Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Indian Creek Descent

Indian Creek flows into the Buffalo river and is an extremely steep side canyon that is beautiful to those able to hike it. Most of the traffic is sees is from the bottom end of it near the river where people hike up from a nearby primitive campground. It is for tent camping only not because you are prohibited from bring your pull behind camper, but because it is perhaps suicidal to try pulling one down the steep switch backed narrow dirt road down the mountainside. We prefer to leave a vehicle in the campground and drive another one back to the top of the mountain and start from the top, thus making our hike one way, down. Although you can hike it all the way to the top from the bottom, it is much much harder physically and there are a few spots where you have to free climb some small cliffs where we simply rope down going the other way.

The first part of the descent down into Indian Creek involves hiking down the side of the canyon trying to find ways around areas where a waterfall has formed. Eventually, we end up right in the creek bed itself hopping from one boulder to another which sounds easy but can be quite difficult when they are the size of large SUVs. Although not half way, we always stop for lunch at the rock formation seen above and known as the Eye of the Needle. It is a spot where the creek has burrowed through a solid rock wall leaving a large eye. If one had the time and the gear, you could descend through the eye but we usually go the up and over route, stopping to eat lunch and enjoy the view on the top of the 'needle.' The picture above makes it look impossible to get up but in reality, it is a steep scramble but doable without fear of falling 50 feet to a nasty death.

Here is a picture of a witch hazel tree growing on top of the 'needle' to enjoy with our lunch. Although the ground in the background looks fairly close, it is across a chasm that can't be jumped and is a long ways down should you not quite make it.

This is a view of the Eye of the Needle from the backside or downstream side. You can see that there is a bit more real estate up on top than it looked from the previous picture.

Downstream, the next feature to see is the horseshoe bat cave. I have hiked in this entrance and come out another entrance downstream once before but will never do that again. The hike through the cave is only about 150 yards long but involves a lot of boulder hopping to stay out of moving water. The time I made the traverse through the cave, three of our four flashlights failed and the fourth was failing by the time we made it to the downstream exit. We then had to descend out of the mouth 40 feet up the face of a cliff on wet moss covered rocks without climbing gear. It was extremely sketchy but we all survived intact. It is really a moot point anyway these days as the cave is close all year round to protect the bats who are now on the endangered species list due to white nose disease.

It you don't traverse through the bat cave, or repel over a 50 foot vertical waterfall, your only option for continuing on downstream it to hike up and through another cave on the opposite side of the canyon. Unlike the other one which is 150 yards long through narrow tunnels, this one is just a few yards through a narrow tunnel and then opens up into a large opening seen above. My brother seen in this photo has just exited the narrow portion and has to follow the path towards me to get down to the cave floor and a steep descent down to the creek. Right at the edge of the creek there is a ten foot cliff that must be navigated. Since my daughter and two nieces were attempting this for their first time and most of the other women folk with us are short in stature, we rigged up some climbing gear to get them down safely. My brother and I are tall enough that we can lower ourselves onto a ledge halfway down by holding onto a tree and then using the roots of the same tree, lower ourselves down the rest of the way.

Once below that there is a section of the creek where we must stay above a band of cliffs to descend further. It is quite heart pounding because one must literally walk within inches of a vertical 50 to 80 feet drop for a distance of about 40 feet at one point. However, the whole trip above the cliff is within a good stumble of a free fall for about an eighth of a mile. Once down to the creek from that, we follow the creek bed for the last mile (of the two mile long entire journey) which looks like this but turns into a more defined trail the closer we get to the Buffalo River. I have done this descent probably a dozen times and I enjoy it tremendously every time though I did notice that I just don't feel nearly as flexible as I used to be when going down the creek. The last time I went down was on my honeymoon with my wife eleven years ago. But my parents are getting up there in age and though they are models of human fitness, they still can make it so there is hope for me to make some more journeys down before my time on this earth ends.


Kelly said...

I have a fear of heights and a couple of these photos made my heart race. (I'm a little wary of caves, too.) Fortunately there are many other ways to enjoy the great outdoors for folks like me.

Ed said...

Kelly - Most certainly. There are lots of places to be outdoors without caves or exposed ledges!

Vince said...

I suspect the soil is thin, parch. You can readily see just why turning it into a NP would seem to make a degree of sense. That landscape for drawing a living would be raw in the extreme, I suspect the soil is thin, parch. in summer and awash in the wet.

Ed said...

Vince - You are exactly right. The soil is very thin here and isn't good for growing much of anything. Mostly the flood plains in the area support only pastures and even they are very slow growing and can't support much in the way of livestock. I'm guessing those that did live on the river bottoms here before it became a park did so by relying heavily on irrigation.