Friday, December 26, 2008

Ozark Trail Thru-Hike???

Alright, I have been throwing this idea out to the group over a couple of trips now but 2009 is almost here and I thought I would officially put the idea in writing...thru-hike the entire Ozark Trail in 8 days. Even as I write this I don't know how I could do it, but it would be a great trip to train for and then eventually accomplish. The plan would be to do this mid to late September when the days are still quite long and not too hot (unless Global Warming gets crazy). We could possibly leave on a Friday night and begin the next morning. Saturday to Saturday would give you 8 full hiking days. On to distance (hiking South to North)...using the mileage listed on the OTA website and deducting the mileage that won't be traveled on the Trace Creek (7 miles or so deviate from the main trail and head west to Taum Sauk, we would pick up the Trace after completing the Middle Fork), the trip would be about 225 miles. Divided out over 8 days you get 28 miles per day! Thats crazy, but many people are doing this out west on the PCT & CDT and to the east on the AT. If many other people can do this at elevation, we could surely train and do this 1000 feet above sea level.

South To North Sections and Mileage:
Eleven Point - 30
Between the Rivers - 30
Current River - 30
Blair Creek - 26
Karkaghne - 28.3
Middle Fork - 22.1
Trace Creek - 19
Courtois - 40

Think about it. jm

Monday, December 22, 2008

Maybe Matt Blunt Isn't So Bad Afterall!

I know that over the past few years I haven't really had many nice things to say about our exiting governor Matt Blunt, but it seems that he is trying hard to change my mind in the last days before he leaves office. If you haven't visited the Ozark Trail Association website lately, they have announced that they have received $99,000 in grant money that will be used for various trail building projects throughout the current trail. This includes completion of the Courtois Gap and to help rebuild the section lost due to the Taum Sauk reservoir collapse. The money, the OTA states, will also be used for 18 new miles but as to where they were not specific. Check out the OTA link for more information:

On another note, there are many trail building activities scheduled in the upcoming months for anyone who would like to go. Almost a year ago, Neil Wiggins, Shawn Bradley and I joined a trail building party that completed .8 miles of the Courtois Gap trail. This experience was by far the best way to experience the Ozark Trail, actually touching the trail with your hands. Check the pics below for some action shots of Shawn tearing it up. Maybe after our hike at the end of January we can get a group together to join the fun. jm

Topo Map: North Courtois Section OT

Monday, December 15, 2008

Council Bluff to Bell Mountain: Update: Feb 27-March1

The next trip for the group will be from Council Bluff to Bell Mountain. Total mileage for this trip will be about 21.1 miles. We will leave from our usual spot Friday night around 5-6 pm and return Sunday evening. Everyone will be on their own for food this time because there will be a small chance that a cancellation will occur due to extreme weather. If the lows will be less than 15 degrees then it will be postponed until a later date. Choose your food wisely...and get your penny stoves ready for some action. See maps below...I figured we would start at Council Bluff boat dock and head counter clockwise to pick up the connector trail to the Trace Creek.

Topo Maps

Karkaghne Section Videos

Penny Stoves

Sutton Bluff Cliff Jumper

A Heater Moment

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Karkaghne Section: Ozark Trail

It was finally time to put all of the hard work in reducing pack weight to the test. The 28 mile Karkaghne Section had been looming over our group since we skipped it for the shorter Blair Creek trip and it was time to get our walk on. But, instead of choosing the more comfortable weather of a perfect Missouri fall, we decided to tackle it in the heat and humidity of August. We all justified the decision with the many possibilities for cooling off in the streams and creeks we were going to cross. Members of this trip were, John Heater, Courtney Peebles, Craig Smith, Todd Whaley and Isaac Noland. We fired the alcohol stoves for some morning oatmeal before gaining southbound momentum towards our first major stopping point, and glorious swimming hole of the West Fork of the Black River. The humidity was thick as we pushed our way through the spider webs and over grown undergrowth. At every stream crossing we cooled our faces and exposed skin. We reached the overlook of Sutton Bluff and couldn’t wait to get into the water. Once we were at the waters edge, we stripped down to our underwear and jumped in. Even though there was a large group of women partying it up further down the gravel bar we had to do what we had to do. We swam in the crystal clear water and then headed up to the rope swing. There was a large cliff that people were jumping from and Todd climbed the cliff to partake. We returned to our packs, ate lunch, and then went up stream from the party people to pump some cleaner water. We took off from Sutton Bluff and went up and up and up. The trail took us along some of the steepest trail that we have experienced so far on our trips with quick glances of the cold water of the West Fork below. After reaching the top of the ridge, we dove back down and into the valley of Bee Fork Creek where we called it quits and set up camp. We spent the first few hours unwinding and cooling down again in the water of the creek, picked some ripe cherries that Todd discovered, and set up out tents on the sandy beach. Evening came and the alcohol stoves roared into action heating our water for some dehydrated beef stew, a perfect hot meal for a hot and humid day. Heater got the fire going and we dozed off to sleep. The next morning we stretched out our sore muscles and geared up for another 14 miles through the thick haze of late August. The second portion of the trail seemed to have many more spider webs and seed ticks…by this point, everyone’s legs were covered in seed ticks. A little while later, Craig and I got stung by some yellow jackets that were kicked up by hikers in the front. The afternoon seemed to fly by and we reached our vehicles at 72 & P HWY about 4:00. Our legs began to itch feverishly with all the fresh tick bites so we high-tailed it back to the start where we had to pick up our last car and take one last dip in the stream before heading home. This trip was amazing in the fact that Courtney, who had never formally camped before in his life, hiked 28 miles in 2 days amidst the sticky August weather. Even more amazing is that we all made it with little more than mere seed tick injuries (even though Craig went to the doctor after he got home). My pack weight was amazing and my gear could not have functioned any better. Next time I think we should stick to the regular Missouri hiking season…any month besides August. jm

Topo Maps

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Joining the Freakshow

Being happy with my “lightweight” system that I had built over the past 3 trips, I decided one day to check out “ultra-lightweight” videos on You Tube and just see what the freak show had to offer. I then made one of the most profound discoveries of my adult life…Andrew Skurka. If you don’t already know who he is or heard me blab on and on about this guy I have linked his website to this blog. His take on ultra-lightweight backpacking is that it correlates to how we should be living our lives, as a minimalist; and our overall human impact on nature can be reduced. Through the information on his website I started taking note of his gear lists. This is where I discovered his use of the denatured alcohol stove. Although Skurka uses a cat food can stove, and I prefer the penny stove, the end result is the same…major reduction in pack weight by making some equipment yourself. Once I found the penny stove instructions I became obsessed, spending every evening for more than a month in my shop pouring Heineken down the drain to make more stoves. My wife actually developed a problem with this...(I had to ask for her forgiveness). Some of you have benefited from this since I have given them all away. Go to the site and download the instructions at: Next, I bought the same pack as Skurka was using, the GoLite Jam 2, which weighs in about 1.7 pounds. This slashed nearly 4 pounds from my overall pack weight which currently was a tank…the Camptrails Wilderness. The quest was on for a sub 10 pound pack for all seasons in Missouri. Changing my water bottles over to Platypus bottles and dropping the Katadyn filter for the lighter Aqua Mira reduced almost another 2 pounds. Lastly and most hard to obtain of all was my sleeping bag. Fortunately I was able to procure one through a generous Christmas present…the Western Mountaineering Versalite Super was now in my pack. I had made a spreadsheet to capture all the weights of the items on my gear list. I would bring a few items to work and weigh them on the postage scale which actually turned out to be quite accurate. The next profound discovery was the “Backpacking Gear Weight Calculator”, This is the best way to capture all your items in your arsenal and then turn them on or off depending upon the season or type of journey. Down load it and use it. All of this research, weighing, obsessing and tweaking finally has my base pack weight at about 9 pounds…oh yeah base pack weight is weight of the pack without food and water. The freak show (ultra-lightweight backpackers) turns out to be the best thing that has happened since getting back in the swing that fall of 2005. It’s time to go on another trip…jm.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Blair Creek: Ozark Trail

The continuation of the Ozark Trail for our group would have logically been the Karkaghne Section but there was not too much excitement for a 28 mile trip yet. And since we had some new faces that were onboard we decided to make it a short one. We jumped down a section to the Blair Creek which runs from 72 & P HWY down to the Current River and ends within the Ozark National Scenic Riverways at Owls Bend. In order to keep this trip short we started at the 6 mile parking lot to make the final mileage around 20 miles. Members of this trip were David Moore, Miles Urbini, Nate Quest, Todd Whaley, David Tudor, Neil Wiggins, Isaac Noland, Jeremiah Stutte, Jeremy Dean and Tony Rocca. We struck camp early Saturday morning, posed for a group photo and headed southward past the trail kiosk. We dropped elevation and entered the Blair Creek valley. The trail wound just above the creek for some time and then we cut to the west and down a beautiful ridge. This ridge is very prominent on the topo map and dropped us back into the creek valley. We took lunch at an old ice house or root cellar, some sort of concrete building that was cut into the adjacent hill. Our next stop was Harmon Springs, a large shallow lake with an old concrete building at its source. From here we crossed a gorgeous lowland field with waste high grass and found a campsite just past this on the Blair Creek. This November was quite mild and Nate and I decided to take a very short refreshing dip in the frigid water. Our rocky campsite wasn’t the most comfortable but the sound of the creek all night was an added bonus. We cooked a group meal and then settled into a roaring fire as the temperature began to dive. The following morning we awoke to ice in the water bottles and beautiful ice blossoms on some plants within the campsite; this I have never experienced before. Sunday took us through an old cemetery and a great wooden outhouse which most of us used. The outhouse came complete with a stash of leaves and sticks…we brought our own toilet paper, however, and left the stash for the locals. We left the Blair Creek Valley and headed due south towards the Current River, passing a cave that had been completely blocked by steel bars. The trail continued higher in elevation and then through some pine forests. Without any warning we blasted out onto a huge overlook of the Current River and the great Owls Bend. This moment was the best so far of the Ozark Trail and we dropped our packs and enjoyed the scenery for over an hour. Once back on the trail it was an easy downhill mile into the National Park Service area and to the vehicles. We loaded up the cars and headed back to the trailhead to grab the remaining vehicle and then booked it to the Family Restaurant for the buffet…only to be let down…the buffet was not up due to the retiling of the buffet area, maybe next time. This trip was by far the most scenic since it got you up and out of the forest for some long views. Missouri forest is absolutely beautiful but breaking the monotony of the forest envelope can be ecstatic. We experienced lowland forest, lowland grass fields, creek valleys, ridge descents and accents, caves, cliffs, glades, frost flowers and a huge scenic overlook of the Current River. This was the first trip with the trekking poles and I thought they worked great and will stay on the gear list. Overall pack weight for this trip was about 18 pounds. It won’t be another year until the next trip! Stay tuned. jm

Topo Maps

Monday, December 8, 2008

Lightweight Backpacking

It was after the Middle Fork section that I got back into my “gear head” mode of years past. Even during the climbing days I would thrift shop for climbing clothes instead of getting the latest Prana or Mountain Hardware zip-t/slash pocket/chin chamois featured scarf. Through internet research I stumbled upon the “lightweight vs ultra-lightweight” controversy. I felt at the time that I wasn’t going to ever be apart of the ultra-lightweight (freak show) movement and focused mainly on gear selection. The site that I found most helpful was This site had great articles on the lightweight movement, one of which I adopted upon reading, trekking poles. In high school, my dad, brothers, Jamie Papin and I were on a three day trip on the Appalachian Trail inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park when my dad developed severe knee pain. We decided to cut the trip short and perform a re-route down another trail, but in order to get him out without calling on an airlift; we cut two small saplings down which he used as natural trekking poles (the saplings were obtained well off trail and this was an emergency, so don’t give me any tree hugger crap!). He was able to get out under his own weight but the concept of trekking poles made sense. So I bought a pair off of eBay after the Middle Fork section. The other change that I made during this time was clothing. I streamlined my outdoor wardrobe to very specific items that would be part of a layering system. Any part of the complete system could be utilized depending upon the season in which we were to be in. For Christmas I picked up a MSR pocket rocket which reduced pack weight by another pound. I believe my pack was in the 18 pound range by this point which was almost perfect for the lightweight backpacking movement, but… even great gear does you no good sitting on a shelf. We needed another trip. jm

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Middle Fork: Ozark Trail

Our second trip was on the newly opened 24 mile Middle Fork section of the Ozark Trail. The official start to this section is actually at an intersection with the Trace Creek Section which is crossed a short distance south of the Council Bluff turn off. A short mile or so from this intersection is the parking lot trailhead at HWY DD which is where we set up camp Friday night. Members of this trip were Ron Mueller, Isaac Noland, Dave Tudor, Ben Nicholson, Shawn Bradley, Jeremy Dean, Neil Wiggins, Josh Heater and Fly. This day just happened to be the first day of firearms deer season (my fault) so we came equipped with hunter orange, although we didn't really have an appropriate amount visible. This trail, being of modern design, was well marked and flowed very well, complete with many Missouri vistas. We came across one oddity, however…a car in the middle of the forest with no obvious source of its entrance. We posed for a few pictures, tried to drive it, then continued south. We camped high in a clear cut at about the 12 mile point. Shawn wanted to dry his boots out by the fire that evening because of an earlier misstep during a stream crossing, so he set them up to get the most heat from the fire. Since this was his first backpacking trip...or camping trip ever, we warned him against his decision to place them right next to the fire. Not paying attention...he set them on fire. Damage was minimal and he learned some great lessons, fire is hot and rubber burns. We struck camp early the next morning and kept our southbound heading finishing the trail in early afternoon at J HWY in Oates, Missouri. The finish line for this trip is the starting point of the Karkaghne Section which will be saved for another day. On a personal note, I was able to shave off about 13 pounds from my pack since the first trip. I had traded out my 4 season tent for a Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight and simply left stuff at home. Final base pack weight (no food or water) for this trip was about 22 pounds. jm

Topo Maps

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Trace Creek: Ozark Trail

The first weekend of November 2005 was the opening trip to the new phase of wilderness experiences. We choose the 26 mile long Trace Creek Section of the Ozark Trail. Members of this trip were Jon Mesh, Dave Tudor, Justin Powell, Isaac Noland, Dave Costenaro, Jacob Van Elswyk, Josh Heater and Fly. Since this was my first trip back into the forest with some decent mileage planned, I figured it best to take as many things as possible. My pack weighed in the neighborhood of 35 pounds. The 4 season 11 pound tent kept the beautiful cloudless sky from soaking my equipment and my 3 pound "river crossing" sandals kept my feet safe while fording the raging rivers Missouri had to offer. My 2 pound white gas stove heated our water in no time flat and the endless pounds of fresh fruit helped fuel our bodies onward. (2008 update...many things have changed since this trip). We started at the Hazel Creek campground supported by the Mark Twain National Forest off of Z HWY. This campground, it turns out, is THE party spot for the locals. While this trip had no major mishaps, I returned 2 years later to a party that involved shotguns and many, many muffler-less four wheelers. But I digress... we took off early Saturday morning on the peak day of the fall colors. We took a southbound bearing and cruised through the Hazel Creek valley crushing the newly fallen leaves under our boots. We took our tuna lunch break at midday and then resumed our travels. At around the 13 mile mark we began looking for our campsite. The information on the Ozark Trail website spoke of a secluded spot to the right of the trail under a pine tree and next to a spring. In the waning light we stumbled on the short side trail that led to the private campsite. There was a magnificent tree under which we pitched our tents and the spring provided an endless supply of fresh water for drinking and cooking. The next morning we awoke to sore muscles and really disgusting dehydrated eggs. After pumping water and striking camp we were back on the trail hoping that some movement would loosen up the muscles which we used up the previous day. After a mile or so we crossed the side trail that marked the start of the Middle Fork section. We passed this up and made it to 32 HWY where we unloaded two of our members who were unable to make the rest of the journey and promised we'd come back for them when we reached the end. The rest of us dropped our packs, made a day pack with plenty of water, headlamps and toilet paper, and continued towards Ottery Creek. The terrain changed tremendously after 32 HWY since this road represented a sort of Missouri Divide, now water flowed towards Arkansas and not St. Louis. Every hour we rotated who carried the pack and made it to the vehicles at Ottery Creek in the twilight of that Sunday evening. We jumped in the vehicles and headed back to pick up our packs and energy challenged friends. Back in Potosi we stumbled upon a tradition of eating at the Family Restaurant buffet. Thanks to all who attended this great event, there will be many more. jm

Topo Maps