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.
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.