bushwhacking camping hiking 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 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.


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!

camping Devil's Fork State Park kayaking South Carolina The SC Project Waterfalls

Kayaking Lake Jocassee – Guest Post by Rick Morris

(Laurel Fork Falls, photo by Rick Morris)
I met Rick Morris last year on our hike to the Lower NC Wall and the Sphinx in the Linville Gorge. We had a great time, and have kept in touch some since that hike. In May 2014, Rick went on a grand hiking, camping, kayaking, and waterfall adventure on Lake Jocassee, putting out from Devil’s Fork State Park. I loved seeing the photos, and I had freshly started focusing more on exploring Upstate SC. This was a unique way to see the area, and Rick was kind to write up a trip report, sharing his thoughts and experiences, to be shared here. Make sure you visit the link to his pictures at the end of this post. A huge thank you to Rick for taking the time to share your travels! So without further delay…

I have always heard stories about Lake Jocassee and the waterfalls the fall into the Lake. So when I heard that Piedmont Environmental Center out of High Point North Carolina was talking a Kayak Trip there, I immediately signed up. We left early on a rainy Thursday morning headed down I-85 towards South Carolina. Just after getting into South Carolina we turned off on HWY 11 or better known as the Cherokee Foothills Parkway. A beautifully designed two lane Scenic Road that travels the Upstate. It lies in the Piedmont Section just South of the Blue Ridge Escarpment with the Foothills Hiking Trail very close by. Cowpens National Battlefield is along HWY 11 that had a decisive win for the Contenental Army against the British in the Revolutionary War. 

What caught my eyes 30 minutes after traveling west was how steep the Mountains just to our north were. The further west we got, the Ruggedness was getting into South Carolina. First Ceasars Head then Table Rock where The Foothills Trail starts. It is an 80 mile Trail with many other connector trails that travels along the Northern Part of Lake Jocassee and ends at Oconee State Park in Northwestern South Carolina bordering Georgia. I did not realize till now how rugged this part of the State is!

Upon Arrival at Devils Fork State Park the skies had darkened again. We went to the Visitors Center which seemed to be relatively new. Very nice facilities with a camp store inside. There is a Boat Launch just north of the visitors center and 3 other ones in the State Park. There are Cabins, RV sites and Primitive sites. The sites we were going to required over a 1 mile paddle to. These sites are boat in only and all the sites are right along the lake. It made them very quiet. The first night there were only 2 other People staying at the Campsites. However by Friday night the sites were full.

It soon cleared up and the views were incredible. We had a beautiful Sunset! The next Morning I woke up before sunrise and walked a quarter of a mile to the other side of the Peninsula to take Sunrise Photos. I enjoy the Splendor of a Sunrise because it is so quiet and it is easier for me to take in the views that God has given us to enjoy! There were Carolina Rhododendron blooming all over the place. After an hour of this peaceful time I decided to go on a hike before breakfast. There are trails behind the campsite and I climbed the first Mountain in a mile and 900 Vertical feet. The trail continued on but I needed to be back to get ready to Kayak that day.

After breakfast we got in our Kayaks and headed West on a peaceful Lake Jocassee. This is a deep lake with quite a few structures that are still on the Lake bottom and are favorites of Scuba Divers. We headed up to where the Whitewater River flowed into the Lake.  The first Waterfall we went to was Lower Whitewater Falls a beautiful Cascade that drops directly into the Lake. The Upper Whitewater Falls are the Highest Waterfalls on the East Coast of the USA that are a few miles upstream. There was another small fall to the left of the Pumping Station that Pumps water into the Bad Creek Lake. We then backtracked a mile and headed up the Thompson River finger of the lake to take a view of the Wright Creek Falls. This is a 3 tiered falls that the last section drops directly into the lake. If it is warm enough for you, you can get your kayak under the last section. As we were at this beautiful Falls the weather turned Sour. The wind Picked up and the rain started. At this time we decided we would head back to camp and live another day. The water was rough on the way back with lots of Whitecaps. We stayed as close to shore as possible. Paddling back we noticed another Waterfall up on the side of a mountain falling at least 100 feet. Total mileage for the day was 9 miles. Soon after we got back to camp and it was very nice to be on dry land after the wind we had been paddling with. It finally cleared up and just in time to have a wonderful dinner. 

After a good nights sleep except to be awakened by some raccoons, it was time to get ready for day 2 of our kayaking. This was going to be our tougher day of paddling. We were headed up the Horsepasture and Toxaway river fingers east from the campsite then turning north. The day started off relatively calm and that fact would change soon enough. The first Falls we came to was Devils Hole Creek Waterfall. A beautiful fall but somewhat obstructed by some tree branches. We headed further up the lake and came to Laurel Creek Waterfalls. This is a multi-tiered waterfall that you have to move around to see all the falls. Total height is maybe 150 feet if you add all sections. The last part drops directly into the lake with a wonderful place for picture opportunities. There are some cliffs here also which we watched some younger folks jumping into the lake @ 25 feet. Nearby we ate lunch where the Foothills Trail makes its way down to the lake. There is a small creek that has some small cascades that drops into the lake here. After lunch it started to rain. The wind was blowing from the south. The way we were headed. It looked like we were going to have a headwind all the way back. I made a side trip after leaving our lunch spot and caught my last waterfall of the day. It was a lot better when I got up close than I thought it may be. After that we paddled into a headwind through Whitecaps most of the way back to our campsite. 12 miles total this day on the lake. After getting back we had a heavy rainstorm and I got in my hammock and took a nap listening to the rain bouncing off my tarp. It cleared off, we had a great dinner and there was a beautiful Sunset.

The next Morning we had to paddle back to our kayak trailers a little over a mile and pack up for our trip home. I feel very fortunate to have been on this trip and from the sights I saw I plan on spending more time in the Upstate of South Carolina. I encourage anyone else who hasn’t to put this on your destination bucket list.

Picture Link:

Rick Morris
camping Eagle's Nest Outfitters ENO Ember Gear Review Hammock Camping

Gear Review: ENO Ember

I’ve owned the Eagle’s Nest Outfitters Ember under quilt for just over a year and a half now. I’ve camped out in it 5 times: 3 times in the Linville Gorge and twice in my backyard. Having tested it at several different temperatures, I feel I can finally give it a thorough review. This is for the ENO Ember only, not the rest of the system.
My typical hammock camping setup has consisted of an ENO DoubleNest, ENO SlapStrapPro’s, ENO ProFly and Guardian Bugnet (when needed on either), the ENO Ember for underquilt, and a 15°F 600 fill down sleeping bag opened as a top quilt. ENO fanboy. 
I’m more of a base camper than an ultralight backpacker, but weight is still something to consider. The specs on my unit with the included stuff sack are 2lbs .25oz/916g. Once in the stuff sack, it straps to my backpack pretty easy where a sleeping pad would normally store.
The shell is dark green 30d ripstop sil nylon, and the inner liner is 30d ripstop nylon that feels soft yet sturdy. The fill is stated to be Hi-Loft Synthetic Insulation. Except in extreme cases, it seems to cut breeze and wind very well. Having a tarp properly setup will aid in that, as well. One of the downsides to the Ember is that there is NO temperature rating from ENO, though the literature states that “hammock camping is now a 4-season game.” 
The setup and adjustment is VERY easy and convenient. There is very little effort to getting the Ember in place. You can view that process here:
For the majority of times, I’ve camped at 45-50°F, and the Ember has done beautifully. Last fall I used it at Hawksbill at Linville Gorge, and we had some major windgusts that beat us all night long and pulled up my tarp stakes (lower right in the above picture). The low was approximately 40°F that night. With those windgusts, I had a couple cold spots but some slight adjusting in the hammock worked well. Had I set up my tarp lower and less against the wind, I suspect I would not have even had those spots. Still, I had read a couple online reviews saying the Ember was good down to 25°F, so I wanted to personally test it at cold temperatures.
Enter Winter Storm 2014 in upstate South Carolina. Trying to work with last times tarp setup in mind, I got in my hammock at 11:30PM and drifted off to sleep. Temperature: 29°F. I was fine until about 2:30am, and I awoke to similar cold spots like I experienced in Linville. I shifted and adjusted, trying to keep a diagonal lay (which I don’t feel the Ember prevents). As the night went on, my cold spots stayed with me and turned into a full blown case of CBS (Cold Butt Syndrome). By 3:30am, my cold spots had grown to chilling my whole body and I had to call it quits. Temperature still holding at 29°F. (The top picture above is the Winter Storm, I did use the ProFly that night but removed it for a better view of the Ember)
I’m going to have to disagree that the Ember makes hammock camping a 4-season game. For Fall and Spring camping in the Carolina’s, beautiful. I have stayed cozy and snug without a cold spot down to 45°F. Below that, and winds added in, it starts getting chilly. Had I waited until I was out in the wilderness to test the Ember below 30°F, I would have been in for an uncomfortable night. Instead of a sole go-to unit of lower insulation in below freezing temperatures, the Ember seems like it would do well as part of a layering system. If one were to use a sleeping pad coupled with (for the sake of being the ENO fanboy I am) the ENO HotSpot, I suspect it would withstand the temperatures. If I come into possession of a HotSpot and can test it, I’ll update this review. 

camping hiking scrambling South Carolina Trip Planning

Potential 2014 Adventures

Well it’s almost 2014 and there were several 2013 bucket list trips that didn’t happen. Let’s look at some of the thoughts I have for 2014. These are open invite, but some of them will require more gear than just comfortable shoes. I may get them all and I may get none of them, but it’s at least in the ballpark of where I’d like to be journeying next year. I hope some of you will decide to join me.
1. Bonas Defeat
Anticipated difficulty: high, potentially dangerous
Overnight: maybe
This was high on my list this year and it never happened due to the large amount of rain the area got in its prime season, then when the opportunity opened up later in the fall, I had already committed to the Gorge Rat Gathering in Linville. So what puts Bonas Defeat on the list? Not a trail, that’s for sure. I’ve read in articles that it’s been described as hiking down the barrel of a shotgun. It’s a rock hopping scramble that almost guarantees getting wet. It needs to be done when there hasn’t been any rain due to an automatic floodgate at one end that can open and flash flood the whole gorge, making it more dangerous. Recent reports have suggested the danger, though existent, may be over-hyped. The YouTube videos look awesome though. I’d want to visit Paradise Falls nearby on the same trip.
2. Return to Big Pisgah and Dismal Creek
Anticipated difficulty: very high
Overnight: probably
Giant waterfalls, lush jungle landscapes, house-sized boulders, cliff faces, rock walls, and “steep”-doesn’t-do-them-justice ridges. Dismal Creek has been referred to as one of the most foreboding places in the Southern Appalachian Mountains (Jim Bob Tinsley The Land Of Waterfalls). Ever since going to Dismal Falls on Big Pisgah this year, the desire to go back has been growing, even though as I was finishing that first hike it seemed to be one of the most leg-destroying hikes I’ve ever been on. This was originally the “traverse Big Pisgah” plan, but that may not happen due to wanting to be considerate and mindful of not trespassing on private property. While it will probably include a trip to Rhapsodie and Dismal Falls, the real point is to see what’s beyond those explored spots. New territory. What’s in those hills? This is the area that fueled my thoughts of wanting to have a handheld GPS unit. If one got lost in there, they’d be in a world of hurt. Very little traffic coming through here, comparatively. Experienced adventurers only. 
3. The entire Linville Gorge Trail
Anticipated difficulty: moderate
Overnight: probably
It’s 16+ miles from one end of the Gorge to the other, whether we go N>S or S>N is yet to be determined. Though Linville is rugged, I’ve hiked parts of the LGT (albeit probably the easier parts), and I don’t see it as difficult as say, a hike up PinchIn or doing the LNCW/Sphinx scramble. The southern end is a nice walk through the woods, and the northern end has ankle twisting talus covering the path. Probably overnight it and camp somewhere between PinchIn and Conley Cove, which is a section I have not been on but give incredible views of the NC Wall, Ampitheater, and Sphinx from the river.I’ll be using Phil Phelan’s LGHC guide to help plan this one more thoroughly when the time comes, as this is essentially half the circuit of his loop around the whole Linville Gorge. Also, maybe but maybe not noteworthy is that this would be the longest hike I’ve ever done. 
4. Falls Creek Falls
Anticipated difficulty: moderate
Overnight: nope
Not too far from Jones Gap in SC, this is one waterfall that’s too close to home for me that it’s a shame I haven’t been there this far. The guidebooks say it’s strenuous of 600ft in elevation over 1.5 miles, but after hiking in Linville Gorge, that sounds pretty mild. I’ve heard it described has having several different rock characteristics all wrapped up in one waterfall that makes it a very unique experience. Greenville, this one is right in our backyard so I hope some of you go.
5. Two Saddles Loop
Anticipated difficulty: nightmarish
Overnight: probably not
Linville Gorge off-trail trying to “hike” a “hypothetical” loop that reportedly involves crawling on hands and knees through briars and rhododendron and 2 cold river crossings. The map for this can be found on Bob Underwood’s yahoo group for Linville Gorge. It will go down Brushy Ridge Trail, cross the Island Ridge saddle, bushwhack Hyde’s Ledge above the river as it makes it’s way through Babel Canyon, up Henson Creek, and then back out the north quad. Only the senseless need apply for that one. This will be a bleeder, and we’ll likely be mighty confused as to what path to take in certain parts.
6. Babel Tower peninsula exploration
Anticipated difficulty: high
Overnight: probably not
A return to Babel Tower for a thorough exploration which would include Hell’s Ridge Camp, finally doing Avatar’s Rib, overlooks of Babel Canyon, and a lot of cool scrambling with some bushwhacking involved. Only rated high because from what I’ve read and seen first hand, some of the scrambling looks technical. Standing at the top of Avatar and looking down is certainly intimidating, and climbing down is always more difficult than up. The bushwhacking I’ve already done in the area wasn’t that bad.
7. Rim of the Gap
Anticipated difficulty: moderate
Overnight: no
My friend Erich and I have been talking about this hike for a couple years now. It’s in the Mountain Bridge Wilderness in Upstate SC. While the terrain looks steep, we would shuttle and hike from Caeser’s Head down into Jones Gap with cars parked on each end, so I would anticipate the difficulty being less in this direction. Approximately 5 miles of ridge looking down into Jones Gap.
8. Devil’s Fork State Park
Anticipated difficulty: moderate
Overnight: No
My family went with me last year to see the endangered Oconee Bells blooming in April. I’d love to go again, perhaps to a different part of the park, and see some more of the shore. Lake Jocasee is really one of the most beautiful spots in SC, even from the drive up docks at Devil’s Fork.
9. Waterfalls on Highway 11
Anticipated difficulty: high
Overnight: no
This is another carryover from last year, and I almost made this trip mid-December, but the combination of mid-30°temps and rain made me lean toward canceling it. Per the guidebook I’m using, there are 10 waterfalls in this area starting at Wildcat Falls. There are two branches (Wildcat Creek and Slickum Creek) that I hope to follow upstream as far as possible, as far as Persimmon Ridge Rd if that’s possible. There have been some deaths of even experienced hikers at Upper Wildcat, so I would likely not venture to the top of that one, but hopefully Slickum is “actionable.”
10. Greenland Creek
Anticipated difficulty: moderate to high
Overnight: maybe
I’ve seen Schoolhouse Falls on Greenland Creek, but if I’m correct (without looking at the map), Greenland Creek Falls and Carlton Falls are both upstream from there. I’ve been looking at pics of both, especially Carlton Falls, and if love to visit both of those firsthand.
camping Dad Foothills Trail Lake Jocassee rock climbing

What happened to "I hate the outdoors"?

“I hate the outdoors.”

This is what I used to say. We camped in campgrounds a few times, and went fishing a few times. A couple times we camped out in the backyard, which was pretty much just an experience in the cold. I enjoyed bike riding as a teenager, but those rock hard legs I used to have softened up once I got my driver’s license. I went to Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado with a church youth group in 2000, and I merely thought, “This is cool.” I had no awe, I was not enamored. I was not captured by the splendor before my eyes.

Even when I was growing up, my parents would get out the slide projector and the big silver screen and we would watch slide shows some nights (I’m not as young as I may look). We would see slides of my dad’s trips out west. I cannot recall all the places I saw, but I know my dad has been to Arches, Bryce, Grand Teton, Yosemite, Yellowstone, and more. More times than I can remember, he took me outside and showed me constellations in the night sky and taught me about the stars. Even with the slides, the stories, the stars, and the sparkle in the eye of someone who has experienced the wonder of realizing the world is bigger than one man’s place in it… I failed to catch the bug. The seeds were definitely planted in my youth. Thanks dad.

In 2005, we moved to South Carolina, where I continued to be more interested in Futurama and Halo than I was in North Carolina or Utah. I became friends with Tom, who was clearly had a passion for the outdoors. For several years, he kept telling me, “I’ve gotta get you out.” In the summer of 2009, he did. He took me to Lake Jocasee in the north western border of South Carolina. Nine miles via boat, we finally set anchor and pitched our tent along the Foothills Trail. The picture for this post, which is the only one I have from this trip, is what I first saw when I opened my eyes the next morning. After that, we hiked to a waterfall pouring into a lagoon and went swimming. This was fun. In Spring 2010, Tom and I joined a couple other guys from church, and we backpacked to Sam Knob and Devil’s Courthouse in Pisgah National Forest, which is adjacent to Shining Rock Wilderness. Tom taught me about reading a topography map, paying attention to my surroundings, trip planning and Backpacker Magazine. He really took me under his wing to get this bird off the ground.

In April 2009, I met Erich. He kept asking me to go rock climbing at the gym (Climb @ Blue Ridge on Bulls Rd). Finally, I went, and it was super fun. We went several times after that over the winter and the following spring we wound up climbing at Crowders Mountain State Park in NC. Then in July 2010, we adventured at the New River Gorge in WV along the Endless Wall. I believe this was the trip that REALLY grabbed me for adventure.

A few dayhikes and waterfalls later, I planned my first guys overnight camping trip. We camped along Kistler Memorial Highway at Linville Gorge and did the central (legal) section of Rock Jock trail, with side trips to Razor’s Edge Point, Razor’s Edge Rock (which is one of the most thrilling outdoor experiences I’ve ever had), and Hacker’s Point. Thank you everyone who encouraged me on the planning of this trip.

It took many years, and many seeds planted, especially by my dad. Thanks for all of the places you showed me when I was a kid. I wish I had paid closer attention and had much more fervor than I did. Even though it’s late, I can say with total honesty….

I love the outdoors.

backpacking camping hiking Little Green Mountain Panthertown Valley Schoolhouse Falls Trip report Yosemite of the East

Trip Report – Panthertown Valley May 11-12, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moving on.

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

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

6:20am. Awake.

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

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

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

Pucker factor just went to high alert.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pictures are on my Facebook.

backpacking camping hiking Panthertown Valley Trip Planning Yosemite of the East

Panthertown Valley is this week!

Panthertown Valley.

I’ve waited quite a while to go here, and now I’m only a few days away from leaving. I have heard about this “Yosemite of the East” for a good while. I’ve heard about a confusing mess of trails, a land ripe with waterfalls, and 300 foot granite domes. The time is finally coming.

Looking at the weather, it has cleared up to 0% chance of precip on Friday and 10% on Saturday, partly sunny with a high of 66F. This will be perfect weather!

Looking at our route, I intend to keep it pretty much the same as prior planning, but instead of summitting Big Green Mountain, perhaps we will just make a loop up to Little Green Mountain instead of making a figure-8 route back towards Granny Burrell Falls (although we will still pass these falls as we hike the valley). The decision won’t have to be made until we climb the southern end of Big Green Mountain, which looks to be just short of a 500ft climb from the base of the valley if we go to the highest elevation of the summit.

Looking at the companions, as of today, two guys are planning on going with me. One new to our adventures, and one who has shared my “spacious” Marmot Limelight 2P tent with me in TurkeyPen area near Brevard.

Looking at gear, I have an ENO DoubleNest, but no bug net or tarp in the unlikely case of weather.. although there is a shelter there I could hang in. If not, the Marmot Limelight 2P may come, or possibly a Coleman 4P (not sure the model). I will likely pack my Gregory Z35r pack with whichever shelter, The North Face Green Kazoo sleeping bag, Therm-A-Rest Trail Light pad. I’ll likely wear either Timberland hiking boots or Five Ten Guide Tennies, REI Sahara cargo pants, The North Face vapor wick T shirt, bandana, and SmartWool socks. Bear Grylls Ultimate knife will be making its debut.

Looking at food, probably frozen hotdogs packed in that will hopefully be thaw by dinner, not sure on breakfast, beef jerky and Clif bars for trail snacks. Bears are a possibility, so I need to freshen up on how to tie a bear bag.

Looking at going, I’m pumped. Hopefully I can get out of work a few hours early to spend time with Jenny and the kids before I leave for the evening. I hope to rendezvous in Greet and leave from there.

Looking at coming back, I’m shooting for 3pm on Saturday, but that is subject to change depending on how we explore. That’s always a penciled in return time.

If you want to go, you need to contact me ASAP so we can work it in the plans.

Looking to the future, I am anticipating an exploratory trip to Bonas Defeat, possibly hammocking in Big Pisgah near Dismal Falls the night prior. This is all preliminary speculation on routes with very little research beyond knowing the areas exist and are somewhat close to one another. I anticipate this would not be for the feint of heart, though. Bonas Defeat is supposed to be some of the best canyoneering in the southeast. We’ll see what a scrambler can do without the gear.