Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Hemmed-In Hollow Falls and Diamond Falls, Buffalo National River Wilderness

5/13/2014 -  Hemmed-In Hollows Falls, Diamond Falls hike from Compton Trailhead

GPS Coordinates:  Lat/Lon/Elevation
  Parking Location:  36.08091,  -93.30353,  2246 ft.
  Hemmed-In Hollows Falls:  36.07213,  -93.30753,  1278 ft.
  Diamond Falls:  36.07167,  -93.30946,  1349 ft.  1356 ft. 
  HIH Downstream Falls #1:  36.07096,  -93.30791,  1125 ft.
  HIH Downstream Falls #2:  36.07027,  -93.30821,  1081 ft.
  HIH Downstream Falls #3:  36.07102,  -93.30878,  1066 ft.
  Sharp left turn in trail:  36.06447,  -93.30927,  1127 ft.
  Campsite #1:  36.06681,  -93.31252,  1391 ft.
  Campsite #2:  36.06466,  -93.30909,  1116 ft.
  Wild Vic's Cabin:  36.07501,  -93.30945,  1934 ft.

Pet Friendly: No.  This area is operated by the National Park Service, not the Forest Service.  They feel the need for a lot more control and rules, so no dogs allowed on the trail.  Horses are allowed on the 'yellow tagged' trails, but only hikers on the 'white tagged' trails.

Motorcycle Friendly: Not for me, but I have a heavy road cruiser.  It's only a little over a mile on gravel roads, so others might find it acceptable.

GPS files:
  GPS track file: Hike to Hemmed-In Hollow Falls (.gpx format)
  GPS track file: Diamond Falls to Hemmed-In Hollow Falls(.gpx format)

Hemmed-In Hollow Falls (209')
Hemmed-In Hollow Falls and Diamond Falls are two of the tallest waterfalls in Arkansas.  In fact, at 209 feet high, Hemmed-In Hollow Falls is the tallest waterfall between the Appalachians and the Rocky Mountains.  I figured today would be a good day to visit Hemmed-In Hollow for a number of reasons.  With our busy travel schedule, this was looking like my only free day for hiking in the next couple of weeks.  It was raining today at our home north of Dover, but it looked like it would stop raining for at least a few hours around mid-day in the Ponca area, so some of the waterfalls in that area looked promising.  Also, Boomer was still recovering from the snake bite he got while we were hiking last week, and the trails in Buffalo National River area do not allow dogs on the trail, so while he was out of commission I thought I would do some hiking in the Buffalo NR area. 

Diamond Falls (148')
To get there, go to the small community of Compton, 8.8 miles north of Ponca on Highway 43.  The small Compton post office will be on the left (coming from Ponca).  Turn right on the gravel road across the highway from the post office.  This is NC-2700.  At the first intersection, turn right (to stay on NC-2700).  Go another 0.8 miles and turn right on NC-2720.  There is a sign pointing to the Compton Trailhead.  There is a large parking area on the left after you turn down this road.  Park there and look carefully at the signs on the two trails from this trailhead.  The one on the right is for the Sneeds Creek horse trail, and the one on the left is the Hemmed-In Hollow trail.

The trail down into Hemmed-In Hollow is fantastic, from a hiking perspective.  It is well defined and easy to follow, is well maintained, and sees a fair amount of traffic.  I hear a lot of complaints about the climb coming OUT of the hollow, and indeed it is an elevation climb of 1180 feet.  But that climb is stretched out over a mile or so of trail, so at any given point the trail itself is not that steep.  In fact, in many places the trail architects have placed large flat rocks to form stair steps.  It is a lot of climbing, but not difficult in that there is no bushwhack involved, nor any stretches so steep you have to climb instead of hike.  Some folks have avoided this hike because they have heard it is so strenuous, (it even says "steep and strenuous" on the bulletin board at the trailhead).  If you pace yourself on the way back and give yourself plenty of time, it should be do-able for anyone in halfway decent shape.  That is Rick's opinion, in any case.  I have put a 3-D topological map of this route at the bottom of this post so you can get a feel for the hike involved.

Hemmed-In Hollow Trailhead
It took me two hours to drive to the 80 miles to Compton Trailhead, because of the rain and some SMV's on Highway 7.  It was still raining when I parked, and looked like it would keep up a light rain for a while.  So much for all the weather forecasts.  Fortunately, we carry a couple of plastic rain ponchos in the glove box, so I got one out, put it over myself and the backpack, and got on the trail.  I looked like a giant blue smurf, but it isn't like I'm the epitome of fashion when on the trail anyway.  Plus, I was the only one crazy enough to hike in the rain, so I had the trail to myself for now.  Reset your GPS at the trailhead, and soon after you leave it, you cross the upper headwaters of Hemmed-In Hollow
Intersection with Bench Trail
Creek.  Don't be concerned if it doesn't look like much water flow.  That is the top of the creek and it picks up quite a bit before going over 
Hemmed-In Hollow Falls.  At 0.79 miles, you come to an intersection with what is known as the bench trail (it runs on the bench above the Hemmed-In Hollow bluffline).  Go straight through this intersection, or somewhat straight, anyway.  There is a sign post that even points the way. 

The trail to this point is fairly moderate, dropping less than 300 feet over almost a mile.  The next mile is much steeper, but as previously mentioned, the trail's descent is very well managed.  At 1.52 miles, there is a campsite on the left.  Going out the back of this campsite is a short path to the edge of the bluff, where you can get a view of the entire hollow with Hemmed-In Hollow Falls on the bluff wall opposite you.  Continuing on down the trail, at 1.8 miles you come to another intersection with a signpost.  The Hemmed-In Hollow trail takes a sharp left turn here, then shortly after that is another good campsite.  For you hikers that like to pack in and camp overnight, this is your last chance.  Camping is not allowed down in the hollow itself.

Downstream Waterfall #3
At 2.2 miles you cross a small creek, and at 2.27 miles come to Hemmed-In Hollow Creek, where the trail branches again.  Turn left here to go upstream.  If you stop on the Buffalo River at Horseshoe Bend, this is the trail that comes from the river along the west side of the creek.  Once you turn upstream, Hemmed-In Hollow Falls is only a quarter mile upstream.  There are several waterfalls along this creek, starting as soon as you turn upstream.  You cross another small creek here, I believe this is the creek Diamond Falls feeds.  If you look upstream, you will see a small waterfall on that creek, and right next to the trail is a nice double waterfall with that creek and Hemmed-In Hollow Creek both having side-by-side waterfalls.

Downstream Waterfall #2
There is another waterfall that you can hear as you hike along the trail, but
you can't see it clearly.  There is a trail of sorts that goes down to the creek to get access to this second downstream waterfall, then continues on down along the creek.  Further upstream, there is yet another really pretty waterfall.  It can be seen from the trail, but you will have to scramble down off the trail a little to get a good view of it.  Whenever there are a number of smaller waterfalls in the area, I always try to see as many as I can, but generally save them for the way back.  That is exactly what I did today, going straight to the main attraction and saving the smaller falls, the mid-trail view of the hollow, and Wild Vic's cabin for the way back.

Hemmed-In Hollow Falls (209')
Hemmed-In Hollow Falls is just spectacular.  At 209 feet, it is the tallest waterfall for literally hundreds of miles.  Hemmed-In Hollow did not get the amount of rainfall we had received at home, but it still had plenty of flow to look great.  The waterfall is so tall, it is impossible to find a viewpoint where the entire waterfall can be captured in a photo.  The foliage will get in the way when you get back from the falls far enough for the widest angle lens I carry.  There are a lot of photos of this waterfall, but I can assure you they don't really do it justice.  As usual, you need to be there to properly experience it.  It had stopped raining a few minutes before I got to the falls, so I hung up the poncho to dry and started just savoring the magnificence of this place.  

To get a better perspective of the falls, you need to get up on the series of ledges around the waterfall grotto.  Easier said than done, especially with wet rocks and slick muddy soil.  I first went up close to the falls on the left side, but you can only go so high there.  It is fine for taking some side view photos, but not for accessing the level you need to be at to go to Diamond Falls.  If you look at photos of Hemmed-In Hollow Falls, you will see a large dead tree behind the falls about 60 or 70 feet above the base.  That is, where the vestiges of plants end and the cliff rises above it.  That is the level you need to be at to follow the bluff around to the left to Diamond Falls.  On the right as you face the waterfall, the slope is such that you can scramble up to gain access to this level.  Traditionally, folks scrambled up the right side, then crossed behind the falls at this level.  I do NOT recommend doing that any 
Ancient Cedars on Diamond Falls Route
(Hemmed-In Hollow Falls is at Upper left)
longer.  While the ledge here was relatively dry due to the overhang, you are still walking on loose dirt and gravel, and the ledge has deteriorated such that at one point you only have six inches or so to stand on as you go around behind the falls.  At this point, if you slip it is pretty much straight down with nothing to break your fall, and the it is solid rock at the bottom.  By the time I got to this point, I was past the point of no return and it was safer to proceed on than to try to turn around.  So I proceeded on, but I vowed to find a better way coming back.  I do NOT recommend anyone take this route any longer, even if you are not deathly afraid of heights as I am.  One slip and you have to go back in a body bag.  That would NOT be a good end to a great day of hiking.

Let me be clear here.  I would encourage everyone to go to Hemmed-In Hollow Falls because the trail is excellent and I believe anyone in decent shape can do it.  I can NOT say the same for Diamond Falls.  There is a trail of sorts along the bluffline base, but it is neither safe nor easy.  To get to Diamond Falls, you have to get
Rock Tunnel on Diamond Falls Route
to base of the sheer rock cliff above the creek level.  Once there, you just follow the base of the cliff as well as you can around to the left (west) and Diamond Falls is less than a quarter mile around the bend in the bluff.   Once I got away from 
Hemmed-In Hollow Falls itself and to the point where there is a little slope and some trees between you and the creek bed, I could at least breathe a little easier.  At this point, there are some ancient, gnarled, twisted, cedar trees that look like they are a bazillion years old.  You couldn't ask for a better foreground object for a side shot of the Hemmed-In Hollow Falls.

Diamond Falls (148')
Proceeding on around the bluffline from the old cedar trees, you come to a rock tunnel.  Don't go through it; there is about a 40 foot drop out the other end.  But you can scramble up and over it, then continue on around the bluffline to Diamond Falls a short way ahead.  In drier times of the year, it is a little disappointing, but today there was plenty of water flow to make it look spectacular.  At 148 feet tall, it is not quite as as tall as big brother Hemmed-In Hollow Falls around the corner, but still a big'un, as they say in Arkansas.  The creek flows off the bluff ledge, drops about a hundred feet, then hits a large sandstone outcropping before spraying off and falling the remainder of the way to the base.  Again, you just gotta be there to really appreciate the beauty.

After heading back from Diamond Falls the way I came in, I scouted along the way for a better way to get back to creek level.  Due to the ruggedness of the terrain there, the options are very limited.  I determined that the best route is to slant down the hillside from the ancient cedar trees toward the base of the falls.  It looked like some folks had made that same determination.  It was not really that difficult a descent except one place that was basically about a ten foot mud slide because the ground was so wet.  But even at this point, there were bamboo growing that I could hold onto to steady myself and keep on my feet.  Once below that mud slide, there is a about a four foot drop down onto the creek floor, which I could jump down from.  Next trip, I'll climb up there to start my trek up the slope.   I said it already, but let me emphasize - if you want to go up to the ancient cedars and Diamond Falls, do it here on the left of the falls, not by going behind the falls.  You might get a little dirty, but it is at least relatively safe.

Downstream Falls #1
After getting back at Hemmed-In Hollow Falls, I rested and hydrated a bit, then headed back.  I had plenty of afternoon left, so went down the creek to all three of the downstream falls.  There was plenty of water in the creek to make them all look pretty good.  There is a path off the trail toward the creek (Lat/Lon 36.07059, -93.30823) that goes down to the second downstream falls, then continues along the creek to the third downstream falls where you need to get back on the trail again anyway.  On the way back, I took this side trip to get a good view of all the smaller, but still beautiful, waterfalls.

Getting back on the trail, I started that long steep climb we talked about.  If you pace yourself, this shouldn't be a factor.  Unfortunately, those that know me know that I don't have much of a governor.  I pretty much have a wide open throttle all the time.  Boomer can keep up with me, but I'll wear him out on the longer
Hemmed-In Hollows Falls
from across hollow with telephoto lens
hikes.  When Bethany goes hiking with me, I'll get her to lead the way so it slows me down to a better pace.  But she opted for staying home today, getting the house ready for guests coming in and getting us ready for a trip this weekend to see our nephew's wedding.  So without anyone to pace me, I have to make myself stop and rest.  That first campsite we came to on the way down is a good place, about halfway back up the slope, and I had intentionally passed it up on the way down.  So I stopped there, wheezed and panted a little, and enjoyed the great panoramic view of the valley before me.

Wild Vic's Cabin
Moving on after catching my breath, I got back to the intersection with the bench trail and turned right (east) onto it for a quick trip to Wild Vic's cabin.  The bench trail is mostly on the level, so hiking along it is actually a breather for me.  Look for the cabin in the woods on the right about 0.16 miles from the trail intersection.  I continued on past the cabin until I came to Hemmed-In Hollow Creek to check out the trail condition.  It was not so good;  after Vic's cabin, it was very wet, the trail itself looking more like a creek with water running down it all the way to the creek crossing.  On the way back, I stopped at the cabin and explored a bit.
Wild Vic's Cabin
 I'm not sure who Vic was, or why they called him "Wild", but he sure had a great view.  The beds of Iris around the cabin where just at the end of their blooming period.

Heading back, I got back to the intersection and turned right to go back to the Compton Trailhead.  From here, it was a little less than a mile back and my little side trip to Wild Vic's cabin had given me a good breather, so the remainder of the trip went fairly quick and easy.  Just in time, too; as I got back to the parking area, it had just started a fine misting rain again.  I love the rain, and I love to hike, but I hate to hike in the rain.  At any rate, it all worked out pretty good for me today.  I only got a little bit of the rain at the first half hour of my hike, and there is something especially refreshing about hiking through the woods after a rain.  All in all, another great day in the wilderness.  If you have not made the hike to Hemmed-In Hollow Falls yet, you should.
GPS Track - Hemmed-In Hollow

Monday, May 5, 2014

Ladderbucket Falls and John Mountain Falls, Arkansas Ozarks

5/5/2014 -  Ladderbucket Falls and John Mountain Falls

GPS Coordinates:  (Latitude,  Longitude,  Elevation)
  Parking Location:  35.54143,  -92.79749,  1540 feet
  Turn off logging road:  35.55229, -92.79387,  1334 feet
  John Mountain Falls:  35.55112, -92.79336,  1223 feet
  Ladderbucket Falls:  35.54868, -92.79469,  1227 feet

Pet Friendly: Yes.  No problem for dogs off leash.  A dog kept on leash may have some difficulty going up and down the break in the bluffline.  I will add that on this particular day it was not so friendly to Boomer.  He was bit by a copperhead and we had to cut short our excursion to get him to the vet.

Motorcycle Friendly: No.  It is about 15 miles on a gravel road, no place for a heavy street bike.

GPS files:
  GPS track file to John Mountain Falls (.gpx format)

Ladderbucket Falls (36')
Boomer (our German Shepard) and I loaded up this morning for our first trip out to a couple of waterfalls, John Mountain Falls and Ladderbucket Falls.  Since it was our first time there, I did my due diligence the night before.  I looked over the directions in Tim Ernst's Arkansas Waterfalls book, looked at the maps, and plotted out a route.  I decided to try a different route both driving and hiking.  

For driving to the parking location, it looked like I could cut about five miles of dirt road off the trip by staying on Highway 27 until I could take Lindsey Mountain Road.  I knew White Oak Mountain Road to be a pretty good road, but if I can do less time on dirt roads, I'm all for it.  That was not a good idea in this case.  I had never been on Lindsey Mountain Road, and when I got to it, I found it to be pretty awful for driving.  Single lane with no room for passing, and extremely rough.  It was bone-jarring rough.  After less than a half mile, I found a spot to turn around and did so.  Back toward Hector we went to take the tried and proven route.  

Sign at 'Y' in White Oak
Mountain Road - bear left
To get there, drive north from Hector on Highway 27.  Less than a mile from the Big Piney Ranger station in Hector, you cross over Dare Creek.  Look upstream when you cross and you will see a nice little waterfall.  Immediately after crossing Dare Creek, turn right onto White Oak Mountain Road (aka FR-1301).  This is a gravel road, but is a well traveled and fairly well maintained road.  Go 11.8 miles on White Oak Mountain Road.  Be careful about seven miles from Hector and bear left where the road branches at the 'Y' in the road.  See the sign at right - you want to stay on White Oak Mountain Road at this point.  After following it for 11.8 miles, turn right onto Wilderness Trail (aka FR-1307).  Go another 3.5 miles and turn left onto Jobe's Way, then drive a quarter mile to the gate across the road and park.  There is a place to pull off Jobe's Way and park about 50 feet before you get to the gate.

By the way, that is John Mountain to your left as you drive into the parking location, hence the name of the waterfall.  If "Jobe's Way" looks more like "Jobe's driveway ruts", that's because it is.  The cleared area beyond the gate is private land, and is well posted, so please respect the landowner and stay off.  Jobe's Way and the parking location are on public land.  If you go to the left of the gate, you can swing around the cleared area, then turn back to your right and go down to the old logging road that runs from the gate out the west side of Harry Jobe's little chunk of land.  It's just a short detour through the woods and you are back on the logging road we hiked most of the way on.

Turn left onto the logging road, away from Harry's property, and stay on it as it swings around the end of the hollow.  If you stay on the logging road for almost 1.5 miles, it will swing back to the right and down to a point just north of the top of John Mountain Falls.  Where the logging road has a 'Y', keep bearing to the right, staying on it until it ends.  There has been some logging activity and a fire in the area where the logging road ends not too long ago.  Where the trail ends, you are actually only about 100 yards from the top of John Mountain Falls.  Leave the road to the right and go down a slight slope to a small creek.  This is the creek that feeds John Mountain Falls.  Cross the creek and go down a short way further toward the hollow to the bluffline.

Break in the Bluffline
The trick to seeing the waterfalls in this hollow is finding the spot where you can actually get down through the bluffline to access the base of the waterfalls.  That spot is right where the hollow's bluffline bends around to the grotto where John Mountain Falls is.  In other words, where the falls bluffline bends around to the bluffline for the main hollow.  In fact, you can see the waterfall from this point around the bluff to your left.  There are two breaks in the bluffline here that you can take to get below the cliff.  When you do, stay at the base of the rock cliff instead of going further down the slope to the creek level.  Follow the base of the bluff around, keeping the bluff to your left,  and it will take you to the base of John Mountain Falls.  

John Mountain Falls (84')
John Mountain Falls is spectacular, falling off the bluff ledge for 84 feet before hitting the rocks below.  Today, it had enough water flow to look great.  But, as with a lot of the tall waterfalls, it is difficult to get a good photo of the entire waterfall due to the foliage and height of the waterfall.  As always, being there is really the only way to properly experience it in all it's glory.  

Leaving John Mountain Falls the same way we came in, we stayed right at the base of the rock bluff and continued on past our break in the bluffline.  There is not much room between the base of the rock cliff and the steep slope off to the creek that runs through this hollow, but it's wide enough to hike along.  About halfway between John Mountain Falls and Ladderbucket Falls is another nice waterfall.  I would estimate this unnamed waterfall to be about 60 feet high.  It even has a small cave at the base of the bluff overhang, directly behind the waterfall.

Ladderbucket Falls (36')
Continuing on around the base of the bluff keeping the bluff on your right, you will come to Ladderbucket Falls.  This is a beautiful 36 foot waterfall, with a steep cascade at the top half, then falling the rest of the way into a large pool.  Ladderbucket Falls is on the main creek running down this hollow.  

From Ladderbucket Falls, we had planned on looking for a break where we could get above the bluffline again and explore the upper reaches of this drainage.  But we found nothing but the tall rock cliffs we had hiked along on the way there, so we backtracked along the base of the bluff again to get back to our original break in the bluffline near John Mountain Falls.  This was the only place we found to get back on top of the bluff, but it is less than a quarter mile between the two waterfalls, so not really a big deal. 

It was back at our break in the bluffline that Boomer got bit on his left rear paw by a snake.  I think Boomer was just a little too excited about heading back up and didn't see it until he stepped on it.  I didn't get a real close look before the snake was slung off into the hollow, but I think it was a small copperhead.  Whatever it was, it zapped him pretty good.  Even small copperheads have a full load of venom.  He still managed a slow walk, but I could tell he was not doing well at all.  Boomer normally runs all over the
Unnamed Falls between Ladderbucket
and John Mountain Falls
place, but now he barely managed to just trudge along.  He was moving so slowly that at one point I carried him for about a tenth of a mile.  He weighs 95 pounds, so the only way I could carry him was to wrap him around the back of my shoulders.  He did NOT like that at all, and let me know he wanted to be down and walking, so I put him back down.  By the time we got back to within a half mile of the car, he was starting to perk up a little, taking bigger steps and picking his head back up.  

Boomer was feeling better, obviously.  But I still got him back to town as quickly as I could, going straight to Doc and Gina, our vets.  His leg had stiffened up again on the trip back to town, but he still managed to walk in on his own.  They did their normal great job and checked him out, shaved his leg, cleaned it up, and bandaged it.  I had to leave Boomer with them overnight, for observation and shots.  But for all you Boomer fans out there (and who isn't?), it looks like he will be just fine.  He is quite the hiking machine; he could have just laid down and died, but he kept marching on.

Boomer - Mountain Dog
So we had a close call with Boomer, and getting him back to the vet was a priority.  We had passed a couple of nice waterfalls just below the logging road on the way in and had intended to check those out on the way back.  Maybe next time we'll be able to do that.  We did get to see some fantastic scenery and get out in the wilderness for a while, but we also got a stark reminder that there are hazards out there.  This is Arkansas, and this time of year snakes, ticks, and other critters are just part of the price of admission.  The waterfalls in this hollow are best seen after a good rain, but are nice with any water at all.

Boomer - bandaged, medicated, and feeling mistreated
5/6/2014 UPDATE - We got to take Boomer home from the vet this afternoon.  He has to go back Thursday for hydro-cleaning and treatment.  He has to stay for the weekend, but at least we can have him home for a couple of days.  Doc says that the flesh where he was bitten will abscess and rot, but will eventually heal and fill back in.  But for now, Boomer has to keep it bandaged and can't get the bandage wet.  It will be some time before he can go swimming or hiking again, but he will make a full recovery.  When they screened him, they found out he had also just contracted tick fever.  So he is on a pretty stiff regimen of medications for both the snake bite and the tick fever.  In a way, it's good he was bitten and was taken to the vet.  Otherwise, tick fever would have progressed significantly before we noticed the symptoms.  As you can tell from the photo, he looks like he's feeling a little mistreated.  But he's not grumpy; he's a trooper and will be good as gold and back out hiking with me soon enough.