Sunday, February 27, 2011

Trip Report: Butterfield Hiking Trail

Dam at Devil's Den Lake
Typical Boston Mountain stream crossing

Butterfield Falls

Butterfield Falls from the top

View South across Blackburn Creek Valley

View North across Lee Creek Valley

Typical Ozark Mountain trail conditions
     Finally, a Saturday off of work. Initially I thought of hitting the Ozark Highlands Trail. Wanting to do the Eastern half of section 4, but not having a hiking partner, I decided on a loop hike. The Butterfield Hiking Trail(BHT) is a 15 mile loop at Devil's Den State Park in Arkansas. Interestingly enough, it was my first backpacking trip ever. Over 20 years ago, I hiked it with Boy Scout Troop 116. It was the trip that started it all for me. I have fond memories of the infamous "wrong turn" hike. I also remember whining that I couldn't go on after the 14 mile marker. It was ugly. Maybe not being able to hack it(I did anyway) was like hitting the wall. I overcame. My gear sucked, my legs were too short, my pack weighed  way over 1/4 of my body weight. I had bad shoes and un-diagnosed asthma. But I had it good. There was one kid who had tied a 2 liter coke bottle full of water to his frame. It flopped around for the entire hike. We took a wrong turn around midday on the first of 2 trail days. We never figured out for sure, but we think we hiked about 4 miles out of the way. We camped 4 miles off the trail and probably had to make it up on day 2. It was ugly. But that was the trip when we wrote our troop hiking song. I won't repeat it here. Still, it is the single most memorable backcountry trip I have ever taken.
     So when I decided to do this as an overnighter, it was exciting. I remembered it being a very rugged hike. I called the ranger and was told that I needed a backcountry permit. So I had to wait until they opened on Saturday at 8:00 A.M. So much for a dawn start. It was worth considering camping in one of their modern campsites, but the low was going to be in the 20's and I wasn't in the mood to deal with the car camping public. So I arrived shortly after they opened and got my permit. I asked about water conditions on Lee Creek and availability in the backcountry. He told me plenty of water, but to avoid crossing Lee Creek if possible. It was fairly high. He pointed out an alternative crossing (by paved bridge). Exit stage right. I parked at the main trailhead, put my permit on my rearview, and geared up. A topo map can be found online at 
     For those hiking the loop in a clockwise direction, the trail starts by crossing a suspension bridge over Lee Creek. The bridge was rebuilt (after washing out in a flash flood) in 1989 by the Corps of Engineers. It is very sturdy and wide. After crossing, turn right and head upstream. The trail follows the creek and passes by the Dam at the lake. It is absolutely gorgeous. After about a half mile or so, I met the road and took the highway bridge back to the other side of the creek. Immediately after the bridge, I took a left back onto the Devil's Den trail. This is the alternate trail the ranger was telling me about. Normally, you would cross the highway and walk another half mile or so to the crossing at campsite A. I just avoided the wet crossing. The trail I took followed the creek on the other side. It no trouble picking up my trail. Diamond shaped blue blazes tipped me off. Also, I remembered the impressive shale outcropping where the trail starts after the creek. 
     The BHT takes off up a large sheet of rock and up the trail. Conditions on the trail were a bit wet. Much of this area had rain in the last several days, and it was running down the trail in LOTS of areas. At many points, I was stepping from rock to rock to avoid sinking or splattering. I met up with a Boy Scout troop traveling counter-clockwise on the BHT in 2 separate groups. They were nice to talk to for a bit while I rested. Then, I caught up with 2 other hikers. One of them had a big load. They were good for a few minutes of chat as well. Talking about my craft with others is always fun. Those with the heart of a teacher want to share. Even if it is just about other areas to go play. 
     This section of the trail begins the climb out of the Lee Creek Valley. The creek was at about 1000 ft. elev. I had about a 700 ft gain in the next 3 miles or so. Some parts were straight uphill, then across some benches. All of this section was very rocky. By rocky, I mean softball to football, to medicine ball sized rocks. The views of the valleys through the trees were pleasant, when you had time to look at something other than your feet. The climb warmed me up sufficiently that I stopped to remove my baselayer pants. I might need them to sleep in. The fleece had to go too. I was feeling good. When the pants were off, I realized that there was about a buck and half in coins in my pocket. Not the kind of thing an ultra-lighter is happy about. Oh well, I'm $1.50 richer. 
     At about mile 3.5 the trail crosses HWY 74 which is one of 2 roads that lead into the park. This one exits from I-540 at the Winslow exit. There were about 10 cars parked there. The trail shares a forest road with several other trails for about the first 1/8 of a mile, then turns off to the left and heads uphill. Within another 1/4 mile it crests Mt. Olive at about 1560 ft. This is the highest elevation you will see on the trail. I crossed paths with another pair of hikers shortly after. They were from Tulsa. I stopped for a break and chatted for about 15 minutes, mostly about gear and the OHT. When I heard guys coming behind me I hotfooted it down the hill. The trail begins a descent of about 400 ft. over the next mile. It's pretty fast going if you can keep your ankles upright. My trekking poles helped here, though I began to regret not wearing my Vasque Sundowners. Shortly before mile marker number 5, you come to the top of a small bluff. Maybe about 35 ft. It is long and gives you a good view of the Blackburn Creek Valley to the South. You can also see the trail below you. I paused for pictures here. Also converted my pants to shorts. It was warming up. 
    Within the next 1/4 mile, I came to the bottom of the bluff at some un-named creek that was flowing wonderfully with small waterfalls. More pics as I camel'ed up and refilled my canteen. At the base of the bluff, there is a really nice crevice that had a fire pit and would make a great campsite if you were traveling counter-clockwise. Lots of nice bouldering to the climbers out there. Maybe even a bit of an overhang for shelter in a downpour. Like I mentioned before, the trail now works its way back across the bottom of the bluff. It's a real nice area to hike through. It turns downhill, dropping you down about 200 feet in the next 1/4 mile bringing you to the banks of Blackburn Creek, which was flowing pretty heavy. Not the kind of creek you want to cross. The next 4+ miles you will travel with this creek on your left, with no gains or drops of more than 100 ft or so. I really cruised through this portion. 
     I stopped to boil water for a late lunch about 1:00 P.M at the Rock Hole Camp. Mountain House Chili Mac is fantastic! For real, it is now probably my favorite freeze dried trail meal. I killed about 35 mins. with lunch and treating another canteen and was packing up when 2 more guys caught up to me from behind. They were young and moving well. I talked to them for a bit and then took off. They stayed behind to eat what appeared to be homemade GORP. It was nearly 2:00 and I only had about 2.5 miles to Junction Camp, where I planned on staying the night. I wanted to try out my new Golite Shangri-La 1 tarp style shelter. 
     I coasted through this section as well. Fast moving, though it is very hard on your feet with all the loose rocks and water moving in the trail. When I came to the turnoff for my campsite, I could hear ATV's running at full throttle(across Lee Creek) and the Boy Scout troop camped there as well. I knew I didn't want to stay there. So I looked at my map and decided I would either stop at Butterfield Falls to camp, or just press through. After stopping for a sit down water break shortly afterwards, the young guys caught up with me. They said they were staying at the falls. I made up my mind to just finish the trail and sleep in my own bed. Testing the shelter could wait for another day. It was only 3:30 and it was only about 4.5 miles to my truck. Very do-able. 
     The turn-off to the Junction Camp was at about 1000 ft. elev. The remaining high point on the trail was maybe 1400 ft. Several sections of steep uphills, but mostly a gradual rise over the next 2 miles before leveling off for nearly 2 more. So it was a pretty good hike up the mountain. Smooth going. A strategically timed breather at Butterfield Falls. This is a really neat place. There water running off of a sheer rock face, but it wasn't visible until it left the rock at the bottom. It is kind of in a thin crack, so it's like a faucet left running at the bottom. Really nice. The main falls usher from a spring and flow down over some rocks that you have to climb up to stay on the trail. There is a pool of water at the top and a primitive campsite. Too bad the other guys claimed it. Oh well, the Sealy Posture-pedic was calling me by now. 
     The trail here levels out after a bit and the conditions are actually good for the first time today. Good hard packed trail with only occasional rocks and water. Gorgeous views of the Lee Creek Valley off to your left through the barren hardwoods. Smooth sailing, except for the arch of my left foot killing me. I loosened my shoelaces several times, and it seemed to help. When bending over to re-tie, the hamstrings were hollering. So after some simple stretches, onward me and my trekking poles went. Shortly after mile marker number 12, the trail meets up in an intersection with 2 other marked trails. Very confusing. Even with all the flashing, I took the wrong one. It didn't take long to figure it out, but after looking at the map, I determined that they met back up in about a mile, so onward my feet went. The only bad thing about this strategy is that this new trail is apparently a horse trail. If you don't know what that means, then I'll just say that the manure isn't really the problem. They just destroy a trail. Worse than an ATV by far. ATV's widen the trail. Horses mash it all to smithereens. Man I hate horses.
     At the next intersection where this trail rejoined the BHT, it begins a steep, rocky descent towards Lee Creek. 400 ft drop in 1/3 of a mile or so. With next to no switchbacks. Whoever blazed this trail should be shot.  The erosion is bad in this section. Hard on your entire body to hike it. It eventually turns back to the Northwest as you meet the creek. Some fairly gentle ups and downs over the next mile or so back to the trailhead. The good thing is that you have some great views of Lee Creek for nearly the rest of the trail. And(at flood stage) Lee Creek is actually a whitewater destination for the more serious local paddlers. So it's nice to just sit and watch it flow. Not that I stopped this close to my post-hike Gatorade! The trail ends by passing a barn for the park's vehicles and then one of the cabins. 
     I knew 15 miles was possible as a day hike. Perhaps my old memories of the "wrong turn" hike made me think that the BHT had to be an overnighter. Or maybe it was the fact that my total pack weight was under 20 lbs. But as my new friend Marco Sanchez said,"halve the pack weight, treble the experience." He's right. 

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Gear List Spreadsheets

     I'm in the process of compiling weights on all of the gear I own. I created a spreadsheet on iWork Numbers, but I was unable to figure out how to use all of the formatting. It works a bit different than Excel. So I just kept inputting data. Last week, when perusing the forums at, I saw that many of the members had uploaded their gear lists. Good stuff. In fact, they have even had contests to see who could come up with the best Excel based spreadsheets. The only problem is that the ones they had to download were from '06. So, I started looking around a bit online. I found a downloadable spreadsheet at I loaded it up and moved some numbers around a bit. 
     The whole point to having this information on paper is to be able to see where the poundage is excessive. If we can determine where we need to lose weight, then finding a way to shed is much more concise. I'm posting a rough idea of the gear I will be taking to North Carolina next month. I will of course keep an eye on the weather so I can make changes as our departure date gets closer. You will notice that there is no weights for food or water. I will have a better idea of how much to add as we get closer. My crew is considering shipping a food drop to the midpoint. If we do, then this gear list could shrink. Or, I could ship out excessive gear once I'm out there.
     Although this is lighter than I would have been last year-it's not light enough. Now I know to look into something lighter than my R4 fleece. Maybe lighter trekking poles. Also, I ordered a Boilerwerks Backcountry Boiler. Our menu for this trip isn't actually ideal for the Jetboil or my new stove. We'll be using food that needs to soak a bit, then be cooked in a pot. Not normal for me. I prefer to boil and rehydrate in bag. So those weights are a bit off as well. 
     You will notice that it computes "Base Weight", "Total Pack Weight", and "Skin Out Weight". The latter two should be self descriptive. Base Weight refers to everything inside the pack that is non-consumable. This is the weight that acts as a minimum. I need everything in the pack(or subconsiously think I do). That will not change. The amount of food, water, and fuel in the pack will very throughout the trip. So once I get accurate weight on my food, and decide how much water to carry, then I will be able to estimate my total pack weight for the trek. This will tell me in advance if changes need to be made. So this little bit of nerd work will pay off.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Trip Report: Hemned-in Hollow

     After a three week period in Northwest Arkansas where we saw over three feet of snow, it always melts off and gets real nice. Saturday we had a high of almost 70 degrees. I wasn't able to get off work in time to fulfill a promise of taking my 6 year old son on his first ever backpacking trip. He was very disappointed, so I offered him a consolation prize of a long day hike on Sunday. He knows my passion for it, and I think he just wants to be like me. It's absolutely heartwarming. 
     Normally, we hike a 2 mile loop at Devil's Den State Park. The length is easy enough for his short legs and it has great views and several deep fracture caves that you can explore. For the last year+, the caves have been locked down due to the "White Nose Disease" which has affected our native Ozark Long-eared bats. So I decided on taking him to the Buffalo National River area. I chose the 5 mile round trip "Hemned-in Hollow" trail from the Compton trailhead. I knew it would be tough for him, but grant me the much needed gauge for his hiking abilities.

     We arrived at 11:00 A.M., and unloaded. I used trekking poles since we had a steep descent into the river valley from high above the falls. Of course, he had to pick out a walking stick. You know how it goes. The trailhead is at about 2250 ft elev., and we had to hike down to about 1000 ft. The early going has a 250ft descent over .8 miles. This isn't so bad on the way down because there is several sections with rock staircases. You can still see plenty of damage to the trees from the ice storm of 2009. At the .8 mile mark, you proceed through a trail intersection. The Bench trail takes off to your left(east), with the Sneeds Creek trail going to your right. The Bench trail will take you down river towards Camp Orr Adventure Base(BSA) and onward to Erbie. The Sneeds Creek trail heads on a much longer route towards the river, past Granny Henderson's cabin and along the top of Jim's Bluff.
     As you head through the intersection, you begin an almost 1000ft drop over the next mile before you reach California Point. Again, more rock stairs, and several sections where using your hands for balance (or to slow your descent) is a good idea. There are several overlooks where you can see the river, and several where you can see the bluff line that houses the tallest waterfall between the Rockies and the Appalachians. I have seen pictures of the falls from one of these overlooks, but we didn't see it on this trip. I had kind of hoped that there would be good runoff from our recent snow melt, but this was not the case. Even though the falls have some notoriety for their 209ft drop, there is rarely a lot of water, though there is almost always some.
     We passed an empty rustic campground before California Point, then saw 2 tents set up at the point. There were people out in droves on this day. I have probably been on this trail 30+ times and never seen more than a few people, but we saw about 20 or more people on our hike. We spoke to a very nice pair of ladies while taking a break on the way down, and another group on the way back out. Hiking in the Ozarks always seems to be a social event. It's one of the charming things about being an adventurer here. When we arrived at the falls, my son was a little under-impressed because of the lack of water. I let him make his own judgement. The water was coming down, but the wind was catching it and turning it to spray. If there had been more sunlight, it would have been more inspiring. 

      At the base of the falls, it has carved a very pretty basin in the rocks, and has a nice pool of cool water. In the summertime, it is nice to put your feet in, but you need to watch out for snakes. No snakes today. We had our snacks and headed back up the mountain. It needs to be said that the falls are only about .5 mile from the Buffalo river and it is easiest to reach it by canoe. It can also be reached from trailheads at Centerpoint, Steel Creek, or Kyles Landing. 
     The return trip was exactly the same climbing out. I don't feel the need to re-describe it, but I have to say, it is RUGGED. No kidding. 1000 ft climb in one mile is about as steep as I have ever hiked. The climb just doesn't seem to stop. In a way, I was glad that my son was dragging his feet and whining. That way, it made it seem like I was much tougher. It kept me slow enough that I kept my wind. Kind of nice in that way. I gave him a piggyback ride for about an eighth of a mile at the end. He was a trooper. If he can handle that hike, then I can take him on some overnighters. I feel kind of like he's graduated to actual "boyhood". All in all, a great trip. And a great warmup for our AT trip next month. With my son, it's about building traditions. Maybe some year when I can no longer hike with him, he will remember it fondly. I know I will.

     More information on this and other waterfalls in Arkansas can be found in Arkansas Waterfalls Guidebook by Tim Ernst.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Gear Supply:

     Not sure about you, but as I get the "fever" for springtime's grand opening, I start dreaming of new gear.  I can't really explain it. Maybe I just imagine all of the trips I'd like to go on (sporting some pimp, new, lighter weight gear). Or my buddies start bragging about their new score. I always seem to wish I had something else on my trips than I have with me. Or even just want to compare to make sure I'm packed like I want to be. You'll get no excuses out of me, I'm a rabid gear junkie. Always was, always will be. To that end, I am always on the prowl for good sources of new inspiration and low costs. 
     I stumbled across the site: on twitter and started following. Then, I watched them go thru a limited time sale on Uvex and several other brands. I didn't need any of it, so I just kept my eyes out. This morning, they warned by Twitter than there was only 1.5 hours left on that sale before they started the "Golite gear and apparel sale-up to 70% off".  I gotta say, I got goosebumps. Two of my buddies own Golite Shangri La 1 tents, and I am very, very jealous. 
     So I started scrambling. I only had my iPhone on me and was trying to become a member so that I could buy one of these tents. I texted another buddy about it and he was doing the same scramble. And nearly cussing in frustration because as he requested a membership, he got put on a waiting list. As it turns out, you have to be invited by a member. Such devastation! So on a whim, I tweeted, begging for an invite. The Clymb sent me one themselves. I was elated. So, I logged in, fired an invite to 3 of my friends, them made my move. Except I was too late. One of the friends texted me saying thanks for the invite, that he had purchased the last of these tents. So now I feel like a sucker. I told him that he owed me one, even though I had gotten a $10 credit for his initial order going through.
     Tonight, when I got home to my Macbook, I decided to take a look at all of the other items, and lo and behold, there was more of the tents available. I ordered and will be sitting pretty soon. The moral of the story is that when you have good inside knowledge, share it. But do so only after you have made your own dream come true! 

     If any of you are interested in becoming members of this great online community for insider pricing on the top outdoor name brands, please use this link and come aboard.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The new Skurka?

Who cares? I advise you all to check out this link. This guy, Samuel Gardner is already started on what is a monumental task. I read the pages at his site and it all adds up to... INSPIRING! I'll be keeping an eye on it all year now. Here's the visual for his plan:

And here's the link to his site:

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Initial Review: Gregory Z55

The Gregory Z55- Initial Review
By Jonathan "Turtle" Janacek

Wednesday my new pack arrived.  Being the thrifty Boy Scout that I am, I had been watching ebay for awhile to find a new pack.  I finally won this pack on ebay for $77.  The Z55 retails for $200, and this pack looks brand new!  

    The pack I had been using is a 13 year old Gregory pack. It was a hand-me-down from my Dad.  The pack topped out at about 8 1/2 lbs.  A substantial amount of weight to be carrying for an empty bag.  The pack is also big enough to carry a large child, and not a good idea for a longer trip, as you will fill whatever pack size you own.

    My trip started last night as I began packing my gear.  I'm still not complete with gathering all of my gear for this trip. Most of my gear is still a bit on the old/heavy side and will need to be replaced before our AT trip in March.  

   The Gregory Z55 weighs in at 3 lbs 8 ounces with a total carrying capacity of 3660 cubic inches (60L) in the Large size.  It's rated to comfortably carry up to 38 lbs.  

    My first piece of gear to go in the bag was my sleeping bag.  My bag is the KLICKITAT™ X 0 MUMMY weighing in at 3 lbs 5 ounces from Coleman  The bag retails for $179.  Luckily for my Boy Scout contacts, I picked it up for $80.  It's a synthetic bag rated to 0 degrees.  I have yet to use the bag, but loaning out to Frank (a highly qualified member of the Legends Patrol to accurately evaluate a piece of equipment), he was happy to offer his opinion of it being a great bag for the value.  Only problem is the strap on the compression sack broke during the first outing.  I'll have to replace the bag, but in the mean time, I made it work for this trip.  

   The first pro AND con I found with the pack was the shape of the pack. The shape allows for a well ventilated back space (pro).  There is a piece of mesh running up and down the spine.  The internal frame of the pack is highly curved, keeping the actual pack off of your back providing about 1"-1.25" space between the pack and your back.  This is great for those of us who sweat a little more in that area.  The con, is that the shape of the pack makes it a little difficult to get gear in the bag.  it seems that at the center of the curve in the frame, the opening size is a little small in the pack, but I still squeezed the sleeping bag in. 

   The weight of the pack is awesome, it's lightweight and sure beats the 8lb bag I had before.  In-lieu of 1.25" straps of my larger bag, this one uses 3/4" and 1/2" straps.  Smaller straps also means smaller buckles.  There are a few straps that can probably be removed if you don't like things dangling off the sides.  I prefer to have everything internal on the pack vs strapped to the exterior.  I hate bouncy/swinging things on a pack. 

  The other feature of the pack I like is the waist belt.  My old pack used a standard buckle that  was also the source of adjustment.  The Z55 features a buckle in the center, and the adjustment fittings on the hip padding. This allows you to pull the belt forward on your body to tighten the belt, this works SO much better than the old school type.  I'm sure this is a standard feature on many new packs, but as I mentioned, my old pack is about 13 years old.  

    A "con" of this pack would have to be the loading points. It's a top and side load only. I haven't had to do this yet, but on an overnight trip, you will have to completely empty your backpack to get to your sleeping bag (assuming you put it at the bottom of your backpack).  I'm a big fan of bottom zippers and would have gladly given up the weight for the extra zipper....I might see if it's something I can get altered before the trip....but it might not be worth it.  

  The pack has 3 "compartments": the top "lid" of the pack, the main compartment, and the external accessory compartment. The lid is completely removable and I'm sure can be fashioned into a small fanny pack of sorts or removed for weight reduction.  Again, the curve in the pack makes filling the external compartment very difficult once the main compartment is full.  I'd suggest filling the small external compartment first. 

All zippers are the "sealed" type to minimize water intrusion.  The other feature of the pack is a separation of the main compartment and the external compartment.  Basically, they added one more piece of fabric to create a fouth "compartment". It has no zipper, draw strings of straps to keep it closed, only the lid covering it's opening.   I would not consider it a water resistant area, so it would be great for eating kits, rain gear and other equipment that could get wet if you got a heavy rain on the pack.  The pack also features a slot for a hydration bladder in the main compartment and what appeared to be a sleeve inside the pack for the bladder.  

  I loaded the pack up with everything I thought I would need for a 7 day trip, but I'm sure I missed a few things.  An overnight trip would have greatly helped in the "shake down" process, but this trip was solely to discover the comfort of the pack.  I topped out at 33lbs.  I carried 2 liters of water and in-lieu of carrying actual food, I took a 10lb weight and wrapped it in a thick towel to represent the weight and bulk of 5 days of food (2lbs per day).  I also packed 1/2 of my two man tent to try and round out my pack with a realistic idea. I could go into detail about the rest of the small items, but I'm sure you get the idea. 

   All the gear fit into the pack with room to spare, which is good b/c I'm sure there will be items I'm missing.  Considering I dropped 4lbs of my pack weight and at least 2lbs off my sleeping bag weight, I'm heading in a good direction.  

  -On The Trail

   Considering the short time I had to hike today, I chose the Shaddox Hollow Trail.  It's a 1.5 mile trail that begins with a pretty good decent towards Beaver Lake, and a good little climb back to the top followed by a flat section about .6 miles long.  The hike was over before I knew it, but it did allow me to discover some of the strength and weaknesses of the pack.  

    Within the first 20 steps, the first thing I noticed about the pack was the lumbar pad.  The pad is very prominent and it is where the majority of the pack sits.  When the waist belt was tightened, I felt the majority of the pressure on my lumbar and on the front of my pelvic bone, basically on the front side of my body, below my shoulders.  The adjustment straps for the shoulders are easy to access, both the upper and lower.  I did find that I had to firmly grip the straps when pulling b/c there are no "stops" at the end of the straps.  I wouldn't call this a con, just something a little different.  

   The pack rode very well and was a positive change from my "carry everything including the kitchen sink" pack.  When walking, I never felt my arms hit the pack at any point. It felt like it was smaller pack and rode a little further away from my body than I expected.  I could see this potentially being a problem if there are any steep ascents or rock climbing "poses" that we come across.  Again, the pack being so far away from the body is b/c of the curve of the pack.  Then again, I also have the Marmot "Bodie" daypack which has the same feature, so I believe it's safe to assume that this is a newer feature on packs than I am used to.  With the negative aspect of shape, I will say that the ventilation behind your back is a huge plus.  

  Also, there are no side pockets for water bottles.  It's a hydration bladder or you have to take the pack off and open the main compartment to get to your water.  There are two mesh zippered pockets on either side of the waist belt.  I slipped my new Princeton Tec "Fuel" headlamp into one of the pockets.  This would also be a great location for a pocket knife and a quick trail snack.  

   Overall, I do give the pack a strong "B+" and can't wait to get on an overnight hike very soon.  Until next time, this is Turtle signing off.