Little Stony Creek (Virginia) – 12-11-2014

On a chilly yet very sunny Thursday in mid December I joined an extraordinary group of hikers to explore the Little Stony Creek Gorge in Southwest Virginia. We would start this quest from the lower end at the Hanging Rock Picnic Area with hopes of making it all the way to the upper Little Stony Falls and back. In between we would take a lot of time to explore as much as we possibly could including unnamed waterfalls found by bushwhacking up some side streams. In this elite group would be myself, Jason Horton, John Forbes, and the Honey Badger himself, Thomas Mabry who would travel all the way from Waynesville, NC to join us. Parking at the picnic area we began our journey going upstream into the gorge where our first stop would be a rather large rocky area where some old coal mines are located. Their openings have been blocked by welded steel structures to prevent human entrance and to also protect the endangered brown bat populations.

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And so it begins,,,,, (left to right) Jason Horton, John Forbes, and the RATman. (Photo by Thomas Mabry)

Of course John Forbes not being human was easily able to penetrate the steel grid across one of the caves which made for a nice photo op. We all climbed upon the huge rock ledge above them to take in the rock art that exists there. It is really quite spectacular what the wind erosion has done to the softer, more sandstone like rock as it has artistically chiseled away parts leaving the harder rock there in unique forms. We spent some time enjoying the beauty that is found there that I am sure many overlook as they hike up the trail right past it.

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John and I checking out the barricaded mine shaft (Photo by Jason Horton)

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John looking inside the old mine shaft

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John squeezing inside the old mine shaft

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John peering out from his temporary mountain jail cell behind the barrier of the old mine shaft

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John coming out of the old mine shaft. It looked as if the mountain was giving birth to a gnome.

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A picture I took of the inside of the mine entrance. Notice the orbs. I have to wonder how many died here.

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Air shaft for the old mine

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Since I am too fat to get inside the mine shaft, I had to settle for sitting on top of it ! (Photo by John Forbes)

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John begins his climb up on to the mighty rock shelter ledge

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John giving Nature a hug (and hoping that huge rock roof above him doesn`t fall)

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John standing on the ledge of the rock shelter (Photo by Jason Horton)

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In this photo you can see John on the ledge, me about to climb up to join him and one of the barricaded mine shafts below (Photo by Jason Horton)

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Thomas climbing up to the rock ledge

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Jason and Thomas on their way up to the rock ledge

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John and Thomas bouldering around on the rock ledge

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Some of the rock art found up on the ledge

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Patterns in the rock on the ledge

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The results of wind erosion of the rocks on the ledge

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Looking across the huge rock shelter

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John finds a rock formation that resembles a breast

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John, Thomas, and I standing next to a ship sized rock along the trail with the rock shelter on the left behind us (Photo by Jason Horton)

Continuing up the gorge our next stop would be to check out a large rock we found sticking straight up in the air beside another large tabletop rock laying flat in the creek. This turned out to be a very cool area where we all took turns climbing the rock that had somehow been forcefully pushed up into its vertical position while the others stood on the flat rock in the creek which was like standing on a large barge floating in a river.

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John and Jason beside the cool rock

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Jason taking his turn on the cool rock

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The Badger on the cool rock

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John Forbes at home on the cool rock

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RAT on a rock. This felt good on my back (Photo by John Forbes)

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Group shot of our crew on the floating rock with the cool rock behind us. (Photo by Jason Horton) Although I am unable to locate the quote fro John Forbes on this shot, he said something about this picture representing this hike perfectly with the calm waters on one side being the easy trails and the amazing beauty we would see for it and the rough current on the other side representing the rugged off trail time we would spend finding Natures hidden beauty.

There would be many more stops to photograph other beautiful places along the creek as we made our way farther upstream as it seems every other turn had a small falls, huge boulders, or something that caught our inquisitive, wandering eyes.

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Jason taking some pics like this.

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Small falls along Little Stony Creek

The whole time you are in this gorge, like most other gorges, there are many vertical cliffs with steep, jagged tops towering high above you. This just adds to the ruggedness and beauty of this often overlooked area.

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One of the many high cliffs in the Little Stony Creek Gorge

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One of many cliff towers you hike beneath in this winding gorge

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Another beautiful cascading falls along Little Stony Creek

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Closer shot of the cascading falls

There was another high rock ledge, this time on the left side that was partly covered in ice from the many small drips of water falling from its roof that covered the objects below freezing them in time and making some very cool scenes. This made for some fascinating photo ops:

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John and Jason climbing up to the rock shelter ledge to investigate the ice formations

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John on the ledge above the frozen world

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A very frozen world

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Close up of the ice covered objects

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Jason looking for little ice people that live in ice land

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Trying my best to capture the ice

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Everything coated in multiple layers of ice

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Close up of a fern encased in ice

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The ice covered rock ledge (water was dripping on my head the entire time I was here)

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Close up of the ice (Photo by Jason Horton)

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Photo by Jason Horton

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Frozen fern (Photo by Jason Horton)

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Photo by John Forbes

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Photo by John Forbes

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Standing on the edge of the rock shelter (Find John Forbes)

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Looking across the rock ledge at John and Thomas

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John`s view of the rest of us back across the rock ledge (Photo by John Forbes)

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Looking back across the rock ledge just before climbing back down to the trail

The rock formations beside the creek are also phenomenal where we stopped many times to enjoy and take pics of. There was even a seahorse tree that John took the time to ride. The beauty of the creek is in itself worth the trip.

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John riding the curved trees like Aquaman on his seahorse

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Little Stony Creek

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Little Stony Creek

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Some local fungi standing around

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Close up of the fungi

There are numerous cascades, some of which I would go so far as to classify as a waterfall. You will also cross a few wooden bridges. At one of these crossings there is a very large rock wall that just so happens to have a small falls coming off the top of it. It is much higher than it appears and you can walk directly behind the falls by climbing up to the rock shelf there which will also lead to a cave-like area at its far end where more rock art is found along with some coal veins and what looked to be petrified wood. We spent a lot of time checking this out.

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Small shelf falls found under a bridge

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Another large rock ledge. You can see the small falls coming off its left side and the cave-like area to the far right

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Closer shot of the falls and cave area

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John Forbes standing behind the small falls

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Trying to make the falls show up

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While I was shooting these, a Bigfoot walked right by !! (notice the stride)

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Thomas and John checking out the rock ledge and falls

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Thomas on the rock ledge at the falls

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The falls on the rock ledge

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The falls on the rock ledge

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Jason stands behind the falls

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If you look closely you can see Thomas (orange) making his way down into the cave-like area

Since I stayed on the bridge eating my lunch while the rest went exploring on the ledge and down into the cave-like area, I did not get any pics of it so I will share some of the others here:

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Up on the ledge with Jason (Photo by John Forbes)

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Up on the ledge behind the falls with Thomas Mabry (Photo by John Forbes)

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The falls on the ledge (Photo by John Forbes)

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The far end of the ledge about to go over the hump and down into the cave-like area (Photo by John Forbes)

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Thomas and Jason climbing around in the depression of the cave like area found at the end of the rock ledge (Photo by John Forbes)

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Petrified wood ? Found in the hole at the end of the ledge (Photo by John Forbes)

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Petrified wood ? Found in the hole at the end of the rock ledge (Photo by John Forbes)

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Petrified wood ? (Photo by Jason Horton)

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Petrified wood ? (Photo by Jason Horton)

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A coal vein in the cave-like area at the end of the rock ledge (Photo by Jason Horton)

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I have no clue what this is but I do regret not going up on the ledge myself to see all the cool rock formations. I do see faces in the patterns though ! (Photo by Jason Horton)

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Petrified wood ? (Photo by Jason Horton)

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Petrified wood ?? (Photo by Jason Horton)

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Me hanging out on the bridge while the others explore the rock ledge (Photo by Jason Horton)

Continuing upstream the beauty is nonstop as there are more huge cascades, rock formations, and high cliffs. The next major stopping point for us was where a side stream, Star Branch, enters into Little Stony Creek. There are very nice small falls on both sides of the trail there but, we were not satisfied with that as we bushwhacked up that branch through some heavy laurels and large downed trees in hopes of finding more waterfalls. This effort would pay off in short time as we soon came to a very nice plunge falls.

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Bushwhacking up Star Branch. John Forbes goes over a downed tree while the Honey Badger badgers his way under it

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Nice falls found on Star Branch

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Waterfalls on Star Branch

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Falls on Star Branch. I will have to come back on a cloudy day

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Falls on Star Branch

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Falls on Star Branch

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Thomas and John at the first set of falls we found on Star Branch

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First falls found on Star Branch

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Side view of the falls on Star Branch

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Side view of the falls in the blazing sun

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Thomas and John after going behind these new awesome falls on Star Branch

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John and Thomas proceeding to climb around and get to above these falls on Star Branch

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My view as I go behind the falls

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Hoping nothing caves in while I go behind the falls !

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Looking back towards the gorge from my high perch behind the falls

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Another angle from almost behind the falls looking back down Start Branch towards the high cliffs on the other side of the gorge. Gives you an idea of the terrain we had to come over to get to this first set of falls

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Behind the falls looking out

Another falls that we were able to walk behind which is always a plus. The only downside was the bright sun that prevent me from getting any really good pictures however, I know I will be coming back here often in the future. Having set off the new waterfall radars, we continued upstream which was not easy by no means as there is no trail whatsoever and it does not look like anyone has been there as I did not see a single sign of man the entire time. This struggle soon paid off again as we came across yet another gorgeous falls not far from the first ones.

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Climbing up this to explore Star Branch for more waterfalls

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The next amazing unnamed falls we found climbing farther up Star Branch

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Second unnamed falls we discovered climbing up the unchartered Star Branch

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It was hard for me to get any good shots in the bright sun

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John and Jason at the newly discovered falls

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John sits atop our discovery

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These drips are a part of the falls

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John displaying our victory of finding more unnamed falls on Star Branch

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Thomas the Badger takes his turn at photographing the falls

The Badger volunteered to continue the grueling bushwhack a ways farther to see if any more falls were there and low and behold he found yet one more falls that was worth going to. We stopped there and took in its wildness before I decided to make my way back down as I had left my pack very near the main trail not knowing that we would be going that far up this draw and was starting to become a little paranoid about someone finding it. This was my downfall as I had not gone far at all when I was untangling myself from a laurel and turned sharply to the left running headfirst into a large hemlock stub that hit me right in my left eye. It felt as if someone had hit me with a baseball bat and although I knew instantly that my eyelid had luckily closed quick enough to prevent the wood from actually making contact with my eye, it did feel like it had hit hard enough to actually burst my eye and I started feeling for the liquid fluid that I expected to be oozing from its socket. I was very fortunate that there was none but I was still not out of the woods yet (in more ways than one) as I was still very worried about any damage that I had done and also it was very hard to see out of it for the rest of the trip making bushwhacking that much more difficult. I also knew that trauma to the eye is one of the causes of glaucoma so I may not be out of the woods even long after I got home, only time will tell. When I finally made it back to the main trail and the rest of the crew caught up with me, I explained what had happened. They all checked it out and I could tell by their reactions that it was not good and it obviously looked very bad. They advised me that I probably did not want to see it ! It would look even worse by the time I got home and actually was able to see it but, to close this part of the story, it did heal after several days and so far I have not had too much trouble out of it.

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Third falls found on Star Branch

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Jason crossing the top of the third set of unnamed falls we found on Star Branch

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More and more small falls above the third unnamed falls on Star Branch

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The badger checking out more falls above the third set of unnamed falls on Star Branch

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The crew checking out the other falls on upper Star Branch

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My eye after I got home.

As I waited on the others to get back down to the trail from the upper realms of Star Branch I managed to get a few shots of the nice falls where it crosses the main trail and empties into Little Stony Creek. Although I did not climb down to the falls below the trail, Jason did and I will share one of  his photos here.

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Small falls on Star Branch found just below the trail. This is where it enters into Little Stony Creek (Photo by Jason Horton)

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Star Branch Falls as seen from the Little Stony Creek Trail

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Star Branch Falls as seen from the Little Stony Creek Trail

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Star Branch Falls as seen from there the Little Stony Creek Trail crosses it

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Different exposure of Star Branch Falls as seen from the Little Stony Creek Trail (it was getting darker so the light was improving)

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This shot shows John Forbes actually standing in the Little Stony Creek Trail where it crosses Star Branch. He is taking photos of the falls I just posted above. As you can see here, there are more small falls below the trail just before it enters into Little Stony Creek which is where Jason’s photo above was shot from.

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Nice log falls on Little Stony Creek. This is seen just above where Star Branch enters into the main creek

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Close up of the small log falls on Little Stony Creek

It was getting late afternoon already but, we were on a mission to make it to the upper falls so we continued onward and farther upstream. This part of the trail would become steeper and would even be on part of a new relocated section taking us away from a washed out area of the creek high above some very large rocks. John and I would end up coming back across that part of the bypassed trail on our way back, in the dark ! More large cascades and beautiful creek later we came to a place below what is called ‘Bear Rock. I had stood atop this large, flat rock on a previous trip to this area earlier this year. There are stunning views from up there across the Little Stony Creek Gorge all the way to Clinch Mountain in the far distance. I understand that ‘Bear Rock‘ was originally named “Dan Ramey Bear Cliff” after a trapper who caught two bear cubs on this spot. It was really cool to now be standing directly under it down in the belly of the gorge.

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Continuing upstream on Little Stony Creek

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Another beautiful spot along the Little Stony Creek

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A large cascade along the upper end of Little Stony Creek

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Continuing up the trail I had to wonder what lived in that big hole under the rock. I do not think it is an old mine shaft.

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John Forbes defying gravity on a ninja log walk (the log on the ground under him leads out over the cliff there right over top of the water some 30 feet below = see next pic)

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This ninja log walk is the one under John in the previous photo and it leads to oblivion as it ends right over top of the middle of the creek some 30 feet below !

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The new part of the trail goes right below this large jagged rock and it is a sheer drop off just to the left of the trail here. Jason is posing beside this uniquely layered rock structure

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Our first view of Bear Rock shining in the setting sun high overhead. Corder Branch flows into the Little Stony Creek just under it

At this point another stream, Corder Branch, enters into the Little Stony Creek and a short ways up that creek is a fairly large waterfall that enters from yet another stream, Laurel Branch, that empties into that creek ! I know for a fact that there are more waterfalls farther up each of these creeks but, that would have to wait for another time as we were fast running out of daylight. We did however, bushwhack a short ways up Corder Branch past the falls to see a few more falls found there before returning to the main trail to continue the campaign to the upper falls as it was simply irresistible. The light was getting better so the photos were becoming of better quality.

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Laurel Branch Falls as that creek enters into Corder Branch

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Falls on Laurel Branch as it enters into Corder Branch

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Laurel Branch Falls as it enters into Corder Branch

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Falls where Laurel Branch enters into Corder Branch

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Laurel branch Falls as we make our way up Corder Branch

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Laurel Branch Falls directly underneath Bear Rock Overlook

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Laurel Branch Falls where it enters into Corder Branch just underneath Bear Rock overlook

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Zooming in on the Bear Rock Overlook. John Forbes and myself dangled our legs off the edge of that on a previous trip here.

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Corder Branch

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Jason and John already located more falls on Corder Branch

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John surrounded by waterfalls on Corder Branch

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John stands atop of the falls where we had to turn around at on Corder Branch. There are more larger falls above these but, we did not have time to pursue them

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Falls along Corder Branch

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Close up of one of the many falls on Corder Branch

From underneath Bear Rock it is not that far to the lower Stony Creek Falls. The light was going flat quickly and to get any good shots I had to take my now tired body down the steep embankment where I would join Jason and Thomas who were already setup there. John having been there many times before opted to stay up top at the observation deck that is built right on the trail where a good view is also possible. I got what shots I could and then climbed back up to the trail to continue on to the middle Stony Creek Falls which I think are the most photogenic of the three.

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Continuing beyond the Bear Rock you soon come to the lower Stony Creek Falls

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I could see Jason and Thomas below already at the lower Stony Creek Falls

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The trail continues up to an observation deck for viewing of the lower falls

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Lower Stony Creek Falls

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Lower Stony Creek Falls

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Lower Stony Creek Falls

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Lower Stony Creek Falls

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Lower Stony Creek Falls

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Lower Stony Creek Falls

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Lower Stony Creek Falls as seen from the observation deck

I was lucky to get some decent shots of the middle falls with the failing light and I knew that getting any good pics of the uppers were already impossible but, the good thing was that we would make it there and would get to see them in the last light of the evening. That was the goal as Thomas who had never been here was able to bag a total of 7 major waterfalls in about 7 miles all within a period of 7 hours hiking ! This would also complete my tour of the entire gorge as I had only seen the upper and middle falls from the top down and back on my only other trip to this incredible place.

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Middle Stony Creek Falls

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Middle Stony Creek Falls

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Middle Stony Creek Falls

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Middle Stony Creek Falls

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Middle Stony Creek Falls

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Middle Stony Creek Falls

From the middle falls it is just a short ways to the upper falls where we spent the last minutes of daylight trying to get shots of it. Mine were not that good but, here they are anyway.

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Upper Stony Creek Falls (I hope someone has removed that dead tree by now, if not I will next time I go there !)

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Upper Stony Creek Falls

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Upper Stony Creek Falls

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Upper Stony Creek Falls

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Upper Stony Creek Falls

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Upper Stony Creek Falls

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Upper Stony Creek Falls

I was feeling tired at this point with my eye still throbbing from the pain and still had almost 3 miles to hike the entire gorge back to the vehicles, in the dark. I took some time to eat something and take in some fluids before I began my back track through the gorge. Jason and Thomas had already disappeared into the night but, John had stayed behind to make sure I was coming and we ended up walking out under the bright stars enjoying a different form of beauty that nature has to offer. I actually enjoy night hiking but, this time I was glad to be back at the vehicle where I could relax and thaw out some. It had been another epic day spent in the woods with some of my favorite hiking friends to which we had seen new sights and falls that will never be forgotten. I am sure I will be spending a lot more time in the Little Stony Creek Gorge in the future. Until next time,,,,,,

To see these falls and more please visit our Photo Gallery.

Posted on 20 January '15 by , under RATtreks.

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