Trip report: Two days solo backpacking in Busiek State Forest and Wildlife Area

With a couple of spare days I decided to fit in a quick solo backpacking trip. To save on gas and travelling I backpacked around Busiek State Forest and Wildlife Area. I wanted to geo-map the Red Trail, and a section of the Yellow trail we’ve always managed to miss, and while I was exploring the trails I discovered a second cemetery and an abandoned vehicle I didn’t know were there.

Busiek State Forest and Wildlife Area – Seen from the glades on the Yellow Trail. Day two of my hike

My plan was to hike in, map the main Red trail, breaking off to cover the missing Yellow Short Cut, and then the next day hike the Red shortcut and on over to the western side and maybe hike the Orange and White trails. The only problems with the plan were the temperature, which were predicted to be in the early nineties, and a lack of water in the creek. Also it was my birthday so if I decided to take it easy and just sit and watch the squirrels go by that would be okay too.

I knew a permit from MDC was required to camp at Busiek, and getting one is very easy. Just turn up at the MDC Office, produce your drivers license and they’ll give you a permit – no charge.

View Larger Map – Missouri Conservation Department, South West Regional Office, 2630 North Mayfair Avenue, Springfield, MO 65803, (417) 895-6880

The conditions of use for the Busiek area are very clear:

  • Only camp at the designated spots,
  • no fires except in the provided fire rings, and of course,
  • leave no trace.

I had wanted to wild camp, as I fancied getting way’s back off the trail, away from any hikers and the noise from Hwy 65 and the shooting range. I settled for booking the campsite (#7) furthest from the parking lot. Much to my surprise someone was already booked into Campsite #6 for the first night too.

Regarding the wild camping, I’m not stupid. I realize that people camp and have camp fires all round Busiek. Being so close to Springfield it’s a bit of a party area. Which is a shame as it means that unnecessary restrictions are imposed on the responsible users, while the others won’t even know a permit’s required, wouldn’t bother to get one if they did, and they won’t treat the wilderness responsibly.

I decided that I’d be a good boy and stick to the rules.

Ginger dropped me off at Busiek late on Tuesday, it was hot and I was carrying 15lbs of water in addition to the normal backpacking gear. I decided to take it easy, walk in and set up camp. I could start hiking nice and early the next day before it got hot.

All the campsites have closely cut grass and a corrugated steel tube fire ring (no grill), and no picnic table.

I’ve not backpacked with the one man tent before, so setting it up took a little longer than it should. I managed to get the poles the wrong way round, with the hangers for the bug net pointing out instead of in. It was no trouble to swap them around. Because of the heat I decided not to set the fly.

Campsite 7 – Busiek State Forest and Wildlife Area. Note the trail to the left – it’s that close.

The creek was ten or so yards away, accessible by a well worn track. There were small pools of water; not stagnant, but not very inviting either. I decided I’d look for some bigger, healthier looking pools the next day.

One disadvantage of all the campsites at Busiek (except the group campsite, #8) is their close proximity to the trail. It was hot and a Tuesday, so I figured that no one would be along. I was correct, though that’s not always going to be the case. I’d been in Busiek nearly 24 hours before I saw anyone, though I could hear that the shooting range was doing steady business.

Looking forward to two days leisurely backpacking around Busiek. Yes, that is a chair I’m sitting on.

There was some cut wood by the fire ring, I gathered some more and had a camp fire before bed, it helped to keep the bugs at bay. Once in my tent I settled down to watch the stars through the bug netting.

Up early enjoying the cooler air, the view, and my morning coffee

Day One

Wednesday morning I was up early, enjoying my morning coffee sitting watching the sun rise on the trees opposite. Apart from some rustling in the bushes in the middle of the night, I hadn’t been disturbed. The people booked into campsite 6, about a hundred yards down the trail, hadn’t showed either.

A word about our backpacking style is probably in order.

We travel light, but not ultra-light, and we go at a leisurely pace, often not getting started until mid-morning. On the trail we stop, we look, we discuss what we see, and we take pictures. Typically we spend as much time stopped as we do moving. I know this because the GPS tells me so. Generally we average just over one mile per hour overall. And there’s nothing wrong with that. No one says backpacking and hiking have to be a race to get from A to B. We backpack in comfort. Which means I don’t mind carrying an extra eight ounces if I can have my chair, which uses my sleeping pad, folded up, as a cushion and back support. For this trip, knowing I’d be carrying a lot of water, I left the big 2.5lbs camera behind, I didn’t bother with the weather radio, 10 ounces, or any spare clothes. Back to the trip…

I decided to go ahead with my plan to hike the main portion of the Red Trail. I packed up camp, shouldered my pack and got on with the day. I’d hardly left the campsite before I disturbed a deer standing at the edge of the trail, and a few minutes later I saw a very fast groundhog running for cover.

Getting to campsite #8, I investigated. This was much more like it. The site was a bit bare, but it is completely isolated from the trail. What’s more there was moving water in the creek nearby.

I decided that I’d relocate here for the night, and carried on with the hike.

The first part of the Red trail is a very easy walk along the creek valley. After campsite #8 the trail crosses the creek, goes past the fork to the right for the Red Trail short cut, then runs through some open land before starting to climb along the edge of the wilderness.

Red Trail, Woods Fork Creek crossing near campsite #8. There used to be a bridge across the creek, but it got washed out a few years ago and it has never been replaced.

The trail is rough going for a while. At the top of the climb, the trail forks right. I’ve often wondered where the unmarked trail, that runs straight on goes. The day was my own, so I decided to follow it just to see where it went.

It pays to check around for blazes when you come to trail forks at Busiek. There is a nice big red blaze on the tree center right of the picture, and that’s the way the trail goes.

My first exploration off the Red Trail led me to this very well kept private cemetery just outside the Busiek boundary.

It stopped at the wilderness boundary, and just the other side was a well kept private cemetery. There is a trail leading back to the Red Trail from near the cemetery, but it is very steep (1:2) and covered in loose gravel. The trail end is also blocked by a fallen tree and marked ‘Trail Closed’. The best route back is to just retrace your steps back to the fork with the Red Trail.

I retraced my steps back to the fork, and then carried along the Red Trail. Once it stops climbing, the trail hugs the contours for a nice easy hike. I spotted a stock pond above the trail and did a bit of bushwhacking to investigate. The pond had recently dried up, so I took advantage of the spot to stop and sit and watch for a while. Before I knew it I’d been there a couple of hours.

Gary on the Red Trail at Busiek. A convenient tree stump offers a photo opportunity.

Some parts of the trail are closed for ‘Vegetation Recovery’ the new routes are always very obvious. It the trail isn’t obvious, you’ve probably accidently left it at some point. Simply retrace your steps.

Once more on the Red Trail, just at the point where it starts to get rough going again prior to the descent to join the  Yellow Trail, there was another unmarked fork heading South.

We’ve found some intermittent falls south of where I was on the Yellow trail, and I had a suspicion that this unmarked trail might lead there. Spurred on by my earlier success at exploring I decided to follow it, the trail was very well travelled. It started with a climb, and I very quickly came across a fork to the left. That wasn’t going to go where I wanted so I took a right and sure enough, after a mile or so I was standing at the top of the falls, which of course were dry.

Off the regular trails at Busiek

I’d passed a  major fork in the trail on the way.  I thought it might get me down to the Yellow Trail near the shortcut – my other mapping objective for the day. I retraced my steps and took the fork to the west. I’d just started descending a fairly rugged section when I saw an old abandoned vehicle in the brush. Ginger did some research on the Internet and we reckon it’s a 1930s Dodge Humpback Panel Van.

Abandoned 1930s Dodge Panel Van – Busiek State Forest and Wildlife Area

Like most things in the Ozarks, it had been used for target practice over the years.  I have no idea how it got there. Looking at the size of the trees this was probably an open area around twenty-thirty or so years ago. 

1936 Dodge Humpback Panel


Here’s a picture of a restored 1936 Dodge Humpback Panel Van

I was so engrossed in looking around I didn’t notice the deer that crept up on me, so we were both quite surprised when we noticed each other about twelve feet apart.

Following the trail down, I was obviously on a lucky streak as it joined the Yellow Trail just above the start of the Yellow Trail short cut. I noticed that the trail I had come down is signed as closed. There were no signs at the top of the trail, and it looks to be very well travelled.

Trail Closed, though by the look of the trail that’s not stopping people from hiking it.

There was a tree down across the trail at the start of the Yellow Trail shortcut – a hazard on any hiking trail. This one was recent. MDC keeps the trails at Busiek well maintained so I’d expect this to be cut and removed fairly quickly.

Tree down at the eastern end of the Yellow Trail Short Cut – Busiek State Forest and Wildlife Area

Checking carefully for snakes and poison ivy, I climbed over the tree and carried on, coming to the point where the trail crosses the creek. I was surprised at not only how wide the creek is here (although dry), but how deep it gets, 20 feet of more. There were some very big pools, so I decided to investigate further. I already had a theory that the creek was still running, but it was running under the gravel and rocks of the creek bed. Sure enough I could see the water running into the gravel at the lower end of the pools. I picked a big pool, checked for snakes, and enjoyed a surprisingly cold dip.

Cooling off in a pool on Woods Fork

I was back on the trail shortly before 5pm, and I met the only person I saw on the trails during my stay. Barry from Marshfield and his dog were engaged in a very fast, long and hard hike. He’d not been to Busiek before, so I gave him my map and set him back on the Yellow Trail which he was hoping to hike. He was going to hike significantly further than I would my entire trip, and in only a few hours.

I hiked back around to campsite #8, set up camp and gathered wood to be ready for the bugs and the night

The approach to Campsite #8 – Busiek State Forest and Wildlife Area

Campsite #8 – Busiek State Forest and Wildlife Area

Bending the rules at Campsite #8. I had booked campsite #7 because it was furthest away from the parking lot. I had wanted Campsite #8, but I was told I couldn’t use it because it was a group site for boy scouts etc. Campsite #7 was right on the trail and didn’t have any running water, so I decided to bend the rules and overnight at Campsite #8 anyway. I had seen the booking sheet and knew it wasn’t booked, and who was going to want to use it mid week?

I’d drunk all 6.75 liters of water I was carrying so I filtered some more before I settled down to cook and eat dinner by the creek. While I was enjoying the peace and quiet a mother raccoon and three cubs arrived on the opposite bank. The cubs were sent up a tree and the mother proceeded to tell me off in no uncertain terms for preventing them getting to their supper by the creek. I had had my dinner, so I picked up my stuff and left them to theirs. I went back to the campsite to light the fire and contemplate the day.

The higher parts of Woods Fork were still running. This is where I topped up my water and had my dinner.

This time the night didn’t go without incident. Shortly before midnight I was woken by the noise of bottles chinking and I saw a couple of headlamps coming down the trail towards my campsite. I flashed my headlamp in their direction, and that was enough to dissuade them from approaching closer. They went away and I heard nothing more of them. It was probably just a couple of guys looking for a place to party – though campsite 8 is quite a remote spot to walk to at midnight.

Day Two

Rain didn’t figure in my plans, and neither did being woken up at 6am by being rained on. So I leapt up, grabbed the fly sheet and proceeded to try and set it.

Rain – rather unexpected. That’ll teach me to not bring the weather radio

As I’ve said, this is the first time I’d backpacked with this tent, and although I’ve set it up a few times, I’ve never set it half asleep, in the rain, without glasses and naked.

First of all I put the fly on inside out. Then back to front; with the door on the wrong side, and finally I had a lot of trouble getting the fly’s hooks to clip into the tent’s ‘Jakes Foot’ connector.

I’m not a fan of the ‘Jakes Foot’ it’s fiddly, and being made of plastic likely to fail. I much prefer the simple grommets that hold our Mutha Hubba tent together. I finally managed to get it all hooked up and the fly staked out. I’d also left my coffee in my food bag which was up a tree a little way down the trail, so I trotted off to get that. It’s a good thing that my feet are hardened as I didn’t stop to put shoes on. The rain was coming down heavily by now.

My Sierra Designs Lighting XT 1 Tent – in the rain

I really don’t know how they use paracord in parachutes. My experience is that is gets itself in an unrecognizable tangle just sitting untouched on the ground. It won’t hold a knot – which I guess is good on a parachute, unless, as I now discovered, it gets wet. In which case the darned knots really don’t want to come undone. So I struggled with the knot until it finally came undone. I got back to the tent totally drenched, and dried myself on my shirt as I didn’t pack a backpacking towel. There was nothing else for other than to go back to sleep.

The rain was slow to clear, I was beginning to think I’d be hiking out in the rain, which was not going to be fun as I didn’t bring any wet weather gear, or the rain cover for the backpack.

Then I had an idea. By opening the top of the door on the flysheet I discovered I could make a very good temporary trail poncho that would keep me and my pack dry.

Fortunately, around eleven the sky lifted a bit and it stopped raining. Even so the delay meant I’d have to change my plans to hike the west side of Busiek. I definitely wanted to finish mapping the Red Trail, which meant hiking the short cut, and then climbing the ridge to where I’d taken the umarked fork the day before being picked up at the parking lot at 3pm.

And so it was. The Red Trail shortcut runs mainly along the low flat terrain, though the climb up to the Red Trail proper is fairly rough. Once on the Red Trail I climbed back up the trail to the fork. The trail here as on the other side is quite rough.

The Red Trail can be quite rough in places

How rough? Judge for yourself, above is a picture which gives an idea of the rocky steps and loose stones you have to negotiate.

I followed the unmarked trail, taking the left fork this time, and it climbed up a very narrow ridge with steep drop-offs on either side. Along the trail I found an Ozarks style hunting stand and further on the trail ended at the wilderness’ boundary.

Tree stand – Ozarks style.

The unmarked trail ended at the wilderness’ boundary

I had wanted to have a bath in the creek at the campsite before I left, but the late start had forced me to abandon that plan. I checked the time, checked how long it’d take to get back to the trailhead parking lot, and decided I had just enough time to re-visit the pool I’d had a float in the previous day.

Back at the swimming hole

Waiting for Ginger at the Busiek East Side Trailhead Parking Lot

I arrived at the trailhead with 15 minutes to spare. In two days I hiked a modest 11 miles and climbed 1,200 feet. Not bad lugging 6 liters of water around in temperatures that hovered around the late eighties, early nineties.

Now I’ve got to update the Busiek trail map

Gear

We don’t usually do gear lists, but a couple of days backpacking requires as much stuff as a couple of weeks (excluding the food), so I thought this might be of interest.

Gear List

  • Sierra Designs Lightning XT 1 person tent and footprint (I brought the fly too, which was just as well)
  • Therm-a-rest Pro Lite Plus Sleeping Pad
  • GoLite 1+ season Quilt
  • Therm-a-Rest Trekker Chair (a luxury but worth the extra 8 ounces)
  • MSR Dromedary 6 liter water carrier
  • MSR Sweetwater pump and filter
  • .75 Liter steel water bottle
  • MSR Pocket Rocket stove
  • Coleman Blended fuel gas canister
  • .5 liter aluminium pot
  • Ziploc brand 2 cup bowl
  • Camp saw
  • 50′ paracord
  • Cat hole trowel
  • Emergency kit
  • Bug spray
  • Knife
  • Food
  • Headlamp
  • GPS
  • Camera
  • Cell Phone
  • Printed trail map & camping permit
  • Hiking Pole

Clothes


What I had on my back, plus my hat, bandanna, and a lightweight fleece, as much for a pillow as anything. No wet weather gear, no towel.

By the end of the trip I’d used everything except the camp saw and Emergency kits. Which is good, it means I wasn’t carrying too much excess weight.


 

What do you think?