Waking up early on a Saturday morning has never been a favorite activity of mine, but when the day ahead of you contains the Ouachita National Forest, your perspective changes a little. I met our participants bright and early at six o’clock. Their eager faces were really what kept me going that morning. Everyone showed up early with every intention of rocking this trip, which is probably the best way to start an expedition into the back country. Leaving SMU, already ahead of schedule, we took off on our four hour drive to the Eagle Rock Loop Trail in Arkansas.
We arrived at the trail head with the sun high in the sky. Everyone packed their backpacks with their tents, stoves, cook sets, food, and everything else needed to survive outside far away from civilization. Soon, we were off on the trail; everyone in high spirits. It was only about ten minutes into the walk before we hit our first river crossing. As you can expect on the road less traveled, there wasn’t a bridge or anything of the sort that we could use. So, after a briefing on how to safely walk across a flowing river, we got into formation and began our descent into the cool waters. This was the first of three major water crossings on this trip, and all of them gave the same results. Everyone exited the river cooled off, refreshed, and ready for the next big obstacle; as I’m sure anyone on this trip will tell you, crossing a river while trying to balance a thirty pound backpack on your shoulders is a very fun thing to do.
The sun eventually began to set, and we had to quickly set up camp for the night. We managed to get our tents set up while there was still a bit of light, but we had to cook our dinner in the dark. Headlamps and flashlights out and ready, we cooked our dinner of lentil soup. Without the sun the temperature dropped drastically, into the thirties, and we were grateful for the warm meal. Especially so since lentil soup is one of the most delicious things you can eat out on the trail.
The next morning we woke up to greet the dawn. Everyone complied with the promise of a special breakfast. We all worked together to make some of the best cinnamon rolls any of us had ever tasted. (Feel free to stop by the outdoor adventure office for the recipe!) After breakfast we were back on the trail. We had a lot of ground to cover with a few summits ahead of us. Up one side of a mountain and down the other, we marched dutifully on. Repeat. The views were absolutely amazing. If you have never been to Arkansas, be sure you make time. The state itself is beautiful, but especially in the Ouachita National Forest. After a long day of hiking we made it back to the trailhead, having completed our loop. Everyone was unhappy to leave the outdoors so soon, but we all had lives to return to.
This trip has been classified as one of my all time favorites for two reasons: one, the weather was absolutely perfect. There were never as much as two clouds in the sky. Two, the group was absolutely brimming with excitement and willingness. If you don’t have a good group, willing to “suck it up!” at every turn, you won’t have a great trip. I just want to thank all the participants and the leaders for making this a memorable trip!
Stephen Hayden, Trip Leader.