I’m exhausted right now but so happy!
I never would have thought I’d say that after a weekend of backpacking. In fact, I never thought I’d go backpacking (where you hike with all your camping gear, and then camp in the middle of nowhere) but part of being in a “new” relationship means you try new things. Louie got a bit jealous of all the people that were backpacking in the National Parks, so we decided to plan a little backpacking trip here. Nothing too fancy, and just one night. We invited a bunch of friends, and finally managed to convince two other people to go… a bunch of stressors here and there almost made us cancel on more than one occasion, but we decided to forge ahead and I’m glad we did.
We decided to hike an out-and-back from Taum Sauk State Park to Mina Sauk Falls and then a little ways along the Ozark Trail, find a nice place to camp, and then head back the next day. I had a backpack with a sleeping bag, sleeping pad, change of clothes, extra layers and rain jacket, food (lots of pbj, trail mix, and bars), 3 liters of water, various first aid stuff, water treatment, headlight, and a few other things. Louie had our stove and tent, and his own clothes, sleeping gear, and a few other things. We were with his brother Julian and our friend Jim, neither of whom had been backpacking before either. (Louie had gone once before, and a very similar trip to this one—in fact, he realized as we went along it was basically the same trip, except we camped further along). We also brought the dog, Mackenzie.
Mackenzie didn’t seem to realize she was being photographed. She also didn’t bring a tent, backpack, water, or ANY of those things! Silly dog made us carry her food for her too…but we figured it was worth it for the intrude warnings AND seeing her have a wonderful time in the outdoors.
The park was about 2 hours drive from St Louis, and the day ended up being cooler and a little more overcast than we thought. We started hiking around 1 pm, and took the right fork to get to Mina Sauk Falls. The “Falls” were basically non-existent, and all of the views were foggy though…but we enjoyed the scenery anyway, especially as it seemed finally autumn was here and the leaves were turning. (I would have said fall was here but with “the falls” that seemed confusing. And here I am saying fall and falls anyway…sigh…)
Trying to perfect our explorer poses. (Side note, I think my waist band is too high, anybody know? Maybe that’s why my shoulders hurt so much?)
I didn’t take too many pictures, because I was mostly focused on my footing! The hike was QUITE rocky and steep, especially once we continued from Mina Sauk Falls down towards the Devil’s Tollgate (which I definitely referred to as the Devil’s Tailgate by accident on at least one occasion.) When we climbed down to the bottom of the falls area (the most difficult part of the hike) we saw a little campsite on the left. We didn’t realize there would be a variety of makeshift campsites along the route, complete with fire rings—even though it seemed that making fires wasn’t allowed, there were fire rings. We didn’t want to camp yet, so we kept going, and passed another campsite right before the Devil’s Tailgate (note: I actually typed that by accident…) which Louie suddenly remembered he had stayed at before. We were tempted, but it was really close to the trail, and we thought maybe we’d find more if we continued along.
That’s the Devil’s Tollgate. Not THAT frightening, really…but really cool. This was definitely the coolest hike we’ve done in Missouri!
Finally we were getting a little impatient to stop. Our packs felt heavy (how do people do this? I suppose we overpacked/didn’t have them adjusted well? My shoulders ended up really being sore, but they do from my regular backpack too…?) and we were ready to relax and enjoy the woods. Just before we were tempted to turn back to the campsite we’d passed, we found another, even better one, with a large flat area for a few tents and a big log to sit on near a fire ring made with rocks. It was perfect! The only downside was that the creek was totally dry, but we had plenty of water with us (it wouldn’t have been so much, actually, but it wasn’t too hot so we didn’t need as much.)
By this point Mackenzie was exhausted. I think we’d been hiking between 2 1/2 and 3 hours (the same for miles, oddly)—not much in the greater scheme of things—but a long way for us backpacking newbies!
We set up our tents and then looked for firewood (we were tempted by the fire ring, even though we weren’t sure it was legal, why have a fairly used ring, plus it was pretty damp all around so we felt good about a fire.)
Louie and I returned to the tiny orange tent for this trip since it was much lighter than the larger one we’d camped in in August.
We made boxed red beans and rice for dinner and added “textured vegetable protein” to it for extra protein/calories. We’d decided that everybody was in charge of their own snacks/lunch/breakfast and such but dinner could be one thing. After dinner we just sat around chatting and discussing gender equality and various other important manners!
Oh, and we hung up a backpack with all the leftover food. It probably wasn’t bear safe, but we figured it would keep smaller critters (and large black dogs) away from it while we slept. Louie figured out how to manage this.
Notes: 1) We had definitely passed some hikers earlier in the trip, but once we set up camp we didn’t see another person until the next morning. 2) As it got dark, it got pretty scary on occasion, trying to figure out what various strange noises were! Mackenzie wasn’t sure what to think of all of this and the rest of us weren’t either 😉 but we never got too freaked out. The moon was HUGE and basically full, and kept it from being too dark. 3) We’d passed a couple that said they saw some wild boar/feral pigs (?) earlier in their hike so we were a little worried about those and, for some reason, coyotes.
We all awoke several times during the night. It rained lightly and between that and all the weird noises (mostly insects, but probably birds and snakes and raccoons too) and rustling from everybody tossing and turning, I didn’t sleep terribly well. Also not having a pillow didn’t help…but it was still fun to be outside, and we’d had a great evening hanging out and a lovely hike! So morning broke, and we got up, made coffee (instant!) and packed up, and off we went, back towards the car. The rain made everything a bit wetter, and some of the rocks we had to climb over were a bit scary, but my pack was lighter (I actually ran out of water—I’d shared a bit, and one thing we did learn was to make sure to tell any future hiking companions how MUCH water to bring—Louie and I each had 3 liters, more than anyone else) so that helped. I had a wooden walking stick for awhile too, that Jim had been using but he gave to me when I was struggling too much…next time, I am bringing my walking sticks, no matter.
We finally made it back up the top, and made a slight detour to the highest point in Missouri (we’d missed this on the day before while going down the trail.)
Being very weird and pointing at the sign…
Looking a little more normal, albeit tired!
So there you have it. Approximately 5-6 miles round trip hike, quite short by my usual standards (ha!) and some parts were really technically difficult, especially for a Missouri hike. Overall I had a wonderful time and learned a lot about how to prepare for any future backpacking, though I am (unlike most people on the internet)far from an expert. I will go backpacking again, though now Louie is talking about taking an overnight bike trip somewhere…the thing is, we have a lot of good gear for hiking/backpacking already, and not great biking gear (I really need a better bike, first off, that fits me better, and we don’t have any panniers!), but that’s a worry for another day. We do plan to try to backpack another part of the Ozark Trail the next time we can both get away for an overnight and wrangle some friends with us for entertainment and company, so I’d say the trip was a success.
Saw this guy when I came home, and now I’m gearing up for the workweek (Bach at the Sem!) and looking forward to October.