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A Hike into the Wilderness

Hot 21068 views. 2019-12-12 12:39

            Today is December 9, 2019.  I have really been wanting to get some exercise the last few days after a few weeks of less walking than normal.  I had some time this afternoon and decided to take off for the wilderness to go hiking.  This is today’s story.

             For international readers, I should explain what wilderness is.  In 1964, the US Congress passed the Wilderness Act.  This law allows Congress to designate wilderness areas.  What is wilderness?  Someone said, “It is an area where the hands of people touch lightly, where people can travel but do not remain.”  Most formal wilderness areas have no roads or trails.  If you go there, you have to find your own path through the forest or other habitat.

             In 1986, Congress designated the Leatherwood Wilderness within the Sylamore District of the Ozark National Forest near my home.  This wilderness covers about 68 square kilometers or is about 7 by 10 kilometers wide.  Sheila and I have been in the wilderness together one time.  It was quite an adventure because we took our small dog and climbed up a bluff where the deer had slipped on the slick rocks.  If deer are slipping, you know it is steep!  I’ve been into the Leatherwood several times, but like to go explore new areas.

             I worked on the Sylamore District in the summer of 1990 and from June 1991 to August 1993, so I’m familiar with the landscape and US Forest Service that manages this wilderness area.  Jim Steele, who was officially the district’s wilderness manager was fond of saying, “This area has old roads, and we used to cut timber in there.  So, it really doesn’t seem too much like wilderness.  However, now more than 30 years have passes since the Leatherwood was officially declared to be wilderness and the old roads were closed.  That’s where today’s story starts.

             The Leatherwood Wilderness area is bounded by roads and rivers.  On the west side, the Buffalo River runs between the Leatherwood and the more recently designated Buffalo River Wilderness on the west side of the river.  The north, east, and sound sides all have roads.  I live north of the area, so I went to the closest area on the north side of the Leatherwood into an area I had not entered before.  I simply looked for an old road to follow into the wilderness area.

             I found a place to park my truck and found an old road going down a ridge.  It is deer season, so I wore my orange safety vest and a bright yellow hat so that hunters would not mistake me for a deer.  In 2000 in Louisiana, one hunter heard me in the woods and thought I was a deer, but didn’t shoot because he couldn’t see me through the brush.  But when I met him on the trail he said, “You shouldn’t get off the trail and make noise.  I thought you were a deer.”  My thought?  Well, you should not shoot at noises.  One rule of hunting is, “Make sure of your target.”  Every year during deer season, it seems, one hunter will shoot another because they fail to follow that rule sometimes.

             So, I made my way down the ridge slowly until the ridge ended and the road fell off into a valley.  Actually, the road seemed to end although I did find an old road in the valley.  The ridge ended at the confluence of two streams. One was dry and the other had a perennial stream, so I decided to walk upstream on the north fork of the valley. 

             As I entered the valley, I quickly noticed bluffs forming on both sides of the valley.  One area looked especially interesting, so I climbed up to the bluff line to see if I could find any Native American artifacts.  Finding an arrowhead or a flake of rock would make it an official prehistoric site, so I try to find at least one flake, a rock chipped by human hands, so I can report the site to the Forest Service staff.  However, I found no obvious flakes today.

                         After finding nothing special I continued east northeast along the stream valley and eventually up the south slope of the canyon.  Here I encountered an interesting friend, a copperhead snake.  Copperheads are poisonous and have a painful bit.  However, they are quite docile and will only bite if cornered.  Sometimes, I have stepped on them but I usually jump so high that they do not have time to bite me!  I wear boots that are about 20 cm tall and thick enough the snakes cannot bit through the leather.  Can you see the snake in the photo?  Their color is like dead leaves and their stripes make them look like leaves.  I was about two steps from the snake when I spotted it, so I took some photos and walked around it.

             As I continued up the canyon, it started to close in and I realized I was getting “boxed in” in a box canyon.  The walls were 5 to 10 meters and far too steep to climb without ropes.  I’ve never climbed with ropes.  As I came to the end of the canyon, it did indeed close in.  I would have to return the way I came in.  I looked at my watch.  I’d left the truck at 01:20 and it was now 3:30.  The sun goes down at 5 p.m. this time of year and while I was close to the truck, I could not continue.  I would have to retrace my steps.  I’d walked in slowly but I don’t like not having time to spare.  I needed to get back before dark.

             Nature had one more surprise for me!  As I came to the box canyon, I surprised a North American River Otter.  I’ve only seen an otter one other time in Arkansas, but as usually it moved too fast and I was unable to get a photo!

             My only way out was the way I came in so I started back down stream, found my way back to the near the confluence until I found I could walk up the hill without climbing bluffs.  When I go off trail, I try to bring enough so that I can stay overnight if I need to.  In summer, that means about six liters of water, bear spray, and in winter, warm clothes, plastic so I can get out of the rain if it rains, and most importantly, matches to make a fire.

             I’m 67 years old.  As a person gets older, one has to be more cautious.  Breaking a leg becomes easier and I did fall on the slick stream rocks at least once today.  So, I try to carry enough with me so that if something goes wrong I can spend the night and have enough clothes to stay warm and dry.

             Well, that’s my story for today.  I survived!  I got some exercise and saw some near areas.  I can’t complain!

Post comment Comment (2 replies)

Reply admin 2019-12-12 14:45
Glad to read your story about the adventure. I also like hiking very much  
Reply sys 2020-4-23 09:29
didn't appear or long time ,  have you been staying all the time in America ? is it attacking for your life  with the virus ? and is it realistic on the magazine about the  novel coronavirus in your country

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