It is that time of year again when the waterfalls spring forth with rejuvenated life and the authentic RAT PACKERS (aka: Camel Servicer’s) begin their annual pilgrimages that take them deep into the back-country and wilds where few, if any, venture. On this first trip of the season we would be following our friend and waterfall ninja leader, Larry Jarret aka: the ‘Roan Mountain Jedi’. Due to his ‘extensive map studies’ and many hard hours of devoted exploration of the areas toughest terrain earlier in the year, he was anxious to show us one of his most prized discoveries. This would lead us deep into the Tennessee mountains on a totally off trail bushwhack through some of the thickest laurel hells I have ever encountered. The route would become so steep at times that without the laurels, would have required ropes to descend. The reward would be the privilege of getting to witness the pristine beauty of a long series of what seemed to be unending waterfalls, many of which were over 100 feet in vertical height. They were well protected by towering vertical rock cliff walls and thick laurels growing on extremely steep terrain which made it very difficult and dangerous to acquire the puckering perches needed in order to get any decent photos of the numerous drops. We did our best yet, most times the falls were so high that there was no way to get all of them in a single frame no matter how wide the lens. Of course the other factor is that without someone actually being in the picture placed close to the falls, there is simply no way to display just how tall they are. Here is a condensed collection of pics that I was able to capture along this amazing waterfalls odyssey.
I was recently on Big Lost Cove Cliffs on 9-16-2015 with some fellow hikertrash friends of mine and it was at that time we decided it would be a good idea to come back when the Fall leaf colors were in full peak. The leaves dictated this timing to be on 10-24-2015 however, Mother Nature dictated something else entirely which would mean not seeing any of the vast and incredible views of the colors from the cliff tops. The forecast was for no rain or clouds and warm temps but, despite a gorgeous sunrise that I witnessed in Johnson City, as we approached Newland, NC we ran into heavy fog. Of course we all assumed this would eventually burn off later with the sun and heat of the day so we continued with the plan and were soon on gravel FS Road #464 where we encountered a wagon trail ! This was interesting to see and soon we would be at the trail head where there would be no place to park ! This is an issue here during weekends and it seems there were others that had the same idea we had ! Squeezing in further down the road we began the hike towards the cliffs with big hopes of a clearing and awesome visuals filled with brilliant colors.
I have been a trail maintainer with Carolina Mtn. Club for over 25 years now. My section lies between Spivey Gap and Little Bald some 5.1 miles of very steep terrain. Due to a frayed rotator cuff on my right shoulder I have been unable to cut the annual growth as I am not supposed to be swinging a sling blade (some calls it a kaiser !). The weekly work crews led by my friend John Whitehouse have been gracious enough to take up the slack for me to which I am thankful. They got it all this year with the exception of the top if Little Bald (aka Big Hairy) so when I got the email from my fellow maintainer Doug Corkhill who does the section next to mine at Big Bald that he was going up on the mountain, I jumped at the chance to go. I try to go with him anytime I can as this makes it easier for me to do the entire section from top down one way as he goes out of his way to pick me up at Spivey Gap and we drive around to the top of Big Bald via the Wolf Laurel access and using a key to the forest service gate. Otherwise I would have to do it the old way of working trail from Spivey Gap to the top of Little Bald and then still have to go back which is double the miles and very strenuous. I can not thank Doug enough for his efforts. On this trip I would be accompanied by my friend and cohort John Forbes. Upon meeting Doug and departing from Spivey Gap around 9:30am, it was already developing into a beautiful day.
Ever since a previous trip to the summit of Sam`s Knob on 10-22-2014 where I got a view of a gnarly looking cliff way off in the distance that I later learned was called ‘The Devil`s Courthouse‘ and was accessible from the Blue Ridge Parkway, I have been wanting to go stand upon it. This would come true nearly a year later when my friend John Forbes and I would make the conscious effort to do so. After a 2 hour long drive we arrived at the parking lot and trail head on a bright, sunny, Fall day and although there were a lot of colors on display, they were not yet in full peak. We had planned to stop at Graveyard Fields on the way but, due to the massive hordes of people there, it was not possible. There was not even a parking space ! It was not as crowded at the cliff mainly because it is a 20 minute climb uphill to it. We parked at the trail head and took a couple of pics from there before beginning our ascent to the top.
After a few days of flooding rains over in North Carolina, it seemed like a good idea to check out some waterfalls in that area. I had been wanting to show my hiking friend John Forbes the falls of Steels Creek and Harper Creek Falls for awhile now but, knowing it would not be safe to get below Steels Creek Falls when the rocks are wet so, we opted instead to go to Harper Falls. I decided to check out a new route to Wilson Creek off of Hwy 181 instead of the usual way down FS #464 which turned out to be a really nice back country drive on a decent gravel road however, after several; days of hard rains it was a bit mushy in spots. We came out down below the visitor center and immediately could see that Wilson Creek was no longer a creek but, was a river at the top of its banks. We later learned they would close that road the following day as well as the road to Steels Creek. We made our way to the Harper Falls trail head to park and began our hike towards them.
I am ashamed to say that it had been since May 26, 2013 since I last set foot into the Grand Canyon of the East officially called the Linville Gorge or as I now refer to it as ‘The Ditch’. At that time I was formally introduced to some intimate sections of it by the Gorge Rats during an annual camp out they do at the Hawksbill trail head. I was instantly addicted and before the weekend was over I was accepted as a Gorge Rat and properly given the patch. Having been busy with life since then and the pursuit of waterfalls it has taken me until now to get my claws back into the gorge. On this day I would be accompanied by my mountaineering friend John Forbes who although being no stranger to the gorge had never been to the particular section we would be enjoying on this trip. That section is the area called The Chimneys and is one of my favorite places in the gorge. After a nearly 2 hour drive we arrived at the Table Rock parking lot and began our journey South along the Mountains to Sea Trail.
After being unable to hike for almost 6 weeks since my last hike in August due to back and knee pain, I was finally able to get back to the mountains for some much needed therapy with Mother Nature. Ever since my first trip to the Big Lost Cove Cliffs with my friend Dave Aldridge, I had been wanting to go back as we did not get to spend enough time there on that trip due to a strong thunder and lightning storm that came up just as we got onto the lower part of the cliffs. I knew there was much more to explore and on this trip we would certainly make an all day expedition of doing just that. I would be accompanied by my fellow friends and mountaineers Tommy ‘Bol’Dar’ Warden, John Forbes, and Dan Till. It was a warm September day as we made our way up the first hill from the trail head.
On the first day of August I decided it would be nice to take a trip to Beauty Spot near the summit of Unaka Mountain to hopefully catch a nice sunset there before work. I stopped on the way to pick up some supper at the ‘Hawg N Dog’ in Erwin which turned out to be some smoked ribs, a hot dog, some bbq beans and some coleslaw. I planned to eat this on the mountain while I waited on the sun to set. As I made my way slowly up the rough gravel road I noticed a red truck behind me but, it was not until I parked and got out at the top that I recognized my good friend and fellow mountaineer Larry Jarrett. He was on his way back from Lower California Creek Falls where he had devised a makeshift ‘Hillbilly Life Vest’ flotation device in order to get across the Nolichucky River which is the shortest way to reach those falls. We had a nice visit there before he continued on his journey home and I towards the summit where I would pick a spot to eat and await the approaching sunset. There were several others already there with the same ideas in mind. I decided to go off the top a ways to get a view towards the South and find a place to myself where I set up my tripod and began to eat the awesome food I had brought along.
After a long overdue absence of my friend Sam Kilby, he finally got a short break from his work which allowed us to go on a much needed 3 day hiking trip. Due to the abnormally hot weather we had been experiencing for the past few weeks we knew it would be around 90 degrees with 100% humidity so choosing a location would be difficult. Not wanting to be exposed in the high country with low water levels I opted to be somewhere that was lower in elevation where there would be plenty of shade and lots of water preferably in the form of waterfalls. Also not wanting to do big miles as this would be more of a ‘booze cruse’ event for out of shape fat guys, I chose the Harper Creek Trail as our destination.
After a year or more of trying to get my friend Daniel to Dick Creek Falls, it finally became a reality on June 7, 2015. Although this would turn out to not be the best choice due to very low water levels and intense bright sun all day, it was the only time he would be available so we made the best of it. I had been working on my old Chevy truck for the past year in hopes we could use it for this trip to eliminate a large portion of the hiking required and this would be its virgin trip since being put back in operation after spending many years of sitting. Due to the worn out suspension and so so tires it turned out to be a very rough ride but, we agreed it was better than walking (barely) and it did not let us down. Due to the long drive Daniel had to make to get to this area, it was nearly noon before we would meet up and get on the trail.