Steels Creek Falls – 12-19-2012

I have been wanting to go see the Steels Creek Falls or, as my friend Dave calls them, the ‘Pothole Falls’ for quite sometime now and we finally got around to going on Wed. December 19, 2012. This would probably be the last chance of the year before the gate is closed and winter weather makes it harder if not impossible to get to the falls so we decided that this would be our destination for this hike. It was a cold and frosty morning when we left Hairnt-Quarters around 10am and drove the hour and a half over to the North Carolina mountains and found the forest road #228 open to Steels Creek so, we drove to the end of the road where the trail head is that leads up Steels Creek. As you will see during the drive on the gravel forest road, the Steels Creek Valley lies just below and on the backside of the towering Jonas Ridge where Sitting Bear, Hawksbill, and Tablerock Mountains which are above the Linville Gorge are located. The Mountains To Sea Trail which also goes over Tablerock Mountain is also located along part of the Steels Creek as well and actually goes right beside the falls we were going to see. We had not hiked very far away from the trail head when we met a young couple already on their way back who wished us ‘good luck’ !. I had to assume they were unsuccessful in reaching the falls and within minutes we came to a creek crossing that explained where they most likely had difficulty and decided to turn around. After all, not all trails to waterfalls are easy.

steels creek falls

Steels Creek Falls

At this crossing the trail seems to end at an almost vertical rock that one must climb up and over just to be able to cross the creek. There is a nice swimming hole there which I am sure sees its share of use during the warm months as well as some others downstream. It was not to hard for us to get up and over the steep rock as we are used to this sort of thing but then we had to cross the creek which was rather wide. There was decent water flowing but not high water so we made it across without issue. Once across, the trail leads a short distance over to the Mountains To Sea Trail where we turned right and proceeded on it following the creek upstream. It is not quite a mile along this trail to reach the falls and for the most part it is a good trail but it does have some rough spots. My friend Bol’Dar and I had hiked over 20 miles of the MST in September of this year on the Annual RAT Birthday Hike and had stopped just a couple miles short of this section of the MST so I was excited to hike here and even more so to see these falls which I had heard are phenomenal.

cascades

Swimming hole and cascades at first crossing of Steels Creek

The trail leaves the creek and climbs uphill to gain some elevation fairly quickly which is needed and you soon find yourself looking down on the falls. Going up the creek might be possible but it would be rough going and I would expect to get wet so this would be best left to a warmer time of year but would also be required to get any good pictures of the falls from below them as it is very hard and somewhat dangerous to get down to them from the area near the top of the falls. After the climbing was over and a short rest break, we made it to the top of the falls and were soon looking down at the numerous potholes the water has bored out over many years. These falls are very unique due to these holes that the water flows into one and then out into another and so on all the way to the bottom of the falls. The view from the top is impressive but the goal is to see them from below but it was apparent (and I had already been told) this would not be an easy feat to accomplish.

top of falls

Standing at the top of Steels Creek Falls

top of falls

Looking off top of Steels Creek Falls

top of falls

Looking off the top of Steels Creek Falls

After we spent some time at the top of the falls, I took the MST back the way we had come and found a steep goat path that leads down to near the bottom of the falls. It comes out on a extremely wet and steeply sloped rock located just above the last drop of the falls that is certain death if you were to fall but, luckily there is a rope there so this was going to be the best shot of this trip. Getting any lower on these falls would require a hot summer day without any rain and some treacherous hiking up the creek and scrambling through the woods through thick laurels from downstream which would require getting wet and falling down a few times but, the rewards would not only be a better picture from below these falls but seeing the many other nice falls, cascades, and swimming holes below these. There is this one huge swimming hole down there as well that I have seen pics of (taken by SCJack), where the entire creek is squeezed between two huge rocks into a very narrow opening that empties into this huge pool and one day I plan to see all of this in person. There is also a very nice set of falls above the Steels Creek Falls which is also off trail (and called ‘Screaming Right Hand Turn Falls‘ by SCJack) and from reading about other adventures upstream from there, and looking at Google Earth, you can see several other falls and cascades as well. One could spend a lot of time exploring this creek but it would be for the average hiker as the going would be very rough and would be considered impossible to most hikers. Sounds like just our kind of place !

steels creek falls

View of Steels Creek Falls from slanted rock below them

steels creek falls

View of Steels Creek Falls from slanted rock below them

pothole in falls

Heart shaped pothole of Steels Creek Falls. Dave calls these falls ‘broken heart falls’

steels creek falls

Got this better view after climbing down the rope to near the end of the slanted rock. very slick, very dangerous, and had to hold rope in one hand, camera in other so no using tripod. (notice broken heart looking pothole halfway down falls)

steels creek falls

View of falls from hanging near the end of the rope on the slanted rock

lower part of steels cr falls

Lower part of Steels Creek Falls (notice the huge balancing rock being held by such a small corner of it)

Dave waited near the MST above us while Bol’Dar and I went as low as we could safely get on the rope to get what shots we could. I could not use a tripod or a filter and hold on the the rope at the same time and I was not about to let go as a slip here would mean certain death. There is a huge rock at the bottom of these falls that has fallen from somewhere above and landed precariously balanced on top of some other large rocks at the bottom of the falls that seems to be held by a very small tip of the lower rock. I call this the ‘balanced rock‘.  I look forward to coming back here from downstream in the summer time as I have seen pics of crazy college kids climbing and diving off the top of this rock into the pool at the bottom of the falls. I want to swim in the pool but you will not catch me jumping off any rocks ! Here is a series of those pics I borrowed from SCJack at http://scjack.blogspot.com/2010/08/steels-creek-adventure.html:

cliff divers

College guys sitting atop the rock that supports the ‘balanced rock’ at the lowest part of the Steels Creek Falls. (Photo by SCJack)

cliff diver

College guy about to jump into the small 5 foot diameter deep spot from 25 feet above it ! (Photo by SCJack)

cliff diver in air

College guy in air at Steels Creek Falls (Photo by SCJack)

cliff diver in air

College guy in air about to impact the small deep hole at the bottom part of the Steels Creek Falls (Photo by SCJack)

cliff diver

Safe and sound but insane ! (Photo by SCJack)

odd trees

These trees are perched high above the falls. A ‘treesome‘ perhaps ?

After getting what shots we could of the falls, we decided not to risk climbing any lower on this trip so we made our back back to where Dave was waiting for us above. From there it was just a matter of taking the Mountains To Sea Trail back to the creek crossing where we started. Once we got back to the creek crossing we left the MST to cross the creek and get around the swimming hole and back to the car. The MST continues South and turns away from Steels Creek and follows a ridge on the left side of Buck Creek (which enters into Steels Creek here) until it reaches the top of Jonas Ridge just before Table Rock Mountain (in between Hawksbill and Table Rock). I can`t wait to hike all of that hopefully in the near future. On the way back along the gravel forest road #228, we got a few glimpses of these mountains but after reaching the paved highway 181 we stopped at the Brown Mountain Overlook we we had much better views of the entire Jonas Ridge and also of the other side looking towards Chestnut Mountain that we had hiked across on the Annual Birthday Hike some three months earlier.

table rock mountain

View of Table Rock Mountain from FR228

table rock mountain

Zoomed view of Table Rock Mountain seen from FR228

overlook

View from the Brown Mountain Overlook

overlook

View from the Brown Mountain Overlook

overlook

View of Chestnut Mountain from the Brown Mountain overlook

overlook

View from the Brown Mountain Overlook

overlook

View from the other side of the Brown Mountain Overlook (Looking at Hawksbill and Table Rock Mountains over the Steels Creek Valley)

overlook

View from the other side of the Brown Mountain Overlook (Looking at Hawksbill and Table Rock Mountains over the Steels Creek Valley)

overlook

View from the other side of the Brown Mountain Overlook (Looking at Hawksbill and Table Rock Mountains over the Steels Creek Valley)

It was an awesome adventure to some amazing waterfalls and I am sure we will be back here again for more exploration next year.

To see more photo`s of the Steels Creek Falls, please visit our Photo Gallery here.

Posted on 27 December '12 by , under RATtreks.

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