Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Still Hollow Polyfoss - new route, Arkansas Ozarks near Freeman Springs

3/28/2016 - Still Hollow Polyfoss - new route and even more waterfalls

GPS Coordinates:  (Latitude,  Longitude,  Elevation)
  Parking Location #2:  35.64255   -93.07780,  1808 ft.
  Parking Location #4:  35.64571   -93.08644,  1431 ft.
  Trace road to eastern prongs:  35.64520   -93.09152,  1234 ft.
  Wilburn Falls:  35.65027   -93.07432,  1284 ft.
  Falls #31:  35.65033   -93.07381,  1301 ft.
  Falls #32:  35.65063   -93.07289,  1371 ft.
  Falls #33:  35.65015   -93.07130,  1364 ft.
  Houston Falls: 35.65392   -93.07865,  1307 ft 
  Maggie Falls:  35.65300   -93.07912,  1259 ft.
  Falls #34:  35.65236   -93.07962,  1228 ft.
  Beckham Falls:  35.65211   -93.07972,  1207 ft.
  Rock Chute Falls:  35.65199   -93.07973,  1197 ft.
  Bluffline Break:  35.65160   -93.07972,  1170 ft.
  Uncle Kenneth Falls:  35.65150   -93.07994,  1162 ft.
  Falls #38:  35.65064   -93.08251,  1138 ft.
  Falls #39:  35.65044   -93.08332,  1089 ft.
  The Sidewalk (Slot):  35.64828,  -93.09065,  974 ft.
  Sally Lou Falls:  35.64801   -93.09163,  961 ft.
  Still Hollow Twin Falls:  35.64782   -93.09160,  961 ft.
  ATV trail:  35.64791   -93.09109,  976 ft.

Pet-Friendly:  Dogs off leash may be okay, but there are some areas they may have difficulty getting into and out of.  This is what I would call a difficult bushwhack.  If you think your dog needs to be on a leash, it will probably be okay, but you are in for a long day.  There is a lot of undergrowth and opportunity for entanglement on the knobs between hollows.  I did take Boomer today, but he is off leash and very well trained.

Motorcycle Friendly:  No, unless you don't mind a little extra hiking.  When you turn off Highway 7 onto Dare Mine Road, instead of going down the old Jeep road you could just park and hike in from there.  It will add about a half mile of hiking each way; that's approximately 1.5 miles to hike just to get to the bottom of Still Hollow, and the same hike coming back with a 1000 foot elevation gain.

Hiking Statistics:  From top to bottom, Still Hollow is over 1200 feet of elevation change.  Boomer and I ended up hiking 7.9 miles with a "highest to lowest" elevation change of about 900 feet.  We made several climbs of several hundred feet, as we went in and out of the various hollows in this drainage system.  Most of the hike we did is what I would call difficult bushwhacking conditions.  If you climb over the top of hollows when going from one prong to another, the knobs on top of the mountains are covered with thickets of young cherry and elm, with the briers, vines, and other attendant fauna of what I call "Arkansas jungle".  For the most part, we avoided this mess with today's routes.  We were hiking for 6 hours and 30 minutes on the tracks at the bottom of this post.

GPS files (.gpx format) - Maps of the GPS track are at the bottom of this post.

Houston Falls - with Boomer
Still Hollow is becoming somewhat of a fascination for me.  It is definitely what you would call a polyfoss area, with 39 significant waterfalls found there including the ones from today's trip.  By 'significant', I mean waterfalls that are big enough or otherwise picturesque enough to be deemed 'photo-worthy'.  If you have Tim Ernst's excellent guidebook, Arkansas Waterfalls, these would be the waterfalls that he has names for, marked a "W", or has marked as unnamed waterfalls with a black "w" on his maps.  If you like hiking and/or waterfalls enough to be reading this and you don't have his book, get it.  The book is cheap, is a fantastic resource, and if you order it online Tim will sign it.  At any rate, as a waterfall aficionado, you can see why Still Hollow fascinates me. 

Falls #34
The problem with Still Hollow is that it is extremely rugged and steep, somewhat like the Richland Wilderness areas in many ways.  Unlike Richland, it also has very dense thickets of brush, saplings, vines, briers, blackberries, and anything else hikers don't care for on the knobs between hollows.  I know people once lived all through these hollows in the Ozarks that are now public land.  If you look at the maps now, very little is in private hands, and those chunks of land typically are along the better back roads.  Back in the day, it was all open for settlement if you had the guts and grit to migrate out and make a home out of the wilderness.  Those settlers used mules and horses to get down into these hollows, and in later days, loggers cut roads into them.  Still Hollow was much more of a challenge to these folks, so there weren't that many trails cut into it in the first place.  Now that it is entirely public land, very few folks go there.

Maggie Falls
Today, Boomer (our German Shepherd) and I had a specific mission;  find routes into Still Hollow that at least weren't miserable hiking conditions.  There is not much we can do about the ruggedness of the terrain, but if we could, at least, avoid the dense thickets, we could maybe even come back for a visit during spring or summer months.  I did my due diligence on the topo maps, Google Earth, and old Forest Service maps.  I found very little, but there were some indications where old trace roads had been cut.  Boomer and I loaded up in the FJ Cruiser and headed north.  Today's hike was all focused on getting in and out of the prongs in the north and east parts of Still Hollow.  You can see the blog post from the initial hike into this area on 11/17/2015 here.  The big southern prong of Still Hollow also has scads of waterfalls; you can see the blog post for that hike here.

Still Hollow Twin Falls - November 2015

Still Hollow Twin Falls today; substantially less flow
than on my previous visit.
Driving directions are fairly simple.  From the Dover square (intersection of Highways 7 and 27), go north on Highway 7 for 21.2 miles.  This will take you to the small community of Freeman Springs.  Turn left (southwest) on Dare Mine Road (aka CR-1806).  Go down Dare Mine Road just a couple hundred yards and turn right onto an old Jeep road.  If you don't have a decent 4WD vehicle, you should probably park right there and hoof it the rest of the way.  This is a narrow "door scraper" trail.  If you have one of those show Jeeps and like to keep it pretty, you will not like this trail. We went about a half mile down this road with the Cruiser and parked at a food plot.  Not knowing what the rest of this road was like, I decided to play it safe and hike in from here.  This is Parking Location #2 in the GPS coordinates above.  As it turns out, I could have gone about a half mile (and 400-foot elevation drop) further.  I marked another location as Parking Location #4 at a point where I felt confident I could get the Cruiser in and out.  After that, there are some sizable hardwood saplings growing up that would have challenged the width of my vehicle.  An old Jeep Wrangler with a bull bar could probably make it somewhat further.

Falls #33
Boomer and I continued hiking down the trail, which I will call an ATV trail at this point because it gets iffy for a Jeep.  At a point on the bench still very high above the main creek, we found the trace road along the bench I was looking for.  This old trace road had obviously not been used as a road for many decades, as evidenced by the leaf buildup, the age of the fallen trees, and new growth on it.  It may not be usable as a road any longer, but at least, it is relatively flat, making for much easier hiking.  The trace road along the bench is pretty much on the level, which means as we hiked it going upstream, the creek level was getting higher and thus closer to our trail.  At one point, the trace road disappeared as it approached a drainage, but after cutting across the drainage we picked it up again on the bench about 300 yards from where we lost it.

Wilburn Falls
We lost our trace road again approaching the next drainage, but I have no doubt it continues on the other side of the drainage.  As it turns out, this was right above Wynona Falls, close to the mouth of the drainage on the north side that contains Houston Falls and Maggie Falls, two of the waterfalls Dan Frew and I had found in November that I wanted to re-visit.  So Boomer and I dropped down to the creek at that point, checked out access to that particular hollow, then decided to continue on upstream to explore the main creek further.  We had only gone as far as Wilburn Falls on our previous visit, and I wanted to explore a little more upstream.  

Falls #31
We found Falls #31, #32, and #33 further upstream on the prong that becomes the main creek flowing through Still Hollow.  Falls #32, about 12 feet high, is actually on a tributary creek that had too little flow.  Falls #33 is a nice little cascade in a beautiful little grotto.  At this point, we were starting to get into some of the undergrowth that I was trying to avoid, so we looked upstream as well as we could, saw nothing of interest, and starting hiking over to the drainage to the west.  A word about waterfall numbering;  since all of the waterfalls in Still Hollow were new finds and unnamed, I gave them numbers as we came to them.  In the previous two visits to Still Hollow, Dan and I found 30 significant waterfalls.  They get numbered in order of discovery, then when they get named I update the documentation to reflect the new name.  So far, few of them have been named.

Houston Falls
I also wanted to explore this next drainage much more than we did on our initial visit, so I tried to stay as high above the creek as I could.  That put us up higher on the knob and into the thickets there, but we managed to stay on the fringes of that area.  Boomer and I kept above the bluffline that Houston Falls is on, and were able to explore some upstream.  Interestingly, the creek above seems to have much less flow than what actually flows over Houston Falls.  I'm sure geologists have a good explanation, but at any rate, we found some smaller waterfalls and cascades, but nothing significant.  There is quite a bit of this drainage above where we stopped, but because the flow in the creek was somewhat low, we decided to stop and go downstream.

Maggie Falls
Making our way through a bluffline break, we hiked to the base of Houston Falls.  While flow was somewhat less than it had been in November, I was still surprised at how much there was, considering how dry and warm this winter and early spring has been.  The waterfall immediately downstream, Maggie Falls, also still had decent flow.  On our trip here in November, we didn't explore upstream or downstream from these two waterfalls.  Continuing downstream, Boomer and I found a few more waterfalls.

Rock Chute Falls
We found Falls #34, a simple yet pretty waterfall in the seven-foot range, just downstream, then Beckham Falls just below that.  Beckham Falls is taller than it appears Between the two tiers, it is about 12 feet tall.  A big log was lodged in there, obscuring the top of the waterfall.  Below that, we almost missed Rock Chute Falls because you can't really see any visible waterfall.  It looks like the creek just flows through some rocks.  But looking downstream, you can see where there is a 20-foot drop in the creek level that can't be accounted for.  This is an odd one, such that it is difficult to get to even the top of it.  Once there I could see that the creek flowed into a box formed by large boulders on each side, that had fallen into place perfectly to form a hidden chute for this waterfall to flow into.  At the bottom, a gap below one of the boulders allows the water to flow out and downstream.  Rock Chute Falls is certainly one of the unique waterfalls I have seen.  There is no place to position a tripod, so I had to do the best I could standing in the rushing water at the top and holding my camera out over the waterfall.  Boomer whined a lot here; that's his way of telling me I'm doing something inherently stupid and unsafe.  

Beckham Falls
Finding a  way out from the top of Rock Chute Falls was also difficult.  We had to hike well up on the bluff again and found a break to descend through again.  The coordinates for this break are listed at the top of this post.  Uncle Kenneth Falls downstream was not as cool, just a nice slide/cascade type waterfall in the eight-foot range.  Arriving at the confluence with the main creek, we headed downstream.  From here, getting back on the south side of the creek and climbing to the old trace road on the bench would probably have been the easiest and quickest way back.  However, we wanted to check out the new route a little more thoroughly for access to the northwesternmost prong, which also has a plethora of really nice waterfalls.  Going downstream, we stayed as close to the creek as we could, only rising up on the bluff when we had to.  

The Sidewalk
Downstream of Falls #12, we found Falls #38, a long cascade, and Falls #39, a relatively short waterfall flowing around a large boulder.  On our previous visit, we were higher on the bluff going upstream and missed these.  Continuing downstream, we came to The Sidewalk, a slot that looks for all the world like it has sidewalks on each side.  Rains had swept away all the leaves that were here in November, and the flow was noticeably less.  We went downstream to Sally Lou Falls, at the mouth of another major tributary, and Still Hollow Twin Falls, where the creek from Sally Lou Falls and the main Still Hollow creek flow over twin waterfalls into the same pool.

Sally Lou Falls
Boomer and I were both getting worn out by this time.  I had injured my left foot yesterday while working on our fences, and for some reason thought that if I just got out in the woods hiking, it would start feeling better.  It did not.  Now I was looking at a dauntingly steep bluff for the climb out, but I still wanted to search for the other end of that ATV trail we had hiked on the way down.  As luck would have it, I found the end of that trail not 20 yards from Still Hollow Twin Falls.  At least, that gave me a decent trail to follow, but it was still a steep and tiring climb out.  There are only about 300 feet of elevation difference between the creek and where we had branched off on the bench trace road, but fatigue was setting in by this time and my sore foot was killing me.  That's just the initial steep part, too.  The total climb from the creek to where we had parked at the food plot was about 900 feet of altitude, over a mile of trail.  By the time we got back to the Cruiser, Boomer and I were both glad to call it a day.

Falls #39
Any section of Still Hollow can be a challenging hike, just due to the nature of the terrain.  But if you follow some simple rules, you can visit the water features without killing yourself.  Rules for Still Hollow:
  • Stay off the knobs (see glossary/FAQ)!  The lower, steeper, reaches of Still Hollow are more inaccessible, which means not as easy to log.  Logging years ago on the higher areas of the knobs was done in such a way that dense undergrowth was allowed to basically take over.
  • Be prepared to climb into and out of many of the waterfall basins to get to the base of a waterfall.  There are a lot of areas where it is just too dangerous to try to skirt along the bluffline from the top of a waterfall, looking for a break in the bluff.  You have to climb up to an area where the slope is manageable, then find a bluffline break.  Sometimes this conflicts with the first rule.  Oh, well.
  • Use the old road through the food plot and the trace roads on the south bench where you can.  They don't cut into the hollows at all but will get you from one section of Still Hollow to another with decent hiking terrain.  The Forest Service track also cuts right through all the thickets on the big southeast knob.
I highly recommend Still Hollow, but ONLY if you are up for some fairly rough terrain.  This is not your Sunday stroll to a waterfall with the family.  This is like the hike from Hemmed-in Hollow back to the Compton trailhead, except most of it is a bushwhack instead of on a trail.  As tired as we were, I was a little surprised to see that the trip meter said it was only 7.85 miles.  I consider Still Hollow miles to be kind of like Richland Wilderness miles - you have to throw in a multiplying factor to compensate for the ruggedness of the terrain.  So we basically hiked a bazillion miles.  I'm looking forward to next time.
GPS Tracks - Norther Prongs of Still Hollow
Red - November 2015 trip
Blue - Bench Trace Road Route - March 2016 trip
Yellow - Creek Route - March 2016 trip