Trip Report – Panthertown Valley May 11-12, 2012

So myself, Andrew and Matt are planning on going to Panthertown on Friday. Rob emails me during the week to invite me up to Graveyard Fields with him and his boys the same time. I had been anticipating Panthertown for a while, so I declined to go but instead invited his group to join ours! They did. Ready to roll – 4 guys, 4 boys. Awesome.

This was also the maiden voyage of the Lorax. I read Dr Seuss’s book to my daughter, Emma. That’s our thing. We each got a stuffed Lorax, and his trial run was on this trip. A mascot for a photo album. Anyway..

Rob and the boys headed up earlier in the day, and we were going to meet them at the shelter. Gory details spared, things were not going the way I planned and wanted them to on this end. I left on my own, then Andrew and Matt were not far behind me. Cold Mountain Road, here I come.

I arrived at the Cold Mountain Gap trailhead a little after 7:30pm. After screwing around with my pack and trekking poles and map and taking pictures of the Lorax at the trailhead, I finally headed off into the woods at 7:49pm. 5 minutes into Panthertown Valley trail, I was met with praise music cutting through the forest. An oddity, for sure. Canaan Lands, which is accessible from this trail, was the source of the music. High quality speakers with soothing crooning of how Jesus died for my sins. I’m apparently not going to be allowed to hold onto my grudge this evening. Also, I have no idea what Canaan Lands is. Hm.

Heading on, Panthertown Valley Trail is an old logging road and extremely easy going. Along the way to my intersection at Mac’s Gap, I was pleasantly surprised by the biodiversity of the area. A true sandy flats (unlike some I have experienced!) followed the creek. At one point there was even a white sand bar island within the creek, a beautiful area with a small waterfall within sight. Small nature sign posts scattered along informed me that the sphagnum moss growing showed the area to be a perfect bog that allowed the growth of carnivorous plants. Cool, although I did not see any, which is not cool. I looked for some variety of a Pitcher plant, which is what I thought seemed appropriate, but nothing. Next time.

I met up with Andrew and Matt on Mac’s Gap trail before it cut through some meadows and campsites. Briefly, we spoke on the anticipation and expectation we had of our reconciliation before it had even happened, and how we would be better friends after we worked through it. It’s funny how idolatry works. I held onto this trip so tightly that I was willing to allow resentment grow for my friend and brother who Christ died for as well. Hiking in the dark, though still not what I would prefer, is better than a severed relationship. John Calvin was indeed right when he said, “Our hearts are a factory of idols.”

Moving on.

We came to the intersection of Mac’s Gap Trail and Granny Burrell Trail, and took Granny Burrell. This is a complete rhododendron tunnel, and had an otherworldly feel as we were now hiking in the dark. An opening in the rhodo to our right revealed Granny Burrell Falls, which we walked out into the middle of. This makes sense if you’ve seen the falls, as it’s a giant sluice. I did not get a picture, sorry. We continued on with headlamps giving me tunnel vision through our rhododendron mess. Easy to follow, but wet and sloppy and dark as we went through.

After we came out on the Great Wall trail, I started giving whistle beeps to communicate with Rob. We all found each other and we camped in the trees right across from the shelter. A few bratwurst over the fire and lateral thinking puzzles later (albatross, anyone?), we crashed for the evening. It was a chilly 45F, but my North Face Green Kazoo worked beautifully. I also used a Magellan (Academy Sports brand) mummy bag liner. This was also the first time I used my Therm-A-Rest pillow which Jenny’s parents bought for me for my birthday. It’s the small size, fits right in the hood of my mummy bag, and will now be the one luxury I do not leave home without. What a difference that made from the improvised stuff sack/clothes pillow. Blech!

6:20am. Awake.

We mulled around camp a bit, ate breakfast, broke camp and finally set off on the Great Wall trail. I was really looking forward to this, having the Great Wall of Panthertown looming over us as we hiked the valley. Unfortunately, the trees of Panthertown obscured much of our view and gave us teasing glimpses of the spectacular rock face.

We turned left onto the Big Green trail which led us on the ascent to Big Green Mountain (home of the Great Wall of Panthertown). The US Forest Service has put in plenty of work on stairs (wooden and cut into the rock), bridges, etc. All of the obstacles, save the elevation gain, we’re gone. We found 2 of the 3 side trails out to the cliffs of the Great Wall. Spectacular views of the valley and Goldspring Ridge from here. The rhododendron and mountain laurel were blooming beautifully. Plenty of bees, as well.

If you’ve ever been to the top of Table Rock in Table Rock State Park in South Carolina, the cliffs of Big Green were very similar. I love cliffs and rock formations, and I love scrambling around on them. So that’s what I did. Apparently being on the edges of cliffs like these don’t bother me that much, as Andrew comments very similar to what my wife Jenny did when we were in Linville Gorge in March…in that I am pretty nonchalant and lightfooted in these areas. Lightfoot. I could stand that as a trail name, although SlowPoke might be much more appropriate as I am ALWAYS the slowest guy and at the back of the pack. Anyway… So I was on these cliffs, and came to a lip in the rock. I was descending from the top, and I hopped over the lip.

Pucker factor just went to high alert.

Behind me, which I do not see, but hear, in the lip of the cliff, is a rattlesnake. He immediately began rattling as I landed probably right in front of him. I did not get bit (as I would not be worrying about thing like trip reports if I did get bit), but after I was clear of his area, we DID try to maneuver around to see if we could get a good look at him. No such luck. He wanted an altercation with me about as much as I wanted one with him. The snake slithered back into the rock crevice (I assume) and quit rattling.

At the end of the Big Green Trail, there is an official dead end. Unofficially, there is a steep descent trail that is through a messy snag of rhododendron, but it was a fun descent. Chandler (one of the boys) and I even used some branches to swing around on as we descended. Good stuff!

Back on Mac’s Gap near the intersection to Granny Burrell trail, we took Mac’s Gap towards Little Green Mountain. There were a few black and green swamp areas that were pretty cool, but still no pitcher plants. We came to a section of trail where the trees thinned out to a clearing and what looked to be a great view of Blackrock Mountain. While it was a great view, I discovered the clearing was a bog when my boot sunk in about 6 inches. Time to head back.

From here we trekked up to the peak of Little Green Mountain on the Little Green Trail. Once on top, the terrain was very similar to Big Green: flowering rhododendron and mountain laurel, bees, granite cliffs. We followed the way around to Tranquility Point, where an older couple who lives in the area were taking in their lovely tranquility. What a great spot, an not entirely long or difficult to get to, really. A beautiful view of Blackrock Mountain from here.

Ok, now we were on our way to what I hoped would be the crown jewel of this trip: Schoolhouse Falls. This has to be one of my favorite waterfalls now. As with any picture, justice is not done. Like a mirror dimly lit indeed. There was a great pool at the base that would be perfect for cooling down on a hot day. A few stepping stones allowed for crossing the creek and gain access to the sides and rear of the waterfall. It is wallowed out behind the falls, so there is plenty of room for a number of people to stand. There is a rocky shore here with a spot for 2 tents, plus there were a couple of (Clark!!) hammocks near them. Best thing I can say is check out this waterfall for yourself, it’s a beauty for sure.

Not far from there, we made it back to the first bridge on Panthertown Valley Trail. It’s worth noting there is a wooden bike rack here, as the trail allows for mountain bikers as well as horseback riding. Obviously hikers, too.

Overall a good trip. There is definitely the potential for an exploratory waterfall hunting trip in the future, probably up the Devil’s Elbow trail and maybe even up to Big Pisgah, time allowing. If you’re new to backpacking, this is a good trip to go on. Good view, some elevation but nothing long and brutal. I will say that I think it is vital to have Burt Kornegay’s “A Guide’s Guide to Panthertown” map before going in. That made a world of difference for us. I was also surprised at the amount of signs the USFS had put up. While there were no blazes, trail intersections (at least the official ones) were very officially marked.

Study the area, study the map, take your compass, take your map, and start chasing some waterfalls!

Pictures are on my Facebook.

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