Bell Mtn, Bell Wilderness, Mark Twain Nat’l Forest, Missouri, Feb 28, 1998

As Kevin is gagging and pouring a whole bottle of home brew Porter beer on the rocks, I am too tired to do anything but laugh uncontrollably. It seems something “foreign” had found its way into his beer bottle and it strangely looks like a worm…..

That occurred at the end of the hike, but the day started much better. Kevin, yet another good friend who I met over the Internet some two years ago, myself, and my Aussie dog, Opal decided to do Bell Mtn today.

Kevin had graciously hiked every weekend with me in Missouri in the fall of 96 while I was preparing for the Mexican Volcanoes and him for ultra-trail running. He had opened my eyes to some of the most beautiful state parks and wild areas of Missouri such as Hawn State park, St Francois State Park and Mark Twain National Forest.

It had been way too long since we had been out so we decided on Bell Mtn, a 1702’ mountain that was adorned with rock glades and open vistas that make hiking enjoyable.

The Bell Mtn Wilderness is part of the St Francois Mountains, one of the oldest landforms in North America. The wilderness is named for a family that once lived and farmed along the ridge top.

We started at an Ozark Trail parking area at about 970’ ascending 4 miles to the summit at 1702’ through an oak and hickory forest. We all wanted a good work out and this hike seemed to offer it in about 4 miles to the summit. Kevin, Opal and I set out under sunny skies and crisp temperatures. Opal immediately began to enjoy herself running through any mud and water she could find on the steep switch backed trail.

We made good time up the switchbacks, gaining a ridge that allowed for far reaching views to the north. The weather report had called for developing rain or snow, but it was nowhere to be seen. As Kevin and I caught up on what had been happening lately, we continued along the well-marked Ozark Trail. This trail runs for 200+ miles and when it is finished will stretch for 500 and connect with Arkansas’ Ozark Highlands Trail.

The trail followed the ridge spur and then doubled back on itself and soon we came to the intersection of the Bell Mtn loop trail. We left behind the Ozark trail and now were treated to a fairly level 1.5 mile ridge walk; what a treat in the Ozarks! As we approached the two hour mark, we also approached the summit and began the final gradual climb to the top of Bell Mtn. It was fantastic on tops and we lunched on the numerous rock outcroppings looking south to the Missouri High Point in Tam Sauk State Park.

We did notice the clouds started to build and when the sun was blocked it began to get quite chilly, so we finished up our sandwiches, Opal her dog chow, and we clambered to our feet to head back down.

It took a while to warm as the air was getting colder, the clouds were now blanketing the skies, and we were not working so hard going down. But down we went, retracing the level ridge walk, then around the spur to the switchbacks. Opal and I lengthened the pace nearing the end and reached the trail head at about noon. A group of five guys were just leaving for an overnight backpack.

We made it back to the cars where Kevin and I traded various types of homebrew (we both brew our own beer) and we sampled an IPA that Kevin had made. He enjoyed that one so much he then tried his Porter, which resulted in the pouring of it into the rocks as described in the initial paragraph. While we were relaxing another car pulled up with two other men for an overnight on Bell Mtn, certainly a worthy idea. I cleaned Opal up the best I could and we all piled into our cars for the 2+ hour drive back to the St Louis/ IL area.

It had been a great hike, good exercise, and one I may drag my son up in the very near future! I just wonder if it really was a worm…?

Beta: 8 Miles RT, 800’ elevation gain, 4 hours