After a long overdue absence of my friend Sam Kilby, he finally got a short break from his work which allowed us to go on a much needed 3 day hiking trip. Due to the abnormally hot weather we had been experiencing for the past few weeks we knew it would be around 90 degrees with 100% humidity so choosing a location would be difficult. Not wanting to be exposed in the high country with low water levels I opted to be somewhere that was lower in elevation where there would be plenty of shade and lots of water preferably in the form of waterfalls. Also not wanting to do big miles as this would be more of a ‘booze cruse’ event for out of shape fat guys, I chose the Harper Creek Trail as our destination.
After a year or more of trying to get my friend Daniel to Dick Creek Falls, it finally became a reality on June 7, 2015. Although this would turn out to not be the best choice due to very low water levels and intense bright sun all day, it was the only time he would be available so we made the best of it. I had been working on my old Chevy truck for the past year in hopes we could use it for this trip to eliminate a large portion of the hiking required and this would be its virgin trip since being put back in operation after spending many years of sitting. Due to the worn out suspension and so so tires it turned out to be a very rough ride but, we agreed it was better than walking (barely) and it did not let us down. Due to the long drive Daniel had to make to get to this area, it was nearly noon before we would meet up and get on the trail.
After almost one month since my last mountain adventure, I finally was able to get out into the woods again with my friends Tommy ‘Bol’Dar’ Warden and John ‘The Gnome’ Forbes. This epic journey would be to show them one of my favorite North Carolina waterfalls, South Harper Falls. It is always exciting to see someones expression of seeing an awesome place for the first time and I was anxious to get there to witness it. It is not hard to find the trail head or the falls nor is it a long hike but, the name can be confusing as the map does not show the creek as South Harper Creek but, rather it shows Harper Creek. If you have been to North Harper Falls and Harper Falls you know that it is also called Harper Creek yet, it is two separate creeks ! They do come together just above Harper Falls so I guess that is how they decided to name them back then. Calling these falls South Harper Falls separates them from the other Harper falls but, both creeks do share the same Harper Creek name. To add to the confusion the trail is called Harper Creek Trail.
It was a very warm day in early May when my friend Bol’Dar and I began our journey to see the two ponds on Chestnut Knob. It had been almost one month since I had done any real hiking and with some recent injuries and health issues, I was not in the best of shape for a hike of this magnitude although, I did not let that stop me. Getting a late start around 10 am it was already sunny and quite warm but, the worst part would be the annoying, blood sucking, biting flies that would plague us during the entire hike that would only get worse as we gained elevation. It was a long, hard climb from the valley floor to reach the high country so I had to take my time and utilize taking breaks often being very careful not to re-injure my right knee. After a couple hours of slow, strenuous hiking up some very steep terrain, I was very happy to reach one of my favorite old abandoned log roads near the top of the mountain.
If you are unaware of what the Brown Gap Hiker`s Feast is, you may want to read a previous blog from year #20 HERE that describes the early days and evolution of the annual event. Since there is no need to duplicate it all again here, please read that and then visit the photo gallery for this years pics ! Many think Trail Magic is unnecessary, plus a waste of time and money. Although it is true that almost all thru-hikers do not need trail magic to be able to hike the trail and I will admit that due to the growing amount of it on the AT that it has changed the mentality of a few hikers as they come to expect it etc., compared to the rare instances of it years ago when we first started this, the element of surprise did make for a more enjoyable experience however, there are always one or two that are going through a bad experience and actually it does make the difference in whether they continue or not. It also does make for a wonderful tool to get the opportunity to get to talk to so many people from around the world that you would not ever have the chance to otherwise. Whether they stop for a brief moment for a quick snack and a cold drink before moving along, or end up camping out with us for 3+ days, we have met some unique and memorable people not to mention I have made some lifelong friends at Brown Gap over the years. Breaking bread with strangers opens up a chance opportunity to have time to talk which leads to an exchange of information pertaining to a variety of subjects whether it be trail related or not. We learn so much from others about so many things from trail conditions or ways to improve upon trail type things to many other subjects that are infinite in their variety. I always learn something and I am told that my sharing stories of many years of hiking and trail maintaining experiences has been a great help to others so, anytime someone says I am wasting my time and money doing it, I beg to differ. Always remember, it`s not about the miles but, the smiles and I have seen a LOT of smiles at Brown Gap in the past 24 years !
I was very fortunate enough to be invited along on a trip to a local waterfall that requires permission from the landowner to access which is rarely given. This falls being known as Spivey Falls or as I refer to it as Middle Spivey Falls as there are what I consider to be an Upper Spivey Falls and a Lower Spivey Falls (also sometimes called Candler Cove Falls) and it helps to clarify which ones you are referring to although it may not be an official name by any means. The Middle Spivey Falls are located on private property beside a rental cabin which can always be rented during season which would give you full and private access to the falls during your stay. This would not be necessary on this day and despite a forecast of rain, we took our chances and went anyway. It was a good gamble and it did pay off as the rain stopped during our entire time there at the falls and it was somewhat cloudy so it was possible to get some usable pics of these magnificent falls.
I have made many trips to Buckeye Falls in the past 30+ years yet, only once before have I seen it from the left side ridge. This is due to the incredible difficulty involved in climbing what has to be one of the steepest and most gnarly trail-less ridges in this region. It is overgrown with thick laurels, briers, and other scrub growth, not to mention the cliff-like obstacles encountered before becoming very narrow at barely 3 feet wide. Before it is all said and done it transforms itself into a narrow spine of solid rock, having been eroded over time. Even after all the strenuous effort is sweated out and, all the blood has clotted from the numerous pickers that gouge and tear your skin, there is still not many views afforded as it is very overgrown however, there are a couple spots where one can get a small window to catch a unique glimpse of the falls, almost in their entirety. It is rare that there is enough water flowing to make it worth going to these falls never the less going through the agonizing Hell of climbing the left ridge, but, on this trip there would be just enough water to make it almost worth it. Besides the aforementioned obstructions, some of the worst parts of this trek would be the swarms of blood sucking flies and the intensely bright sun which, would impede any chances of getting top quality pics of the falls.
On April 4, 2015 I was fortunate enough to be included on a trip to visit the privately owned Russell Creek Falls in Virginia. These falls are very large and tall and require permission for access to hike to however, they are accessible by rafting along the Clinch River. Also be advised that a few have died here, one as recent as 2013 when a 22 year old boy fell to his death by underestimating the terrain around the top of the falls. Please be very careful if you do visit these falls !!! My new friend Joe Brickey obtained permission for the group to hike to them on this day which included not only Joe and myself but, John Forbes, Derrick Hamrick, Jeff Dean, Thomas Mabry, Dan Till, Mark Lackey, Kenny Jenkins, and Gary Conquest . We all met in Weber City and followed Joe to the St. Paul area where we parked at the property owners house to begin the hike.
It had been since December 2011 since my last visit to the Devil Creek watershed area when my friend Bol’Dar and I took our friend Dave Aldridge to see these hidden beauties so, I thought it was time for another trip there to share with some other worthy friends that I knew would appreciate them. This trek would be a larger group which I normally do not do but, an exception was made and besides myself, the following like-minded outdoor enthusiasts were in attendance: John Forbes, Larry Jarrett, Ken Woody, Dan Till, Derrick Hamrick, and Jeff Dean. After meeting at Hairnt-Quarters, we all carpooled up and proceeded to the trail-head where the first two miles or so would be along the railroad tracks. Disclaimer: This is dangerous and not legal so I can not suggest or condone going there so you should do so at your own risk. There are other ways to get in to the Devil Creek Valley however, it adds considerable miles and some very rugged territory. It was a beautiful morning for a hike but, we knew the bright sun would ruin any chances of acquiring any good waterfall pics.
Every year in early Spring I do a walk-through of my Appalachian Trail section to assess any downed trees that will require a saw crew to remove and do whatever maintenance and clean up of the Winter damage that I can while I am there in order to get the trail ready for the onslaught of thru-hikers that will soon be heading North from Georgia in hopes of making it all the way to Maine. I am lucky to have my good friend, former thru-hiker, and fellow maintainer, Doug Corkhill to pick me up at Spivey Gap and provide a ride for me to the summit of Big Bald where we have access to a key to the gate that allows me to hike from there back down to Spivey one way eliminating a five mile uphill climb only to have to turn around and go back down for a long hard ten mile day. I do have to hike an extra 2+ miles along Doug`s section to get to the summit of Little Bald where my section ends making my total close to 8 miles but, it is mostly downhill all day which makes a huge difference plus, we get the pleasure of each others company as we hike all of Doug`s section and have our lunch together on the top of Little Bald before going our separate ways in opposite directions. This trip would be no exception however, we were in constant 20 to 30 mph winds all day with threatening skies and chilly temps. Otherwise it was a nice day to be in the high country. After accessing the pink blazed locked gate, we started our hike at the base of Big Bald as we hiked up and over Big Stamp going North towards the shelter and Little Bald.