The Superbowl of waterfalls. Aside from the trip we completed there back on March 6-2010 when we climbed the left side ridge in order to get a view of the entire falls (when it was frozen), it has been at least 20 years since my last trip to the base of these falls,,,until now. After much planning (as this is not a waterfall you can just decide to go to on the spur of the moment due to the distance and difficulty of the terrain) we chose to make the trek on Saturday, February 26, 2011. It was also due to the current water levels being high, warmer temps with no snow and ice but no snakes!, and the schedules of those who were going. Despite many trips there over the years, I can’t recall ever being there when this amount of water was flowing so, I was looking very forward to this expedition although I knew it meant hiking in wet boots the whole time. We all met at Hairnt-quarters early, around 7:30 am as an early start is a must for this adventure as it is not the place to be in the dark and you want to have as much time there as possible. We arrived at the trail-head and was on the trail by 8:30am. You could see the first of many creek crossings from the vehicle but with the high water levels that day, it looked more like a river !
It was a chilly, crisp morning and as I was putting my gloves and toboggan on, the first thing I observed was Bol’Dar taking off his boots and putting on a pair of sandals ! It seems his idea was to ford the creek crossings wearing sandals and keep his boots dry so, at each crossing he took the time to change from boots to sandals then back to boots. It was a valiant effort and although entertaining for us, it only lasted for about the first 4 crossings or so. The water was bone chilling cold and over knee deep in most places and moving rapidly enough to almost take your feet out from under you if not careful. One of the crossings has a huge tree across it which I always use, but the others opted for the water. There was water coming out from places that normally do not have any water, it was gushing out from everywhere so we knew we had chosen a good time to make this journey although it does make it more difficult to negotiate. As we passed by where Chigger Branch enters Clark’s Creek, we could see the large amount of water coming out of there and I could only imagine how nice those falls (DelSatch) would look that day but we had much bigger fish to fry. After completing the first seven major creek crossings we finally reached what is basically the end of the old road at the point where there is a large canyon-like chasm where an old log bridge used to be. You can either slide down the steep bank and cross the creek and climb up through the laurels or you can take the secret ninja trail to the right, going up and over the knob then down to the creek where you can cross by carefully choosing the right rocks to get across where you can then climb up the other side and back to where the old road continues. This would prove to be more difficult today with the high water level, but I always go that way since it is such a beautiful mini-gorge to go through. The rocks are all covered with bright green moss and there are several very nice cascades as the creek narrows here. On this day there was actually water flowing in down the rocks on the opposite side. I followed Bol’Dar’s lead as he went right up the creek taking the more difficult ‘scenic route‘ while the others found their own way across.
It is not too far from that crossing until you pass by the old bulldozer blade. There is no doubt that back in the day this thing was used to make the road that actually went beyond Buckeye to the butt end of Clark’s Creek during the logging heyday. There used to be an old V8 motor that was most likely part of one of the old trucks that worked there back then sitting not far from the blade but, it was carried down the creek during one of the heavy floods of years past and we lost track of its location. If only this blade could talk.
The next landmark is one of our old favorite places we used to come to all the time back when you could drive through all the creek crossings to almost the end of the old road and walking to this point was quick and easy. It is a nice deep water hole where we spent many times hanging out, drinking beer, and cooling off. I have so many fond memories of this area that were made over the last 30 years or so.
The trail narrows at this point where the creek and nature have taken over but soon becomes an old roadbed again which leads to yet another one of many creek crossings. After this is the next landmark (for me anyways), the place where ninja log walking was first invented across one of the longest logs I have ever seen. It lies parallel to the trail, is moss covered and is close to the ground which made it perfect for ninja log-walk training back in the good old days. Of course we graduated to much larger logs that were way higher off the ground in years to come but, we seem to be more careful about doing such things these days ! It was also here that we came across a pile of deer hair on the ground and we couldn’t help but wonder just what pulled that out. We only pondered for a moment, then continued on our way passing by a rock that seemed to be pointing us in the right direction. More wet weather water sources were coming in from the sides as we made our way up the narrowing valley. The sun was now making its way above the tall ridges and into the valley and the temperature was beginning to rise. This was going to be a nice day.
It did not take long to reach the next landmark, a place where the creek almost splits and taking the left side up to where what I call the ‘rock stairs‘ are. Just after that you come to the awesome rock strata which is on the left side of the creek. This is an interesting place that shows just how the land was pushed up and down ages ago when the mountains were formed back in the days of tectonic plates moving and maybe even some volcanic activity. It continues for quite a ways up this side of the creek. This is where we always take a good long break before continuing any further. We checked my map, and you can actually see the strata on the contour lines ! From here you will cross the creek to the right side where there is more strata to be found. From here you begin to see the big curve that lies ahead where the steeper ridges come down on each side which forces the creek to meander left and right as it snakes its way through the upper Clark’s Creek valley. On this trip there was a decent size water source bubbling right out of the top of the mountain flowing right down into the creek. There is basically no trail by this time as you are making your way right up the creek as best you can. After the curve there is another creek coming in from a rather large hollow on the left which as I recall does have a double set of small waterfalls not too far into it, but it is not Buckeye, although many have made the mistake of going there thinking it was.
After this you can see the next ridge coming in from the left up ahead which is where the actual turnoff to Buckeye Falls is. As you make your way closer you will see the creek coming in on the left side from out of the Buckeye Hollow entering in to Clark’s Creek. There was a lot of water coming out of the Buckeye hollow. Tyler immediately recognized the incredibly steep ridge on the left side of that hollow that he climbed with us in the snow back in march of 2010. He expressed his feelings of that trip and let us all know that he would not be climbing that ridge again in this lifetime ! It is pretty much the steepest thing I have climbed and looking at it on this trip confirmed my beliefs that it would be much easier to traverse without snow on it ! The first part of the Buckeye Hollow looks innocent enough, actually kinda flat and with somewhat of a trail leading into it, but we knew that was only an illusion and that the hardest part of the trip was about to begin. That being known, we took another break to rest and mentally prepare for the climb. As I sat there I could see the large, old pine tree Ent that guards the entrance to this sacred place and I recalled the time about 20 years ago when I climbed up the right side ridge starting right under that tree, all the way to the the top of the falls, although I did not realize it at the time since I could not actually see the falls from my perch on the narrow rock ledges above the falls. There would not have been hardly any water flowing at that time. I remember following bear tracks, clawed trees, and piles of bear scat all the way up and it was a bit scary at that time, not to mention steep beyond any wild imagination. Of course due to the way the hollow curves steeply to the right and leads to the falls, and also due to their extreme height, it is not really possible to get a view of them in their entirety from the right side which is why we climbed the left side last March to get the ‘big picture‘ that we had always dreamed of. Actually the BIG picture is found from the high point of Chigger Ridge which is something else we have been planning to do for the past 30 years !
Someone has carved the letters BE with an arrow on a tree, pointing up the Buckeye Hollow which will no doubt help many that seek this place to find the right turn off (IF they go far enough). We began the trek up the hollow with much anticipation. There is some nice rock formations on the left and you can then see the sharp right hand curve that begins ahead. At that point, the faint trail narrows quickly, disintegrating into rougher terrain with more obstacles, growth, and flood damage to deal with. Soon enough you find yourself scrambling up the steep sides to get around more and more rock strata, laurels, and blow downs until eventually you end up going right up the creek. Of course that will become very steep as well, as it is actually a long part of the waterfall itself that is a continuous drop as you make your way higher and higher continuing to curve towards the right as you make your way to the vertical part of Buckeye Falls. About halfway up we came to a huge blow down that made for an awesome ninja log walk , complete with a nice red rope that I don’t think is really needed there. It actually led me off to the right side which was not the way to go and I ended up having to crawl back under it where the end part meets the creek ! Bol’Dar did not make that mistake and was already traversing up the left side after taking pics of us walking the log ! That tree was really large but looking back at it from not far above, made it look much smaller. That shows the enormous size of this rugged, deep hollow.
It was getting steeper on each side becoming harder to stay out of the surging creek water with even more large blow downs to intercede. From looking at some of these photo`s it may not look very steep as it is nearly impossible to display height and depth in a photograph, but looking back (at this same blow down from just above it) you can almost see just how much we had climbed already in such a short distance. Pretty soon I recognized the rocks starting to show on the left ridge and then there it was, I could see the familiar, large, flat faced, and discolored vertical rock, looming above us up ahead. I knew then that it would not be much longer before we would start to get visuals of the actual falls. We were already soaked at this point so climbing up the creek was not an issue and in some places was required. Finally my anticipation of the upper falls was satisfied as I climbed up on the left side to get around a tight spot and got a view of the top part of the falls. The lower part was still obscured as we still had a ways to go yet and you could see that it was only going to get steeper and rougher but the adrenaline levels were beginning to rise.
After more strenuous climbing and several rest stops (for me at least), I could see the base of the perpendicular bare rock cliff and the end of the hollow up ahead where I would soon climb the right side to the base of the falls. I looked back to see Tyler still climbing behind me. The end looked close, but due to the precipitous slope, it took awhile and another rest stop, for me to get there. Bol’Dar was the first to reach the highest point one can safely go with Tyler not far behind him. They looked tiny against the vast height of these falls. I could not wait to get to that point to rest and begin taking pictures. My heart was racing. It took me a few more minutes to complete the climb and by that time Tyler had already crossed over the water and was climbing up towards the only semi-level ‘sit spot’ located to the left of the falls near the center of the base of the discolored rock cliffs that line the left side of this bowl-like area. We all watched as he carefully made his way closer, and closer until he finally set foot on the small perch where he promptly sat down for a long rest !. Once I finally made it to the tree near the base, I rested there awhile looking back at the last stretch I had just climbed. Most of the time, these falls are nothing but enormous wet rocks, but this time there was water flowing everywhere, even off of the left side cliff which was nice to see. I was elated to finally be back here and the memories of my last visit were coming back vividly as I stared up at the mammoth falls and colossal rock faces above me that I had tried for so many years to get to the top of. Having seen the ‘big picture‘ from the left side ridge the year before, I had much more appreciation for the accurate height along with the vast expanse of remote ruggedness and beauty of this awe-inspiring place.
As I rested against the tree near the base of the falls, I watched as Bol’Dar took photo`s and then made his way across the water and slick rocks over to where Tyler was chilling out at the cool ‘sit spot‘ which appears like an ‘island in the stream‘. I could see Melissa way down below me as she was making some adjustments before making her final ascent to the base of the falls. She had been here once before on her birthday last year which happened to be just after a flooding storm had passed through the area so there was ample water on that trip much like this one. You can see her pics of that trip and many others in the photo gallery here. I finally made the final climb up the right side to the base of the falls and took my turn snapping several pictures of the falls and surrounding bare rock cliffs. The temperature there was much colder than anywhere we had been that day, you could feel it drop as soon as you got to the actual falls. There was actually a piece of ice still leftover I found later at the ‘sit spot’. I remembered 20 years ago when I stood on glacier-like ice here with pieces as big as refrigerators that had fallen off the rock faces above and filled the space below. I could see Bol’Dar and Tyler taking it easy over there and I knew I had to make my way across the falls to get there. Melissa was at the resting tree and was ready to take my place at the base of the falls. Crossing over to the sit spot is a very tedious process and is not to be taken lightly as much care and caution must be taken when doing this but it sure beats climbing back down and then back up again which is the way Tyler chose to do it ! I stopped in midstream to take a few pics from that angle and then made my way on across to join the rest of the crew. I took more pics of Melissa as she negotiated this crossing herself which shows just how steep the falls are as they continue hundreds of feet below the vertical part.
We had a good long rest/snack break and spent as much time as we could enjoying the immeasurable awesomeness of the area while sitting on our little island in the middle of it all. From this point you could not only see the place on the left side ridge where we had climbed up to last March but, also the behemoth Chigger Ridge towering well above and beyond that. I knew right then what our next extreme adventure would be. It did not take long for our body temps to start dropping and being wet did not help this any. My feet and hands were becoming numb even after changing into dry socks and wearing gloves. We knew that sadly enough, it was time to leave. As always, Tyler was the first to take off and would no doubt be waiting on us at the car. I took some pics of everyone as they began their descent to try and show the steepness of this incredible place. I went down the opposite side of the falls to get some closer pics of the small falls that was flowing in from the left side before continuing down the main creek. Going down is just as hard as coming up minus the climb factor. Instead of using the ‘granny gear‘ you would now be using the ‘whoa nelly‘ gear. You have to be extremely careful here as many have been hurt with broken legs and similar injuries on the return trip down. It is a long way from help and is not accessible by anything other than foot travel and I can’t imagine how hard it would be to carry someone out or how long it would take so it is best to be extra careful and not get hurt in the first place. I took many last looks back and took as many pictures as I could to try and capture this moment. It took me twenty years to get back here this time so who knows how long it will be before my next trip, although my friend Dave is wanting me to take him here soon so who knows ! It did not take long to get back down to where the Buckeye water meets Clark’s Creek and find a good rest spot and think about the awesome place we had just experienced. My adrenaline was still pumping!
On our way back out the Clark’s Creek valley, we came across a nice ninja log walk opportunity. Bol’Dar took full advantage of this and practiced his ‘maneuvers‘ with a piece of wood while balancing upon it. Passing back by all the landmarks, we were back at the end of the old road in good time. What a trip this had been. The creek crossings were no big deal on the way out as we were all soaked by this point so we just splashed right through like it was nothing. I stopped to get closer pics of a small wet weather waterfall near the end of the trip.
It was a long and rough day but well worth every wet step of it as there is not a more awesome place to go that I know of. I was happy to see the car although when I seen Tyler nearly asleep inside of it, I realized the door had been left unlocked the whole time. Perhaps he did that on purpose ? !! I am glad he went on this trip, as not many his age can say they have been to the elusive Buckeye Falls.
To see photo`s of Buckeye Falls from this trip and others, please visit our Photo Gallery.