Sunday, June 4, 2017

Devil's Den

Our loosey-banded group of Sunday trail runners ventured east into the Boston Mountain Range in western Arkansas to run the Butterfield Trail. This was my 5th time to run the 15-mile loop trail, and our early start was thwarted by my dropped wallet as I scurried out of the hoses at 6:20 resulting in an extra trip back to the house, and of course a coffee stop and pee break along the way. Johnna, Alicia, and I picked up Lynna in Inola on the way, and Misty met us at the campground. We filled out a very detailed entry form for our free permits and took off around 9:45 with big plans for tackling all 15 miles of this rugged trail.

The map provided by the visitor center seemed accurate, but from a past experience with paper trail maps on a rainy day, I took a screen shot of it and hoped to keep my phone dry enough to access if needed.

The CCC built dam--the signature photo for the park--as flowing well and picturesque. We parked here and began a counter-clockwise trek around what is one of the oldest trailz in Arkansas. I have run the trail in both directions, and prefer this way because of a significant water crossing that is forded early in the loop when ran the other direction.

The sign at the trail head pointed us to this swinging bridge, and we headed left (south I think) but retraced our steps after a couple hundred yards as it seemed wrong to me. Actually, this is the finish of the loop when running it clockwise. Oh well--we had a Kodak moment on the bridge.

The trailz were well marked and maintained--much better than the last time I was here in 2008. That trip was plagued with downed trees, heavily overgrown trailz, and missing trail markers.

For the first mile or two, we ran along Lee Creek, a peaceful stream with an occasional small waterfall. This overlook was 20 feet above the water, and we considered the depth of the water below and ruled out jumping.

It had evidently rained during the night or early morning. The trail had a few muddy sections, but there was no problem keeping your feet dry. Any sloping rock and all fallen logs and exposed roots were trodden with caution as most were quite slick. The above pic was the start of a long climb--just under 500 feet of ascent in one mile.

Vistas like this were rare. The forest was dense and even if it were sunny, 99% of our run would have been in the shade. During this stretch, the trails greatly encroached with leafy undergrowth, an occasional brier, and pea-sized cockle burrs. We also began hearing distant thunder rumbling. At mile 4.5, it began to rain--lightly for a minute, and then the sky opened up.

We had just reached a boulder-strewn 95' descent. These moss covered rocks either had some grip if you were brave enough to trust it, or were slick as snot. The rocks were so big, my trekking poles were of no use, and despite the fair measure of caution exercised, I took a tumble and ended up on my back. It looked worse than it was. My fingers were bent back, but other than a very minuscule scratch, I was fine. I scurried on down to a flatter section where there was a huge rock overhang and crouched down under it to stay dry. 

There was room for all of us, and we waited out the rain for a while--long enough to eat a nibble or two of snacks, and soon the rain lessened and we resumed our journey.

The rain gods saw us on the move again and opened up the gates on us. It was glorious. Running in the rain is amazing. Once you get your shoes soaked, then no water puddle, no 30' long stretch of underwater trail, and no stream crossing is avoided. Plowing through becomes the procedure of choice.

The trail ran alongside this stream for a mile or so. I wad out and soaked my footsies, and wished I had a fly fishing rig. 

We found several primitive campsites alongside the stream--complete with all the amenities. A huge firepit, Flintstone-style furniture--chairs, couches, love seats, Johnna was relaxing in a sandstone recliner, and my chair had a stone swivel seat.

Lynna and I consulted the map. There was the single track trail, and also in places a 4-wheeler road or sorts. I wouldn't take a jeep down these roads, but those quad ATV could traverse the route easily. I am sot sure if these campsites are more for hunters, or backpackers. The park ranger told us that the campgrounds can be booked out a year in advance. I;m not sure if he means these places that are 5-8 miles from the park office.

The rain increased again, and we could hear the roar of the creek and saw that it had come up dramatically. In one place, we backtracked to take a look, and by then, it was a raging muddy river. Rushing water is a beautiful sight, but muddy water just does not have the same appeal.

At mile 10 we reached the bluffs. We rounded a hairpin turn to this waterfall. I had not seen water running here in my prior trips, and a little more rain might have made this a masterful sight.

A small box canyon ran upward from the base of the waterfall. This passageway was so inviting. I took a few pictures but few of then turned out. my lense was wet and I had nothing dry to wipe it off. 
This picture came out ok. The weird thing through here was that the ground was dry powder-like sand--like it had never rained.

On the far end of the box canyon, there was a narrow chute where with a little climbing you could squeeze through the end. There was also a way you could scramble up a bunch of loose boulders to the top. We might have explored these options but it was getting a little late.

The next 2.3 miles were uphill. Way uphill. We climbed 750 feet, but really it did not seem as bad as the climb earlier in the run. This ledge was a scenic overlook. I walked right over to the edge and looked down. Dizziness quickly followed. It was a good 80' down to the floor of the canyon below. I then laid down on my belly and inched over to the edge and took a few pictures downward. None really turned out, and none showed the frightening height. Someone had camped on this ledge. I'd advise not drinking if you were camping here.

We had made an executive decision to take the road back to our cars when we reached it. The trail crossed the road we came in on, and the intersection was on the highest point on the course. Taking the road meant two miles of paved, gradually descending switchbacks. This turned out to be a very good decision. 
When we got back to where we parked our cars, the little waterfall over the dam was now little Niagara. This meant the water crossing we would have hit a mile from the end of the Butterfield Loop would have been too dangerous to try. We would have had to either bushwhack for a mile along the riverbank to the main road or worse retrace our steps back up what would have been at least a 700-foot ascent and then run back on the main road. If this had happened, no amount of glossing over how cool bonus miles were would have saved me.

Back at the cars at last. Most everyone was all smiles Alicia had some sort of bug and was not feeling well. We rehydrated, ate a few snacks that Misty provided, put on whatever dry clothes we could find, and began our drive back home.
My Strava data. The route we took gave us about the same mileage we would have earned had we ran the last section of trail.

I'm proud of what we got done. 3281 feet is a good amount of climbing and certainly is what I need for my training.

Next weekend, we have Mowdy Mustang Run on Saturday. I will most likely run Sunday but will keep it closer to home.

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