The Target: Proffit Mountain Cache (GCA1A3)
The Stats: D2/T4.5, ~16 mile distance, ~885 ft elevation change
The Time: September 30 through October 2, 2022
The Adventurers: Spiritwolf922 and socibutte
After many months of excruciating training, hard-core research, and detailed planning, the adventurers conquered their long-time, bucket list goal of hiking some of the most rugged terrain in Missouri along the Ozark Trail (OT) and camping overnight atop a mountain with amazing scenery, to obtain a single geocache.
While it was on her long-time to-do list, Spiritwolf 922 (Patricia) never actually thought she'd accomplish this hike and cache, as it was in the middle of nowhere and on a previous OT hike, she found she was 'woefully unprepared' for the terrain and distance. Socibutte (Melissa) on the other hand, had been waiting for years in hopes of finding someone crazy enough to attempt this much-desired adventure of hers, after hearing about the trail from her son. (Needless to say, he is now a bit jealous that mom completed it first!) So as luck and the world of geocaching would have it, these two discovered their common interest in casual passing and the rest is history. But here's a recap in hopes it might entice future Proffit Mountain geocachers.
Although Melissa often hikes, runs, caches, and travels solo, she decided an overnight backpacking trip was not the best idea for a solo venture. So she was only too glad when Patricia welcomed the idea of this new experience that would undoubtedly be a bit challenging. And while Patricia still had some concerns over accomplishing their goal, it was more comforting to have just a single friend who would understand and not be disappointed if at any point they needed to turn back. This would also be a good 'test' to see if they both enjoyed this new type of exploration. So this dynamic duo made their decision and developed their well thought-out plan to conquer Proffit Mountain by Fall 2022, and began planning six months before their trip.
First came the extensive research. Patricia noted that this "included making day trips to each end of the target trail – Taum Sauk and Johnson’s Shut Ins – as well as visiting the Ranger Station at Johnson’s Shut Ins." It also involved "visiting REI and talking with hikers on staff who were familiar with that section of trail, and visiting websites such as OzarkTrail.com, alltrails.com, and of course, geocaching.com (to read previous logs)."
Then came months of equipment acquisition and training. After their initial research, they assessed and then procured the equipment needed, which was a financial investment. A most important, but costly purchase for both of them was a well-fitted backpack. Patricia's choice was an REI COOP Traverse 60 Backpack. They also taste-tested potential foods for the journey. While Patricia took the lead in researching and gear purchasing, Melissa admitted she was the 'pushy one' when it came to their numerous training hikes, choosing trails in several hilly parks in St. Louis area, with and without full gear and water. She stated that "even if the hike sucked or was challenging, [they] found fun, or inventive complaints" at least.
Finally it was time to start their adventure. After a fortifying Mexican dinner Friday night, they drove to the Scour Trailhead at the Johnson's Shut-Ins end of the Taum Sauk section of the OT, where they car-camped in order to get an early morning start on the trail. Having visited here during their planning stages, they knew their first day's hike would be mostly uphill, and they would have to be wise about taking breaks. Patricia's log states, "Socibutte kept us regulated with timers to indicate rest breaks and food breaks, to ensure that we could keep up our strength and energy for the journey. These breaks were absolutely invaluable. Without the reminders, we likely would have worn ourselves out long before we could have achieved our goal." After strenuous hours of hiking, they got to their chosen campsite and set up camp. Then they pushed forward another mile to the geocache, but en route, they happened upon two other hikers who would be camping at another site closer to Johnson's Shut-Ins. These were the only people they had seen since early morning on the trail. With daylight fading, they made their way to GZ, found the cache after a few minutes, took some success photos, did a bit of 'victory shouting' on the mountaintop, then headed back to camp for a well-deserved camp dinner. After a decent night's sleep, and what they thought was a little critter visit to their camp overnight, they awoke, ate a light breakfast, struck camp, and prepared for their mostly downhill trek back to their car. With lightened packs (after having eaten a lot of their food and consumed half their water), they again incorporated necessary hiking breaks to make for an uneventful and healthy return trip.
Even though their wonderful adventure was a success in most ways, both ladies still had something to say when asked about any difficulties encountered. Patricia mentioned her main issue was ensuring she maintained hydration and kept up her energy and blood sugar levels, which was managed by Melissa's scheduled breaks fairly well. But this was a challenge for both, as it was an issue on a few training hikes. Melissa said that her greatest difficulty however, was definitely "carrying in all the water! Water is heavy folks! Really heavy." Between them, they carried in 13 liters of water, as there are no water sources on this trail, in addition to food and snacks, and camp gear.
While there will always be difficulties on any venture, those often fade as the wonderful parts of the trip stand out in memory. Melissa said she really loved the entire adventure, from the trees, grasses, wildlife, glades, and views, to their amazing campsite, including the little 'trail magic' treat left by the passing hikers. Her greatest pleasure camping was that there was "very little light pollution to mar the beautiful night sky." Patricia too enjoyed the whole adventure and beautiful scenic areas along the trail with her favorite 'spot' being their campsite. This new type of experience was a highlight for her, and one she'd like to do again. The lack of 'traffic' on the trail was also a plus, but jokingly, she said her favorite part was "hiking downhill to the car."
As advice to future geocachers/hikers, heed Patricia and Melissa's warnings and counsel to do tons of research, as it's all warranted. Know the personal stamina limits and health conditions of all the hikers. Become familiar with the trails and area as much as possible from park rangers, naturalists, other hikers etc, so preparations can be made ahead of time for anything that might be encountered. Definitely let others (not on the hike) know the route and timing of the entire planned adventure. And last but not least, have fun, and not just on the designated trail and day(s), but along the whole journey! Enjoy the food tasting and planning, the hunting down, borrowing or buying the needed equipment, and the laughs (and maybe tears) on the numerous training hikes that must be taken in preparation. Finally they advise finding someone (or ones) that "you know you'll have fun with and can rely upon. Having a backpacking bestie is a must!"
Now that their journey up and down the mountain is done and tucked away in their memories, they both feel a huge sense of accomplishment. Melissa was overjoyed to finally do this overnight backpacking trip, since she'd wanted to attempt it for nearly 5 years. For Patricia, this adventure filled her with confidence to take on other goals like camping, difficult hiking, and multiple days of 'rough geocaching.' They worked really hard on this achievement and look forward to similar trips in their futures. As a matter of fact, as this article was written, the dynamic duo was out on the hills of Greensfelder on one of their first training hikes for their next amazing adventure.
Congratulations Spiritwolf922 and socibutte!
"It always seems impossible until it’s done.” - Nelson Mandela