Saturday, August 13, 2016

Pisgah National Forest: Dill Falls & Upper Dill Falls

Pisgah NF Waterfalls and Pisgah 400 hike – 4/24/16 – 4 miles

Dill Falls/Upper Dill Falls/Bad Fork Trail

For the record, birthdays are celebrated every night at Lazy J Campground.

Jim and I crafted a hike/bike plan with an agreed-upon time to meet.  Assuming there would be no cell coverage, we set a couple of variables and check points.  “If I’m not at X location when you get there at Y time, that means to meet me at Z.” This flexibility allowed for unforeseen conditions.  For example, I wasn’t sure how far in I could drive to the waterfalls I planned to visit.  I might walk a few miles or not far at all.

We left  camp at 8:15 a.m., me in the car and Jim on his bike, both heading up Highway 215 to the Blue Ridge Parkway.  He had decisions to make also about how far he wanted to ride, based on road conditions (what looked a little foggy in the valley could be clear skies high on the BRP – or worse fog) and traffic.

Dill Falls: a long way down a forest road on the west side of Highway 215, In Nantahala National Forest, not in Pisgah NF where we explored yesterday.  The turn off of 215 looks deceptively like someone’s driveway.  Some directions to the falls say road conditions are poor and describe a parking area a half-mile from the ultimate destination where three old roads intersect (some web blogs say two roads).  I was not interested in blowing a tire in the back of beyond on a Sunday morning.  However, proceeding with caution, my vehicle clearance felt fine and I was able to drive all the way in.  Of the three old roads, the middle one (not drivable now, but plenty wide for walking) leads only .2 miles downward to Dill Falls. As the trail crosses the creek, the waterfall is to the right.   

What a beauty!  A short drop at the top and then a steep sliding cascade, total height 60 feet. On either side of Tanasee Creek as the trail crosses there are sweet little campsites, great to hang out with kids and let them explore, and the sound of the falls could lull a nighttime dreamer.  But I don’t know how you could get the place to yourself.  First come, first served?  I’d hate to be settled in a spot like this, especially with young’uns, and then have party campers show up.  I guess I’m a camping snob…

All by myself today, nobody to share the awesomeness with, I didn’t linger.  I retraced my steps back up to the three-way intersection, this time choosing the old road on the far right. Following it up and down mounds of dirt for a few hundred yards, I could hear Upper Dill Falls as I reached the short scramble trail on the left. 

A very different character, smaller, more intimate, able to get closer to this lovely 25-foot, multi-tiered cascade.  I felt the invitation to sit and watch and listen for a little while in this peaceful sanctuary of solitude on a Sunday morning.
 More posts about these waterfalls are here and here

Waterfall objective accomplished!  Now for my little out-and-back Pisgah 400 hike, chosen for its Parkway trailhead and easy access for Jim to meet up with me.  Speaking of Jim, I passed him on the BRP as I drove to that trailhead, confirming we were on the same time frame.

On paper the Bad Fork Trail intersects the BRP at Bent Creek Gap.  In real life it is out of sight of the Parkway on Wash Creek Road where it passes underneath the BPR via a tunnel. The forest road is a favorite staging area for mountain biking.  I left my car in plain sight on the Parkway shoulder and moseyed down to Bad Fork.
A super straight trail with a very steep start -- am I going to hate coming back up?  It is named after the creek that it follows.  What is the origin of the name?

Less than a half-mile down the trail forks – left or right?  Of course there is no official signage and no trail markings to indicate that one fork is closed.  This is (one of the things) that irks me about Pisgah NF and national forest management in general.  Yes, I understand it – I just don’t like it.  So I took the right fork, but after five minutes something about it made me turn around.  The trail seemed a little narrower, a bit more debris on the trail, and maybe my “trail sense” is now well-honed.

I backtracked to the left fork, which made a large (still steep) arc of descent.  Ten minutes later I passed a faint trail on the right, which I assumed was the bottom end of that right fork trail again. Conclusion: the left fork was created to replace the right fork for erosion control and a gentler descent.  Also another reason to call it “bad fork.” 

The fun factor increased as the trail made eight crossings of tributaries of Bad Fork Creek.  The grade lessened and I gained momentum in the second mile, following the main creek on my right side.  A few crossings were bridged, but even with the recent rainfall they were easily rock hopped.

The last half-mile of Bad Fork Trail is level and still following the creek before ending at a large group camp area at Wash Creek Road.  I turned right around and retreated a hundred yards to sit beside the creek and grab a bite of lunch.  Butterflies were flitting from bloom to bloom beside the bubbling water.  How hard can the return trip be? 

Okay, not so hard as I first anticipated. I got to repeat all those little creek crossings.  And at that pesky fork I placed branches across the false trail to warn the next hiker.  I wonder how long they will remain there?

With excellent timing, Jim arrived at the car about one minute ahead of me.  What did he do all day? What he loves best.
A relaxing and delicious stop at Bold Rock Cidery in Mills River, NC.  We have developed a habit.  Cheers and happy anniversary!

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” ~Annie Dillard

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