Boen Gulf Branch
February 14, 2010
What's worse than stepping in a hole and twisting one's knee?  Doing so in the deep woods on a cold, snowy day, that's what! I was out waterfall chasing when the accident happened. I'd seen some buzz on the internet about the Ozark waterfalls running... not from rainfall but from the melting of all the snow we'd received recently. Paradise Falls, on Boen Gulf Branch in the Upper Buffalo Wilderness, was a good choice because it was a relatively short hike compared to most waterfalls.
I pulled off at the parking area on Highway 21 south of Mossville at 9:40 in the morning. The temperature was 34 degrees. As I set off down an old trace toward a small waterfall high up in the headwaters of the branch, I was surprised how thick the snow was on the ground. I was beginning to think the ground had been covered with snow for the last month.
The road trace took me directly to the first little 6-foot waterfall, about half a mile west of the parking area. The water poured off of a ledge into a pool of beautiful blue-green water. For such a minor waterfall, I sure spent a long time there trying to get a decent picture. First I tried shooting pictures from the high terrain on the west side of the falls, where my feet were about even with the top of the falls. Then I crossed back over to the east side and set up the camera to take pictures from the edge of the pool. Light snow began to slowly fall and land silently in the blue-green pool.
I went ahead and ate the Lunchables I'd packed, and realized I'd left all my water back at the Tahoe. So I just grabbed a handful of snow and took small bites of it and let it melt in my mouth.... a not so great experience. I walked a short distance downstream to an even prettier waterfall that made a series of small drops before pouring into a big emerald pool. I stood at the edge of the pool for half an hour waiting for a break in the snow and wind to get a picture.
I followed the stream a couple hundred yards downstream to where another fork of the stream joined from the southeast.  I saw several little cascades and water slides that would look great when surrounded by green foliage. I turned left and went uphill, walking along a small ridge on the north side of the fork..A few minutes later, around noon, disaster struck. The snow on the ground where I planted my right boot was covering a deep hole about a foot deep. I fell forward while at the same time twisting my body to the right. My ankle and shin had become pinned in the hole and didn't twist with the rest of me. I felt my knee being pulled and twisted more than it was designed for. The twisting stopped only because my torso hit the ground and quit moving. With my arms I was able to push and turn myself to relieve the strain from my knee, and then I grabbed my leg and pulled it out of the hole. My knee hurt so bad I was shaking a little. I felt sick to my stomach and I was hitting my other leg with my fist while shouting obscenities. Good thing the boys weren't with me! Initially I thought I'd have to push the 911 button on my SPOT GPS locator and have the search and rescue people help me out of the woods. That seemed kind of silly, since I still had one good leg. After laying there for 5 minutes I stood up and put all my weight on the good foot. Then I tried walking and found the injured leg would support my weight.
I swallowed a couple of Advil and a few bites of snow and continued with my plans for the day. Soon I reached an awesome 9-foot waterfall pouring off a wide ledge into a deep emerald pool bordered by snow-covered boulders. These short, wide waterfalls are my favorite. I thought I'd have to cross over to the southern side of the waterfall to get a good shot, so I continued upstream to a small cascade spilling into a shallow pool. I took some photos there then crossed over the cascade and headed downstream to the big waterfall, which I've nicknamed Twisted Knee Falls. I very, very slowly made my way down between the boulders below the falls, looking for a spot to take pictures. I didn't find a satisfactory location, so at the downstream edge of the big pool I crossed back over to the north side. I eventually found a place up close to the northern side of the falls to take a photo. It was 1:40 by that time.
Once again I crossed over to the southern side and started walking toward Paradise Falls. I had the attitude this is how it would be some day when I was old... that I would still be out tromping through the woods, and though I might move a lot slower, I could still get to my destination eventually.
At one point I put enough pressure on my knee that it hurt a lot and I decided no, I was stopping. But the easiest course out of the little side valley actually took me closer to Paradise Falls, and when I checked my GPS and it reported that Paradise was only a couple hundred yards away, I decided yes I would continue. That was probably one of the stupidest decisions I've ever made, for the route down to the waterfall was steep and treacherous, but I made it down there for a few pictures. When I couldn't extend my tripod legs, I realized the temperature had dropped so much they water in them had frozen.
Using my bare hands to grab on to the snow covered ground, and pounding footholds in to the snow with my boots, I slowly pulled myself back out.
When I got back to the side stream below Twisted Knee Falls, I decided to make a bee line up the hill to the Tahoe. That was the longest six tenths of a mile I've ever walked. The crunching of the snow under my feet was further evidence that the temperature had dropped during the day to below freezing. I got back to the Tahoe at 5:15, and a quick check of the thermometer said it was 26 degrees.