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The Misadventures of HeyBales Backpacking

Some story as to what happened, some just on winter backpacking in general.

Been feeling the need last couple years to the challenge of an actual point A to B backpacking trip, about 30 miles for available 3 days. Rather than just backpack in to wilderness area and day explore with son. So this is solo effort of course.

Decided on the only route I could find reasonably close that is a loop, to negate the cost of shuttle service. Eagle Rock Loop considered hardest route in Arkansas, and there are some hard ones I've done. 2 hr longer drive, but savings anyway. Didn't realize Google made very rough estimates for drive times on forest roads it had no clue about speed on, and speed was 10-20 mph for last 15 miles. Ugh.

Timing was about 2 weeks later than desired, so less winter, more spring type chance of weather - meaning rain, for western Mid-Arkansas.
Left here with snow storm coming in, winter weather advisory along most of route, and oddly for destination, and rain changing to sleet/ice and then snow around 1 inch during the planned hike in.
I made it in during the rain at least, 5pm, 1:15 before sunset, though already darkening in these steep valleys.

I had planned first camping point, to put me at first major Little Missouri River crossing for start of day before snow melt, and hopefully with lows of 15 F, while some water was still frozen up.

After first river crossing in sandals, just to get to trail, wearing poncho designed to cover backpack, and trying to get socks and boots back on keeping dry, headed off at 5:45 and 38 F. Ya, 30 min to sunset wasn't going to get me 6 miles down the trail, even though I contemplated getting out the headlamp and going in the dark, which son and I did on our last trip in spitting ice, so not unheard of.

But then came to another river crossing, no stone hopping possible. Saw accidental or arranged tree trunks across the river downstream a bit and side trail there, and investigated feasibility. 10 ft above the water, balancing on wet now sleeted rotten wood, about 10 min past sunset. Not a chance, though I should have looked at that side trail better past those logs. Later on that.

So back to trail. It's interesting what becomes a perfect tent spot in the rain/sleet and only about 10 ft of width between river and major mountain incline starts. Nice spongy leaves and moss, and a few rocks to help pop the back on. Tent up fast, pad/bag out, wet shirt off, kitchen setup in tent vestibule. Ice pellets continuing. Normal Chili Mac freeze-dried dinner and bedtime routine with book reading and note making, and desert.

Sometimes dehydrated is nice, not up once till 7am with muffled sunny white light. Ah, tad more than inch of snow, great, but only about 30 F, uh oh, easy snow melt.
Breakfast and packup, then sandals on for great wakeup to morning. Calf high cold.
This is the start of the trouble, right here in River City. See my sad little tent square in background, doesn't appear flat now.
 

Back in to socks/boots and down the trail we go, for like 3 min. Ugh, another crossing!
In looking around for rock hopping options, I see upstream the same logs across the river. Doh, that side trail skirted a steep section, but night before snow would have been possible. In my disgust with whole thing, I think I see a rock hopping crossing with only a one foot slight dunk I'm going to risk.
Wrong about depth, which effected next hop, and 2 wet boots and pant legs were result. Sit down and squeeze out what I can.

In prior experience with this, one foot broke through ice on off trail route in 10 F trip, and was wet up to knee. That time, squeeze water out best I could, socks back on, body heat from walking dried everything out in probably 2 hrs. Figured easily the same thing here. Perhaps these boots held more water, perhaps feet already cold from prior crossing, perhaps worse blood flow to feet with age, or bad combo of them all.
This was the downfall of Billy Mumphrey, that incident, I'm convinced, of a cockeyed optimist. Toes never warmed up in next 4 miles to next river crossing, and next to it a side creek crossing that had equal water depth but faster. Hard to see rocks under the water to step on with water moving that fast, so not really sure if knee deep or not, but both were for me. And couldn't feel feet banged in to rocks, but the cuts and blood indicated it did happen. Sandal strap must have snagged too, because forefoot strap broke.

Kept hiking, another 2 miles, another river crossing, feet never getting a chance to warm up. Deeper, attempt to really hit those higher rocks under the water. But when the force of water was pushng me downstream, attempting to stay aright and move in general correct direction was most important, not the water up to hips.

Not sure if walking funny because of no feeling in toes, or left boot was conspiring against me, but insole kept creeping backwards until forefoot was under the heel, and heel section up on ankle. Result was big toe going lower than intended and much rubbing. So even when cold, friction and heat can build up, creating a beauty of a blister. Two more side creek crossings requiring sandals (just kept them on and hiked in snow between them) indicated just what volume of water was going in to the river, and tomorrow I had 1 more creek and then 2 river crossings, to have the honor of following a creek upstream crossing 11 times.

My course of action was firmly grounded as to change of plans. With warmer temps, more snow melt, more creeks adding to volume, those 2 were dangerous, even by the ranger district's standards. Find old road and get upstream.

Camped that night next to creek that would have to be crossed tomorrow first thing, if that route was followed, to which I'd later come back to upstream to camp at again, after those 2 river and 11 creek crossings, which wasn't going to happen. During dinner found old road on map that would get me up there. Two of these old roads the trail had used so far to cross the river on old concrete bridges, so my hope was the same here. Group of 7 guys from Lousinia were in the area, and I brought firewood and enjoyed their fire, trying to warmup feet, that's when purple skin with no sign of blister was seen on two toes, and huge blister on big toe. Tried to dry boots out, at least got socks dry mostly. Didn't notice I couldn't feel heat from fire on many parts of foot.

Next morning after frozen boots thawed out followed my route 4.5 miles upstream and worked great, missing 5 miles of planned trail, though still had to cross that same creek in sandals it was so deep, but just ankle now using the right rocks. Since timing was so good, went ahead and knocked out three 300-500 ft mountain ridges and creek crossings before camp, last one wet.
Only flat spot on other side that look good was green area, where thorn invasion had been mowed down, mostly, and full of rocks. Cleared thorns out for enough space for tent, and that was it.
During dinner I thought to put my hot bag of food on my feet and that's when I discovered no temperature sensation in most of feet, though they were dry and I thought just a tad chilled.

Next morning after letting everything still wet dry in the warm sun, headed over last 2 mountain ridges, and made dry creek crossing, and actually the river I crossed on first night, made it dry. Should have seen the group of 7 this day, they must have not made it past their first river crossing that was probably higher than hips for them.

So the 300-700 ft climbs to the ridges did give some great views of sharp long valleys and water falls near the very top, though they had done some controlled burns in February, so some unsightly areas. Plenty of different birds' sounds awakened me, deer slightly confused that last night by I guess orange tent and perhaps strange smell, armadillo actually heard me coming and tried to run poorly, coyotes in distance moved away or got silent by bedtime. Slightly warm hiking temps, but about right, plenty of, uh, water to be found. Didn't hear a car or plane until last day at car. I'm holding judgement on saying great trip depending on what happens with feet, though the longish drive and narrow window of opportunity to make it a doable loop trail makes me think no anyway.

Dr can't do anything about frostbite if it is, and if it's not and just needs longer repair time, still nothing they could do. If purple skin goes blacker I'll get in. But nothing to do with lack of sensation except poke around foot and confirm, yep, you got no feeling there. Wait and see. Thanks Doc.

So that's the misadventures. Related to fitness ..... ah, made a whole lot easier with the lifting I'd been doing, steep climbs and descents were done at 1.8 mph average, which is great. Lack of cardio conditioning not too bad, didn't slow me down. 45 lb pack felt like nothing, except on troublesome shoulder sometimes. Thumb felt really well using the trekking poles, though elbow may not be appreciating it. And some lessons learned - take the time to think if you really have experience in what is about to be attempted to approach it like you do have experience, when you really don't. Wet creek crossings ankle deep because no rocks to hop or too wide, and rock hopping across dry, is no experience for how to cross a deep river wet. I was totally going on what I hoped was sound logic with my methods, but how would I really know for sure? Also, I knew full well the winter camping mantra - stay dry, don't risk wet. Being aggravated and attempting a foolish move risking wet boots was .... stupid. And I may pay a price for that stupidity. I hope not, may have happened anyway eventually.
 
In the scheme of things compared to others and their tribulations, this self-induced one is minor. 
Though I am discovering how much feeling your toes helps with balance, my yoga/pilates may suffer. Oh wait, I don't do that. ;-)
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