Pisgah 400: Daniel Ridge Loop Trail/Farlow Gap Trail to
Shuck Ridge Creek Falls
12/14/19 – 10.6 Miles
Hiking all the trails in the Pisgah Ranger District presents quite a puzzle and I have realized that it cannot be done efficiently with just one vehicle, meaning there’s a lot of out-and-back trekking. The majority of trails are accessed by unpaved forest roads that are subject to seasonal and weather closures, and any access via the Blue Ridge Parkway is limited or nonexistent in winter. Planning, planning, planning!
Two goals: hike some new miles of the Pisgah 400 challenge and tag the Shuck Ridge Creek waterfall for the Waterfalls 100 challenge. I sold the idea to Jim, even though it didn’t involve a bike ride for him.
From Charlotte we had a foggy start but, as often happens, the sun broke through for a clear blue sky with happy puffy white Bob Ross clouds. We passed by the Pisgah Ranger Station/Visitor Center, scratched our heads wondering why its winter hours are just Monday-Friday (aren’t there a lot of visitors on Saturday and Sunday?) We turned left onto Forest Road 475, a pretty important road that winds deep into the southwest quadrant of the Pisgah Ranger District. Keep track of which segment you want: FR 475, 475B, 475C and 475D. If you get it wrong, you’ll learn a lot.
Our parking area was nearly a mile past the Cove Creek Group Camp – no other cars yet. Our planned route included the right half of Daniel Ridge Loop Trail (going counterclockwise), Farlow Gap Trail to the Art Loeb Trail intersection and return to pick up the left half of Daniel Ridge Loop to our car.
We began on a gravel roadbed and crossed the Davidson River on a large bridge to the sign marking Daniel Ridge Loop. Turned right here, then walked a hundred yards further to peek at Toms Spring Falls (aka Jackson Falls, aka Daniel Ridge Falls). This is a lot of waterfall for very little effort.
Backtracking a little bit to rejoin Daniel Ridge Loop, we turned right and climbed quickly up the mountainside. The trail crosses a small footbridge over the innocuous little creek that becomes Toms Springs Falls as it pours over the massive rock face.
We met hikers with their four-legged family members near the intersection with Farlow Gap Trail. Jim and I congratulated ourselves on our strong legs and fast pace. Thirty yards along on Farlow Gap, we stopped short at the banks of the Right Fork of Daniel Ridge Creek thundering down the mountain, with no bridge in sight. There was a big fat log perfectly positioned across the creek, suggesting that of course we could scoot across.
My wet noodle arms are not very strong
I was committed, impossible to go backwards
This was a very dangerous thing I was doing
Eight feet above the thunderously pounding water, it took an eternity of leaning forward on my arms, lifting up my butt and putting it down, inch by inch. Fortunately, the trunk was solidly anchored with very little bounce. I’m not afraid of heights, but the idea of falling off and bashing my head on the boulders below had me repeating a mantra of “look forward, not down” until my feet were on solid ground. As I watched Jim scuttle across in half the time, I made a mental note that we would be doing it all again on the way back.
We continued on Farlow Ridge Trail as the old road bed wound
around Fork River Ridge, kicking up leaves and breathing cool air, putting that
scary log business behind us for now. Soon we heard rushing water ahead –
Daniel Ridge Creek – and arrived at the edge to find no bridge. We scoped out
the possibilities of a rock hop, then managed it without getting wet, as Jim
grabbed my hand and pulled me across.
The deceptively easy trail now wrapped around Daniel Ridge and – of course – we heard the powerful crashing of Shuck Ridge Creek before we saw it. We weren’t expecting a bridge this time, but we were expecting to find a way across. Jim stood at the edge.
What the photo doesn’t show is that he was at the top of Shuck Ridge Creek Waterfall, where the water was squeezed into a three-foot-wide channel that plummeted out of sight. He paused to look upstream, then jumped across the channel. When he turned around, I was emphatically shaking my head: No, I was NOT doing that.
Jim acquiesced and then realized that jumping back was not so simple. The near side was smoother, wetter, more slippery. I covered my eyes – and there he was, back by my side. He began to make the case for trying again – “I did it once, I can do it again, and so can you!” It’s hard to admit defeat and not finish a hike, a bike ride, a challenge of any kind. But safety first: if one of us got injured, the other would have to go for help and leave the injured person alone in the cold for hours into the night, not to mention the risk to rescue volunteers. Never worth it.
I chucked my hiking poles across the creek and climbed aboard. The log sloped up more from this direction, and a bump near the middle was harder to get over. I can’t say that I felt any braver or improved my time. When we were both safely across, though, I caught my breath at the realization of just what a dumb risk we had taken.
We turned right onto Daniel Ridge Loop Trail for the remaining 2 miles to our car. Along the way, Right Fork converges with Daniel Ridge Creek and Shuck Ridge Creek to form the mighty Davidson River that dominates this part of Pisgah National Forest, with small tumbling unnamed waterfalls all its own.
I’ve read a few descriptions of Farlow Gap Trail before and since this hike and they briefly mention easy crossings during normal flows (one of them mentioned a bridge over Right Fork but we saw no evidence of one). But one day of heavy rain can noticeably swell a creek. Jim and I took a stubborn and unnecessary risk crossing the log – we could have just waded across and gotten wet. (Heck, we could have waded through on the return.) We debated crossing at the top of the waterfall long enough to realize we didn't want to do it. Others may have jumped without a second thought. Moral: Consider your abilities and that you may be risking your life and the lives of people who will come to rescue you.
“Be still like a mountain
and flow like a great river."
~Lao Tse Tung