It was a Sunday and the last day of my week long vacation and with only minimal hiking being possible I made a spur of the moment decision to do a short hike before I had to clock in to work. It was raining lightly on and off so I stayed close and went up Rock Creek Road towards Unaka but it was total white out up there so I decided to do some exploring in the lower elevations instead. Had I went tot he summit of Unaka that day I would have met up with Larry Jarret as he was there and got one of the best pictures of the summit I have seen ! Instead I went just past Rock Creek Park up the right prong of the creek where there is a gated forest service road on the right (opposite of the main Unaka Mtn) that points back on a 45 degree angle to the road so it is usually not seen. I have always wanted to see where that road went and knowing there are rock cliffs that line the tops of that mountain on its entire length, I thought I would poke my nose in there for a short hike. I only carried my small pocket camera so please excuse the poor quality pictures.
During my vacation week I was unable to do any hiking so I took a couple hours to take my son to Rocky Fork Creek to swim at the swimming hole there and get some pics of the falls there. I could not believe that it was September and I had not been swimming one time this year so I decided to take care of that while I was there in case I did not get another chance before years end. The water level was decent and as always, cold ! We swam for a few minutes at the main falls, I took some pics then moved down to the lower falls for some more pics.
After being on ‘the list’ for such a long time, I finally got the opportunity to go to the Panthertown Valley to do some much anticipated hiking. I only recently heard about this area a couple of years ago via social network and have been wanting to go there ever since. It is sometimes referred to as ‘The Yosemite of the East’ as it covers over 6700 acres of high elevation forest service land that is quite spectacular and now becoming very popular among all types of outdoor enthusiasts. There are numerous waterfalls here along with incredible panoramic views from the granite cliffs, the headwaters of the Tuckaseegee River and the East Fork of the Little Tennessee River, as well as many diverse environments of rare plants and wildlife species.
I will first provide a brief history of the area:
I was not able to go on my annual week-long birthday hike this year due to many unforseen circumstances that occurred, one of which was the unexpected passing of my oldest brother Jim. On the way to visit family and attend the funeral services I did stop to see what I call lower Wesser Falls on the lower end of the Nantahala River at Wesser, NC. These are not a vertical drop falls but, more of a large cascading variety that are most impressive during high water levels such as they were on this day. It was raining as I was taking these pictures. To access these falls there is a small pull off on the right side of highway 74 (going upstream) just before where the Appalachian Trail crosses and you can hop the wood rail fence and find a small path that leads out to the edge of a very high cliff above the falls. Please use extreme caution here especially when slick as there is nothing to stop you from plummeting to your demise.
It is with great sadness that I write this. On Friday, September 5, 2014 , my oldest brother James ‘Jim’ William McRae left this Earth way too soon. He was only 62 and had a lot of living left to do but, a higher power decided to call him home early it seems. He will be surely missed by many of us here among the living but, we must take some comfort in knowing that he is now with our other loved ones who have also gone ahead of us including our dear mother whom we also miss more than any words can describe.
Jim never met a person who did not like him and he was a hard working and an honest as the day is long kinda guy. There will never be another living being like Jim as he was truly one of a kind, unrivaled, and the most unique individual I have ever known. His unorthodox sayings will live on forever along with the endless stories of his interesting adventures that took place during his life.
I regret that it had been a number of years since I had seen him and I did not get the chance for one more visit before his passing. This also has forced me to look into my own mortality as I realize now more than ever just how short life is and how quickly it can be gone. I must say to you now that if there is anyone you need to see, anything you need to say, or anything you need to do before your time expires, please DO NOT put it off ! Get it done because we are not promised a tomorrow and you or someone you love could be gone before the sun rises again.
Rest in peace my brother, you are loved like no other and I will miss you for the rest of my days until we meet again on the other side. In his own immortal words I will close this with,,,, “Alright then ! “
It has been awhile since my last blog as I am sure many of you have noticed. Actually 3 months and 14 days since I last set foot in the woods which was the Spring walk through / work trip on my section of the Appalachian Trail on April 2, 2014. For any of you that give a RAT`s ass, this was due to some physical issues with my back and hip pain and recently a torn/frayed rotator cuff. After three MRI`s, a few x-ray guided spinal injections and a lot of physical therapy, I am now getting back to hiking whether I am ready for it or not. My waterfall addict friend Dave Aldridge has also taken some time off due to a foot injury but we both decided to get together and take a short, easy trip to try an ease back into it hopefully to build up to longer trips eventually as we are able. I should be cutting weeds on my trail section but due to the shoulder injury I can not do that so I looked for a new waterfall to go see instead. Thanks to a new waterfall friend Mark Lackey, I was enlightened on how to get to what he calls Cobweb Falls (he says, “it sounds better than the mundane name: Big Creek Falls”). After seeing these falls for myself, I can see why they are called as such.
Only one month late this year for the annual Spring walk-thru on my section of trail on the AT. I have been maintaining the same 5 mile section of trail for the Carolina Mountain Club for going on 23 years now. I usually get out earlier than this each Spring but, due to heavy snow and scheduling I was unable to make it any sooner this time. I also wait until I hear from my friend Doug Corkhill who is a fellow maintainer of the section next to mine between Big Bald and Little Bald as he is kind enough to go out of his way and pick me up at Spivey Gap to take me to the top of Big Bald where I can walk one way and do my section much easier. This year I was fortunate to also be accompanied by an old friend of mine Charlie Bennett who I have not seen in a few years. It was a pleasure hiking with him again and he was a big help.
I was recently contacted by a local guy whom I had become acquainted with on the Tennessee Waterfalls Facebook page asking for information on how to get to Josiah and Lilybeth Falls. He was planning on going with another person from the waterfalls group to try and find them and had heard that I was the authority on this area. They were wanting to go from the bottom up starting at Pine Ridge Falls and asked if I thought they could find them. I had to be truthful and tell them that I did not recommend that due to there being no trails, some dangerous cliffs and steep climbs that the best way was to come from the top down but that going that way would also require being shown the way due to the old road into Devil Fork Valley being more or less impassable having been devastated with blow downs caused by the pine bark beetles a few years ago. I tried to get some others together to do the Waterfall Tour but was unsuccessful given the short notice. I also actually did not feel quite up to such a long and strenuous all day trip so I reconsidered going from the bottom up and ended up agreeing to show them the way.
Wanting a change of pace from the normal designated hiking trails that everyone knows about and are well traveled, I have always wanted to just pack my backpack and go off into a Wilderness area and spend a few days and nights just hiking around, camping in different places where you would most likely not run into any one the whole time. The closest Wilderness area for me is the Sampson Mountain Wilderness Area and it is a fact that you can easily spend a week or more rambling around there and never cross the same path twice. I have always wanted to do that and I finally got an opportunity to do so. The only bad thing was I only had three days to do it. My friend Sam wanted to spend three days and two nights in the mountains before having to return to work so it was my job to come up with a plan. I did just that however, due to the time constraints and the route I chose, it would not be an easy one and was thus called ‘Death March 2014′.
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.