Thursday, June 25, 2015

Prelude To A Bike Ride: Upper Creek Falls (With A Hawksbill Teaser)

Upper Creek Falls – Pisgah National Forest - 5/15/15 – 1.5 Miles

Jim signed up to participate in the Beech Mountain Metric bike ride, scheduled for a very early Saturday morning start.  He always invites me along on these trips, so I can watch the inspiring start and amazing finish – and entertain myself in between.  Well, this time I said yes.  

Despite the shaky weather conditions – a little rain and fog – on Friday we wandered our way towards the North Carolina high country.  Tucked away off of Highway 181, a sweet little hike leads to Upper Falls in the Grandfather Ranger District of Pisgah National Forest.  [By now it should be obvious that Pisgah National Forest spreads like an ink blot across western NC.]  I found details for this waterfall hike in Kevin Adams’ book North Carolina Waterfalls. It’s also on Carolina Mountain Club’s waterfall challenge list.  There was one car in the parking area but we didn’t see anyone else on the trail.

Seemed like a good day for Jim to test drive my hiking poles.  I followed behind and could see that he didn’t fully buy into them at first.  It does take some practice.  By the end of the loop he was using the poles more naturally and relying on them on the uphill.  I was definitely uncomfortable without them, feeling less balanced and constantly holding onto trees on the steep downhill.  

Hiking the 1.5-mile loop clockwise takes you to the top of the falls first.  The expansive rock is tempting to walk out on, but don’t go too far trying to see over the drop.  You will not be able to tell anyone about it because you will be a goner.

At the top of the falls

Crossing the rock face and continuing clockwise, the trail descended steeply with several side trails shooting off to the right toward the waterfall.  We resisted, as per the guidebook, and continued on the main trail to the obvious path to the bottom.

And…Wow!  Unexpectedly huge. 

Continuing the trail’s descent, I was delighted to find several clumps of Clinton’s lilies in bloom.

Lower Falls of Upper Creek (surely the settlers could have thought of a more unusual name than that?) is a run of small cascades and slides.  One wide step across the flow today, but looked like it could be challenging after a big rain. 

After crossing the creek, the trail headed back up the mountainside via a long series of switchbacks.  It looked like the original “trail” was one steep shortcut, still quite visible and probably used by many, and the switchbacks double the distance, but Jim and I stayed faithful to the trail builders trying to minimize the erosion.  Lots of pink rhododendron blooms woven into the canopy.

Large boulder area with anchors imbedded for rock climbers

Just a couple of miles further up Highway 181 is the left turn to access Hawksbill, a medium-sized mountain with an expansive rocky summit and the best views of Linville Gorge.  The hike is about 1.6 miles round trip.  Jim and I didn’t visit Hawksbill today, but on Easter Sunday we hiked it with our son Brett. 

Jim, Brett and me on top of Hawksbill.  Grandfather Mountain is the bumpiness in the middle horizon

Brett looking into Linville Gorge

The reason I’m mentioning Hawksbill here is that these two short hikes, Upper Creek Falls and Hawksbill, are an excellent combination for a day trip.  Both trails have some elevation gain and loss, but are doable for just about anyone willing to experience a little heart rate increase, a little heavy breathing, and take his/her time.  The rewards are great.  And then there’s barbecue at Judge’s Riverside in Morganton.  Or Italian cuisine at Sorrento's Bistro in Banner Elk, where we ended up tonight.

Jim's gearing up for his big ride tomorrow and I'm going to hike up Grandfather Mountain

“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.”   ~Jawaharial Nehru

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