Friday, February 3, 2012

Tracking Panthertown

Panthertown Trails – 11/3/11 - 10 Miles (+/-)

Appearing on the Bergs hike calendar:  “Sharon and Mike are going to hike Panthertown on a Thursday.” 

I asked Mike to show me around Panthertown, a mysterious place in western NC where I’d heard it’s easy to get lost.  Mike is retired and flexible and I wanted to sneak away on a weekday since there wasn’t much work (i.e. no work) on my calendar.  Mike published the intriguing note and there were other folks willing to play hooky.  So here we go to Panthertown.

(Background:  Legend has it that the main valley of the area was so wild that it was called a “town of painters”, an old-time word for panthers.  The U.S. Forest Service began acquiring the land 20+ years ago.  From the Friends of Panthertown website:  “Panthertown Valley, referred to as the Yosemite of the East, lies on the eastern continental divide in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains. With more than 25 miles of designated trails in this 6,300-acre backcountry area in the Nantahala National Forest, visitors can enjoy deep gorges and broad valleys, mountain bogs and granitic rock domes, tranquil creeks and plunging waterfalls while hiking, mountain biking or horseback riding.”)

Our merry band of four (Carolyn, Susan, a new hiker friend named Dave, and I) met Mike at the Lake Toxaway Volunteer Fire Department and he led us to the Cold Mountain Gap trailhead (different Cold Mountain than the book, y’all.)  My goal for the day was to ramble around with Bruce Kornegay’s map and see just how easy (or hard) it was it “stay found”.  Perhaps I put too much trust in maps and any day now I’m going to brush up on my compass skills.  That’s why Mike is so valuable, as he is an unparalleled navigator with map, compass and GPS.  And did I mention charming?

Also, Mike promised lots of waterfalls. 

After five minutes of walking on the Panthertown Valley Trail Mike led us onto an unmarked side trail. I pulled out my map and saw that this trail was designated as a “footpath”, i.e. no name. this going to be a long day?   

We found School- house Falls down a side trail that had many side trails of its own – a great camping spot.

Somehow we got back onto Panthertown Valley Trail and turned onto Power Line Road Trail (the land was owned by Duke Energy before selling it to the NC Nature Conservancy, who then transferred it to the Forest Service.)  It’s an old road, rather bland, but soon we found the unnamed footpath we were looking for to take us to Warden’s Falls.  This footpath also had several branches off of it, but guided by Mike’s memory and the sound of water we found our way to a break in the rhododendron and the midpoint of the waterfall.  We were able to step out a few feet onto a rock ledge for a look, but there had to be a better vantage point closer to the bottom.  Perhaps one of those spurs off the main path? 

Scrambling back up, we turned to the right and scrambled back down another faint trail, and this time we hit it right.  A stunning waterfall!

Warden’s Falls

We had gone no more than a quarter mile off of Power Line Road Trail, but it may as well be five miles if you don’t know your way back.  I paid particular attention on the way to and from because I wanted to return here in the near future. 

Next we backtracked a very short distance and turned to go west on North Road Trail, which parallels both Power Line Road Trail and Panthertown Valley Trail.  This was also a bland trail but it got us from Point A to Point B.  Some interesting plant thingies along the way.

With our confidence established in the map, we took a slight shortcut on a footpath and worked our way over to Deep Gap Trail (or is it Mac's Gap?) and found Granny Burrell Falls.  Not as exciting as the first two falls, but I’ll bet it’s a very popular swimming hole in warm weather, just a couple of miles from the Saltrock Gap entrance. 

Mike at Granny Burrell Falls

Still working our way westward, we found a very nice shelter for back- packers, the only one in Panther- town.  (There is a big fire ring at the far end.)  Time for a lunch break…but where is my lunch?  Apparently it was still in my fridge at home.  Susan offered me some goodies from her stash, which I very much appreciated.  And I learned my lesson.

After lunch we checked out Frolictown Falls

And Wilderness Falls (not very photogenic but is probably very impressive after a good rain)

Turning back eastward, we backtracked past the shelter and hopped onto the Great Wall Trail, a lovely valley walk passing several really nice campsites and the Great Wall of Panthertown, an immense rock wall on Big Green Mountain on our left side extending forever into the sky, a rock climber’s dream.  On our right side was the rock face of Goldspring Ridge.  Not quite Yosemite or even Linville Gorge, but certainly a treasure that is worth protecting. 

After our 1.6-mile stroll through the valley, the trail turned left and climbed steeply up Big Green Mountain, intersecting Big Green Trail (what else?).  After catching our breath we turned left to walk along the ridge to look for some vantage points to see across the valley (aka more unnamed footpaths).

Standing on Big Green Mountain looking across at Goldspring Ridge

The score so far was five waterfalls and we wanted to find two more before calling it a day.  We backtracked down Big Green Trail and turned left onto Mac’s Gap Trail.  By now we were sharp on the lookout for footpaths, but this one puzzled us.  Kornegay’s map has topo lines, good clues, but the first faint path to the right was obviously not correct.  The second one started out but fizzled after about 50 yards.  We traced up and down the main trail looking for worn spots on the right, and finally tried the second footpath again.  Yes, looks like it keeps on going after all.  After a rough patch, the trail reappeared and we quickly descended. 

Never get nonchalant about Mother Nature, though.  The next waterfall, Mac’s Falls, was along the faintest trail yet and the rhododendron were so thick it was difficult to find a vantage point  to photograph it.  About this time the forecasted rain began to fall, and as Mike pressed on through the rhodies the rest of us donned rain gear and turned around.  We made it back to the cars only slightly damp and ready for Mexican food.  

On the long drive home we debated the nation's issues with the economy, education, immigration and politics.  Dave, on his first long car ride with us three women, learned a thing or two.

A great day exploring the intricacies of Panthertown – I can’t wait to go back.  There are ten more waterfalls on the map!

“Water is precious; it is the very source of life and a free gift from the Creator.” ~Desmond M. Tutu