ranged from myself, with a few trips under my belt, to Todd, who was backpacking for the first time. As well, our styles ranged from Dustin, who had a minimal approach that included sleeping in a bivy, to Todd, who had the typical first timers disregard to pack weight.
Over the first mile of the trail, we were quickly finding what was working, and what wasn’t. John had a new pack that he was working out the adjustments on, and Todd was having issues with carrying his sleeping bag. We got these worked out, but then John realized that he had left a piece of gear on the car at the trailhead. He decided to make a run back to the trailhead while the rest of us waited. A little while later, he was back, and we were off again.
The plan for the first day was to hike a relatively short distance, to the top of Stegall Mountain. We would then camp by a lookout tower that is just a short distance from the summit, down a side trail. Our short hike began to prove to be a bit more difficult than some of us expected. The unfortunate part was that the views at the top of the mountain were obscured by thick fog. Not only was the fog a downer in that sense, but it was also making navigation more difficult. I got a bit overconfident and was positive that I knew which way was north (it was south). Based upon that we started down a trail that we thought would get us to the lookout. After traveling down a little bit, we figured out that we were going the wrong way and had to go back up the trail. That proved to be a bit much for some of the group (vomiting may have been involved). Once we made it back to the top, we resorted pulling out the GPS on the phone to get a clear idea of where we were. From there, we found the correct trail and eventually made it to our overnight camp.
It was a bit chilly that evening, and the fog was making things a bit miserable. Even though I don’t believe that it ever actually rained, the condensation falling from the trees made it feel that way. Everything was wet, and we were ready to get some sleep. However, all of us were trying out new shelters, so this was definitely going to be an experience. John had a new double walled, one man tent, which was probably the best for the conditions. Todd and I both had small, single walled tents, mine being a Canadian version of a Eureka Solitaire that I just bought before this trip. Both of us suffered the typical drawback of single walled tents… condensation. Luckily, mine was limited to a small amount where the foot box of my sleeping bag was touching the side of the tent. I still think that both of us fared better than Dustin, who eventually abandoned his bivy/tarp shelter sometime during the night.
We were hoping that by the next morning, the fog would have lifted and we would get the views that we had hoped for. Unfortunately, instead, it was still foggy and damp. I think Todd put it best when he said “Will someone please tell me when the fun part starts?”. The trip to this point had been a lot about enduring. However, that is what much of backpacking is. If it weren’t, everyone would be doing it. We ate, packed up, and headed down off the mountain. As we descended, the sun started to come out, and it began to warm up.
The second day was everything that you hope a backpacking trip to be. The weather turned out to be great, and the scenery was even better than expected. We stopped at Rocky Falls for lunch. I was surprised at how impressive it was. I had seen pictures, but it was one of those places that is much better in person. The only unfortunate part was that it is a destination that you can drive to, so there were several other people there. From there, we passed a couple areas with shut-ins that we stopped to explore (Buzzard Mtn. and Klepzig Mill). We were a little pressed for time, so we didn’t explore quite as long as we probably would have liked to. We stopped for the night at an established campsite next to Indian Creek. Unlike the night before, it was a beautiful evening. We were able to sit around the campfire and get a good night’s sleep.
The weather turned out to be nice again on Sunday. Although, the last section of the trail was not quite as scenic, and our group was pretty tired. I began getting the feeling that responding to every “how much farther” request with “mile… mile and a half“, was no longer appreciated. John and I also made the mistake of starting the day with the legs zipped off of our pants to make them shorts. We discovered that was a mistake when we also discovered that this section of the trail was lined with stinging nettle. I think we were all relieved when the truck came into view. We loaded up, drove back to Peck’s Ranch to get the car, then headed to Eminence to grab lunch before heading home.
One would think that the adventure ends here… not quite. Upon arriving to Eminence, we discovered that the truck had a flat tire. We got that changed then went in to eat. I then got a text from Tammy stating that she may have broke her foot from falling down the stairs. Therefore, before I ever made it home, I got to pick her up from the emergency room (broken toe, sprained foot and ankle).
People often say that if everything is perfect, it isn’t as memorable as when it is less than perfect. This was definitely a memorable trip. With that being said, I’m ready to do it again. Overcoming the little setbacks with a group of friends makes for a great experience. It also makes those perfect times, like sitting around the campfire on the second night, that much better.