Information on West Fork Of Horsehead Cr.
Location: To reach the take-out take Hwy 164 North from I-40
(exit 47) and drive approx. 3 miles north to Horsehead Lake.
Cross over Horsehead Cr. and take the next left which will
take you around the East side of the lake. Bear to your
left (stay near the lake) and you'll eventually come to
a low water slab that is under water (hopefully!). This
is the Main Fork of Horsehead Cr. Since you can't drive
across this creek (assuming the water is high enough to
boat), park here and drag your boat 1/2 mile over to this
spot from the West Fork of Horsehead when you take out.
Or you can paddle out on the lake if you want to. It's about
50/50 on effort either way. To get to the put-in, go back
around the lake (the way you came) and take a right on 164.
Once you cross over Horsehead Cr., take the second dirt road
to the right (North). Bear right at the only major intersection
and you'll start heading way uphill until you get to the
small community of White Oak. At White Oak the road T's
into County Road 30. Turn right (North) on CR 30 and
follow it for a few miles through Oak Grove to Batson.
Take the first road to the right (South) just past the
Batson church. Follow this road for 3/4 mile until you
see a small trailer in the corner of a field on your right.
Turn right on the small road just past this trailer. This
is labeled FR 1445A on Ozark National Forest maps. Bear
left on this road past a road that splits off to the right.
After another 1/8 mile, you'll see a small turnout on the
right that you can park at. Park there and brushwhack
1/4 mile and 300 vertical feet down to the creek. Bringing
some climbing ropes and harnesses is not a bad idea at all.
You're aiming for aprox. elevation 1500 feet on the creek.
Topo Quad(s): N/A
Gradient: 160 fpm avg. (1 mi @ 420 fpm)
Length: 5 mi
Gauge: Very heavy rains (3+ inches) in the Clarksville and Ozark
areas are needed to bring the creek up to a runnable level.
The creek is best gauged by driving to the Middle Fork of
Horsehead Cr. (the takeout). The ends of the concrete slab
should be at least a few inches under water for a good run.
A gauge reading of 9 feet or higher on Spadra Cr. may also be
an indication of enough water on Horsehead Cr.
Hazards: Numerous trees, numerous undercut rocks and ledges
(especially at the Teacup), and fast, blind approaches to
Description: This run was first explored by Steve "Dog"
Robertson, Dave "The Grey Ghost" Reid, and Bill
"Fish" Herring on 5/13/1999. The character of
this run can be summed up in one word: waterfalls. There
are many of them of all shapes and sizes on the creek, and
all of them are runnable under the right conditions. The
run starts off with an incredibly steep brushwhack
downhill to reach the put-in on the edge of the National
Forest boundary. Once you reach the bottom (not an easy
task) you'll find an old roadbed that leads up away from
the creek on the left side. From this put-in, the creek
slides and tumbles through a nearly solid sheet of rock as
it descends at over 400 fpm through a very narrow, steep-walled
gorge. The beauty of the gorge is incredible, but getting out
of it requires ropes and climbing skills in many places. The
rapids are almost all low angle slides with some rocks
stuck in them. In fact the whole creek is really just a
natural waterslide. While this is fun in the lesser
rapids, it creates long, eddy-less approaches to the
bigger drops. None of the major drops can be seen clearly
before you are committed to them. Very frequent scouting
is an absolute nescessity, and a good hike beforehand at
low levels is a must as well. The bigger drops start
with Gooseneck, a long sliding approach followed by a 10
foot drop into a very small grotto. The hydraulic at the
base of the last plunge may be inescapable at high water.
Lots of fast action and trees bring you to another large
sluice/fall combination which is a lot of fun unless there
is a tree down in it. A scout past the next major horizon
line reveals one of the most dangerous rapids on the run.
The "Teacup O' Death" consists of three
consecutive four foot ledges with the second ledge emptying
into a huge undercut. The portage is easiest on the right
bank. If you put in just past the Teacup, you'll be running
a fast runnout stretch that features some jagged looking
undercut bluffs. Just past these a big feeder pours in
from the right. Stop immediately at this feeder and scout
ahead to the next big fall (it's almost a certainty that
you'll get swept over the fall if you get within 50 yards
of it). This fall drops about 15 feet into a shallow pool.
The water right below the lip of the drop is quite
shallow, but the center of the pool is a few feet deep.
It's a very iffy drop, and the portage to the pool below
it requires a rappel (be sure to bring a good rope!). Test
the pool very carefully if you're thinking about running
this one. A lot of fast, sliding drops follow this big
fall. Only run when you're sure you can cleanly catch the
next eddy. Flying Dog Falls, a potentially bruising 20+
footer, is somewhere in this stretch, and if you get
closer than 50 yards to it you'll be running it blind. You
can't see the horizon line from the start of the entrance
rapid, so be very careful! Flying Dog has a 5 foot deep
pool, and it will tend to launch you into a nearly flat
boof because of the small step right above the big drop.
Is it worse to try to pencil down into really shallow
water, or to land flat and potentially compress your
spinal column? If you don't want to try to find the answer
to that question there's a really easy portage just to the
left of the fall. There are a bunch of fun rapids below
Flying Dog as well as a few bad trees. After another half
mile or so, you'll pick up a lot more volume from some
feeders and the gradient will ease off somewhat. The
balance of the run is very fast and fun class II+ to III
water. There are several nice ledges and slides on the
lower part of the creek, and a few undercut spots that can
take your head off if you get too complacent. If you take
out on the lake, be sure not to paddle over the spillway
at the far end. This monster has been run at certain
levels, but it's definitely not a healthy thing to do.
West Horsehead is obviously a potentially dangerous creek
that requires a very high level of commitment. It's
incredibly difficult to get out of the gorge once you're
in it. Portages and scouting are best done in many places
with the help of good climbing ropes. At medium to high
levels, the countless sluices, slides and falls don't
provide many eddies at all. There aren't that many really bad
drops, but the few that are there are huge and very dangerous.
No matter how good you are, you'll be swept into them
if you don't know exactly where they are. Be very sure you know
what you're getting into before you carry down to the creek!
Return to Index