Karkaghne and Middle Fork

Post a narrative about your trip on the Ozark Trail

Karkaghne and Middle Fork

Postby MoTreks » Tue Feb 10, 2015 7:50 am

I just finished a four day backpacking trip on the Ozark Trail. I started at the bottom of the Karkaghne at Hwy 72 and hiked north. My plan was to hike two sections (the Karkaghne and Middle Fork).

The first day started with a temperature in the low teens and by the end of the trip the temperature during the day rose into the 60s. So I was forced to wear extra layers. I wore everything I had with me Thursday morning (2/5/15) the first day of the trip for a couple of hours and then removed the down sweater. It had lightly snowed the night before so the trail had a dusting of fresh snow and it revealed evidence of the critters that moved up and down the trail the night before. There was one set of intriguing canine tracks. The track was 4 inches long and 3 inches wide. I took a picture of the track with my boot as reference. The track was approximately half the length of my boot (size 10). It is definitely too large to be a coyote and I believe it is too large to be a dog’s print. So I am led to believe it is the print of a lone grey wolf that has wandered down from the northern tier states. One was shot recently in Wayne County and DNA testing confirmed it was a grey wolf most likely from Michigan. I compared my photo too several photos of wolf tracks online and they appear similar. I have sent a copy of the photo to MDC for their thoughts on the track. If I do not hear back, I will contact the fur-bearing research biologist with MDC. I myself have a master’s in Fisheries and Wildlife I did teach mammalogy as a graduate teaching assistant but I did my research on non-game birds. In my mind there are wolves in the Ozarks, the call of the wild.

That was the most interesting aspect of day one. I had a stretch goal of making it to Sutton’s Bluff but only got as far as Bee Fork (14 miles). There was not a lot of space for camping but I found enough room to pitch my tent. I have never camped using a hammock. I have a Big Agnes Flycreek II and I use the footprint so my total weight is around 2.5 lbs. That night I put on dry socks and hung my other pair up in the tent and of course by morning they were frozen. My boots also froze hard over night. I had to thaw the boots and frozen socks by the fire. I ate breakfast (oatmeal and green tea) and packed up my gear preparing to face the first daunting task of the day – wading across the Bee Fork with the temperature in the low 20s. That was cold. My feet turned several different colors by the time I managed to get them dried and back into my socks and boots.

The highlight of day two (Friday 2/6) was Sutton’s Bluff. This is definitely the most scenic portion of the Karkagnhe. I took some time to enjoy the view and rest on a bench that somebody (either the OTA or Forest Service) provided on the trail. From the bluff you hike down to the Black river, and then skirt the Forest Service campground on a paved road climbing back out of the valley. There is a sign that provides you with a little history of the Sutton’s and the valley they settled in 1888. I pause at the sign, staring down at the valley, and try to imagine what that area would have looked like at that time. I made it to Gunnis Branch and camped for the night. That night the temperature dropped into the low 30s and frost once again formed on the inside of my tent fly. I managed to hike 11 days.

I had planned this trip based on 13 miles a day and I began to wonder if I would have enough time to make it to the Middle Fork Hwy 32 trailhead. I was of the opinion I could average 2 to 2.5 miles per hour. I began to realize that I may only average 1.5 miles on this trip. I was usually on the trail at 7:00 A.M. (sunrise) and sunset was around 5:30 P.M. So I had around 11 hours of daylight (really not dark until a half hour after sunset). However, you have to back out time for rest and lunch on the trail. In addition, when it gets to be an hour or so before sunset, you have to look at the map and make a decision on where you think you can camp for the night. Most of the ridge tops offered little in the way of camp site options and of course have not water. The best option is to pick a hollow with water. So I was only able to hike until 5:30 on day one. The other days I set up camp around 4:30 or 5:00 P.M. based on the topography of the trail. So you may end up with only 8 hours or less of actual hiking. I ended up hiking 44 miles in 4 days averaging 11 miles per day. Be sure and look at the elevation profile on the maps that you can purchase from the Ozark Trail Association and plan you mileage accordingly.

On day three, I finished the Karkaghne and began the Middle Fork. I could not help but think about the tragedy that struck last January when a father and his two sons died on the Karkaghne section just north of the brushy creek lodge connector. They planned a day hike on the OT south to Sutton’s Bluff. I don’t know if anyone knows how far they hiked that day. All they do know is that they missed the turnoff to the lodge and as the weather changed they were exposed to cold wet conditions and died of hypothermia. Please be careful and follow the basic safety precautions printed on each OT section map. Be sure and test all of you equipment and layering system on shorter day hikes before setting off on a longer overnight backpacking trip. The time to find out you gear does not keep you warm and safe is in the backyard or on a well known local trail. The brushy creek area has several connecting trails that are blazed with various colors and I guess are primarily for equestrian use. I do not know who does the blazing but the Brush Creek Lodge will provide you with their trail map that shows the various connecting trails in that area. Just be sure and look for the OT blaze. It was well blazed and I had no trouble following the trail in this area. Just be careful.

On day three, I stopped at the John Roth southern memorial and camped at Gunstock hollow. The memorial was the highlight of the day and I hiked 12 miles. There was not much in the way of vistas on this section of the trail. However, Gunstock hollow had the nicest campsite I had seen on the trail to that point. There was a flat bench above the creek softened by pine needles with adequate room for a couple of tents (maybe three). If I was going to design a campsite, that would have been it. The only problem with the site was RJW had already arrived and setup a couple of hammocks. I told them they had taken my campsite but to no avail. I had to backtrack and found a hole in the timber large enough for my tent

On day four, I was on the trail at 7:00 but stopped to visit with my neighbors for about a half hour. It was time to make a decision on my pick-up point. I had about 14 miles left to hike in order to arrive at the Hwy 32 trailhead. After 3 days on the trail, I did not think I could arrive at the trailhead by 5:30. So I went with plan B and made arrangements to be picked up at Hwy 49. That cut about 8 miles off my trip (mile marker 9 is very close to Hwy 49). The Hwy 32 trail head is about a mile south of where the Trace and Middle Fork intersect. The highlight of this section was Henderson creek. Thanks to the Eagle scout that put the bridge in and this was the only semi-permanent, social campsite I saw on my trip (there are none on the Karkaghne). I filtered water out of he creek and headed up to Hwy 49. There is a nice tributary with one really nice pool that the trail follows for a distance out of the hollow. I arrive at Hwy 49 around 12:30. I hiked 7 miles in 5 hours that day (including my respite at Henderson creek). If you plan to get dropped off or picked up at Hwy 49. There is a dirt access road about 100 feet south of where the trail crosses the highway. It is a safe spot for two or three cars to pull off the highway and stay out of the traffic while unloading or packing up.

I had a great trip. I want to thank all of the OTA volunteers that maintain the trail for your hard work and dedication. The trail was in great shape, well blazed and I had no trouble following it. I ran into a half dozen blow-downs but nothing serious. Most involved stepping over the main trunk (no tree-top mazes). I have been remiss in updating my blog and YouTube channel lately. I hiked he Irish Wilderness last month (talk about no blazing and bewildered) and before that a 24 mile section of the River to River trail. As soon as I get them updated with this trip (including photos and video), I will provide a link.
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Re: Karkaghne and Middle Fork

Postby mike » Tue Feb 10, 2015 9:17 am

Nice report, sounds like you had a good time.

Thanks for sharing,
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Re: Karkaghne and Middle Fork

Postby RJW » Sun Feb 15, 2015 7:22 pm

You could not ask for better weather! The campsite at gunstock hollow was very nice.
This was my wife's first time out, (glad you did not mention anything about the wolf tracks) She enjoyed herself and is looking forward to the next trip. we certainly enjoyed the visit and the next time we are at camp and you hike by I am sure we could find a spot for your tent.
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Re: Karkaghne and Middle Fork

Postby n3870v » Mon Feb 16, 2015 9:23 am

Enjoyed your trip report. Have you heard anything form MDC on your track photo you sent them? I am anxious to hear the results.

Interesting to see you grad research topic. My daughter is currently a graduate student at University of Kentucky. she taught Dendrology last semester and this semester she is teaching Wildlife Ecology. Her research is bats, and she has been spending the summers at Yellowstone, tagging and collecting data on bats. She was very interested on your possible wolf track photo and if possible would like to see it. Is it possible for you to post it in this forum or send it to me?

Thanks - N3870V
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Re: Karkaghne and Middle Fork

Postby Ahavah » Thu Jun 09, 2016 11:03 am

Hello, and I know this is an old thread, but I'm also interested in the track you found! I've only very recently learned that we live so very close to the OT (we're NC transplants), so I've been checking out the site and learning about our local area.

We're in Karkaghne on Hwy 72. I've heard about potential wolves (or even random bears) in the area, but I've not seen any signs of them in the 6 yrs we've been here. In the last two-three years (so at the time of your post), we have seen the most enormous coyote we've ever come across, life or pictures. He leads a local pack that looks like some of them might have bred with feral/abandoned dogs, and they often run our fields (down by the hwy near trail miles 15-17). I'm interested to know if it might have been him or if there's been confirmed wolf sign.

We also have a local mountain lion, which my kids have named Sharptooth.

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