A soggy socked start to the new year
Last New Year’s Eve was the first holiday that I went to bed before midnight since I have been old enough to stay up to ring in the new year. Zach and I decided to spend the first day of 2016 hiking the Big Brushy Trail Complex in the Ouachita National Forest, in Arkansas, instead of sleeping late and regretting the night before.
The Big Brushy Trail Complex is three trails, Brushy Creek Trail, Brushy Mountain Trail, and the Ouachita National Recreation Trail, which can be combined to make a little more than a 7.5-mile loop. The trailhead is located at the Big Brushy Campground, right off of Highway 270 west of Mount Ida, Ark. The forest service’s description and map can be viewed here.
I love being spontaneous and figuring out where to go on the way, however on this trip, not planning ahead backfired on me. The night before Zach and I debated between driving to Mena, Ark., and hiking around there or doing the Big Brushy Trail Complex, but we hadn’t committed to either. Because the Big Brushy Trail Complex is on the way to Mena, we decided to assess how far we felt like driving that morning. We settled on not driving all the way to Mena, and I was excited to do a trail I had never done before.
When we got to the Big Brushy Campground, we headed west on the Brushy Creek Trail.
I loved the trail and am glad we decided to hike it, however I wish I had done a little research before setting foot on it. I have river shoes and trekking poles to assist me as I cross rivers or high creeks, but I did not bring them because I did not think we would have any water crossings. Well I was wrong. We had seven creek crossings. The week before there had been torrential rains and flooding so the creek crossing were not ones you could hop across on rocks.
We came to the first creek crossing fairly quickly. The water was high. Too high to cross without it going over the tops of my waterproof boots. I was wishing for my sandals because my feet are little tender toward river rocks. So I reluctantly took off my boots, rolled up my pants, and began to cross the freezing cold water.
Zach made it across without incident, I however, with about only two steps to bank, stepped on a rock that hurt and fell into the water. My pants were soaked, as well as the two shirts I was wearing. My boots, which were over my shoulder, managed to scoop up the water, soaking them and my socks. Zach asked if I wanted to go back, but I had come to hike and had quick-drying clothes, so we continued on. I changed into a dry shirt, but my pants, socks, and boots I had to wear wet until they dried.
Then we came to another creek crossing. Because my feet were already soaking and squishy I decided to just walk across this one. But as soon as my feet dried out enough that I was moderately comfortable, we came to yet another crossing. This time I took off my boots and hurled them across before I braved the cold, rocky water again. The rest of the creek crossings we were able to cross on logs or hop to rocks, but every time we came to one, I mumble curse words under my breath.
Despite the numerous creek crossings, the trail is very beautiful. The woods are open and wide. The creek took my breath away not only because was freezing cold, but because it was so beautiful.
After 1.7 miles Brushy Creek Trail comes to Forest Service Road 813A, and from there the trail follows on the road up the mountain. I was happy to be going away from the creek. We came to a very small stream and it had a bridge. When we needed the bridges they weren’t there, but here was a stream we could jump across and yet it had a bridge. Zach protested the bridge, crossing over the stream on rocks.
After a half of a mile the road ends and the trail follows an old roadbed. This part gets really steep but just for a little ways.
When we intersected with the Ouachita Trail the trail markings turned from white to blue. We decided to have lunch on a rocky part that overlooked the mountains to the south. I laid my shirts, socks, and boots out to dry. My pants had already dried. Then I discovered my phone was wet and not working, so I laid it out to dry too. It eventually came back to life, but I learned to always take it out of the case and check it, not just wipe it off.
We continued up a slight incline with gorgeous mountain views through the open woods to the east and south. After two miles on the Ouachita Trail, you have the option to hike back to the trailhead on Brushy Mountain Trail or stay on the Ouachita Trail. Brushy Mountain Trail is 2.1 miles and the rest of the Ouachita Trail to the Big Brushy Campground is 2 miles. We decided to stay on the Ouachita Trail.
The amazing views of the surrounding mountains and valleys continued. This is definitely a trail that is nice in the leaf-off season. In the summer, I’m sure swimming in the Brushy Creek after a day of hiking is lovely too.
Shortly after the trail intersection we came to a vista looking to the south, where we stopped for a bit and took in the view. Almost at the end of the trial, the Ouachita Trail intersects and follows County Road 6 back to the Big Brushy Campground.
Had we decided to start the trail this way, we would have come to all the creek crossings at the end. Had we decided to start this way, I would have only been wet for a little while, not the whole hike. But hindsight is 20/20, and a little discomfort makes you appreciate life.
And despite the discomfort, I loved this trail. For a quick, shorter hike there are several alternatives you can take. For a 4.1-mile hike, you can hike Brushy Mountain Trail to the Ouachita Trail and back down. Or you could leave a vehicle on Forest Service Road 813A, for an about 3-mile point-to-point hike.