Jim Dunn, one of the original TrailBlazer organizers, gave a very interesting presentation, peppered with his dry humor, of his October 2007 expedition to the top of Kilimanjaro. Coincidentally, he is a former student of both Billigene and her mother! 

Jim was part of a 7-person team, including his son, and they were supported by no new fewer than 3 guides, who had some medical training, and 30 porters who were worth their weight in gold. The hikers carried their own clothing and personal items, but the porters not only carried their own gear in backpacks, but the group gear, such as food, tents and extra water in huge dry bags on the top of their heads! This support is vital to the trekkers who are not accustomed to long hikes at altitude. In order to get acclimated, Jim’s team took 5 days to ascend, but only two to descend. Kilimanjaro, at well over 19,000 ft. is the tallest freestanding mountain in the world, the “roof of Africa,” and an active glacier to boot. 

They passed through 5 different geographic zones, starting out with the rain forest, as they worked their way to the top. Fortunately for Jim, they were enveloped in fog as they climbed the rocky, precarious Barranco Wall, so he didn’t experience his fear of heights. It was a real scramble, and several hikers needed some oxygen by the end of the day. Near the top there were some extraordinary tall glaciers that looked like they had been carved by the wind. Of course, they had their picture taken at the famous Uhuru Peak sign – success! 

Although Jim’s camera didn’t work on the expedition, he had wonderful pics from others that captured the scenery, the trail itself, and camp life. Jim’s talk was well received and was followed by questions from the audience. Thank you, Jim!

A herd of TrailBlazers (we lost count at 70 plus!) headed up to Devil’s Den to launch our 11th hiking season with a little hiking and a lot of eating. In a departure from club tradition that dictates that the season’s beginning and ending hikes at the park must be trekked in high temps with dripping humidity and damp clothing, this time we actually had a cool fall day that is much better for hiking. The only fly in the ointment was that the park is bone dry with no water flowing over the dam or waterfalls. We had a great turnout with regulars, newcomers, and old friends we haven’t see in a while. 

As usual, we broke up in different groups with some choosing the Devil’s Den trail, others with good knees scrambling down into the crevices on an offshoot trail on the Den trail, and a third contingent hoofing up the Yellow Rock Trail to enjoy the view of Lee Creek Valley. . 

As usual, we had lots to eat with hot dogs, munchies, salads, desserts and what have you, and we managed to make great inroads into everything. TrailBlazers are very good about showing our appreciation for all the goodies by chowing down. 

Come join us next week for our hike on Mt. Magazine!

Sixteen TrailBlazers headed for Hot Springs to try out a new trail for us, the Sunset Loop. There was the possibility of rain, but hike leader Kenya told us to bring rain gear to ward it off, and this ploy worked! For those who may not know, Hot Springs is a very unusual national park right smack in the middle of the old town, surrounded by hillsides with hiking trails. Back in the day there were lots of bathhouses, some still in use, and people came to drink the water, vacation, take the rest cure, bathe, gamble and do lots of other things in Arkansas’ answer to Sin City. 

It was a little cool under gray skies as we waited around for our drivers to set up the shuttle. Once we started trekking we warmed up rather quickly as there were plenty of ups and downs and just enough rocks on the trail to deal fits to tired old knees. There were still small patches of snow her and there, but most of it was gone We met various people on the trail, including Terry who has hiked with us before. Linda, our sweep, was making plenty of snowballs and was threatening us with a rear assault. Yours Truly stuck with Billigene as a means of self defense, because nobody would dare to pelt our matriarch! 

After lunch we took a small detour where we did some slip-sliding down a gravelly incline to see Balanced Rock. Mike did his best do knock it off its pedestal, but his efforts proved futile, so the rock remains safely balanced for others to enjoy. As we hiked along high ridges we did not see as many overlooks as hoped because even with the leaf fall there are plenty of tree trunks and brush to obscure the view in most places. The rain held off so hiking conditions proved to be fine, and once again we were glad to be out and about after a tiresome winter.

On a beautiful, crisp autumn morning 34 TrailBlazers, including several newcomers, headed up the Pig Trail in search of fall color. Arriving at Hawksbill Crag trailhead we found that the weather had warmed up considerably as we trekked our way up to check out the old bird at the top. Here and there we saw several trees with leaves of scarlet, orange or gold. It is always beautiful to trek along the bluff trail to view the fall color as well as neat rock formations. At each overlook we stopped to see if we could catch our first glimpse of the famous crag. Once rewarded with our first peek, everyone whipped out cameras and started clicking away. In spite of many cars parked along the road we managed to have the crag mostly to ourselves when we reached the top. Of course, this was our great lunch spot and playground to check out the views and visit. Many of us felt pretty warm by the time we hoofed back to the cars. 

Next we made tracks for Lost Valley in Boxley Valley and had no trouble “finding” it since this is one of the few places we hike that is clearly marked! Due to heavy spring rains a great deal of damage was done to this area, so we were pleased to see that a lot of clean up has been done. Currently no camping is allowed, probably due to a combination of the severe recent flooding and the terrible tragedy down at Albert Pike. Of course, since now there is no sign of all that water, it was the driest we have ever seen it. The little pond that is normally in front of the Natural Bridge is just a few small puddles. Eden Falls are down to a trickle that is not visible but can be faintly heard. Nevertheless, the area is beautiful with its towering bluffs silhouetted against the blue skies. Some of our ambitious energizer bunnies trekked up to Eden Cave to do a little spelunking in the cavern beyond the entrance. Another great day!

Thirty-three TrailBlazers led by Linda headed up highway 23 on a beautiful fall day to see autumn color from Hawksbill Crag. Color was a little past its peak, but we still saw plenty of red, orange and gold as we first trekked down the trail and then back up again to reach the top. Several hikers had the unique experience of seeing the crag for the first time, and we were lucky enough to have it to ourselves for a while since it is a popular trail. What a neat spot to eat lunch and explore! In a rare moment of deep humility to prove we are not perfect, we “accidentally” took the wrong trail for a while on the descent, but our own Energizer Bunny aka Mike did a little search and reconnaissance for us and we bushwhacked our way back up to where we needed to be! Some of us have done this trail so many times that we must have forgotten to turn on our auto-pilot. Some people thought we were already in Lost Valley! 

Next we took a short drive to the real Lost Valley, another popular trail. The first section of the trail is undergoing work to make it smoother and more accessible for the general public. Several hikers crawled and scrambled up through Natural Bridge Cave and then continued on to Eden Falls that unfortunately were bone dry. Nevertheless, it is a beautiful area with soaring palisades and a huge open cave. Last of all some trekkers climbed up the stone steps to Eden Falls Cave to do a little spelunking with flashlights. It was a great day with great company and a beautiful drive.

Three dozen TrailBlazers from near and far gathered at the Hawksbill trailhead to follow Becky up to the crag under somewhat dubious weather conditions. Fortunately our crack weather forecasters got it wrong, because the night before they had been predicting bad storms and explaining the safety plan if dangerous storms should happen to hit Razorback Stadium during the game. Skies were overcast with some occasional sun, but we had no rain on either hike. It considerately held off until we were homeward bound. 

The Hawksbill trail goes down for a ways before heading up to the crag. The fall color was not the best we have ever seen, but we were favored with red sumac and maple, golden hickory, some orange maple leaves, and a variety of in-between hues. The views of the valley are always a feast for the eyes. Some of our members were already in the Buffalo area, so we met up with them on top of the hawk’s head; that old bird is holding up well after being stomped by generations of hiking boots! A first for us was a chance encounter with a young couple in wedding attire, featuring the prerequisite hiking boots, having their pictures taken at the top of the trail. Y’all know that Yours Truly doesn’t miss a photo op! 

After lunch we headed over to Lost Valley where for the first time a ranger was directing some people to park in an overflow lot. Fortunately my vehicle was given a dispensation to claim one of the few remaining spaces in the big lot since we were a truckload of geezers or geezers-in-training – membership has its dubious privileges! The area is very dry, so Eden Falls were pretty much non-existent. No matter, the hike is always scenic, the towering bluffs are magnificent, and we were all in good company.

Under gray skies with a chill in the air, nineteen TrailBlazers headed up Highway 23 to trek up Hare Mountain, the highest point on the OHT. Wilson led the 7.4 mile charge from Cherry Bend up the mountain and over to the Hare Mountain trailhead. Several years ago we did this same hike in a pea soup fog and saw nothing, so even with hazy skies we fared much better today! 

This hike involves a lot of ups and downs with fairly large elevation gains and losses, so we got some exercise. Recent rains, much needed, left a few mushy, squishy patches to navigate. There was some water running in the creeks with an occasional mini falls to please the eye. When we finally reached the ridge on top we had beautiful views on both sides bathed in bluish haze, Arkansas’ answer to the Blue Ridge Mountains. 

At our traditional lunch spot we met some backpackers setting up camp. Much to our dismay the picnic table had been moved, stolen, or otherwise purloined, so we made do with damp rocks and logs while lunching in a cool breeze. Some of us made the short trek to check out the old fireplace built by long-gone settlers as well as the old well. 

The sun was very stingy with a few anemic rays during most of the hike, but we did see some sun during the final leg and even more on the drive home. We hiked through a couple of cushy pine groves on the way down. Yours Truly was doing fine until the very end when her poor old knees showed they were the worse for wear after last week’s bushwhack. In any case, we had an enjoyable hike.