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

In this extremely rugged and very steep territory there are no trails, no old log roads, and the only signs of anything traveling through there was from a bear and even that was few and far between. It was very slow going and despite a fairly early start, it would take us until nearly 1 pm to reach the top of the first falls. Our fearless leader Larry Jarret, who had spent countless hours crawling through the many overgrown hollows in this area had discovered these falls back in the spring/summer season and led us down the only passable routes that would prevent us from reaching a dead end or falling over a cliff. Without this advanced knowledge, an uninformed adventurer could quickly find himself in a world of hurt.

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Larry leads the way off trail over the various finger ridges to find the right hollow

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After a lot of serious off trail up and down bushwhacking, we finally were looking down on the correct ravine. Here Larry looks down on the laurel hells we are about to crawl down into.

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In this view, looking down into the laurel abyss that we were about to descend into, you can get an idea of just how steep each side of this draw really is. Only bears tread here.

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On our way down we spied this very fresh bear claw scratching

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And so it begins. Like diving into a deep underwater cave, I watched as Larry and John disappeared before my eyes after only going in about 3 feet into the laurels

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This displays how thick the laurels were as John is going under one and will soon have to go from under to over as Larry is doing in order to get through here

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Here John comes up for air ! Larry is out if sight although only a few feet behind him !

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As I swim through this ocean of dense laurels, I can not see my fellow adventurers however, in this pic, if you look really closely, you can see a small speck of orange in the center of the image. That is all I can see of Larry who is only a few feet ahead of me ! It was so thick we had to resort to using our vocals to locate each other so as not to go the wrong way or get separated.

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Me and Bol’Dar coming down the steep laurel covered hill (Photo by John Forbes)

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After what seemed like a long time to go a short distance, we finally reached actual creek in the bottom of the deep draw. it is completely shrouded in laurels but I managed to get a pic while under the laurel canopy.

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Once across the creek and on the other side, I am looking back at Bol’Dar and John who are just below me beside that huge tree. As you can see, or rather, not see them !

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Just to prove I was not lying in the last picture, here is John emerging from the laurels taken from the same spot ! Bol’Dar is only feet behind him !

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Larry pointing out the location of some unseen cliffs to John (or demonstrating a new surfing technique) as we climb above the creek and laurels in order to not go over a cliff that resides beside and above the first waterfall we are after. You can see how steep this side hill is. It is a lot of work just to stand on it.

We came out on an escarpment high above the first falls and although it was hard to see them through the laurels and growth that hides them so well, it was very conspicuous that they were some 50 to 60 feet in vertical height with cliffs on both sides. We rested there before continuing because from Larry`s previous trips there, we knew that it would require using a rope to get down to the base in order to have the desired unobstructed view and fully absorb these magnificent falls.

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My first view of the Upper Slot Canyon Falls. As you can see they are completely hidden by the dense laurels. If not for hearing them you would pass them by when trying to avoid large cliffs and thick rhodos. They stay hidden almost completely until you are actually standing only a few feet from them at the base !

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Hanging out over the edge of a tall laurel covered cliff, I am able to get a slightly better view of part of the upper falls.

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RAT claws hanging over the edge of the cliff as I rest and enjoy my small slice of the view of these very large falls

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Hanging as far as I can off the top edge of the cliff we were on, I get a small view of the top of the falls. I could not wait to get down to them however, that was much easier said than done !

We did find a safer route than Larry had used on his last undertaking here but, it did still require roping down to be safe as it was very slick and leaf covered. For us this just adds to the fun and excitement but, I know many that would not want any part of it. Once we were all safely down the rope we found ourselves at the top of the second falls which actually go through the slot canyon below. It is way too slanted and slick to get close to the top of these falls but, by using the slack part of the rope we were able to get down close enough to look down them through the canyon and get a few pics before continuing up to the base of the upper falls. It looked as if it may not be possible to get to the base of the lower slot canyon falls but, we would work on that in a bit.

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Looking down on Larry and John as they make their way down to the next level beneath me. After that it would require a rope to go down safely any farther.

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My view once I joined Larry and John at the next level down. Bol’Dar was right behind me.

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Larry awaits his turn on the rope while John goes down first

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Larry on the rope ! (Photo by John Forbes)

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Larry negotiates the rope (Photo by John Forbes)

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Larry lowers himself slowly down the rope into the slick, wet, leaf covered cliffs of the slot canyon

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Larry continuing down the rope, searching for a hand a foot hold. The leaf covered area seen below this ledge is actually solid rock with water under the leaves and what you cant tell in pictures is the fact that it is very slanted and you can not stand up safely upon it and a slip would mean sliding uncontrollably down into the top of the lower slot canyon falls which would mean serious injury. You can tell a little more about it in the next few pics,,,,

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Here Bol’Dar and I are getting pics of Larry as we await our turn to go down the rope (Photo by John Forbes)

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Finally it is my turn ! (Photo by John Forbes)

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After Larry it was my turn on the rope (Photo by John Forbes)

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RATman working the rope ! (Photo by John Forbes)

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Here we stand at the top of the lower slot canyon falls. You can see the rope to the bottom right and the cliff we had just roped down. From here it drops off sharply on wet leaf covered rock all the way down tot he falls. We had to use the rope to go any lower than here to get shots from the top of these falls. One slip here and you would be gone ! The upper falls are behind us.

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Here you can see just how steep it drops off into the top of the lower falls. We are all actually attached to the rope here (seen beside Larry) to even be able to remain in this position to get shots of the lower slot canyon falls seen here

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Holding the rope in one hand, the camera in the other, I got a couple of shots looking down into the slot canyon at the top of the lower falls

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Bol’Dar captured this incredible image looking down the lower slot canyon falls (Photo by Bol’Dar)

As I made my way along the base of the cliff that we had roped down on, I could see John was already at the base of the upper falls. The closer I got the more astonishing and larger the falls became. Once I was in the clear I was stunned in awe at the delightful beauty of these falls. It was inconceivable to me how something so large and superb could remain hidden from anyone for so long but, after completing the mission and exploring the area around them, it became obvious how well the scabrous landscape hides and protects them from any visitors. After staring at them for several minutes, I finally had presence of mind to drop my pack and setup a camera to get some pics. Even in bright sun these falls were perhaps the nicest I have ever seen.

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Making my way along the base of the cliffs we had roped down as I go towards the upper falls

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Pushing my way through the laurels towards the upper falls I can see (and hear) John who is already there and it is easy to tell how excited he is !

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John at the upper falls

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My first real view of the falls as I come up beside John

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I snapped a couple of shots with my pocket cam before setting up the tripod and my slightly larger camera. I was in awe at the Upper Slot Canyon Falls

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Getting closer to the edge of the ledge we were on, I could now see the splash pool. What an awesome sight to behold ! Including a small drop at the top that you can not see from the base, these falls are about 50 feet in vertical height.

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Upper Slot Canyon Falls

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Upper Slot Canyon Falls

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These falls were amazing. Pristine, totally hidden from human eyes and even satellite, no signs of man, unnamed and protected by the sheer ruggedness of the terrain that surrounds them.

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Panning slightly more to the right of the falls you can see some of the huge fortress of cliffs that line both sides of these falls

Larry took the time to do some cleaning of the falls and we all ended up spending a long time there. We knew that it would cause us to end up in the dark long before getting off the mountain yet, there was just no way we could leave these falls quickly. They are so difficult to get to and they are just so sublime that we had to take the time to fully enjoy them before moving on to the next falls. Of course this meant getting some shots with people in them since that is the only way to display how tall and mighty they actually are.

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Larry stands proudly beside his discovery

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John joins Larry for a Gnome pose at the Upper Slot Canyon Falls

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Larry beside his incredible find !

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Another shot of Larry Jarret and his incredible find !

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A happy John Forbes does his famous Gnome pose beside the falls

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I soon made my way to the top of the falls to check them out up close and personal

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Top drop of the falls

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My view of Larry and John from the ledge beside the falls

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Here you can see some of the high cliffs on the side of the falls we came in on that prevent any descent down to the base without the use of a rope.

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Me doing a Gnome pose at the upper slot canyon falls (Photo by John Forbes)

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Here it looks like I am about to field goal Bol’Dar off the falls ! (Photo by John Forbes)

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Hanging out near the top drop of the falls. Such a gorgeous place.

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Up close to the middle part of the falls

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Side view near the base

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View from the base of the falls

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View from the base. I could not get enough of these magnificent falls

Eventually we knew we did have to leave but, first John would climb around the cliff on the far side and go over the top to see if my suspicions were correct about a passable gully on the backside that would lead down to the base of the next falls below the slot canyon. This was needed just in case it was not possible to get down the cliff on our side once we climbed back up the rope and removed it. I climbed back up the rope and within a few minutes I could see John far below me deep within the canyon below the falls so, my premonition was right ! I took some pics from the narrow cliff I was perched upon while Larry continued across the cliffs to see if he could reach the base from our side. It was not long before I seen him coming up behind John in the bottom of the slot canyon !

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Once back up the rope we followed the ledge out to its end to look down into the slot canyon. (Find John Forbes)

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Cliff view of John, Gnome posing in the bottom of the slot canyon

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Look close and you can see Larry joins with John at the end of the slot canyon.

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Taken from below the Lower Slot Canyon Falls. If you look close you can see me and Bol’Dar on top of one of the upper cliffs in the top part of the picture. We are waiting on John to get back up there so we can remove the rope and make our way to the lower falls. (Photo by John Forbes)

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This pic is unique in that it shows me at a puckering perch on top of the slot canyon cliffs while Bol’Dar (orange) is coming up the rope to join me (Photo by John Forbes)

Bol’Dar and I waited there because John had to come back the way he had went in order to get his pack and use the rope to get back out before I removed it. This took awhile but, soon we would all make our way down the steep cliffs and gather together at the base of the slot canyon to gaze up at the extraordinary falls and slot canyon that was before us. This was where we decided to take the group shot at.

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Looking across the side of the slot canyon cliffs as we find the way down

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Now at the bottom of the cliffs we make our way along the base towards the Lower Slot Canyon Falls

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Looking up on the left side (side we came in on)

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Group shot at the lower slot canyon falls

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Lower Slot Canyon Falls

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Lower Slot Canyon Falls

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Lower Slot Canyon Falls

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Lower Slot Canyon Falls

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Lower Slot Canyon Falls

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Cliffs around the falls

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closer to the falls

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close up of parts of the falls

Slot canyons are normally only found out West and are very rare in the East however, here I was standing in the belly of a very impressive one complete with multiple waterfalls dropping through it. Of course it was this water that had created it and for that I am thankful. I am also very thankful that Larry put in the hard work that was required to find it and graciously shared its pristine beauty with us. Again, we took a fair amount of time to get pictures and revel in the immeasurable treasure that was the slot canyon falls.

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Upper drop of the Lower Slot Canyon Falls. There is more coming in from the right that can only be seen from above them as you seen in previous pics

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Upper drop of the Lower Slot Canyon Falls

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Lower Slot Canyon Falls

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Close up of the upper drop of the Lower Slot Canyon Falls

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John does a Gnome pose and gives some scale to the falls

After we finally was able to pry ourselves away from the slot canyon, we climbed back up the cliffs by way of a nature made rock staircase along a narrow, nearly vertical, leaf covered, rock ledge. Once back on the steep side hill we continued on our way keeping above the many rock cliffs that line this waterway. It was not long before another amazing waterfall could be heard and seen far below us. Before going down to them Larry was to share with us something else even more wondrous. As soon as we seen it we were all blown away. There before us was monolithic rock formation that rose high into the sky above us. It resembled to me that of the Sitting Bear Rock of the Linville Gorge as it was shaped in a very similar way. Larry pointed out some ‘keyhole slots’ in the sides of it that one could look through which made it all that more appealing. Of course we all took turns standing upon it and just like the icing is to a cake, the view of the falls below from this rocky overlook was breathtaking.

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Larry climbing up one of the few routes up the cliff to get out of the slot canyon

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John climbing out of the slot canyon

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About to climb out of the slot canyon (Photo by John Forbes)

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A very happy RAT climbing out of the slot canyon (Photo by John Forbes)

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Climbing out of the slot canyon (Photo by John Forbes)

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Bol’Dar brings up the rear as he climbs out of the slot canyon (Photo by John Forbes)

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HUGE downed tree lies over the creek just downstream from the lower slot canyon falls

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This is the base of the huge tree that broke off to fall across the creek way down below

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along the right side of the rock tower,, aka the Sitting Bear of Unaka

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Looking through one of the keyholes I can see Diane Falls

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Diane Falls via the keyhole rock

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John sits atop the Sitting Bear Rock of Unaka or what we affectionately call, The Diane`s Falls Overlook. The keyholes exist because those rocks are separate and are just sitting there which form cracks between them which is what the keyhole view is through the sides

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John and Bol’Dar atop the tall rock tower

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It is a long way down to the bottom of this rock tower

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Me gnome posing beside Bol’Dar atop the overlook rock (Photo by John Forbes)

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Me doing a Gnome pose on the Diane`s Falls Overlook. (Photo by John Forbes)

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My view of Diane`s Falls from the top of the overlook rock

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As I sit on top of the overlook I can see Larry on the edge over from me with another one of his prized discoveries, Diane`s Falls which he named after a friend of his.

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Looking off the front and highest end of the overlook rock, I seen ferns growing out of cracks

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After I spent some time on the top I joined the others before we climbed down to the falls

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John Gnome poses on top of the overlook rock !

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John poses on top of the rock

Larry has named these falls ‘Diane`s Falls’ after a good friend of his so I aptly named the promontory rock tower the ‘Diane`s Falls Overlook’ for lack of a better name at this time. After spending some time on this high rise acropolis we then descended down to the base of Diane`s Falls. These are another beauty of a falls with yellow tinted rocks to compliment her soft cheek bones. We knew we had to hurry as the light was already fading and we had a long way to go yet, once again it was just so hard to leave.

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Diane`s Falls

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Diane`s Falls

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Diane`s Falls

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Diane`s Falls

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Diane`s Falls

We climbed back up the steep embankment and continued our campaign passing at the base of the huge rock tower we had been on earlier. Seeing it from the bottom and the lower side revealed it to be much larger than I had originally thought. This rock formation was quite a find. Immediately after that it was back into the dense laurel hells. After a while Larry cautioned us to be very careful and go slow when forcing our way through them as there was another falls and sheer cliff drop off just ahead. Sure enough I could soon see the dead leaves on the ground drop out from under me and to my left was the top of a very tall plunge falls. There is something about being able to stand at the top edge of a plunge falls and look down them that excites the soul and let me say, I was suddenly very excited ! we call this feeling ‘waterfall wood’ !

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After coming back up from Diane`s Falls, we made our way below the low end of the overlook rock. Following Larry of course !

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Bol’Dar and I hanging out near the base of the Diane`s Falls overlook rock tower (Photo by John Forbes)

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Looking up at the lower end of the overlook rock

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Passing below and around the overlook rock. Here you can see the sitting bear part of it on top

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I call these ‘the twins’

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Top of Recluse Falls

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Top of Recluse Falls

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Looking over top side of Recluse Falls

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Hanging out at the top of Recluse Falls

It was getting darker quickly so after a short rest we made our way around and down the cliff and it was then that I could see the unobstructed view of these falls. I don`t know if it was because I was tired or if it was due to sensory overload but, I found myself without words and could only sit there on that side of the falls just staring intently and trying to get what pics I could. Larry calls these falls ‘Recluse Falls’. After getting some shots from the side we were on, I crossed at the base on one of the slickest rocks I have ever set a boot upon to join the others on the opposite side. These falls are magnificent and once again I was aghast that I did not know anyone who knew of them or had any pictures of them. Despite the light being nearly gone due to the now late hour of 5 pm, we did our best to get some shots of these fantastic falls before climbing the steep, and rock covered bank through more thick laurels to continue on.

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It is a sheer drop off for a long ways on this side of the falls. it would be easy to push through the laurels and walk right off this

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We came down a vertical crack in the cliff that was passable to get down to the bottom side of the falls

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Lots of cliffs around these falls like all the others

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My first stop was the left side of the falls (Photo by John Forbes)

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Side view of Recluse Falls

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Side view of Recluse Falls

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Side view of Recluse Falls

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Side view of Recluse Falls in low light. You can see Bol’Dar and Larry on the other side

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Looking up at Recluse Falls as I cross over below them

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Crossing over the base of the falls

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Me coming across the base of Recluse Falls (Photo by John Forbes)

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View of Recluse Falls from the other side

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Side view of Recluse Falls from the opposite side

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Recluse Falls from the other side

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One last side shot before we departed and continued down to the next falls

It was still very rough going to get around and down to the next set of falls that were located just below Recluse Falls. It was nearly dark when we reached them and we all scrambled to get a couple pics before moving on as it was still well over another mile to go just to reach where we dropped another car at. These falls Larry has named Abyss Falls and they are the most unique falls of the entire day. The upper part of them is completely hidden back in a deep grotto with steep sides much like Bailey Falls in Greene County, yet larger and with much more appeal as the top part comes in at a twisting angle before falling down into the abyss of the chasm they have cut out over countless years of erosion. As they emerge out of the grotto they soon drop again where we would sit at the top of on a very slick puckering perch to grab a couple of pics before it became pitch dark. I was unable to get any usable pics of them but, I know I will be going back to them again.

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Larry kneels carefully on a very slick puckering perch at the Abyss Falls . You can not see the upper and most unique part of the falls from here as they sit way back in a deep grotto

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Abyss Falls

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Abyss Falls

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Leaving Abyss Falls (Photo by John Forbes)

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One of the few places along the route that had no laurels however, moss and fern covered boulder fields are also hard to cross ! (Photo by John Forbes)

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It was nearly dark and the moon was up as we left Abyss Falls. We walked the last mile and half give or take out in the dark by headlamp

We tried to make haste from that point on which was not easy as there was still some rough and rocky terrain to get through before reaching the lower realm of the mountain where the going would be somewhat easier. Of course then there was another danger of encountering hunters as we would be nearing an area that is well known for that and it was the first day of rifle season. From being a hunter myself many years ago I knew all too well that most kills are right at dark which is when the deer start to stir so we were quiet and John and I (who were not wearing any orange) stayed closer to Larry and Bol’Ddar who were both sporting the legal limit of blaze orange. Under the light of a slightly larger than half moon, we completed the rest of the off trail bushwhack as our minds raced with the thoughts of the many incredible sights we had witnessed on this day. This kept my adrenaline level high enough to overcome my lack of energy and dulled the pains in my now aching body long enough to get to an actual route, an old log road bed, that would make hiking in the dark a lot easier. We saw some truck lights off in the distance which turned out to be a hunter leaving the area so we knew the road was not far away. I was glad when we reached it and actually turned off my headlamp there to enjoy hiking the rest of the way out by the magical moonlight. It had been another enchanting day in the woods and to this day I am still agape at the unimaginable waterfalls and rock formations that we had seen thanks to Larry`s discoveries. Please excuse my epical description of this expedition but, it is the only way I know to properly detail the chronicles of the Camel Servicer`s accomplishments and give credit where credit is due. Once back at the car we made the long drive to take Larry back up to his truck where we could see the approaching cold front was already on the mountain with thick clouds and light rain. By the next morning they would be dusted and frozen with the seasons first trace of snow. John and I stopped at a local eatery just before closing time to partake in the post hike grub out. Despite my pack and guide pants being seriously ripped along with numerous bruises and other assorted merit badges, this had been the best trip so far and I am already looking forward to the next one. Until then,,,,,,,

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Post hike grub out. John had breakfast and I had steak smothered in sauteed onions, peppers, mushrooms, and gravy. (Photo by John Forbes)

Posted on 10 December '15 by , under RATtreks.

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