Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Stopping By Woods On a Snowy Day

Snowy Saluda Waterfalls – 2/16/14 – 4 miles

Snow on Friday in the NC mountains sparked a spontaneous decision for Jim and me to spend Saturday gallivanting around the Columbus-Saluda-Hendersonville area, have a little outdoor fun at some waterfalls and leave time for microbrewery research and a good meal.  Just hope the roads are clear. 

Ken Adams’ book North Carolina Waterfalls is the quintessential source for waterfall hunting.  Some are simply drive-bys, some are reached by short hikes and some require bushwhacking with confidence.  Today we stuck to the first two types.

First, Shunkawauken Falls spills down a steep cliff and passes under a small bridge on White Oak Mountain Road near Columbus, NC.  This curvy climbing two-lane is quite narrow but there are small pull-off areas both before and after the waterfall so you can get out of the car and walk to it.  Just be mindful of the occasional vehicle that might be coming around the mountain. 

Well, that was easy.

Next up, Little Bradley Falls.  The book’s directions for a “shortcut” include looking for the correct pullout on Holbert Cove Road.  Snow plowing had piled up white stuff and the landscape was a bit different than the author probably encountered.  Is that a pull-out?  Is there rip-rap under that snow?  Will the car slide off the road?  We made a guess, then interpreted further instructions from that point  – and we were wrong.

After skidding down an embankment we began looking for the “obvious trail” following Cove Creek upstream, which was not at all obvious.  Eventually we hit an impassable wall, so we knew we had not started from the right place – but go up or go down?  Do we need to cross the creek?  Most important clue:  there were no other footprints in the snow.  

I abandoned my hiking poles (regretted that later) and we shimmied across Cove Creek on a big snow-covered log and walked upstream on the far side, eventually encountering footprints.  So is this the “obvious trail?”  In ten minutes the footprints crossed the creek to put us on the side on which we had begun - now we could trust that we were on the right path.  Rock hopped successfully, but I had less confidence in my balance without my hiking poles.  

Snow creates a hush, no rustling leaves, no sticks breaking underfoot, and voices are muffled.  Even the bubbling creek is muted. 

The footprints took us to Little Bradley Falls, 50 feet tall, quite robust and showing off, and no one there but us.  Looks like a great swimming hole in the hot summertime. 

A stacked stone chimney beside the trail

Retracing our snowy steps, we found the rip-rap scramble up to the road that should have been our original entry point.  We climbed up, but it was very difficult, lots of loose rock, and I would not recommend it.  Next time I would start this trail from the bridge crossing farther down on Holbert Cove Road, much safer and still a short hike.

At that same bridge is the obvious trailhead for Bradley Falls – hey, wait a minute.  Does that look like we have a flat tire?  Pressure is low.  Go home?  No, let’s hike and then worry about it.

We knew that on this hike we had to cross Cove Creek and probably would get wet.  Jim managed to hop the big boulders, but I was too nervous with slippery ice.  I could see the creek bottom, maybe six inches deep, smooth bottom, no rocks, so I ran across.  Wet feet for sure.

Again we followed footprints in the snow.  The guidebook says ignore the first three left side trails.  After the third one, the footprints stopped – we were going too far?  The trail was still quite wide and obvious and we continued to the fourth left side trail, a steep scramble even on a dry day down to a rocky outcropping overlook to look across Cove Creek Gorge at 100-foot Bradley Falls.  Again, we were alone.  I can imagine the crowd in the summertime.

Stunning viewpoint, felt very remote.  We picked a poor time of daylight so photos are terrible.  Slippery slushy walk back as the snow continued to melt. 

Back at the creek crossing I again ran across, Jim got a good video.  Somehow my feet got even wetter. 

The tire was no worse, only about 3:00 p.m., so we went into Hendersonville and discovered Southern Appalachian Brewery.  Knowing we couldn’t make it all the way back to Charlotte without solid food, we stopped for pizza in Columbus.  Aahhh, making good memories.

“When snow falls, nature listens.”  ~Antoinette van Kleeff

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