Friday, April 18, 2014

Eagle Rock Loop, AR

Our first water crossing
On April 4-6 of this year, three friends and I hiked the 28.6-mile  Eagle Rock Loop Trail in Arkansas. I had heard of the trail from my trail running community, NTTR, and we needed some training and outdoor fun as part of our preparation for our big summer adventure. (More about that at another time.) 

This was my second AR adventure in the past four months, (See the Ouachita Switchbacks report.) and I am liking the closeness and variety the AR trails offer.

None of us had hiked tails with water crossings before, and what we had read about the rising levels of the Little Missouri River and its tributaries made us a little nervous about the hike. (The Albert Pike Rec. Area deaths were due to quickly rising waters.) The weather cooperated mostly, and none of the crossings were unmanageable or dangerous.



Jon, Jim and Amy
We parked at the Winding Stairs parking lot and headed counterclockwise on the Loop. We started about 5:30 p.m. and hiked a couple of hours before we set up camp along the trail next to the river. Although it was April, the temperature dropped into the high 30s that evening. This made conditions perfect for an open fire and sleeping bags.

Our imagination had us deep in the forest away from any forms of civilization. However, about 9:00 p.m. a truck drove down a road on the other side of the river with its high beams on. Oh well, at least we were not far from help if we needed it. (About 2:00 a.m. ATVs buzzed through to wake some of us. Danged motorized outdoor vehicles.)


Camp site #1
The next morning, Saturday, we cooked breakfast and coffee, packed up and were on the trail by 8:00. This would be the flatter side of the Loop, and we made great time, covering about 18 miles total for the day.


A smaller water crossing
The trails were well marked with white blazes on what seemed like on every other tree. 

The trails were packed, and one can trek them in hiking boots or trail running shoes. 

The skies stayed cloudy, and we were not affected by the wind down in the trees and riverbeds. A highlight of the day was the Little Missouri Falls. We saw more people here than anywhere else on the trail. We took a lunch break here and decided it would be a great place to cool down in the summer.

Little Missouri Falls
We encountered more water crossings as the day went on but those gave us breaks and time to enjoy the outdoors. The cold water provided built-in ice water treatment for sore muscles. I was surprised at the winter-like conditions. Things were much greener in Plano than here this time of year.


A balancing act to cross some creeks





Camp #2
 








We finished up our day setting up in a well-worn campsite that was on the other side of a shoes-off water crossing. We filled our bottles with filtered river water (of which there is plenty during the hike), ate our freeze-dried delicacies, and turned in early.


Sunday morning rain gear
We rose early Sunday morning and packed up before it started a steady rain that would not let up all day long. We recited the Lord's Prayer and said a prayer of thanksgiving for our experience and beauty of nature. My favorite place to worship is Creation, and I will always be grateful for the opportunities I get to be in it and share it with friends.

This was the side of the Loop with the most climbs and steepest portions of the trail. It also had the longer water crossings. We met a couple of groups of climbers going the opposite direction who warned us of each ascent ahead of us.

Little Missouri River crossing






As with most hikes or runs, the closer you get to the end, the longer the distance seems to become. We thought we were done when we got to the actual Winding Stairs Trail, but ended up hiking what seemed another day or two. We were wet, sore, and tired, and it continued to rain. The climbs were tough, but the views were worth it. 

One of the deeper crossings

Eagle Rock Vista
We reached our car about 1:30 that afternoon, changed into dry, warm clothes, and stuffed our wet packs and shoes in the car. It rained on us the four and a half hour drive home, but the memories and Tex-Mex dinner in Mt. Pleasant made it all bearable.

I highly recommend this trail. You can do the whole loop in a day if you are in shape, two like we did, or take longer or do portions of the trail. You will find every kind of terrain, and the water crossings make for variety and challenge. Give it a try!


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