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The SC Project: Kid Friendly Waterfall Training at Wildcat Wayside

Recently, the kids and I had a couple hours to spend while mommy visited with a friend. We diverted from our normal destination of Paris Mountain to Highway 11 for some waterfall training. I say training because there is a level of danger when hiking around waterfalls. This year, several hikers have fallen to their deaths at waterfalls. I’m aware of at least two death that occurred at Upper Wildcat falls in years prior. Waterfall training is important because there is a natural draw to them, but there are also ways we can enjoy them recklessly that can turn fun into danger in half an instant. There are rules to stay safe while still marveling over God’s amazing creation with awe and wonder. You’re now free to exhale and read on.
This is a relatively easy (I recorded 212ft of elevation) loop hike just over 1 mile with 4 waterfalls. The smallest children may have some difficulty, but the trail is good and the area is beautiful.
We started at the parking area right below the Wildcat Wayside sign. From there, a short set of stone steps led us to Lower Wildcat Falls. Oftentimes in the summer, there are folks selling produce and boiled peanuts at the road while people enjoy wading in the plunge pool below the falls. 
To the left of the falls, the trail ascends to Middle Wildcat Falls immediately. This is probably my favorite section of this area. The plunge pool is more shallow than the one below, and is perfect for kiddies to splash around in. This is also where the training begins. A series of rocks serves as a broken bridge to cross the creek. The kids are not allowed to be in the pool downstream of those rocks, because the top of Lower Wildcat is just beyond them. We splashed around a bit in the sandy bottomed pool at Middle Wildcat. Closer to the falls where it gets rocky, there are a couple “deep” sections, like 18 inches maybe. My son stumbled into it and soaked himself, but fortunately it was a warm day for October. 
Lesson 1: Wet rocks are slick and slippery.

After the rock hop across the creek, there is an information and map kiosk about the park. The “Falls” notated on the map are for a low flow unnamed cascade along the loop trail. Also, there is the top of Middle Wildcat. Very firmly and clearly, it was time for me to give more training.
Lesson 2: We do NOT play at the top of waterfalls.
The trail levels out at the foundation and still standing chimney of an old cabin. Beyond that, the trail forks. You can go either direction, as the trail is a loop. Follow the yellow blazes painted on the rocks and trees. We took the right side path and started gaining elevation. This will undoubtedly be the most difficult portion of the hike for the youngest explorers, as it takes the energy to hike up the hill and they will need the encouragement that “We will go back to those waterfalls on the way out.” It is a beautiful hike along the edge of the valley. A turn and we were at the Falls, which I count as a waterfall but is not that impressive in all honesty. 


Much more is the upcoming Upper Wildcat Falls. Which brought us back into training time.

Lesson 3: People have died at waterfalls.

Waterfalls are unforgiving. Their beauty demands a healthy respect. Admittedly, sometimes the groups I hike with can blur the lines of what that looks like, but that doesn’t change the fact that dangerous areas demand caution. This day, Upper Wildcat was flowing low, but this 100′ waterfall still is an awe inspiring rock formation, and safe as long as you stay on the trail. My two older kids both said,”Whoa!!!” as the trees gave way to bare rock cliffs when hiking on the trail. The Danger signs are in 3 locations, so there’s plenty notice of the need for caution and tempered exploring. You’ll have to cross the creek with a small rock hop.

The trail meanders through the forest next to the creek at a much easier elevation during this section. There are some cool cascades in the valley as Wildcat Creek makes its way from the Upper to Middle to Lower Falls and eventually the Middle Saluda River. These are visible from the trail.

Soon, we were back at Lower Wildcat for some wading in the chilly plunge pool. The kids easily waded up to the falls close enough to touch it. 

This really is a great hike for families. Despite the dangers of waterfalls, if you stay on the trail, it is quite safe. There are lots of things to see, and it’s a wonderful way to get outside. What a jewel we have in the Upstate of South Carolina! With places like this, we can ease our kids (and ourselves!) into the outdoors. If you’re looking for something with a lot of payoff for little effort, Wildcat Wayside should be on your list. My kids loved it.

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

Scrambling the Rim of the Gap

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

Cliff Falls with low flow and a tropical feel

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

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

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

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

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

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bushwhacking hiking http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post Mashbox Falls Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area New Millenium Falls Slickum Creek South Carolina Spider Tunnel Falls The SC Project Waterfalls Wildcat Wayside

The SC Project: Waterfalls Off 11

Group shot at Lower New Millenium Falls

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

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

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

Raven Cliff Falls Megahike

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

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

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

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

The most complete view of Raven Cliff Falls

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

Then we started descending… in earnest.

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

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

Raven Cliff Falls beneath the waning moon

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

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

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

Andy and Van on the suspension bridge above Raven Cliff Falls

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andy crafting the shot from behind Moonshine Falls

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

Confusion Falls

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

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

Our final photo op over the recreation lake at Asbury Hills

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

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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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Asbury Hills Methodist Camp hiking Matthews Creek Moonshine Falls Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area South Carolina The SC Project Trip Reports Waterfalls

Asbury Hills and Moonshine Falls

It had been raining Saturday night, and looked cold and wet still on Sunday morning. I got the call before church to find out if the hike was still on. “The precip is supposed to drop to 30% after noon, and I think it’ll clear up. So if TJ’s still up for it, we’re still going.” He was up to it, so after church TJ and I headed up to the South Carolina mountains. We had been planning this trip together for several months, and I considered several locations. Finally, I settled on Moonshine Falls located in the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area of South Carolina. Getting there via the Naturaland Trust Trail would be more than I was willing to take on today, so we went in via the Asbury Hills Methodist Camp. It’d still be 2.6 miles one way to the falls, but by looking at the topography it looked pretty moderate, which is exactly what it was.

In my research of Moonshine Falls, I found out that you have to get permission to hike through Asbury Hills. In fact, the camp is gated. You have to have the gate access code (which you can get by calling 864-836-3711). I wasn’t sure of the exact route to take to get to the trailhead, but we stayed on the main drive and found ourselves at the parking area in not too long. Asbury Hills looks like a sweet camp, nestled in the Dismal Forest at the base of the Mountain Bridge Wilderness. Four different blazes start here, but we stayed on the main red blaze, which is the Asbury Trail. Along the way, and I have no idea how he spotted it, TJ caught glimpse of a salamander on the trail. At best, it was 5/8″ long. I looked for several seconds as he pointed toward it and I still didn’t see it until it started moving. Eventually the other blazes left the trees and we crossed over a few creeks until we finally got to the cable bridge crossing at Matthews Creek.

There used to be a cable bridge crossing Matthews Creek further upstream where the Dismal Trail meets Naturaland Trust on the (difficult) lollipop loop to the Cathedral and suspension bridge over Raven Cliff Falls. Last I heard, the trees holding that bridge had fallen. As we were leaving Asbury Hills, the tree on the eastern bank for this cable bridge has definitely seen better days. The west side tree didn’t look too bad. I love a cable bridge crossing. Lots of fun! There’s an element of insecurity to it, especially as the cable can be slippery from water spray. But hold on to the top cable and you’ll be fine. Check it out: Matthews Creek cable bridge crossing

We came out at the intersection to the Naturaland Trust Trail, which indicated Raven Cliff Falls was 1.7 miles to the left, and 276 was 2.9 miles to the right. The trail got considerably more rough once we left Asbury Hills, but was still easy to follow. At one point, the trail became a creek, thanks to our evening rain. There was an obvious side trail to avoid the new creek, which we took. On this side path, we found a red eft (juvenile newt) and took a few pictures of it.

It was typically rocky and rooted and somewhat soggy trail through some lovely green forest until we made it to our turn, a large rock cairn along the Naturaland Trust Trail. Not far beyond it, was a Hot Spot sign, indicating that we were off the main trail, and this is a place where people can become lost. This wasn’t really my concern. The sign also indicated Moonshine Falls was this way, which was my concern. The trail wound it’s way through the lush ferned forest and at the second rock cairn, we started passing by some really cool overhangs. Not caves quite, and not a large area, but still neat scenery. Descending the ridge, we could hear Moonshine Falls. You can see it from the top of the ridge, and we took the trail down. Definitely a cool area here!

The descent trail is not very long, but it got more soggy here. What was forest turned into jungle. There’s a large overhang, with remnants of how the falls got its namesake. Several old 55gallon drums and moonshine stills are rusting away in the overhang. To think of the history that may have happened here, and what those moonshiners might have done to 2 lone hikers that wandered into their operation when it was in action probably wouldn’t have been as pleasant as the time we had. We took a few selfies, and explored around the area getting views and photos from different angles. Moonshine Falls itself falls over the edge of the overhang, so you’re completely behind it while in the overhang. We didn’t climb down to the base here, as it was muddy and the rocks were very slick. There’s a side trail not far from the mouth of the overhang, which takes you to the base of the falls, though you have to do some rock hopping here to get a clear view of it.

We poked around the area a little bit more, looking for a few other things, but we were already past our turnback time so further explorations would have to wait for another day. We went back out the way we came in. The hike back was very enjoyable. We saw a few large snails along the trail, and a finger-sized slug. The palmsized fauna was out today, which was nice for us. None of the rhododendron was blooming. A few teaberries were out, but not too much was blooming. I can imagine what this hike would have looked like not just in it’s brilliant carolina jungle greens, but illuminated with flashes of wildflower colors would really make this a great sight!

Overall, we had a great hike, that was moderate in difficulty. To Moonshine Falls and back was about 5.2 miles, without any extreme elevation changes. TJ and I had a great time, and we discovered one more reason to play in South Carolina!

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The SC Project Kickoff: Falls Creek Falls, Plus Some!

This trip was the official start of The SC Project, my focus to explore the wilds and wonders, highs and lows of South Carolina. What better way to start with a waterfalls that’s been on my bucket list for 2 years running? My friend Chris and I headed up to the mountains to meet Todd, who you’re already familiar with if you read this blog with any regularity. 

I’ve been trying to do some online recon for a while, and what I came up with is that the trail to Falls Creek Falls is strenuous and rocky, climbing 1000′ in 1.7 miles. The sign at the trailhead indicated a 2 hour hike, one way, to Falls Creek Falls. Having hiked several times in Linville Gorge, I scoffed at this number and dismissed it. While the FCF Trail is not LG’s PinchIn Trail, it’s still pretty pumpy and will give your legs a workout! I would rate it as more difficult than the neighboring trail to Rainbow Falls in Jones Gap. It is not overly rocky, though there’s a few ruts in it. Definitely not a beginners trail. 

The scenery along the Falls Creek Falls Trail was pretty: glowing green with new spring leaves and spattered with the white blooms of mountain laurel. I love the Carolinas. One thing of definite note here is to watch the blazes on the trail. It’s well marked with purple blazes, but there are several side trails. Double blazes indicate an intersection, so it’s easy enough to stay on the right path.  While hiking, though, I noted several areas that really spiked the “I-wonder-what’s-over-there?” side of my internal off-trail exploration meter. Another adventure for another day. 

45 minutes after our start time, Chris and I were standing at Falls Creek Falls. The trail brings you to the middle of the falls, and we took the lower fork to get the whole scene in. Very impressive. I walked out just a little ways on the rocks and caught that there was a just as huge upper section of the falls. Even more impressive! That’s the picture that tops this post, by the way. I’m just guessing that it’s at least 100′ high, from bottom to top. I haven’t looked up the specifics of it.

We had gotten to the trailhead a little late, and Todd had headed up to the falls ahead of us. I gave a “whoooooooooo!!” hollar, and hoped that it would cut through the roar of the waterfall. A couple minutes later, Todd is coming down the trail. Good to see you again, bro!!

If you’re a SC resident and haven’t been to Falls Creek Falls yet, you are missing out. You can get here from Greenville in about the time it’d take you to drive Woodruff Rd from Laurens Rd to 14 on a busy day. Maybe less time than Woodruff Rd. It took me 20 minutes to get there from Traveler’s Rest, and it’s outside of the Smstate park, so there’s no typical $2 fee. Only a couple places to park, though. Just be ready to pump those legs, and bring a couple bottles of water or Gatorade with you. It’s worth it at the end, I promise. PLEASE be careful at the falls, though. As Todd said while we were there, “That’d be a bad waterslide.”

We hung out for a while, cooled down from the hike up, and just soaked in the restorative quality that comes from being in the mist of a waterfall. The hike down was quick and easy. We were back at the cars in no time. We had hiked to Falls Creek Falls and back in 2 hours 10 minutes. A nice sweet hike, indeed.

Having some time still, I suggested we go poke around Highway11 a little. We stopped at Wildcat Wayside (the waterfall you can see by the road that usually has a boiled peanuts stand nearby on the pulloff). 


Pretty nice there at Lower Wildcat Falls, and climbing up to Middle Wildcat Falls, I noted there had been several improvements to the area since I had last stopped here a few years ago.


 It’s an easy rock hop across the creek. There’s a big kiosk just beyond Middle Wildcat Falls indicating some further info about the trail. We took the right fork of the lollipop loop and passed by a low flow waterfall that was only labeled “falls” but didn’t stop too long to admire. I’d never been to Upper Wildcat Falls, and it was less than a mile round trip, so off we went. What you’ll find here is well made trail on fairly easy and steady elevation that takes you through typical Carolina forest. Very nice for a family hike, actually, as long as you remain cautious. 


Last year, a man died at Upper Wildcat Falls, and there were a couple DANGER signs nearby, indicating it wasn’t one to mess around with. There is a really cool crack in the rock that the waterfall flows down. Just don’t climb the waterfall.

Back to the car, I had one more waterfall nearby I was dying to check out. It’s been a whole since I’d been to sweet Thing on Slickum, and come to find out the trail has been marked and blazed green at the trailhead. Passing by one waterfall on Slickum Creek that I’m not sure the name of, we made it to Sweet Thing on Slickum in no time. Someone has definitely done some work on this trail! When I first came through a few years ago, the trail was sloughing off and you had to crawl through rhododendron tangles to get back to the falls. There’s still some erosion on the trail, but it’s much improved. The rhodo tangle is gone, thank God. And thank you, whoever cut that stuff out of there!


Sweet Thing on Slickum is an 18-20′ waterfall located in a grotto. It’s one of my personal favorite waterfalls in South Carolina, and I love being there. Too bad I was now pushing the limits of my time windows, and I had to start heading back home.

Definitely a great day out in the woods. A huge thanks to Chris and Todd for going out there with me. Not to bad to see 7 waterfalls in 3.5 hours worth of hiking. 

South Carolina, you definitely treated us well today. I’m looking forward to hanging out with you some more, and hopefully we’ll both be making new introductions.




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This place is like a picture

 

Every time we go on an adventure, I am always the guy who lags behind. True, I am a slowpoke. Perhaps a better name would be a lollygagger. I’m not out to set any distance records. I’m not on some trail to march (although I do enjoy trail running on occasion… like the occasion I actually go running). I’m out to enjoy the scenery. I’m out to be awed and enamoured with what lay before my eyes.

I was made to marvel.

And marvel I did on our recent hike to Rainbow Falls in the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area of Northern South Carolina. We parked at the entrance to Jones Gap State Park, in Cleveland, SC. About 2.5 miles one way, we pulled ourselves 1000ft in elevation up the side of the gorge to get to one of the most magnificent waterfalls I have seen. This was along semi-gentle contours, and it is a well cut trail with erosion control on it. The rainbow Falls Trail takes you past flowing creeks, small waterfalls, granite cliffs, good views, and finally dead ends at Rainbow Falls. It allowed for some great scrambling along slippery rocks, and I was even able to get right beneath the waterfall to feel the power and strength of water as it impacts after a 100ft fall. I took several pictures.

One of those pictures is somewhere on this post.. My friend Eric is at the base of the 100ft waterfall, which is at the point in a large canyon on either side. We are surrounded by water and cliffs and rock and greenery. What makes Rainbow Falls one of my favorite is the sense of being consumed by what is in front of you. The scene is all-encompassing, you become IN it, instead of going TO it. Instead of, “That’s cool,” you become speechless. You are in awe. You are marveling.

This is what I was made for, and experiences like this are what I aim for on every adventure into the wilderness.

This is also what a picture does not capture. Sometimes, if someone is standing in the picture, the viewer can get a sense of scale, like how big the waterfall really is. But it’s not just about the waterfall, it’s about the experience. You can’t feel the spray of the mist, the power of the falling water, the closing in of the canyon walls, or the satisfaction of making it to your destination, or the fun of rock hopping your way to the base of a waterfall, or the sense of being lost in something bigger than you are. This is the kind of thing that makes a man feel small and insignificant. I love this.

Coming back around, a picture cannot capture being there. How much more will this be true of Heaven? When we read in Scripture about the City of God, do we read thinking we have absolute clarity on what Heaven will be? It is far better to think of our view of Heaven as a picture of an amazing waterfall, mountain, canyon, ocean or river. If what we behold on this side of the glass thrills us, can you fathom what it will be like to actually stand guiltless in Heaven, where we see with eyes unveiled, the glory of what has been prepared for those who trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins and adoption as sons and daughters as heirs into the family of God?

View these photos of waterfalls and gorges, and desire to be lost in their midst. As you stand marveling, imagine what Zion, a Christian’s home country, must be like.

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1Corinthians13:12 esv)

Indeed.

Perhaps reading the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S.Lewis can aid you in this.