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.
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.