“I KNOW WHEN people hear the word ‘peak,’ they think of the Rocky Mountains, but there are some challenging sections here. These Ouachita Mountains are just smaller scale—that is, until you start climbing one.
“I’ve been hiking the Ouachitas for 10 years, and I got more serious about it five years ago. I used to be a bird hunter, but the bobwhite quail population is down, and I just can’t bring myself to kill one with the numbers so low. Hiking the Ouachitas is kind of like an extension of bird hunting for me now. I take the dogs and enjoy watching them work on the trail. I’ve got an understanding wife who lets me escape with the dogs back into the wild whenever I want, and that’s most Saturdays.
“Besides the experience of being back in nature, there’s also beautiful scenery on the Ouachita Trail. There’s Flatside Pinnacle, which is on a short spur trail off the Ouachita Trail and an easy climb when you consider how great the view is from the top. On a clear day, there are great views of other peaks in the area—Forked Mountain, Grindstone, Crystal Mountain. Forked Mountain is visible along several miles of the Ouachita Trail as it passes through the Flatside Wilderness Area. It’s probably the most photographed place in Perry County. It really stands out, similar to Pinnacle Mountain in Pulaski County. Near the Ouachita Pinnacle, the highest point in Garland County, there are fantastic views of Lake Ouachita only 200 feet off the trail. When I’m there, I stand on a bluff watching buzzards and hawks circling below, knowing only a few people have ever seen this view, and thinking how I took it all for granted when I was younger.”
Ready, Steady, Go
Bo Lea, president of Friends of the Ouachita Trail, schools us on preparing for a long-distance hike
Do your due diligence
Preparing for a thru-hike starts with doing your homework regarding water availability, resupply points, shelters and terrain conditions. Research others who have completed the hike you’re about to take. A plan needs to be thorough but flexible, due to constantly changing conditions on the trail.
Get in shape
Physical conditioning is very important for a long-distance hike. The only way you can get in condition for carrying 30 pounds or so 15 miles a day for a couple of weeks is to actually do it. Your job might not allow that, but you need to get as close as possible. It took me at least 100 miles on my two thru-hikes to start getting my trail legs.
Settle into routine
While the actual hiking is a major part of the experience, you’re living completely out of your backpack. You’ve got to set up camp, cook food, clean up and prepare for bedtime. In the morning, you reverse this process. It usually takes a few days of getting into a routine to learn how to maximize your time. How you handle this part of your hike is an important element of a successful hike.
Keep it light
Find balance between weight and comfort. Carrying too much weight has spoiled many hikes, but it’s important to remember that proper clothing, shelter and sleeping gear aren’t just for comfort. Today’s technology has some great lightweight options for cooking and water purification.
Treat your feet
Most long-distance hikers, especially those who are a little older, find that trekking poles (hiking sticks) are a great asset. These provide balance and assist in climbing hills while taking pressure off joints as you descend. One of the most important items for thru-hiking is proper footwear. Taking care of your feet is at the top of the list for successful thru-hiking.
Hiking long miles for 10 to 12 hours a day and doing it day after day will test your body. Rain, freezing temperatures and a wind chill in the single digits only adds to the difficulty. However, the mental side of hiking is as important as the physical effort. There are times when you are physically up to taking on the challenges of the trail but have a hard time thinking it’s worth it. If you are going to quit a hike, do it on a good day and not during the low of a tough day. More thru-hikes probably end as a result of the mental challenges rather than physical issues. But if you can power through, you’ll look back on those times of triumph with satisfaction, knowing you met the challenge.