The Waterfalls of Phantom`s Trace – 11-14-2015

It is that time of year again when the waterfalls spring forth with rejuvenated life and the authentic RAT PACKERS (aka: Camel Servicer’s) begin their annual pilgrimages that take them deep into the back-country and wilds where few, if any, venture. On this first trip of the season we would be following our friend and waterfall ninja leader, Larry Jarret aka: the ‘Roan Mountain Jedi’. Due to his ‘extensive map studies’ and many hard hours of devoted exploration of the areas toughest terrain earlier in the year, he was anxious to show us one of his most prized discoveries. This would lead us deep into the Tennessee mountains on a totally off trail bushwhack through some of the thickest laurel hells I have ever encountered. The route would become so steep at times that without the laurels, would have required ropes to descend. The reward would be the privilege of getting to witness the pristine beauty of a long series of what seemed to be unending waterfalls, many of which were over 100 feet in vertical height. They were well protected by towering vertical rock cliff walls and thick laurels growing on extremely steep terrain which made it very difficult and dangerous to acquire the puckering perches needed in order to get any decent photos of the numerous drops. We did our best yet, most times the falls were so high that there was no way to get all of them in a single frame no matter how wide the lens. Of course the other factor is that without someone actually being in the picture placed close to the falls, there is simply no way to display just how tall they are. Here is a condensed collection of pics that I was able to capture along this amazing waterfalls odyssey.

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Group shot beside one of the many old growth forest trees that grow near the falls (left to right: Larry ‘Roan Mtn. Jedi’ Jarret, Me (Randy ‘RAT’ Tarpley), Tommy ‘Bol’Dar’ Warden, and John ‘The Gnome’ Forbes

After meeting at an undisclosed location around 9am, we would leave vehicles there at the base of the mountain and take another to the top where the journey would commence. It was a cold morning in the mid to upper 20`s with a heavy frost. It was also quite windy up top but, we were soon out of it as we dropped off into the unnamed hollow and the bright sun slowly began to warm the day. Once we lost sight of the road the going became steep yet it was not that overgrown. Once we made it to the creek however, that would soon change as the laurel hells did begin. At first it was not that hard to ride the ridge fingers above them although that is also difficult due to the steepness and numerous downed trees. Eventually the sides of the draw would come together to form the well known V shape where waterfalls are born and we would find ourselves in the creek between solid rock cliffs becoming one with the laurel hells until we reached the first 100+ foot drop. It never stopped after that. Getting down these treacherous drops was acutely challenging especially when trying to get to specific locations needed to see and take pics of the falls. Of course some were impossible to get to and we had to be satisfied with a view from the top or side as it would have required roping down the actual falls in the water !

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This is how it all started,,,,,

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There are no trails here. It takes a special kind of person to want to go through this. It does not get any better.

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Within a short distance the trickle becomes a creek and some small falls begin. Here Bol’Dar finds himself at the base enjoying the morning

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John Forbes straddles a huge burl at the base of a tree

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John Gnome poses atop the huge burl wood. This is probably a first.

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Bol’Dar practices the art of Gnome posing atop the large burl wood

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Although this area was logged out in the early 1900`s and burned in 1925, there are some large trees that have grown back since that time. Farther down we would find some virgin timber that the steep, cliffy terrain did not allow the loggers to get to back then. That alone displays just how rough this descent is.

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Looking down on some of the first sizable waterfalls that are hiding in the laurels. We actually took the time to go down to them.

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Our view once down at the base of the falls seen in the previous pic

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One of the first nice falls of the morning

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Same falls but I liked it so well that I setup my tripod and got a shot of it with my larger cam despite the bright light !

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Here you can see Larry, John, and Bol’Dar ahead of me trying to stay above the thick laurel hells. Not easy as you can see how steep the sidehill is and it did not last long as you can see them descending down into the laurel abyss which is necessary to reach the first 100+ foot waterfall drop

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Just before submerging into the laurels, I looked over at the other side to see that it was quickly turning into vertical cliffs

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Larry and Bol’Dar showing how large a tree is along the way. Smoke effects provided by John Forbes (I paid extra for that ! )

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This narrow slice of rock was precariously held within the trees root system which had grown and lifted it out of the ground to form this turn style. Unfortunately I had to remove it to continue the steep descent.

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Looking back I can see Larry and John surfing through the thick laurels as we descend deeper into the draw

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The creek has grown quickly in size and the terrain is now losing elevation at a much faster rate

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Once the drops started, they never ended. The going was extremely rough though,,,,

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There were many obstacles. While going around a vertical rock drop off we found ourselves being forced down through the strange root system of this tree that has somehow grown around the rocks. Here I can`t tell if it looks like a tree is giving birth to a human, or, if it is just relieving itself.

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John completes passing through the tree`s birth canal and it will be Bol’Dar`s turn next.

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Bol’Dar has no trouble dropping down through the tree`s opening

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Isolated shot of the top drop of the first 120′ + falls (Photo by John Forbes)

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After a lot of hard working and sweat we finally came to the top of the first major falls where the earth dropped out from under us as we found ourselves looking down a vertical drop of over 120 feet. There was no way to go down the right side so we were able to cross the falls here just below the first drop at the top. We spent some time here getting pics after clearing out a lot of brush and limbs before continuing down the incredibly steep other side.

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Wider view of this tiny piece of the awesome falls (after a lot of clean up)

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Top drop of one of the first 100+ foot tall falls along the Phantom`s Trace (taken with my secondary camera)

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Looking over the top of the falls as the sun was burning off the morning. You can see the tangled growth that seems to go forever. It does a great job of hiding and protecting the falls.

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In case anyone wants to know why we call what we do ‘surfing’ here is a good example as Bol’Dar demonstrates the most popular method. (Photo by John Forbes)

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Bol’Dar taking his time to get the shot at the top of these magnificent falls.

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Looking at Larry and John from my perch at the top of the falls as they are making their way down the other side to reach the base and the next drop. There is an ocean of laurels between us,,,

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John and Larry`s view of Bol’Dar and I at the top of the falls (Photo by John Forbes)

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My side view of the falls during the descent as I cling to the laurels that are hindering me but, at the same time are making it possible for me not to fall to my death !

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Once I finally reached John and Larry I could look back and see Bol’Dar gnome posing at the top of the falls. You can see the small drop above him and only a part of the 120 foot drop below him !!

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Slightly zoomed shot to show Bol’Dar carefully making his way across the treacherous terrain to get across the falls and over and down to where the rest of us are waiting.

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Me climbing under yet another dancing tree passing beneath its stair stepped root system (Photo by John Forbes)

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Me pausing for a shot while climbing up through the tree`s root system (Photo by John Forbes)

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That is Bol’Dar down in the laurels below me

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Looking down on Bol’Dar as he climbs the root steps below me

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Bol’Dar crawling up the root path below us ! Once above the roots, it is possible to stand upon them for a great view of the falls !!

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Another angle of Bol’Dar as he crawls up the root system (Photo by John Forbes)

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Same falls in their entirety. You will see here the wicked terrain on either side of the falls that must be negotiated in order to go from top to base. There are no traces of trails here.

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Closer shot of the first 100 ++ foot high falls. Of course within spitting distance of the base of these falls is the top of the next 100 ++ footer and this continued for at least 4 or 5 times non stop.

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Another shot of the amazing falls from their base.

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Larry leads us as we have to cross the creek to get to the next falls (Photo by John Forbes)

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There were hundreds of small drops like this but, I took the time to shoot this one although it was using my pocket cam without a tripod.

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A wider angle of the same small drop

Not far from the base of the first drop, I`d say under 100 feet, there is another drop that we found ourselves at the top of. This one came complete with a Gnome Saddle (complete with a gnome saddle horn) which John promptly found his place on. Without the rock saddle horn it would not have been safe to even consider sitting there. The drop is a vertical chasm of at least 80 feet where it levels off for about 10 feet before dropping vertically again at least another 100 feet. We hung out awhile at the top of this part of the falls taking in the mind blowing rock cliffs and beauty that surrounds it.

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Looking down the falls you can see the gnome saddle with saddlehorn ! The camera can not show how vertical the drop is but, the pics from below will give you a better idea.

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View from the top !

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John sits in the saddle at the top of these falls !

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Looking down and over John`s head. It is about 80 feet to those leaves at the bottom right, then the falls keep dropping vertically another 100 + feet ! Getting down there was challenging to say the least.

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A very happy John and myself sit at the top of the falls (Photo by Bol’Dar)

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Bol’Dar catches up and joins us at the top of these impressive falls

From there it was very difficult to continue down the falls as it almost required a rope however, our fearless leader Larry Jarret found the much needed ninja route that took us around the edge of the cliff and around another one of the ‘dancing trees’ to get down and over to the small landing at the base of the first 80 foot frop we had just stood atop of. A dead tree broke and I nearly fell along way down when attempting this but, luckily I stabbed my Rat claws into the dirt to stop me which did work. The only bad result was that I broke a fingernail loose from the quick. A small price to pay to live another day and get to look up at this awesome waterfall.

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Towering dead hemlock tree. This thing was humongous and this is only the top half !

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Climbing around one of the many obstacles of the day (Photo by John Forbes)

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Another tall dancing tree growing over the cliff we were maneuvering around

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Following John carefully around the edge of the cliff to get to the falls, only inches to his right is a sheer drop of over 100 feet

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Me at the base of the cliff and the gnarly old dancing tree (Photo by John Forbes)

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Looking back at Bol’Dar as he makes his way around the strange dancing tree along the narrow ledge of the rock cliff

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Looking up at the strange tree and steep cliff we were going around

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Looking up at the cliff we were carefully making our way around the base of

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Once around the cliff we could see the falls but as you can see there is no level ground there. It is slick and covered in wet, loose leaves that slant down to the creek some 25 feet below. It was here that I fell and nearly went to the bottom !

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Bol’Dar and me trying to get around the rock cliff and steep drop off in order to get to the small landing at the base of the 80+ foot (saddle horn) falls. This is right after I nearly fell (Photo by John Forbes)

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Treacherous negotiating (Photo by John Forbes)

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We actually should have used the rope here (Photo by John Forbes)

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Finally we make it to the small level spot at the base of the saddlehorn falls and as you can see about a foot from where I am standing the falls continue down another steep drop of over 100 feet. Between us and the spot this pic was taken from is also nearly a vertical drop off as well , and is where I fell and nearly went down. I was lucky this time. In hindsight we should have used a rope here. (Photo by John Forbes)

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After a close call with a near fall to the depths below us, I was finally standing at the bottom of this 80 foot drop we were previously sitting in the saddle at the top of ! There was not much room to stand but the view made it all worth it !

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This is the next set of 100 ++ foot high falls that started just a stones throw from the base of the first one,, this perch is barely half way down,,,

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Trying to get about 80 feet or more of these falls in one frame ! Inches behind me is another plunge over 100 or more feet,,,

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In awe of these awesome unknown and previously unnamed falls

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We spent some time here getting to know her

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Here John does a Gnome pose while standing on the Gnome Saddle at the top of this drop which gives some scale to their size.

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John went back up for a Gnome Pose !

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John sitting in the gnome saddle.

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Climbing back out around the cliff where I fell earlier. You can see how there is no level ground at its base on this end

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Me on my way back from below the last set of falls at the place where I nearly fell to my demise on the way in ! (Photo by John Forbes)

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Lovely isn’t it ? Laurel hells we had to go through growing on some of the steepest terrain around here.

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Going back below the cliff so we can continue downward

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Looking down from that cliff we could see the world was dropping out from under us still with no end in sight. The falls never stopped falling for the next half a mile yet getting tot he multiple 100+ feet high drops would be very challenging

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After going only a short distance away from the cliff and falls this is my view looking back. You can`t even see the falls there ! Hard to believe an 80 foot high falls is between those two rock cliffs !!

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This pic displays the terrain about as good as any I took as I follow Bol’Dar through laurels so thick you cant see through them, over down trees that lie below them on a slope that is too steep to stand upon without sliding. You notice Bol’Dar is dragging his pack behind him. Looking out in the distance you can see the huge drop that this draw is still taking us down, down down,, the waterfalls are to our left here and they never stop dropping, it is unending

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Me, somewhere along the route, taking a break enjoying being out of the laurel thickets (Photo by John Forbes)

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Finally we catch up with John and Larry who are at the top of the next set of falls,

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Looking above our new perch

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Just one of dozens of nice falls along this secluded stream

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Just one of many found here

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Closer shot of the same falls

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Larry and Bol’Dar doing some cleaning up around some of the next drops we encountered. You can see part of how steep and gnarly the terrain is behind Bol’Dar that we had to come down.

In this next pic you can see the top half of that same drop at the tip top of this next pic which shows how the falls never stop. It is a continuous set of drops that are only a few feet apart that are continuous for about a half a mile with several hundred feet of near vertical falls that are all connected.

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The next 100+ footer in front of me as another one lies just behind me. I did not notice the small swirlie at the bottom right until later.

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Another shot of the 100+ foot falls. Notice the small swirlies at the bottom right !

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The next 100 ++ falls. Actually if you were looking at these from the air (if you could magically see through all the trees and laurels that would prevent that) you would see these as one continuous falls that would be somewhere between 500 and 700 feet in overall height. The numerous 100 + foot high drops are so close together they could easily be considered as one continuous falls depending on your definition of a waterfall.

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Crossing the creek many times was required. Here John is right in front of me yet you can barely see him for the laurels

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Bol’Dar high above me on the falls

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Looking up at the falls

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Every time we continued down there was more of this

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John and I take a short breather before plunging deeper into the laurel hell. There is no open areas on this entire route.

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Far as the eye can see, laurels,,, and the terrain keeps dropping steeply. It is very slow going.

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Here Larry clings to a laurel and hangs out over the side edge of the falls to trim some laurels and limbs that block the view from below. John passes me the debris one at a time so I can pass to Bol’Dar to dispose of away from the falls. We were quite the team ! It was the only way to get any usable pics.

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Clinging to laurels along the side of the falls as we clean them up some

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Looking down the next 100 foot drop of falls you can see it splits into a high and low side. once below we seen it goes back together into another nice drop. This falls never stopped giving !

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Just one of numerous drops after cleaning them up

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Slowly moving farther down this huge drop of the falls. You can see the split where part of creek goes high and other goes low.

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Another click down I am looking over Bol’Dar at where the spit comes together and makes another drop before plunging another 25 to 30 feet tot he splash pool below.

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This part of the falls I call the split (Photo by John Forbes)

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Barely able to hang on to the click rocks here I did not try to get my larger camera out but, this is just below the small drop where the split in the creek comes together to make a nice falls as it continues along its way down this next 100 ++ section of the unending waterfalls. Like I said, the drops are all connected and never stopped for over a half mile !

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Closer up on where the split comes together

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Nice rooster tail beside where I was hanging on at

It was a 9 hour long laborious effort to ride this stream out to its end at the bottom of the mountain and, we took as much time as we could to enjoy and capture each of the too numerous to count major waterfalls along the way. Of course this would come at a price that we realized when the light started to fade and we still had well over a mile or more to go through solid laurel hells to reach the end of this fantastic voyage. We did try to quicken the pace some yet, still not miss anything. The terrain never improved even in the lower elevations which made it demanding to try and make any faster time, not to mention the fact that I was very tired by then. I recall attempting to get a shot of the last waterfall in near total darkness which did not turn out for me. We would be in pitch black from there using headlamps for the last mile or more out to the cars.

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Me, Larry and Bol’Dar admiring the next set of falls (Photo by John Forbes)

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The falls just kept coming one after another. I can not recall seeing this many falls in one day on one creek ever.

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The next continuous drop encountered as we carefully make our way lower and lower

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Another shot of those same awesome falls. Each drop has its own unique beauty

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We were able to stand at the base of this small part of the falls

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Bol’Dar giving some scale to what looks like a small drop until a person is included in the shot !

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Bol’Dar doing a pose he created as he shows how tall this part of the falls is. You can see the ‘split falls’ at tip top of this image. I regret not getting out my larger camera here but did what I could with my pocket cam.

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Larry proudly displays his Dr Enuf sponsor while John does his famous Gnome pose.

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Looking back as we leave this part of the falls you can see how the previous upper drops above the split falls are hidden around the corner and you can only see here from the split down. Of course, that is not the bottom, there are many more falls that continue from the base of what you are seeing here only a few feet away as we continue slowly making our way down the draw

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Looking down at the continuous falls from the exact same spot the last picture was taken. That steep chasm type falls is another 80 to 100 feet with another 25 foot drop at the end of it.

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Zooming in some

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Awesome small falls at the end of the chasm type drop as seen in the last two pics

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John takes a moment to chill out and enjoy this quaint drop along the way

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Close up of the small falls

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Front view

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Front view of the nice drop. I regret not using my larger camera but it was getting dark now and we had to make some time

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Some of many cliffs that loomed above us all day

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My view of Larry and Bo’Dar at the base of the next set of falls. We still had a long way to go at this point and the creek was still dropping steeply ! And of course, more laurels !

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Another cliff overhead

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John and Larry checking out some huge rocks we had to negotiate around. I recall this being one of the first places with a small break in the laurels. it was short lived

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Within a few feet of the previous boulders the bottom dropped out again and we found ourselves sliding down this gully to get to even more and more waterfalls ! The trick was to not slide too far and end up going over the falls ! John is stopped on the edge and making his way over a narrow ledge at the top of another cliff

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Looking down on the next drop which was about a 25 footer. The fan at the top was gorgeous ! I wish I would have had time to shoot it in an isolated image using my other camera but time was not on our side at this point

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My view from the top of the previous vantage point. I can see Larry already setting up at the base of the falls below us and the hollow continuing to drop below us as it snakes to another hard left around the corner where we would soon find another 100+ foot chasm falls ! Like I have said throughout, the falls never stopped !

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John hanging out at the top of this set of falls. There is more falls in the rocky gorge like area upstream behind him but, we were unable to get in there due to time restraints and rough terrain

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Trying my best with hand held cam of the fan at the top of the falls

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Continuing down this pristine part of the falls

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Trying to show the hard to access rocky gorge above this particular drop of the falls. The water all but disappears in there but would be awesome if one had the time to explore deeper

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Larry doing some much needed cleanup work around this drop of the falls (Photo by John Forbes)

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Front view of the same falls. it was too dark to use the larger camera but I had to try !

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Another dark one with the secondary camera but, it is what it is !

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Upcoming cliffs

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Lower part of the upcoming cliffs. The next falls start right at its base as the hollow goes sharply left around them

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The opportunities for small drops like this were too many to count. I could spend days in here shooting.

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Wider shot of same small drop (hand held camera)

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Another small drop I could not resist getting a shot of with my pocket cam

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My mouth dropping as I see the next part of the falls (Photo by John Forbes)

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Me at the top of the next drop (Photo by John Forbes)

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One falls after another,,,,,

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Another angle of those same falls,, handheld camera

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Wider shot, I fell in love with this drop of the falls

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The first sign of an old log road that came in from the bottom. They had put these huge logs in the ground beside each other to hold and form a road. This went about 100 feet and disappeared without a trace of any thing above or below it.

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The next and last of the 100+ foot drops

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Bol’Dar at the base of the last 100 footers

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Bol’Dar at the base of one of the last 100 + footers. Note that at the top of these falls, they do continue around the corner with another drop just as high as they never really stop, you just cant see it all in one shot from top or bottom

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One of the last usable shots of the day that I would take with my larger camera

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As we tried to hurry to get out before dark which we knew was not going to happen, we had to pass by many beautiful small falls such as this one. I did what I could hastily with my pocket cam as we went by !

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Another cure drop, low light and blurry but I had to include it !

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Last of the waterfalls, a 25 – 30 foot high one in total darkness ! It was still another mile or more to the car and with no trail still !

With still a few creek crossings and an agonizing short climb left to reach any easier terrain, I was drained of almost all energy and was already hurting in many places still, I had so much adrenaline pumping from all the prodigious scenery that I had absorbed on this epic journey that I was able to fuel myself from it to complete the task at hand. I was elated to see the car reflecting off the light of my headlamp through the darkness as my head was then filled with visions of the post hike grub out. Driving at maximum track speed along the curvy mountain roads, which probably scared my passengers, I made quick work of getting Larry back to his truck on top of the mountain. The skies were clear and we took a moment to observe a highly visible Milk Way and some lights in the valley below before the cold and hunger changed our thoughts back to getting some food. We went our separate ways and before long John and myself would be trying to pry our now stiff bones out of the car to get into a nearby eating establishment to consume the post hike grub. I would be bruised and sore for the next few days though it was worth every pain and merit badge earned to see this many major unknown and unnamed falls in a single outing. These are all undocumented and personally I hope they remain that way in order to protect them from the masses that would inadvertently cause their demise. I am already excited about the next excursion that will take place in just a few days from now. Until then,,,,,,

food

Post hike grub out

Posted on 26 November '15 by , under RATtreks.

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