Big Piney, Big Adventure

What a great, adventurous weekend!  I have never been backpacking before but after hearing all about John's experiences and looking at pictures I was pretty stoked to try it out. There were a few essentials that we needed to get before we left. John had some leftover birthday money and wanted to splurge on a couple of things.  A friend of mine was kind enough to let me borrow a pack so I didn't need to buy a new one.  John already had one so he was set.  We ended up buying a new 2 person backpacking tent, a miniature stove, a head lamp, and some pants for John.  It all came in handy!

We started out the weekend by packing the boys and heading over to Grandma and Granddad's house.  (Thanks for watching them this weekend!!) Bags packed, kids dropped off, a few more stops and we were on our way.  Unfortunatly we had some incorrect directions so we ended up on some random dirt road in the Ozark mountains that led to nowhere!  The anticipation of getting on the trail was getting to us.  We stopped, found a gas station with a map, and found our way to the trail head.  By this time it was already 4:00pm!!!  We had hoped to be on the trail before noon.  But that didn't dampen our spirits.  We hosed down with bug spray (100% Deet to be exact!), hitched up our packs, and set off on the Big Piney Wildlife Trail in the Mark Twain National Forest.  It was beautiful and we quickly realized why they must call it "Big Piney."

We took it nice and leisurely, enjoying the sights until we came across a bluff that had a nice clearing and a fire pit from previous campers.  It was perfect to set up camp.  As I gathered fire wood and fed the fire that John had started, he set up our tent and unpacked our food for dinner.  It had started to get cloudy and the only people we had seen on the trail were leaving.  They told us it was supposed to rain that night.  Oh well, we were already there.  The fire was going strong and I was about to make dinner when it started to rain.  No worries.  I just set our food up in the tent and cooked on our new pocket rocket stove under the rain fly.  That is the coolest stove ever!!!  It literally folds so small you can carry it in your pocket.  You just attach it to a propane can and you're good to go.

I packed individual servings to cook for dinner.  It was a recipe called Farmer's mash.  It consisted of dry vegetable soup mix, dry scallop potatoes, instant mashed potatoes, and a packet of white chicken. It was so tasty!  We also had campfire biscuits that we made by adding biscuit mix with dry milk and water to make dough.  They were OK but not the best.  For dessert we had smores of course!!  We braved the rain and made them over our dying fire.
After dinner we crawled in our tent and attempted to sleep.  I say attempted because you wouldn't believe how noisy the great outdoors is.  Between the bugs/crickets, the constant falling acorns that hit the ground like mini bombs, animals, and the various thunderstorms that passed by throughout the night, it was quite loud!  John even tried to make earmuffs to block it out.  We agreed that next time we might bring ear plugs.  At one point we even HEARD a spider on our tent.  It was massive.  We named it Kong and we were super grateful that Kong only explored the OUTSIDE of our tent.

In the morning we decided against a fire as the ground was pretty wet.  So wet in fact that our tent was wet inside.  We apparently were in a little dip and the water collected below us.  For the most part, we were dry in our sleeping bags.  Our pads took the brunt of the water.  We used the stove and made ourselves some pancakes and of course - COFFEE!  John tore down camp while I made breakfast.  The sky was begining to clear.  It was going to be a beautiful day!

Another late start - we left our camp around 10:00am.  The rain set us back because we couldn't sleep well and consequently slept later than we should have.  We weren't in a hurry at that point.  We knew the trail was 17 miles long and we would need to travel about 14 or 15 to make it back to the Jeep.  It sounded do-able.  We set out for a great day of hiking and took some great pictures of the view although they really don't do it much justice.  The Ozark mountains were beautiful and we went up and down them all day.  Just before lunch time, at about mile 4, we came to a fork that wasn't clearly marked.  Which way to go?  We had a map and the GPS coordinates of the markers we should come across on the trail.  The route we chose did not seem to fit what we were supposed to be seeing.  So at about our 6 mile point, we decided we took a wrong turn and turned back the way we came.  We should have come to Big Piney Creek by that time.  We back-tracked the 2 miles we had come and went the other direction.  A few more miles on, we came to our creek.  We were still having fun but had unknowingly wasted a big chunk of time.  More adventure was ahead of us.

Thirsty and hungry, we stopped for lunch.  The creek was the perfect place to refill our water bottles.  Yes - I DRANK CREEK WATER!!!  We used special tablets to kill any bacteria and then my wonderful hubby gave me the water bottle with the carbon filter to filter out any debris.  It actually tasted good.  I was so impressed!  We brought crystal light packets just in case but we really didn't need it.  For lunch we ate cheese and crackers, various snacks, and another round of coffee.  That stove was so nice to have!

At this point it was about 2:30 and we still had not come to the actual campgrounds that marked the half way point.  We probably should have turned back but we were determined to finish the loop.  I really wanted to see the waterfall that was toward the end.  So we pressed forward.  There were many points that we came to where we had to make a choice which direction to go.  For the most part, I think we stayed on the trail - it just took a LOT longer than we expected.  When we finally came to the campgrounds I was relieved to find an outhouse.  While John did not mind going number two in the woods, I was very nervous about it and held it until we found the campgrounds! After that we came to a bluff that stuck out through the trees and got some breath taking views of the Ozarks.  Unable to stop too long because it was getting late, we pressed on.

By the time we made it down this ridge it was nearing 7:00pm and we weren't sure how far we had left to go.  We were both pretty tired at this point but secretly excited to do a little night hiking.  That's when we came to a sign that pointed the direction we were headed saying "7 miles."  Seven miles?  Our pace, even pushing it, was only 2- 2.5 miles per hour.  A little discouraged we just kept going.  We could no longer stop to enjoy the view, we had to book it.  John realized the trail looked familiar.  It was the one we had veered off onto earlier that day!  Eventually we came to the same crossing we were at that morning.  The map and directions told us to go one way, but we knew if we went the other way (the way we had come and the way back to our original campsite) we could be certain we would not get lost.  Besides, there was no way we would be able to see and enjoy the waterfall at this point.

It was past 8:00 and completely dark out.  With four miles to go still we were looking at another two hours at least.  We were really feeling it by then.  Especially myself - my legs were so sore that I knew if I stopped to take the pack off I would not be able to continue.  We had little to no cell coverage and what we did have went in and out frequently.  Too frequently to make a call.  So we texted John's parents hoping they would not be too worried.  We had planned on being back home by this time and we still had a four hour drive ahead of us.  Both his parents had to work in the morning and while we did have our tent and enough food that we could have set up camp, we knew it would REALLY worry them if we did not make it back that night. 

The rest of the trip back was a battle of will.  In no way did it ruin our trip, but at that point all we wanted was to be back home with our kids in a comfortable bed.  We were looking for the gate at the beginning of the trail like we looked for water towers in the next town on BAK last year.  We were testing our limits and it HURT like heck but boy was it satisfying to see our Jeep.  There was a field between the trail head and the parking area that we had to cross.  It should have been the easiest part of the trail but by that point every fiber of my body screamed with every step I took.  It was very slow going and we finally made it to our Jeep at about 11:00.  The ride home was tough.  I kept falling asleep though I tried very hard to keep John awake.  We got back to John's parents house around 3:30 and completely crashed there.  No way we could pack the kids up and go home at that hour.  (Ron and Teresa: We are SO sorry we made you worry so much!)

What a trip!  While the end was a little rough, I would do it again in a heartbeat.  It was so much fun!  I think it's time for me to get my own pack. : )  It will be awesome someday when we can take the whole family.  Aaron is going to love it!  John tracked our hike on the GPS.  Here are our stats:

21.7 miles total
Almost 20 miles in one day
7 miles in the dark
13 hours of hiking on Sunday

The actual trail map with our route overlay:

I just did this on the computer and the results are a little surprising. The highlighted area is where we went the first time and backtracked.  As we look at the overlay though it turns out we were headed in the right direction after all.  The plan was to take the southern route and loop back around on the northern side.  Instead, it looks like we hiked the southern route for a while, then switched to the northern route and looped around back to the south.  Oh well, next time we'll get it right.  I'm not sure what trail we were on in the middle but it apparently was a way to cross over - like a turn around or something.  We kept getting confused by the land marks we were supposed to be seeing.  That would be why...

This was our elevation chart.  It felt like we were going up and down all the time.  Nothing huge but certainly tiring! 

Someday we will go back and do the actual route.  I'd love to see the whole thing.  I think it would be pretty to go later on in the fall when the leaves have turned.  They weren't quite ready yet so it was still pretty full of foliage.  Maybe in a few weeks for my birthday... : )  I'm hooked.