FKT: Isaac Robinson - Ouachita Trail (OK, AR) - 2024-04-01

Route variation
Standard route
Gender category
Start date
Finish date
Total time
4d 6h 13m 54s

I got my start at 10:45 in the morning on Thursday after a drop-off by the well-known Lori from the Blue Bell Cafe in Story, AR. The weather window I caught was perfect with spring thunderstorms having moved through several days before, cooling and drying out the air and recharging the streams and groundwater seeps. I made the most of a short first day and got through about 36 miles of the the rugged country of the Oklahoma section before getting 4.5 hours of sleep. The next day, I pushed over the state line into Arkansas and really started to see spring coming to life with the first dogwood and redbuds blooming in the understory and trout lillies, wild irises and violets clustered among the rocks. The mostly hardwood forest transitioned to a mix of pine around 30 miles into Arkansas giving better shade and the pine needles making the rocks in the trail easier to spot. I ended the day with about 50 miles covered and got the longest night of sleep of the hike, around 5 hours. The following days the formula was the same - get moving by 4-4:30am and cover 50+ miles before resting. On the third night, the wind changed and picked up to almost gale-force as I walked through the night and the next day was breezy, overcast and humid. The ridgeline walk the next day was ethereal with heavy clouds blowing across the trail socking me in from the views north and south. After another 50ish mile day, starting to hallucinate from sleep deprivation and fatigue, I caught an hour of sleep before getting back up and moving again.  I still had just over 40 miles to the finish so I pushed on with all the energy I could muster. Finally on the final stretch north of Lake Maumelle, I took the new alternate route that added 5 miles to the route length which sapped mental energy and slowed my pace but I arrived at the eastern terminus at 5:15pm on Monday.

It is a deceivingly challenging trail that punishes feet and ankles with a rocky terrain often hidden under oak, hickory and maple leaf litter. Even with a lot of prior training and toughening my feet where riddled with blisters, often buried under thick callouses, the worst kind. While the elevation is low and the mountains are not very prominent, the 35,000+ feet of elevation gain over the course of the route means an average of nearly 9,000 feet per day. The solitude on the Ouachita Trail is very real and I only saw 4 backpackers and 2 day hikers over the entire stretch. I saw white tail deer, many more than people, turkeys, owls, shrews and a skunk, many of them while hiking a standard 6 hours daily in the darkness of late night or early morning. I carried too much food and a few pieces of gear that got little to no use but by and large, my kit worked flawlessly and efficiently.  

I will be back to the Ouachita Trail many more times in the future, taking my time to jump in the great swimming holes, stop at the many vistas and pop into the restaurant at Queen Wilhemina State Park for a hot meal and cold beer or to the Blue Bell Cafe at the halfway point for breakfast with Lori and the local folks but the FKT attempt shone a light on what is possible when you dig deep and push well beyond comfort. 

Isaac 'Mornin' Joe' Robinson