Harper Creek Trail – July 17, 2015

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.

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Harper Falls

First we would have to do some driving in order to drop a vehicle at our end point which would be the trail-head where the side trail to Harper Falls is located. This is about 15 miles of dusty gravel forest roads where we found all parking areas nearly full to capacity with vehicles and people. I was lucky to find a spot to park my car. We then drove Sam`s jeep back to the trail head where the Harper Creek and trail starts and began our journey. It was late afternoon around 4:30 pm by the time we actually got our packs heaved up onto our backs and got our boots on the trail. This was not a problem as the first camp would be not much over a mile in at North Harper Falls. We passed a few people along the way but, there was no one camped at the falls when we arrived.

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The laurels were in full bloom

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Standing at the top of North Harper Falls. The top half is this huge cascading type falls and then it drops off to a nearly 40 foot high vertical half which you can see the top of at the bottom end of the slope seen in this picture

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Lower drop of North Harper Falls

Since it was late we wasted no time in setting up camp, Sam with his hammock and I with my tent. Once that was done I headed to the falls for a cool down in the form of a Hillbilly Baptism ! Despite having been there many times in recent years I had never noticed just how deep the small splash pool is at the base of the falls. There was no way I could stand up there as it was over my head ! I did the best I could while Sam captured the moment with my pocket camera.

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Our camp at North Harper Falls on the first night

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Me getting wet at North Harper Falls (trying to find the bottom which I was unsuccessful at)

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Me doing a Hillbilly Baptism in water over my head deep at North Harper Falls (using my toe on a rock to keep from sinking )

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A happy me (RAT) after a successful Hillbilly Baptism !

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Sam at North Harper Falls

This was very refreshing and cooled me right down although it was not the usual bone chilling cold at all due to the recent hot weather and lower water levels. It was apparent that the NC side had not gotten near as much of the recent rains as we had on the TN side but there was enough water to make it enjoyable and the numerous creek crossing would definitely be easier. While we were hanging out at the falls a guy approached us asking if we were going to camp there that night to which we replied yes, so he and his lady friend disappeared farther up the trail and we never saw them again. Shortly after another guy, a scout leader came up and asked if he and his group of scouts could camp there as there was not enough room for them all at the spot below there to which we said sure, there is plenty of camp spots, feel free to camp with us. I asked him what the age ranges of the boys was and he said around 14 to 18, so I replied with, oh good, because I will probably have a drink or two of liquor and might tell a dirty joke or two !! He laughed and said that would be ok but, they did not camp there! They ended up staying just downstream from us all crammed into the tiny spot on the bank on the other side of the creek !

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North Harper Falls

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North Harper Falls (lower drop)

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Sam at the lower part of North Harper Falls only about 50 feet from our camp site

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Lower drop of North Harper Falls

I probably should not have done that as I knew the scouts would have a fire and I was feeling too lazy to build one and it would have been nice to have but, oh well, we had a great time without one. We had eat on the way that day so neither of us bothered cooking anything that night. We sipped on some spirits and just enjoyed the beautiful night as we caught up on conversations that were too long overdue. It was not long after midnight that we both called it a night and turned in. I awoke several times as I always do and even got up once to pee and enjoy the stars but, it was an uneventful night.

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Lower drop of North Harper Falls

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Lower part of North Harper Falls

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Lower drop of North Harper Falls

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North Harper Falls (lower part)

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Lower drop of North Harper Falls under morning light

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Lower drop of North Harper Falls under morning light

We both got up earlier than we usually do and without eating any breakfast I took a few more pics of the falls before packing up and heading out. We were on the trail by 9am passing the scout group as we made our way down the the next set of falls, Chestnut Cove Branch Falls. These are barely a football field length away and the trail goes right to the top of them. I was able to talk Sam into walking straight down these falls where we checked out the many potholes, each had two Northern Water snakes residing in them. I assumed it was a male and a female in each and just like my first visit here I managed to cause one to jump out of the hole and swim down the falls to the pool below while the smaller one just tried to hide by staying submerged and only poking its head up occasionally.

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Since I forgot to get a pic from the top, here is one from about half way down looking back up,,, (Chestnut Cove Branch Falls)

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Looking down Chestnut Cove Branch Falls from about half way down,,,

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There are many of the potholes on Chestnut Cove Branch Falls. There are Northern Water snakes in all of them !

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Another pothole on Chestnut Cove Branch Falls

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Potholes along Chestnut Cove Branch Falls

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Northern Water Snake in one of the smaller potholes on Chestnut Cove Branch Falls

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There were two water snakes in each hole (at least) and in this hole the shy one submerged and stayed under while this one could not resist coming up to see what we were doing

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Northern Water Snake

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The shy one wanted no part of the snake papparazzi so he jumped out of the pothole and made his way down the falls to the pool at the bottom just like one had done from this same hole before on my first trip to these falls

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Making his way down the falls

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The other one stayed behind and allowed us to photograph her,,

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Enjoying the very warm water of the pothole

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Looking up at part of the falls

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Continuing on his journey down the falls

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Great Northern Water Snake

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The shy one made it to the splash pool at the base of Chestnut Cove Branch Falls where he swam around waiting on us to leave so he could get back up to his warm pothole and his mate.

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View of the falls from the base

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Base of Chestnut Cove Branch Falls

It was already getting warm and very humid again so we were wet with sweat. We did continue to the base of the falls and made our way back to the main trail which is not easy as there is no real side trail into the base of these falls and I am not sure why. We made better time once back on the trail as it does descend quite a bit passing by several large rock formations above on the left and many smaller falls and cascades in the creek on your right until it levels out for a couple of miles where the creek has to be crossed several times. It seemed a lot farther to the Harper Cr shortcut trail that comes in from the top than I remembered and we ended up taking a few breaks by the time we reached it. Sam ended up getting a boot wet at one of the crossing so he changed into his water shoes for the rest of the days hike. At this point we would be hiking on the Mountains To Sea Trail as it comes down the shortcut trail from USFS road #464 above and follows the Harper Creek Trail down to the falls where it then turns and goes up Raider Branch.

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Blurry pic of a nice shroom found along the trail

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More fungi along the trail

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Another out of focus picture of a large fungi

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Sam looks back to check out the underneath of a rock cliff that was about 4 stories high above us

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Just one of many nice falls/pools and HUGE rock formations found along Harper Creek

After a snack and a much needed water break, we continued on towards Bard Falls which would be the next stop on this adventure. Before we reached them we did pass by a nice fellow with two young and energetic boys that were camped there for the weekend. He was happy to talk with us for a few minutes before we pressed on. It did not take long after that to reach the falls. We had already decided that we would go ahead and do most all of the miles and make this a long day to reach Harper Falls where we could camp and enjoy the remainder of the day and have all day on the last day to hang out there at the largest falls with the best swimming holes and have a short hike out to the car on the last day. Since we would not be staying at Bard or even anywhere near it, we dropped our packs on the trail and took the steep side trail down to check them out. The sun was too bright for any good pics and I only had my pocket cam but, I took what pics I could. I wanted to do a Hillbilly Baptism there but the thoughts of hiking in wet shorts for the next several miles in the heat was not appealing as it would have chaffed my legs. In hindsight I should have did it anyway as we ended up getting rained on a few times right after we left the falls and I got chaffed anyway !

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Nice mushroom along the way

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Nice red shroom although out of focus as I was not concentrating on taking pics but, rather enjoying the outdoors.

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I call this pasta or macaroni fungus !

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Close up of the pasta/macaroni fungus. I am sure I have photographed this on this spot before.

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Another really tall rock cliff beside the trail, now on the Mountains To Sea Trail

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out of focus pic of a really cool looking shroom !

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There were many really nice mushrooms to be found on this trip

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If you were an insect this is most likely what the shroom would look like

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On approach to Bard Falls after climbing down a steep bank

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Bard Falls

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Bard Falls

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Bard Falls

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Bard Falls

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Bard Falls

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A few salamanders at the base of Bard Falls

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A patch of bright orange fungi found near the falls

After leaving Bard Falls and getting our heavy packs back on our backs, we continued down the trail and that is when the rain started. There were several creek crossings, some of which were not easy even with the low water levels. We ended up getting pretty wet which did cause some issues. It is a few miles to get to Harper Falls and it was getting to the hottest part of the day even with the intermittent rain we were still sweating profusely as we made our way slowly down the Harper Creek Valley. Our next encounter would be a group of mountain bikers at one of the creek crossings. After speaking with an older gentleman of the group, I learned that where they were sitting is where the Persimmon Ridge Trail comes down to meet the Harper Creek Trail. It does continue up the other side somewhere as it overlaps another trail. They described how rough and fun it was coming down. We continued on.

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One of the many deep creek crossings, and this is during low water levels !

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Sam finds a way around the deep creek crossing by going downstream !

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Where there is poop or pee, you will find butterflies !

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Even during low water times, the creek progressively gets larger as it makes it way down the Harper Creek Valley. It will almost double the size seen here after the other fork of Harper Creek (one that flows from South Harper Falls) joins in.

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Making our way along the creek

We came to the huge flat camping area where Bol’Dar and I had stayed at on our last trip trip through this area where we found another large group of people who had been camping there but were hunkered down awaiting the rain to stop. We continued hiking knowing we still had a long way to go. After a few more creek crossings the next landmark would be where the other Harper Creek Trail comes in from South Harper Falls. I knew from that point that it was only another mile or so to our destination, Harper Falls.

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Hiking along the creek in the rain

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A nice sandy beach campsite along the creek, in the rain

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An old piece of narrow gauge trail rail. Proof that there used to be a train that went through this valley. I am told there was a huge trestle near here that somewhere there are pics of but I have yet to find any of it

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Our first view of Harper Falls from High above them. We could see and hear plenty of people enjoying the water there.

Although we had only gone about 5 or 6 miles, I was feeling tired which I am sure the heat and humidity had a lot to do with. When the trail started climbing a fairly steep hill I knew we were ascending to the high point above the falls. This was a welcomed sight. We could hear the people before we even reached the top as I knew it would be crowded there with lots of people swimming and camping. We could look way down below us and see many in the two deep pools below this two part falls. I was only hoping that we could get a spot to camp that was not too far away from the falls.

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Zoomed shot of people at Harper Falls as seen from really high above

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Looking down at the base of the upper part of Harper Falls where people are enjoying the water as seen from the MTS high above the falls

After a short break at the top, it was downhill from there to reach the camping area which requires a steep descent to the creek below. I could tents everywhere so getting my favorite spot was not looking good although once we got down there we met the people that were set up there and they were very cool and graciously allowed us to set up there. We ended having a grand time with these folks.

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This was our own personal swimming hole just behind our campsite which came complete with an aircraft carrier rock and a hillbilly water slide

We proceeded to setup our camp eager to hit the water hole to cool off and relax after the long hot days hike and just when we were about done we heard someone high above us. Looking up the extremely steep bank about 100 feet or more to the top where the trail to the falls is located, we could see a woman and two small kids, a girl and a boy. They seen the tents and stuff and were about to come down what I will not call a trail but, rather a drainage gulley that is straight down and slick bare clay. This was a trail of sorts as obviously people have been going that way, why I do not know as it is too steep and slick to even think about going up or down with or without a pack especially where there are other actual trails just below it that are less steep and much easier to come down on.

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This is much steeper and higher than it looks, the boy tumbled from the top, went airborne between the two trees and landed headfirst on the large rock at the bottom !

Nonetheless and despite our yells to NOT even think about coming down that way, here they came. Each was carrying a pack with what was obviously a fair amount of weight and the first thing I saw was this young, very energetic 7 year old boy take off down this. Of course he instantly fell and slid about 10 feet before he luckily stopped. We yelled again to please not come down that way to go back to the other trail but, our shouts went unheeded and the lady and kids continued the descent as she instructed the kids to sit down and come down on their butts. Well this was not the worst advice she could have given them however, it was not good advice either as the boy continued to slide about 20 more feet before he pitched forward and began tumbling head over heels down this nearly vertical 100 foot drop ! We watched in horror at what we thought was going to be a major tragedy as this child plummeted down this embankment picking up more and more speed the farther he went. On his third complete revolution he went airborne where we thought he would surely splatter against one of the two trees there but, miraculously he went between them in mid air like a football sailing between two goal posts where he landed just below them and continued tumbling down head over heels towards some large rocks located near the bottom. I felt sure that we were about to witness his death as he was going to hit them headfirst at maximum velocity but, as fate would have it, just as he reached the rocks, his pack which had almost came off him and was only on one arm had in that moment flipped up over his head and ended up between his head and the rock on that side saving his skull from being bashed. Instead his right leg and knee took the brunt of the impact as he stopped in a sitting position. Although this only took a few seconds to play out it seems like forever in slow motion. The woman was screaming for someone to please get her nephew and I could easily sense the fear in her eyes and voice as she dropped her pack and was scrambling to slide down to him without ending up with teh same result that he had. The little girl simply froze. I had been untangling some rope to make a clothes line out of and my hands were entangled in it which I dropped and was the first to the the boy. I assessed the situation and immediately began comforting him as he was crying loudly as I stabilized him, removed the pack and began checking him for injuries. He had a substantial cut on his knee and blood was already all the way down his leg but, miraculously he was not seriously injured. I checked him from head to toe asking him about each place i was touching if it hurt when the woman reached me. About that time the little girl who was about to try and make her way down hollered down to the woman who was her mom and asked, “What do I do with your pack?” To which the mom answered with: ” Just throw it !” I was like Noooooooo!!! but, it was too late ! Here came a 70 pound rucksack pack tumbling end over end, much like the boy did and I could only think, Oh my God, this boy has survived this fall only to have us both killed by a falling backpack ! I shrouded the boy and braced for the impact. Luckily the woman (who was well built I might add) was able to take the blunt of the blow and stopped the pack before it could hit me or the boy ! The girl then began slowly sliding down on her butt at which time I decided to pick up the boy and carry him the rest of the way down where we could continue tending to his wounds and making sure he had no hidden injuries. The cool people who had allowed us to camp there had heard the commotion by this time and had came to assist. They were well prepared and one of them had a well stocked first aid kit and was able to clean out the cut, stop the bleeding, applied some bacitracin and couple of good band aids. By the time all that was done the boy had calmed down and we had determined he had no serious injuries. Sam and I were still in shock at what we had just witnessed and I am sure I will never forget it. Eventually the lady got their brand new tent that they had bought on the way there setup and the cool folks that allowed us to camp there cooked their hot dogs on their fire for them so the kids got fed and and were then ready to hit the water !

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Swimming hole and water slide !

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Sam and the kids at the swimming hole below Harper Falls

Of course like all kids, they had a great time playing in the awesome swimming hole conveniently located just behind our camp and I even convinced the mom to let them go down the hillbilly water slide. Sam and I spent a lot of time cooling off in this pool and I took my turn going down the moss covered slide as well. It was tons of fun !

The young boy quickly forgot about his aches and pains but, the way he was running around climbing on rocks and jumping from one to another, I had to wonder how long it would be before the next injury occurred. He did end up misjudging the distance between two large rocks the next day and fell and hurt himself again but, thankfully nothing serious.

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Dinosaur looking tracks in the rock beside the swimming hole behind our camp

Sam and myself did cook up some dehydrated supper for this second night on the trail as we watched our gracious neighbors cook up some quesadillas on the fire. They also shared some of their percolator coffee which was delicious. Eventually night came and we ended the evening with sipping the last of our whiskey before bedtime. I slept better on this night most likely due to the much longer hike we had that day and I am sure the nightcap helped too.

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The RAT tent late at night at Harper Falls

I felt pretty good the next morning and although we did not cook any breakfast we did go up to the main Harper Falls before the crowds got there so we could take them in without any distractions. Going down the easier route first to the lower pool where there is a rope to assist the descent, we helped the kids get down there safely. The sun was already up and shining rather brightly so no fancy pics yet, it was nice to be there without so many people. Only one small group was camped on the other side of the creek, a father and his kids who were fishing and swimming while we were there. I did not swim in the lower pool as I was anxious to get to the upper part of the falls and swim there.

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Harper Falls

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Harper Falls

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Harper Falls

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Sam ascending on the rope from the base of the lower part of Harper Falls

After getting everyone back up the first rope safely, we went the short distance to the end of the trail to get the big view of the upper falls from high above. There has been a lot of brush cutting done since my last visit there which has allowed much better views of the falls.

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More impressive view of the upper part of Harper Falls as seen from the access trail above them

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Upper part of Harper Falls. From this view point you can see a lot more of the top of the falls than can be seen from below them

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Upper part of Harper Falls

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Upper part of Harper Falls

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Upper part of Harper falls under the early morning light

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Upper part of Harper Falls as seen from the puckering perch on a cliffs edge

From there we said our goodbyes to the woman and the two kids as they were headed back to break camp and start making their way out to their vehicle. Sam and I went down the big rope to the base of the upper part of the falls where I swam over to the falls so Sam could get some pics which I had not every gotten there despite being there a few times before. I took what pics I could with my pocket camera before we climbed back up the rope to go back to camp.

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Sam carefully making his way down the rope to reach the base of the upper part of Harper Falls

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Sam on the rope at Harper Falls

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Sam almost at the bottom !

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Upper part of Harper Falls. You can now see that there is a lot more of the falls above this that can not be seen from here !

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The guy and his kids having a grand time swimming at Harper Falls

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Upper drop and swimming hole of Harper Creek Falls. if you look closely you can see a rope on the right side of the falls. Many have died falling from it. I am amazed the forest service allows it to stay there.

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Family of swimmers at Harper Falls

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Swimming at Harper Falls

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Upper drop and pool of Harper Falls

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One of the boys about to ride a raft down the lower drop of Harper Falls

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Me swimming across the deep pool of Harper Falls

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Me climbing out of the way over my head deep water to stand in the water bored pothole at the upper drop of Harper Falls

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RAT at Harper Falls

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RAT having a sit down at Harper Falls

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swimming back from the base of Harper Falls

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Almost back across this very deep hole at Harper Falls

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Finally there ! Long way for an old fat RAT !

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Triumphant RAT !

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Lower drop of Harper Falls

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Looking off the lower drop of Harper Falls

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Sam at Harper Falls

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Sam about to climb back up the rope at Harper Falls

We were not in any hurry as we had all day to hang out and lay around in the creek before we would finally have to pack up and make our way out the mile or so long side trail to the trail head where we had left my vehicle. It was another very hot and humid day and any packing up or hiking would result in lots of sweating. As always I hated to leave but, all good things must come to an end so, we we soon found ourselves hoisting our still heavy packs onto our backs and climbing the steep hill to get back to the trail.

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I failed to get any pics of the camp site when everyone was there but this is what it looked like just before we turned and walked away from it

It did not take long before we actually caught up to the lady and the two kids. We hiked the last half mile or so out with them to a parking lot that was completely full of vehicles and they were parked all up and down both sides of the road as far as we could see. We passed many on their way in to the falls. It had been a hot but, very enjoyable weekend in the woods with an old friend that I had not seen in over a year. We had a great time and I hope we get to do it again soon. We drove the long, dusty gravel road back to the starting point to get Sam`s jeep and then proceeded to a store for some cold chocolate milk. There is nothing better after a long, hot hike. I am already looking forward to the next adventure. Until then,,,,,

Posted on 20 August '15 by , under RATtreks.

2 Comments to “Harper Creek Trail – July 17, 2015”

#1 Posted by Billy Tunis (04.09.15 at 19:49 )

Sounds like a great hike. Really appreciate your blogs, we’ve tried to visit as many sites as we can. Please keep it up!

#2 Posted by admin (13.10.15 at 01:25 )

Thank you !

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