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Dismal Hollow
February 17, 2008
Talk about luck.  We had a nice big rain the night before my first day off from work in over a month. Conditions were just right for the scenic destination at the top of my list, Dismal Hollow, which is located in the Little Buffalo River drainage in central Newton County. I asked Cliff to go along but he said it sounded too cold and wet for hiking.
I left the house Sunday morning around 6 and arrived at the parking spot some time after 8. The woods were foggy, damp and cool, and the wind was blowing a bit.
I was cozy in all the clothing I had on (long underwear, heavy Pointer hooded sweatshirt, Columbia pullover jacket, and down vest - all favorites). Damp winter woods just seem a lot prettier when I feel warm and secure.
I found a faint old road trace and followed it east for a few hundred yards, then veered left and started walking more in a downhill direction. I walked parallel to a small wash down the hill, which met up with the main stream about a half mile from the truck.
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Just up the main stream I saw a small cascade and went over to investigate. I got out the camera to document the scene, thinking to myself that perhaps this was the first waterfall on the small stream. I found a well-used four-wheeler trail in this area and marked it with my GPS receiver for future reference. It was 9:32.
According to the GPS, my main target for the day - a big waterfall on the main creek - was only a quarter mile away. Yet it took me another two and a half hours to reach it because of all the scenes I stopped to enjoy and photograph.
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When I first reached the big roaring falls, they were so much larger and more powerful than I'd anticipated that I thought perhaps I was looking at an undocumented feature upstream. Also, from my perspective above and beside, the falls looked nothing like all the pictures I'd seen.
I found a spot on the south side of the stream to climb down, then walked back upstream to an overhang beside the falls. By then I'd shed a couple of layers of clothing, but as I stood and shot pictures under the overhang the breeze created by the falls took its toll and a began to feel quite chilled. I wound up putting everything back on.
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I explored the area around the falls for nearly 2 hours. I wound up downstream on the north side of the falls, where the terrain uphill was a near-vertical series of rock shelves with a more forgiving slope at the base.  The shelves formed a corner of sorts that I could not see past. It was 2 o'clock and though I sensed that I should start heading back, I just had to see what was behind that corner!
I was able to follow along the bottom of a bluff line at a constant elevation, while the stream downhill kept falling farther and farther below me. It seems I'd only gone a couple of hundred yards when I came upon a tall, narrow waterfall pouring off the bluff.
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I walked between some giant moss-covered boulders then behind the waterfall. I continued along the bluff line a short distance and found a huge overhang with a shelter beneath it. Again the bluff line formed a corner, and with it being 2:45 I felt this was a good spot to turn around and start heading back.
I returned to the first little cascade I'd found on the stream, then remembered the 4-wheeler trail that crossed nearby. I started following it, hoping for an easier route to the forest service road where I'd parked. It headed uphill alright, but I realized a little late that it was leading east when I needed to go west. I left the trail and hiked in a direction that I thought the truck was in. I usually have a good sense of direction out in the woods, but I was in a bowl-shaped area at the top of a hollow where uphill could mean many directions, and I kept misjudging how far to the left I should be heading. I was less than half a mile away from the truck, but it seemed like every time I checked the GPS it said I had the same distance remaining to hike! I kept telling myself that it didn't seem nearly as far or as steep on the way in. It didn't help that it had been six weeks since I'd done any hiking or walking.
I only explored one-fourth of the length of the stream that runs through Dismal Hollow, and I saw even less of the bluffs the scenic area is known for. I imagine I will return many times in years to come before I see it all.
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