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Trip Report from the Horsethief Springs Trail 10/22-10/23/08

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Offline walkingman06

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Trip Report from the Horsethief Springs Trail 10/22-10/23/08
« on: October 27, 2008, 04:45:24 PM »
I hiked the Horsethief Springs and part of the Billy Creek trails last week in preparation for my OML adventure in December.  These trails are part of the Winding Stair Mountain Recreation area in southeast Oklahoma. Part of the purpose was to examine my fitness with a 40+ pound pack over an extended uphill trip.  The good news: I made it out and back (19 miles) and had an enjoyable time, however the heavy pack took its toll on my calves.

I left Tulsa at 6 am for the 3 hour drive to Cedar Lake and the trailhead.  Taking the Indian Nations Turnpike (Oklahoma is packed with toll roads!) and exiting at Daisy, OK (State Highway 43) I went east to Clayton and a nice view of Sardis Lake.  Talihina was next via Highway 1, the scenic byway named the Talimena Scenic Drive The leaves were just beginning to turn for the season, with some reds and yellows among the green of the pines.  The first week in November will probably be the peak for foliage.

I arrived at the Cedar Lake trailhead at 9 am, paid my fee and signed in.  After loading on my pack I took off for Horsethief Springs.  The first leg of the hike is downhill through a pine forest and is part of the Old Piney Trail around Cedar Lake. The temperature was around 60 degrees on Wednesday morning so I broke a sweat early on.  I was carrying a full load of water (10 liters) in preparation for the OML, and although the trail is named for a spring, it often is not flowing.  There are several creeks on the trail, but on Wednesday no water, so I was thankful I brought along enough for the entire trip.

After crossing Holson Valley Road, the main trail begins the 1100 foot ascent up the north face of the Winding Stair Mountains. Horsethief Springs Trail is a loop with the east leg being a direct route to the springs and the west leg a "scenic route".  Since the day was young and I wanted a good test of my stamina, I chose to go the scenic route that adds nearly 1.5 miles to the trip.

My plan was to hike for 45 minutes then take a rest break each hour, keeping hydrated and fueled with energy gels and gorp.  By hour one I was nearly up to the first ridge and by 11 am had topped the ridge.  Although there still significant leaf cover, there are good views of the Cedar Lake-Holson Valley along the north ridge. One problem with the west loop, however, is that it is not as heavily traveled and so at times was difficult to follow.  There are many equestrian trails in the area, and the Horsethief Springs Trail follows them part of the way.  Keeping up with the white blazes of HTS among the yellow of the horse trails led me to getting disoriented at one point.  Thankfully my trusty compass and trail map helped me find the proper route again, but I added an extra 1.5 miles to the trip backtracking.

Coming off the ridge I took a pack-off break for lunch, and a rest.  I was using more water than I had anticipated, so was glad for the extra.  The temp was in the mid 60's by now and very pleasant for hiking.  I still had a 600' rise over the next mile to reach the Ouachita Trail a 223 mile trail that runs from Talimena State Park in Oklahoma to Little Rock, Arkansas.  This leg of the hike was the most tiring for me as I had been climbing now for nearly 4 hours with the full pack.  I was thrilled to see the blue blazes of the Ouachita Trail, knowing it was only 1.5 miles to the springs.

This part of the Ouachita Trail is very rocky as it traverses the north face of Winding Stair Mountain, so footing was often tricky.  I arrived at Horsethief Springs at 1:30 pm with cramping calves.  What I had anticipated to be a 7 mile hike had turned into 9 miles with my backtracking and spur trail treks. I took a rest at the campground before moving on down the south face of the mountain to locate a campsite for the night on the Billy Creek Trail.

 The Billy Creek Trail is an 11 mile loop that connects with the Ouachita Trail at Horsethief Springs. It was starting to get cloudy with the wind from the north and I was getting very tired, so I decided to only go 2 miles down the south valley and find a place to settle in. I found a good spot in the pine forest and set up my tent.  I changed clothes and got my meal ready, then got into my tent for a short rest.  As I lay down, it began to rain and the rain continued for most of the night.  My Eureka Backcountry did a great job of keeping the elements out and I got a much needed rest.  Sometime during the night the rain ended and the moon came out, casting shadows on my tent.

The morning broke cool and crisp, 44 degrees, following the passage of the cold front during the night.  I broke camp and was back on the trail by 8 am for the mostly downhill trek back to Cedar Lake.  The trail was muddy this morning and my calves were still sore, but warmed up as I hiked along. With the bright sunlight the leaves were magnificent and provided great scenery as I hiked. There was plenty of water this day as the creeks were flowing well with the rain of yesterday.  The rocks on the Ouachita were slick and so footing remained tricky going downhill with the pack, but my water load was less. The cooler temperature meant less water usage so I had sufficient without needing to treat creek water.

I arrived at the trailhead by 11:30 am thankful for the downhill hike.  The total milage for this hike was 19 miles.  Overall, a great hike with beautiful foliage this time of year.  Thanks for reading!
« Last Edit: October 28, 2008, 09:25:24 AM by walkingman06 »
Moving in silent desperation
Keeping an eye on the holy land
A hypothetical destination
Say, who is this walking man?
James Taylor
Posted from Tulsa, OK



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