Saturday, May 13, 2017

Lower section of Still Hollow, Ozarks near Freeman Springs, Arkansas

5/13/2017 - Still Hollow waterfalls west of north and south prongs

GPS Coordinates:  (Latitude,  Longitude,  Elevation)
  Parking Location #3 (today's location):  
  Falls #50:  35.64386   -93.09353
  Parking Location #6:  35.64268   -93.11766, 761 ft.
  Parking Location #7:  35.64283   -93.11945, 757 ft.
  Falls #54:  35.64056   -93.10512, 928 ft.
  Falls #55:  35.64041   -93.10503
  Falls #56:  35.64055   -93.10507
  Falls #57:  35.63946   -93.10482
  Falls #58:  35.63851   -93.10499
  Falls #59:  35.63822   -93.10509
  Falls #60:  35.63774   -93.10519
  Falls #61:  35.63768   -93.10523
  Falls #62:  35.63724   -93.10516, 1236 ft.
  Falls #63:  35.63951   -93.10391, 1103 ft.
  Falls #64:  35.63977   -93.10441, 1034 ft.
  Falls #65:  35.64148   -93.10381, 1007 ft.
  Falls #66:  35.64533   -93.10165, 950 ft.
  Rapids on Still Hollow Creek:  35.64423   -93.10002, 888 ft.
  Falls #67:  35.64477   -93.09582, 952 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 a very difficult bushwhack.  If you think your dog needs to be on a leash, I would leave it at home.  Otherwise, it will be a very, very, long day for you and your dog.  Also, you need to cross Still Hollow Creek several times.  If the water is as high as it was today, many dogs will have problems with the current.

Motorcycle Friendly:  Not even close.  Indian Creek Road is rough for any vehicle, let alone a big bike.  

Hiking Statistics:  From top to bottom, Still Hollow is over 1200 feet of
elevation change.  I hiked in from the mouth of Still Hollow today, so I did not have a big climb out to one of the roads on the ridges surrounding the hollow.  Today, I hiked a total of 7.1 miles, with a minimum-to-maximum elevation change of only 430 feet.  As with most areas in the Ozarks, getting to waterfalls means repeated climbs and descents as you navigate blufflines.  This is a difficult bushwhack, primarily because of the dense undergrowth in the higher elevations and along the first quarter mile of Still Hollow Creek from its confluence with Indian Creek. 

GPS files (.gpx format) - Maps of the GPS track are at the bottom of this post.
Falls #54
I had made a very tiring, but highly productive, hike into the big south prong of Still Hollow last Monday.  At that time I had noted that the lower section of Still Hollow from the confluence of the south prong down to the mouth of the hollow where it drains into Indian Creek was the only area I had not explored to at least some extent.  My friend and frequent hiking partner, Dan Frew, had made a hike through this section of Still Hollow last winter and had noted quite a few waterfalls.  That is, where waterfalls would be if only we had water in the creeks.  At the time of Dan's hike, we were in the depths of a severe drought.  We are starting to get some much-needed rain this spring, and yesterday the area around Still Hollow received a lot of localized heavy rain.  So this looked like the right day to check out my last big section of this great polyfoss area.  Not knowing what the conditions would be this time of year with the potential for high water and Still Hollow's jungle-like vegetation, I decided to leave Boomer (our German Shepherd) at home for this one.  My wife Bethany discovered long ago that the word "bushwhack" means it would be wise to opt out until I had completed an initial exploration and knew the lay of the land.  

Falls #61
To get there, you will need a high clearance vehicle for this trip.  Even without the "off road" or "Jeep road" parts of the route to where I parked, the campsite (Parking Location #7) is three miles down Indian Creek Road, which is not well maintained on this section.  I believe most cars can make it, but you may encounter parts of fallen trees, mud holes, and generally rough roads.  I didn't put my FJ Cruiser in 4WD until I got to the campsite, where I forded Indian Creek to a Jeep road on the other side that leads up Gunter Branch Hollow.  But it is an FJ Cruiser, not a PT Cruiser.  As I said, pretty much any vehicle can make it down Indian Creek Road, but be aware that in a smaller low clearance vehicle, it will be rough and slow going.  Do not attempt the ford across Indian Creek without a 4WD vehicle, and don't attempt it if you can't tell how deep the water is. 

Falls #67
From the Dover town square (junction of Highway 7 and Highway 27), 
 - Go north on Highway 7 for 12.3 miles, then turn left onto OLD Highway 7 (aka FS-1801)
 - Go 1.4 miles on Old Highway 7, then turn right on Treat Road (aka FS-1805)
 - Go 6.3 miles on Treat Road, then turn right onto Indian Creek Road (aka FS-1808).  You will go over a long low-water bridge over Indian Creek before turning onto Indian Creek Road.  The junction of Indian Creek and Moccasin Creek are on your right, the combined Indian Creek is on the left.  
 - The turn onto Indian Creek Road is just after the low water bridge.  Go 2.9
miles on Indian Creek, and turn left into a campsite on Indian Creek.  
If you don't have a good 4WD vehicle with good all-terrain tires and ground clearance, park here.  This is Parking Location #7.  Use your judgment of your vehicle's capabilities to assess whether you should ford Indian Creek with it.
Slot at the top of Falls #54
 - Either ford Indian Creek in your vehicle or wade across Indian Creek at the campsite.  On the other side of the creek, follow the Jeep road for about a quarter of a mile.  You will go across Gunter Branch, then up a short but steep hill.  The Jeep road goes up to a large food plot and continues on the other side, but turn right off of it at the edge of the food plot.  This is about a quarter mile from where you turned off Indian Creek Road.
 - Drive/hike across the right (west) side of the food plot to the far end of it, toward Still Hollow.  There is a Jeep road here that you could take all the way to Still Hollow Creek, but I parked here at the end of the food plot.  You can drive down the road right to Still Hollow Creek, but it is pretty tight for parking off the Jeep road and for turning around.  It's also not very far, so I just found it easier to park at the end of the food plot and start the hike there.  This is Parking Location #6. 

Falls #56
I started my hike along the creek on the left (north) side since it looked much flatter on the topo maps and I was hoping to find traces of an old road up into the hollow that would make the hiking a little easier.  I did find traces of an old homestead, where they had built a rock wall for quite a distance along this side of Still Hollow Creek.  Alas, I did not find any trace of an old road to follow, although I'm certain the old pioneers would have blazed one in this area.  What I did find is an almost impenetrable jungle of briars, vines, saplings, and every type of vegetation known to mankind.  The creek was so high, it was basically bank-to-bank, so I toughed it out and just made my way through the mess as well as I could.  

Falls #63
After a quarter mile or so, I was ready to hang it up, but it finally thinned out somewhat along the creek, and I finally figured out that I was not crossing the creek without getting water in my boots.   Since the first area I needed to check out was the large drainage on the other side of the creek, I was going to have to cross it at least once anyway.  Once I accepted the fact that my boots were going to be flooded the rest of the day, I crossed the creek to the side that looked a little better, generally on the inside bank of a curve in the creek.  The hiking conditions were pretty miserable at the start, for the first quarter mile or so, and I didn't turn up into that large southwest drainage until almost a mile upstream.  Previously, I had kind of split up Still Hollow into hikes in the north prongs and the big south prong.  To avoid confusion, I'll refer to everything downstream of the north and south prongs as the 'lower portion' of Still Hollow, and this large drainage on the south side of this section as the 'southwest drainage' of Still Hollow.

Falls #54 (foreground)
and Falls #55 (background)
Once I started up into the southwest drainage, I came to the first waterfall, Falls #54, and the lousy hiking conditions became a distant memory.  This is a beautiful, classic Ozark waterfall, dropping over 20 feet from a narrow canyon above.  As I hiked down the base of the bluffline it flows over, I took some photos from that perspective, then moved around to the other side to capture that as well.  It wasn't until I was preparing to hike on upstream that I looked up as I passed directly in front of it and noticed an even larger waterfall directly above it.  That was one of those 'D'oh!' facepalm moments when you wonder how you could have been so wrapped up in the beauty of the waterfall that you didn't even notice the huge lead-in waterfall above it.  But after the hike up the creek, I saw this one and immediately said, "Totally worth it!"  It is, but seeing the huge double waterfall made it doubly totally worth it.

Slot at top of Falls #54
I climbed up the right side bluffline and made my way down into the narrow canyon above it.  The banks of this short blind canyon above Falls #54 are very steep, but manageable if you take your time.  You may well slip and slide down part of it on your butt (I managed to not do this), but it will be a short enough slide, and you will get plenty of opportunities to wash the mud off your pants later as you go wading in Still Hollow Creek.  Once down into the short canyon, I saw that the large cascade above Falls #54 was actually separated from it by several yards, so I called it a separate waterfall, Falls #55, instead of just one two-tiered waterfall.  From the base of Falls #55, there is a cool slot that the water funnels into and takes it right to the top of Falls #54.  It doesn't look like it, but the slot opens up to a very short, but wide, ledge just prior to going over the edge, giving Falls #54 it's wide top.

Falls #57
Having just seen a couple of waterfalls that made the whole hike imminently worthwhile, I was excited to see what else might be in this drainage, going upstream, I found Falls #56 just a few yards above Falls #55.  It seemed to be like that all the way up this drainage, with one waterfall after another.  The rest are not all grouped as closely together as the first three, but you don't go very far without finding yet another waterfall.  Falls #56 is a long, tumbling waterfall where the creek is forced into a narrow channel.  A hundred yards upstream, Falls #57 has a long, rippling cascade followed by a drop onto a large rock.  Another fork of this drainage takes off to the left (east), but I chose to check that out on the way back down from this drainage.  

Falls #58
A hundred yards further upstream, Falls #58 is another long, tumbling waterfall, and a few yards above that, Falls #59 is where the creek splits into two streams, each with short waterfalls before they flow back together.  A short distance upstream, I found Falls #60, at the top of which is the pool for Falls #61.  Falls #61 is not one of the larger cascades I have seen, but it is definitely one of the prettiest.  I found Falls #62 just a short distance further upstream, but at this point, the blufflines were starting to break down and the creek was flattening somewhat.  There was an old logging road only about a hundred feet higher up across the top of the southwest drainage, so that told me this drainage probably didn't have much else in it.  The type of topology that is conducive to creating waterfalls is not so friendly to road building.

Falls #64
From Falls #62, I hiked down and around the bluff into the next drainage to the east, the one I had noted branching off downstream of Falls #57.  I found Falls #63 in that drainage, and right below it Falls #64.  From this point, it is only a short distance downstream to where this fork flows back into the creek in the southwest drainage, and you can see Falls #57 a short distance upstream.  The topo maps showed yet another side drainage off to the east, the direction I would be going up Still Hollow Creek anyway, so I hiked over to it and found Falls #65.  From this waterfall, I hiked down this drainage to where it flowed into the bottom of the southwest drainage and continued hiking upstream on Still Hollow Creek.  

Falls #65
Once you get up past the lower quarter mile or so of Still Hollow Creek, hiking alongside it is not so bad.  It is still a bushwhack, and there is plenty of undergrowth, but it isn't the dense jungle I found in the lowest part of the hollow.  My boots were also thoroughly flooded, and couldn't possibly get any wetter, so I figured I might as well wade across Still Hollow Creek as needed, and I did.  Generally, when the creek curves, the outside of the curve will be somewhat steeper, as the creek digs into and erodes the bluff on that bank.  The inside of the curve, conversely, is generally flatter and more open, making for easier hiking.  This creek has a lot of curves, but I was at the point of just jumping in and wading across.  I tried to find spots where the flow wasn't so rapid I would be swept off my feet and was successful in staying upright in the creek all day.  Sometimes it was shin deep, sometimes knee deep, sometimes deeper, but my pack stayed dry, and that was the most important thing.  My camera, a Nikon D500, is environmentally sealed, but the 16-80 mm lens I use most often is not.

Falls #66
Hiking upstream, I made pretty good time as I went to the next drainage I wanted to check out, on the north side of Still Hollow Creek.  This one had a waterfall that Dan had seen on his trip here last winter, and I found that less than a hundred yards up this drainage.  Falls #66 is a cascade about 10 feet tall but had a lot of large logs jammed in front of it blocking the view.  From the topology of this drainage, I suspect is has some more nice waterfalls upstream, but I was running a little short on time and wanted to make sure I at least went all the way up the lower portion of Still Hollow to the south prong.  

Falls #67
Continuing my hike upstream along Still Hollow Creek, I passed some pretty cool rapids on the creek.  I'm not sure how these would look if the water wasn't so high, but it was nice today.  Further upstream, I found Falls #67 plunging over the very tall bluffline along the south side of Still Hollow Creek, falling not ten yards from the creek itself.  I was a little surprised at how much flow there was in this tall waterfall, much more than you normally see in a wet weather pour-off.  When I got back home, I noted that Dan had seen this one last winter, so it had at least a trickle of flow even back during the long drought.  Looking at the topo maps, it appears that this waterfall is at the end of a very long, steep drainage.  I'm intrigued now since it looks like this drainage could be hiding some really nice waterfalls.  You never know until you go look, so now I'll have to return and find a way to get into this drainage. 

Falls #50
From Falls #67, the junction of Still Hollow Creek with the large stream coming from the big south prong is only about 150 yards upstream.  I hiked into the south prong along the creek as far as Falls #50.  I wanted to see what it was like today compared to when I had seen it last Monday to get a feel for how much localized rain the hollow had received.  Falls #50 was, indeed, flowing about half again as much as it had been.  On this waterfall, once it gets going good, as it was earlier this week, additional flow doesn't hurt but doesn't make it look much different.  Leaving Falls #50, I started my hike back downstream to where I parked.  

Falls #62
The hike downstream went pretty quickly.  For one thing, it is downhill, which is one distinct advantage of this entry into Still Hollow.  Every other hike out has involved a very steep climb of a few hundred feet.  Going downhill is definitely easier, and this time I didn't care if I got more water in my boots.  My boots could not possibly take any more water.  The lower quarter mile that I had struggled with on the hike in was still not great, but not nearly as bad as the dense jungle I had fought with.  Getting back to the FJ Cruiser, I went back the way I had come, across Gunter Branch and the ford across Indian Creek, and headed back toward home.  Since there isn't any great elevation change, the only thing making this a really tough hike is the vegetation.  In the 'leaves off' season, this would be much easier, maybe dropping the rating down to a moderately difficult bushwhack.  But make no mistake, this time of year it is a difficult bushwhack.  I would not recommend this hike for children, nor for any not physically fit.  But if you are up for a difficult bushwhack, the payoff on this one is huuuge.  I'll be back.
GPS track for today's hike (brown)
Jeep Road from Indian Creek Road (green)
Still Hollow
Brown - today's hike in lower portion
Orange - south prong
Blue - high route upstream along trace road
Yellow - creek route upstream
Red - original exploration of north prong

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