Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Lichen Falls

After we finished the hike at The Glory Hole, there was one more nearby waterfall on our list to visit. This was located just a short ten mile drive away, though three of those miles were along a muddy dirt road. The falls are Lichen Falls, located along the Ozark Highlands Trail. The OHT runs for about 165 miles, from Lake Fort Smith State Park to the Buffalo National River. You may have even read an article about the trail in National Geographic last year. Like most of the Ozarks, the OHT saw considerable damage from the recent ice storm, and the National Forest closed the trail because of the damage. Apparently, putting up "closed" signs was just about the extent of work the National Forest did on the trail, but dedicated volunteers have been out and working tirelessly to remove fallen trees and clear the trail. Now most of the trail is open except for a few certain stretches.

We didn't have to hike very far along the Ozark Highlands Trail to find Lichen Falls, it is located just a quarter mile from a parking area along the dirt road that the trail crosses. It was still snowing, but the snow began to fall heavily as we started the hike. Walking in the snow, we followed the trail past a few fallen trees, and then down a hill. We had hiked longer than a quarter mile, and pulled out the guide book since it seemed like we were doing something wrong. We were, we headed off the wrong direction on the trail, walking farther away from the falls with every step.

So turning around, we headed back in the right direction (to get to the falls, you take the trail that starts out across the road from the parking lot). In a very short amount of time, you finally reach the falls. The trail is flat and an easy hike. It just gets slightly more difficult to actually get close to the falls. We were using the Arkansas Waterfalls Guidebook by Tim Ernst to find the falls. Now I've studied this book a million times, and had read and re-read the short description to these falls many times before making the trip. But for some reason, it always seems like I skip over certain sentences, so that parts of the trail become a surprise. The part I managed to gloss over this time was the sentence "if you leave the trail to get a closer look be careful because the hillside is very steep!"

And the hillside is very steep. To get close enough to the falls for a good picture means descending down the hill at a very awkward angle. There is a bit of a dirt trail that heads down, but from the recent rain and snow, it was all mud. And not just any mud, it was deep and had the look and texture of chocolate pudding. To put your foot there would find it sinking a few inches, and the sliding gleefully down the hill all by itself. I was a bit nervous here, an uncontrolled slide would send you on your muddy way down the hill and onto the hard rocks by the waterfalls. I tried to scoot down as carefully as I could, covering myself in mud as I went. A fallen tree did help to steady the way down, and eventually some progress was made.

On the other hand, Matt bounded down the falls with no problems whatsoever, and was set up taking pictures while I wallowed in the mud on the hill. He was much braver than I was, and probably got some good pictures out of it. I stood on a ledge over the falls to get some shots, next to the steady drip of water pouring in from the hill above me.

Lichen Falls is actually a double-decked waterfall, and this is the lower falls. The fallen tree here is probably another victim from the ice storm, but it was the one that I used to help navigate my way down the hill.

And a view of the two parts of Lichen Falls:

It was time to head back home. Matt tried to find a way back up the hillside on the opposite side of the falls from where I was standing. As I tried to work my way up the muddy hillside, I turned around to see him hanging from tree branches trying to get up onto a higher bluffline. We finally made it up there, covered in mud and falling snow. There was a light dusting of snow on my car when we got back to the parking lot:

And some light snow on the ground along the Ozark Highlands Trail:


Don Dailey said...

i've misread or failed to understand the guidebook several times myself.

nice shots. especially the last one of the falls.

Matt Kennedy said...

Brian I wish you had a picture of me hanging upside down. That little tree gave a bit more than I thought it would. Can you believe I have never broken a bone in my body?

Cormackphotos said...

Thanks Don, I guess sometimes we can get waterfall vision, instead of waterfall vision!

Matt - I wish I did, but at the time I was just hoping you weren't going to fall...