Waterfalls, Photography, and Passion: An Interview with Todd Ransom

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Todd Ransom for the first time, though I have followed his Facebook page, Waterfalls of Western North Carolina, much longer. We both joined up with a small group to explore in the Linville Gorge, seeking our first views of the waterfall recently christened Rockefeller Plaza, as well as locating the mysterious and scarcely documented Dellinger Falls (above, with Todd standing at the base). 
Graciously, Todd agreed to be a guest contributor to this blog when I asked. Thank you so much, my friend! I highly recommend his resources to any adventurer of all skill levels just as I would recommend visiting Western North Carolina itself where his passion lies.
So without further delay….

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Todd Ransom is an independent app developer and photographer working out of Asheville, NC. You can find his guidebook apps at http://appstore.com/FlickinAmazingInc, a web guidebook at http://flickinamazing.com/waterfalls, or join the community of waterfall lovers at http://facebook.com/waterfalls.wnc.

Josh: How did your passion for the outdoors develop, and eventually lead to waterfall photography? Why waterfalls instead of ridges, canyons, peaks, valleys, lakes or wild flowers?

Todd: I was a boy scout, so I’ve been hiking and backpacking since I was just a young kid. My love of the outdoors led me to rock climbing in my mid twenties and I started traveling all over North America to different climbing destinations. On my thirtieth birthday a friend and I climbed a route up the 2,000 foot El Potrero Chico canyon in Mexico.

As I sat on top of this enormous cliff after a full day of climbing, exhausted but satisfied, and looked down into the gorge, I realized that some day I would be an old man, no longer capable of clinging to tiny holds on a rock wall. I thought about how fallible our memories can be and I decided that I needed some way to capture these moments with more permanence, something I could look back on and remember the things I had seen and the young man I was.

I bought a camera, started taking pictures of climbing trips, and soon became frustrated with the fact my pictures did not turn out the way I expected most of the time. I started exploring the technical aspects of photography so I could more accurately capture the sights of rock climbing and the next thing I knew, I was more excited about photography than climbing!

As my interest in climbing waned I thought it would be a good time to explore new aspects of the outdoors here in Western North Carolina. I had just rescued my dog Joker from being abandoned on a trail and I was determined to make him the hiking dog I had always wanted. Since Joker is a Husky mix, I knew we would have to stick to river trails during the summer or I would need to pack twice as much water for him as I do for myself. In my hiking experience to that time river trails were a rare treat. Usually I would be backpacking the Appalachian Trail and water would be scarce. As I started to explore the hiking opportunities of WNC I realized there were literally hundreds of river trails in this area. The rest is history – Joker is now my perfect hiking companion, I rarely take a hike that does not follow a stream or river these days, and photography is a big part of my full time job as a guidebook author.

Josh: What would you say is the “sweet spot” time of year for waterfalls?

Todd: Any day you choose to be out in nature and seek to appreciate its gifts, you have found the sweet spot. In the Spring you get to see creeks and rivers swollen with snow melt and rain, teeming with new life. In the Summer, wild flowers and icy cold mountain swimming holes. And of course in the Fall we are treated to the colorful changing leaves. Even Winter has its own unique charm – you get to carry twice as much gear and alternate between sweating and freezing each time you stop to rest.

Josh: What is the greatest length you’ve gone to trying to find a waterfall?

Todd: I get really excited about the possibility of getting rare shots, and I get really annoyed if I take pictures of a waterfall and then find someone else has used the exact same composition. I want my work to be unique. With waterfalls this can mean hiking to places that not many people go or it can mean capturing perspectives that others cannot. The latter is usually the more dangerous of the two and I have often made a relatively mellow hike to a waterfall only to find myself climbing trees, cliffs or mossy rocks trying to get that perfect composition that no one else will be crazy enough to duplicate! I am going to refrain from telling any particular stories, though, because I don’t want to encourage anyone else to take risks they are not prepared to take.

Josh: I’ve downloaded the app for iPhone and have really enjoyed it. What are you hoping the user gains from using your Waterfalls of Western North Carolina app guide? 

Todd: My great hope for the guidebook apps is that they lower the bar for outdoor adventure by allowing people who are not proficient with a map and compass to venture into the wilderness without fear of getting lost. In the old days guidebooks were updated every five to ten years at the most. This meant the driving directions in rural areas were often out of date (turn left at the going out of business sign), the trail descriptions were often out of date (hike for 1/2 mile and bear right at the big spider web), and the authors generally had little incentive to keep things up to date.

By putting the information into an app, I can provide turn by turn driving directions directly to each trailhead from any starting point and GPS assisted trail navigation even with no cell signal. I also add new waterfalls regularly without the expense of printing a new edition.

Josh: For the new and seasoned seekers, what are the 5 waterfalls in WNC that should not be missed?

Todd: There are several fantastic roadside waterfalls in WNC – Whitewater Falls is the highest on the east coast, Looking Glass Falls, Linville Falls and Dry Falls are all beautiful and easily accessible. These are all amazing falls but as you know the places that call to me are the rugged, wild places where the landscape itself is dangerous and keeps all but the most fit and adventurous hikers at bay. So for me Big Falls on the Thompson River is the crown jewel of WNC waterfalls. I am also a big fan of waterfall hunting in Gorges state park (Lower Bearwallow Falls is spectacular, Windy Falls is a rugged and dangerous delight), Wilson Creek, Linville Gorge, and Panthertown Valley (Carlton Falls is not to be missed).

Josh: Regardless of skill level, what words of caution do you have for people who hunt for waterfalls?

Todd: I wish more people would learn to respect the power of waterfalls. Every year there are several deaths at waterfalls in WNC and they are usually the result of simple carelessness. One slip above a 50 foot waterfall is almost certain to be fatal and I often see kids and teenagers jumping, diving and climbing around waterfalls in ways that I (a seasoned rock climber and waterfall jockey) would not dare to do. I would urge each of your readers to never cross a creek or river directly above any waterfall, never swim behind a large waterfall, never jump from any waterfall, and never climb on a waterfall. You can have a lot of fun swimming at the base and playing in the river without endangering your life needlessly.

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