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What Is Happening 10 Years Later

This road of being a Christian is a rocky one, full of mountain highs, valley lows, hidden pits, stinking bogs, and open fields. Where I’m at right now is kinda like where I was 10 years ago right after God interrupted my life, but different. Then, I hardly knew God beyond His saying, “Trust me.” I didn’t know what that would mean then. Now, I still don’t really know what that will mean in the days ahead, but I do know God a whole lot more. I know that God is good, and I know AND feel that God loves me. I may not know what the next step will be, but I know the Lord. Beyond that, there is a little bit of clarity for me in what’s going on because certain themes have just been present.

If you haven’t read how I got here, you may wish to read about what happened 10 years ago and what has happened over the last 10 years. If not, that’s OK, too.
Last year, my pastor challenged the church to consider that we had lost our first love. We had lost sight of Jesus, like the church of Ephesus we read about in Revelation. This was the case for me. As a Christian, for years I have been chasing trying to get better, when I ought to have been chasing Jesus. Let me explain.
A conversation sprouted a couple months ago around being satisfied in Jesus. I’m not sure I can really explain what that is like, but if you have tasted and seen his goodness, you will know it. On a much smaller scale, think of the feeling of standing near a waterfall. Beyond the roar of the water and the coolness of the mist, there is something that is difficult to express in words, but you know what it is. That is what God and satisfaction in him is like, in the sense of being difficult to describe.
I had been looking to people to satisfy me, essentially making gods out of them. No man, other than Jesus himself, or woman can carry that weight. I have looked to all kinds of places and people to quench my thirst, and that can only be found in God. There are plenty of times I don’t believe that, until He makes himself and his love known in some unbelievable – and satisfying – way. Knowing God is supremely satisfying, but sadly, I still wander. I still seek to find some sliver of satisfaction in things like buying stuff, relationships, harboring bitterness, and meeting some set of extra-biblical standards I heap on myself. That stuff may lessen the thirst for a moment, but to quench it? Not so much. In the New Testament book of John, Jesus has a piercing conversation with a woman. Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again,  but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:13-14 (ESV) Jesus is keeping with the imagery of water used in the Old Testament when he speaks to Jeremiah (in chapter 2, verses 12-13) and says “Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord ,  for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” I think this is pretty pointed for me. Jesus is telling me that he is the direct source of all life and satisfaction. He is the spring of life. He is beckoning, “Drink deeply, and be satisfied.”

In the midst of that, I’ve been wrestling with what does it look like to really obey God? I think it’s to follow Psalm 34:8. Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! (ESV) The goodness of God. I am called to rest in the goodness of God, but it’s so hard to rest. I gotta be doing something, I gotta be moving, I gotta be going to the next place. I gotta move. A verse that came across my path a few weeks ago is Hebrews 4:9-10. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. (ESV) It’s worth reading in context, but what I think the writer of Hebrews is getting at is not about Sundays. It’s about realizing that when Jesus said ,”It is finished!” while he hung on the cross, he meant it. Jesus is the better and more satisfying Promised Land of the Old Testament. I need to rest from trying to come into God’s presence by how well I’m navigating the ship of life and rest in Christ’s finished work on behalf of those who are his. The ESV Study Bible comments on the verse this way: “The promise of entering now into this rest means ceasing from the spiritual strivings that reflect uncertainty about one’s final destiny; it means enjoyment of being established in the presence of God, to share in the everlasting joy that God entered when he rested on the seventh day.” How this resting connects with obeying is that if I am drinking from the well of God for my satisfaction, I will be living in obedience because I will not be tempted towards idolatry of trying to find satisfaction in something lesser. That’s not to say lesser things cannot be enjoyed, but if they are elevated to the point where I am seeking to be satisfied in them than in God through them, I will be in disobedience, which is sin.
As I read Romans, the essence of sin is not that I did a bad act or deed, but that I exchanged the truth for a lie. The truth of God as all satisfying is discarded, and the truth of anything else being made as all satisfying is lifted up. Living in the lie and trying to be satisfied in it is a life of sin and disobedience. Trying to reconcile myself to God on my own terms instead of his is a life of sin and disobedience. God loves me. The Father knew me. Jesus died for me. The Holy Spirit stirred me to faith in Jesus, then guides me in faith. The gap between me and the Father has been closed, not just to reconciliation, but to adoption. I am in the family. I can exhale. Living in light of that is the essence of rest.
But God does not gift righteousness to a child to allow them to remain in the lesser pleasures of sin or the chains of fear. I woke up on Monday, February 9th 2015 to the still quiet voice of God. “You’re afraid of what people think of you.” The culturally Christian thing to say would be, “I’m going to work on that. I’m going to fix that.” All I can say is that I want to spend more time with Jesus, and I will cheerfully take whatever results come from that. If that’s where I find living water that forever satisfies, and delivers me from all fear, that’s where I want to drink from.
How am I going to do that? I had thought that gap was to be filled with reading about Jesus in Scripture. I had recently watched a sermon preached by Mattie Montgomery of the band For Today, and I reached out to him on social media to tell him I was encouraged from his sermon to spend time with Jesus by reading the Bible. He replied, “Hey man!  Just to respond to your statement: You don’t discover the things of Christ by the scriptures, but by the SPIRIT. Obviously scripture is VITAL, but as you’re reading it, beseech the Spirit to guide you and instruct you while you read. According to his function in the life of believers, as Christ explained in John 16:1-15.” I don’t put that in this post to name drop, but really only to preserve the counsel so I can come back to it. It’s very easy for me to approach God in a mathematical static way (If I read about Jesus, then I will love Jesus) instead of a malleable dynamic way (Holy Spirit, give me a heart that delights and is satisfied in Jesus).

One of the resources I found helpful, outside of the Bible, is a book I read a few years ago called Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ, by John Piper. It’s available as a free download if you wish to read it for yourself. My plan is to reread it again this year, as the theme of being satisfied in Jesus is at the forefront of where God has me right now. The Digital Age sings in their song Captured, “I’ve never felt more found than when I’m lost in You.” That is where I’m at, and it is a place of wonder and marveling. They also cover a song called Fall Afresh, which is what I’m desiring my prayers to look like: “Spirit of the living God, come fall afresh on me. Come wake me from my sleep. Blow through the caverns of my soul, pour in me to overflow.” Yes… that is simultaneously where I am and where I am not yet, but desire. 

What a ride it has been. This is all swirling around, not merely for my own souls satisfaction, but to be a loving overflow. In January 2005, God loved me, then he stopped me, and said, “Trust me. Rest in me. Follow Me. Love me. Be satisfied in me.” The most loving thing I can do is to ask you… will you do the same? Do you feel the tug on your heart? Do not try to extinguish what God is stirring, but ask God that he would give you the eyes to see and a heart to love and rest.

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The SC Project: Waterfalls Off 11

Group shot at Lower New Millenium Falls

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

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

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

My pastor, Matt Rawlings, baptizing me. Photo used by permission from Bev Peeples.


In January 2005, I was fast asleep. Perhaps more appropriately, I was dead asleep. God knelt down, got right in my ear, and gently said, “Wake up!” I was disoriented, and wondered what the heck had just happened to me. My path was altered, my life was lovingly interrupted, and I had no idea where I was going.

Jenny and I had been married for almost a year, and we were living in Michigan. My behavior leading up to this point had cost me more than one friendship. I have since heard people talk about giving God part of your life and keeping part of it for yourself. First step on this new path was the crushing blow of coming clean about who I had really been. I think this is what is meant by the phrase God must increaseand I must decrease. Humility 101, I suppose.
So here we were, living in Michigan. I knew part of what I was to do was to start going to a church. We went to a few different ones, and I struggled in a huge way. One of the sermons I remember was about forgiving and forgiveness of sins and how if I don’t forgive and ask forgiveness for everything, then I won’t be forgiven, and I was really confused. Are you telling me that if I don’t confess every single sin I do, and have ever done, that I won’t get into heaven? The checklist was growing to be impossible. I thought God was just on the sidelines, as some kind of cosmic cheer leading genie.
I didn’t know what to believe. We weren’t having much luck on the church front. Jenny had grown up in Daytona Beach, Florida, and was a part of the same church movement her entire life. We were convinced that what they believed about the Bible and God was true, and a church plant had recently happened in Greenville. South Carolina. Her parents were considering making the move there to be a part of the church, even as we had already begun talking about moving to Daytona. We needed a place to learn about God and the Bible, and we wanted to be closer to Jenny’s family. I was also wanting to go back to college, so the combination of church, family, and school brought us to Greenville on September 23rd, 2005. Two days later on Sunday, September 25th, we attended the church that was one-third of our reason for moving here. The church was meeting in a Seventh-Day Adventist building and I said to Jenny, “This place is a cult.” (The SDA church met on Saturday, and they let us use the building on Sunday.) I came in with a thick coat of cynicism, and what we saw was foreign to me. The pastor then, Jim Britt, was playing an acoustic guitar, all by himself. I found out that this was less than satisfactory to a lot of people, but my church experience had been “worship leaders” performing a cheesy entertainment show on stage with some silly shuck and jive dance moves. The whole thing with Jim and the acoustic guitar was so simplistic, so unentertaining, that it was like God crafted it to specifically speak to me in a way I needed to hear, and it was there my cynicism began to melt. The sermon was from the book of Mark on the unpardonable sin. To be honest, the point on that message is kinda foggy to me now, but I remember that’s what the message was about. 
Then we met Rick Thomas, who helped us get plugged into what the church called care groups. These were basically small group meetings held during the week to discuss what we heard on Sunday and seek to apply it to our lives, as well as build relationships and actually do life with other Christians. People were bringinh meals to each other when they were sick and everything. To hear the Bible preached at church was a new thing to me, as ironic as that is. I would learn that is called expositional preaching, where over the course of weeks or even months, the pastor works through an entire book of the Bible. I was finding that I even remembered what the sermons were about week after week and was able to connect them with each other.
We learned about church membership, which is an up in the air topic in Christian discussions and arguments anyway. I will just leave it at Jenny and I definitely wanted to be official members of the church. It was during this time that I really began to learn what the Gospel is. During our interview process, Rick was asking if we needed to be baptized, and I responded for myself, “I think so.” He asked, “Why do you think so?” My answer was very revealing: “So I can get to heaven.” Turns out that this mindset had permeated much of the way I operated.
This is what’s called works righteousness. Basically what that means is that I thought I got into heaven by checking all the right boxes. As I was discipled by my peers and, more importantly, read the Bible, I found that this is the exact opposite of what the good news of Jesus really is. What the Bible reveals is gift righteousness. That means that all my boxes were checked by Jesus, and I believe it. That’s a double edge sword, because it’s simultaneously very offensive and the best news ever. Offensive because, seriously? The Bible sets the bar infinitely high and then says I can never reach it. It is also the best news because God’s rescue plan is that Jesus came to reach the bar on our behalf! This is why I came to believe the Bible was true, because if it was merely the words of men, men would have made the bar high but still reachable. Man makes much of himself, and I cannot believe man would naturally think and make the effort to put himself in the place Scripture does. “You are hopeless on your own, no matter how hard you try” grinds too hard against the way the human race operates that the message must indeed be a revelation beyond us.
But back to baptism. In 2007 (I think), I was actually baptized as a Christian by my friend and pastor (at the same church), Matt Rawlings. I learned that it’s a public declaration that, follow the symbolism here, you have been raised to new life, and your sin has been washed away by the blood of Jesus. One of the verses that I kept going back to was Galatians 2:20-21, which says I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. Admittedly, that takes some chewing on to figure out, but it was where I started to understand what was going on. So, baptism doesn’t save anybody. I had it all wrong. All those submersive dunks did for me when I was 14 and 18 was make me a wet pagan. All that real baptism did for me as a Christian was make me obedient to a command that ended up being a huge means of grace to me that physically helped me see what Christ indeed has done in me. Grace to me, benefit to me, but no saving effect.
Two big words that I would learn and have difficulty separating were justification and sanctification. Justification is legally being made made right with God, reconciled with God, through the work of Jesus. It’s by faith alone that this happens, not by being good enough for God. Sanctification is the getting better process, where we become more and more like Jesus, but doesn’t do anything to make us right in front of God because that’s already been done when we were justified. Sanctification is a lifelong process of changing, putting sin to death, repentance, and hoping and delighting in who Jesus is and what he’s done. It’s important to make distinctions between these two, because tangling them together didn’t do me, or anyone around me, a lick of good.
Raised to new life. Once dead in sin, now alive in Christ. Then, sorry Carrie Underwood, but I took the wheel. It became about me, and my efforts to get better and become a better person. Losing sight of what Jesus had done and making it about what I had to do only made more of a mess out of me. In my attempts to “be a leader” in my home, I became overbearing, passive aggressive, and frustrated. I tried to learn all the right answers, pray in a way that sounded spiritual even though I was not very spiritual, and be a religious know it all. What is interesting about becoming a Christian, and I think a lot of people don’t see this, is that while some areas of behavior may improve, others decline. You never really get better or become a better person. Maybe in one area or another, but not wholly. I’m not trying to make an excuse, it’s just reality. I may have grown in an obvious area, like swearing less, only to find out that anger has manifested itself elsewhere, and then my inner sailor reemerges (especially in the last year). I wish I could remember who said this, that we are like sponges with ink in them. I can keep the ink in as long as no ones is squeezing me, but the second I’m squeezed by something not going my way, the ink (the sin that still resides in my heart, though forgiven on the cross) comes oozing out. Indeed, I am a desperate man in need of a savior. I came to see somewhere in those middle years that living by “Christian virtues” was really not the point of Christianity at all. During the movie Amazing Grace about William Wilberforce’s taking on of the slave trade in England, John Newton (who wrote the hymn Amazing Grace) says, “I am a great sinner, and Christ is a great Savior.” Living in light of THAT truth, day by day, is what I came to see that being a Christian was really about. It wasn’t about getting better, although that may happen. A few years ago, I read an excellent quote by the author Bill Clem who eloquently stated that “The Gospel is about identity transfer, not identity improvement.” This was huge to me. This was probably the pivot point for me in this period of my life. Instead of trying to force growth, force my life to be a certain way, force my family to be and act a certain way, my focus shifted. What has Christ done for me? Was I basing my identity on ME, or was I basing it on who I was IN CHRIST? (For an exercise, check out the book of Ephesians in the Bible, and underline every time “in Christ” appears, for a study on identity.) I knew as a husband I was supposed to love my bride as Christ loved the church, and what does that look like? Jesus gives the church grace. He lovingly leads, and he pours out grace on his bride, the church. I can honestly say that grace is not a word that could be used to characterized how I interacted with people during this time of my life. Yep, I heard the Gospel. I heard that Jesus died for my sins, and believed it. At least on the surface. Functionally, I was still living under the law of works righteousness instead of the freedom of gift righteousness. For years, I hated Father’s Day and my family’s attempts to celebrate it because I didn’t measure up to my self-imposed qualifications. I was miserable and miserable to be around. Self-salvation projects really make for me being unpleasant, so for the record, if I am being unpleasant (and I have a long history of it), you could ask me how I’m trying to save myself. I may not be, but it’d be a decent question of a friend to ask of me. What was the remedy? Well, the Gospel, really, but I forgot so easily.
Books played a huge part in my life as a Christian, and I’ve read dozens. I had made a few attempts to read the Bible cover to cover, and I never made it past 1 Chronicles in the Old Testament. Most times, I would make it into Joshua and then burn out. Finally, in 2013, with the help of YouVersion, I was able to read through the entire Bible chronologically in a year. The Bible isn’t written in chronological order, and there are all kinds of different literature styles penned by different people all under the same divine inspiration of God. I was able to get a context for what the story line for the Bible is, and I really began to see it as God’s rescue plan for mankind. Outside of the Bible, there are three books that I think really stand out as meaningful, even life-changing, for me over the last 10 years. The first is Romans, by R.C. Sproul. I took an entire year (2011 or 2012?) to slowly crawl through the book of Romans in the Bible, and R.C. Sproul held my hand. There was a short pause in that to read his book The Holiness of God, which I only mention for the chapter on the Insanity of Martin Luther, because that spoke to me right where I was at in my vain works righteousness. Romans helped me to really dig into the Bible and learn what it had to say, even parts that I didn’t like. Sproul also said in this commentary something that stuck with me. “The doctrine of justification by faith alone is easy to get from an intellectual standpoint, but to get it in the bloodstream takes a lifetime.” The second, which I actually listened to on audiobook, is Heaven by Randy Alcorn. I’ve heard it said that eschatology – the study of last things – is the crown jewel of Christianity. Not the end times, Left Behind style, but what can be anticipated as the flyleaf of this era is turned and the rest of the never ending book of eternity begins. It’s not that I hope for heaven most strongly, but what comes after heaven when this earth is made new, and sin and suffering and death and injustice are all at an end. Zion. The third book is One Way Love by Tullian Tchividjian. To learn that God’s love for us is one way was mind blowing to me. I wasn’t earning my justification. My sanctification was frustrating because surely, I wouldn’t struggle with things like anger, lust, greed, and pride. I took the presence of these sins in my life to mean that I hadn’t been justified by Christ’s work on the cross. However, when Jesus died on the cross, he gave the proclamation for all who would come to call him Savior – IT IS FINISHED. Am I to continue living any way I want, doing away with all of the laws of God? No, as reading New Testament books like Romans and Galatians would show with a quick reading. But, as I read the law, read what God requires of people blatantly spelled out by Jesus (“Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” Matthew 5:48), it becomes painfully clear that I can’t keep the law, no matter how hard I try. I was coming full circle back to why I believed the Bible in the first place. It is finished. Now those were sweet words to my soul. To rest in the Gospel, to rest in that Christ died for my sins and was raised again, to be free from trying to do the impossible of trying to be perfect as God is perfect, that is sweet freedom, I learned that God is holy, and I am not. I need a mediator, and Jesus is that mediator (2 Timothy 2:5).
In C.S. Lewis’s book Mere Christianity, he talks about Christianity being a house with a long hall and many rooms. The hallway, what he refers to as mere Christianity at its most basic, is where he spends his time. Denominations, doctrines, and other things people like to identify with and disagree about are what the rooms are. I’ve purposely not spent any time delving into which room I’ve found myself in, because the important thing is that Jesus died on the cross for my sins. If that’s not good enough already, he was raised again on the third day and ascended to heaven so that I can have hope for the same. The purpose of this post is not to be a convincing argument for Bible doctrine (there are books for that), but to relay to you a snapshot of what this roller coaster has looked like over the past 10 years. It hasn’t always been pretty, and I’ve acted out poorly in a lot of ways. I’ve had to make a lot of apologies to people I’ve hurt and said and done sinful things to and against. I’ve learned even more so that my hope is not in myself, but my hope is in Christ alone. That’s a tough pill to swallow, but quite frankly, that’s a big part of why I believe it, too.
The past 10 years, I have been a mess. Not as much of a mess as the first 23 years of my life, but I’ve still managed to bumble through the Christian life. I’ve learned my hope is not in myself, I’ve learned that I’m still going to sin (simultaneously a saint and sinner – wrestle with that one) and I need the humility to fess up to it when I do. We are still at the same church, Redeeming Grace Church. I’m still married to the same woman, Jenny, who has lived the Gospel in front of me more vividly than anyone else. We’ve had rough times, and great times. We’ve had three healthy children together, and we’ve had three heartbreaking miscarriages. I’ve worked jobs I’ve hated, and I’ve been broke. I’ve poorly managed resources. I’ve made and lost friends. I’ve struggled with depression, and then I would refuse to communicate anything other than “I’m fine.” I’ve yelled in anger. Again, my wife Jenny has been the most vivid display of the Gospel I have seen, loving me even when I am unlovable, just as Jesus has done. We have thrived, and we have suffered. All of this stuff I’ve learned about the Gospel doesn’t happen in a vacuum. How do I navigate life with it? Only by the grace of God. He’s not a God sitting on the sidelines, but actively involved working together all things for the good of those who love him (Romans 8). In the midst of that, I know this fire of sanctification is burning away the impurities I am prone to wander to. I’m not good enough for religious people, and I don’t even perfectly live by the Golden Rule, so I’m not good enough for secular people. I’m not really that good at all. But God is. My hope in the Gospel is not that I can act good enough for God, but that Jesus died and rose again to make an enemy His friend.  Learning to be satisfied in him is where I’m at right now. I can’t be satisfied in how good of a job I’m doing, because I’m not really pulling it off that well. My hope is in Jesus, who loved me and died for me. Learning to rest is a difficult thing. More on that in the next post.
If you missed how I got to this point, be sure to read about what happened to me 10 years ago.
Categories
anger Christianity Christmas cynicism depression Emmanuel Eschatology frustration Gospel Grinch Hope http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post Sin Songs

The Best Christmas Song Is..

Christmas Shoes. No wait, that’s a lie. Jingle Bells, Holly Jolly Christmas, Santa Claus Is Coming To Town. Christmastime is full of seasonally saccharin sweet songs. Is this really how people feel about Christmas? People like the decorations and snow (if we see it in the south) and sweaters, but does singing Frosty the Snowman or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer really put people in the Christmas spirit? OK OK, I’ll admit to liking Sleigh Ride and Mr. HeatMiser.
There are even songs from Christendom that are lyrically good, but seem to wear on the ears. For whatever reason, Mary, Did You Know? seems to catch a lot of flack on social media. Call it terrible, but I’ve never even been a fan of Silent Night. As a Christian, what could be more appealing to listen to than Silent Night? Joy to the World and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing are not even favorites of mine. At this point, you’re probably thinking… You’re a mean one, Mister Grinch.
And you’d be right. I am a mean one. I get sour and rail against commercialism, then engage in it. I get overwhelmed by life in general, by my own poor decisions and life that just happens. Sickness, snotty noses. This year I’ve been especially bad and grumpy. I fed and pruned genuine bitterness in my heart towards those singing Christmas songs and putting up their trees and lights before Thanksgiving. When the Bob Cratchet’s of the world have asked for the proverbial sonic lump of coal for the fire (which sounds a lot like That’s Christmas To Me by Pentatonix), I’ve given a Bah! Humbug! This season, I have been so gloomy that I have even lost desire to do things that I would normally enjoy doing, like hiking and exploring the outdoors. In past years, I’ve loaded up my iPod and listened to Christmas music the entire month of December leading up to the 25th. Not this year. My wife and kids love Christmas, the season, the songs, the decorations, the lights, the food. I have been like Jim Carrey’s version of the Grinch: “self-loathing at 2’o’clock.”
So why rail against Christmas songs that sound like they were taken out of a holiday version of Sugar Rush from Wreck-It Ralph? Because I feel like people are whitewashing their attitudes, building a veneer against what they really feel like. Don’t let me fool you. I can suck it up and smile, but heart business is dark business. My heart business is a cold cynic. This world is a cold and broken place filled with pain, frustration, suffering and death. As morbid as it sounds, to be restrainingly honest, there are a lot of times I’d like to just curl up and die with it. I’ve not been pleasant to be around. I have had all the tender sweetness of a sea-sick crocodile. How the Grinch is described really is fitting for me: Your soul is an appalling dump heap overflowing with the most disgraceful assortment of deplorable rubbish imaginable, mangled up in tangled up knots. What does this have to do with Christmas, or songs, or anything like that? In the words of Jesus Himself, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Cue the best Christmas song.
I like this Christmas song because it sounds sad. It’s the best song because it relates to a sad world. It relates to me in my brokenness. In many ways, it’s the cry of my heart.
What do you know about Bible history? The nation of Israel, God’s chosen people to whom He revealed Himself to over and over again, is driven into exile because for the umpteenth time they didn’t follow through with their end of the bargain when they said, “God, I’ll never do this again if you get me out of this mess.” They had spend years building a temple where they could worship and relate to God, and that place has been destroyed, and they were driven out of their homeland. They blew it. The prophet Isaiah, among other prophets, has foretold of a child named Emmanuel (which means “God With Us”) that will make all that is wrong with the world right. In their exile, we can imagine the nation of Israel singing…

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel

That mourns in lonely exile here

Until the Son of God appears

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, o Israel

O come thou Dayspring, come and cheer

Our spirits by Thine advent here

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night

And death’s dark shadow put to flight

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, o Israel

This is where we live. It’s where I live, at least. A Christmas song just does not seem appropriate unless it is brimming with hope-filled sorrow, like a single light against an infinite background of darkness. But that’s what Christmas is, isn’t it? It’s not Santa Claus. It’s not shopping. It’s not snow. Tullian Tchividjian tweeted recently that “Christmas is the beachhead of God’s campaign against sin and sadness, darkness and death, fear and frustration.” That is the truth. I don’t have any hope in my being a good person, and probably by this point you don’t have any hope in me being a good person either. My only hope is that God inserted Himself into this world in the form of a baby who would grow up living a perfect life and die a scandalous death and be buried in a grave that could not hold the innocent when He was raised from the dead and ascended into heaven as ruling Sovereign of all existence. The Bible says that if I trust that Jesus has done this, His life and death and resurrection and glory will be credited to me, and my sin and fear and anger and faithless hopelessness was credited to Him in a brutally crushing crucifixion and God the Father’s rejection. His righteousness, mine. My sin and unrighteousness, His. Jesus, rejected. Me, accepted. Scandalous.
This is the Gospel. Jesus is the Gospel. He isn’t an accessory to a good life. He is all I have to hang onto. I’m not a good and decent person, I’m an undeserving grace-getter. In several places in the Bible, God’s endgame is revealed. One selection that has been in front of me this past week is Isaiah 51:11 ESV And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. This is the day I long for. This is not my experience now, but as I remember the Gospel, the day I long for enters into the day now. Because I know Emmanuel has come, and like those in exiled Israel, hope in the day when He will return and bring His ransomed to Zion with singing, I can translate that joy not yet received into the here and now. I know the bad news, I remember the good news, and the light of anticipation can pierce the darkness. It can even pierce the veneer of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. My heart says, “Why?” Jesus says, “Because the day is coming when death will breathe its last breath.” 
There are days I forget the Gospel. Many days, in fact. There are days I forget that Emmanuel has come, and those are the days I suck it up and smile through a plastic veneer, at best, or am miserable to be around and take it out on those around me, at worst. On those days, may my inward groaning coax my heart to sing O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. In that, there is rest for this weary and anxious heart.
Should you be in the mood to listen to O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, I offer you a few of my favorite versions of the song. Thanks, internet. 
By Haste The Day
By Dustin Kensrue 
By ThePianoGuys (instrumental)
By August Burns Red (instrumental)
By For Today (revisioned lyrically)
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.
Categories
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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Greenville County http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post Lake Conestee Nature Park Swamp Rabbit Trail

Lake Conestee Nature Park

Boardwalk on Racoon Run
My wife Jenny and I had the opportunity to take a hike together this weekend. Just us. Well, us and baby Skylar. It seems like ‘original’ plans aren’t coming together a lot for me lately. The thought was to hike out to the Raven Cliff Falls observation deck. After the November 1st snowfall and the temps still being in the 30’s, I thought it may be too slippery trying to hike it with Skylar in the Ergo carrier. Having been in the same parking lot the previous day for the Coldspring Branch/Bill Kimball loop hike, and I was slipping and sliding on those trails before they had an overnight freeze. I had some idea of what it might look like. I started having visions of a trip we took in Great Smoky Mountains National Park for my daughter Emma’s 3rd birthday. That trail to Rainbow Falls from Roaring Forks was covered in ice and snow, very slippy. Yeah, whatever.. I erred on the side of caution.

Still, we went to a place that was nearly new and certainly unexplored to me. I had a few minutes on Halloween night to venture a few steps into Lake Conestee (CON-is-tee – I asked someone who works for the preserve) Nature Park, so I was eager to see what laid beyond the bridge that crossed the Reedy River.

Mallards in the marsh
We parked at the Bridge Entrance, and walked Heron Circle. No luck on seeing any great blue herons today, though. The loop was a really pleasant walk along the outer edge of Sparkleberry Island (according to the Learning Loop informational signage). On the southern edge, there’s an observation deck looking out over the West Bay, which I found quite nice. There were several boardwalks and planks on the trail for when the ground gets soppy wet. My kids would love this, and I plan to take them.

Finishing up Heron Circle, we took a couple connectors, crossed a wooden bridge that a small flock of mallards were watching over from the water, and picked up the Flat Tail Trail, moving south. The was another nice meander through the woods. My goal was to get to the Bird’s Nest Observation Deck and snag a view from the top. Now, I didn’t know it was an elevated platform, but given its name I knew it was an elevated platform. More great views. We weren’t even tired, so I was already thinking about scoring one more spot on this hike. Skylar was still hanging in there, so we would see how she was doing once we got back to the bridge over Reedy River.

Bird’s Nest
Turns out, Skylar was doing just fine. We got on Raccoon Run to my next goal, Easy Bay View. I figured it must be a good one since there was even a sign for it at the intersection. None of the other decks had pointed signage. A really nice elevated boardwalk guided us along the banks opposite of Sparkleberry Island. The boardwalk eventually ended, and the trail was easy to follow and walk on all the way to the East Bay View. This was by far the best and most open view we had seen today. Fantastic!
East Bay View
A short walk got us out of the nature area, and we were on blacktop walking next to baseball fields on our way back to the car. What a contrast. Not necessarily bad. It just gave Mr the gratitude for what a treasure the park is for Greenville County.

This is a great spot not just for your kids, but also for a break from the busyness that is always buzzing in Greenville. Really, if you’re wanting to get into hiking, and looking for something flat and easy, Lake Conestee Nature Park is a great and scenic place to visit. Living in Greenville suburbs myself, my go to spot for an easy hike has been Paris Mountain’s Lake Placid or the section of Sulpher Springs Trail up to the dam at Mountain Lake. Those are still nice family hikes, but for the effort, flexibility, and scenery, I am going to be switching to Lake Conestee. It doesn’t even cost anything to get in. We were able to see a lot of the area, covering 2.75miles in an hour and a half. I can’t wait to see more of what is in Lake Conestee Nature Park.

I really want to encourage you to visit a clean breath of fresh air thats tucked away right in our backyard. For more information and maps, visit http://lakeconesteenaturepark.com

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Bill Kimball Trail Coldspring Branch Coldspring Branch Trail El Lieutenant Fellowship http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area Snow South Carolina The SC Project

Hiking the South Carolina Fall Snowfall

 With a men’s breakfast for our church, Waldemar and I got a late start. That didn’t help out our temperature much, though. Just before noon, it was still only 36 degrees. A storm had dumped 4+” snow on the ground in the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area, and it was pretty much all still there by the time we showed up.

Originally, I had been planning to hike Rim of the Gap, but the parks started closing early this weekend thanks to the time change. Hey, I’m grateful for the extra hour of watching TV sleep, but having less daylight for hikes is a big stinkaroo.

I have driven past this parking lot several times, and actually parked there twice for a hikes to Raven Cliff Falls. It would be my first time stepping foot into the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area from this side of the park. We were really surprised to get out of the cold and feel the biting wind. This was gonna be a lot colder than I had anticipated. It kinda reminded me of my home state of Michigan, actually. Fortunately, we were set well with what we were wearing and had brought toboggans. Down the snowy trail we went.

(Snowy fall colors along the Coldspring Branch Trail)
The Coldspring Branch Trail was extremely scenic. As we descended, the ridges of Jones Gap rose to either side of us. Eventually, Coldspring Branch emerged from a trickle in the rocks of a gulley to a beautiful full flowing creek that kept us company nearly the entire trip towards the Middle Saluda River at the very bottom of Jones Gap. We had to cross Coldspring Branch a couple times, but the crossings were rock hops that kept us out of the water. At several points, the rhododendron drooped as the evening snow still clung to its leaves. Fall yellows, oranges, and reds really contrasted with the fresh snowfall. The whole trail was really enjoyable. Many trails feel like green tunnels that take you to a destination. Coldspring Branch Trail is a trail that is fitting to describe as the journey being the destination. Additionally, it is a connector to a handful of other trails making it an important trail for loops.
(Snowy rhododendron along Coldspring Branch)

Our ascent started at a campsite where Coldspring Branch Trail intersected with the Bill Kimball Trail. It was pretty soggy around the bottom, where some of the trail had been overtaken by water, making them tiny tributaries to the Middle Saluda. Then the trail turns up. It’s 900 feet in elevation to the top.

(Waldermar with our first view of El Lieutenant in the background)

Eventually, Bill Kimball Trail turns rocky, and takes you to four different rock faces of the formation known as El Lieutenant. These four faces are surely the pull to take this trail. The way we came is the more difficult direction, since you have to climb up it, sometimes using your hands. Given the snow and slick footing, though, climbing up was safer than climbing – or slipping – down. We stopped at an overhang not too far from the top for a short break and a bite to eat for lunch.

Once at the top of the ridge, the grade evens out quite a bit and it’s an easy hike back to the car. As far as difficulty goes, I would say that the trails were moderate in themselves, with the difficulty increased due to the snow. Hike length varies depending on the source. My GPS said we went 6.3 miles, the guidebook says the hike is 4.8 miles, and the official map says it’s 4.4 miles. I don’t know. It took us just over 3.5 hours to hike it, though. 

(Me and Waldemar at one of the four faces of El Lieutenant)
What I thought was going to be a concession hike to just get out and do something smaller turned out to be extremely. It’s not often we get snow in the Upstate, let alone when fall colors are still surging. Discovering the Coldspring Branch Trail for myself was like uncovering a hidden away secret. Most of all, this was the first time Waldemar and I got to spend any time together. We had great conversation that revolved around God speaking through the miraculous, how God is more wild than we give him credit for and will not be contained by the boxes we put him in. What is God trying to say to us? At my asking, I also got to hear a lot of great stories about what life is like in Germany. To go out hiking is a lot of fun, but to share in fellowship with another Christian brother is a real blessing for me. It’s like, you get a clearer picture of who God is, and you see Him a little bit better by how he’s reflected in the life of your friend, and your friendship deepens at the same time. There’s really nothing else like it.

This hike was truly a blessing for me on multiple levels.

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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.

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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)