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Another year, another empty trailhead, and my plans for the weekend

Another year, another empty trailhead – parked up ready to start my hike. When I returned two days later there were five horse trailers parked here, so it does see some use. Copyright © 2021 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

I’ve been considering and planning this trip — the North Fork Loop in the Mark Twain National Forest — for a long time. Information on the trail is pretty sparse, except all the posts I can find say that there is no water. The best resource I found was over ten years old.

The loop is twelve-ish miles and shares its route in part with the Ridge Runner and Ozark Trails. It is located directly (as in across the road — Highway CC) to the north of the Devil’s Backbone Wilderness. As the Ridge Runner name implies most of the trail runs along ridges, which explains the lack of water. For that, you need to dip into the hollows.

It was early evening on Friday, I’d managed to get off work early so I could be here in time to get a mile or two of hiking and set up camp before it got dark. It was hot (79°F) and I was ready to get on my way.

My preparation for this trip mainly involved checking and making routes on Gaia.com (my GPS App). That, and hunting for where I might find water. There’s the North Fork River to the west, but my experience is that getting access to the river can be difficult, to say the least. I spotted a spring marked in a hollow off of Steam Mill Hollow, on what I read was a little-used trail. Based on this scant information, I made my plans.

Some unpacking and investigating unearthed a microscopic hole in a brand new Sawyer 64oz water bladder. I’m not impressed.

Time for my hike was short, but I reckoned I could get 12 to 18 miles under my belt. A possible problem was that one of the trails marked on the map didn’t seem to exist anymore. That particular trail crosses Highway CC near the recreation area. Checking on Google Street View, I couldn’t see any sign of it. Driving slowly up the road, I couldn’t see any sign of the trail either. Hmmm.

Hindsight being what it is, I now realize I should have called the local Ranger’s office and asked what the status of the trail was. I didn’t.

My departure from home was delayed at the last minute. As I grabbed my backpack off of my office sofa, I noticed a wet patch. Some unpacking and investigating unearthed a microscopic hole in a brand new Sawyer 64oz water bladder. I’m not impressed. I quickly filled a 2.5ltr Platypus bladder and re-packed my gear.

The plan

  • Day One (Friday Evening). Drive to the HWY-CC Trailhead (labeled the McGarr Ridge Trailhead on the above map) and hike in a mile or so north along the Ridge Runner/Ozark trails (red) and set up camp. As there would be no water I planned to carry in over a gallon, enough to last me through the night and the next day in what were predicted to be 80-degree temperatures. I hoped I’d find some water in the creeks marked on the east side as there’s been a lot of rain recently, but I wasn’t going to rely on finding any.
  • Day Two. Hike around the North Fork Loop, taking the long route that drops down into Steam Mill Hollow, where I’d spotted a spring during my research. I’d either stop there for the night or carry on and camp near the North Fork River.
  • Day Three. Depending on how I felt, either complete the North Fork Loop via the Ridge Runner Trail (Orange) or carry on down to the Devil’s Backbone Wilderness, top up my water at Blue Spring and hike back to the trailhead via the McGarr Ridge trail. That would up my mileage, but also included a punishing climb that I still remember from my last visit in 2011. Punishing for me, that is. It’s only 300 feet.

The weather outlook for the weekend was hot and breezy, with a small chance of rain overnight on Day One (Friday).


These are the main changes to my gear for this trip:

  • 20,000 mAh Battery pack with “trickle charge.” This is a replacement for my 10,000 mAh battery pack which mysteriously stopped working part way through my last trip.
  • 30-foot LED light string 🙂 which plugs directly into the battery pack, and is powered by its “trickle charge” feature.
  • 2.5ltr Platypus water bladder, a late replacement for the leaking Sawyer 64oz bladder.
  • 16oz Sawyer water bladder to replace my 7oz washing bottle.
  • Extra small and small Dyneema ditty bags to keep all the loose gear that resides in the back pocket of my pack organized.
  • 35mm lens on my camera, replacing my usual 18mm (wide angle) lens.

Time to get moving

It took me two hours to drive to the trailhead from Springfield, arriving around six p.m. After taking a couple of pictures and signing in I was ready to get on my way.

Highway CC Trailhead – And the map is for the Devil’s Backbone Wilderness, not the North Fork Loop, which was where I was headed. Copyright © 2021 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

Copyright © 2021 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.