June 4, 2017
Hikers: Julie, Becky and Michelle
The great thing about backpacking is the ability to be flexible because you literally have everything you need on your back. That flexibility came in handy on this trip. The plan was to hike from Highway 21 to Highway A with a day to stop and play at Johnson Shut-ins. Total hiking was to be approximately 35 1/2 miles. A detailed description of our planned hike is available here: Ozark Trail Section. There are some options along the way that could vary the mileage but that was a pretty good estimate. Starting point was Ketcherside Mountain Conservation Area on Highway 21. This used to be called the Claybaugh Branch trailhead and is still marked that way on some maps. We had two cars for this trip and had left one at the Highway A trailhead.
This is the type of thing you find when you wander off trail to go pee before strapping on your pack. I didn’t see the spider but the web was scary enough! I can’t tell you how happy I was to have my Pstyle with me and not have to squat. And no, I did not aim for hole! As much as I dislike spiders, that just seemed wrong.
A pre-hike selfie! Good thing Michelle has long arms to get us all in the picture! Despite two of the three us not being morning people, we still managed to get going before 9 am. Trust me, that is pretty good for a couple of us!
Our trail started uphill right from the start but it was well marked with a fairly gentle grade. Becky couldn’t resist annoying the cairn-haters by adding a rock to the marker!
It seemed fitting that the Herd of Turtles would find a small turtle on the trail just as we were starting. He would have made a great mascot for us but we moved him safely off the trail where there was less risk of being accidentally stepped on.
While I have know way of knowing for certain if this is a true Indian Bent Tree, I do know that Missouri is an area where they are found. Prior to European settlement, this region was home to the Osage Tribe. Saplings were bent over and staked so that they would eventually grow into markers for things such as water sources, shelters, meeting places and other areas of importance. Marker trees were not unique to the Osage people and examples can still be found in many areas of the eastern United States.
We came to an area which had obviously burned recently. The green of the new growth was starting to show but the charred remains of the fire were still very evident. After much discussion, we concluded that it was most likely a prescribed burned but we had no way of knowing for sure.
We found several small pockets of water that were just loaded with tadpoles!
The trail presented us with a variety of terrain, from deep woods, to grassy meadows offering stunning views of the surrounding Ozarks, to rocky outcrops and shallow stream crossings.
As we entered one of the flower-filled meadows, the mystery of the burned area was solved. We were right, a prescribed burn! Coming from a state that does not put a priority on it’s natural areas, it was refreshing to see active restoration projects!
We surprised to note that many of the trail markers seemed to be placed haphazardly on the trees. Then Becky had an ah-ha moment and realized that they were pointing out the direction of the trail. Good to know!
Somewhere around the 5 mile mark, we came to the boundary of Taum Sauk Mountain State Park, the first of two state parks that we would hike through. We also passed what we guessed to be a hunting cabin of some sort. We did not see any no trespassing or private property signs however, so we wandered over to check it out. We found what appeared to be concrete cow patties alongside the cabin. Things that make you go hmmmm.
With 38 Highpoints to my credit, there is no way I can pass within a half mile of one and not visit, even if it is one I have already climbed. We now discovered that the spur trails off the OT are marked red. We had already gotten most of the climbing part out of the way and had a relatively easy walk to the summit.
After the highpoint, we headed towards Mina Sauk Falls where we planned to stop for a snack and filter some water. Things along the trail had been bone dry and the day was getting hot. We were all getting quite low on water. As we were heading down the incline to the waterfall, we came across a couple of young ladies that were struggling up the hill. They had not taken enough water and were battling the heat and thirst. Fortunately, I had some left and was able to fill a water bottle for them. They were reluctant at first to take it but we assured them that we could easily filter once we made it to the waterfall. They were very grateful and wished them well on the rest of their hike.
We kept our ears open for the roar of the waterfall as we knew we were getting close. We had visions of cooling off in the spray and soaking our feet in the cool water. The bone dry conditions of our hike thus far should have clued us in that our reality was going to be far different. Fortunately, there was water at the waterfall. But not much…
There were a few pools of water at the top of the falls that were popular with some kids playing in the area. But the waterfall itself was little more than a trickle.
There was enough water for us to resupply our dwindling supply and for that we were thankful. We took our packs off and rested our feet for a bit but it was far too crowded and noisy for us to stay longer than needed. One mom was much more interested in listening to her podcast than watching her kids. She must have thought it was worth sharing with everyone given the volume but she did take a break long enough to scream at her husband for not watching the kids when one youngster fell and bumped her head. Another, obviously frustrated mother did give us some amusement in dealing with her whiny preteen son. When he complained about the lack of a waterfall, she snapped back, “It was water. It was falling.” Okay, you probably had to be there but it was pretty funny at the time. In the kid’s defense, it was very hot and the waterfall was rather underwhelming. We finished what we needed and headed down the rocky trail to the base of the falls. There we found shade, cooler temperatures, and giant spiders!
A mile past the unimpressive waterfall was the Devil’s Tollgate. I had read somewhere that bandits used to hide behind the towers of rocks as travelers passed between. As the travelers exited the narrow passage, they were ambushed and robbed.
Following our safe passage through the Devil’s Tollgate, it was time to start looking for a place to settle for the night. We found a perfect site with flat areas for our tents and good trees for Michelle to try out her new hammock. We enjoyed the evening with tacos (complete with lettuce and shredded cheese) and margaritas. Perfect end to a great day of hiking! Total trail distance somewhere between 8-9 miles but with the detour to the Taum Sauk Summit, we were probably around 10 miles of total hiking.