Sunday, August 16, 2015

Everything I Know About Trail Signs I Learned In Girl Scouts - Finding Waterfalls

North Harper Creek Falls & South Harper Creek Falls – 7/3/15 – 6 Miles

The magic of waterfalls!  I often hike solo and enjoy the opportunity for contemplation, but the delight of a waterfall is multiplied when the experience is shared.  Plus if you get hurt on one, your hiking buddy can fetch help. 

No, I didn’t get hurt on a waterfall today, but the ones I wanted to find were in the Harper Creek/Wilson Creek neighborhood of Pisgah National Forest, notorious for its unmarked trails.  Not only did I want to avoid a slip-and-fall, I wanted to avoid being lost and alone if I fell.  Getting confused/lost in this neck of the woods is easy with all the similar trail names. 

The weather forecast was intimidating, strong thunderstorms everywhere all day.  Jim and I were mentally prepared to bail out at any time.  But as often is the case, rain never materialized, didn’t even get windy.  We zipped north on Highway 181 to the Blue Ridge Parkway, then less than a mile further we dove into the warren of gravel forest roads that wind around the mountains.  Both our trailheads started from F.R. 58.  [Note:  NatGeo Map #779 is helpful in following the roads but not in finding the trailheads.  Trail #266 (North Harper Creek Trail) to access North Harper Creek Falls is shown but not numbered (there is a sign at the trailhead).  The extent of Trail #260 (Harper Creek Trail) to access South Harper Creek Falls is not clearly designated.  AND we found that the tracings for these trails were not accurate with what we found “on the ground” which caused more than a little confusion.  The U.S. Forest Service map for Wilson Creek was much more accurate.  We used both maps and Kevin Adams’ NorthCarolina Waterfalls book.]

Trail #266 was rugged and at one point we encountered a steeply sloped rock face, about 30 feet wide, that I chose to traverse via my rear end.  We crossed the creek four times, didn’t get our feet wet, but it wouldn’t take much more rain to require wading.  One big surprise:  a house being overtaken by the forest, no discernible road to it.  No indication of it on the map or in the trail writeup.  

A lone fire pink

Top of North Harper Creek Falls
There are several campsites along the way to North Harper Creek Falls, including one near the top of the falls.  Following Kevin Adams’ instructions, we left the trail and crossed the creek where the “flow is split by a rock” and picked up a gently switchbacked trail to the base of the falls.  This trail doesn’t appear on any maps that I had.

Base of North Harper Creek Falls

There are small campsites on either side of the creek near the waterfall base.  I often think how great it would be to camp at spots like these, but am leery of them because you never know what types of fellow campers may show up to join you.  I don’t mind quiet company, but I do mind party people, and campsites this close to car accessibility invite the latter.

With no trail on paper but not wanting to backtrack, Jim and I reasoned that we could pick up Trail #266 by crossing back to the north side of the creek.  We spent 20 minutes scrambling up the steep, rhododendron-covered bank before giving up and crossing back to the side where we descended.  Still with a nagging feeling that there was a trail there somewhere, we followed the creek south a few dozen yards and crossed again to the north bank.  There we found an access trail that we followed back to a larger trail – turn left?  we hope so – and we ascended back to the top of the falls.  From there we retraced our steps, recrossed the creek four times, and hopped in the car to find our next trailhead.

All this to underscore the need for good compass skills or GPS tracks or at least a good head for route finding. A partner in crime is good, too.

Four miles further down F.R. 58 we parked at Trail #260.  The first mile was an easy walk along the ridge, soft pine needle carpeting and rhododendron arbor. 

A glimpse down into the community of Kawana, tucked deep in a mountain fold

Beginning at about 1.4 miles, the trail splits several times at T inter- sections.  The guide book says to keep left, keep left, then… we lost track of how many “keep lefts.”  We turned right at one of them and reached the mid-point of South Harper Creek Falls.  The towering rock wall across the gorge was intimidating enough to keep us from getting close to the edge.  We realized that it was a l-o-n-g way down.

A great place for lunch, yes?  Jim found a snake skin in one of the pools.

Now back to those T intersections.  We knew that we could access the top of that rock wall across the gorge for a high view of South Harper Creek Falls, if only we could find a way to cross above the falls.  After a couple of false leads, we picked up a trail on the far side (no trail sign) and began to climb the ridge.  From this point our written resources were of no use.  There were tricky turns and trail blazes that did not match up with our maps.  Where was Raider Camp Trail?  After two unidentifiable intersections, we began to make trail arrows with rocks and sticks…

… and tied my yellow bandana on a tree so that we could retrace our steps.  

We found the overlook – WOW!  The two-part falls totals 120 feet.

As we followed our trail signs backwards, we realized that we had walked three-quarters of a circle when we could have taken a very direct side trail.  Perhaps trail maintainers are trying to discourage the short cut.  I still can’t write clear instructions on how we reached the overlook.  So… my conclusions from seeking the first waterfall today still stand.  A compass, a GPS, a head for route finding and a friend.  AND a yellow bandanna.

Driving home through the sweet little town of Morganton, it wasn’t hard at all to find Brown Mountain Bottle- works. 

“Climb every mountain, ford every stream, follow every rainbow, till you find your dream.”  ~Oscar Hammerstein II

Friday, August 7, 2015

Roaring Fork Falls & Setrock Creek Falls

Waterfall Hiking With Brett – 6/28/15 - Roaring Fork Falls & Setrock Creek Falls – 2.5 Miles

Jim was away on a bike trip so I coaxed our son Brett to explore a couple of waterfalls with me.  Kind of a long drive for two short hikes, but good company and a good meal enhanced the outing and we had fun getting our amateur photography on. [The photos at the link below are really great and we are blaming ours on the bright sunshine and corresponding shadows.]

Roaring Fork Falls and Setrock Creek Falls are just a few miles apart on gravel roads at the shadowy base of Mount Mitchell in North Carolina.  Blue Ridge Parkway, go north onto N.C. 80, then left on South Toe River Road. For more detailed directions, consult Kevin Adams’ North Carolina Waterfalls.

The trail to Roaring Fork Falls is about a half-mile of old logging road and a quarter-mile of true trail.  We had the falls to ourselves for a bit before more waterfall seekers arrived.  A generous multi-level flow 45 feet high.

Roaring Fork Falls

Unlike his mother, Brett isn’t worried about slipping or getting his feet wet

The shot

Rhododendrons in full riot bloom everywhere we went

Next up:  Setrock Creek Falls.  The trail begins from the parking area at Black Mountain Campground (a terrific base campground for hiking the Mount Mitchell trails; you can also buy ice cream there for energy).

Setrock Creek Falls, actually taller than Roaring Fork Falls but just dribbling today from the upper tiers.  The width of the rock bed gives an indication of just how much water can come through during heavy rains.  Some folks have entertained themselves building rock cairns. 

The pool at the base of Setrock Creek Falls

Waterfall hikes are some of the most memorable for me.  It’s easy to conjure up who was with me, the sounds of the water flowing, the breeze blowing, the time of year, the flowers, the temperature.  Those images assist me in contemplative prayer and mindfulness meditation.  Have you tried it?  Close your eyes…

"If every 8-year-old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation." ~Dalai Lama

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Wild Women of Davidson River

Wild Women Weekend at Davidson River – Moore Cove Falls – 1.4 Miles - 5/28/15-5/30/15

It’s been too long since the Wild Women went camping!  I invited my book club friends for a weekend of adventure.  Several of them have joined in prior Wild Women weekends but some have only heard the stories.  Destination:  Davidson River Campground in Pisgah National Forest, a little closer to home than the Great Smoky Mountains but with plenty of activities to keep us entertained.  [Our book club is named “Reason2Read” or R2R.]

Five wild women arrived mid-afternoon on Friday, then two more joined us by suppertime.  The last three Wild Women arrived Saturday morning.  A story told mostly in pictures:

How to put up a tent while laughing 101

How to cover a tent with tarps in case it rains (which it did about 10 minutes after the tarps went on)

How to congratulate ourselves with cigars (aka pretzels)

Perusing the trail map to choose a hike agreeable with everyone.  The ranger at Pisgah gave great advice to hike to Moore Cove Falls, 1.4 miles round trip on a recently rehabbed trail with wooden structures over every creek crossing.  After the first few steps the gentle climb is well graded.  

On Saturday morning we hit the trail.  A couple of WW’s were nervous, not sure what to expect judging from some questionable things I’ve done lately.  I knew some limits would be stretched but the rewards would be great. 

A stone bridge built by CCC workers in the 1930’s 

WW’s on the trail 

Margery and Leida – yes, this is fun!

A short easy hike to a waterfall – no, we were not alone.  We sat on the high rocks on the right side to eat lunch and watch people coax each other to stand under the spill. 

It's a little slippery but great fun to walk behind the falls.

One mom with a sleeping baby swaddled in a carrier tried not to look anxious as her husband led their three small boys up the steep side slope to the top of the falls.  After seeing several people disappear into the trees and reappear on the ledge near the top, several curious WW’s investigated.  Leida, Linda and I followed Suzi up the very steep scramble to get this bird’s eye view.

I don't normally advise crossing creeks near the top of waterfalls but this spot was reasonable. 

The trail curved away from the falls, steeply downhill.  We were up close and personal with the mountain laurel.   

BTW, I use the term “trail” very loosely here.  Mostly it was climbing over, under and around things.

Mountain Laurel

Enough nature for one day.  Back to camp for the relaxing part!

We had barely settled into our chairs when Linda announced that she had an arts and crafts project for us.  With a mischievous wink, she hauled from her car trunk a huge box of painting supplies and clay flower pots.  After spray painting base coats on each pot, everyone set to painting a commemorative masterpiece.

R2R’s doing what they do best

I took some time out for a two-mile walk starting from our campsite and following the Davidson River, across the road and past the ranger station, back across the road and along the river again to close the loop back at camp.  Lots of people fishing and tubing in the slow-moving water.  Saw graceful galax swaying on the creek banks.

Girl Scout leaders never retire, they just take their friends camping and cooking.  Suzi and I orchestrated a delicious campfire meal for our friends that included marinated grilled chicken and two kinds of Dutch oven desserts:  peach cobbler and bear scat cake (chocolate cake with cherries on the bottom).  Doesn’t get any better than that!

It tastes better than it looks

The Wild Women of Davidson River:  Ellen, Margery, Leida, Joan, Margaret, Linda, Suzi, Danielle, Tye and me

Sunday morning rain dampened our gear but not our enthusiasm. These wild women were awesome, embracing the rain and still laughing (and eating). After breakfast and packing up everything wet, some wild women had to get on home, others were ready to go shopping in Brevard, while Suzi trusted me for another short waterfall hike.  

The two of us went in search of nearby Slick Rock Falls, also in Pisgah NF.  The woods were still dripping and the light was lovely.

Suzi disappearing in a mountain laurel tunnel. 

I was due for a dash of humility as we hiked past the point where I thought the waterfall should have appeared.  The trail got faint, and as I was scratching my head at a decision point (continue? turn around?) along came a group of climbers with bands of rope wrapped around necks and shoulders.  This trail was approaching the base of Looking Glass Rock.  The waterfall was back beside the parking area.  Oops. 

Slick Rock Falls – low flow and not very photogenic this morning

But who cares if we walked a little farther than advertised?  Time spent outside is always worth it.  Suzi kindly said it was her favorite part of the weekend.  We won’t wait so long to get the Wild Women out on the trail again.

Drying out back at home

“As I wandered the forest,
The green leaves among,
I heard a Wild Flower
Singing a song.”


~William Blake