Information on Fern Gulley


Fern Gulley

	Rating: IV-V
        TDCR: 9895 
        Location: Take out on Little Mill Cr. at the low water slab.
                Put in is reached by heading north to Fern.  Go past
                Fern and turn off the pavement on the first gravel
                road to the south (this road has a stop sign on it).
                Follow the road downhill until the road does a couple
                of semi-switchbacks.  You'll have already passed
                one pretty good road to the right, and you're looking
                for the next one past the switchbacks.  If you go just
                past the road, you'll end up in a wide turn around where
                the hunters like to camp, so if you get there, turn
                back and take the first left.  Follow the steep little
                road downhill (4WD only!) until it switches back to the
                left at a small creek.  Go another 100 yards or so
                and look for the rock-lined trail going down to the
                right.  The creek put-in is about 30 yards down this
                trail.  If you don't have 4WD, park up at the main
                gravel road and walk down from there.  An alternate,
                but unpleasant, takeout if you're running short on
                time is to carry back up the old logging road that
                intersects the creek just past Rocket Slide.  
                (Actually there are old logging roads on the ridgetops
                on either side of the creek all the way down.)  This 
                road goes up through a split in the bluff and then into
                a clear cut.  Bear left and uphill and you can drag
                up to the put-in in about 45 minutes.  It's a heck of
                a climb though!
        Topo Quad(s): Mountainburg SE
        Gradient: 300 fpm (0.5 mi @ 400 fpm)
        Length: 4 mi (2.75 miles on Little Mill Cr.)
        Season: FLOOD
        Gauge: The Mulberry should be huge (10 feet) and rising on the USGS
                gauge at Mulberry to have a chance at Fern Gulley.  The
                watershed is small and the creek is full of rocks - it
                needs a lot of water to make a good run.  Little Mill 
                Cr. should almost be covering all of the concrete of 
                the slab at the takeout.  The best way to find out whether
                it will run or not is to drive to the put-in, walk 30 yards
                to the creek and check it.  Ideally, there should be enough
                water to form a rowdy looking hole at the base of the first 
                6-foot drop and the rocks in the main current should be
                mostly covered.  Unless it's raining, the water will be
                dropping fast, so take this into consideration before putting
                on at a really boney looking level.  If you just see lots
                of huge holes and no rocks, you probably should either wait
                for the water to drop or go find another creek!
        Hazards: Rapids are big, continuous, and dangerous.  This is no place
                for the unprepared.  Pins are possible almost everywhere.  Full-
                face helmets and elbow pads are an excellent idea. 
        Description: Fern Gulley is the name given to the East Fork of Little
                Mill Cr. by the local folks in Franklin Co.  This creek is 
                the jewel of steep creeking in the southern Ozarks.  When
                full of water, it is easily one of the most difficult creeks 
                in the state.  The creek features large, continuous drops with
                almost no really good eddies.  The run stays at a class IV 
                intensity level all the way, with no real breaks and some 
                notable class V interuptions.  The lack of good eddies makes
                it feel even steeper than its 300 fpm average gradient figure
                (if that's possible), throwing at paddlers a constant barage of 
                steep rapids that seem to blend into each other for long stretches.
                The creek begs for bank scouting at every turn, but since
                the water level tends to drop out quickly, you can't spend
                too much time on the banks.  A pre-run hike is very highly 
                recommended.  The first drop is called simply "The Test".  
                Those who fail to pass this class IV warm up, are urged 
                to consider walking back up to the car.  The next half 
                mile of water is exactly the same - and then it gets much
                tougher.  Somewhere in the first quarter mile is a drop 
                called "Rooster Poot" (IV).  This one looks like the rest, 
                but it ends in an ugly looking rooster tail.  Portage on the 
                right if you can get stopped and don't want to risk a pin, or
                try to angle right to avoid getting slammed into the rocks.  The 
                first class V is encountered about 1/3 mile from the put-in,
                just past the second major tributary stream cascading in on
                the left.  "Dumb and Dumber" is an ugly drop where the creek
                is split by a big rock.  The left side of this eight foot plunge 
                drops onto a roostertail rock and the right side dumps under a
                huge rock.  The approach is (as always) almost eddyless - 
                only boat what you can clearly see after Rooster Poot!  At
                Dumb and Dumber, go ahead and scout the next big class IV,
                "Whack-A-Yaker".  This is a big, twisting drop that dumps out
                under a tree at the end.  This one can mess with you - for
                some reason it doesn't run as cleanly as it looks.  The creek 
                lets up a bit at this point to a continuous class III slalom
                through trees.  When the creek turns back to the left, watch
                for a major tree jam that requires a portage.  Just past
                these trees the creek gets very serious, so you might as well
                stay on the banks and scout the next 200 yards.  This is the 
                start of "The Drop Zone", and you won't want to enter it blind.
                The left bank is really rocky, but it provides the best
                look at the drops.  The right bank is much easier for
                portaging boats.  The Drop Zone consists of a 200 yard
                long staircase of fast, tough drops and tricky holes
                that run headlong into each other creating a solid
                class V rapid.  There is no room for error when paddling 
                this rapid - this author can attest to the beating that 
                these drops can inflict upon those who are not on line!
                The Drop Zone can conceivably be broken down into four parts
                seperated by hard to catch eddies.  The first part is a long,
                multi-stage drop with plenty of rocks and holes.  You can
                then try to grab one of the small eddies - the last good
                ones you'll see for a while - on either bank to stop before
                part two of the Zone, known as "The Split".  This is a
                tough, pushy drop that is sometimes run to the left of
                the pillowing rock, pulling hard right at the end to line
                up for the three remaining ledge holes.  Another unstable
                eddy on the right preceeds part three - "Damned If You
                Do".  The creek twists left and drops about 10 feet
                into two big holes before shooting out over a couple
                of interesting looking drops around the corner.  A small,
                last chance eddy then appears just above the final
                plunge - "Big Juju".  Juju is a massive drop and the
                route is complex and dangerous.  A diagonal hole sits
                between the eddy and the most feasible route on the left,
                so expect it to kick you on the approach.  If you are one
                of the few who choose to test their luck in Juju, try to 
                precisely boof the first eight-foot drop to avoid the
                vertical pin on the left and the pin rocks in the middle of 
                the drop. Assuming you are still upright and moving forward 
                after you clear the first rocks, you will hopefully carry 
                enough speed into the final hole to escape from it.  If 
                you're determined to run the Drop Zone, set up bank support 
                in strategic locations and scout everything thoroughly. If 
                you think this is nice scenery but not runnable whitewater,
                carry your boat around it high on the right bank.  Below
                Juju, the class IV drops keep comming.  There are a couple
                of large trees down in this stretch as well, and they
                probably won't move anytime soon.  After three or four 
                tricky class IV drops that should generally be run to the
                right, a long slide starts.  It's a good idea to get out
                after the second drop below Juju and scout it, since
                a downed tree near the bottom would likely knock your head
                off your shoulders.  This one is nicknamed the "Rocket Slide",
                because you'll tend to launch into the air off of the
                vertical ledges in the middle of the slide.  Brace for
                the curler as you drop into the funneling plunge at the
                end, and don't forget to smile for the camera!  Rocket Slide
                is not that hard if you can avoid getting upside down (ouch!)
                or surfed in the hole at the bottom.  It's hard to believe
                that any hole will stop you when you're moving 25 miles per
                hour, but it is a possibility!  The next 400 yards of the
                creek is non-stop class III+ through trees.  If you haven't
                hiked out yet, you shouldn't have any trouble boat scouting 
                down this stretch.  It may look strange, but you'll finally see 
                a small pool up ahead.  Welcome to Little Mill Cr.  Stop and
                take a few breaths and get ready for nearly three more miles
                of powerful class III-IV drops before you reach the take-out.
                The first two major drops both feature big, sticky holes at
                this level, so stay on your toes.  If you run Fern Gulley at
                below optimal levels, you may not be too impressed by the rock
                bashing and sieve portaging.  Running it with too much water
                will force you into situations you don't want to be in.  
                The window for optimal levels is small, and even then, the 
                creek is no place for those who overestimate their skills. Hike 
                this one dry, and then follow someone who knows the creek if 
                you can.  Fern Gulley was first run on March 19, 2002 by 
                Otter (aka Jason Bertschy), Mike Echols, Rob Polan, Danny Smith,
                Nick Hobbs, "Crazy" Steve Brandenbura, and Fish (aka Bill 
                Herring), and they have the pictures to prove it! 

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