Backpacking McGee Creek NSRA, 18-20 Oct 2013

Hike Summary: 8 miles and several hundred feet of altitude gain in a beautiful area, with perfect weather!

Last weekend, the Oklahoma City Girl Scout High Adventure Team (HAT) had an Intermediate Backpacking trip to the McGee Creek National Scenic Recreation Area (NRSA). The NRSA is north and east of McGee Creek State Park and Lake, east of Atoka, OK.

The pictures from the trek are here on Google+.

Getting There

We met at the OKC Girl Scout office between 1500 and 1700 on Friday, 18 October. The weather was pretty “meh”, with rain that alternated between drizzle and downpour, temps in the low 50s, and very windy out of the north.

We drove the roughly three hours to the NRSA with stops in Ada and in the State Park. The stop in the State Park was a mistake; I just sort of assumed that getting into the Park would get you eventually to the NRSA. Reading the map shows that is clearly not the case, but it let us make a restroom break.

We got the the NRSA around 2100; the rain had just stopped there, and since the camping area is down in a hollow we didn’t have much wind. There are a couple camp areas near the HQ building (which was completely shut down, probably for the season), but most of them are on the last left-hand turn off before you get to the HQ building. Campsites are not marked, just find one that no one else is in. An equestrian camp was being held that weekend, so there were at least eight trailers. A couple of the camps have corrals, which was cool. I think the NRSA map ought to be annotated to show the campsite locations. We got tents set up quickly, and everyone turned in shortly thereafter.

Hiking!

The next morning it was dry, a bit warmer, and calm. We had breakfast, did final packing, got the cars tucked into the trailhead parking area, and headed out at 1140. A bit of a late start, but we did get in much later than we wanted to.

The NRSA map shows that the trail into the area follows a road leading from the HQ building, but in reality the trailhead is about 50 yards east of that road, from a picnic area north of the HQ building. The road intercepts the West Branch trail, which took us east to the Little Bugaboo trail, then south to the South Rim trail.

At this point we started some climbing. The South Rim trail is either double-track, or a jeep road, depending on your point of view. It winds through forest for the most part, and is out of direct sun for the most part. A one point near the park boundary there is a nice view of a chimney.

We passed numerous creeks as we walked, every one of them dry. A couple of the crossings looked soft or marshy, so there was maybe water just under the surface. But only one place had water, and that was muddy water, where Little Bugaboo Creek crosses the trail near Box Springs Camp. We had lunch in a beautiful rocky area just south of Box Springs Camp.

We had our only injury of the trip here. One of the girls was exploring to the west of the lunch area, and stepped on a log that was full of yellow jackets. She was stung three times (twice through her jeans), and the sting on the hand had the stinger in. We got it out with tweezers, gave her Benadryl, and her hand swelled significantly. We kept a close eye on her for the next couple of hours, but she was fine. Her hand was still swollen the next day.

We continued up the trail,passed the Bugaboo Canyon overlook (and some trail riders), and made it to camp at site B4 around 1530, for a 4-mile walk. We set up camp about 100 yards off the trail, found a nice rock to be our cooking area, and then decided to find water. After dumping all our existing water into our collection of cooking pots, we headed out, using one of the empty backpacks to carry the water bottles and stuff.

The Quest for Water led us right over the rocky south edge of Bugaboo Canyon. We dropped through two ranks of boulders that line the canyon into an area that was moderately thick with trees, but little brush. There is a fair amount of brambles, but it was easy to maneuver around. One thing that was neat, we passed what looks like a new trail about halfway between the rim and the creek at the bottom:

New Trail in Bugaboo Canyon

We walked to the bottom of the Canyon to find a completely dry creek bed. Figuring that the best chances of finding water would be farther downstream, we walked through the creek bed until we found a largish branch to the north, since there was a trickle. About a hundred yards up that, we found a pool of water about four feet across and 6-8 inches deep. It had a milky color that is characteristic of the lime coloration we see in the Ozarks. We pumped water into every bottle and hydration bladder we had. It took a while, and we lost the Sun behind the canyon wall towards the end. After filling everything, we headed back up, and had a good time climbing back up the two ranks of boulders. The water run was 1 mile round trip.

Back in camp, we started dinner. It was a mixture of different backpacker foods, including vegetarian options. I learned quite a bit about the needs and limitations of vegetarian diets on this trip.

We had a nice campfire that evening. Everyone turned in around 2230. It got down to around 40F again overnight, nice and chilly. The next morning we had pancakes and bacon (this is another example of the pre-cooked bacon that doesn’t require refrigeration being very good). We got everything cleaned up and packed up, and we headed out around 1115.

We came back down the South Rim trail until it intercepted the Whiskey Flats/Little Bugaboo Trail at Box Springs Camp, and took the Little Bugaboo branch. This goes down along the Little Bugaboo Creek, through a very open and tree-lined area. This trail is a traditional dirt trail. Eventually, it crosses Little Bugaboo Creek in a beautiful area that likely has a couple waterfalls when the water is flowing. As it is, this is probably the best water we saw on the trip, with large and mostly clear pools both upstream and downstream of the trail.

Shortly on the other side of the creek, the trail meets the West Branch, and we followed this on to the HQ building area. We got there around 1400, had lunch, separated troop gear from personal gear, had Thorns and Roses, loaded up, and headed out. We ended up with a 3-mile walk back, and a total of 8 hiking miles for the trip.

Maps

The big dip in the middle is our water run into Bugaboo Canyon.

Critters

We saw some pretty cool wildlife there and on the way back. There were not a lot of birds, surprisingly, although we saw a flicker. We saw a couple deer. There was the snake eating the frog (see the pictures).

We saw a trio of turkey on the road on the way back, causing one to take flight. We also had a roadrunner run in front of us. Passing through Coalgate, we saw a raptor (probably a Merlin) dive into a bush full of sparrows and starlings and take a bird.

Summary

Really, nothing went wrong on this trip. We were lucky to not be setting up in the rain Friday night, and while it was chilly, it wasn’t cold. The food was great. The water situation was a little disconcerting, but a half mile walk (and then back) to find water is not unusual. I would recommend carrying extra water in the summer/fall. I would guess the water situation is much better in the spring and early summer.

One thing I would like to see here in terms of trails is a connector from the end of the North Rim trail across the river to the west end of the Whiskey Flats trail; this would require a couple foot bridges. That would make a big loop that would be a worthy three day trip through the area along both of the big ridges. It may very well be that this could be done by walking along the east bank of McGee Creek.

This area was a very pleasant surprise to me. It’s beautiful, tree-covered, and only a couple hours away from OKC. I am looking forward to exploring more of it. It reminds me of the Ozarks in far eastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas, but is closer. I would be concerned about water in the summer, but that’s about it.

Great trip, recommended.

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