Friday, January 1, 2016

FAQ - Waterfall Hiking Glossary and Frequently Asked Questions

1/1/2016 Why?  What?  When?  and ???  This is a work in progress;  If you have any questions or comments about my blog, ask away.
Here it is, two years to the day since I started this blog.  I have posted 98 blog posts in that time and had a great time honing my hiking and documentation skills, as well as meeting some terrific folks.  Along the way, there have been many, many, comments and questions.  So, I think it's about time to make a special post to clarify what I can.  Here are the answers to the questions in the back of your head when you read about my hiking adventures:

Why do you even write a blog?
Good question.  After I retired, I was finally able to get out and devote some time to hiking in the great beauty of the Natural State.  Writing was another of the things I always wanted to do in retirement; I think I have at least a couple pretty good books in me.  My wife Bethany was the one that suggested I start chronicling my adventures in the outdoors.  She thought that not only would I enjoy the interaction with readers, but it would give me something to look back on as a memory enhancer, and something the kids and grandkids would find interesting.  The blog does take up some time, but I have to admit, once again, my wife was right.  She always lets me know I'm 'Mr. Right'.  In my experience, she is 'Mrs. Always Right'.

What is a "hollow"?  What do you mean by "prong"?  What the heck is <fill in Rick's weird terminology here> ???
I made this the first question because I get quite a few comments of this nature.  I have decided to create a glossary here that I can point to from all my other blog posts.

 - Bear Crack - No, this is not the outdoors version of plumber's crack.  See 'Bluffline Break' below.  Bears are great climbers of trees, but not so great at climbing up or down sheer cliffs.   Bluffline breaks that are a literal crack in the bluff that has a slope from the top of the bluff cliff to the bottom is referred to as a bear crack.  And yes, I have seen signs that bears have used them.

 - Bench - A bench refers to the relatively flat area along the top of a bluff.  Generally, this is where the hardest layer of sedimentary rock is, so the softer rock erodes above it first, creating the bench.  This is where you will usually find old trace roads and logging roads, and is also often the easiest hiking.

 - Bluffline - The geology of the Ozarks is such that there are very steep, sometimes sheer, bluffs running along most drainages.  In fact, where creeks run over those bluffs is where you find waterfalls.  The line along where these bluffs run is called the bluffline.

 - Breaks or Bluffline Breaks - These are access points at which the bluffline is "broken" so that it is not-so-sheer.  Sometimes these are still quite steep and treacherous, but if I identify it as a "bluffline break", that's because I think it is accessible by the reasonably cautious hiker.  Sometimes, blufflines go on for a mile or more without a break.  If I find one in an extended bluffline, I will mark the GPS coordinates for future use.

  - Bushwhack - A 'Bushwhack' is just a hike with no trail.  Some areas have volunteer trails that are not maintained and are little better than a bushwhack.  Of course, some terrain is rougher than others, and I'll typically rate a hike as an easy, moderate, or difficult bushwhack.  If it's a trail, I don't think it needs a rating.  Some of those are physically exhausting, like the Compton Trail returning from Hemmed-In Hollow Falls, but it's still a maintained trail.  Take your time; no heart attacks or strokes are allowed in hiking.

 - Drainage - this is any chunk of land where water collects and drains out.  Drainage systems are made up of several drainages.  Think of a drainage as a creek or stream, and all the land that water drains off of to provide water for the creek.

 - Food Plot - No, this food plot isn't for you.  The term "food plot" refers to a cleared area that the Forest Service at one time sowed grass and grains for deer to eat.  I believe this practice was started in the 1930s, when the CCC and WPA worked on clearing areas such as this and digging small ponds as well, which we still see throughout the Ozarks.  Deer at that time had been severely overhunted and they were trying to reintroduce and sustain the deer population.  Now, of course, that isn't a problem.  Since we have much less hunting and have killed off almost all the natural predators, deer are greatly overpopulated and you see them everywhere.  Old habits die hard in the U.S. government, and the Forest Service still goes out and brush-hogs these clearings.  The deer really don't need them, but they do make great places to park or camp.

 - Hollow"Hollow" is the term I use for drainages with creeks running only about a mile or less typically, with steep sides and a relatively steep slope up the creek itself.  "Hollow" could probably be used interchangeably with "canyon".  I think of a hollow as somewhere between a sheer-sided canyon and a broader valley;  that is, a canyon with occasional valley-like breaks in that sheer canyon cliff that one might hike through.  Most of the drainage systems in the Ozarks are named as 'Hollows", e.g. Still Hollow, Cowan Hollow, etc.  Many hollows do not have a name.

- Knob - Basically, just an Ozark mountaintop.  The majority of the Ozarks don't really have mountains, just hollows that have been carved out by erosion, leaving the chunks of rock and dirt in between.  The rounded tops are referred to as knobs, and carry that in their name.  e.g. - Freeman's Knob, Wheeler's Knob, Meadows Knob, etc.

Polyfoss - This is an area with many waterfalls in a small area, and there are many such polyfoss areas in the Arkansas Ozarks.  You won't find this term in any dictionary that I know of, but Tim Ernst uses it in his excellent guidebook Arkansas Waterfalls, and I have seen a few others use the term.  It comes from the Icelandic term 'foss', which means waterfall.  Iceland has about a bazillion fantastic waterfalls.  Ergo 'polyfoss' means 'many waterfalls'.

 - ProngMost hollows in the Ozarks have a number of smaller side creeks feeding into the main creek running the length of the hollow.   That is, there are small hollows feeding into larger hollows.  On the Topo maps, these tend to look like prongs on a fork, so I refer to these tributary drainages as "prongs". 

 - Spur - Where two drainages flow together to join a single stream, the ridge between the two hollows/drainages/valleys typically tapers down to the elevation of the junction.  This ridge between the mouths of the two drainages is referred to as a "spur" and is often where you will find old roads from the mountain ridges down into the creek bottom lands.

How do you know waterfalls are unnamed before you name them?  Why do you leave so many beautiful waterfalls without names?
I do a lot of due diligence when I explore a new area, looking at Tim Ernst's guidebook,  the world waterfall database, Google Earth, Panoramio, several sites of other waterfall chasers, general internet searches, etc.  If someone has documented a waterfall somewhere, anywhere, I take that at face value and use the same name for consistency.  If it has more than one name documented, I'll generally pick the more highly used name and mention the other.  But there are many, many waterfalls that are yet unnamed in the Arkansas Ozarks.  

I notice you have named a few waterfalls yourself.  How do waterfalls get named?
The rules are simple;  if you find it, you get to name it.  That being said, the name needs to be documented and published so that there is a record showing initial usage of the name for a particular waterfall.  Properly document it somewhere and as the waterfall becomes more well known, others will pick up the name and carry it forward.  I'm always amazed at the beautiful waterfalls I find that are virtually unknown in modern times.  We have a tradition in our family for finding an unknown waterfall and naming after newborn babies.  There are many, many, more unnamed waterfall candidates than we will ever get enough babies to name them for.

It's great that you list GPS coordinates for all the waypoints important to the areas you hike in, but sometimes there are soooo many.  It's haaaarrd to enter them all into my GPS.  Can you make it eeeeasy?
  Actually, I think I can.  After getting such a request, I started putting all the waypoints for a specific area into a single stand-alone waypoint file.  Whenever there are more than a handful of points, anyway.  I have done this for the last few hikes; let me know what you think.  I use Garmin's GPX format for the files because most applications can import that.  There are free tools online to convert GPX files to KML or other formats.

Why do you list coordinates for parking locations when you give very specific directions on how to get there?
Directions are great, but we have become a society dependent on GPS navigation units.  Heck, I have even started relying on it myself.  Many GPS units allow entering coordinates for a location to get to.  I have started sticking the coordinates into the Nav unit in the FJ Cruiser and letting Agnetha (the lady in my Nav that tells me where to go) talk me all the way to the parking location.  If you aren't as lazy as I am or don't have a GPS, I try to make the directions as clear as possible.

What kind of handheld GPS do you recommend?
Ah, now you are talking about personal preferences.  Just as it is with many things, people like what they know and use.  I did a lot of research before getting a handheld GPS and chose the DeLorme PN-60.  This unit does everything I needed and does it well.  As an added benefit, it comes with a free copy of the entire Topo North America, which most other manufacturers want you to pay more for.

I can't afford a handheld GPS.  What about the smartphone apps for hiking?
There are some good ones out there.  For the Android phones, I have tried a few and I have to admit I love an app called Backcountry Navigator.  It has an amazing feature set and gives you access to a plethora of map sources.  It also lets you cache or save maps on your phone, which is critically important.  Most of the places I hike do not have cell phone service coverage, so if you use Google Maps or anything else that requires retrieving map data over the internet, it won't help you much when you are out in the woods.   I don't like iPhones, but folks that do tell me Gaia is pretty good.  I have tried Gaia on my Android phones and it is pretty good, just not as quite good as Backcountry Navigator, in my humble opinion.  I understand Backcountry Navigator is making an iPhone version as well.  I recommend that whatever phone you use, try out all of them and pick the one you like best for the way you will use it.

You have mentioned seeing bears and cougars.  Do you carry a handgun on your hikes?
Sometimes.  If hiking with others, I rarely do.  Wild critters might attack a lone human, but not usually.  In general, they are afraid of humans and will try to avoid them if at all possible.  Wild hogs are the exception simply because they are just crazy.  If going into an area with a lot of wild hogs, I will take my handgun.  If it's just Boomer and me hiking, I often carry it because I just don't know how he will react and what the animal may do to him when he tries to protect me.  

What about snakes?  I read where Boomer got bit by a copperhead on one hike.
Yes, Arkansas has snakes.  Lots of them.  I don't worry about it, and I don't wear 'snake gators' or any other protection on my legs.  Boomer did step on a copperhead and got bit on the foot, and it did just about do him in.  But I weigh almost twice as much and I'm not barefoot.  I can also recognize the species that are venomous and I know what to do if I get bitten.  I have, in fact, been bitten by snakes, but never while hiking.  I have never heard of anyone getting snake bitten while hiking.  As I said, I don't worry about it.

How much water do you carry with you on hikes?
If hiking where there is water, which is almost all the time, one water bottle in my pack.  If there is no water where I am going, I make sure I take plenty, and I know my intake levels for the weather conditions.  But if there are Ozark mountain streams to get water from, why carry the extra weight?  If there is any kind of human occupation in the drainage, or if the water is cloudy or dirty, I carry a Lifestraw in my pack.  But I rarely hike in areas where people have lived in the past several decades, and generally, the water in the creeks is crystal clear.  I just drink right from those creeks, and refill my water bottle from them, preferably in waterfalls so I know the water has been aerated.  Yes, I know.  You are totally grossed out and think I'm going to die a slow death from numerous devastating and debilitating diseases, or at the very least drink some giardia and have Montezuma's revenge for weeks.  It hasn't happened yet, after several years of doing this.  I believe it is good for my immune system.  You decide for yourself.

I see that you hike alone quite a bit, or only take Boomer (our German Shepherd).  Aren't you afraid you will break a leg or something and it will be weeks before someone finds your decomposed carcass?
When you hike alone, what happens when you break your leg?  Or ankle, or have a heart attack, or ...  Good question.  Very good question.  I do in fact worry about that.  I do carry some basic first aid stuff - ace bandage, etc.  I let my wife, Bethany, know where I will be.  She knows I always try to get out before dark, and if she doesn't hear from me by then, she will call the sheriff's office for the appropriate county.  So I have to give myself time to get back to the vehicle and drive back to where I have cell phone reception.  Most places I hike don't have coverage by any cell phone carrier.  But she still worries; if I'm incapacitated, there is little chance a SAR team can find me after dark and sometimes in those situations, minutes count.
- Update 2/9/2016 - I have long considered getting a satellite messenger or personal locator beacon.  An incident in which a fellow hiker died a couple of weeks ago has convinced me to follow through on this.  I don't know if the difference in response time would have made a difference, but even though his hiking companions made a remarkably heroic effort to get help (while one remained with him), it still took hours to hike back, drive to cell phone range, and lead a SAR team back.  As I said before, sometimes minutes count.
  - My new safeguard is a satellite messenger.  I evaluated PLB's (Personal Locator Beacons), but a satellite messenger has more features and functions beyond simply sending an SOS, so I went that direction.  After comparing the Spot Gen3 and the Delorme InReach, and getting a lot of feedback from backcountry adventurers, I have purchased a Delorme InReach.  I can not only send out a distress call with my coordinates that will be picked up and handled by GEOS, but I can communicate via the Iridium satellite network completely independent of cell phone coverage.  I can send preset text messages to Bethany such as "I'm OK, just checking in."  I can send any text, but the on-screen keyboard is kind of clunky to operate, so having preset messages that I define helps a lot.  The InReach was the only one I found that would let others text me as well.  So Bethany can contact me if SHE has some sort of emergency, and if I do get into an emergency situation, I can not only call for help, but I can communicate with rescuers as well.  This ability to get confirmation that my messages actually were received is what tipped the decision to the InReach instead of the Spot Gen3.  There are also features for letting others track your location real-time, and for them to request a location ping at any time.  In future blogs, I'll let you know how it works for me out in the wilderness.  Hopefully, I will never have to need it.
- Update 5/29/2016 - After using the Delorme InReach a few months, and on several hikes, I love it.  Bethany loves it, and that's good enough for me.  They are expensive, and the lowest cost service plan is still $13/month, but it is money well spent.  I recommend it.
- Update 5/15/2017 - Still loving the Delorme InReach.  It is now an essential part of my hiking gear.  On my way out to explore any natural state goodness, Bethany's only question on most days is, "Do you have your LowJack (the InReach)?"

What kind of camera equipment do you use?  How do you get waterfalls to look like that?
And by "that", they mean with the water motion blurred, or smooth.  The trick is knowing the exposure triangle and how to use it to get a longer exposure time while still having the correct exposure.  I use a Nikon 1 V3 because it is a very full functioned DSLR in a compact, lightweight form factor, but any decent DSLR camera with a manual mode will be okay.  I use a variable ND filter, but you can get by without an ND or CPL filter.  I'm more of a hiker than a photographer, so without getting into waterfall photography 101, just search for "how to photograph waterfalls" on the internet.  There are lots of simple how-to articles, such as this one:
 - Update 5/15/2017 - Well, I'm now much more into waterfall photography than I used to be.  I loved the Nikon 1 V3, but it is a CX frame size and can only capture so much.  I still highly recommend it but have moved up in camera to a Nikon D500.  I generally leave a 16-80 mm lens on it with a variable ND filter.  It is expensive but is an awesome camera.  It still fits in my sling pack with the lens on it but does add a couple pounds to my pack weight.  I have used it for a couple of months and am very impressed so far.


  1. Interesting on the why you decided to write a blog. I have found that I love "reliving" the hike by going through the photos an remembering different aspects of the hike -- allowing me the opportunity to enjoy the memories of the hike (which, psychologically is as important as going on the hike itself). If I didn't write a blog, sometimes the pictures I took would never get looked at again.

  2. Rick Henry,

    My name is Morgan Church and I'm with 417 Magazine; an editorial lifestyle magazine located in Springfield, Missouri. In our upcoming March issue we are doing a feature on places to rock climb in the area and are in desperate need of pictures. I happened upon some photos of Stack Rock (in Snowball, AR) on the Mountain Project website and was wondering if we could use some of your photos. All photo credit will be given to you of course, and we would greatly appreciate it. If you could email me any of the photos or if it'd be easier just to grant me permission to use the photos off the website/Facebook it would help so much! We are also featuring Rock Creek (northwest AR), and Stack Rock (Snowball, AR) so if you also had any photos available of those sites too, please let me know.

    My email is, and the office phone 417-883-7417.

    I hope to hear from you soon,
    Morgan Church

    1. Morgan, sorry it took me so long to notice your comment and get back to you. But yes, feel free to use any photos you find on my blog.

  3. GREAT blog.

    Very useful and informative.

    IF I HAD TO define the single most useful part of your blog, it is easily the GPX files. VERY handy.

    1. Not a blogger user so I don't have a profile. I'm trying to change that.

      Chuck Gibson

  4. Hi Rick!! I always appreciate the time you put into your blog and have utilized it many times. Right now I'm looking for some coordinates for Devil's Eyebrow outside of Garfield. Have you been there?

  5. Hi Rick!! I always appreciate the time you put into your blog and have utilized it many times. Right now I'm looking for some coordinates for Devil's Eyebrow outside of Garfield. Have you been there?

    1. Never heard of it, but the name is certainly interesting.