Categories
Christianity Daffodil Flats God Heaven http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post North Carolina reflection the Gospel Zion

Reflections in Daffodil Flats

Daffodils by Mark Houser. Used with permission.
“[Daffodil Flats is] The best possible and easiest to sell excuse to bring people to Linville Gorge.” Spencer Clary (@canyoneer_engineer)
Every year during the late weeks of February and the early weeks of March, a seemingly insignificant flat patch of land in the south eastern end of the Linville Gorge erupts into a magnificent yellow field of daffodils. Jenny and I were able to visit just before peak bloom in 2013, but unfortunately missed it this year. Several friends of mine went, via several routes ranging from hard to harder to hardest, so I got to see Daffodil Flats blow up my Facebook feed for a couple weeks. It was during this time that it occurred to me there are many parallels to Daffodil Flats. It acts as a sort of foreshadow of Zion. Not the national park, or even heaven, but when the final chapter of this age is over and the beginning of eternity writes its first page in the New Creation. The kingdom of God that is everlasting. The place the book of Revelation tells us about when, in the presence of God, every tear is wiped away, and death and suffering are no more. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Have you ever heard it said of someone that they were so heavenly minded, they were of no earthly good? This seems to me to be an impossible statement. I submit to you for consideration that if a Christian is of little or no earthly good, then they are far too weak when it comes to being heavenly minded. Does any of that make you think of any Christians you know? What are we known for?
Well, we are known for a lot of things. There are plenty of things I could say here, but odds are that you already have a list in your mind if you haven’t given up on me already. Thank you for sticking around! A couple months ago on a Sunday morning, my pastor asked the following question: What if Christians were known for what they were for instead of what they were against? (Matt Rawlings) What if… just, what if… the men and women and children who claim to follow Christ were known for their supercharged vision of a Kingdom and Age to come? Zion. It’s like we are in a slumber, so busy rolling lazily about in bed that we do not see the adventure that awaits. Yes, the road is long and the winters are cold, but spring is coming!
Let’s bounce back to Linville Gorge. Daffodil Flats is located just off the Linville Gorge Trail, over a mile south of one of the most notoriously brutal trails in North Carolina. Pinch In Trail. From the top to the bottom, the trail takes you 1.5 miles through the rough forest, down a rocky and exposed sunbeaten ridge, to a near mudslide embedded with roots until you finally get to the river 1700 vertical feet later. The Linville Gorge Trail is then far from flat with dead blowdown sometimes covering the trail. I mentioned that there was more than one way down, but that is the fastest, most accessible, most direct combination of footsteps to get there. Then you get out the same way you came in, and it’s brutal when PinchIn Trail makes your heart feel like it will burst from beneath your breathless lungs. That trip to Daffodil Flats is one of the hardest stretches of six miles that North Carolina has to offer. People see the daffodils and whimsically say, “I want to go there! How do I do it?” The response, no matter what directions they’re given, always includes the warning: count the cost. The reward is great, but the road is full of obstacles and difficulties. However, we still love to tell people that the difficult road is worth it. Indeed, it is.
My wife Jenny hiking down PinchIn
As a Christian, how do I see Zion? If I am of little heavenly mind, I will think of this Kingdom with little enthusiasm. Do I have to just be good and hope I get to some ethereal cloud city of harp playing goody-two-shoes? Let’s consider Daffodil Flats as we know it. It’s amazing. It’s awe inspiring. It’s a field of flowers that captures us with a passion to see them for ourselves, despite the path to get there. We who have been there tell those who have not that it is amazing and worth it. This Daffodil Flats exists in a world that is under the curse of sin. Sin is not just doing a bad thing. It is a prison that holds us and this world – including our gorges – in chains and bondage. The world will be made new – including our gorges – and this world will be our world redeemed and set free from the thick and oppressive entropy of sin. To quote Matt Chandler, “All creation is eagerly awaiting its liberation.” The field of yellow that we marvel over every year is like trying to see the real thing in a mirror that is fogged over. Spring is coming.
If Daffodil Flats is what we see in a mirror dimly, what is beyond? What is to come? What is in store for this earth (and us, for that matter) when it ceases to be a hope and literally, physically becomes where God dwells with man? Does that sound like a dream or a drag to you? We read in Psalm 16:11 (ESV), King David (Slingshot Goliath slaying David) saying to God, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” If Daffodil Flats is a joy and pleasure that we behold, yet begins to fade as we turn our backs…what will Psalm 16:11 joy and pleasures mean? How could we as Christians not be excited to tell everyone we know about this? Our excitement for Zion should be an amplified excitement for Daffodil Flats! We tell people to place their hope and trust and joy in Christ with all the same excitement of telling them that it’ll be a good decision to get their wisdom teeth pulled or ingrown toenails removed. Our hope for eternity with God is lackluster. After the hard winter of life, Spring is coming. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Every spring, after the cold icy winters, the daffodils emerge in a field of glory like tiny prophets who proclaim to the world that a resurrection is coming.
Daffodil Flats, at nowhere near full bloom
Maybe part of our slumber, what keeps us in the warm bed of not thinking about too much beyond today, is that there is some bad news involved in the good news – that pesky thing of sin that costs Christians to be shunned with the names of bigot and worse. If you’re still reading and rolling your eyes at me, can I ask you to spend your disbelief very briefly? I saw this thing called sin in a new light this past week. We know from the Gospels in the Bible that Judas betrayed Jesus over a measley 30 pieces of silver. Also, the Gospels tell us that Peter, one of Jesus’s closest friends, denied him to save his own skin. I heard a song this week, and it really struck me. It is perhaps one of the most honest songs I have ever come out of music.
He sings, “Judas sold you for thirty. I would have done it for less. Peter denied you three times. I’ve denied you more. What have we done?” We are all in either the shoes of Judas or Peter. Once they saw themselves as a wreck, the only difference between them is that Judas attempted to atone for himself on his own terms by committing suicide, and Peter came to Jesus for atonement on Jesus’s terms of asking to be forgiven. Sin is not merely a stain on our record, an F on our report card, or a mistake we once made. Sin is our prison, and it can even be a prison that we love. Its presence is still at work in every aspect of life, especially the indwelling remains in my own heart. Sin wrecks havoc against us in pain, death, and heartbreak. You know how all that feels, and you don’t need me to flesh it out. Sin separates us from God, puts us at odds with him as enemies, and the only way to be reconciled is through Jesus. He is our mediator. I’m here to tell you what I am for. I am for where God is. I am for being where God says he will be, dwelling with man, and I want you to be there too. I get no notch on my belt. I don’t get an A on my report card. I don’t get any brownie points for telling you. Jesus is the only door, which stands open. I want you to go, so you can feel what it feels like at Daffodil Flats without the burden of a curse. I am not asking you to behave yourself and straighten up. I’m telling you that there is a Good King, and a great good is coming. That is what I am for.
2000 years ago, when Jesus was crucified, we are given a window into the scene. We read in Luke 23:39-43 ESV – One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

I realize you may be doubting at this point. You may be like the person who has never hiked yet heard reputations of the Linville Gorge. You’re saying, “No way am I going down there.” From someone who has started walking the road, let me say with the most confidence I can give, that the journey is worth it. Yes, there is a cost. Yes, like Daffodil Flats (or any other place in the Linville Gorge, for that matter), it is difficult and takes effort and cuts and scrapes and exhaustion on the long path, but it is worth it because of the wonder and delight that is set before us. The King is a Good King, and he gives us reflections and signposts of Himself and His Kingdom. Reflections and signposts of paradise, unfading and unperishable joy, pleasures at his hand. That’s a key, though. The pleasures are His. If we reject Him, we reject everything, and gain nothing. If we, like the thief crucified next to Him with nothing to offer, only ask Him to remember us in His Kingdom, then we gain everything. We are adopted by the King, become His sons and daughters, and gain everything. That Jesus died to be the door to Himself for us is indeed great news.
When you see the rays of the morning or evening sun paint the skies, or the dance of the Aurora Borealis dance beneath the stars, do you see the reflection? Do you see the reflection in Daffodil Flats of when everything will be made new? That is why we celebrate. Happy Easter to you, dear friend. Resurrection is coming. Jesus’s has already happened, and ours will be next, either to life or death. May your long road take you to the Good King and the paradise that accompanies Him alone. Please, let’s talk about it together.
Let me close with one of my favorite quotes ever, from the late since rising writer Keith Green. “You know, I look around at the world and I see all the beauty that God made. I see the forest and the trees and all the things…and it says in the Bible that he made them is six days and I don’t know if they’re a literal six days or not. Scientists would say no, some theologians would say yes. It doesn’t matter to me…but I know that Jesus Christ has been preparing a home for me and for some of you, for two thousand years…and if the world took six days and that home two thousand years, hey man, this is like living in a garbage can compared to what’s going on up there.”
Some people are far more eloquent and more fully minded towards eternity than I am. A few of those resources are…
Appreciating Creation While Anticipating New Creation (Episode 87) #AskPastorJohn 
Easter Breaks Our Heartbreak (Episode 565) #AskPastorJohn 
Easter Breaks Our Sin (Episode 566) #AskPastorJohn 
Easter Breaks Our Mediocrity (Episode 567) #AskPastorJohn 
How Does Delight in God Fuel Delight in Creation? (Episode 452) #AskPastorJohn 
Tales of New Creation (Part 1) – The Rabbit Room Podcast 
Tales of New Creation (Part 2) – The Rabbit Room Podcast 
Tales of New Creation (Part 3) – The Rabbit Room Podcast 
Heaven. A book by Randy Alcorn
Mere Christianity. A book by C.S. Lewis
The Explicit Gospel. A book by Matt Chandler
Categories
Foothills Trail Gorges State Park Heartbreak Ridge Hilliard Falls http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post Laurel Fork Falls Lower Whitewater Falls North Carolina South Carolina The SC Project Upper Whitewater Falls

Foothills Trail: Upper Whitewater Falls to Laurel Valley

Chris and I at the Upper Whitewater Falls overlook as we begin our trip.
It had been quite a while since I went backpacking. Even then, I think it was in the ballpark of 8-10 miles. This would be my longest backpacking trip ever, at an estimated 35 miles. I cashed in a vacation day with work, loaded up my pack (final weigh in at 30.6lbs), and met my buddy Chris at the trailhead. We had a few more interested in joining, but either schedules or forecasts were their reasons for not coming. Perhaps we should have given a little more credit to the forecast that had been all over the map and seemed to guarantee some rain, but we had the time carved out, and dangit, we wanted to go.
Upper Whitewater Falls
We dropped the Matrix at the Laurel Valley access of the Foothills Trail at 8am on Friday. It’s about a 45 minute shuttle over to Whitewater Falls, and we parked in the gate at the main access to the falls (note: there is a $2 per day fee here). By the time we got everything set, covered, double checked, and ready, it was 9am and we were ready to roll into our trek of gorges, rivers, steps, and bridges. The upper overlooks to are easy to access, and the falls are amazing. Upper Whitewater Falls is claimed to be the highest waterfall east of the Mississippi River at a height of 411′. It had been a moist week, too, so the water was flowing beautifully. We took a couple pictures of the falls and us to start off the hike, then headed down the trail with all the gusto of a Swedish hiker named Magnus. The overcast skies were already starting to mist, but we were optimistic and having a great time.
The Whitewater River with Upper Whitewater Falls barely visible above
We made it to the base of the Whitewater River, and it is extremely rugged down there with massive boulders everywhere. We had to scramble up some wet rocks to get to the bridge, which would be one of many many bridges we would cross on our trek back to Laurel Valley. Standing at that bridge with the falls above is a powerful place to stand. The energy of the Whitewater River rushing down is a wonder to behold. There is definitely a sense of, “This place would crush me if it went bad.”
The next major intersection we came to was the A7 access, which is turn right for the road and left to stay on the Foothills Trail and get to Lower Whitewater Falls, the path to which is blue blazed. Once we got to the split to the lower falls, the sign at the split said it was only .9 miles. The map from the Foothills Trail conference says the mileage is 1.2. So, there’s some discrepancy between the printed literature and signage, which seemed to pop up elsewhere on our trip, too.
Lower Whitewater Falls
Lower Whitewater Falls was a complete surprise. We hadn’t really planned to hike there, but given the look of the skies, we decided to cash in some of our exploration time here instead of later. The overlook gives a clear view of the gorgeous waterfall. One cool aspect of it is there’s a cave feature in the middle of one of the upper cascades, not that I’d try to access it. That’d be suicide. It’s a 200′ plunge down towards the Bad Creek pumping station. Viewing it from the overlook is quite excellent.
We hadn’t really experienced any rain at this point. Mostly on and off drizzle, which is what AccuWeather called for. We had taken our outer shells on and off a couple times by now. We had some decent visibility, though the distant views were pretty much shot because of it being overcast and a lot of lower mist and fog. Our next big milestone would be crossing the Thompson River.

Thompson River
We made our crossing, and sat on a damp boulder for lunch. As we ate, we talked about waterfalls further upstream, none of which I’ve made it to at the time of this writing. Big Falls came up, and I told the story of an experienced hiker who had a fatal slip. 
As we kept hiking east, we came to the logging roads I assume take you to the top of Narrow Rock Ridge. My initial plan was to set up camp at Bearcamp Creek, and then backtrack to hike up to the top of the ridge and scramble around to try and get a distant view of Windy Falls on the Horsepasture River. We had the time, but with things being as damp as they were, and the skies being as gray as they were, and with the mountains misting as they were, we agreed that the side trip would likely be met with disappointment. That did mean that we had all the time in the world to make the short side trip to Hilliard Falls.
Very short, side trip, actually. We were at the falls in minutes. I had seen some pictures of Hilliard Falls, but I guess I had never looked at the height of it. The creek slides about 50′ down the smooth rock face, and then drops the last 10′ off an overhang into a pool. below that pool, the creek has another 12′ waterfall before running towards the campsite. If you’re camping at Bearcamp Creek (which is less than a mile off) in the summertime, this would be a great place to hang out and cool off.

The author at Hilliard Falls
Bearcamp Creek was our planned campsite for the evening, but it was only mid-afternoon. Our water was getting low, so we needed to resupply at the creek, and I was itching to peel my socks and shoes off to rest them in the chilly water for a few minutes to breathe some life back into them. We had hiked approximately 10 miles (including the out and back to Lower Whitewater Falls) to get to this point. While we were filtering water, the cap for Chris’s reservoir popped off and slowly flowed downstream. The foot soaking opportunity was here. I gave Chris my MSR SweetWater pump, rolled up my pant legs, left socks and shoes on the rock, and waded into the creek. It was pretty shallow with a sandy bottom, so it was easy wading. Unfortunately, I didn’t catch the cap before it went through a log pile and over a small cascade. I never saw it come out the other side. I looked downstream several times. Nothing. I poked and prodded around some of the rocks near the log jam, trying to see if the cap got sucked in and lodged, but still nothing. I prayed for that thing to just miraculously show up but after a while, I gave up, and apologetically headed back to the rock we were pumping water from. By the time I got back up to the campsite to sit down, dry my feet off as much as possible, and get suited up again, Chris was already downstream looking for the cap for his reservoir. He still had one Nalgene bottle, but to lose the ability to keep water in a reservoir would hamper the trip, for sure. After a few minutes, he emerges from the bushes, to say, “Well, that sucked….but I found my cap.” It had been downstream. I KNOW I didn’t see it flow down that way, but either way, whether I just missed it or it was miraculous, God answered prayer and Chris didn’t take that loss. What we hadn’t noticed in all the excitement is that the drizzle had turned to rain. 
We had talked about trying to get further down the trail earlier, and that we’d reevaluate once we got to Bearcamp Creek. Maybe the rain would die out like it had earlier, with its on again off again pattern. Bear Gap was another 5 miles down the trail, and we had the daylight to make it. We had the energy to make it. My left knee had started aching right before we filtered water, but going barefoot in the creek made my feet feel a heck of a lot better. Could we? This would be the pivotal decision in our weekend, though only seen that way in retrospect. Dr. Ian Malcolm’s comments came to mind a day later, in regards to so busy asking whether or not we could, we neglected to ask whether or not we should. We would press on to Bear Gap. This decision would effect the rest of our hike in ways we wouldn’t anticipate.

Steep stairs and then the bridge over the Horsepasture River.
We were at the Horsepasture River in what seemed like no time at all. The signs said that Bearcamp Creek (where we had just come from) was 2.7 miles away, with Bear Gap being only another 2.4 miles away. We were more than halfway there. As we came down a steep set of stairs before crossing the suspension bridge over the Horsepasture River, I gave a thought to Windy Falls further upstream. I wondered how long ago the water beneath my feet plunged over that monster falls as it now almost lazily flowed beneath the bridge. The list of places to go never decreases. In fact, when I get to visit one place I’ve been wanting to go, ten more ideas spring up. It’s like a hiking hydra. You can’t beat it, but wrestle with how to be content with and enjoy what what you can. The hiking hydra. Along the trail in this section, we did see a large patch of the rare Oconee Bells growing.

Oconee Bell
As we kept of walking towards Bear Gap though, we started saying we should be there by now. Not in a “I’ve been hiking a long time, I’m ready to rest, where is my campsite” kinda way, but in a “It says 2.4 miles, we’ve been walking an hour and a half, I know we haven’t slowed down that much, we SHOULD have seen it by now. Did we pass it? No way” kinda way. We came out at a forest road where a campfire had obviously been, and no way was that the site. Looking at the map, we had just a short distance to go. We did finally find Bear Gap campsite, but a lot of the trees in the main area had been cut down. Bad news for hammock campers! We crossed the bridge and found another spot to setup. 
It was still raining at this point. The drizzle that we thought promised decent weather earlier in the day proved to only be the tellings of the coming weather. We pitched our tarps as fast as we could and then set up the hammocks. My rain cover had done a decent, but not perfect job of keeping my backpack dry. My waterproof boots were either not as waterproof as they should have been, or we were so wet that my pantlegs got my socks wet which bled water down into my boots. Either way, my feet were wet and cold, socks squishing with every step. (Fortunately, I did pack an extra pair of socks, so I had dry feet during the night). My rainshell had done a good job of keeping my core dry. Quickly, we made dinner. I devoured an entire box of Kraft Mac and Cheese, a summer sausage, string cheese, and a hot chocolate all on my own. It was 8:43. We made an attempt at conversation, but I was exhausted. I fell asleep, with roughly 16 miles behind us that day. Sleep came, but the rain only increased and the sound of it falling on the rainfly was enough to keep waking me up. It would lull, and then pour. Sleep, then tat tat tat tat tat, and awake. So the cycle went all night.

Camp Saturation at Bear Gap. Fogged camera lens reflects the feel well.

When I planned this trip, I never guessed I would spend 11 hours in my hammock. At 7:40, Chris said, “You awake?” I probably had been for a few minutes already, woken by the rain. The darkness of night had given way to the dawn, but the rain remained. Chris had hung his rainshell on his trekking poles to drip dry in the night, except his poles fell over and his coat lay open collecting the rain all night. We started making breakfast, which was oatmeal for me. I was out of water and having hot chocolate or coffee wasn’t worth going out in the rain to me. After breaking down camp, repacking everything except the tarps, I kept my camp shoes and dry socks on as long as possible. It came time to do what I was dreading – putting on the wet socks and boots. It was cold, I was decently warm, and it was like jumping into an ice cold pool to put that stuff back on my feet. No sense in putting on dry socks, though, because they’d be soaked in 5 seconds. Then I’d have nothing for the next night. We finished packing the rest of our gear, prayed to the Lord for the rain to stop, and hit the trail again.

Drenched, Chris and I enter Gorges State Park.

Man, that pack felt heavy in the morning. The rain kept coming. What was only damp while under the tarps a few minutes ago would soon be soaked through. As we entered Gorges State Park, we were drenched. The wetness didn’t leave us for a while, but getting moving again loosened up our stiff bodies and warmed us up well enough. Though my feet were still squishing in my boots, I wasn’t cold anymore. We kept seeing forest service road come next to the trail. The Foothills Trail just kept staying away, teasing us with sight of easy walking, while we kept gaining and losing elevation. Up and down, up and down. Steps and more steps and ridges and contours brought us to Canebrake. It seemed by then that the rain had faded to drizzle to only overcast skies. Lake Jocassee laid before us with aquamarine waters, even if beneath overcast skies, giving us a rewarding and much needed vista to take in. It was nice to get out of the green and brown tunnel and see that we were making progress.

Chris crossing the massive suspension bridge (visible on Google Earth) over the Toxaway River

After getting to Canebrake, the Toxaway River would be coming up shortly. The suspension bridge is huge there, with great views up the river, towards Lake Jocassee, and Toxaway Creek emptying into the lake. Between Toxaway River and Creek, the Canebrake Trail from Frozen Creek Access comes in from Gorges State Park. It’s 5.1 miles to civilization (ha, the road), and we had briefly entertained the thought earlier in the day. We had also entertained the notion of getting back to the Matrix by the end of the day. For now, we would plan to hike Heartbreak Ridge over to the campsite near Laurel Fork Falls and A5, then make a decision once we got there. We were feeling confident, but that was as we walked through the Toxaway campsites towards Heartbreak Ridge.

The campsites there hold a lot of meaning to me, because that’s where my friend Tom took me camping for the first time after moving to South Carolina. We came in via boat, and spent the night there. It was the first trip that would go towards solidifying my love for the outdoors, and the will to complete a trip like the one we were on. As I was reminiscing, Chris turns to me and says, “Welcome to Mordor.”

“Welcome to Mordor” – Heartbreak Ridge begins

Heartbreak Ridge. There were no orcs to report of, but the steps did go straight up the mountain. Time to suck it up, buttercup. The first plateau is a false one, though it has a nice bench to take a break from the madness. “Hey, that throbbing in your chest? That’s me, your heart. By the way, your lungs would like some air, too.” The steps kept going straight up. Not including all the roots, trail sections, or rocks that accepted footfalls, I counted 287 individual wooden steps, which are nothing more than 4x4x18 wooden blocks held into the side of the mountain with rebar. So steep.. but once at the top, we were on a ridge and could make out an obstructed view of the lake. Sometime while we were up here, I noticed my clothes had dried out, and the sun was even beginning to shine through the clouds. Coming down off Heartbreak Ridge really began to remind me of the pain in my knee that started up the night before. It had shown up some in the hike so far today, but overall wasn’t that bad. The downhills really caused it to flare up, even with trekking poles. At one point where we were actually on a forest service road, we stopped at one of the bends in the trail for a lunch break. It was either eat, or not make it off this ridge. The 20 minute break was nice and gave us a chance to consider our camping plans. It was really hard to get moving again, so Laurel Fork Falls campsite near A5 was sounding pretty good. Even though Heartbreak Ridge was a grind, I’m glad we came at it from the west instead of the east. That would’ve been worse, I think. Either way, I know why I hadn’t seen that many pictures of Heartbreak Ridge for the same reason I didn’t take hardly any myself: I was just trying to breathe and remain standing. It’s brutal, and I think will give a tough challenge to any hiker, runner, or backpacker.

The sound of water rushing began to greet us a ways off, and Chris, having been through here before, noted that we were close to Laurel Fork Falls. There is some trailside improvements and tree removal once you get to the overlook, and the falls did not disappoint. I had seen pictures that others had taken from the lake level, so seeing the waterfall from the cliff side overlook was a whole new perspective. This is just beyond the boat access of A5, and only a few minutes away from the campsite. Man, that site looked great. The falls nearby, suspension bridges over Laurel Fork Creek, and plenty of trees to hammock from. Looking at the clock, it was 3:30pm. The campsite looked so inviting, but the tug of ‘we can’ began to pull harder than ‘we should’ again. If we had camped at Bearcamp Creek the night before, we wouldn’t even have been at this decision. Yet, here we stood, weighing daylight against the strength we had left. Camp here, or hike out to Laurel Valley, where my car was parked, 8 miles away. We can make it.

Laurel Fork Falls

We said goodbye to one of the most beautiful campsites nestled into the forests of Southern Appalachia and walked with heavy packs and set minds into Laurel Valley, where the typical rolling woods turned into rugged rhodo covered rocks and boulders. Think of an amazingly large castle that centuries ago was toppled only to leave bits intact as the jungle’s plants and waterways claimed the ruins as their own. About half an hour out from Laurel Fork Falls, we met the first people I had seen since my breakfast stop the day prior. Two couples, one guy carrying an occupied toddler backpack, were dayhiking to the falls. Surely, hopefully they were’nt parked at the same lot we were. We crossed streams and several more bridges within the Laurel Valley Heritage Preserve before we made it to Virginia Hawkins Falls. I have to say, that waterfall is a lot bigger than I anticipated it would be, based on the photos I had seen. Had there not been a couple camping at the site at the base, we probably would have decided to call it a night there. Instead, we pressed on.

The climb out of Laurel Valley was a steady uphill that under normal circumstances would probably haven’t been too bad, but we were worn out. The steep drops to and from the four rivers were now absent, and the trail followed the contour of the hills as we made our way ever closer to the car. I think the last four miles, we didn’t say too much. I remember focusing on breathing to keep a rhythm with my stride, checking the maps, and cursing the in and outs and roundabouts of the trail as it lazily curved its way back towards 178. About this time, a group of four young guys passed us on their way to Oconee coming in from Table Rock. They said we had about an hour to go, but comparing the energy they looked like they still had versus what I felt we had, it was probably closer to an hour and a half for us. We were pushing ourselves now. 

One of the final – and most uniquie – bridges before we started ascending out of Laurel Valley.
Motivation had given way to a march to beat the coming sunset as we tried to wring everything we could out of the remaining daylight. If we had seen a decent spot, we probably would have just crashed there, but then the effort of pitching camp didn’t even sound favorable. Falling onto the ground in just a sleeping bag was starting to sound pretty good when I heard a car. Laurel Valley access! We were nearly there! A downhill and then checking the GPS, the trail would come close to Horsepasture Rd. We made it to that point, still had a little light left, and made the call that it would be better to walk a further distance on the flat road than the last heave-ho up and over on the Foothills Trail. Judge me? Whatever.

A quick joke about losing my keys had to come before we opened the car and unloaded gear. Those seats never felt so good, and my shoulders felt so relieved. Chris had been walking on blisters (he suspects a switch to non-SmartWool socks) since Bearcamp Creek the night before, and when I got home, I found that the shoulder straps of my backpack had rubbed my shoulders raw in places. But really, we had one more obstacle – getting Chris’s SUV. We had parked behind the gate at Whitewater Falls, for security reasons. We just didn’t anticipate that we would be the ones kept out. So on the 45-minute shuttle back up to the northwest side of the lake, we just briefly prayed and asked God to have the gate be open. Around 9:00pm on Saturday, we pulled up and the gate was wide open with two other cars there. The skies were cloudless and the stars shone brightly, though we were amazed at how much light pollution still came from Greenville. Though we couldn’t see it, the rushing roar of Whitewater Falls could be heard a short distance away. God had kept us safe as we did things out of uncharacteristic bravado (though we were feeling more exhaustion and humility once we got to our cars). We learned things we shouldn’t do, and were surprised by things that we did do. Would I do it again? As I drove home that night, I said no way in Gehenna. Now, I say, maybe…but at a lesser pace where I can really enjoy my surroundings. I allowed my “having to get things done” to cloud my judgment, though I don’t necessarily regret leaving the way we did. It was good Type 2 fun. 


Pulling the data from my GPS and FitBit with the help of overlaying the track on GoogleEarth, it looks like it took 94,534 steps to walk 32.5miles. Based on distance and my base weight only, and not accounting for elevation or the extra 30.6lbs of backpack, I burned 9,656 calories.
GPS track overlay of our hike on Google Earth with elevation profile. 

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

My First Time on Rock Jock

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

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

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

——————————————-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Linville Gorge: Babel and Beyond

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guidebook Review: Waterfalls of Panthertown Valley

If you’ve been looking to visit Panthertown Valley in Western North Carolina, there is a new guidebook on the market by Asheville photographer Todd Ransom, “Waterfalls of Panthertown Valley.”
When visiting Panthertown, the trail network is complex, so it’s crucial to the enjoyment of your time there to go in with a map or guide. Waterfalls of Panthertown Valley gives you both, and covers the main southern valley of Panthertown. The guide even ventures into the more wild Big Pisgah area to the northeast. 
The guide opens up with a simple and easy to follow map for three main parking areas: Cold Mountain Gap, Salt Rock Gap, and Big Pisgah. What follows is topo maps with tracks and waypoints mapped by Todd Ransom himself.
What stands out immediately to me from these maps is locations of campsites. In the times I have visited Panthertown, trying to plan a backpacking trip has been difficult due to the lack of published resources designating campsite locations. This will be a great aid for any backpackers looking for more than a dayhike.
Beyond just being a guide to the valley, the author also gives the reader important sections on skills of navigation and staying found, as well as Leave No Trace principles. While this may seem redundant to some, the education is vitally important to be in the hands of would-be adventurers. Lack of knowledge is how campfires become wildfires, and how the over ambitious get lost and need Search and Rescue to find them. There is also a section on what kind of wildlife you may come across while in Panthertown, what to look for, and even notes on how to tie up a bear bag.
Throughout the guide you’ll find beautiful photographs of Panthertown and it’s waterfalls, all taken by Todd Ransom. The meat of the guide is divided into three sections: Devil’s Elbow area, Big Green Mountain area, and Big Pisgah Mountain area. Within each of these, the waterfalls each have their own guide (note their locations on the included maps for planning your own hikes). Each waterfall is given distance, estimated time, difficulty (with elevation ascent and descent), and the description of the falls and how to get there. The waterfalls you’ll find in the valley will range from the easy access and iconic Schoolhouse Falls, to the river wading Lichen Falls, to the wild and remote Dismal Falls and Panthertown Creek Falls. You will really find an amazing variety of waterfalls in this very compact area.
As a bonus, the author includes some non-waterfalls destinations such as Tranquility Point, Laurel Knob, and the Great Wall of Panthertown.
I mentioned previously using the maps to plan your own hikes. If that kind of planning isn’t for you, there are also several suggested hikes in the guide, ranging from relaxed atmosphere to the go-getter.
Closing out the Waterfalls of Panthertown Valley guide is one of my favorite parts, history of the valley. While I’m hiking, I love to know some of the happenings that have gone on before me, who has blazed and cut the trails, and stories of those who have lived in the valley and features and landmarks were named after.
To finalize the book, there’s a checklist index for you to keep track of your ramblings in the valley. At the time of my writing this, I have visited about half of the destinations. I’ll be using this guide myself for my upcoming plans in Panthertown.
Waterfalls of Panthertown Valley belongs in the library of any explorer. The beautiful photography inspires you to use the guide and get out there and see those waterfalls for yourself! For anyone who wants to do more than scratch the surface of Panthertown, I highly recommend Waterfalls of Panthertown Valley to you. It will be a benefit to multi-day backpackers and family day hikers all the same. 
To purchase your copy of the guide, please visit http://flickinamazing.com/panthertown
Categories
bushwhacking hiking http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post North Carolina off-trail Panthertown Creek Falls Panthertown Valley Todd Ransom Waterfalls Waterfalls of Western North Carolina WNC

In Search of Panthertown Creek Falls

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

When All Is Made Right OR Why I’m Not Upset About The Table Rock Wildfire at Linville Gorge

As I write this, Linville Gorge is on fire. 
The wildfire that presumably started by careless campfire practice has brought a lot of attention to Linville Gorge, and to online groups (such as the Linville Gorge Facebook Group, which I help moderate).  This wildfire and the back fires set to contain it, it has consumed more than 2,200 acres of Table Rock, The Chimneys, NC Wall, Spence Ridge, Chimney Branch, and was heading towards Shortoff. A lot of people love Linville Gorge and consider it their sandbox and playground. As people are passionate about something they love, their opinions and feelings are often passionate to follow. Aired on the internet in placing of social networks, forums, and discussion boards, those words that are felt and let out seem to become just as ferocious as the wildfire itself. Which I’m not really surprised by.
What I’m surprised by is my own reaction to this fire. People have often joked and lovingly suggested to me that hiking in Linville was an idol (read: false god) to me, and I think that those suggestions were valid observations. What surprises me is that I am not more upset than I am. I’m really not upset at all. Am I sad to hear the Gorge is burnt crispy? Absolutely. So what am I getting at?
I believe this wildfire is a lesson in eschatology. If you aren’t familiar with that term, it’s a fancy way to the study of the last things. But let’s back up, and start hoping I don’t rabbit trail here.. I’ll try.
Christians especially – if not more than anybody – should be considerate of being environmentally conscious as stewards of God’s creation. This planet should be cared for and fought for so it doesn’t end up looking like…quite frankly…a lot of our lives. But in all honesty, just as our lives are messed up and we haven’t been good stewards of all that we’ve been given, so also will that fault translate into the world around us. Relationships are destroyed, finances ruined, health fails, wildfires start, resources are squandered, nature is devastated, people are lied to, and so much of everything just falls apart. I mean, really, look at the world around you. Can any of us say with integrity that we never look at the world around us and hopelessly feel like this is not the way it’s supposed to be???
There’s a reason for that. It’s because this is NOT the way the world is supposed to be. God created man (Adam & Eve) and he rebelled against God. That rebellion against has translated down the gene pool all the way to me and you, and it’s called sin. We choose our ways, make them god ways, and reject the true God’s ways. This sin of Adam not only translated us, but essentially knocked all of creation off its axis as sin entered the world and devastation began. The world was not as it was supposed to be.
But there is hope.
From that moment of the Fall, God spoke of his rescue plan. These are the words God has for Satan after tempting Eve in Genesis 3:15 “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Satan may strike a blow to God (the cross) but God would make that same blow crush Satan forever. 

We are living in the now but not yet.

Satan and sin have been defeated on the cross, where the fully-God and fully-man Jesus was crucified, and took the penalty that we deserve for all of our sin. That means what we have coming to us from not obeying all the law, God poured out on Jesus. On the flip side, the Christian gets what Jesus deserved! After Jesus was dead for 3 days, he was resurrected to newness of life and ascended to heaven. Not myth. Not lore. Fact. His resurrection validates his work on the cross, and gives all those who hope in Christ hope for their own resurrection from death into eternal newness of life!!

As if this was not exciting enough, once the “not yet” finally gets here, once death is dealt its final blow and claims no more victims, once the final chapter in sin-marred human history closes… it will all begin. Zion. New Jerusalem. Heaven. However you want to call it. To those who have rejected that they can stand righteous in front of God on their own behavior and accord, and trust wholly in the grace and mercy that is in Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection… THEN, not only will we be made new, but so will all creation. That includes the Linville Gorge, which exists to and for the glory of God.

One day, Linville will see its full glory again. We cannot go to the Gorge, or anywhere else for that matter, to find God. God is fully displayed in his revealed word to us, the Bible. We cannot find God in nature, but because of God, we can find more joy in nature. We can see the fire scars, fallen rocks, and devastated landscapes and know that one day, Jesus will return, and all that is crooked will be made straight. All that is wrong will be made right. It will all be held together by Jesus, who is the glory of it all. 

So fight the fires, however you choose. Keep a clean camp. Educate others. Leave no trace. Be a good steward of our natural areas. These are all good things, unless we make mini-gods out of them, then they become bad things. Hold them, but hold them loosely. We aren’t in control. God is. He is bringing a hope, a future, a kingdom to those who wait for him. Only in Christ can we find true satisfaction. We are not God. We are not sovereign. One day, God (and only God) will make everything right.

This is a pretty big topic, obviously larger than one post can cover. In January 2014, I plan to begin to study the book of Revelation in the Bible, as well as the broader topic of eschatology and future grace. I hope to post my notes on this blog. 

In the meantime, I recommend this reading to you:

– The Bible. It is the anvil that has worn out many hammers.
– Heaven, by Randy Alcorn
– The Explicit Gospel, by Matt Chandler


 
Categories
Guest Post Guidebook http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post interviews North Carolina photography Todd Ransom Waterfalls Waterfalls of Western North Carolina WNC

Waterfalls, Photography, and Passion: An Interview with Todd Ransom

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Todd Ransom for the first time, though I have followed his Facebook page, Waterfalls of Western North Carolina, much longer. We both joined up with a small group to explore in the Linville Gorge, seeking our first views of the waterfall recently christened Rockefeller Plaza, as well as locating the mysterious and scarcely documented Dellinger Falls (above, with Todd standing at the base). 
Graciously, Todd agreed to be a guest contributor to this blog when I asked. Thank you so much, my friend! I highly recommend his resources to any adventurer of all skill levels just as I would recommend visiting Western North Carolina itself where his passion lies.
So without further delay….

===

Todd Ransom is an independent app developer and photographer working out of Asheville, NC. You can find his guidebook apps at http://appstore.com/FlickinAmazingInc, a web guidebook at http://flickinamazing.com/waterfalls, or join the community of waterfall lovers at http://facebook.com/waterfalls.wnc.

Josh: How did your passion for the outdoors develop, and eventually lead to waterfall photography? Why waterfalls instead of ridges, canyons, peaks, valleys, lakes or wild flowers?

Todd: I was a boy scout, so I’ve been hiking and backpacking since I was just a young kid. My love of the outdoors led me to rock climbing in my mid twenties and I started traveling all over North America to different climbing destinations. On my thirtieth birthday a friend and I climbed a route up the 2,000 foot El Potrero Chico canyon in Mexico.

As I sat on top of this enormous cliff after a full day of climbing, exhausted but satisfied, and looked down into the gorge, I realized that some day I would be an old man, no longer capable of clinging to tiny holds on a rock wall. I thought about how fallible our memories can be and I decided that I needed some way to capture these moments with more permanence, something I could look back on and remember the things I had seen and the young man I was.

I bought a camera, started taking pictures of climbing trips, and soon became frustrated with the fact my pictures did not turn out the way I expected most of the time. I started exploring the technical aspects of photography so I could more accurately capture the sights of rock climbing and the next thing I knew, I was more excited about photography than climbing!

As my interest in climbing waned I thought it would be a good time to explore new aspects of the outdoors here in Western North Carolina. I had just rescued my dog Joker from being abandoned on a trail and I was determined to make him the hiking dog I had always wanted. Since Joker is a Husky mix, I knew we would have to stick to river trails during the summer or I would need to pack twice as much water for him as I do for myself. In my hiking experience to that time river trails were a rare treat. Usually I would be backpacking the Appalachian Trail and water would be scarce. As I started to explore the hiking opportunities of WNC I realized there were literally hundreds of river trails in this area. The rest is history – Joker is now my perfect hiking companion, I rarely take a hike that does not follow a stream or river these days, and photography is a big part of my full time job as a guidebook author.

Josh: What would you say is the “sweet spot” time of year for waterfalls?

Todd: Any day you choose to be out in nature and seek to appreciate its gifts, you have found the sweet spot. In the Spring you get to see creeks and rivers swollen with snow melt and rain, teeming with new life. In the Summer, wild flowers and icy cold mountain swimming holes. And of course in the Fall we are treated to the colorful changing leaves. Even Winter has its own unique charm – you get to carry twice as much gear and alternate between sweating and freezing each time you stop to rest.

Josh: What is the greatest length you’ve gone to trying to find a waterfall?

Todd: I get really excited about the possibility of getting rare shots, and I get really annoyed if I take pictures of a waterfall and then find someone else has used the exact same composition. I want my work to be unique. With waterfalls this can mean hiking to places that not many people go or it can mean capturing perspectives that others cannot. The latter is usually the more dangerous of the two and I have often made a relatively mellow hike to a waterfall only to find myself climbing trees, cliffs or mossy rocks trying to get that perfect composition that no one else will be crazy enough to duplicate! I am going to refrain from telling any particular stories, though, because I don’t want to encourage anyone else to take risks they are not prepared to take.

Josh: I’ve downloaded the app for iPhone and have really enjoyed it. What are you hoping the user gains from using your Waterfalls of Western North Carolina app guide? 

Todd: My great hope for the guidebook apps is that they lower the bar for outdoor adventure by allowing people who are not proficient with a map and compass to venture into the wilderness without fear of getting lost. In the old days guidebooks were updated every five to ten years at the most. This meant the driving directions in rural areas were often out of date (turn left at the going out of business sign), the trail descriptions were often out of date (hike for 1/2 mile and bear right at the big spider web), and the authors generally had little incentive to keep things up to date.

By putting the information into an app, I can provide turn by turn driving directions directly to each trailhead from any starting point and GPS assisted trail navigation even with no cell signal. I also add new waterfalls regularly without the expense of printing a new edition.

Josh: For the new and seasoned seekers, what are the 5 waterfalls in WNC that should not be missed?

Todd: There are several fantastic roadside waterfalls in WNC – Whitewater Falls is the highest on the east coast, Looking Glass Falls, Linville Falls and Dry Falls are all beautiful and easily accessible. These are all amazing falls but as you know the places that call to me are the rugged, wild places where the landscape itself is dangerous and keeps all but the most fit and adventurous hikers at bay. So for me Big Falls on the Thompson River is the crown jewel of WNC waterfalls. I am also a big fan of waterfall hunting in Gorges state park (Lower Bearwallow Falls is spectacular, Windy Falls is a rugged and dangerous delight), Wilson Creek, Linville Gorge, and Panthertown Valley (Carlton Falls is not to be missed).

Josh: Regardless of skill level, what words of caution do you have for people who hunt for waterfalls?

Todd: I wish more people would learn to respect the power of waterfalls. Every year there are several deaths at waterfalls in WNC and they are usually the result of simple carelessness. One slip above a 50 foot waterfall is almost certain to be fatal and I often see kids and teenagers jumping, diving and climbing around waterfalls in ways that I (a seasoned rock climber and waterfall jockey) would not dare to do. I would urge each of your readers to never cross a creek or river directly above any waterfall, never swim behind a large waterfall, never jump from any waterfall, and never climb on a waterfall. You can have a lot of fun swimming at the base and playing in the river without endangering your life needlessly.