Despite the lingering of snow in the mountains, it was forecast to be a warm day near 60 and sunny so to cure some of the cabin fever my friend Sam and I decided to go on a hike on the first day of February. Our friend Bol’Dar was supposed to attend but, was unable to make it so I gave Sam the list of possible hike locations and of course he picked out the hardest one which was the Hidden Lake (also known as Birchfield Camp Creek Pond) located on the back side of Frozen Knob. Bol’Dar and I had been there in the past year by way of Birchfield Camp Creek but, I had not been the long way via Rocky Fork in some 20+ years so it was decided that would be the route. I knew it would be over 11 miles, half of which would be uphill and knowing I had not done that kind of mileage in a few years, and against my better judgement I decided to go along with that plan. We got a fairly early start from Hairnt-quarters of around 8am and was at the trail head by 9am. There was still a couple inches of snow on the road leading in to Rocky Fork and it was cold but, the sun was up and we could tell it was going to be a great day to be in the mountains.
About thirty years ago when I first started hiking in the Rocky Fork area, I had a dream of standing on top of the lower and vertical part of the Flint Mountain cliffs. This dream finally came true on Martin Luther King Jr. day, Jan. 20, 2014. If you read my last blog you know that we did a recon of the proposed route earlier this month and did indeed find what I thought to be the easiest way to the cliff top and on this day we would find out if that was correct. Starting around 10 am at the lower Rocky Fork trail head to get to what I call the ‘old high road’ that leads to the top of Flint Mountain, we decided that we would not bother with risking wet feet at the deep creek crossing there but, instead we would back the jeep across the creek and park beside the first blue gate ! From there we made our way downstream and behind the second blue gate to follow the old high road up past the old homestead area to get to the access point we had scouted on our last trip ten days ago.
For over thirty years and ever since I first walked under the cliffs on the end of Flint Mountain in Rocky Fork, I have wanted to stand on the top of those cliffs. This desire was rekindled in the past three years with our recent accomplishment of standing on top of the Whitehouse Mountain Cliffs (aka Stonehenge) and looking over at them from the opposite side. Having studied the area and maps for all these years I have always had a solid theory on the best way to reach these cliffs however I never actually took the time to make it happen. I always thought that it would not be that hard to get to them but that it would be too steep and gnarly to actually be feasible. On Jan. 10, 2014 my friend Sam and I decided to go on a recon mission to begin the first phase of testing my theory.
I finally got the pleasure of meeting and hiking with my friend Sam`s nephew Houston Kilby on a trip with them, Bol’Dar and myself that we took at the end of December, 2013. It was a cold day and there was some ice but no snow and the water level was decent. Of course any higher than normal water levels anywhere on Harper Creek means adventurous creek crossings and there are plenty of them. Starting around 10 am at the North Harper Creek Trail #266 located on FR#58 we began our descent into the Harper Creek Valley. It is not far to the first creek crossing where the fun begins.
I have been taking my long lost friend Sam to several waterfalls and cliffs in the Wilson Creek area of North Carolina lately so, I decided that on this trip we would go to the South Harper Falls. I had hoped that our friend Bol’Dar would be able to come along as he has not yet seen these over 200′ high waterfalls and cliffs but, he was unable to make it which just means that we will have to go back which is fine with me. These falls are of the cascading type but, they are still nearly vertical and have cut out a very unique canyon and cliff area that makes them very impressive. The falls are in two parts, an upper section and a lower section connected by a short, sloping section that you can actually stand on but, I must say that this is not a place to have small children or inexperienced hikers. People have died here. If the rocks are the least bit moist I would NOT attempt to walk on them.
On a recent trip to Whitehouse Mountain Cliffs in Rocky Fork on 12-13-2013, my friend Dave accidentally lost my jacket out of his pack on his way down the cliffs. It was almost a week later before I found time to go back and retrieve it. I know that I should probably not be climbing anywhere in that area by myself but it was a spur of the moment decision when I chose to go so, there was really no time to ask anyone to go with me. I did try to get in touch with my son but was unable to reach him. It was already early afternoon on a Wednesday when I headed out and it was sunny and in the 40`s. I figured I had time to get there and complete the short but arduous climb up to the cliffs and back going in reverse of the route we had taken down the week before and still get back in time for work. Of course I had to stop and get a couple pics of the triple falls on my way in.
Being the social network addict that I am, I had recently met a fellow waterfall enthusiast Daniel, on the Waterfalls of Tennessee Facebook page who is from middle TN and was looking to explore new waterfalls in my area of East TN. He expressed his interest in seeing the upper falls on Sill Branch. I knew it would be hard to tell him how to find the unmarked trail that leads there plus he mentioned that he did not use a gps so I agreed to meet with him and show him the way or if possible guide him all the way to the falls. This became reality on a cold and frost day in December 2013.
Somehow after last weeks hike up to Long Branch Falls after first stopping to look at Whitehouse Mountain Cliffs from the high road, I knew that I would soon be making another trip to the cliffs. I was planning on taking my friend Sam Kilby up there but I never dreamed that my friend Dave Aldridge would want to come along. It was a cold morning but the sun was shining brightly as Sam, Dave, Bol’Dar and myself began the hike into Rocky Fork. We stopped to take the obligatory pics of the triple falls and the cliffs that sit along the opposite side of Whitehouse Mountain Cliffs before taking the little known trail that leads to the gap behind Whitehouse Mountain.
It has been since November of 2010 that my last trip to Long Branch Falls located in the Rocky Fork area and I was unable to get any decent pics on that trip due to low water flow and bright sunshine. My friend Dave was in about the same situation except he had recently made a trip back there but, was unable to find the upper falls again and asked if I would accompany him on another trip there and show him their location. It had been awhile since either of us had been on a moderate hike so being a bit out of shape, we decided to just have a leisurely hike and see how far we could get up the Long Branch Hollow.
Since it had been awhile since my last trip to the mountains (11-16-2013), I needed to get a quick fix but, it was already 3pm so it had to be somewhere close to home. For this reason I decided to go to Clarks Creeks and hike up Sill Branch to the Lower Falls to get some exercise and take some pics of those falls and some of the other smaller ones in the vicinity. It was about 3:30pm when I left the car and began my hike up the Sill Branch hollow. There was still snow on the ground and the breeze blowing out of the valley was chilly but, it felt good to be in the woods. I met two friendly older ladies who were on their way out and we conversed for a spell about waterfalls as it seems they were from Sevierville and were tired of hiking in and around the Smokies and were venturing further out to see new things. They asked me about some huge waterfall called Mill Creek Shoals and for once it was a falls I had not heard of. We have a very small falls on Mill Creek over on some private property near Erwin but nothing large by that name that I know of. I let them know about my website and welcomed them to contact me anytime to help them find lots of falls in the area.