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Backpacking trip into the Ponca Wilderness

By Dustin on 2013.11.11 In Camping Hiking

   Nov. 5th 2013 8:00 p.m.
Finally, here we are. It seems like everything about this trip has been a struggle. From the government shutdown of the parks, the rain, to the slippery, almost vertical trails in, here we are, warm and cozy in our sleeping bags, near the banks of the Buffalo River, in the Ponca Wilderness.
  We should have been here weeks ago, but as I mentioned, the government shutdown changed our schedule. At the time it seemed devastating, but in the end it worked out in our favor. We are here during the peak of the fall colors, and the weather is pretty great.
  I had never hiked in this area before, but I do have some friends that have. I got some advice from my friend, Josh, who works at my favorite outdoor gear shop, Dynamic Earth. He suggested we set up a base camp at an area called Horse Shoe Bend.
  Horse Shoe Bend is a relatively flat area located in a horse shoe shaped bend along the Buffalo River. It is a great location for a base camp because their are several main trails that either pass right through, or very close to the campground. Of course, there is no driving to this camp, and if the other trails in are anything like the one we took, your going to earn that great spot. But let me tell you, the hard work is well worth the rewards.
  To earn our spot, we took the Falls Trail, from the Compton Trailhead. By map, it is the shortest, and what looks like the fastest hike to Horse Shoe Bend. Plus you don’t have to cross the Buffalo River until you are at the camp. Easy I thought. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

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  This trail is 2.6 miles long, and drops 1200 ft. Looking at the map, I thought, well 2.6 miles, that won’t be that bad, even if it is a little steep. Wrong. I forgot to take into consideration that it had been raining for two days straight, including the day we barreled  off over the mountain. It took us hours. The one bonus I did find by taking this route was the views. For much of the trail, you are walking along the edges of big bluffs, so in spots you can literally see for miles and miles.

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  I would not advise anyone taking a child down this trail. Yes, I took my 4 year old son, but he is no average 4 year old. He has already logged more than 100 miles on hiking trails with more than half of those miles walking himself, with his own pack. He is tough. Not many kids would handle walking down slippery rock steps, in grueling, cold, rainy conditions. Not to mention we did an hour and a half hiking in pitch black with nothing but our headlights. All the while coyotes and owls are howling, which scares most kids stiff, and Jesse is loving every minute. Singing songs, talking about how much fun it is gonna be to get to use his new headlight to set up our tent. So as you can see, not your average 4 year old.

  So we finally come across a camping spot just across the river from the Horse Shoe Bend camp, and after what we had just went through, I decide this is plenty far enough. It was flat, bluffs were blocking the wind, and we were just about 100ft from Sneeds Creek, which had plenty of fresh water running through it for us to use. Plus I was wore out from carry a 57lb backpack and the stress of trying to keep my wild partner safe near the slippery edges of these bluffs. This flat area might as well of been the Hilton to me. We was home.

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  We got the tent set up just in time, as the rain turned from mist, to heavy drops. Now here we set, all snuggled up in our warm Big Agnes sleeping bags, playing go fish, listening to the soothing sound of rain falling on our tent roof, and talking about all the neat things we are going to go see. This is going to be an amazing adventure.

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