Wilderness and Longarm Branch Falls – 1-6-2015

Happy New Year ! My first hike of the brand new year would be to a triple set of waterfalls discovered by my hiking friend Tommy (Bol’Dar) Warden. We had the pleasure of documenting these falls and naming them to be listed on the TN Landforms Waterfalls website a few years ago. They are phenomenal falls with the middle set being some 150 feet tall. I would be accompanied on this trip with fellow waterfall enthusiasts Kenneth Woody and John Forbes. They picked me up at Hairnt-quarters around 10am and we were at the Longarm Branch trail head by 10:45 after a quick stop at the ‘Hitchin` Post’ so John could get his breakfast grub on.

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Upper part of Middle Wilderness Falls

It was a chilly but, nice January morning and there was promise of incoming clouds so we had high hopes for good light for waterfall photo purposes. We were very lucky in that aspect as the light worked in our favor all day. After the recent failure of my old pocket camera, I would be carrying my larger camera only during this trip which I would have around my neck. I was not fond of this idea as it is rough on it however, I did learn some things about the camera having used it exclusively all day long. Despite the fact that there was not a huge amount of water flowing, it was by no means dry as it has been so, there was enough water to make all the falls and cascades pleasurable. We made good time hiking up the Longarm Branch Trail despite stopping several times to show Ken and John the many small falls and cascades found along its route as they had not been to this part of Clark Creek before.

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John Forbes surrounded by 4 small falls along Longarm Branch not knowing which one to look at first !

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Small falls along Longarm Branch (out of focus as I was not using a tripod)

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Ken starts to get excited as we encounter more and more small falls and cascades along Longarm Branch

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John demonstrating his ninja log walking skills high above Longarm Branch

Once we reached the secret turn off to the Wilderness Falls hollow and made our way about a quarter mile or more into the valley, I started seeing lots of orange flagging tape so it was obvious that people have been visiting the falls there. Of course I removed it because it simply is not needed as there is only one way in and one way out and to me it only trashes up the beauty of the area. The first falls are what we named Lower Wilderness Falls. They are only about 20 to 25 feet high yet they are an attractive falls and very fun to shoot. We spent some time there getting some shots before climbing higher towards the middle falls.

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Just some of the many orange flags I removed along this route. As you can see there is no need for it. Like really, where else are you gonna go ?

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Lower Wilderness Falls

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Lower Wilderness Falls

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Lower Wilderness Falls

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Me posing atop the Lower Wilderness Falls (photo by John Forbes)

The middle falls are hidden until you start getting right up on them. It is then they start to come out of their hiding place and bloom right before your very eyes. The lower part of the middle falls is exceptional and I always stop there to take pics before making the more difficult climb up to the 90+ feet high vertical part. Overall combined they are about 150 feet tall. We even took the time to take group shot here.

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Some cool icicles found just above the lower falls

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This small part of the falls is actually what I consider part of the middle falls. To me they begin here as they are basically unending drops from there to the top of the vertical part of the middle falls

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This small part of the falls is actually what I consider part of the middle falls. To me they begin here as they are basically unending drops from there to the top of the vertical part of the middle falls

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This me standing above those same falls just pictured as I am looking across at the next drop of the middle falls (photo by John Forbes)

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Next drop of the Middle Wilderness Falls

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Lower part of the Middle Wilderness Falls

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Ice on the Middle Wilderness Falls

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Lower part of the Middle Wilderness Falls

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Lower part of the Middle Wilderness Falls

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Lower part of the Middle Wilderness Falls

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Lower part of the Middle Wilderness Falls

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Lower part of the Middle Wilderness Falls (you can see the upper part above in the back ground)

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Lower part of the Middle Wilderness Falls with the upper part showing in background

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Lower part of Middle Wilderness Falls

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Group shot at the lower part of the Middle Wilderness Falls (left to right = RAT, Ken, John)

The terrain quickly turns very steep from there and it is tricky to ascend higher to reach the base of the vertical part of the middle falls but, it is definitely worth it. It is also a good idea to get pics as you go as it is really hard to get the entire falls in one shot once you get so close to them however, I have learned that a side shot displays her height and glory best of all.

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Making our way up to the base of the upper part of the Middle Wilderness Falls. It is VERY steep.

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Ken and John beginning the first part of the climb to the upper part of the Middle Wilderness Falls. It is steeper than pictures can display.

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Standing beneath the mighty behemoth that is the upper part of the Middle Wilderness Falls

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Upper part of the Middle Wilderness Falls

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Ken and John at the upper part of the Middle Wilderness Falls

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Hanging out at the base of the upper part of the Middle Wilderness Falls

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Upper part of the Middle Wilderness Falls

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Upper part of the Middle Wilderness Falls

I would normally not recommend climbing the middle falls to anyone. It is extremely steep, very wet, and there is not much to hold on to. I have came down the right side (right as in looking at the falls from the base) a few times as I do enjoy extreme hiking but, that is only for the very experienced extreme hikers and not for anyone else as it would be a great place to get seriously hurt. If you slip you will not stop until the bottom. John Forbes and myself thrive on climbing and descending crazy steep and rocky terrain such as this so it was second nature for us to climb it on either side and eliminate having to backtrack back to the Longarm Branch Trail and hike the long distance around to reach the upper falls but, Ken wanted no part of it (smart man !). Somehow we talked him into climbing up the left side with us, something even I had never done before ! It was this steeper and more rugged side that Bol’Dar had came down in the dark the night he found the falls for the first time a few years ago having took a wrong turn at Albuquerque up top ending up in a different hollow than he had anticipated which to our good fortune led to the discovery of what he then called ‘The Triplets’ but, later named them Wilderness Falls.

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Looking across the Middle Wilderness Falls as I climb the steep left side

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View of the Middle Wilderness Falls as I climbed up the vertical left side

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Side view of the Middle Wilderness Falls as I climbed up the steep left side. You can see Ken down at the bottom which chows how tall this part of the falls are (90+ feet)

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Upper part of the Middle Wilderness Falls as I look across it on my way up the steep left side. You can see Ken standing at the bottom to show how tall these falls actually are.

Ken was a trooper and despite his cold hands and mixed feelings about climbing something so steep he did really good and before we knew it we were all standing right at the top left side of the falls looking for a way around and over to the other side as I knew from experience that going up the side of the creek we were on was just pure laurel hells and the right side is completely open. It was here that John made a ‘Badger Error’ and dropped his hiking stick which ball-hooted down the steep slope luckily stopping before going over the falls. He was able to recover it without issue. From there he decided to check out the cool place he had found down there while Ken and I forged on to the creek and over to the other side which would be an easy way to the upper falls. John joined us there after a few minutes and we got our first view of the upper falls.

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climbing the left side of the middle falls . This is about halfway up as you can see the falls over from us. This was one of the only narrow level spots during the climb. We had to go around this large rock

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Looking down at what we had just climbed up. The view here is of the Wilderness Valley and the Longarm Branch Valley

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This is after climbing around the middle falls looking back towards the top of them as John catches up to us after correcting his ‘badger error’

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Finally across the creek and out of the thick laurels of the left side, Ken and I stand on the clear right side waiting on John to catch up. This is looking towards the Upper falls which are hiding from us

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As we climb slightly higher up on the right side to avoid the laurels we get our first view of part of the Upper Wilderness Falls

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Lower half of the Upper Wilderness Falls

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Lower half of the Upper Wilderness Falls

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Lower half of the Upper Wilderness Falls

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Lower half of the Upper Wilderness Falls

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Lower half of the Upper Wilderness Falls

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Lower half of the Upper Wilderness Falls

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Lower half of the Upper Wilderness Falls. The upper half starts a few feet behind the top of these falls at the base of the large rock you can see at the top of this picture and continue upward steeply.

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Lower half of the Upper Wilderness Falls

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Lower half of the Upper Wilderness Falls

The uppers are also fairly hidden from view but, just like the middles they reveal themselves once you get closer to them. The upper falls are over 100 feet high but, they are divided in basically two parts. The lower and more vertical part is around 60 feet tall and has two main drops. The upper half is a steep, slanting chasm (I hesitate to call it a cascade) that is around 80 feet that has cut its path deep into the rock as it makes its way down to the top of the more vertical part of the falls. You can not see much of the upper half from the lower part as it is covered in laurels so you have to climb the falls (which in this case is fairly easy for almost anyone) and then proceed up through the laurels in order to get up close and personal with this beautiful part of the falls.

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Small streamers along the bottom of the upper falls

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Checking out some ice formations at the base of the upper wilderness falls before we climb them to see the upper half

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Ken and I climbing the lower half of the Upper Wilderness Falls (photo by John Forbes)

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Looking down at John who is standing at the base of the lower half of the upper wilderness falls as I stand at the top of the lower half. The view is looking towards the top of the middle falls which is where the valley seems to drop off the edge of the Earth. That is Sampson Mtn in the far distance.

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This is the base of the upper half of the Upper Wilderness Falls. if you look closely at the far lower left side of this shot you can see the whitewater which is the tip top of the lower half of the upper wilderness falls which gives you an idea of how both halves are connected by only a few feet making it a non stop continuous waterfall only you can not see this upper half from below.

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small section of the upper half of the Upper Wilderness Falls

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Upper half of the Upper Wilderness Falls

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Looking higher up on the upper half of the Upper Wilderness Falls

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John getting up close to the upper half of the Upper Wilderness Falls

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John stares in awe at the beauty of the upper falls. There is about 25 to 30 feet of the upper half below him and he is only a third of the way up this upper half. You can see now why I would not call them cascades as they are very steep

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Ken meditates in silence as he is mesmerized by the sheer awesomeness of the upper falls

It is hard to photograph but, just being there is worth all the effort. There were some really nice icicles there on this trip which made it even better. We spent quite a bit of time there taking it all in. Ken even went into a meditative state while John was taking multiple pics in awe of what he was seeing.

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Upper half of the Upper Wilderness Falls

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Old log about half way down the upper half of the upper wilderness falls. The last time I was here the water was hitting right on the log !

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Close up of part of the Upper Wilderness Falls

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Upper part of the Upper Wilderness Falls. There is actually a few more feet of falls above this.

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Icicles at the top of the Upper Wilderness Falls

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Icicles at the top of the Upper Wilderness Falls

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Trying out some different camera settings at the Upper Wilderness Falls

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Icicles at the top of the Upper Wilderness Falls

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Upper Wilderness Falls

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Upper Wilderness Falls

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Upper Wilderness Falls

From there I showed them the shortcut out of the hollow which comes out on the high ridge above the falls where an old log road dead ends just above the upper falls. Easy walking from there to connect with the main road, #190 aka Longarm Branch Trail that we had started on, only a couple miles higher up on the mountain.

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Dead end of the old log road above the falls

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Snow dusted trail as we hike down the old #190 aka Longarm Branch Trail (upper part)

We ran into a light dusting of snow on the old road up there and also there are some nice views due to the much higher elevation you are on. It did not take long to walk this smooth trail down to the top of the Upper Longarm Branch Falls where I proudly showed my favorite chill out party spot which is hidden in the laurels at the top of the falls. This is an awesome spot which affords a view of the top of the falls not seen from any other location. There is a LOT of the falls hidden here than can only be seen from this secluded spot and not from the base. Looking down it is breathtaking to put it lightly. John and Ken were excited to be there.

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Two wild and crazy guys on the Longarm Branch Trail (John Forbes and Ken Woody)

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View from the upper part of the Longarm Branch Trail looking out over the Longarm Branch Valley with the mighty Longarm Ridge to the left

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Perhaps this orange icicle was celebrating a recent win by UT ? (found along the LA Br Trail)

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John and Ken at the tip top of the Upper Longarm Branch Falls (this part of the falls can not be seen from below)

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Unseen part of Upper Longarm Branch Falls

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Looking down from the top of Upper Longarm Branch Falls

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John Forbes standing at the brink of the Upper Longarm Branch Falls. From this vantage point one can look up and see a lot of the falls not seen from below and look down to see almost all of the lower part. This is a very special place that I have loved for 30+ years

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Hanging out at the top of the falls

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Looking down from the tip top of Upper Longarm Branch Falls

After a long break there we climbed back up to the road and made our way down and around to the base of the upper falls and took a longer break there to get what pics we could. The light was really good all day long as we had avoided any direct sun by choosing to go bottom up and not top down like I normally do. The light was fading though as it was getting late in the day so we spent as much time as we could before packing up and making the 2+ mile trek down the old road back to the trail head where we had started.

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Looking over at the Upper Longarm Branch Falls as we make our way down the old road towards the base of the falls

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Getting closer to the base of the falls

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Upper Longarm Branch Falls as seen from the base

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Upper Longarm Branch Falls

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Upper Longarm Branch Falls

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Upper Longarm Branch Falls

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Group shot at Upper Longarm Branch Falls (my lens was fogged up and I did not know it)

By the time we got back to the lower Longarm Branch area, it was definitely low light but, we did make it out before dark which does not always happen often with this crew ! I managed to get a few shots of the smaller falls and cascades on the way out and got a couple of the Lower Longarm Branch Falls which are very close to the parking area.

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Small falls found in the lower Longarm Branch area

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Small falls found in the lower Longarm Branch area

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Small drop on lower Longarm Branch

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Lower Longarm Branch

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Low light conditions along the Longarm Branch trail

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Side view of the Lower Longarm Branch Falls

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Looking back at the Lower Longarm Branch Falls

What a killer day it had been. We did not have to backtrack, did a really fun loop, the water levels were high enough to make nice photos, the light was great, and we had climbed the left side of the middle falls which I had not done before and no one got hurt ! Can`t ask for any better than that. This first trek of the new year (for me) had been a grand one and I am already looking forward to many more in 2015. Until next time,,,,,

To see these and many other mountains and waterfalls, please visit our Photo Gallery.

Posted on 27 January '15 by , under RATtreks.

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