I was recently bestowed the privilege and honor of planning a hike location for my good friend John Forbes to celebrate his #100 day of hiking in 2014. This was a goal he set for himself at the start of the year and it was quite an accomplishment so it was only fitting that the hike for that day be equally as impressive. Knowing that John prefers hikes that are not for the average hiker but, instead would be considered more extreme, sometimes bordering on insane, this hike would have to be of epic proportions. It was for this reason that I chose to lead us to the summit of Whitehouse Mountain, then down the incredibly steep off trail ridge that leads down to the top of the cliffs there that I aptly named ‘Stonehenge’ some 30 years ago. (You must see them from the ‘High Road‘ to understand why I chose that name) Of course the journey would not end there but, rather just be getting started as I would continue to escort everyone in the group across the top of the cliffs and then down to the base and walk across the foot of the mighty monoliths to beyond the other side to experience the full effect this area has to offer. The descent down from there is also a hike within itself. This is the prodigious story of that unforgettable day,,,,,
I have been going to Dick Creek and the lower falls there for over 30 years now having camped and hiked there many times in my lifetime but, it has only been in the last decade that I have become a waterfall-aholic and learned that there was an Upper Dick Creek Falls which I have since visited often. I have always suspected that there would be more falls above the upper falls but, I was yet to get the time needed to explore that region. I had been planning to get to that sometime this year however, the legendary backwoods explorer, Larry Jarret beat me to it as he spent a lot of time this year deep in the bowels of the Unaka Mountain area where just one of his many discoveries was at least four major waterfalls that lie deep within the rugged and remote area of the upper Dick Creek valley. On this hike I would see almost all of them for my first time along with my fellow mountain adventurers John Forbes and Kenneth Woody. We would also have the pleasure of being accompanied to the upper Dick Creek Falls with Michael Taylor, my brother from another mother.
I recently had the chance to go to the Flat Laurel Creek area with my hiking friends Dave and Lou. This area is near Sam Knob, Little Sam Knob, and Black Balsam Knob. It is not far from Graveyard Fields. We went in around Logan Lake and stopped along the West Fork Pigeon River to see the lower Flat Laurel Creek Falls from the road before driving just up the road to the trail head which would lead us up by many feeder streams, each with its own set of waterfalls until it reaches the main creek which eventually becomes the river and flows to Lake Logan. Lou opted to go back before that and take the car around to the other side of Sam Knob to a parking lot there so we could walk straight through to it. You can see the high knob and its rocky outcroppings from many places on this trail and it was calling to me.
After hearing about the channels for years and seeing recent pictures of this amazing place, I finally got the chance to go there. Thanks to my friend Jason Horton who organized a trip there which I was able to attend. The only bad part of it all was that Jason got sick at the last minute and was unable to go ! There were many that attended including John Forbes, Shane Estep, Jeff Forrester and family, and a few others that I can`t remember their names (sorry). The Channels are located on the Southern slope of the Clinch Mountain with parking locations along the Brumley Gap Road and from Hayters Gap which is where we started from. The Channels State Forest is 4,836-acres and within 721 acres of that area is dedicated to the Channels Natural Area Preserve under the provisions of the Natural Area Preserve Act of 1989 to be managed by the Department of Forestry in partnership with the Department of Conservation and Recreation.
I have not been to the Simmons Branch Falls area since February 23, 2011. This is not just because of low water levels but, mainly because the access to them has been seemingly cut off by the guy who owns the private property at the end of the road. It seems he was able to purchase the property adjacent to his which is just across the road where in recent years a structure had burned down there so it came up for sale. I also found out that the forest service did not have a written right of way across this property so he was able to close off access to their road and government gate with a huge steel beam gate which was very surprising to me. I heard many tales of Mr. Turner chasing people away at gunpoint so I was not anxious to confront him although I have been told that he (Rick) and his brother Eric are not that bad and would allow access to some people if asked correctly as it seems they only want to stop any hunters or undesirables from being on his property. I always respect the rights or property owners and will go out of my way to get permission if at all possible before trespassing but, in this case I did not have to do either as I was able to find an easy way in to the falls all on government land and not crossing any of the private property.
I do not always get a chance to go on a Fall trip to my trail section but, this year I got lucky enough to be invited along with my fellow trail maintainer Doug Corkhill to accompany him on a trip up to his section on Big Bald. I try not to turn down any opportunities like this as it enables me to walk my section from top to bottom, one way thus eliminating the arduous climb up 5+ miles from Spivey Gap to Little Bald and then having to go back down ! I can not only get more done from top down but, it is also much easier on this old, worn out body of mine. It was magnificent weather and turned out to be a postcard blue sky day so we could not ask for any better considering the weather had been rather crappy just prior to this day. After getting through the guard shack and using the brand new key to the gate on the bald, it was about 10:30 am when we hit the trail.
To start off the month of October, I went on a hike with my new friends John Forbes and Ken Woody to see a few waterfalls in the Unicoi County area which is basically my backyard. Of course it was a bright, sunny day and despite low water levels we were determined to have a grand time and that we did. Our first stop was at Lower Higgins Creek. With very little water there we only went to the Lower Falls which are the largest but, I took us in the secret ninja trail that leads to the base of the Hidden Falls I found there some years back. It was not as impressive as my last trip there when there was a lot more water and the light was so intensely bright that there was no way to get any good pics of them or the Lower Higgins Falls above them but, we had a good time anyway. It did however, allow us to get into the heart of the falls and stand right in the guts of her which would not be possible during higher water flow.
I finally got a chance to go on a hiking adventure with another new friend (and brother from another mother) Michael Taylor. He took John Forbes and I up to the Guest River Gorge where we hiked a short ways down to see some of the small waterfalls there. it was a bright sunny day and the water level was rather low so I will have to return in the future now that I know where it is. The first thing you come to from the parking area is a long tunnel (The Swede Tunnel built in 1922). This is a remnant of the old coal mining days when the trains were used to haul the coal. There are some coal veins still visible and some traces of the old mines that have been filled in with concreted rocks and lots of rock cliffs that tower high above you as you follow the river down into the gorge. The trail is of the ‘rails to trail’ type and is very smooth but does descend the whole time and there is not good access on the lower end (private) so one must come back out uphill.
On this adventure I had the pleasure of hiking with some new hikertrash friends, John Forbes, Ken Woody, Mark Lackey, and Shane Estep. Our first stop would be Gentry Falls near Laurel Bloomery in Johnson County. It had been since April of 2011 since my last visit to these falls and at that time there was ample water flowing which would not be the case on this trip however, there was still enough to make it a very enjoyable trip. It was a bright, sunny, blue sky day but the light did allow for some usable pictures of the double-decker falls on gentry Creek.
After being bitten by the Panthertown Valley bug on my first trip there about a week ago on 9-10-2014, I knew I would be going back there soon and often. My second trip was again with my friend Dave Aldridge who wanted us to see a very large and maybe one of the hardest to get to waterfalls there called Flat Creek Falls. Luckily for me some fellow waterfall friends of mine had just been there a couple weeks before so I was able to get some very good information from them. You can read about their insane adventure on Jason`s blog here (scroll down to Monday, August 25, 2014). On this trip we would begin our adventure at a different trail head at the end of Rock Bridge Road which is on the other side of the valley from where our last trip started. The journey begins by crossing the Flat Creek right out of the car and finding the Old Trestle Road that was used back when the narrow gauge railroads were hauling logs out of the area many years ago.