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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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Fellowship guy friendship hiking Jones Gap Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area Rim of the Gap South Carolina The SC Project Trip report

Scrambling the Rim of the Gap

One of the definitions of the word fellowship in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary is a company of equals or friends. There are those whose fellowship is found in their draw to dive deep, wrestling to taste the air of colored forests and breathe the waters of satisfaction. Off into the Mountain Bridge Wilderness three such men went.
Erich, Jeremy, and I would begin our day together driving westward on South Carolina’s beautiful Highway 11 towards Ceasar’s Head State Park. Right before the junction with 276, we passed what is normally Lower Wildcat Falls, visible from the road. This day, it was Lower Wildcat Rock, as no water was cascading over it. I had some plans in mind to see a few South Carolina waterfalls that I hadn’t visited yet, but the water flow from Wildcat Creek wasn’t feeling too promising. Nevertheless, we pressed on, for there was more to see than waterfalls.
Very low flow at Rock Cliff Falls today
We parked just past Caesar’s Head at the parking area that also allows access for Raven Cliff Falls, though we wouldn’t be poking around there today. It’s be down the orange blaze for us – Coldspring Branch was our first trail. It was easy warmup hiking as we started out and took our turn to the Coldspring Connector towards our priority goal of the day – Rim of the Gap. First, though, we diverted to the Frank Coggins Trail and took one half of the lollipop over to Naturaland Trust Trail. We crossed 276, where Naturaland Trust goes through a landowners driveway and front yard, and less than a quarter of a mile from there came down to a cracked rock face that was normally Rock Cliff Falls. It was not dry, but it was a trickle. Beyond the Falls is an excellent rock face the we would have loved to follow further, but we had a full day ahead of us.
Talking scars on natives at the totally dry Firewater Falls
Retracing our steps back to the Frank Coggins Trail, we took the other side of the lollipop loop past Firewater Falls, which was only a dry faced overhang this day. No water whatsoever was trickling over. The conversation had turned to snakes just prior to this, and Erich was telling the story of one of the tribesman he treated in Indonesia that had a terrifyingly close encounter with an anaconda. I’ve probably heard that story over a dozen times in the six years I’ve known Erich and it never gets old.
Our next turn brought us to the Rim of the Gap Trail. Erich and I had been talking about hiking this trail for the last four years, and we’ve always diverted elsewhere. With what might be the last time we would be able to hike together for a while, we decided today would be the day. It starts out at the bridge (which was built as an Eagle Scout project by my friend Darrin’s son) over Cliff Falls, and there is a small side path where people have obviously been walking to get a view of the base of the Falls. The flow was low, but still enough to be called a waterfall. There was a sure tropical feel to that little alcove. Warning though, this was the one spot where I slipped on the slickrock. It is very slippery down there, even as low as the water volume was and without any spray from the falls. On normal flow, it would be way worse. If you do follow that worn path down, please stay off the rocks.

Cliff Falls with low flow and a tropical feel

Any fall on Rim of the Gap could be fatal. Why fatal? Well, you’re on the very edge rim of the ridge that rises to the south of Jones Gap. There is water that has to be crossed, bare rock, slick rock, roots, and shrubs that all require some technical maneuvers to pass. A casual stumble or slip could potentially have you careening off the Rim of the Gap down the mountain to be slammed into the trees and bare rock below. Is the trail dangerous? The trail is good, and fairly easy to follow. Like I said, though, it is technical. There are sections you’ll have to scramble on all fours up rock faces and navigate through boulders. Also, to watch out for is snakes. There had been a report of timber rattlesnakes spotted on Rim of the Gap the week prior on The South Carolina Project group on Facebook. OK, enough of the public service announcement.

On on of the Hamlin boy bridges above Cliff Falls
I’m happy to announce that neither myself, Jeremy, or Erich went careening off the Rim of the Gap. On the contrary, we had a great, safe time. There are awesome rock walls, flowing water cascades (which felt strange in the dryness we had already witnessed), and huge boulders to scramble through. We came upon a cave where my aforementioned friend Darrin had something growl at him from within. There is also a trip report floating around in the internet about witnessing a cougar on this trail. Whether or not there are legit cougars in the Mountain Bridge Wilderness, I don’t have much insight. I can only say that I have never seen one, but it’s fun to insert cougar lore comments into most outdoor conversations. Granted, I’ve never been stalked, either. At least… not to my knowledge.

For a good section of the trail, we could hear home construction going on in the neighborhood just at the top of the ridge, which didn’t spoil the day by any means, but did take some of the wildness out of it. Fortunately the terrain made up for a lot of that! We climbed up ledges, behind huge rock formations, behind boulders, and on trail that skirts vicariously close to the edge. We climbed beneath Weight Watchers Rock, which is a massive boulder supported by a smaller boulder and provides a just human sized gap beneath them to squeeze through. There is a walk around, which takes you closer to the edge of the gap. Hiking is slow going through the western section of the trail because even though the trail is straightforward, the terrain is not. I’ll let some of the pictures speak for themselves.
Jeremy inspecting the cougar cave. There were no cougars inside today.
Erich loving this scramble. 

The eastern section is much more mellow and easy to follow. So easy in fact that we didn’t even see a four-point buck standing at the trail right before we walked up on it. He took off like a shot back into the forest, but only far enough in for him to be disguised while he kept an eye on us. As we got closer to the Jones Gap Trail and Middle Saluda River, the ground began to have more soggy sections. Rim of the Gap ended, and we made for the river to cool off, soak our shirts and hats, snack, and refill on water. 

It really is the Rim of the Gap
Now for the climb back up to the parking lot. Fortunately, it’s a gradual climb (for the most part) over 5 miles. Jones Gap Trail has a lot of rocks on it which increase the difficulty due to trip factor, but overall it’s not that bad. It meanders fairly close to the river for much of it, which we took advantage of. At one point, visible from the trail, was a smaller waterfall on the river with a pool beneath it and dry rock on one side. The day was hot, probably over 90°F, and we’d been hiking for several hours. Sweaty and dirty, the cool water of the Middle Saluda was too tempting to resist. The waterfall had a large rock at the base of it, so sliding down it wasn’t much of an option. A few feet downstream, however, was a sandy-bottomed pool wallowed out into the bedrock. Accompanied by tiny fish, we took turns submersing ourselves beneath the water of a natural bathtub formation in the river. Life giving water, dropping heat-exhausting body temperatures, and revitalizing sore limbs. Good stuff. I had wanted to get a glimpse of Jones Gap Falls, but we completely blew past it. For another day.
The bathtub in the Middle Saluda River
We made the turn onto Coldspring Branch Trail and decided to take it to the top of the ridge instead of climbing up Bill Kimball and the face of El Lieutenant. The last time I had been on Coldspring Branch was last November on the snowy day, so it looked plenty different yet familiar on this tropical August weekend as it bubbled and rushed down the Valley to the Middle Saluda River below. Hiking out felt like a grunt especially at the end of the day, and though we had seen and hiked through a lot of incredible places, it was a welcome relaxing moment to end our 13.5 mile hike. I also need to report that we didn’t see one rattlesnake.
We had eaten lunch a few hours earlier and were ready for a little something extra, so we stopped at the F-Mart for one of “the best hot dogs in town.” Now with a little sustenance in our bellies, we stopped off the day with a trip to the Swamp Rabbit Brewery & Taproom for a glass of Red Whitey. Their Raspberry White Ale is an award winner, and it did not disappoint. 
Swamp Rabbit Brewery’s Red Whitey
It’s easy to retrace our steps here on a blog post, but our conversation is not so easy to retrace. While it feels like we were all over the map over the course of 13.5 miles, we were even more all over in our discussion. This is the bedrock of the fellowship: to know God as Father and the pleasure that results from that relationship. To dive into the depths of what it means to be reconciled to the Father through the Son who bought these brothers with His blood is an amazing thing. Out of that, should we be talking less and doing more? Perhaps not. Without understanding the ramifications of the relationship with Father, what is anything we would set our hands and feet to do? We would burn out. His love is satisfying, motivating, and sustaining, and what a good gift He has given to create fellowships of His own. Fellowships who delight in Him.

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Governor's Rock hiking kayaking Lake Oolenoy paddling Slicking Falls South Carolina summit Table Rock TheSCProject Trip report

Good Morning, Table Rock

Saturday morning was planned to be a short trip to Slickum Creek to show off the waterfall Sweet Thing on Slickum and a visit to Cesaer’s Head, but events changed the course of the morning. I was given a kayak several months ago (thank you!!) and still had not put it in the water yet. 
My plan was to wake up leisurely, have breakfast and coffee at home, and then leave the house about 8:00am. Instead, I woke up at 5:00am and became anxious. Some of that was life events; a big bulk of it was, “I’m supposed to be sleeping and I’m not falling asleep.” It’s still dark. My mind turned to being able to catch the sunrise. If you have never seen a Carolina sunrise, let me tell you that they are typically brilliant. Many are motivated to trudge up mountains in the dark to savor the few moments of the morning majesty. As I was driving on the Pumpkintown Highway, the glow began to illuminate the tips of the tree tops, and by the time I was at the intersection with Highway 11, the burst of light was happening.

Sunrise burst over the trees at the corner of Highway 11 and Pumpkintown Highway
I pulled into the Table Rock visitor center across from the East Gate entrance. After parking, unloading the kayak, and hauling it down to the water, I noticed the boat launch was on the other side of the lake. I would have to launch right off the shore, but no big deal. It looked like more than one person had walked down there anyway. A short walk out onto the dock gave me a view of Lake Oolenoy, as smooth as glass in the cool of the morning. Dragging the kayak out into the sandbar, I sat in and used the paddle to push off into the lake.
This was my first time ever in a kayak. The only experience I had with kayaks was looking at them in a store, wearing a Life is Good t-shirt, and watching Pat Keller videos on YouTube. For anyone interested, mine is a Pelican Ultimate100dlx. Entry level, for sure. As I glided through the water, I heard water trickling. Looking into the boat, I was expecting to see it slowly filling with water. Nope. That sound was only the kayak gliding through the water. Newbie kayak experience. 
I stayed near the shore as I paddled until I began to feel more comfortable with the kayak, the stability, and the maneuvering. First destination was going to be under Highway 11 and towards Table Rock. The only other company I had on the lake was a few fisherman trolling around in john boats. I paddled up to where the lake narrowed and became very shallow. My presence there was enough to disturb several of whatever was in the water. They trashed about, splashing the shallow water and kicking up the sediment from the bottom in a murky escape. I made my way back under Highway 11 towards to boat launch side of Lake Oolenoy. A few more boats were out now, and not wanting to interfere with a couple guys launching their canoe took me further out into the center of the lake. Pretty comfortable by this point so I made my way towards a couple coves on the south side of the lake where I was able to sit in the shade while taking some unobstructed panorama photos of Pinnacle Mountain and Table Rock. This is an awe inspiring view that you do not get from any terra firma that I have stood on. I paddled around a bit more on the southern side of the lake before making my way back to shore. I had spent about an hour on the water and felt great. With the kayak back on the roof of my car, it was only 8:00am.
Pinnacle Mountain, Panther Gap, Table Rock, and The Stool
I did not bring a backpack with me, but I did manage to grab a few essentials (water bottle, LifeStraw, small snack, GPS, monocular) to stuff in my cargo shorts pockets just in case there was an opportunity for a quick hike. The destination was one I already had in mind, which is why I packed what I did. The GPS and monocular would allow me to accomplish two goals that I have been thinking about ever since embarking on The South Carolina Project: take a photo of Slicking Falls and get an elevation profile and track (with waypoints) of the Table Rock trail. A quick hike. 
Carrick Creek Falls
So, for the unfamiliar, the red blazed trail to the top of South Carolina’s awesome monadnock Table Rock is a lengthy uphill 1800′ over the course of 3.6 miles. Being solo, I figured I could make the out and back within 4 hours, though it would not be without some huffing and puffing. I wanted to be back home around 1:00PM, so I estimated that there would be enough time. Start time, 8:30am.
Carrick Creek Falls is only a minute or two into the hike. There’s a nice deck built there to turn it into a popular splashing hole for families with kids. There is no reliable water on the trail after passing the intersection of the green blazed Carrick Creek Trail. There are two moist gullies that I remember crossing over in the second mile of the trail, but there was not enough to filter. Maybe after heavy rains, but again: not reliable. The trail is filled with large SUV sized boulders that are easy to scramble on, but unfortunately the views are obscured by all the trees. On the plus side, that makes for hiking that, though hot, is not sun baked and scorching. By the time I had reached the shelter at the halfway point, I had passed most groups. Not that it’s any badge of ability or anything, but hiking solo can streamline what time frame you’re able to accomplish something in. There is a nice view just a few yards past the shelter where you can make out Pinnacle Lake, Lake Oolenoy and even a distant Paris Mountain. The first couple miles just feel like up and up and up until it levels out decently for a short time after the 2 mile mark.
Shelter at the halfway point
View from near the shelter.Pinnacle Lake and  Lake Oolenoy below. Paris Mountain barely visible towards the left.
I crossed paths with two hikers, Bruce and Nicole, coming up to Governor’s Rock. We made some friendly small talk, and I asked him if he had heard of Nine Times Forest and Preserve, which you can see past Pinnacle Mountain. I fumbled with my GPS trying to figure out which mountain was Big Rock, but given that I was trying to keep a time schedule, I left Bruce at the bald and kept on towards the top. Some of the steepest and rockiest scrambles of the trail are in the second half of the trail, but once on the ridge, it levels out. Before emerging to the view on the south side of the mountain, a large tangle of BlackBerry bushes was growing fruitfully along the trail. Their sweetness was a welcome reward for the summit. I spent just a minute taking in the view at the overlook and peering down at the Stool (the smaller mountain at the south-eastern base of Table Rock). The question most people seem to ask around the summit of Table Rock is, “Did you go all the way to the back?” I have hiked up here twice before, so I was already aware of it. Indeed, the BEST view is through the bushes, over the rock balds, and onto the eastern side of Table Rock to look out upon the reservoir and Caesar’s Head. This is also where those with a keen eye for waterfalls can get the only legal view of Slicking Falls across the reservoir. It was 10:30am.

Me on Governor’s Rock, Pinnacle Mountain behind on the right, Nine Times in the distance on the left.
Slicking Falls. Not bad for a Galaxy S5 through a monocular.
As I sat on a pile of rocks enjoying the view, Bruce and Nicole came out of the woods to enjoy the spot with me. Turns out they are training for a hike to Everest base camp in a couple months, so it was very cool to hear their story. Bruce told me of a previous trip to Nepal and meeting the Rimpoche in one of the monasteries, who would grant you one question to ask of him. I can’t remember what he said he asked him, but the recollection of wrestling with trying to come up with the question was highly interesting. “What is the meaning of life is too generic.” I was personally challenged to think of what my answer would be. Such an answer is not whimsically given on the fly, but takes some pondering. We said our goodbyes and best of lucks, and at 10:45am, I started down the mountain. 
View from the back east side of the Table Rock summit. Slicking Falls towards the left. Caesar’s Head beyond.
On my way out, I noticed some yellow flowers growing low. At closer inspection, unless my eyes deceived me, they were horned bladderworts! I didn’t expect to find those blooming fully on the sun baked rocks. No signs, at least in a quick glance, of any sundews or pitcher plants like we had seen earlier in the year when exploring nearby bogs. As I was about to leave the bald rock of the summit, I noticed a few blueberry bushes growing. A small handful of those, with a couple more small handfuls of blackberries on the way out, and I was given over to the enjoyment of foraging. The wild sweetness of the berries was a treat to lift the spirits for a departing descent.
Horned Bladderworts on the summit of Table Rock
The hike back down the mountain was largely uneventful as I rock hopped along the path, paying attention to where my feet fell while using gravity and momentum to take some of the effort out. I passed a handful of hikers on the way down that I had also passed on the way up. “How much further to the top?” The answers went from “less than half a mile!” to “about 1.3 miles” and the number kept going up. Granted that the temperature was in the 90F’s, but there were a lot of worn out people at less than the halfway point on the trail. Folks were carrying fully loaded backpacks, some had trekking poles. If I had remembered mine, I would have used them.  I had the impression that Table Rock is much more demanding than people suspect it to be. It is a challenge, for sure. Would I say it’s fun? I will let you decide that. Once I heard Carrick Creek rushing, I knew I’d be getting in and taking a long swig with the LifeStraw of that cool mountain water. Really, though, it was hot enough that there was not much coolness to the water. It was cooler, buy not cold by any stretch. I sat back in my car at 12:05pm. 
Total time to hike to the top of Table Rock and back along the red blazed trail: 3 hours 35 minutes. Do not use that as an estimate for you. Remember: I was only carrying a bottle of water, perhaps 5lbs. I was solo. I was also hoofing it to keep a good pace. The only breaks I took were for 15 minutes at the summit to eat a small snack and talk with Bruce and Nicole, and then 15-20 seconds to stand on top of a rock or two take a picture several times along the trail. I barely stopped. Another thing to consider is that I’ve bushwhacked through briers and rhododendron on elevations and terrain worse than that red blazed trail. Though a challenge, I have been in a lot worse. None of that is to brag, but to give you pause while you consider realistically what it will require of you. Bring lots of water (70oz would be good), and like I said before, trekking poles are great. In fact, this was the trail that convinced me to own a pair.
What of the question? If I could ask the Rimpoche one question, what would it be? After considering the question on the hike down, I could only think of one question. One question that makes a world of difference, and the most important question that has ever been posed to me: “Who do you say that I am?

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carnivorous plants cataract bog hiking horned bladderwort http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post Kings Kaleidoscope pitcher plant Slickum Creek South Carolina sundew The SC Project

Rare Life in the Carolina Bogs

My friend Darrin shot me a text last week about getting in a hike before work, as he was working second shift temporarily. I’ve been on second for a while, so this worked out perfect to head up towards the Mountain Bridge for a morning hike together. I love hiking with Darrin. He’s one of the coolest dudes to share the outdoors with.
As seems typical for my hikes, whatever music I happen to be listening to on the way to the destination gives a prelude to what I’m about to experience. Life for me has really felt topsy-turvy lately, and generally I have been feeling very disoriented and weary. 
In rocks and skies and trees, Your beauty revives me. 
You lift the weight and burden from my shoulders.
Refreshment was coming in abundance.
As we pulled into the parking area, I got to meet long time Team Waterfall member Brenda Wiley and her friend Dan who was visiting from out of state. Darrin had gotten a tip about a cataract bog in the area, and we all wanted to check it out. Before that, though, we would check one we did know of. 
During our Waterfalls on 11 hike, we passed through a bog with the remnants of last years pitcher plants, and the time is about right to see them in bloom now. We made our way to Heritage Falls. Darrin was telling us a story of how a guy who died here after slipping on the slick rock. With low water flow, it seems quite innocent, but that rock gets very slick. Now cautioned, we worked our way down and around to the base of the falls where we visited a very intact moonshine still. Just beyond that, crossing the creek brought us to visit the first bog.
A few steps after crossing the creek, we spotted some fauna sunning itself on the flora. A black snake was hanging out, just taking in the first morning rays. Darrin knelt down and got within near kissing distance of the snake to get a picture of it. The snake simply flicked its tongue and patiently let Darrin take pictures of it. 

A few steps past Mr. No Shoulders and we were at the bog. These cataract bogs form on rock surfaces with slow moving low volume water flow that allows the fauna to perfectly gain habitat, and what fauna we found! Though not at full bloom, we got to see several patches of very full pitcher plants, horned bladderwort, and even some small sundews. All three of those are carnivorous. I have always wanted to see the carnivorous plants in the area ever since I first heard they populated Panthertown Valley. When Darrin mentioned them, I was really itching to see them in my own backyard of the Upstate. Also growing in the area were a couple wild orchids, Grass Pinks. There was also several mountain laurel plants in beautiful bloom.

Pitcher Plant

Sundew, beneath Pitcher plants and Horned Bladderwort

We made our way back to the cars to look for a spot given by a rough description of a non-descript trail entrance (as most adventurers of Team Waterfall begin – this is the pathway to a good time) given by a tip. I love adventures, just gotta say that. So we hiked along a firebreak of a recent prescribed burn area, tip in mind, looking for a wet area. Not long in, the glistening of wet rock glimmered through the burned underbrush. The trail continued on down the hill, but following in agreement with our master waterfallers Darrin and Brenda, we took the perpendicular turn into the burn area. The only real bushwhack to mention is pushing aside a thin curtain of briers, and we were at the bog. This bog, which was christened as Secret Bog on the permanent etchings of Facebook, was much more full than the previous one. Large green layers of plants covered the rocks, with its gatherings of pitcher plants and horned bladderwort. The Grass Pink concentration was much higher here with several dozen plants. There was even a rare mutant Grass Pink with a white flower. Also, blooming everywhere was the familiar mountain laurel. I love to see when these flowers fall off and land in a creek or river. They float perfectly on the water, almost like they were meant for that purpose, with beauty present even in their decay.

Mountain Laurel

Horned Bladderwort growing in the thin sediment

While standing on one patch of bald rock, a bumblebee was buzzing around but not really leaving the area. I don’t know if it was where I was standing or if it was me, but that bee was very interested in me. It must have thought I was a flower or something sweet smelling (his nose apparently isn’t that good), because it landed on me several times and stayed there long enough for me to get several pictures of it with manual focus. Pretty cool experience, though. The flowers and plants and clear blue skies accompanied by friends tied together with a common willingness to endure to such places brings me to feel that the whole thing is such a great and marvelous gift.

It’s funny, the outdoors. We start by going on hikes on a trail, and then graduate to looking for rock outcrops and waterfalls. Somewhere along the line, the adventurer becomes a botanist. The excitement that comes from finding the wildflowers and plants out in the wild is granted much more subdued, but equally amazing and awe inspiring. Consider the flowers of the field, one has said. Slow down. Enjoy the moment, the thisness of where you are and what you’re experiencing. Quiddity, as I first heard it called by C.S. Lewis, is the essence of what it is, essentially. We have a moment with a visual that invigorates a sensation in us, but we cannot keep that forever. Eventually, we must turn around, leave it behind and head to the cars…but I’m on a rabbit trail there.
In only a few short hours during the cool of the morning, we truly got to hear the Earth sing an orchestra of life.  I was freshly reminded of the gentle, reckless, passionate, giving, burden-lifting love of my Father. Reviving. 
Kings Kaleidoscope was right.. 
See the lilies, how they grow. They don’t work or buy their clothes
But if God, by his grace, clothes the grass with great array
Then how much more is there in store
When I seek your kingdom.
I cannot even imagine what those eternal fields will bring forth.
Categories
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?!?
Categories
hiking http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post North Carolina Panthertown Valley planning South Carolina TheSCProject

Ideas for Adventures in 2015

December is here, and my big hikes have come to a close for the year. Raven Cliff Falls was a nice way to go out with a bang, though! I have a few ambitions in mind for 2015. A few items from the last couple years I still haven’t done. That unfinished business is just gonna get filed away on the back burner. Maybe those trips will materialize, maybe they wont.
Last year I said a word or two about anticipated difficulty. This year, I’ll do a basic difficulty rating which breaks down like this:

Easy: I would take first time hikers. Less than 3 miles
Normal: There will be typical difficulties associated with moving in the outdoors, and some of it could be pretty tiring. On-trail from 3 to 7 miles.
Difficult: To include hiking on and off-trail and likely scrambling on rock. Bushwhacking and feelings of disorientation. Distances from 7-12 miles.
Ambitious: Difficult terrain with the inclusion of distances over 12 miles.
So, Lord willing and providing that my body and health do not fail me, some of the paths I’d like to turn my feet towards are…

1) Horsepasture Rd
Anticipated Difficulty: normal
In my starting The SC Project in 2014, many of the destinations off Horsepasture Rd in Rocky Bottom, SC have been places I’d love to visit. Eastatoe Narrows, Virginia Hawkins Falls, Jumping Off Rock. Stuff like that.

2) Lake Conestee Nature Park
Anticipated Difficulty: Easy
We started visiting LCNP late this fall and have loved it. My wife loves it. My kids love it. I love it. It’s easy terrain, and extremely scenic. It’s also a wildlife and bird sanctuary. Free admission. Located right in Greenville, near Mauldin. I figure we will probably spend a fair amount of time there this coming year.

3) Linville Gorge – Big Miles
Anticipated Difficulty: Ambitious
There’s plenty of places I’ve been in Linville Gorge, and even more I have not. What I’d like to do, instead of drill down into one area (metaphorically speaking, of course), is to try and see the area in a new way. I want to see it in a big picture. How the Gorge changes visually from differing perspectives. While there are some specific drill downs I’d like to explore, I think covering big miles is really how I’d like to see the Gorge this year. The terrain will not make those miles easy.

4) Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area
Anticipated Difficulty: Normal to Ambitious
Probably, these will mostly be normal. MBWA includes Jones Gap to Caesar’s Head, and the surrounding areas. This is the closest access for some good rugged hiking areas to me. A return to Rainbow Falls would be great, and I want to finally hike Rim of the Gap. I’ve been familiarizing myself with the area this year already, but I still have a long ways to go.

5) Foothills Trail
Anticipated Difficulty: Ambitious
I’m not thinking of hiking the whole 77 miles in one shot, but I’d like to do some section hikes and maybe a backpacking trip. Ambitious for distance. I’d plan to stay on trail.

6) Congaree National Park
Anticipated Difficulty: Difficult
Seeing some of the marshy swamp lands in Lake Conestee has really instigated my wanting to see that kind of environment on a much larger scale. Still have to do some research on the routes. Difficult for mileage, I think around 10.

7) Panthertown Big Hike Refined
Anticipated difficulty: Ambitious
So in April 2014, Luke Wilson and I hiked somewhere around 20 miles in Panthertown, seeing all kinds of waterfalls and overlooks. It was the biggest hike I’d ever done by a long shot (previous record was around 11 miles). I’d like to refine that hike to make it more scenic, more efficient, and all around better. Fat Man’s Misery will get scratched off the agenda.

8) Lower North Carolina Wall and the Sphinx
Anticipated Difficulty: Difficult
I’ve done it twice, with two different routes to the Sphinx. The route finding aspect would be nearly taken out, though the Ampitheater has always proved challenging to get on the trail that leads to the gulley. Some guys have asked me about doing it again, and it’s a classic adventure. This hike requires a posse.

9) Shortoff with the Singles
Anticipated difficulty: Normal
A friend asked me about planning a hike for the singles in church. Shortoff seems a perfect choice. It’s the easiest and closest access to Linville Gorge from Greenville. The biggest challenge is at the beginning, hiking up Shortoff, but then it levels out. The views are amazing, and should any or all of the group want to kick it up a notch, there are many notches and nooks and crannies to dive into that will give them a hike to remember.
Beyond that, there are a few pockets of South Carolina I’d like to get into, as well as spend more time on my bike. Maybe even get into some dirt with it. The Smokies have been on my radar for a while, as well as Shining Rock, Green River Gorge, and Bonas Defeat Gorge. Also, I hardly did any hammock camping this year. In fact, I’m not sure I did any.
The real thing I hope to do is spend more time with my family and friends outside. Some friends I haven’t seen in over a year. The Gorge Rat Gathering may be a destination for me. Hopefully.
Hiking. Exploring. Good times. Maybe I’ll see you out there, or better yet, we make a plan to share the trails.
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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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Babel Tower Cabin Trail hiking http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post Linville Gorge Trail scrambling Trip Reports WNC

The First Time I Underestimated Linville Gorge

So this is actually the first trip report I ever wrote, originally posted at LinvilleGorge.net. My family and I had been to Linville Falls from the Blue Ridge Parkway before, but this would be my first time actually entering the Linville Gorge. There have been a few edits, removing silly emoticons, and changed a few of the numbers as I later found out. The guys at LG.N helped me plan this trip, and warned me that I might be biting off more than I could chew for my first visit. In fact, it was on this trip that I received a piece of advice regarding the seriousness of Linville Gorge that still stays with me:

“Two entities will see your hike: God and Linville Gorge.

If you bite off more than you can chew God will forgive you….. Linville Gorge will Not.” 
~ Bob Underwood

One of the things I really want to highlight is how we went up to the top of Babel Tower. We didn’t realize there was a very easy trail that accessed the top, and we scrambled and free climbed up to the top of it from the south face. Way sketchy, but we were all into climbing a lot. I don’t recommend anyone takes that route. Some of the hiking I had done prior that I thought would prep me for this trip was  the Raven Cliff Falls/Dismal Loop in the Mountain Bridge Wilderness of SC, Table Rock State Park in SC, and also some backpacking at Sam Knob and TurkeyPen near Brevard. I was unprepared for how rugged the terrain would actually be in Linville Gorge. Daunting then, it is something I have come to love now, over 3 years and over a dozen trips later. If you’re planning to hike in Linville, and looking at routes on the map, forming a plan, it’s a good rule of thumb to estimate an average hiking time of 1 MPH. You may go less then that, depending on how difficult of a situation you get into, and how many times you stop to take in the view.

———————————————————————————

Well, we made it! Our PLAN was to park at Pine Gap, hike Kistler to the Babel trail, ascend Babel, then down to LGT up to Pine Gap, check out the rock face there at the toe by Bynum, then out to Kistler back to the car.

Let me start by saying, after my first trip into Linville Gorge, I underestimated it in every way.

Started out praying for our safety, the trip and that we would be marvel more at our Creator than his creation (which I knew I would be inclined to do). Then as we were pulling our packs out of the car, an ambulance drove by with his window down, waved, and yelled “Don’t do it!” but at least he said it with a smile. Hmm, this was when I began to wonder if I underestimated.

We headed up the road from Pine gap and saw a Blue square blaze on the east side of Kistler before Cabin. Does this go anywhere?? Pine Gap parking to Babel parking lot is a long haul, but it was a nice teaser as we could make out the gorge from the road. We finally get to Babel, excited, and ready to bring 2 cars next time we come so we can shuttle along Kistler. There were plenty of just-off-the-road campsites to crash at. I was actually surprised at how all the campsites we came across, even in the gorge, had such significant fire rings/pits.

(The view from the first rock outcrop on Babel Tower Trail, Babel Tower is the small peak in the middle)
We hiked down Babel after taking a few trailhead pics to the first rock outcrop where the trail turns dramatically. Wow, absolutely amazing. We took a break here because one of my buddies took off his sunglasses at the Babel parking lot and left them on one of the rails. We watched his pack while he ran back. We loved this view. It was very motivating when the guys who were with me that had not been involved in any of the planning looked down, saw Babel tower, and said “is that where we’re going?!?” It was a pleasure to say “Yeah!” The hike down to Babel tower was enjoyable, with just enough canopy to keep us cool. The trail is so eroded in places it becomes a ditch, but no so bad I guess. As we were descending, I began to understand why I should be more worried about a broken leg or rolled ankle than any wildlife.

We saw several large leafed trees, with clusters of leaves of about 8 or 9 roughly bigger than your hand (on the small ones!) Does anyone know what kind of trees they are? We enjoyed them all throughout the gorge.

(The way we went to the top of Babel Tower – which later I found out is the hard way)

So we made it to the Linville Gorge Trail (LGT) and immediately were met with overview sights of the river, then we hopped over the crevasses and boulders, hung over the hanging rock, checked out the cave/shelter overhang, etc. We eventually climbed up to the top of Babel Tower. There’s some trees there that are nice to climb and post off of, making the top easier access. On the way to the pinnacle, there is a pretty sketchy looking rope. I opted for a lift from one of our guys who stayed on the ground. The view of the gorge is absolutely breathtaking. I underestimated the vastness and how huge everything was. I’ve been looking at this through Google Earth for too long. I was blown away from atop Babel Tower. The spirit of exploration soared in all of us in this area. At this point, we had all decided this was the most awesome place we’d been. The exploration and sheer childlike wonder that was induced made this much more than a hike to see some beautiful vista. This was a completely foreign world to the east, unlike anything we’d seen. One friend had spent 3 months in Haiti as a missionary and he said all the dead trees reminded him of Haiti. I really feel like they add a it of beauty to the whole area. Anyways, I wish we would have explored it more thoroughly, but we moved on.

(Erich climbing down the south face of Babel Tower, with Ben waiting below)

We hiked west on the LGT looking for the campsites along the 2nd peninsula. After taking what seemed like a trail down to the river (across mostly boulders really), we ended up at the waterfall/swimming hole. Some guys were already there sliding down the waterfall and jumping off the cliff so we moved up to the campsite on the beach to dip in the river to cool off and eat lunch. We saw a bunch of minnows, but nothing else really. This looks like a great campsite, unless the water is high! After we ate lunch, we were trying to figure out if we had passed the LGTCS4 and were really at LGTCS1, or not. (NOTE: These are campsite names listed on the 2010 edition of the LG map from LinvilleGorge.net) Compass was really helpful here by determining which bend in the river we were facing. Plus, I thought there was no way we had gone all the way up to CS1, so we hiked back up to where we left LGT and continued on. The trails are tough to follow here with all the boulders. I started to get confused myself by the way the LGT curved by this offshoot trail, and I almost convinced myself it was Cabin. Either way we’d end up back towards Kistler so we went on, but I was about 80% sure we were still on LGT.

We met up with some guys who had just come down Cabin at a rock outcrop overlooking the first peninsula. Verified we were on LGT, and gave them some help as they were heading towards Babel tower. I told them we came in Babel and we were planning on hiking out Pine Gap. “Wow you have a full day!” Did not fill us with enthusiasm at this point. I had greatly underestimated how long we would be here. I figured 3 hours to go from Babel to Pine Gap. We were right around 3.5hrs here and hadn’t even hit Cabin yet. We voted to exit on Cabin. The guys from LG.N were right. This is not the Appalachian Trail, and distance cannot be measured normally. I was amazed at how little ground we seemed to cover compared to how much time we spent covering it. LGT is also extremely overgrown with thorny brush, to the point for several long patches we could not see where we were placing our feet.

(Looking up Cabin Trail)

Coming in, I knew and had explained to my buddies that Cabin would be one of our early exit routes should we decide not to go the whole way. We knew it was approx 900 ft out over 3/4 of a mile, and it would would be steep.. but we were totally caught off guard by what a grueling and miserable hike out this was. This is also where I figured out that I under-estimated the heat. Even though weather.com said 75F for Linville Falls, it was hot and humid this whole trip. One friend said he had done some research and Linville Gorge was actually listed as a temperate rain forest? I’d believe that! Phew! Having a river soaked bandana really helped out here. There were some straight up climbs on rock that were at least 6ft steps. Wow, this was tougher than anything we’d ever done prior. Free climbing Babel Tower was a cakewalk compared to this. At one point, we even saw a trail of blood drops, which only added to the mood of the hike. We all still had water and were drinking it, but even with that… we must have been taking a break every 50ft. I totally underestimated Cabin. I anticipated climbing out via Pine Gap!

(Blood on Cabin Trail)

Once it started to level off, it was so nice to be back to Kistler, where I just had been hoping a few hours earlier I wouldn’t have to hike anymore of, haha. The thunder also began as we hit Kistler, too. Even though we were ragged out, we were wishing someone would give us a lift but acknowledging that we wouldn’t give a lift to any guys that looked as rough as we did. As soon as we got back to the car and got our packs in, the rain fell torrentially. Coming out from Kistler, we could scarcely see the road at some points! Small kindness from God, surely.

Didn’t go to Wiseman’s or Linville Falls like I had planned, and we didn’t eat at Louise’s. Although, I did stop in and pick up a copy of Allen Hyde’s hiking guide. 2011 3rd Edition. I haven’t had much chance to look through it yet.

One thing’s for sure… we all can’t wait to go back. Enjoy! Thank you all for all your help in planning this trip! I had so much more confidence going in than I would have going in green! I imagine taking someone up Cabin who was not already in love with adventure… that would quite ruin any further adventures for them for a long time.

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hiking http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post L.O.S.T. Lower Original Scrambler's Trail North Carolina scrambling Trip report

L.O.S.T. at Linville Gorge

I had just made the joke last week to a friend, “When you hike the Linville Gorge, you usually come out feeling like the Linville Gorge hiked you!” It turned out, that would be our story.

Saturday morning, Steve, Chris, Josh, TJ and I headed toward the Linville Gorge. Old Highway 105 (a.k.a. Kistler Memorial Highway) was in as good of shape as I’ve seen it on the south end. We arrived at PinchIn parking and met up with Chad and Luke. This was my first time hiking with Chad, and second time with Luke (who hiked the big waterfall day at Panthertown with me earlier this year). We all piled in the van and shuttled up to Conley Cove, where we would start our hike.

The plan was to hike Conley Cove to Rock Jock, descend to the Lower Original Scrambler’s Trail (L.O.S.T., which was the original route that Rock Jock when created by Bob Underwood), visit One Bat Cave, The Balcony, Little Seneca, climb out of Zen Canyon, scramble Zen Point, Razor’s Edge Rock, Razor’s Edge Point, back to Rock Jock, hike further south, bushwhack to Crevasse Creek Point, and then at the decision point, decide whether we would ascend Dogback Mountain up to the road via Rock Jock’s south entrance OR bushwhack along the cliff edge to PinchIn and back to the car from there.

Before going any further, let me describe scrambling for anyone who may not be familiar with the term. I’ve heard scrambling described as a sport for those too tough to hike, but too chicken to rock climb. Basically, it’s low level climbing over rocks, boulders, downfall, without the need for ropes or other protection. It’s like hiking in four-wheel drive.

 (Chad on Fern Point)

We head down Conley Cove to Rock Jock with no problems. Before long, we were at Fern Point, our first big view of the Gorge. The tops of the Chimneys and Table Rock were obscured by the low lying clouds, but it was clear beneath them. We stopped at Hacker’s Point for the next overlooks, and I had a pang of sadness over the pine tree that was so identifying to the point. All that’s left is a broken off stump in the rocks. The view is still nice.

We slowed down at Split Rock, and I climbed up on top to get a couple pictures of Josh and TJ coming through. The other guys had gone ahead. Not before long, we were at the turn-off for L.O.S.T. and the frontward guys weren’t there. The entrance is pretty obscure, so I didn’t guess they had followed it. I hollered to the group, they didn’t answer. I blew my whistle, they didn’t answer. Josh went up to get a look to see if he could see them, and they weren’t in sight. I dropped my pack and ran Rock Jock until I could hear them and they answered a holler. As we figured out later, they had gone nearly 3/4 of the way to the Razor’s Edge trail.

(Josh and TJ on typical rocky ground found on Rock Jock. This is flat compared to what we would be on later.)

Once we were all back together, everyone had their good laugh about not knowing how they possibly missed the turn. That’s complete sarcasm. It basically looks like someone pushed a branch out of the way and let it fall back in place. The bush push lasted for about 20 feet and we were back on trail again. Very clever disguising of the entrance to L.O.S.T., whoever worked that out. Good reason, too. These ledges became a puzzle even with a GPS track to follow, let alone without one.

We did some back and forth and looking around and we came to a spot where the path seemed to end. Looking at the GPS, we were too far to the west of the prior track. Making our way back, we searched for a way further down the ledge but never came to one. I took it to be signal variation due to the reflective characteristic the rock faces seem to have on GPS signals, and we went back to the seeming dead end. Climbing up a little, the path was at the top. I scrambled up a rotten dead log that broke under my weight, and stood at the top. I had forgotten what stuff like this was like in Linville. This was one of those “no way the trail is that close to the edge” moments. It was. Clearly, I’d been away for too long. The guys took their choice of the “too close” route vs rotten log route, and we kept on keepin’ on.

(Steve on the lower chute descent scramble)

I knew we were going to have a descent coming up, and that there was a technical rocky scramble in there somewhere. As we came to a dead end in the trail, I looked down and saw a hole that would be our route. It was steep and dirty. I went first, and crab walked down the path using the shrubbery as hand and footholds to keep me from any unwanted acceleration. It leveled out some, and I hollered up, “The first part is the worst part!” The path was rocky but with careful consideration of footsteps, not difficult. Then came the scramble. Apparently, the first part wasn’t the worst part. The trail stops at a rock ledge, and begins again 6 feet below. The rocks had some wet moss on then as well, so that added an extra level of interesting. With some moves I’d been waiting for all day, it was a fun chimney down the side. We helped the other guys down, and then Chad and Chris skipped that whole ordeal and just climbed down the face of the rock. They are taller than I am. Our group ended up splitting again after this, but before long, I was hearing wind chimes. I knew where we were, even though this was my first time through here.

(The Balcony on L.O.S.T., as seen from Little Seneca. Josh, TJ and Luke enjoying the perfect lunch spot.)

The Balcony on L.O.S.T. is a rocky overhang, with freedom to scramble around the fallen rocks and rock walls. A couple guys went through the tunnel and stood out on Little Seneca, a blade of rock maybe 5 feet wide that stands out from the cliff face. I love going out and standing on the edge, but for real, watching guys dangling their legs off makes me anxious. Walking out there myself, I snapped a pic of the guys settling down on the Balcony for our lunch break, then took a break myself. This was the last big rest area before our difficulty ramped up and we would have to climb out. It was also at this point where I realized I had completely forgotten about visiting One Bat Cave. We were so close.

(Luke sitting on Little Seneca)

Before long, we were at the base of Zen Canyon, looking up at Razor’s Edge Rock. The canyon is amazing. It’s a big rock pile of fallen rock, some of them loose and shaky when you step on them, with a mix of deadfall, Princess trees, Devil’s Walking Stick, and Zen Creek trickling down the south side. Though I didn’t measure it, I estimate it to be at least a 45 degree angle coming out. Trying to get a picture to capture the steep roughness of Zen Canyon is an effort in futility. Truly, the only way to understand Zen Canyon is to climb out of it yourself. If you’ve been in the Amphitheater on the east rim of the Gorge, it’s similar but the rocks are smaller. Where climbing out of the Amp is a non-stop scramble, climbing out of Zen is an effort in keeping sure footing so you don’t twist an ankle. An injury in Zen Canyon would end a trip early and turn into a bad situation. We found this out first hand.

Fortunately, we didn’t experience anything as bad as a twisted ankle or broken leg, but TJ did succumb to a condition that bites hikers at one time or another. I’ve had severe leg cramps on at least two occasions, and they’re brutal. The last time I went to Crowder’s Mountain was to go rock climbing, and my forearm cramped and gave out on me before I was 10 feet off the ground. They hurt, and hiking with a charlie horse is not fun. Our group had separated into 3 parts at this point: Steve and Josh in the lead, Luke and I in the middle, and Chris and Chad helping TJ ride the charlie horse 600 feet in elevation over rough terrain out of Zen Canyon. The slippery rocks eventually gave way to slippery mud, where God conveniently placed rhododendron to use as handholds to haul yourself further up. I say it every time, “Thank God for rhododendron.”

Even though Zen Creek seemed like only a trickle as it wound its way down the rocks of the canyon, there were a few small pools tucked away that made for a perfect spot for purifying water. Further up, we were rewarded with the beautiful Zen Falls greeting us with the soft soothing sound of its flow as if it were the balm to sooth the wound created by canyon itself.

(Zen Falls)

Steve and Josh had made it to the top of the canyon before we did, and we knew we had some time before the others made it up to where we were, so we searched around for the way out. It had been a while since I looked at the GPS. I had it in my mind that we would exit right at Rock Jock, despite having been down to Razor’s Edge a few years ago and knowing the Zen Trail was a spur off the Razor’s Edge Trail, which itself is a spur off of Rock Jock. We made it to Steve and Josh, and found that the bushes had become thicker than anything we had been through so far. We poked around, and that’s when I decided to look at the GPS again. Hey, I’m the group leader after all. Looks like we missed the exit from Zen Canyon. We only climbed about 40-50 feet too high. Turns out the exit was a hard left from right about where Chris, Chad and TJ were by then. Chad followed the trail, or better described as the path that a few people might have walked at one point in time that was thinner than any other area, to confirm that we were at the right spot. Score! They didn’t have to make the rhododendron rope climb, which as it turns out, we didn’t have to make it, either. Steve and Josh had climbed straight up out of Zen Canyon not realizing there was a hard left to the side really added to the whole moment since they had to now climb down from what had seemingly been an impossible climb up. Steve took the opportunity to give me the kind of encouragement that every group leader needs: “You’re killing me!” I know it was all in good fun, buddy! That canyon is gonna get steeper every time we tell the story, isn’t it? Good times.

Chad and Chris went up first this time, TJ and I next, Luke and Josh and Steve behind. The dirt trail here is on the edge, and it’s eroding away. A perfect spot for another cramp to lay hold of TJ, so with one cramped leg bracing against a sapling and me holding his other hand, we waited it out. Once at the top, we stopped at the campsite (which is great!) and let TJ take a much needed rest. We went out to the edge of Zen Point, looked at where we had just come from, the Gorge all around us, and Razor’s Edge Rock below us. There are many good outcrops and overlooks in Linville Gorge. Too many to count, even though many of them have been named. Surely, Zen Point is among my favorite. We made it back to the camp and TJ seemed to be feeling better, although I can imagine there had to be some serious soreness going on in his legs. We decided to save Razor’s Edge for another time. Not too much of a sacrifice, because Zen Point was really the crown jewel of the string of pearls clustered in this area. Uphill, back to Rock Jock.

(Razor’s Edge Rock, as seen from Zen Point)

Even though we were back on trail, and it was far less rocky, the ascent was not kind to TJ. By the time we made it back to Rock Jock, it was decision time. Option A) follow my ambition and hike Rock Jock south, as originally planned, and try to visit Crevasse Creek Point, then climb the 500feet in elevation up Dogback Mountain to the road or Option B) do the right thing and hike Rock Jock north back to Conley. When presenting the options to the group and what each would look like, the question came up, “If we go north, is it going to be less difficult?” I offered the helpful crucial decision making tidbit which would follow me the remainder of the day: “It follows the contour.” It’s good to have friends who can laugh and joke on you. It keeps you humble. Looking at the map, it was at least another 500 feet of elevation gain to exit the south end of Rock Jock. Though going back to Conley Cove parking wasn’t flat, it DID follow contour as far as getting out. We went north.

It was slow going, and the leg cramps seemed to be seizing in TJ’s legs more violently. At first we encouraged him through them, joked with him, and so on. We had separated again, and as we passed the newly labeled “BEES” tree from the last work day on Rock Jock, we stayed put to warn them of the yellow jackets that had been reported there. Here the mood changed. Chris said, “We’re gonna have to drag him out. I’m not playing.” Of course, we didn’t drag out anyone. Chad used a combo hatchet/machete that TJ had been carrying in his pack, made quick work of a sapling, and looped the Grand Trunk hammock TJ had also been carrying around the ends. Chris took the front, Chad and Luke took turns on the rear, and they carried out our injured friend. They were awesome. For half a mile, they heaved and grunted man noises until we came to the campsite just below Old Conley parking. “How close is it?” To which I replied, “Closer than if we went to where we parked.” Chad gave me his insight: “You’re the king of divergent answers.” Apparently I’d been giving them all day. This is what I contribute. We all made it to 105, Luke and I ran up the road to get the van, and we made it back to PinchIn parking. We all had a good stretch, and it was good for TJ to get off his beaten legs.

(Chris, Chad and Luke: the heroes of Rock Jock)

We said our goodbyes and hope-to-hike-with-you-agains, and we left the parking area to Chad fixing his dinner and Luke running down PinchIn Trail to get a view from the cliffs before the daylight completely closed its curtain. We were in search of our own dinner.

Chad and Chris stayed with TJ almost the entire time he was injured. They kept a pace where he was able to safely maneuver the difficult terrain we covered. They are for sure the heroes of the day. It really was great to have both Chad and Luke out there with us that day. Positivity really emanated from both of them, and they contributed hugely to keeping spirits high. Really, everyone did. Except for me. I just made sure we all stayed on contour.

(Actual unedited GPS track overlay and elevation profile of our hike)