My hiking and fellow waterfall loving friend Dave Aldridge has been wanting to go see the Simmons Branch Falls for quite sometime now and had recently managed a trip to the lower falls but, was unsure on how to get past them to the middle and uppers as it does seem an impervious task. We decided to go on a warm, sunny, Wednesday in late February while the water levels were fairly high which makes for much better waterfall viewing and photographing. We left Hairnt-Quarters around 9 am stopping for breakfast at a local diner in Unicoi before continuing on to Bumpass Cove. The gate is closed during this time of year so we had to park in a way as to not block it and yet stay off of any private property that surrounds the entrance to the forest there. It did not take long to get to the lower falls and to my surprise there was actually water flowing in what is called the ‘feeder falls‘ to the left of the lower falls. (don’t ask me why they are called that) Since Dave had recently been to the lower falls and did not need to climb over to them to get photo`s, and wanted to begin the arduous climb to the top, I showed him the route to take while I went over to the base of the lower falls and setup my tripod to take some pics. The last time I was here, there was no where near this much water and the time before (my first time actually) it was frozen solid. I had no longer set up and taken a few pics when I heard Dave hairnt at me from the top. I was glad he had made it safely as it is a steep climb with a rock cliff to negotiate at the top. I finished my pics and soon joined him up there. After that climb I had to rest before continuing on so I took a pic of the falls from the cliff above them while catching my breath. Looking down off this rock is very cool and it is a long way to the bottom where you just came from.
On February 7, 2011 , Alvis L. Kinney aka: ‘Pawpaw’ passed from this world to hike that great trail on the other side. He was loved by everyone who met him and was one of my very best friends for the past 19 years and we will all miss him more than words can describe. Having served during Korea and surviving the attack of Pearl Harbor, he went on to hike the entire length of the Appalachian Trail several times, the last time earning him the title of the oldest man to thru-hike the trail. He loved hiking and the many friends he made while doing so. He was was a loving father, grandfather, and husband and is now back with his beloved wife Lillian who left this world before him. He will be surely missed by all until we can meet again someday.
March 6, 1917 to February 7, 2011
A million times we’ve needed you,
and a million times we’ve cried.
If our love alone could have saved you,
you never would have died.
In life we loved you dearly,
in death we love you still.
In our hearts you hold a special place,
no one else can ever fill.
It broke our hearts to lose you,
but you didn’t go alone.
A part of us went with you,
the day God took you home.
We love and miss you Pawpaw.
The next trip to the Devils Creek watershed area would come on Sunday, 2-6-2011 on a nice sunny day with believe it or not, no snow ! This time we would start at Unaka Springs near Chestoa and follow the railroad tracks into the Nolichucky River Gorge towards North Carolina. DISCLAIMER: Walking railroad tracks is dangerous and against federal law so do this at your own risk !!! I have so many memories of numerous trips to this area but it has been at least 20 years since I was here last. Not much has changed really, walking the tracks is still dangerous and basically unpleasant other than the incredible views of the river, parts of Unaka, Flattop, and the other mountains that line the steep sides of the river gorge.You can make pretty good time walking the more or less level tracks, perhaps it’s the adrenaline caused from thinking about approaching trains that puts a spring in ones step here ? We were very lucky on our trip in to the gorge as we did not encounter a single train however, this would be made up for on the way out later that evening ! The ducks were out enjoying the morning as were a family group we met coming out. We stopped at one of our favorite old break spots where there is a large rock formation (this pic was taken on our way out) on the river side and where the steep rock sides begin along the tracks just before the sharp blind curve that has to be negotiated before the long straightaway that leads to the NC/TN state line which is where the Devils Creek enters the river. It did not take long at all to hike that 2+ miles and we could soon see the old iron bridge and the sheer rock, cliff-like sides of the entrance to the narrow Devils Creek Valley.
After several days of warmer temps with much snow melted in the lower elevations, it was decided by my friend Bol’Dar and myself that we would attempt to cross another expedition off our long list of places to hike. This priority being the Devils Creek watershed area located on the TN/NC state line. Leaving Hairnt-quarters around mid-morning we arrived at Spivey Gap shortly after 10 am only to find knee deep snow still there making it nearly impossible to even pull the car off the road ! Luckily it was cold and frozen solid so I managed to drive off into some large truck tracks and park, hoping it would not be sunk to the axle when it melted later that day. I had hoped to not hike in anymore deep snow but it was not to be as there was still plenty to be found in the higher elevations and especially on the North and shady slopes of the mountains. Going North on the A.T. it was not as difficult as it looked as the snow was frozen very solid and we were able to crunch our way across the top of it without issue. There would be a large blowdown right off the bat but the first oddity of the day would be these strange orange plastic things that were fastened to short pieces of reebar sticking up in the ground off to the sides of the trail leading towards Oglesby Branch. Not sure what these were for as there placement was very random. Our first break would be at the bridge crossing over the branch where we recalled stopping at so many times in the years before, back when the Rat > Patrol Hiking Club was in full swing some 20+ years ago. It was covered with deep snow but the sun was shining intensely and it felt good to be in the woods breathing the crisp mountain air.