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Simmons Branch Falls – 12-26-2015

The access to the trail head for these falls was blocked off a few years ago by a landowner who owns property adjacent to them. He does NOT own the land where the falls are as that is all on US Forest Service property however, the USFS road that leads into the area does cross a very small section of his land. That road was discontinued many years ago by the Forest Service after a new road was built and was only opened for hunting season which was also stopped a few years ago as well. Of course the government has an easement there and will always be allowed to access it over the private property yet, the general public is not so lucky which has somehow permitted the landowner to block all access to it. I have heard first hand reports of him coming out with gun in hand and impolitely forcing people to leave and only one instance of someone being allowed to park there and access the route to the falls. Although that type of behavior is uncalled for, I can understand his frustration as in recent years there has been so much popularity in waterfalls spread by social media, and websites listing all the known falls and their map coordinates, etc., that masses of people were parking on his land at the USFS gate which resulted in mud holes and lots of trash being thrown out there. So, rather than attempt to speak with him to hopefully get access (which I was told would be futile) I opted a few years ago to find another route to the falls that did not require crossing any private property. After researching property ownership maps I was able to locate the perfect route to the falls that was not much longer or more difficult. Having hunted and explored all over the area there for many years when I was younger aided in my being able to find the perfect route to take. I have been a few times since then and it seems a small handful of others have also been traveling this route as well. It goes over state owned property which connects to the USFS land and apparently there have been issues as I noticed on this trip they have put up bright yellow property boundary markers to clearly show where state property stops and the private property begins which is a good sign as I take it to mean the state does not mind hiking over their property. I hope no one does anything to cause them to block that off because any other way in to the area would require a MUCH longer hike, so long in fact that it may not even be possible for many to accomplish on a day hike.

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Upper Simmons Branch Falls

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Posted on 3 March '16 by , under RATtreks. No Comments.

Talus Fields of Unaka Mtn. – 12-12-2015

After being fortunate enough to having been on the first expedition to the talus fields  and to be one of the first humans to stand upon the age old rocks there since at least the early 1900`s if not longer, I have been wanting to return. Although there have been a couple of trips made there since that time, I was not included on them so I jumped at the opportunity to go back again. The first virgin trip to this unique place was done from the top down and the subsequent adventures there were done from the bottom up and back. On this foray we had planned to go from the top down and back and would include the original members of the first trek which was Larry Jarret, John Forbes, and myself however, upon our crack of dawn arrival we encountered our entry point blocked by local bear hunters. Apparently they did not get the memo ! We killed some time getting sunrise pics in hopes they would move to a different location but, that was not to be so we made a slight change in our plan which turned out to be for the better as it would lead to the discovery of another large talus field that until now has not had any humans upon it prior to 1920 at the earliest.

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Sunrise looking Southeast from Unaka Mountain

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Posted on 10 February '16 by , under RATtreks. No Comments.

Unnamed Falls of Holston Mtn. = Chapter One – 12-5-2015

On the fourth ride of the season for the Camel Servicer`s Union, we would find ourselves once again following our fearless leader Larry Jarret to yet another remarkable find of many unknown and unnamed waterfalls. This time would be at a new location for us which was somewhere on Holston Mountain. This mountain range is very underrated as it is much larger and steeper than most imagine and it hides many deep hollows filled with hidden cliffs and waterfalls. Larry has done a lot of very hard and time consuming legwork to explore many of them and this is just one of his many incredible finds there. This epic adventure would require a lot of extra driving time in order to place a vehicle at the bottom then drive all the way around to the top as it would not be possible to go bottom up and back or vice versa with the amount of daylight hours we now have. We would still end up coming out in the dark since it gets dark so much earlier this time of year. Once the vehicles were placed we began our descent which instantly placed us into the usual laurel hells. It was not long before the sound of water could be heard and from there the earth seemed to fall out from under us.

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Just one of many unnamed falls we encountered along this journey

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Posted on 14 January '16 by , under RATtreks. No Comments.

Mystery Falls – 11-28-2015

On the third ride of the Camel Servicer`s Union for this season it was decided that due to the unusual warm weather that we were having that we would make a trip to what we have been calling Mystery Falls. The name was actually given by our late and great friend Dave Aldridge as he spied the upper drop of them from far off in the distance when looking for the way to Twisting Falls on the Elk River. He asked me to find the way to Twisting Falls for him and take him there and as I showed him the way he pointed out the ‘Mystery Falls‘ he had found on his previous trip. The Camel Servicer`s proceeded down towards the river and Twisting Falls and upon reaching the river just above them we then saw the lower drop of Mystery Falls where it drops into the river from high above. These are most impressive falls and after researching them and speaking to many of the areas oldest locals, I was amazed that few knew about them and that a name had never been given. I guess Mystery Falls it shall be !

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Lower drop of Mystery Falls

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Posted on 23 December '15 by , under RATtreks. 2 Comments.

Slot Canyon Falls – 11-21-2015

After a week of healing it was again time for the Camel Servicer`s to embark upon the second surf of the waterfall season. This epic selection of waves would again be found deep in the backwoods of the East Tennessee hills in yet another lost hollow on Unaka that has not seen any signs of humans in many decades. Starting at the top it is instantly apparent as to why as,  the terrain is insanely steep with no traces of a trail anywhere with some of the thickest laurel hells that I have ever attempted to go through. There were very few times that the creek could even be seen for them and soon enough the terrain turned into cliffs on both sides that would be the foundations for the many unknown and unnamed waterfalls that we call the Slot Canyon Falls.

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Upper Slot Canyon Falls

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Posted on 10 December '15 by , under RATtreks. No Comments.

The Waterfalls of Phantom`s Trace – 11-14-2015

It is that time of year again when the waterfalls spring forth with rejuvenated life and the authentic RAT PACKERS (aka: Camel Servicer’s) begin their annual pilgrimages that take them deep into the back-country and wilds where few, if any, venture. On this first trip of the season we would be following our friend and waterfall ninja leader, Larry Jarret aka: the ‘Roan Mountain Jedi’. Due to his ‘extensive map studies’ and many hard hours of devoted exploration of the areas toughest terrain earlier in the year, he was anxious to show us one of his most prized discoveries. This would lead us deep into the Tennessee mountains on a totally off trail bushwhack through some of the thickest laurel hells I have ever encountered. The route would become so steep at times that without the laurels, would have required ropes to descend. The reward would be the privilege of getting to witness the pristine beauty of a long series of what seemed to be unending waterfalls, many of which were over 100 feet in vertical height. They were well protected by towering vertical rock cliff walls and thick laurels growing on extremely steep terrain which made it very difficult and dangerous to acquire the puckering perches needed in order to get any decent photos of the numerous drops. We did our best yet, most times the falls were so high that there was no way to get all of them in a single frame no matter how wide the lens. Of course the other factor is that without someone actually being in the picture placed close to the falls, there is simply no way to display just how tall they are. Here is a condensed collection of pics that I was able to capture along this amazing waterfalls odyssey.

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Group shot beside one of the many old growth forest trees that grow near the falls (left to right: Larry ‘Roan Mtn. Jedi’ Jarret, Me (Randy ‘RAT’ Tarpley), Tommy ‘Bol’Dar’ Warden, and John ‘The Gnome’ Forbes

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Posted on 26 November '15 by , under RATtreks. No Comments.

Big Lost Cove Cliffs (Whiteout Edition) – 10-24-2015

I was recently on Big Lost Cove Cliffs on 9-16-2015 with some fellow hikertrash friends of mine and it was at that time we decided it would be a good idea to come back when the Fall leaf colors were in full peak. The leaves dictated this timing to be on 10-24-2015 however, Mother Nature dictated something else entirely which would mean not seeing any of the vast and incredible views of the colors from the cliff tops. The forecast was for no rain or clouds and warm temps  but, despite a gorgeous sunrise that I witnessed in Johnson City, as we approached Newland, NC we ran into heavy fog. Of course we all assumed this would eventually burn off later with the sun and heat of the day so we continued with the plan and were soon on gravel FS Road #464 where we encountered a wagon trail ! This was interesting to see and soon we would be at the trail head where there would be no place to park ! This is an issue here during weekends and it seems there were others that had the same idea we had ! Squeezing in further down the road we began the hike towards the cliffs with big hopes of a clearing and awesome visuals filled with brilliant colors.

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Colors showing through the fog

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Posted on 16 November '15 by , under RATtreks. No Comments.

Work Trip on the Appalachian Trail – 10-22-2015

I have been a trail maintainer with Carolina Mtn. Club for over 25 years now. My section lies between Spivey Gap and Little Bald some 5.1 miles of very steep terrain. Due to a frayed rotator cuff on my right shoulder I have been unable to cut the annual growth as I am not supposed to be swinging a sling blade (some calls it a kaiser !). The weekly work crews led by my friend John Whitehouse have been gracious enough to take up the slack for me to which I am thankful. They got it all this year with the exception of the top if Little Bald (aka Big Hairy) so when I got the email from my fellow maintainer Doug Corkhill who does the section next to mine at Big Bald that he was going up on the mountain, I jumped at the chance to go. I try to go with him anytime I can as this makes it easier for me to do the entire section from top down one way as he goes out of his way to pick me up at Spivey Gap and we drive around to the top of Big Bald via the Wolf Laurel access and using a key to the forest service gate. Otherwise I would have to do it the old way of working trail from Spivey Gap to the top of Little Bald and then still have to go back which is double the miles and very strenuous. I can not thank Doug enough for his efforts. On this trip I would be accompanied by my friend and cohort John Forbes. Upon meeting Doug and departing from Spivey Gap around 9:30am, it was already developing into a beautiful day.

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Big Bald as seen from Big Stamp

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Posted on 12 November '15 by , under RATtreks. No Comments.

Devil`s Courthouse and Silvermine Bald Cliffs – 10-14-2015

Ever since a previous trip to the summit of Sam`s Knob on 10-22-2014 where I got a view of a gnarly looking cliff way off in the distance that I later learned was called ‘The Devil`s Courthouse‘ and was accessible from the Blue Ridge Parkway, I have been wanting to go stand upon it. This would come true nearly a year later when my friend John Forbes and I would make the conscious effort to do so. After a 2 hour long drive we arrived at the parking lot and trail head on a bright, sunny, Fall day and although there were a lot of colors on display, they were not yet in full peak. We had planned to stop at Graveyard Fields on the way but, due to the massive hordes of people there, it was not possible. There was not even a parking space ! It was not as crowded at the cliff mainly because it is a 20 minute climb uphill to it. We parked at the trail head and took a couple of pics from there before beginning our ascent to the top.

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View of Devil`s Courthouse Cliffs from the parking area

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Posted on 10 November '15 by , under RATtreks. 2 Comments.

Harper Falls – Thorp Cr. Falls – 9-30-2015

After a few days of flooding rains over in North Carolina, it seemed like a good idea to check out some waterfalls in that area. I had been wanting to show my hiking friend John Forbes the falls of Steels Creek and Harper Creek Falls for awhile now but, knowing it would not be safe to get below Steels Creek Falls when the rocks are wet so, we opted instead to go to Harper Falls. I decided to check out a new route to Wilson Creek off of Hwy 181 instead of the usual way down FS #464 which turned out to be a really nice back country drive on a decent gravel road however, after several; days of hard rains it was a bit mushy in spots. We came out down below the visitor center and immediately could see that Wilson Creek was no longer a creek but, was a river at the top of its banks. We later learned they would close that road the following day as well as the road to Steels Creek. We made our way to the Harper Falls trail head to park and began our hike towards them.

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Upper part of Harper Falls

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Posted on 4 November '15 by , under RATtreks. No Comments.