Icicles dangling from branches, leaves encased in crystal ice, and snow dusted hills encircled with a hazy fog as far as the eye can see.
Three SMU Outdoor Adventure leaders took eight students backpacking through an Arkansas Winter Wonderland Feb. 7-9. The enchanting scenery of Ouachita National Forest kept the group pushing forward in high spirits through the obstacles the wilderness cast in their paths. We hiked through 40 degree weather and mist, and then curled up in our tents through the 20 degree weather, with coyotes howling and light precipitation floating to the forest floor.
We made it to Daisy State Park a little before nine Friday night and built a fire to thaw our hands after setting up camp. Saturday morning, we woke up next to the lake with a crystal clear reflection of the hills and trees, and a mystical fog adding to the white and gray ambience only broken by a hint of dark green high in the trees, poking through the snow-covered branches.
The beauty followed us on the drive, and to the trailhead, and eventually at our campsite Saturday night. We ducked under icicles and sagging branches, we climbed over frost bitten logs, and we pushed through masses of bending trees frozen in place for five miles to our campsite by Caney Creek.
We ate two pots of pasta for dinner, and throughout the night, the flow of the nearby stream filled every silence, offering an era of peace and reclusiveness.
Sunday morning the ice had vanished. We awoke to green and brown and orange leaves, and bare branches recovering from the cold. But warm enough to melt the ice was still cold enough to send shivers down our spine. A warm breakfast of oatmeal, and we were on the trail again.
Once we reached the road, a runner team left to pick up the van, only to discover a flat tire. Three hours of cards and random chatter later, we were actually on the road again, heading back to SMU. We made it to back the OA at 11 p.m.
The 2014 Winter Backpacking trip was far from perfect, but was made worth it by the beautiful mountains of Arkansas, and a high spirited group of students ready to explore.