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bushwhacking Gorges State Park Heaven hiking Horsepasture River http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post reflection Team Waterfall Trip report Waterfalls Windy Falls

The Day We Went to Windy Falls

Windy Falls first showed up on my radar over a year ago on the day my friend Luke and I met and hiked together for the first time. There had been talk of trying to hike it, but there were also several reports of people slipping on the Falls and dying there, as well. It was a hike both of us felt like we never needed to have on our list of accomplishments. On the tail end of this past winter, I planned to make an ascent of Narrow Rock Ridge while section hiking the Foothills Trail to get a distant view of Windy Falls, but foggy and soggy conditions factored into that plan being abandoned. A couple months ago, my friend Andy, who had spent several years working different approaches and researching past attempts and failures, led a small group on a successful expedition to the base of Windy Falls. It could be done, but not without difficulty. A few more groups that I’m aware of made successful trips to the base. Then came the invite, and I wanted to visit Windy Falls.
The Horsepasture Drop-Off
I hitched a ride with my buddy Darrin up to Gorges State Park where we would meet up with several friends, some new to us, some old to us. Those who met at the morning rendezvous were Darrin, myself, Luke, Scott, Emily, Johnny, Jack, Stephanie, Kitty, and the infamous Thomas “Badger” Mabry. At 8:45, we hit the trail. The main trails in Gorges are wide gravel roads that are super easy to follow. We left those trails and meandered down uneven trodden dirt to reach the Horsepasture River.
The boulders in that river are massive. The water flow in that river was full and powerful, even though levels were obviously down. Luke and I climbed some of the boulders upstream, and as we sat there watching the force of the water come from above and disappear over an obvious drop below, one of the late Keith Green’s songs began playing in my mind. This place is living in a garbage can compared to what’s waiting in Heaven. Luke quips, “Let’s hope we don’t find out today.” 
House-sized boulder in the upper sections of Windy Falls
The next stop downstream on the Horsepasture River is the Windy Falls terrace, a huge sloping rock where it would be less than easy to meet your demise. When we got there, the conditions were dry, so we were able to carefully explore around it. If that rock is wet, it is also slick, and no attempt should be made to walk on it. At the top of the area, the river rushes beneath a house sized boulder. We made no attempt to get close to the river. A slip up here, and you’re done. About halfway down the rock face is a large separation Crack that becomes a wedge after about four feet. It has been called the Crack of Doom in all seriousness and tongue-in-cheek. (Either way, it is nothing like the Crack of Doom in Linville Gorge.) We took the opportunity to make light of a serious place and play like we were falling in the Crack. 
Don’t slip on the upper terrace
The next section down came with much more difficulty. The path, which was essentially non-existent, split our group up in attempts to find the safest way down. Sheer Rock faces to the left of us, Windy Falls to the right, with the rugged tangle of North Carolina jungle filling in every space between. After using rope to scramble down dripping wet rock faces into standing puddles of black mud, we finally emerged through a pile of boulders onto the clear balcony overlooking the most powerful section of Windy Falls with the most technical section of the route still in front of us.
The Badger enters the Windy Falls keyhole
From the balcony above the plunge pool, with an overhanging cave right behind it, there are two ways down. The first and unfavorable option is over the edge. The water below obscures some hefty boulders that will win against your mass and inertia. The second option is climbing down through the rocks. The easiest way is a tight squeeze through a keyhole. That squeeze can be bypassed with the use of sturdy enough rope, and you can unsafely rappell-lite around the keyhole. Either through or around the keyhole, a rock shelf is the next stop, with the ground another 8 feet below. From here, the rocks angled down toward the water, but another passageway allowed us to travel beneath the boulder balcony into a near silent cave littered with rocks and driftwood beaten to smooth rounded edges by the Horsepasture River. A short scramble or committed walk in the water and we were at the base of the main drop. 
Kitty, Stephanie, and Luke exit the cave
Windy Falls is a raging fury of whitewater as the Horsepasture River crashes down rugged Rock to the plunge pool below. Within the walls of this gorge, the Horsepasture claims full right to its designation as a Wild and Scenic River. 
For the next several hours, the group spent their time eating lunch, taking pictures, scrambling on boulders, exploring ledges to get down river, were joined by Spencer and Stephanie, jumping off and sliding down rocks to swim in the plunge pools. The one thing I really wanted to do for myself was hang a hammock down there, and I was able to find a place after scouting a bit. One by one, the group split as we made our way from the pools, through the cave, out the keyhole, and back up through the boulders and black mud and ledges. 
Darrin goes for one of many slides on the slick rock, with Spencer on the balcony above.
Darrin, Scott, and I stopped at the same pool we visited earlier (where the Keith Green song came to mind), and we got back in the water. Scott took the water leisurely to enjoy a relaxing float about the surface. I wasn’t up to a full swim. Darrin got several more jumps and slides in. If there’s one thing to be said about hiking with Darrin, that dude loves to be in the water. Jumping off rocks into deep river plunge pools and lakes is his thing, for sure. The look on his face, man, he just loves life at that moment. Badger, Kitty, and Stephanie soon joined us, and they too happily entered the waters. It was like other lenses came over my eyes and these thoughts flooded my mind in that contemplative moment:
Team Waterfall loving Windy Falls with abandon
Loving life, there is no question. What struck me was the thought, where does that love come from? How is it that playing carefree in the waters equates with ultimate life? How is it possible that we can enjoy such a good gift as swimming in plunge pools and the sitting beneath the cooling, pummeling pressure of waterfalls? I know that we do, but what precedes that? Deeper questions than any of the pools, for sure. As I meditate on it, that train of thought ends at the Father. Man’s joy is a reflection of the Father’s joy, as we are made in His image. Raw delight points back to the Father, who is the fountain of living water Himself. All these things are gifts and yet, outside of Christ, we are not in a restored relationship with the Father and reject His goodness. We sit, like I did, on the side of the river, not wanting to commit to the waters. (I promise I did not sit out of the water to force that analogy.) In Jesus, the Father beckons us to abandon the shore and plunge into the depths of His reconciling grace to taste the satisfying pleasures of being His.
The walk back to the parking lot was uneventful. I’m surprised we made it the whole day without any timber rattler or copperhead sightings, considering where we had been poking around. For my first visit to Gorges State Park, outside of dipping into it on the Foothills Trail, I’d say it’s going to be hard to beat.
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Big Rock Mountain bouldering bushwhacking hiking Nine Times Forest Pickens scrambling South Carolina The SC Project Trip Reports

The SC Project: Big Rock Mountain

The group stopping at an overlook on the way to the summit of Big Rock Mountain.
Big Rock Mountain has been showing up a lot lately in the photo feeds of my fellow explorer friends. After seeing a few of those photos, I knew I had to get on that mountain and see what was going on up there. Surely there couldn’t be a place like this in South Carolina. Lew me tell you, Big Rock is a scramblers paradise. I’m not much involved in any kind of rock climbing or bouldering any more, and I haven’t made any effort to begin rappelling. Scrambling and bushwhacking though, that’s what we found just outside of Pickens, SC. 
The crew today would be myself, Steve (twice veteran of Linville Gorge), Josh (once veteran of Linville Gorge), Wally (who I hiked with at Mountain Bridge Wilderness and El Lieutenant in the snow), and new hiking buddies Stan and Jonathan. After snagging my typical prehike breakfast at Dunkin Donuts in Traveler’s Rest (bacon egg and cheese on a Manager’s Special cheese covered bagel… oh yeah), I made the drive like I was heading to Panthertown, but I would be at my destination much sooner. A 45 minute drive from Traveler’s Rest brought us to the obscure parking lot for Nine Times, where we could access either the Preserve or the Forest. Yeah, it’s split up. We would go beyond the red gate, then the gate warning us that security cameras were in use, so we could explore Big Rock Mountain. 
Before coming, I had very little information to go on. That’s my excuse, at least, except it’s not much of one. I had just bought the Nine Times & Big Rock Outdoor Companion (authored by local resident, Brad Caldwell) earlier in the week, but to be honest I didn’t thoroughly read it. I knew roundabout where we would be going, and assumed there was a pretty clear path up to the top. After all, I could make out the road from the satellite imagery. Should be no problem, right? Well, with my decision making skills in a bit of a fuzz this morning, we cut across a logged area and into the woods beyond instead of just following the road. On the positive side, we got to the ridge of the mountain in only half a mile instead of one-and-a-quarter-mile. On the negative side, it was a steepish bushwhack. I mean, I’ve hiked up worse and made worse errors, but this took us on the route to expend a ton of our energy reserves at the beginning of the hike, Awesome!
Pink Mountain in the foreground. What is the rocky mountain behind the furthest ridges?
We followed some old semblance of trail (or overgrown logging road, possibly) right on the spine of the ridge over to the summit of Big Rock. We could see where we were going so our direction was good. I mean, there’s a mountain with a huge rock pile on it. It’s kinda hard to miss. Finally, some of those big rocks started to emerge. “Whoa, check that out!” That’s what started to erupt from this group of hikers. A few really large boulders were on the path (ha, path, if you can call it that) we were on. At first, we were only seeing them, then hiking around them, and then pressed into them as the briers, downfall, and bushes proved the exposed rock to be the path of least resistance. It was at this point that we lost Wally to his wonder and he scrambled up those big rocks on Big Rock, leaving us to follow him up. Even the house sized boulder that he managed to get to the top of was not the peak, but once we were all up there the view was incredible. There was a large flatish mountain we first thought was Table Rock, but I quickly realized that it was in the wrong direction. I’m still working on figuring that out, so if anyone has any help with that, I’d love for you to say so in the comments here. Looking at the maps, I am thinking that it was Whiteside Mountain, but I could be wrong. A bit further up and the summit of Big Rock Mountain has a big flat rock on it, almost like some kind of altar. Stan and I chilled out up here, as he jokes that one of his biggest problems in life was a farmer’s tan. Through the trees, we were able to easily make out Table Rock, The Stool, and Cesaer’s Head beyond. Based on GPS distances readings, we were 8 miles away. Once we were all at the top, and Wally is like, “On to Pink Mountain!” which is the closest mountain to the northwest, within the forest. He didn’t realize what I had planned for the day. I think a few of the guys didn’t realize what I had planned for the day, including me. This is where the fun would begin. 
Table Rock, The Stool, and Cesaer’s Head from the Big Rock summit
I’m not really sure why I planned this the way I did. Oh yeah, it’s 1.75 miles to the top, we’ll walk around a little bit, and then come back down. Easy! Well, that didn’t include the unplanned direct brute force route to the top of the mountain. I knew I wanted to climb around on some Big Rocks, but I guess the deceptiveness of Google Earth combined with the photos that were of nearly all rock, I wasn’t thinking about all the waist high scrub and briers we would have to bushwhack through to access many of the areas. Sorry Stan, I told you shorts would be fine. Look at it this way, now you have lots of cool hiking scars on your legs. I saw some of the meanest looking briers I have ever seen up on that mountain. It is a vicious place! As I watched all the guys navigate through the scrub, I could tell the difference that Linville Gorge had made on Steve. He just seemed to spot things in a subtle different way. Climbing up on one of the boulders, Wally and I made a rough determination of where we wanted to go and how we would get there. Going by the guidebook, one area I wanted to be was at the Shaman’s Cave Boulder. We spotted it from a higher vantage point, but our route would have to take us back towards the summit as we worked around some of the more sheer rock faces.

The guys climbing up one of the many cracks in the boulder maze.

On our way down, we passed through the Big Slopey Project/The Cravasse Boulder. Way cool! This crack was one of my favorite places that we went through on the mountain. I got to do a few chimneying moves in there. Really, just to move my body in ways like that feels great. I love that feeling of just climbing on stuff, We worked down cracks, around boulders, through bushes, up gullies, and finally found ourselves at the Shaman’s Cave Boulder. We found an old ragged hammock that looks like it gave way a while ago. For the adventurous, it’d be a great campsite. There is a fire ring, and a couple bolts in the rocks for hanging a hammock that is not so ragged and still in working condition. Wally is a guy that loves to move and be active. That much is obvious. He asked me what was beyond my comfort level, so I told him anything that I would have to explain to his wife. I knew what he was thinking. Straight up the tree to the top of the Shaman’s Cave Boulder he went. How’s the view up there?? He replies, “Pretty much the same.” Coming down was a bit slower and meticulous. Fortunately, I won’t have to explain anything to his wife. Nicely done, buddy.

Shaman’s Cave Boulder
We were looking back directly at the Main Wall, and the guide had some hints towards a cave area. Naturally, I would want to find that. What is the fascination with caves? Sure, there is that sense to say, “I really want to stand on that big rock” but to enter into the earth? I’m not sure what the draw is, but for some, the allure of a cave is difficult to resist. Well, I just gave into it. Making sure everyone in the group was still doing OK, we pressed on along the Main Wall. I didn’t want to descend too low as to miss the cave for the sake of an easier route, so I stayed a bit higher. Maybe not such a great idea as far as getting snagged on briers goes. Really, I could have avoided it. We came to the base of a huge rock, and the group split ways. A few went left, a few went right. After a few moments of indecision, I called out to the left group and asked what it looked like over there. “I don’t know, awesome!” Turns out it was awesome because the cave area was there. Really, it’s a chimney, but really, it was what I was looking for! You can climb in and over a rock at one end of the crack and come out into the main area of the cave. Really cool, but not for everyone, for sure.
Wally and Stan still at our lunch spot
Wally, Stan and I climbed up on the top of a flat rock for our lunch break, and Josh, Jonathan and Steve hung out just below the climb. I scarfed my typical hikertrash lunch of a sandwich with peanut butter, bananas, and craisins, then scrambled over towards the next set of ledges and boulders. Looking back and seeing the cliff that we had eaten lunch on top of, I just had a good laugh of enjoyment at seeing where we had been sitting. After poking around the Flowering Hominid area, we decided it was time to start working back towards the car. Looking at my GPS, we were directly below the summit of the mountain we had stood on earlier. Three options: (1) we could hike down the mountain into someone’s yard, which I was not about to do. (2) hike back through the maze of boulders, which would be the long ways (3) the direct route – UP. Either we could go up right in front of us, or bushwhack further east and take a slab up there. Wally and Stan decided to scout out what was right in front of us. They called down that it was actionable, though not in those words. Based on the guide book, I think we went up the Joe Dirt route, which was rated as a 5.2 pitch. 
Before we climbed back up to the summit
Though it was a bit steep and sketchy in parts, we made it back to the summit. Somehow, we got separated coming down towards the ridgeline, but we were able to reconvene with a bit of effort. On the way out, I definitely did not want to come back down the way we had come up, but rather find the “right” way. Looking at my GPS, Stan came alongside with his cellphone and pulled up the satellite imagery of where we were. I could see the road on the satellite, and we were way off it. I guess that’s too much time trying to figure out where the rocks I wanted to visit and not enough looking at the route up the mountain. Sadly, it was really obvious. It’s a dirt road. We came down the rocky cliff faces beneath the power lines, which was a challenge in itself. The briers got really thick in there, and it was like hiking through velcro because the thorns would grab and not let you go any further until you pulled yourself free. I felt sorry again for Stan and his shorts. Sorry buddy. Anyone who knows anything about Nine Times has to be rolling their eyes at me as they read this. Go ahead, I deserve it. I poorly planned getting up the mountain. Next time will be better. 
Coming down the mountain in one of the cleanest and easiest to hike stretches
We made it back to the cars fine enough, after some more bushes, briers, and slides to access the dirt road. As we were putting our gear in the trunks, Brad Caldwell pulled up. It was great to meet him and share a few short anecdotes about our time on the mountain. He said that normally, we would be guaranteed to see rattlesnakes in the area. I was surprised we didn’t see any snakes, to be honest. We did see a few yellow jackets, but I didn’t ever disturb any nests where we got swarmed. The Lord blessed us with a safe, active, and wondrous day on the mountain. Really, a great notch in The South Carolina Project for me. Tracked distance on the GPS shows us at 4.25miles. We climbed 1206ft in elevation, and descended 1145ft (How does that work?). The highest elevation we were at was 1803ft.
GPS track overlay onto Google Earth of our hike
I do want to say a few things about the area, though, for anyone considering an adventure there. Yes, it’s incredible, I’d never seen anything like it in South Carolina, and the boulder maze was incredible to navigate. I had a blast! Navigating that boulderfield is not easy hiking, though. There is a lot of route finding, trying to work the puzzle of which is the best way, the least resistant way. There are a lot of scratchy bushes that will not ultimately hurt you but will draw blood, The kind of adventure you’ll find on Big Rock is not for everyone, but for those who love that kind of thing, it holds mega rewards. Biggest downsides: the boulderfields are south facing, so you get the full brunt of the sun. Summertime hiking would be miserable due to the heat reflecting off those rocks. Combine that with the lack of any water, creeks or streams on the mountain, and you’ve got yourself a challenge. Really, just know what you’re getting into and prepare well by packing enough water and researching your route (I could take my own lesson!). I know for sure that I’ll be back to explore Nine Times more thoroughly! It is an amazing and incredible area, a real hidden jewel for the state of South Carolina.
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bushwhacking hiking http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post Mashbox Falls Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area New Millenium Falls Slickum Creek South Carolina Spider Tunnel Falls The SC Project Waterfalls Wildcat Wayside

The SC Project: Waterfalls Off 11

Group shot at Lower New Millenium Falls

This is a hike I have been wanting to do for a long time. How it came together started with me visiting Sweet Thing on Slickum a couple years ago. I was talking to my friend Jeff Raubaud about it, and he was telling me about a huge bald rock area just above it (not Bald Rock Heritage Preserve, but a nearby unnamed bald). As I read more about the area, I found there were quite a few waterfalls concentrated nearby, all of this within relatively short hiking distance from the corner of highways 11 and 276 towards Caesar’s Head. I had originally planned this hike in December of 2013, and we had to cancel because of freezing rain. I don’t hike in that. Fourteen months and several conversations and discoveries later, we made the agenda bigger and were able to see what is just off the beaten path only 30 minutes from downtown Greenville, South Carolina.

The group was built from already established hiking buddies and Facebook friends. Coming from Team Waterfall, The Tanasee Gap Group, or somewhere in between, the active participants of the hike were: Darrin Hamlin, Jack Thyen, Emily Felty, Todd Ransom, Bob Sedler, Spencer Clary, Stephanie Brooks, Johnny Corn (who wouldn’t join until later in the day), myself, and perhaps most suspicious of all… Thomas “The Honey Badger” Mabry. All of us are experienced hikers, bushwhackers, and off-trail navigators. I don’t know if you’d call it an elite group, but there was certainly nothing green about anybody. When I planned the event, everyone knew that we’d be getting wet and dirty, and they still showed up.
Before we continue, this kind of experience is bound to make someone say, “I’ve gotta go see that!” Consider this the public service announcement. Experience at waterfalls is not enough to keep you safe. Skilled hikers have taken wrong steps on rocks they didn’t realize were slick and have fallen and been killed at waterfalls. It takes nearly nothing for you or your dog to go careening off the edge. People die at waterfalls. I’m not trying to scare you, but if you’re going waterfalling (a subcategory of hiking), people die at waterfalls. For real. Waterfalls don’t care who you are. If you try to follow in the footsteps of hikers who have gone before you, realize that you are taking risks that you alone are responsible for, and that you are participating in something that is more likely to harm you than bears or snakes.
Lower and Middle Wildcat Falls
We met at Wildcat Wayside Park on Highway 11 just outside of Cleveland, SC at 8:00AM, and my thermometer read a chilly 23°F. The first leg of our hike would be the easy 1 mile loop for Wildcat Falls. Lower Wildcat Falls is easily seen from the road, and Middle Wildcat Falls is directly visible above it, which you can access by a short series of steps. Crossing the creek, there’s a large sign which indicates where the upper falls are and another plainly marked “Falls.” Taking the right, we passed the remains of an old foundation and chimney, came to the generically named Falls, and within a short time were at Upper Wildcat Falls. There are warning signs in a few places because people have fallen to their deaths here. Google it. There are a lot of slick rocks, which can cause you to take a nasty or fatal fall. None of us climbed to the top of the falls, but we did scramble around the base of it. We’ve been hiking for only 30 minutes and bagged four waterfalls. Not a bad way to start the day.

Upper Wildcat Falls
We knew there was a side trail over to a series of falls called New Millenium Falls. though it was disguised at the entrance. Probably for good reason. The side trail over to Slickum Creek was pretty easy once we were on it, and we passed under a huge rock overhang area. We stopped there, shot some group photos, and screwed around for a little bit. Hiker trash central. Spencer’s Cistern – which he didn’t name – was a good laugh, but not something I’d drop a waypoint at. That joke was for us. Sorry. As we went down the trail, which was still actual trail at this point, we started getting into the balds. This area really reminded me a lot of Little Green Mountain in Panthertown. It really is a fun area to poke around. We found some flagging and followed it to bring us right to Middle New Millenium Falls, which is a huge round boulder with the creek lazily flowing over it. It’s tough to get a good frontal view of it, as the guidebooks have said. It’s a great water source if you’re running low. Upper New Millenium Falls is not far upstream, and we had to step on some pretty soggy shoreline to hike up the creek to get a good view of it. This is all a really cool area, and we started seeing remains of old moonshine stills scattered about.
The remains of a very intact moonshine still.
From here, we wanted to hike to Slickum Falls, which is also known as Heritage Falls. It is normally accessed from top by a trail in the Eva Russell Chandler Heritage Preserve via Persimmon Ridge Road. We were coming in from the bottom. Spencer, Stephanie and Jack had seen some flagging back on a bald before we go to Middle New Millenium, which they said brought them out near the top of Upper New Millenium. Do we go back that way, or start bushwhacking up the creek? We decided to started the ‘shwack. Following Slickum Creek when we could and moving away when it got too thick, we eventually came to the base of Slickum Falls. This is a super cool spot because it’s a cataract bog. The ground is really soggy, and lots of rare plants and flowers grow there including carnivorous plants like the pitcher plant and sundew plant. There were quite a few clusters of pitcher plants, at least what was left of last years growth, some which looked like there was still plenty of life in them. While we’re hanging out here, Darrin announces he wants to show us one of the best spots in this area, which is the top section of Slickum Falls. There’s a huge crack in the rock here that the creek pours through, with more moonshine stills at the bottom. It’s possible to follow the contour around the rock face and get to the bald at the top of the falls. We hung out here for a while, as the day was clear and we were able to make out Paris Mountain and the buildings of downtown Greenville. What a spectacular view to have! While we were there enjoying it, a couple hiked in from the road above, which is a short hike. They looked at us like they definitely didn’t expect to see nine people hanging out on the rock face. The guy asked, “Did y’all have the red RAV4 at the parking spot?” I enjoyed telling him that it was not, we had parked on Highway 11 and came in from the bottom. Why I cared that people I didn’t know were impressed with us, I don’t know. Just a consideration, if you’re reading this and coming in from the top, that Persimmon Ridge Road can be a rough one.
The view from atop Slickum/Heritage Falls
So what now? Darrin had found a waterfall last year with some pretty unique features and named it Spider Tunnel Falls, due to almost stepping on the biggest Fisher Spider he had ever seen. Originally, we had planned to go back down Slickum Creek and follow the appropriate contour over to the waterfall. What we actually decided to do was a straight bushwhack in its general direction to rediscover it from upstream. The creek doesn’t show up on Google Maps, so we were aiming at Spider Tunnel Falls on Darrin’s memory of coming to it from a different direction. One of the cool spots we saw in this area was where a spring was bubbling straight up out of the ground. That turned into a creek that looked familiar to him, and we bushwhacked around until the creek disappeared. Dropping down the side, we slid to a lower ledge, following it around behind a large boulder to be face to face with Spider Tunnel Falls. Fortunately, we didn’t see any spiders. I have to say, this was a huge highlight to this trip. The creek comes over the edge of the rounded rock face, falls down into a slot canyon that’s 10-12′ deep, and runs out the other side. Beyond cool, unlike any waterfall I’d ever seen. While everyone was taking their pictures up top, I slid down the leaves and mud (on the side of the falls, not in the falls), and snapped a few pictures with my tripod in the water. The talk of coming back when it warms up was quick to come, but carpe diem. I took off my boots and socks, rolled up my pant legs, and waded into the slot canyon. Seriously, South Carolina? You rock my socks off. *ba dum!* I’m not giving up the location on this one, but I’m sure someone who has visited it before would love to go back and see it again. That might be something to inquire about.
Poking around Spider Tunnel Falls
More bushwhacking! That’s what we’d be up to next as we worked our way back to Slickum Creek. It got kinda thick in there. We were aiming for Lower New Millenium Falls, as we had only seen the upper and middle sections of it. I had the way points of all the places we’d visited so far, so we could see where we needed to go, but we weren’t sure exactly how far downstream the Lower Falls was from the Middle Falls. We aimed, stayed on contour, fought some of thick rhododendron that the Carolina’s are known for, and happened to emerge at the most perfect place to cross the creek, which was just below Lower New Millenium Falls. I wish I could say that we planned it as well as it turned out! The Lower Falls are really cool, with some large boulders, trees to climb to get a better view, and even a couple large potholes in the side of the rocks (which were pretty sketchy looking to try and climb in and out of). This is where we took our group shot that’s at the beginning of this post.
We followed Slickum Creek downstream, criss-crossing over it, coming towards one of my favorite falls of all time. Darrin and I were separated from the group, as we took an opposite side of the creek for our approach. There was the drop off, and we were standing on top of of Sweet Thing on Slickum. There’s no easy way to get down from the top, or get up from the bottom. On the side we came down, we had to scramble down rock shelves that still had icicles clinging to them. Even though it had warmed up to a nice 60°F, this pocket is still deep in the shadows. On the opposite side, there is steep round-about sidehilling to climb down, and then another creek crossing. Sweet Thing is a 20′ waterfall that pours into a grotto with a beautiful pool at the base that’s perfect for wading. It’s always a favorite, and I love taking people there because no one ever suspects this beauty is nearby. It’s easy to linger at. We met up with our friend Johnny Corn here, and he joined us for the rest of our day.
Sweet Thing on Slickum
A few more minutes downstream and we were at Last Cascade of Slickum Creek. I took one shot, thinking it was an unnamed waterfall and that Last Cascade was in reality located on the south side of Highway 11. I was wrong. There’s no waterfalls south of highway 11, but where Slickum Creek enters the Middle Saluda River is a very pleasant and scenic spot. There’s some thick briers in there, though. As we emerged back out on Highway 11, Todd and I spotted the first Trout Lily of the day. This was a new flower for me, but they are apparently one of the first signs that Spring is jst around the corner.
We walked back to the cars at Wildcat, where we had lunch. From there, we all piled into two vehicles and drove up 276 towards Caesar’s Head. Pulling off on the side of the road, we picked up the Pinnacle Pass Trail in the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area. We hiked in along typical scenery of the area, until we veered off the trail at some point. The rolling mountainsides and bubbling brooks eventually gave way to rugged terrain of exposed rock and boulder choked waterways. There’s no trail down there, so it’s really just finding the path of least resistance. Fortunately, it’s clear enough to not exactly be a bushwhack, so it’s pretty much just off-trail navigating and boulder scrambling. We passed by a lower waterfall that as far as we know has been unnamed, so Darrin references it as Evan’s Falls.  Through the trees, I could start to make out Mashbox Falls. Once we got to the base of it, Darrin’s comments rang true, “It’s one of the most underrated waterfalls in the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area.” Indeed! Water plunging eighty feet down over rugged shelves, with a steep hill to one side that brings you beneath a large rock overhang to what’s been referred to as the Photographer’s Perch. Getting up there will get your heart pumping. 
Mashbox Falls as seen from The Photographer’s Perch
Leaving Mashbox Falls, we followed the creek back down and came to another tributary which we followed up to Misty Falls. It’s not a high flow falls. In fact, it was fairly misty, so I suppose the name is fitting. Fortunately, we were visiting in the winter when all the leaves were down so we had an excellent view of the falls. In the spring or summer, the falls would be obscured. Spencer had scrambled up Misty Falls about halfway, and when he got back (which took him a few minutes), he reported that he heard cars right above him. That confirmed what we were looking at on the GPS, that the road was only .13 miles away. People drive right past all this excellence and have no idea that it’s so close! 
Decision time. Option A is that we retraced our steps back to the Pinnacle Pass Trail for our exit. This would be less work, but more distance and time. Option B was to climb straight up the ridge towards the road. We took a vote, and the majority raised their hands for Option B. The rough climb out, straight up a mud cliff. I made several attempts to get traction to get up, and many of those failed. I would dig my boot in, only for the earth to give way and I’d slide back down. Using downed trees, rotten logs, and whatever else we could hold onto, all ten of us slowly made our way up the ridge back to a logging road that led us to the Pinnacle Pass Trail. Looking at the photo of Misty Falls below, the hill was basically the same kind of steepness. Up until this point, the hike had been relatively easy, aside from a few cuts and scrapes from briers and untangling ourselves from rhododendron thickets. Getting up that ridge felt like it took more concentrated effort than anything else we had done the rest of the day. Navigating through the woods took the mental effort, but climbing out called on every reserve of strength, energy, and stamina we had left. Thomas gave it the official stamp of a Certified Honey Badger Hike. We quickly made it back to the vehicles, and then back down the mountain. We found a small pull off out of the way to enjoy a short group celebration of the day in the spirit of the day. 
Misty Falls
What a great day we had exploring! To be honest, when I organized this event, I wasn’t expecting it to turn out as profitable as it was. We visited 14 waterfalls and countless other cascades. The views from the balds were amazing. Getting barefoot and rolling up my pant legs to climb into the slot canyon of Spider Tunnel Falls in the freezing water was exhilarating. The company we kept was top notch. For all the places we went, for all the pants that were torn, for all the dirty hands and scraped arms, everyone was having a great time. Thanks again everyone for such a great day in the woods and waterways. Well, except for the 11th guy… what WAS his name?!?
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bushwhacking Confusion Falls hiking http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post Matthews Creek Moonshine Falls Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area Raven Cliff Falls South Carolina Team Waterfall The SC Project Trip report Waterfalls

Raven Cliff Falls Megahike

Raven Cliff Falls from the base
So there I was.. surrounded by a tangle of deadfall, briers, and rhododendron. That wasn’t even the worst part. Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ll start at the beginning.

It was my pleasure to join up with some members of Team Waterfall for an exciting and challenging exploration of Raven Cliff Falls and beyond in South Carolina’s Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area. Since I wasn’t planning any of the routes or destination, and it is highly discouraged to leave the trail in South Carolina’s parks (for good reason), I left my GPS at home. I wanted to enjoy the freedom of not messing with a gadget, to give my trust completely to the planner for where we would go, and to not record any route for others to follow. I don’t encourage anyone to try to reproduce what we did as described in this trip report. To have an injury in some of the areas we went would mean a world of hurt, and an extremely difficult search and rescue.

As we drove up 276 towards Caesar’s Head, we caught a few glimpses of the sun as it faithfully emerged over the horizon as a burning ball of neon orange, a color only the sun can so vividly reproduce as contrasted against the fading remnants of night. What a glorious way to start the day.

Darrin, Andy, Van and I pulled into the parking lot for Raven Cliff Falls and left the car to began our hike at 7:20am. The last thermometer reading on the car’s dash display was 20°F. It was gonna be a cold day. Praise God it was only briskly crisp, without any wind.

The most complete view of Raven Cliff Falls

I have hiked Raven Cliff twice before. Once, just to the observation deck, and once the Dismal/Naturaland/Gum Gap loop (clockwise). To my surprise, we left the main trail even before getting to the observation deck. In fact, we never even saw the observation deck on the way in. Rolling hills gave way to steep descents. The trees and scrub cleared briefly to frame our first view of Raven Cliff Falls, which was awesome. You can see so much more of it than from the observation deck or the boulder overlook on Dismal Trail. The suspension bridge, first drop, upper cascades, second drop (the big one), and lower cascades are all visible.

Then we started descending… in earnest.

It was here where I first noticed the leaves. Mid-November, there was some fall color still hanging on, though not abundantly at this elevation. Most of those leaves were now on the ground. On top of being deafening, descending over leaves is super slippery. If you’ve ever hiked down a steep slope over leaves, you know it’s more of a slide than a hike. So the descent to Matthews Creek in some places went really quickly, because I was essentially sitting on the ground and butt sliding, using feet for braking and hands for stabilizing. Yep, leaves are sketchy. They make for really unstable footing, as well as hiding hazards like rocks and roots. When we weren’t sliding, we were scrambling down rock formations, some several feet high. If you’re familiar with Linville Gorge, you might call the descent to the base of Raven Cliff Falls as a rough Cabin Trail.

We came out of a chute in a huge rockpile formation, and Matthews Creek was at our feet. The sun was just beginning to clear the ridges and illuminating the valley. You could hear the roar of the waterfall, but it was completely out of sight. Water poured over rock and ground from several directions, disappearing out of sight downstream over more rock. A wet crossing brought us to mostly dry rock with several completely frozen puddles. It would have been really easy to take a fall here. Walking upstream and then BAM! Raven Cliff Falls in all its glory. The light was perfect. Warming sunlight behind us, with the falls still hidden away in its mountain pocket, and the setting waning moon still visible above the ridge. Absolutely gorgeous. It was at this exact moment that I decided Raven Cliff Falls was my favorite waterfall. Just incredible.

Raven Cliff Falls beneath the waning moon

From here, we would begin our climb out. Our next destination was to the base of the main drop, but it’s impossible to just dead-reckon straight towards it. So here began the real tangle at the beginning of this report, which by the way, is an over-dramatic but sensational way to start a story. Bushwhacking uphill from the base of Raven Cliff Falls is a steep mess of scratchy briers and bushes, with leaves on the ground giving you the “two steps forward one step back” effect, huge jungle vines, fallen trees, rhododendron thickets, and cliff faces that block your progress. When your in a mess like that, you have one of two ways to look at your situation. Option one: You can either feel hopelessly lost with not knowing where you are exactly in an area that is fighting your every movement and will likely hide your remains from ever being found. Option two: You can enjoy the puzzle of having a vague idea where you are, but not knowing exactly, and move with the obstacles instead of against them (even if it means ungracefully doing a head over feet when a vine snags your boot while climbing over a fallen tree) in hopes that it eventually clears out while following a path of least resistance, which likely will still be quite resistant. I suppose we went with option two since we emerged to dive into another tangle on another day. Route finding in the bush is really one of the most challenging aspects of trips like these, but there are rewards.

Raven Cliff Falls on ice
Like standing at the base of the main drop of a huge waterfall. Even cooler, everything was iced over from the spray of the falls and frigid temps the last couple days. Every branch of every bush was encased in ice. The rhododendron leaves were covered with layers of ice so thick that each rhodo plant sounded like a wooden wind chime when the branches were shaken. Totally cool in there! (Check out the short video I recorded of the area) We hung around for a while, took a bazillion pictures, and hauled our way out of the slick ice and mud back to the top, where it was a long walk through deadfall and brush and deafening leaves until we finally emerged onto Gum Gap Trail.

It felt like another long walk, but we eventually made it to the suspension bridge at the top of the falls. We ate lunch at a great open section of bedrock along the bank of Matthews Creek just at the brink of the first drop of Raven Cliff Falls. Darrin and I bushwhacked down to the base of the first drop, and got a cool view of the upper falls with the bridge right above it. We neglected to go any further down, as we had some other goals we wanted to achieve during the rest of our hike. We had a long ways to go to the car. Here, Van had to part ways with us. He headed back to the car, and Darrin, Andy and I continued on.

Andy and Van on the suspension bridge above Raven Cliff Falls

At the opposite sign of the suspension bridge, there are signs saying the Naturaland Trust Trail is closed. We wanted to check out the condition of the trail, since it was closed after the extremely rainy summer of 2013 that caused landslides in the area, so we proceeded against caution. There were several points on the trail where it narrows down and it’d be easy to plummet off the side. Probably a good decision to heed the caution we didn’t. Even if the trail was open, it felt really confusing with lots of twists and turns and steep climbs down rocky terrain that demand attentive and selective foot placement. Add in the leaves, and our hike down the trail was slow. At one point, we took the trail less traveled through more scrub like we’d been through earlier, and emerged on a perfect ledge to overlook the falls. What might have been a couple hundred feet away from us was the frozen point we were standing over two hours prior. It’s a lot of work to get from one side of the falls to the other. What an awesome time at Raven Cliff Falls. We got to see it from several unique and excellent perspectives. This would be our last view of the falls today.

Ledge view of Raven Cliff Falls
What we came to next has been a favorite of mine from the first time I saw it over three years ago. That first visit to The Cathedral was also the last time I had been there, until this hike. Really, there is no way to photograph or describe the Cathedral accurately. It really must be seen to be believed. The best I can tell you is that it’s a huge multifaceted rock wall that dominates the whole area and commands attention. Water had been trickling down the sides and formed several icicles. Darrin even pointed out a hawks next in a giant crack, where he had seen the hawk circle and eventually land on a previous trip.
Ice on the walls of The Cathedral. The hawk nest is about halfway up the crack on the left

The final landmark on Naturaland Trust Trail on our way out was the old cable crossing bridge over Matthews Creek. The cable bridge had been taken down, which I heard reports of but couldn’t give a first hand account of. Indeed, the cable bridge is down. The trees it was attached to are dead, but not fallen over. Other nearby trees are, though. Two big trees have fallen over at the same spot the cable bridge used to be. The trees cross in the middle, making for an awkward climb over, but it wasn’t too bad.

After the creek crossing, the elevation levels out. We passed by the Dismal Trail and loudly sloshed our way through the leaves towards Asbury Hills. Decision time, at the intersection of Naturaland Trust and path to the car, which was just over a mile away. Back to the car? We still had a couple hours of daylight.

We continued on Naturaland Trust, looking for the large rock cairns that stand on the way to Moonshine Falls. I had been there this past May, but visiting there would really add to this trip! The leaves seemed thicker on the ground here than what we had seen prior. It was was deafening, to the point we couldn’t hear each other talk over the sound of the leaves. Though the ground cover of leaves was thick, many trees still had fall colors clinging to their branches. The displays of yellows, oranges, and reds were far better here than they had been at the trail head of Raven Cliff Falls.

One cairn, two cairns, off the ridge at the sound of water and we’re at the overhang that still has old rusted remains of moonshine stills and barrels beneath it and Matthews Creek pouring over the top of it. A pretty impressive collection of remains, really. Moonshine Falls is one of my favorite waterfalls because of the unique “cave” area behind it that isn’t overly common on our Carolina waterfalls. I found myself wondering how long ago this water had fallen over the edge of Raven Cliff Falls, and if it had become part of Moonshine Falls at the same time we were arriving. The pool at the base was full of leaves. This is really my favorite view of the falls.

Andy crafting the shot from behind Moonshine Falls

We still had daylight, still had time. When I had come earlier in the year, TJ and I made an attempt to find Confusion Falls, but abandoned it after we couldn’t follow the trail any longer down the steep slope. Today, we would find it. We dropped our packs and I found the slope down was even steeper than I had previously thought. We took turns sliding down, went too far, and had to backtrack the creek, climbing over deadfall and through rhododendron. Confusion Falls is really cool, as its the conversion of two creeks, plummeting off an overhang to become one creek at the base. It has an almost tropical feel to it, even in the midst of a South Carolina autumn.

Confusion Falls

The climb back up the ridge is a complete grunt. Andy described it as a 50-degree slope covered in acorns and dry leaves. There were several sections I slid back down towards the bottom. Secure footing is a wish and absent dream on that ascent. The best emerging technique for climbing out seemed to be to launch from one tree to another, as the trees became handholds and footholds. It’s a short trip to Confusion Falls from Moonshine Falls, but it’s not without its price.

The day had been full of leg destroying adventures, so we were looking forward to the easy hike out, even if it was still over two miles to the car. There is still an intact cable bridge over Matthews Creek on Asbury Hills property. Darrin and I used the bridge, but being only half and hour from the car, Andy decided to wade across. On the Red Trail closer to the parking area, the leaves were as bad as they’d been, obscuring thick roots and embedded rocks. Thank you, leaves, for giving us a few finals stumbles and falls at the last stretch of the hike. Though we didn’t track it with a GPS, Darrin estimates we covered at least 10 miles. 

Our final photo op over the recreation lake at Asbury Hills

Nearly at the parking lot is a small lake at Asbury Hills. The mountain behind it was lit with the last rays of the evening sun, igniting the fall leaves in a glowing tapestry of color that reflected perfectly against the mirror stillness of the lake. The day opened and closed with majestic paintings of the Lord in the colors of the sun, almost like the front and back covers of a book that told of His glory. Certainly, that was the story my eyes saw this day.

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bushwhacking camping hiking http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post North Carolina Razor's Edge Rock Jock scrambling Trip report

My First Time on Rock Jock

(The view from the top of the Razor’s Edge descent gully within Razor’s Edge Canyon, Razor’s Edge Point to the upper right, with the North Carolina Wall and Sphinx in view across the Gorge) 
In event of my upcoming return trip to Rock Jock, I headed back to LinvilleGorge.net and retrieved my original trip report for the weekend of October 14-15, 2011. This was the first time I hiked Rock Jock, the first time I got into a serious bushwhack, and my second time ever hiking in the Gorge. I never have made it to Pertraeus Point… Hmmm…. I added a few notes into the report to either clarify or update based on better knowledge.

Though I don’t use it currently, the full photo album is still available on Flickr. I noticed the photos aren’t in chronological order, so sorry about that.

I hope you enjoy this report, and I hope it inspires you to get out and see Rock Jock for yourself! Even if you don’t do any of the side trips, it’s worth seeing.

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Our initial group for Friday was myself, Ben, and Tom. We came up 126 to Kistler and caught our first sight of Shortoff around 12:00PM on Friday. This was the first time I’d seen Shortoff, and it was way better than Google Earth, to say the least. Other than some rough washboarding on the south end, it was in good shape and easily accessible for a front wheel drive car, but you’ll be going slow. No major ruts. We pulled off in a MAX 2 car parking space not too far to the north of MCRT on Rock Jock, and thought we’d just walk north looking for a camp site. (NOTE: MCRT = Mossy Canyon Ridge Trail, more widely known as the southern trailhead to Rock Jock, but it was not part of the original Rock Jock, so out of respect for the builder and not to confuse it with the now lost but still referred to souther section of Rock Jock, I refer to it as MCRT) Based on Allen Hyde’s book, the swing and campsite were not far. Well, we never found them, and ended up just heading back to the truck. We kept driving north and came to the campsite on the east side of the road that overlooked Amphitheater. What a great spot! I hoped it was close enough outside of the wilderness boundaries that we wouldn’t get busted if a ranger checked in on us, and we set up camp.

On a side note, as we were walking up Kistler looking for sites, a hunter stopped in his truck and we spoke with him. Apparently a huge tree had just blown over and blocked the road. It was sooo windy up on Dogback! He informed us he cleared the tree with his chainsaw, and took off. This tree is pretty obvious if you’re down in that area.

For our adventure on the 14th before the rest of our guys got there, we decided to follow Wigg’s trip to Petraeus. It seemed the best option for where we were with the lest amount of driving, plus we could scope out where Rock Jock exits on Conley. We kept looking for Conley Cave, and in one form or another we found it, I’m guessing. I first thought that it was the giant overhang with water running through it (NOTE: this is the Cowboy Hotel, as I later found out), until we backtracked to what I guessed was Petraeus and we began around the base of that. I was thinking, “Sweet! Now I’m finding the real Linville Gorge off-trail!” That was when Ben began yelling, “Check this out!” and we came to what I’m guessing is the REAL Conley Cave? Very cool. Only goes back maybe 40-50 ft? but its very dark, and very cool, and apparently any of the bats that inhabit that cave like Bud Light. I had left my goat trash bags back in the truck… sorry guys. We left the cave and began looking for the crack in Petraeus to climb up and out on top to the faint trail to Lost Dog, and I am sure that we took the wrong crack. Once we were up a few levels, it turned from a scramble to a thick bushwhack. I think eventually the only ground we were standing on was the occasional protruding boulder, otherwise we were on top of down trees and thick brush. We must have pushed and guessed for 30-45 minutes. We were still ascending, but not sure if we had missed Lost Dog and were just pushing straight up to Kistler. Either way, we were able to keep a general direction to the way out. Eventually, after the bushwhack had claimed Tom’s glasses that were hanging around his neck, we came upon a faint trail. We took that south for several hundred yards (2 loads of semi-fresh bear scat here) and stumbled upon the campers at Lost Dog . They confirmed it was Lost Dog, seemed pretty friendly and looking kinda surprised at 3 guys straggling into their camp from the rough stuff. Our spirits remained good through the whole bush push and we enjoyed it, but it was pretty rough going. We came up to Rock Jock and exited via the old Conley exit. This adventure took us somewhere around 2 hours. A good one! Next time I do it, I’d like to find the RIGHT crack! We met up with a couple guys from Appalachian State, and one was wearing Chaco’s. Bloody feet are a good reminder to wear the right kind of foot protection in the Gorge.

We headed back to camp and ate our dinner and made a camp fire. As it got dark, I checked out on the road to see if I could make out any headlights coming our way. Kistler is as black as could be as night!! Holy cow.. I went back to the campfire and about 8:00PM we began to notice a red glow forming behind Table Rock. We stood up to check it out, taking turns guessing what it could be as the glow kept getting brighter and brighter. It became too large to be any kind of headlights (I knew there is a road up that way, but didn’t think it came THAT close to the ridge), then I was guessing a wild fire was starting because beneath the red glow it began to burn bright orange. It grew and grew until we realized…we are watching the moon rise from behind the ridge! It was absoutely awesome to watch. I snapped a picture, knowing it would be a joke anyway. A few minutes after this, the rest of our guys, Erich and Chris, showed up. Tom and Erich hammocked, and Ben, Chris and I shared a 4p tent. It was CRAZY windy that night, and I about froze around the campfire. Ben had checked wind chill and figured it to be something around 17 degrees, but I don’t know for sure. We hit the tent and all was toasty.

Woke up to a great sunrise over the NC Wall, ate breakfast and began shuttling cars to the south and north end of Rock Jock. We parked at the same MAYBE 2 car spot on Kistler we had the day before, because I thought I saw the Rock Jock sign only a little ways down from it. That turned out to be maybe half a mile, oops! Had I not been looking for the trail, we would have missed it. The brown stake is still at the trail head, but it is not very monumental when you’re walking down the road talking with your buddies. Just past the Rock Jock sign was the Adopted by The Gorge Rats sign. Thank you very much, guys.

We hit MCRT and I honestly think as far as the trail goes, this was one of my favorite parts. Even as destructive as the fire damage is, there is a certain level of beauty that is just different than the rest of the areas we visited. One day the plants will claim this as their own, and it is great to enjoy it as it is right now. I think the fall colors were the best here, absolutely beautiful. We made it down to where Rock Jock heads north. I was trying to keep an eye out for where it once extended south, but I didn’t see it. I saw some flagging further up towards Kistler, but not lower. Maybe I missed it? Going in and out of Mossy Canyon was a haul, and seemed like the rest of it was downhill from there.

(Razor’s Edge Rock, as seen from Razor’s Edge Point, with L.O.S.T.’s ledges in the upper right)

As I was looking at the picture of the burnt log Ken gave me and trying to determine if we just passed it, we ran into a group of 1 guy and 6 women hiking south. One of our guys asked if they knew if we were anywhere close to Razor’s Edge. The guy said he’d been out here a lot and had never heard of Razor’s Edge, but he was looking for Zen Canyon. After we passed them, we might have been 30 feet from the spur trail to Razor/Zen. Oops for them! The 2 flags on the small pine are indeed still there. In the set of pictures for this trip, there are pictures of this trail head from the north and south, as well as pictures from where the trail splits off to the left to Zen. We missed the HARD left to get down to Razor’s Edge Rock and found ourselves looking down at it from the point. We ate our lunches on RE point, contemplating how we would get down there.

Tom stayed at RE point to take pictures of us, and the rest of us headed down to find RE rock. Chris and I got a little side tracked scoping out the south side of the point, spotting the campsite where someone’s been enjoying a fire and awesome view of the Amphitheater.  Erich and Ben made it down first, so it was cool to see someone crossing the ledge from the higher perspective. Once Chris and I were on the descent to RE, he asks me, “Are you sure you want to be using those trekking poles?” I said, “Yeah man! They are stabilizing me!” And not 5 seconds after the words were out of my mouth, I took a spill and Chris’s arm was in my armpit. Oops! That descent is slippery on the dirt and mud, and it took out my trekking pole. Getting down to the Razor’s Edge from there was a bit of a scramble up the 15 feet or so of rock and then an easy rock hop and walk out to the edge. I won’t belabor the point with many words, but I will say it’s breathtaking to be on that point and if anyone is doing Rock Jock you absolutely should NOT miss Razor’s Edge.
(Me and my bent up trekking pole in Razor’s Edge descent gully)
Heading back to the Rock Jock, we headed north again. Zen Creek (I’m assuming?) had a great pool of crystal clear water that looked fantastic to pump from. Not really any other sources on Rock Jock that looked as pumpable (although Mossy Creek and Blue Jay both had water running on them). We came back up on the trail to Lost Dog (I think) where we had come out the day prior. There was a nice and big camp site not far from here, and we headed back up to the old Conley entrance. I was wanting to come out on Rock Jock at Conley. Should I have just stayed to the right of that big camp? The map looks like it has a big loop around this area and felt kind of confusing when I looked at it.

We got back to the cars and still had some time, so we headed up to Linville Falls as I was the only one that had been there. It was nice, but there were SOOO many people there it was just the antithesis of what we had just done and was only slightly enjoyable.

Heading back to Greenville, SC, we stopped in at REI at the Biltmore Park at Exit 37 off I-26 and got them to warranty my trekking poles. Plus it was member appreciation, so because they essentially gave me a refund and sold me a new pair, I got 20% back from my poles! Sweet deal!

A BIG Thank you to Ken Crump, Jim DeFriess and Michael Hollar for their work on the Rock Jock, and everyone else who helped me make this trip a success. Bob Underwood, I really enjoyed your trail, even if it’s not in its original form. Thanks a bunch, gorge rats!

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Avatar's Rib Babel Tower bushwhacking Hell's Ridge Camp hiking http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post North Carolina scrambling Trip report

Linville Gorge: Babel and Beyond

This hike has been a year in the making. Last year, we only scouted out the top of the area. This year, we would complete the route. 
Brandon, Erich and I left Greenville early Saturday morning and headed up the mountain. We were running early, so we stopped at Bynum trail and walked out a little ways to get a view. We still had some time and Erich hadn’t been to Wiseman’s View yet. Kistler Memorial Highway / 105 was in as good of condition as I’ve seen it (save the giant rut that is only a few feet south of Pine Gap parking), so we made the drive to Wiseman’s in only a few minutes. It was overcast and hazy, so while we could make out all the distinctives of the area, nothing was exactly crisp, other than the 30°F temperature! 
Getting back to our trailhead, we met up with Billy and Lonnie. After waiting a few minutes past our meet time, we decided no one else was coming and headed down the Babel Trail. We made it down in pretty good time, and the trail was in typical conditions: good views at the cliff, roots and talus on the ground, and an erosive ditch at the bottom. Coming out of the ditch, though, is some of the best scrambling the Linville Gorge has to offer. You honestly don’t even have to go very far in to see a lot of very cool features. We, on the other hand, would be going very far in.

Climbing up Babel Tower requires maneuvering down beside of the rocky spires until coming to a trail that turns sharply right and uphill. It gets rocky toward the top, and you’ll have to scramble the last few feet. This time, a tree had fallen down over the top, so we had to do some working around it, but nothing too bad. Views from the top of Babel were as good as ever. Walking towards Avatar’s Rib, there is a rather large crack splitting the top of Babel. The distance is easily jumpable, but the other side is sloping and the bottom of the crack is far enough to at minimum be painful if you slip. Climbing back down the way I came, I scrambled up to the other ledge. From here we had GREAT views of Avatar’s Rib, Henson Canyon, Westface, and all the surrounding areas, not to mention a straight shot south of the Gorge. From here, there’s two options: climb back down the way you came up, or shimmy down a fallen tree to the base. Safest way is to just climb back down. A little scrambling brought us to the next peak, upper Avatar’s Rib. It’s accessible and very easy to get to, and you don’t have to do the steep climbing that is required to getting to the top of Babel. But before we moved on to Avatar, I had some other intentions..
Hell’s Ridge Camp offers views to the north of the river, Island Ridge, Henson, and the area that Hyde’s Ledge runs across. Part of this excursion was to do visual recon for the suggested “Two Saddles” loop, which has Island Ridge connecting to Henson Creek via Hyde’s Ledge. Another part is that last time I was out here, we bushwhacked straight down from Avatar, and on the way back we stumbled across a cairn. I wanted to find the cairn, mark a waypoint for it, and attempt to follow trail out to Hell’s Ridge Camp to get a track for the Linville master map. Let me say that there are only scarce amounts of trail out there. The cairn is easy enough to find. Hell’s Ridge Camp is not difficult if you do the research and don’t go in blind. The connector between the two proves well enough how the area got its name. This ridge had burned in one of the previous fires since 2000 (I’m not sure exactly what year, but I believe Lonnie said it was the Brushy Ridge Complex Fire), and has since grown up thick with brush and briars. The views from the plateau camp are nice, but there doesn’t seem to be much place to hang a hammock. Camping would require backpacking in with a tent, and to be honest, with the “trail” in the condition that it’s in, going in with a pack would likely only be worth it to the most determined camper. The views of Island Ridge and the Linville River below are nice, though. It’s just very scratchy getting out there, and unless you know what rock formations you’re looking for, you may end up frustrated. We tried to follow trail back up to Avatar, and it was much easier to find from the Hell’s Ridge Camp side, but we still lost it in a few places. Eventually, we came back out right at the cairn and headed to the main portion of our day.

Avatar’s Rib. I find the name along with the other names in the area quite ironic and interesting. Biblically, the Tower of Babel was built by men trying to ascend to heaven on their own (you can read about it starting in Genesis 11:1). An avatar is allegedly God in human form. In my studies of Linville, there has definitely been influence of such a person, although that person is now dead. So that tribute of someone claiming to build themselves up to be God on the same peninsula named after a tower that men built trying to get to God is very ironic to me. 
Avatar’s Rib is a very rocky spine on the east side of the Babel peninsula. I anticipated the descent down the many shelves of the Rib would be difficult uptake require a lot of sketchy down climbing. We were about to find out. Last year, Marshall Weatherman and Matt Perry had made this trip, and a map was made that traced out roughly the route they took down the Rib. This map was excellent, and we used it a lot as we determined which way to descend. (You can access it here: http://m.flickr.com/photos/33252703@N08/8350576464/in/set-72157632444717814/) Upper Avatar’s Rib extends out to Point A, and is simply a walk out to the edge. Some backtracking and descending on the north side will drop you below to Point C and Point B. From here you can either climb down the face of Point C, or as I went over to Point B for pictures I could see the gully between the two offered good holds to scramble down. Much safer. Much better. Once here, we had to work our ways backwards (west) on the south side of the Rib only to work our way back east. This was probably one of the more difficult areas of the descent. We split up into 3 groups at this point, but all eventually found each other on Point D and Point E. There are great formations here, and this is referenced as Lower Avatar’s Rib. We decided to break for lunch here, plenty of places to sit and rest, a large rock with a tree to sit under, and what may be my favorite views of the whole Linville Gorge. I had stood on the Sphinx twice at the time of this writing, and while spectacular, doesn’t match Lower Avatar’s Rib to me. Being so close to the river, hearing the road of its whitewater, and the northern corners of the Gorge swallowing you to one side while the ridges frame an open and sweeping view to the south is magnificent. In all honesty, this point takes less work to get to than the Sphinx, as well. 

After lunch at my new favorite place in the Gorge, it was time to finish this puzzle. Moving back to the north side, we found the route below us we wanted to take, but the climb down to that route proved to be the most difficult and dangerous aspect of Avatar’s Rib for us. Standing on a ledge, the ground was probably 10 feet below us, and there were a couple rocky shelves to stand on. Unfortunately the ledge we were standing on is inverted once you climb over the edge, and there is very little to hold onto while climbing down. The rock ledge is smooth, and there was some mountain laurel growing there but most of its branches were dead and crumbled when we’d grab them. There’s a large root across the ledge, but it didn’t feel trustworthy at all. Slowly carefully, we came down one by one, facing out so we could keep our backs to the ledge trying to hold on. Suck it in, stick out your belly, and toss your pack at this point! There’s a rootball off hanging over the ledge to hold onto, but who knows how long that will be there. Once down on the ground, it looks like there may have been a better route down if one we had backtracked some a little higher up, but that’ll will have to wait for another trip.
We were now in the Avatar descent gully. Once in the gully, we had the added benefit of live trees to use as handholds and help. William noted that it reminded him of Zen Canyon, further south in the Gorge off of Rock Jock. Noting that on Marshall and Matt’s trip report they had missed Point F and G, I wanted to try and get to those. Point F looks very difficult from the gully. Maybe there’s a way to get up there from the south side. It may have been possible to climb up from the gully, but a climb down was no way. At least a scramble down was no way. Hanging on the north side of Point F was a huge icicle, that if let loose could really give one a headache! Point G wasn’t too bad to get to but I impressive thanks to the obscured views. Erich and Brandon were able to knock down those big icicles so they weren’t a hazard, and we kept on descending.
Point H was easily accessed and there was a cool cave there and a hole to climb up out of. The downside is that there was a lot of loose rock that would have hurt worse than an icicle should any of it slide or let loose. Deeming it dangerous, we didn’t stick around long. Point H followed a side wall, which was a giant briar tangle. We got another good look at the river, Henson, Big Hole Point, etc. Back to the gully, and down to the river.
Avatar’s Rib? Check. It really was not half as bad as I anticipated it to be, and anyone with off-trail experience in Linville Gorge and Marshall’s map should be able to do it. The one physically difficult section was the rootball climb down off of Points D and E. In all honesty, though, Points D and E are the highlight of Avatar’s Rib, so only going that far would not be bad. You would only miss the river walk and the steep climb out, which we were about to figure out.

Having the three-tiered waterfall and green pools at the bottom of Henson Creek in our view almost the whole way down, Henson was on all of our minds. I didn’t know the area very well at all, so I wanted to scout and see if there was any possibility of a rock hope river crossing to the other side so we could access Henson. We walked up the shore, which is ankle twisting territory. It’s all rock. It’s very uneven. It’s spectacular. Unfortunately, it was also icy. Even though it had warmed up to 50°F, blue skies and sunny, the north face of Babel is still in the shade. A lot of water had run down the sides, forming huge icicles that connected to the ground forming pillars in many places, and coated the already slick moss with ice. It wasn’t everywhere, but there were quite a few places that were hazardous, especially where the river rocks lessened, and we were between cliff side and the river. We rockhopped upstream several hundred feet until we got to two side-by-side waterfalls on the river. There’s a lot of whitewater in here! So much of the area was covered in silt from when the river was at a higher level. We took our pictures, found what looked like a piece of old distilling container beaten up by its tumble down the river, and had a good time scrambling these rocks. It’s definitely a fun time to be here when it’s lower water. At this point, we turned back. I didn’t see any way of crossing the river while staying dry, and if we did manage to cross, the only way to Henson would be on Hyde’s Ledge, which looked thick and nasty.

 Up this close to get a good look at the area, I decided to abandon (at least for now) the suggested Two Saddles loop. It could be a thrilling hike, but it also looks very dense and with what I’d anticipate to be majorly obstructed views, I don’t see the effort worth it for me. Maybe there are other explorers out there who want to give themselves to that, but my time in Linville Gorge is too limited to spend in that direction.
Finding our way back to the overhung campsite below Babel Tower near the Linville Gorge Trail proved difficult from a navigation standpoint. The river rocks turned into river boulders and to deeper water. We were forced off the rocks and back into the dirt, which meant back into the bushes. Using GPS, we tried to stay on the same contour as the campsite, and just pressed on. For anyone who has been to the overhung campsite and is wondering: the broken cot and old cookware is still there, and it wouldn’t provide much shelter in a storm. William spotted the Linville Gorge Trail not too far off, and we worked our way up the switchbacks. This is where our physical work really began. We all seemed bright and in good spirits, but I think we all began to fatigue here. And we were at the bottom of the Gorge.
Those switchbacks below Babel really seem a lot longer in person than they do on the map! After climbing those, we were all showing signs of wear. There’s a wonderful flat spot at the top near where Babel and LGT intersect that provided a nice spot for us to elevate the feet and recover from the grind uphill. We headed west on the LGT.
The last time I was hiking on this section of the LGT was in 2011. It was in August, and the trail hadn’t been trimmed at all. We couldn’t see where we were placing our feet, praying we wouldn’t step on any snakes being so close to the river. Fortunately, the trail was very easy to follow this time around. It wasn’t overgrown, and we didn’t have any snakes, not that we really expected any this time of year. The Linville Gorge Trail is very rough, rooty, and rocky. The footing is very uneven. One if my bucket list hikes for this year was to hike the entire LGT by coming in at Pinnacle and hiking to Linville Falls. I believe I’m abandoning this plan as well, hopefully in favor of moving Shortoff Cliff Base up the list. One thing about hiking in the Gorge, each hike is really only your scouting and planning for the next one. At least it seems to go that way.
Finally, we make it to our last trail in the Linville Gorge, which was my idea. I said, “This will really be icing on the cake to make it a memorable day.” So once we came to the post in the ground that looks an awful like like “Old Sandy,” we started up Cabin Trail.

Ascending 900′ in about 3/4 mile, and extremely rocky, Cabin is, in my opinion, the one official trail that is most representative of the terrain in Linville Gorge. It’s steep. It’s brutal. It requires scrambling. It will exhaust you. It’s awesome. The only thing Cabin IS missing is the exposed views, but it also doesn’t have the fire devastation that Shortoff or PinchIn have. We hauled ourselves up Cabin, slowly but surely. Erich and Brandon moved faster than the rest of us, and I found them lying down on the parking area boundaries when I got there. Wow! Everyone should experience going up Cabin Trail, at least once. Just don’t do it when it’s icy or sweltering hot out!
A short road walk back to Babel brought us to our cars and the end of our hiking adventure in Linville that day. We met for dinner all together and parted ways. One of the reasons I love Linville Gorge is not merely for the rugged terrain and wild views. It’s also because there’s a great community of hikers that like to head out into that wild country together as a team in effort to conquer it. Really though, the Gorge always proves that it’s tougher than anyone who hikes in it.
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bushwhacking hiking http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post North Carolina off-trail Panthertown Creek Falls Panthertown Valley Todd Ransom Waterfalls Waterfalls of Western North Carolina WNC

In Search of Panthertown Creek Falls

This past Saturday had all kinds of rain falling on the Carolina’s. Here in Greenville, there were warnings of flash floods and the Enoree River as it runs near my home was swollen up at least 2ft, by my scientific calculations in guesstimation. The forecast for Sunday was 50°F and sunny with 0% chance of any precipitation. Our original plan was to camp Saturday night along Rock Bridge add and then explore Big Pisgah in the morning. Due to the rain, supreme likelihood of soggy ground, and sub-freezing temperatures, the trip was whittled down to making an attempt to find Panthertown Creek Falls.
Whittled down… or so I thought.
Panthertown Creek Falls appears on Burt Kornegay’s “A Guide’s Guide to Panthertown” map with no trail to it. Doing a search online brought up nothing. No pictures or terrain conditions. Rich Stevenson’s website didn’t have anything on it. Todd had hiked with the late Craig Marvil, who had confessed to having been at the falls. We believed it existed, but we had no idea what it looked like or what we were looking for. Just the general idea of where it was located.
The drive in from Greenville was pleasant, especially as I was able to catch the first light before sunrise on the pull-off along the Oscar Wigington Memorial Highway, which is a very scenic connection between Hwy130 and Hwy107 in South Carolina, just before entering North Carolina. I highly recommend the sunrise here. Highly. The mountain views surrounding Lake Jocassee are absolutely wonderful.
Once I made it into NC heading towards Cashiers, so much of the rock along the road was covered in melting but still thick icicles. By the time I made it through Cashiers and onto Breedlove Rd, the temperature was still hovering right around freezing, the roads were covered with ice, and there was a dusting of snow. Slow going in the front wheel drive adventure-rig.
Todd Ransom and I met at the Breedlove Rd entrance on the west side of the valley Sunday morning. Panthertown Creek flows to the east of the Great Wall of Panthertown, so I thought we would be just following the creek and is why I suggested we park at the west entrance. Turns out Todd had already been exploring in the area twice prior and the bushwhack was so bad that we would be trying another way. I overlooked that detail. 
We came in from Breedlove Rd and headed into the valley. This was my first time on this side, and Todd made sure to take me past Wilderness Falls and Frolictown Falls, both of which he commented on having never seen so much water flowing on them. Thank you, Saturday’s rain. Both of those are very scenic and easy to access, and I recommend visiting both. After visiting Frolictown Falls, we came to a creek crossing. It had stepping stones to cross it, but what makes for gushing waterfalls also makes for swollen creeks. The stepping stones were under a few inches of water. Walking across a creek barefoot when there’s snow on the ground is cold, but good wool socks treated my feet right after drying them off best I could. I at least could feel my feet through every freezing step, so that’s good. 
We headed up the Great Wall Trail and I have to say it was much more impressive than the last time I was on it, which was in the late spring. The Great Wall of Panthertown is the west facing side of Big Green Mountain, a 300ft exposed and slabby granite cliff face. With all the leaves being down from the trees, it looked over up the entire length of the mountain, and was certainly a sight to see. We kept on the Great Wall Trail up the side of Big Green over bridges and mysterious steps cut into the rock until coming to the Big Green Trail, which we took away from Big Green towards Mac’s Gap. Using Todd’s “Waterfalls of Western North Carolina” iPad app*, we followed what the map showed as an old roadbed which dead ended very close to the headwaters of Panthertown Creek. We found the estimated start of the roadbed, and it must have been a very old road. There was great difficulty in making out what that road once was. Using his guide map, we were able to follow the “roadbed” roughly by following the topography. Eventually, after fighting through rhododendron and greenbriar and crossing the creeks a couple times, we came to a convergence of feeder streams that became the headwaters of Panthertown Creek.
Off-trail adventurers, bushwhackers, and Type2** fun seekers, make note that the greenbriar is alive and well in Panthertown Valley. There were a couple times the briars were so big they were blades and no longer thorns. The bush got really thick as we closed in on the sound of rushing water. A small cascade. Back into the bush until we heard the rushing water. Another small and nearly identical cascade. If these were Panthertown Creek Falls, we were going to be sorely disappointed. Looking at the topo map, our lines weren’t getting tight enough yet, so we kept pressing on downstream. Rushing waters again.. and we were not disappointed.. at least not entirely.
Panthertown Creek Falls has to be the wildest waterfall I’ve personally seen in Panthertown Valley. Multi-tiered over several shelves and levels, giant rock faces and overhangs shadowing it in, and we couldn’t believe where all the water had come from, those small feeder streams? The biggest downside is that there was so much rhododendron that getting a decent picture was impossible. At least of the upper tier. Making our way further, retreating from the banks, sliding down next to rock overhang caves, bushes, greenbriar, rhododendron, and mud, we came to an opening of the mid-tier. The imposing inverted rock face at the top of the falls, the walls of the gorge on either side, and the lower levels before us, this is a waterfall you truly have to see to see it. It’s impossible to take it all in on film, not that we didn’t try. Although, I’m sure Todd got better pictures than I did. 
Once we finished at the falls, we both agreed it best to climb the ridge and work our way back towards the Great Wall Trail. To our surprise, we actually found some orange flagging in several places, marking the path towards Panthertown Creek Falls. As we got closer to the southern slopes of Big Green Mountain, the flags started to disappear. No matter, we were almost at the way we had hiked in, according to the GPS track. 
We made it back to real trail, and after bushwhacking through thick weeds, low brush, and greenbriar, it was a welcome sight. During the off-trail section we had just come out of, Todd had made the comment about this being our second hike together, and this one and the first one were both epic bushwhacks. They aren’t all like this, I promise! 
We hiked up Big Green Mountain, caught the view of Goldspring Ridge on the first overlook, and headed on down the unofficial trail off the backside of Big Green. Supposedly the USFS had closed this trail, but we were able to follow it without much trouble: it’s backpackable, but it’d be miserable. That trail is no joke, is very steep, and would be really unpleasant to go up. Fortunately, we were going down and didn’t have to, though there was still ice and snow on the trail at this point. This drops you right out at the campsite behind the entrance to the Granny Burrell Falls Trail. 
We hiked north on Mac’s Gap through the pine forest and what an amazing campsite that is. Near water, and room to have a serious group event (REMEMBER TO LEAVE NO TRACE AND PACK OUT YOUR TRASH). There is room for dozens of tents and the tree spacing is perfect for hammocks. The floor of the forest is shrub free and all fallen pine needles. The only thing missing is a rock outcrop to go sit on to see the stars (which you can get at Tranquility Point, but there’s a lack of water on top of the mountain. You can easily fill up before at Schoolhouse Falls). 
On towards the Panthertown Valley Trail, we crossed over to the North Road Trail to hike Carlton’s Way. Last time I was there, it was a guess to which was the right side trail, but this time there was an official USFS sign and the trail was designated with a number (which I didn’t record – sorry). I had remembered hearing that the Friends of Panthertown were doing trail work here last summer, which I thought odd because it hadn’t been official last time I was in the area (August 2012). The hike up Carlton’s Way turns your leisurely walk along the flat valley floor into a steep uphill workout, instantly letting your body know it’s time to switch gears. The views from the top once you get to the Overlook Trail, though, are worth the extra effort and are some of the best views in the whole valley. Little Green Mountain with Tranquility Point facing straight at you, Big Green Mountains shadowy side, the pine forest in the valley, the clearing which is actually a bog (so don’t plan to camp there!), Cold Mountain and Shelton Pisgah in the distance. What views!
We made our way up to the Blackrock Mountain Trail (you start ascending Blackrock once you start up Carlton’s Way). A nice walk through the woods which reminded me of hiking in Upstate SC as we completed the final leg of the journey back to the cars.
Approximately 10 miles later (I forgot to reset my trip computer on my GPS until a tenth or two into the hike), we had gotten some great views, made note of campsites, and seen many waterfalls and creeks. There is a very tame side to Panthertown, and there is a very wild and rugged side to Panthertown. The trail network is a maze, but some of the best waterfalls are not far to get to, either. Panthertown truly is a great destination for all kinds of outdoor adventurers. It can be as easy or as hard as you want it to be. It can be a couple hours of dayhiking, or several days of backpacking. It can be a pleasant stroll on old gravel roads to swimming holes and dramatic waterfalls, or it can be an epic bushwhack through greenbriar and creek crossings and endless rhododendron to find waterfalls that are so complex a picture could never represent what’s out there. There is so much mystery to the area, it feels like a mine that one could never possibly deplete. It feels old, and ancient, and has parts that don’t seem anything like North Carolina. The diversity of what is there is amazing. Whatever you do, take a map or guidebook with you, so you do not get lost. Any time of the year is a great time to visit Panthertown, and this weekend I discovered the delight of winter hiking there.
* Waterfalls of Western North Carolina is an app developed by Todd Ransom for iPhone and iPad that guides you to waterfalls in the area of WNC with driving and hiking directions, downloadable map tiles for use when there’s no reception, and photos of each waterfall. You can buy it on the App Store here –> http://appstore.com/FlickinAmazingInc
** There are different types of fun. Type1 fun is fun to do and fun to talk about later. Type2 fun is not fun to do but fun to talk about later. Type3 is not fun to do nor is it fun to talk about later.
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bushwhacking Coram Deo Ledge Dellinger Creek Dellinger Falls Gorge Rats hiking http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post North Carolina Rockefeller Plaza scrambling Trip report

From Rockefeller to Dellinger: Linville Gorge Off-Trail

A sunrise from the Linville Gorge is among the best I have ever seen. It’s even worth leaving your house in Greenville, SC at 5:00am for. Unfortunately, I didn’t quite make that. There was some solace to be found that when I arrived at Pinnacle, the peak was nearly enshrouded in fog so there was very little view anyway. At least for the moment. As the sun rose, the fog began to fade, and I was able to witness some awe-inspiring (yet still hazy) views of Shortoff Mountain’s profile, Lake James, the South Mountains and beyond. Incredible. I will never get tired of watching the sun crest in the east over Morganton and Lake James, leaving its patches of fog near the ground like small glistening ponds. I love that stuff. 

It was only 7:45 at this point, and I wasn’t scheduled to meet up with the guys until 9:00, so after taking a few pictures I settled into a cleft in the rock atop Pinnacle and did some reading. I knew I was going to be in for some more amazing views, and my heart really needs to be tenderized towards who is the author of those views, so I landed in Psalms.
Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; 
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! 
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; 
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! 
For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. 
In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also. 
The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. 
(Psalm 95:1-5 ESV)
I packed up, jumped in the car, and headed toward the rendezvous point. Along Kistler Memorial Highway (which is so rough and washboarded, it will rattle your teeth), I notice in the rearview mirror a Subaru Outback coming up behind me. A wave out the window, this is my buddy Mike (darkbyrd) I’ve been looking forward to meeting. We pull up in the parking area, and another friend from the LG group, Tyler (hikerman), is already there waiting for us. Great to finally meet these guys. Todd of flickinamazing and the page Waterfalls of Western North Carolina (which has an iPhone/iPad app to go with it – check it out!) and his friend Ben met us up there, and after a group photo, we’re off.
When planning this trip, we had talked about Henson Creek, but we decided against it. Under normal conditions, Henson is slick with green slime and requires extra care. After all the rain we’ve had this summer, we felt like it was taking unnecessary risk to approach Henson. 
Mike was the only member of our team who had been to our first destination, a recently discover waterfall named Rockefeller Plaza, so Mike took point. We followed him down an obvious trail from the road, but it petered out quickly. We were mostly navigating by sparse flags and a GPS track. Not much trail here, especially when we veered off the “main” trail. I used the word trail VERY loosely here. We had to fight through the bushes and work our way down the cliff ledges. Make no mistake, this is not a hiking trip. This is a scrambling trip. Precariously and slowly maneuvering our way down slanted rock faces, it was slow moving. We took a side trip to an outcropping to get an overlook of the upper section of Rockefeller. Ben and Todd worked the area a little while trying to find a way down, and the rest of us took a siesta. Deciding there was no way down, we backtracked and continued on. After some good down climbs, sliding, and fighting through scratchy bushes, we found ourselves standing at Rockefeller Plaza. 

Rockefeller Plaza was by Wigg Faulkner in honor of John D. Rockefeller, who donated the Linville Gorge to the American people many years ago. This is a really splendid waterfall, with a small cave behind it. We sat here for a while, took pictures, climbed some rock, and just soaked in the beauty that was before us. Truly this waterfall is a rich area. It just FEELS special there.
We headed back in generally the way we came. We had missed it on the way in, but we stayed higher and found ourselves in Bandit’s Cave. While it has been explored already and found out to be more of an overhung amphitheater than a cave, it is still a cool spot. Climbing up into the area, I found some blackberry bushes that offered up a really nice snack for the tough exit in front of us. I will say it feels a lot safer climbing UP rock than DOWN it. 
Once back at the car, we weighed our options for the next step. We had originally talked about searching for Dellinger Falls, of which there seems to be very little documentation of. After climbing out of the Rockefeller area, though, we were beat. We speculated attempting L.O.S.T., Avatar’s Rib, the southern section of Rock Jock, and even driving over to Shortoff and attempting the Crack of Doom. As we sat at the cars and in the shade and had a little bit to eat, we found ourselves rejuvenated and we decided to go with the original plan: search for Dellinger Falls. 
I had heard Bob Underwood speak of these falls, and Mike had read Cayoneer Engineer’s report of the area on the yahoo group, but beyond that we only knew of a general area to aim for. We didn’t even know what the waterfall looked like. For the sake of people’s safety, I’m only going to say that we took a barely there trail, bushwhacked straight off the side of and down a ridge, and into a hole. It was straight through thick 10′ tall pines, briars, and the biggest Devil’s Walking Stick we had ever seen. For the unfamiliar, Devil’s Walking Stick is a sapling/tree that has thorns spiraled around its trunk. The biggest ones we saw had trunks of probably 2″ diameter. Normally, one would just avoid those. However, the terrain we were on was so steep, and we were constantly stepping on loose rock that would slide from under our feet and careen down the edge (followed by a hollering of “ROCK!”), we were forced to grab onto what would keep us from falling. Let’s just say we felt it was DWS and heard the “Aagh!” before we saw it. It was this all the way off the ridge, NO trail, NO flagging. There was no evidence that anyone had ever entered this area the way we did. It was beyond scratchy. So, in the midst of this scratchy, loose route finding, I really have to give these guys an applause. No one was complaining, and everyone seemed generally enthusiastic about the descent. It was decided somewhere on the side of that ridge, that there would be no coming back the way we came. Worst case scenario, which we were going to bank on, would be to follow Dellinger Creek down to the river (which may present it’s own unknown obstacles and challenges), and exit via Leadmine and Pinnacle or Wolfpit West. That translates into a LOT of elevation gain and hiking to get out, but we were OK with that if it came to it. We were commenting on how even though we didn’t know exactly where we were, it was good to know that we all had enough knowledge or Linville Gorge terrain, landmarks, and landscape that we would not be lost. With that, we continued down into the hole. We emerged at the creek, which was a Godsend because almost everybody was out of water at that point. Mike and Todd got out the filters, refilled everyone, and we enjoyed the rest. Looking at the GPS and topo lines, we were approximately 250′ in elevation LOWER than our intended target area. This meant we had to climb UP. I started working up the canyon, and everyone else started working the creek. I should have just gone with them, as they were making quick work up the creek. Guess I need to watch some more Man vs Wild because my terrain navigation was not kicking in at that point. I found a fallen log and crossed over the deep blowdown and deadfall over to the creek to meet Tyler. We worked up the creek, not really even getting our feet wet. Dellinger Creek is extremely rocky, and the flow was low, so we were able to scramble up the creek without really getting our feet that wet. Well, maybe once. The entire creek was green with moss, green slime, and slick rock. I mentioned to Mike that it is ironic we chose not to do Henson for the very conditions we found ourselves in. That being said, I’m glad we did this instead of Henson. 
Dellinger Falls. What a beauty! We found ourselves in a giant cathedral with the thin and whispy Dellinger Falls plunging approximately 100′ over the cliff edge until it met its final pool and joined the rocky creek bed below. If that wasn’t beautiful enough, there were so many cool rock formations and boulders down there. We hung out here for a while and took pictures from many different angles.
What to do next. We weren’t leaving the way we came in. I think it was Todd that said this was the one trip he’d been on that going down was worse than coming up. We still weren’t that excited for the slog to the river and then up Leadmine. On discussion, we felt it was best to work the cliffs for an exit, and that it would be more promising to try and find a way out from there than descend another 500-600′ to the river only to ascend again. Turns out that was a great decision.
Still partially a scratchy and rocky bushwhack, we worked some of the ledges and found a route up. We came to a fantastic ledge with a fantastic overhang with an obstructed view of Shortoff and Lake James, and a nearly unobstructed view further north into the Gorge.

Given the privilege to name the ledge, I felt it should be called the Coram Deo Ledge (I need to write another post about that process). Coram Deo is Latin for “In the Face of God” or “In the Presence of God.” While standing here, His creation and handiwork is right in your face. It really is an awesome view ranking among my other favorites, like the Sphinx and Crack of Doom balcony.

Just beyond the Coram Deo Ledge was a small but cool mini-cave in the rock I think we have dubbed the Mesa Hole, due to its unusual resemblance to many Mesa caverns is the southwest. I can’t even begin to give an explanation how this occurred so far up the cliff wall. It went back probably less than 10′. Just beyond the Mesa Hole is another overhang, which I think has just become part of what Mike referred to as the Dellinger Creek Wall. 
Success! We emerged back out onto our initial entrance trail. Now the hike out. Climbing out of here made the hike up PinchIn feel like Mickey Mouse. It was hot, exposed except for the scratchy sappy pines, and a far steeper grade than PinchIn. I’ve said several times that if you want to play in the Linville Gorge, you have to pay… and we played EXTRA hard today. Now it was time to pay for it. The mostly grown over “trail” still felt like a game of follow the path of least resistance to the next tattered flag through the pines. Oh, those pines! We didn’t even come up from the river, and this was brutal.
Brutal. That’s the tag we pretty much attached to the day. Not every hike in Linville is like this (although it could be if you don’t know what you’re doing or where you’re going). If any of us had broken a leg or an ankle or anything like that, we would have been in severe trouble. We were in some hellacious terrain, and I woke up this morning still picking thorns out of my hands. In spite of all that, it had to rank among the top adventures I’ve had in the Gorge. The exploration, new things, camaraderie, and all the things we got to see, it truly was a great adventure.
Back at the car 2 hours earlier than I had anticipated, I was hungry. Clif Bars and Peanut Butter & Banana sandwiches are all fine for the trail, but it was time for some protein. I followed Tyler to Morganton and had a mushroom & Swiss burger at Hardee’s. It was nice for both of us to sit down voluntarily, instead of our feet shooting out from under us. Thanks again for that time, dude. It was a really nice way to spend the evening and relive the day.
Normally, I would come home 221, but I decided to take 64 past the South Mountains and what a joy it was to have the great mountain scenery along that. Then taking 74 west into the sunset, it couldn’t have been a better drive home.
What a great day hanging out with some Gorge Rats. It’s good to have hiking buddies who ain’t got no sense, just like me. It really does take a special kind of person to fight briars and pines and skree and green slimy creeks and steep slopes in August off-trail in the temperate rainforest jungle of the Linville Gorge while keeping a wonder and excitement filled smile on their faces. You guys are nuts, and I can’t wait to get out there and explore with y’all again.
 
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Babel Tower bushwhacking Hawksbill Heaven Hell's Ridge Camp hiking http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post Linville Falls Linville Gorge Louise's Pinnacle Rhubarb Pie scrambling Trip report Wiseman's View

A January Linville Gorge Adventure

On Friday afternoon, Jeremy Puskas, Ben Maycock, and myself jumped in the Subaru and headed for the Linville Gorge. This would be Jeremy’s first time, and we were all pretty excited.

A small bit of history: in August 2011, Ben and I made our first hike into the Gorge to Babel Tower. We did not explore as thoroughly as we would have liked, as we were trying to make it up the Linville Gorge Trail and out at Pine Gap. We came out Cabin Trail. I cringe at the memory. After reading Marshall’s trip reports and seeing his photos of Avatar’s Rib last weekend, it was dead center in my radar to explore, so I thought a revisit of Babel Tower would be well appropriate. Oh, and if any Gorge Rats are reading this, Jeremy’s trail name is FireInMyBones, and mine is black.red.white. (www.linvillegorge.net for anyone who wants to join in on that avenue of fun :))

So we headed up to the Gorge. Jeremy had talked to Hanging Burrito and Running Feather (Gorge Rats) and we were supposed to meet them at Sitting Bear. While we were at Sitting Bear, we found a roasting fork stuck in the ground, so we decided to pack it out. Long story short, we did not meet them and could not find them, and we ended up camping at Hawksbill.

By the time we got here, we were frustrated at things not going as we had planned, and our spirits were low. Jeremy and I are both hangers (hammock campers), Ben is a ground dweller (tent camper), and we found a great spot for all of us to be within a few feet of each other. Everywhere in the Gorge was sopping wet from all the rain, and the fog was THICK. We had hopes of a roaring fire to cook hot dogs over with a titanium grate of Jeremy’s, but we struggled to get a fire going. Jeremy and Ben worked it with some wet lighting tinder, and with talent much greater than mine on top of what had to be the Lord’s providence, started a fire. Ben had found a rock overhang with a few still dry sticks in it, and they were able to get the fire going enough to dry out some of the wet wood. It was smoky, but we had a fire. Not enough to cook dogs on a grate over, though. In another showing of providence, we remembered the roasting fork! To quote Mark Driscoll, “Coincidence is the unbeliever’s word for providence. You say that was coincidence? No, that was the Lord.” Exactly. So now Jeremy broke out his world famous chili. This stuff is awesome, don’t pass it up if you get the chance. Hot dogs with chili, 1554, friends around the fire telling tales, camp set, our spirits were lifting as our bellies were filling. We sang a few songs before heading off to bed, and I had the best nights sleep in the outdoors I have ever had. Thank you, Eagle’s Nest Outfitters.

We started stirring at 7:00am. A quick decision led to a Hawksbill summit before breakfast. We were supposed to meet Mike (darkbyrd) at 8am at Babel Tower, and I tried to send an email and call him from my iPhone, but we weren’t going to make it. The hike up was in the easy side of moderate as far as Gorge standards go. You’ll definitely generate some body heat. I was so pleased that we were able to make Jeremy’s first view of the entire Gorge be from the cliffs of Hawksbill. The rock up there is so dramatic, coupled with the Gorge itself still dark in mystery while everything to the east was covered in sun soaked fog. It was amazing. This was also the first time Ben and I had been to Hawksbill. A great moment for sure. We mulled around the cliffs, looked for spots to hang a hammock, tried to give Mike another call, and headed back down for breakfast. By the time we ate, broke camp, packed up, and finally made it to Babel Tower parking, it was after 10:00am. Sorry Mike. We did see your note.

We took off down the trail. This was my first time hiking with Jeremy, who hikes and camps ultralight, and just received the Peregrine Award for hiking and documenting the 77 mile Foothills Trail. He is speedy, even in the Gorge. We made it to Babel Tower in about 30 minutes, and had no trouble finding the route to the top. This was exciting for me because the first time we were here, Erich Johnson and I did some real sketchy free climbing up the south side of Babel. Finding out that there is actually a path and easy scramble up there was sweet. Especially it was great to have Ben up there with me, because he wisely chose not to do the free climb we did the first time. We gave a loud “Whooooo buddy!!” towards Westface Rock because I had read Wigg and Marshall were planning on scrambling over there. We got a “Whooooo buddyyy!!” in return, but were unable to see anyone on the east side. Then we heard a “Whooooo!” and saw Mike and McKenzie way below us on the switchbacks to the river. Sorry we did not cross paths that day, buddy.

Heading north, we found the shortcut from Babel Tower to Avatar’s Rib that Marshall had described on his trip. There is a downed tree that can be shimmied, but a few feet west of that is a larger tree that can be used to post against as your scramble down the cliff, as Jeremy did. Ben and I took the trail back to the base of Babel Tower and met up with Jeremy on the scramble up to Avatar’s Rib. Once up there, we hollered again, got a response, and were able to catch a glimpse of Wigg and Marshall on the Sulpher Fungus Ledge. You feel tiny when you’re in the Gorge, but until you see someone from across can you appreciate just how small we really are. Like rats running around in a maze, indeed…like Gorge Rats. Indeed.

A short discussion led us to foregoing Avatar’s Rib and heading into the bushes to find Hell’s Ridge Camp on the northwest corner of the Babel peninsula. “Where to?” was the question, and without any trail, we just headed into the direction I believed the camp was. What I know of Hell’s Ridge Camp is this: it is a long forgotten and unvisited campsite of avid Linville explorer since the 1960’s, Bob Underwood, who currently is living in India. He had been asking about it and mentioned it in a discussion we were having, so I wanted to visit it. So we started into the bushes and briars. We came upon what looked like trail that was heading in the direction we wanted to go, so we took it. We actually didn’t do any backtracking, although we lost the trail to the bushes a few times. A flat semi-clearing at the cliffs! This had to be it. A great camp, for sure. We had a look around and I took some video surveying the area. Time to head back. We followed our path back up toward’s Upper Avatar’s Rib, but managed to move away from our original entry. Not far beyond finding a stack of feathers where someone had a good snack, where there was some trail, was a large cairn on the rock to Hell’s Ridge Camp! As far as we could tell, it didn’t look like anyone had been out there recently, but that cairn was definitely to the way to Hell’s Ridge Camp. Bob, I know you’ll be reading this. I’d love to know the backstory on Hell’s Ridge and its naming.

After a little more scrambling and lunch break on Babel Tower (there’s a fire ring up there if anyone’s curious), we talked about the next plans. We hadn’t been to the river yet, but still wanted to hit the falls and Louise’s. We talked about the switchbacks and decided to just make the call once we got to the intersection. Coming down from Babel, Ben and I followed a lower trail we assumed would connect back up towards the Linville Gorge Trail but we ended up on a lower trail. This had to be the path to Babel Canyon at the river, so we went for it. I’ve been at the river at the sandy beach campsite further upstream, Spence Bridge, Cathedral Falls, and along the LGT from Leadmine to PinchIn. I can easily say that Babel Canyon is the most awesome place I’ve seen it. I explored around a little bit as far as I felt safe with the wet rocks while Jeremy and Ben took a swim. Brrr!

After the swim, we all headed back up to the car. Being Jeremy’s first time in the Gorge, he really wanted to experience not just a deep trip in but also the highlights. Having already bagged Hawksbill, we drove all the way down Kistler (noting the southern entrance to Rock Jock (the Mossy Canyon Ridge Trail/MCRT) to Pinnacle. There’s such great views with such little effort there. Then we headed back north to Wiseman’s View. Kistler between Wiseman’s and Conley Cove is pretty rough, with lots of washboarding and some decent ruts, but we did see a Ford Taurus wagon making it. I guess it’s your decision with your car. I personally don’t want a gash in my oil pan.

Anyway, Wiseman’s. There is handicap wheelchair access to the views here, making it the EASIEST and most level path in the whole Gorge. Getting to these spectacular views is as easy as walking to your mailbox. Anyone can do this. Looking over the edge, we saw a toy dog someone had dropped on a ledge. I scrambled down over the edge and brought it back up to the wall. The lost dog. I took a pic of the lost dog looking toward Lost Dog camp. Maybe I shouldn’t have done this, but I left the dog by one of the pillars to the rail for someone else to find. I did, however, pack out the Mountain Dew can that someone left on the edge. I suppose it evens out. We also packed out a beer bottle from Hawksbill, and our hot dog roasting fork from Sitting Bear. Go us.

The final Gorge stop for us was Linville Falls. This is more trail than path, but it’s easy hiking. Less than half a mile in and to get to the falls. There are several different overlooks, and they are all worth seeing. I love the upper falls and seeing the chute that funnels the water to the top of the falls. I’m always impressed with that, then going to the next overlook to see the water exploding out of the cliffs. Excellent stuff totally worth it. As we stood on the final overlook with the falls below us and the sun setting beyond, we were ending the day in the same way we started it. What a grand day it has been for us. We had first mentioned it in the bushes and briars of Babel Tower, but we came back to the conversation here. Just imagine what beauty we will behold on the day when The Lord wipes away every tear, creation is redeemed, when the dross is consumed and the gold is refined. What will a redeemed North Carolina look like, free of the curse when all of mankind is finally completely reconciled to God through Jesus Christ and his death on the cross and resurrection, and the faith of God’s rag-tag group of grace getters is made sight? What a day that will be, indeed!

Topping off our adventure, as any adventure in the Linville Gorge should be topped off with, was a trip to Famous Louise’s Rockhouse on the corner of 221 and 183. Dinner for a well worked up appetite, and the obligatory strawberry rhubarb pie, really is a great way to close the day.

I love the Linville Gorge.

I’d like to recommend Jeremy’s video trip report at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vFg6snQaJuA&sns=em

(For new adventurers, a great intro to the Gorge is this. Drive 221 north into the community of Linville Falls and turn right on 183 and stay to the right at the dirt road, which is Kistler Memorial Highway. Pass the info cabin and park on the left at the Linville Falls parking. Leisurely take your time to the falls. There is a little bit of uphill but nothing terribly difficult. This is an easy trail. After visiting the Falls, head south on Kistler to Wiseman’s View (there’s a sign on the left), and enjoy those views. Head back to Louise’s for some pie. This’ll probably only take you a couple hours, but it’s a great way to visit the Linville Gorge. If you want a little longer of a trip with additional great views, access Kistler from the south via 126 just out of Nebo. You’ll be able to get the Shortoff Mountain views and the short 1/4 mile high to Pinnacle Mountain. Then head north to Wiseman’s View, Linville Falls, and Louise’s. Note that Linville Falls is also accessible from the Blue Ridge Parkway.)

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bushwhacking http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post LNCW Mossy Monster North Carolina scrambling Sphinx Trip report

Linville Gorge LNCW Trip Report

 
We arrived at Table rock parking approximately 8:30pm, and it was plenty dark already. Camping just south of the picnic area was not exactly what I thought would be the greatest spot to camp, but with our route in mind and not wanting to carry all of our gear on that route, I opted to sacrifice on our campsite. I remembered there being campsites south of the parking, but in our haste to make camp we mistook the ones just prior to the Linville Gorge Wilderness signs for being the ones we were looking for. We picked a site with a fire ring on the southeastern most space, and set up our campsite.
After setting up camp, we chose to headlamp hike up to the Chimneys versus Table Rock, since we were unfamiliar with the TR trail and had no desire to mess ourselves up in the dark. We made our way south on the Mountains to Sea Trail until the first rock outcrop and clearings. The sky was so clear, the stars were really vibrant and we were dazzled with sights of the Milky Way spanning it’s way across the night sky. Even with it being so dark, we were able to make out the silhouettes of the Chimneys and the west rim of the Gorge, and then the ranges beyond. Further south in the Chimneys, we were able to spot the campsite Dave and I found last December beneath the sky bridge, as it was given away by the occupiers headlamps.
It was slightly unnerving as I hung my hammock only a yard or two away from a tree bearing the sign “North Carolina Bear Sanctuary.” As I had prepped for this trip and the prep overflowed out of my mouth, most people questioned my hammock plans as making myself a bear snack, which I dismissed; however, as I laid in my hammock for its maiden overnight voyage away from the circle of the guys in my group, I felt somewhat like a bear snack. To release the suspense, dear reader, I did not become such a snack. Our sleeping was impeded by the noisy campers in the vicinity. At last watch check, one group had a loud repetitive guitar player singing off-key until at least 1:15AM. He wasn’t crooning Jack Johnson-esque tunes either; he was belting them out like some drunken combination of Kurt Cobain and Homer Simpson, hollering and hammering the same 3 chords over and over and over despite our mocking and Josh’s yell of “shut up!!” Beyond our serenade, we found clear skies beyond this hour to be a double edged sword. The stars are beautiful, but up on the ridge the 75% illuminated moon directly overhead turned on all the lights for us. Hanging in an ENO DoubleNest became a blessing, as the extra fabric served to shade my eyes.
We started stirring and moving about around 7AM, witnessed a vibrant and neon sunrise, broke camp, stashed our bulk in the van, and headed south on the Mountains to Sea Trail (here on out, MST) around 8:40AM. We kept on through the Chimneys, and actually didn’t scramble around much. We were pretty set on getting to the Mossy Monster trail , so while we enjoyed the scenery, we didn’t stick around. By 9AM, we were on the trail to the Mossy Monster.
I was keeping my eyes out for a right turn for the descent gully, and took the first one. I had forgotten about Zak Kuhn’s photo of the dead tree with the white tag remnants, so I took the wrong one. The trail we were on took us to the cliffs between Apricot and Mossy Monster, where a couple had pitched there tent and spent the night. What a spot! It was great to bring all my guys to the cliff edge, point down to the Mossy Monster separation crack, and say, “That’s where we’re heading. We’re going DOWN that crack.” We took some obligatory pictures and headed back up to the trail, found the right descent trail, and headed towards the gully.
We surveyed the first scramble and found it to be quite wet. There was steady water flowing down the rock, although the volume wasn’t that high. With careful foot and hand placement, we got down the first scramble with out much problem. If you make your way out to this scramble and decide it looks too sketchy, I promise that this is the point you should turn around. If this were icy, it would be extremely difficult if not impossible to make it down safely without crampons. We are now on high adventure.
The trail beyond the first scramble was easy to follow, albeit steep. Someone has definitely been using it. The Mossy Monster separation crack is awe-inspiring and impressive. Some posting got us down the initial entry, and I was glad to be wearing approach shoes with sticky soles. The separation crack, unlike the first scramble, was free of any water and totally dry. The photos I took down here were all blurry, so most of them didn’t turn out. The descent through the separation crack was one of my favorite parts of this trip, and it was over way too soon. Once we exited the crack, the trail (which was easy to follow) turned north, down a ledge, and circled back around to the beginning of the NC Wall and shortly after entered the Talus Field.
The Talus Field is tricky footing not only because the terrain is so uneven, but because every now and then we’d find slabs that shifted under our weight. Committing to a step with full body weight only to find your step shifting down under your feet is kind of unnerving. Like the Mossy Monster separation crack, this was over way too soon. We took a few pictures as some of the outcrops before we got to the tree climb area.
There has been some discussion as how to get to the ledge from here. It’s obvious where the tree climb is once you make it there. Some bark is worn off the step branch, which is a nice handle to hold at the crux of leaving the tree for the ledge, but the tree seems alive and solid enough. Still, I chose the free climb to the ledge about 15feet beyond the tree. There are plenty of hand holds, but with a slight backwards lean to the free climb it looks much easier to climb the tree. I vote for making the free climb the “official” path, although people will inevitably choose whichever they deem easiest/less risky in the moment of decision.
After we were all on the ledge, I knew we would be faced with the option of staying on the ledge or choosing the Brute Force Route (from here on, BFR). Shortly after the tree/free climb, there is an obvious break in the bushes on the right with a rock staircase heading down. I’m assuming this is the stair steps to the BFR. Knowing we did NOT want this route, we steered left to stay against the wall, and within a few short scrambles found ourselves at The Cove, back on the ledge, and overlooking the Sphinx. The ledge is very scenic with great views every step of the way. It is fantastic to see how the perspectives and viewing angles highlight the Sphinx in different ways. With each step, that awesome rock formation seemed to change shape.
With the Sphinx’s spine coming more into view as we progressed south, the question of when we leave the wall arose. We had seen the giant boulder along the ledge, as well as the downed tree which can be seen in Google Earth. I had speculated this being a direct traverse down to the base of the Sphinx, but going with my gut and listening to advise, I chose to keep heading toward the Amphitheater. There was never an obvious right turn to head towards the Sphinx. Once at the Icebergs, I was able to climb to the top of the first one for a survey of the area, and climbing to the top of the second Iceberg confirmed at least the general direction and wall we needed to be heading for.
The bushwhacking along the LNCW was thick and had plenty of briars and brambles, but at least there seemed to be a faint and general path towards the Amphitheater. Not so with the Sphinx. Whereas before we were allowing a “path” to guide us, once we made the northern turn off the ledge and back towards the Sphinx, it was all trial and error. In some sections, we were able to stick to the wall; however, frequently that was overgrown and the path of least resistance pushed us back out into the bush. The brambles out there are beyond scratchy, and seem to have the highest concentration of thorns at ankle level. Every patch we went through insisted we would be held back, and a number of times I had to stop and “untie” my feet from the thorny vines. Also along the wall, there was a good amount of water trickling down and off the wall. We got into some mud here, but really none of it was so slick to lose our footing. We kept an eye on the Sphinx, not really knowing where the ascent point was, hoping it was not at the base of the spine. That joker looked long and steep. We made it into the pines, and this is a good indication of when to really bear west until you run into some rock. Where we ended up was a rock face about 10ft high directly in front of us, which The Spire formation was on. Two of my guys climbed up and over that to ascend, but the rest of us worked our way south along the wall and came to what we knew had to be the right point to start working our way up. There’s an easy incline with a burned tree that is perfect for posting your foot on to make it up the first step. I doubt this tree will last forever, but if it doesn’t, this route is still what I saw to be the best option. From here, it is a very easy walk (similar to the UNCW) to the Sky Bridge. At this point, there’s two options. (1) An easy spot to rest, with fantastic views, and no more scrambling involved. (2) The final scramble to the top of the Sphinx. What makes the final scramble intimidating is the crevasse below it. The scramble itself is not difficult, as there are some decent sized jug handholds, and decent ledges for footholds. (Let me interject here: I was wearing FiveTen Guide Tennies, which are approach shoes with sticky C4 Stealth Rubber and dot tread. These give great grip on rock surface, and I’ll review them in another post. For the purposes of this report, just understand I wasn’t wearing sneakers and the final scramble may be more dangerous than I’m judging, based on the shoes I was wearing). There are plenty of spots for good hand and foot placement up to the top. Just go slow, keep your wits about you, and do your best not to look down if that kind of thing bothers you. It also helps if you have a spotter on the first level, at least when you’re coming down. If you’re unsure and you have someone suggesting foot placements, it’s a great help.
The Sphinx! We made it to the top! As we were getting closer to the Amphitheater on the ledge, I was beginning to wonder if this would happen. I was not about to miss the Sphinx after all the effort and planning. Here we stood. The Sphinx. Friends, that is what victory tastes like. Sitting up there with some of the most magnificent Gorge views to be had makes any lunch you stuffed in your sack taste good, although my homemade trail mix with bacon and orange cranberries was pushing the limit of “everything tastes better in the bush.” Anyway. We arrived at the Sphinx pinnacle at 11:30AM, and we ate, rested, and hung out there until around 12:15PM. So we descended the Sphinx and…
Here is where we got split up.
I didn’t realize we had decided to split up, so I was running around in the bushes by myself like I don’t know trying to keep my group together. Didn’t work. Erich and Josh had taken the proposed direct climb up to the LNCW ledge, and everyone else had taken the wall back to the Icebergs. I thought I had just lost the other guys and went back for them, but since they yelled they were OK, I figured I was too far behind to be safe following them so I rejoined the wall group. What they reported was a wet but not overly difficult time, climbing up about 4 or 5 ledges to get to the main ledge. They encountered the first snake, a baby rattler, and came away unscathed. In the thought of route making, it would be more difficult than following the lower wall. Realize though, that the ferocity of the briars and brambles between the Amp and Sphinx is what caused them to take the direct route up the ledge. If this were cleared out, it would solve a lot of problems with this path.
We descended between the first and second Icebergs, and towards the lower mouth of the Amphitheater. For whatever reason, I gave very little study to this area in the planning stages of this trip. I suppose I just assumed there would be a well used climbers trail all the way to the bottom (that would be OBVIOUS from the bottom as approached from LNCW). Instead, it was a giant scramble through prime snake territory. As we came in, we angled right/south and stayed closer to the side (not hugging the wall by any means) of the Daddy and the Mummy. About 5 minutes into the Amp, I heard Josh start singing and whooping and scrambling at a pace that could only have been attained by a snake sighting. At least the fat 2″ diameter Copperhead was more interested in traveling down than Josh was. This is probably why we kept towards the right side. Eventually we worked our way up and over to the site that looks up into the Mummy’s rappel gully. We took a break here and watched as a couple climbers set up to rappel. We moved on before watching them make it down, but as Zak had said from his previous report… It’s steep. From here we kept towards the south end, and the bushes got thick. We could tell where the descent gully to the Amp was from the UNCW, so we eventually just made a straight cut north to get there. Lo and behold, a path that was way better than what we took to get there! Our group had split into two in the Amp, and by the time I got there (2nd group), the first guys had gone up. Apparently they didn’t see the trail to the left and thy climbed up the creek. When we got there, we heard them yelling, “Don’t climb the creek!!” I guess not!
Once at the top, it was decision time. The MST or UNCW back to the car? We had votes going both ways. I really wanted to summit Table Rock after the LNCW, but judging on how worn out my guys were, I figured UNCW was a great compromise, so that’s where I cast my vote. I don’t know if the aye’s or nay’s won, but we did the UNCW anyway.
I’m glad we did! It was fantastic to see the Sphinx from the UNCW cliff ledges, and to trace where we had gone. The best part about the whole thing was that we were on the ledge the same time a group began climbing the Sphinx! It must have been Kurtis and his guys from Tampa. It was only a few minutes after 2PM when we saw someone up there. I took a few photos and a couple videos, and then we moved on. The views of the Camel and Apricot were nice and really made me wish for some more adventure, although…the Gorge had taken pretty much every ounce of energy we could muster. Fighting bushes and briars and scrambling ledges all day takes it out of you, but it’s so worth it. If you want to play, you gots’ta pay…and indeed we did. On the way back to the car, I noted the Twin Towers and Catbrier Point. That looks like a mess getting out there, but tons of fun!
And what better way to conclude this trip than dinner and a slice of Strawberry Rhubarb pie at Louise’s? Nothing concludes a day in the Gorge like a slice of pie. I can’t wait to get back out there.