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Ideas for Adventures in 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It seemed like a perfect way to start the day, but I didn’t realize it would be so fitting for the days events. Awake early for a hike into Panthertown Valley, I was on my way to pick up my friend Ben, who I haven’t seen since our January 2013 hike in Linville Gorge. This would be his first time hiking in Panthertown. Over the car stereo, Andrew Peterson ushered in the day.
Sarah, take me by my arm
Tomorrow we are Canaan bound

Where westward sails the golden sun

And Hebron’s hills are amber crowned

Ben and I got to Cold Mountain Rd about half an hour before our rendezvous time with the rest of the group, so we do what I always do if I’m running early for a group hike on this side of the valley: we stopped at telephone pole 61 and hiked down to Raven Rock Falls. It never disappoints. It’s a short walk, with some soggy and slick parts, to a very lovely waterfall. We headed back to the car, took the left turn at Canaan Land, and still made it to Cold Mountain parking on time.

Ben and I met up with Todd Ransom and Thomas Mabry, who I’m friends with through the Exploring Panthertown Valley group. We had big plans for the day of waterfalls, rivers, bushwhacks, footpaths, and clifftop views, but we didn’t even consult the map at the trailhead. We had planned it, even though we would have to hike a couple miles to our first waypoint. Red Butt Falls would be the first dot to connect.
We made it up Devil’s Elbow and down the footpath to Red Butt Falls in good time. The Tuckaseegee River was flowing lower today. We stopped on the dry rock to get prepped for entering the river, and had our minds on our highlighted waypoint of Lichen Falls.
In my efforts to carry less, this would be the first trip I used a LifeStraw on. Kneeling at Red Butt Falls, I had my first deep drink straight from the Tuckaseegee River. It was the first of several uses of the LifeStraw throughout the day, and I’m happy to report post-hike that I never had any ill effects.
We crossed the falls without any slips to create our own red butts, passed Coffee Rock, and entered the Tuck. Deciding where to enter is one of the trickier aspects of hiking downstream. If you stay on the banks to the far left, which is where you’ll naturally stay after crossing over Red Butt Falls, you’ll be really prone to slipping on the slick rock. Once passing Coffee Rock, there are boulders in the river you can get to, and you’ll be in up to your calves at this point unless you’re rock hopping. You will get wet from here.
The last time I was here during the 20 waterfalls last April, and the water level was significantly lower this time. The temperature was significantly higher, as well. Both of those elements made it a much easier trip. Less obstacles, and less stinging cold. It’s a lot easier to navigate terrain when your feet aren’t in pain.
This was my first river hike wearing a pair of Keen Newport H2 sandals, which I actually wore the whole day. They provided excellent traction on the wet river rocks, even with the current. I love walking in this river, and it really just makes me want to explore Panthertown via its waterways than its trail system. In surprisingly short time, so much so that I didn’t even realize we had passed by Honeycamp Branch, we were at the giant boulders that tell you to “Look up, you’re at Lichen Falls.” This is one of my favorite places in Panthertown. It’s like a  jewel in the crown of the river gorge.

After several pictures, we crawled down the boulders and crawled on hands and knees through rhododendron along the bank of the Tuck. From here, we explored downstream a little ways. After an extremely shallow section, the whole area became bathed in green. Everywhere we looked, it was as if we were soaking in our surroundings through green lenses. Every rock was lush with different kind of mosses. Sunlight broke through the canopy at what seemed to be the perfect angles to refract green luminescent light against every surface.

We had received some intel on an old Carlton McNeill trail in the area, so we opted to take that up to the peak of Devil’s Elbow. It was roughly 300′ in elevation from where we were at, to which Todd quipped, “Don’t worry, it’s all at once!” It was definitely the steepest terrain we had been on up to that point. As it turns out, there was not much of a trail there at all. More like the path of least resistance through a rhododendron thicket. I do have to applaud Todd’s navigational skills here, as we came out in the dead corner of the trail on Devil’s Elbow. So we will just call it perfect aim.
After a couple misdirections and standing on ant hills, we made our way along the unofficial footpath up Shelton Pisgah mountain. There is a pretty good overlook there. Comparing the GPS track to Burt Kornegay’s map got me mixed up. We followed the path easily, and it only matches the track on the Kornegay map roughly. If you’re counting corners and turns and comparing it, it’s not exact. Anyway, Cold Mountain is big and bold right in your face as the trail skirts the cliff for a few yards.

We were running low on water and this point, and the closest source was at Little Green Creek. Like a drop of providence, we came upon a new (looking at least!) Nalgene bottle full of water. Not quite trustworthy enough to drink straight out of, but fortunately Thomas had brought along his new LifeStraw, as well. Certainly good enough for a LifeStraw. We finally made it to Little Green Creek and had a proper resupply of water. Even at a shallow low flow, this was a good source with clear crisp mountain creek water.
Looking at the GPS, High Bethel on Cold Mountain was only two-tenths of a mile away, as the crow flies. Turns out one (like myself) should save such group announcements until confirming with the trail map. The distance between our position and High Bethel as the crow flies was quite different from the distance between our position and High Bethel along the actual trail. Fortunately, my error gave the guys an opportunity for a bit of fun with me. The effort from the grunt of a climb up (the trail) to High Bethel was quickly forgotten as we emerged out of the green rhododendron tunnel to be bathed in sunlight and take in the stunning views of Panthertown and beyond. Northwards, I was able to make out five ridgelines beyond Panthertown, with atmospheric perspective giving each ridge its own distinct azure hue.

The distinct feature of High Bethel is the altar that was constructed by Canaan Land below. No sacrifice is needed on the altar, but it did make a good spot to spread the map out and compare to our surroundings to the paper in front of us. It was certainly a different perspective than seeing the valley from the Overlook Trail, Salt Rock, or Little Green Mountain. 
It certainly took far less time and effort to get down from High Bethel than it took to climb up it. We were back at Little Green Creek in no time. Thomas and I took a few long swigs from our (induvidual) LifeStraws and headed down the path back to Devil’s Elbow. Somewhere along the line, our conversation turned to politics. Never any heat in the discussion because we all just seemed to agree that it was all broken. I was reminded of a comment my friend Matt Rawlings had made recently, “Everything has been broken since Genesis 3.” Humorous, but there is much truth in it as well.
We emerged onto Devil’s Elbow Trail and took it directly across the Panthertown Valley Trail to a footpath that took us to  Schoolhouse Falls. I much preferred this route. For Ben’s first visit, we couldn’t not go to Schoolhouse Falls. On a downside, we must have disturbed a yellow jacket next, because one buzzed Ben a couple times. This path brings you to the route that goes behind Schoolhouse Falls. We had been in solitude the entire day, enjoying the green shades of the river and twilight beneath the canopy. Now we were met with several groups who came to experience Panthertown, all concentrated in its most iconic waterfall.

One final destination. One final overlook. One final climb up a mountain. We were at the base of Little Green Mountain already, and Tranquility Point from the peak is one of the best highlights of Panthertown Valley. We were a lot slower climbing Little Green. Our food supplies had been consumed, and talk of cheeseburgers began to dominate our conversations. One footfall after another, stride not quite so long, we emerged from another canopy onto the granite bald. A wonderful and rewarding view to close our day!

The final destination would be Cold Mountain Parking. More slow pace, but we weren’t in a rush, either. No more conquering or exploring to be done. No more studying maps or decisions to be made. We bypassed the switchbacks, as we always do, and heard the music coming from the speakers at the gate to Canaan Land. It was absent on our way in, but that sound is always the sound of “just a few more steps!” When we got back to the car we were tired, but not exhausted.
Canaan bound. As the music ushered back to the cars where we would find rest, I find myself very often longing for Heaven, which Canaan is a foreshadow of, in the same way. On that day with Jesus, there will be ultimate and final rest, where the one who carved these mountains and rivers will make right everything that is broken, and reverse the effects of Genesis 3 once and for all.
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Panthertown Valley. 20 Waterfalls. One Day.

April 12th turned out way different than I thought it would.
After setting the date, coordinating with some of the Exploring Panthertown Valley group on Facebook, changes of plans, more invites, plans falling through, and seemingly crazy suggestions.. there only remained two: Luke Wilson and myself. We would try to visit every waterfall in Panthertown Valley in one day.
This would be the first time Luke and I had ever met, and only shortly before had we even made contact on Facebook, through the hiking groups. As it turns out, Luke was excellent company, and our day was not only filled with great scenery, but great conversation, enthusiasm, and fellowship. It was very good to have done this with you, Luke! 
For navigation, we would be using Burt Kornegay’s A Guide’s Guide to Panthertown, Todd Ransom’s Waterfalls of Panthertown Valley, my Garmin GPSMAP 62sc, and our own keen sense of direction.
All of the photos taken on this trip were date and time stamped, basically as proof of it being done in one day.
Knowing this would be a long distance day, I was really unsure of what to wear for shoes. I normally hike in 5.10 Guide Tennies, but I didn’t think my feet would hold out in them for what I’d put them through today. I chose Merrell Trail Gloves. Minimalist shoes that literally fit like a glove so there’s no movement inside, which means no blisters. These are a step up from running barefoot, as it gives you some protection but still allows you to feel the ground beneath your feet, whether its smooth or soft or rocky.
I arrived at the Cold Mountain side of Panthertown 40 minutes before our meet time, I thought I would take the opportunity to bag one more fall before we met up. So it began.
(1) Cold Mountain Branch Falls
(2) Bridge of Death Falls
(3) Raven Rock Falls

All three of these are on the same trail. I didn’t take my GPS with me to get distance, but it’s less than 10 minutes of hiking one way to Raven Rock Falls. I don’t believe that 1 and 2 are officially named, but they are documented on Rich Stevenson’s website and I drew out those names from his descriptions. 
I met up with Luke and we started down Mac’s Gap Trail from Cold Mountain Parking a few minutes before 8:00am, which was a little behind schedule. Mac’s Gap Trail joins with Greenland Creek Trail for a short distance and then splits again, where we took Greenland Creek Trail. Shortly, we found ourselves as the massive Greenland Creek Falls. 
(4) Greenland Creek Falls

After climbing up the STEEP side trail to the left of Greenland Creek, we took a quick look at the top of the falls where the creek disappears over the edge. NOT a good place to play. Next up we were looking for Halfway Falls. 
(5) False Halfway Falls
We heard this one from the trail, and since we were looking for it I assumed that it was Halfway Falls. After looking at the map, though, it turns out that the real Halfway Falls is right at the bend in the trail. So, this one isn’t on any of the maps I have, but I have a hard time believing nobody has seen it.
(6) Halfway Falls

Realizing the error on finding Halfway Falls, the time stamp is out of sync on this one only because I took the picture on the way back. Next up was Carlton’s Falls. This was a big destination for me, and what this entire hike morphed out of. I had seen the pictures of this bowl shaped waterfall, and it honestly looked too cool not to have on this years bucket list. As we were hiking towards it, we managed to stay on trail but somehow took a wrong one. From near Halfway Falls, we found some trees blazed in orange and we assumed that was the way to Carlton’s Falls. It wasn’t long before we were standing underneath the Duke power lines. Definitely in the wrong spot. We made our way back and found an obvious pink flag that neither of us knew how we missed. Pretty soon were at Carlton’s Falls, but I didn’t realize it.
(7) Carlton’s Falls
I had seen the pictures of Carlton’s Falls, so I knew what I was looking for. What I DIDN’T know is that the bowl shaped falls I had been looking for were only part of the middle section of a much larger waterfall. There’s also a cool half cave/overhang on the right side of the falls where you can hang out for a breather. Of course, I had to make my way up to the middle falls and get my own photo of the bowl section.
Backtracking back down the trails, we accidentally took the Mac’s Gap Trail at the fork we came out of. We crossed the river on a fallen log (which is much steadier with trekking poles, by the way) and walked for only a few minutes before realizing our mistake. Back across the log and onto Mac’s Gap Trail on the OTHER end of where it merges with Greenland Creek Trail. This all sounds very confusing to read, but it will be much clearer if you’re trying to follow along on a map.
(8) Mac’s Falls

A short walk off the main trail brought us to Mac’s Falls, which empties out into a pool and the pool starts flowing quickly down around a curve that looks like a great spot to go tubing if it wasn’t for the rough landing on the other end.
(9) Pothole Falls

The rough landing. Though it isn’t a steep waterfall, it’s funneled at the rocks at the base, and there are several potholes below it, thus the name.
At this point, we came up Mac’s Gap Trail back to the car so we could make a stop at the cars. It would be the closest we’d be to them until we finished the hike. Luke had realized on the way back that he had left some of his food out of his pack, and I had a backup bottle of water there I could top off with. I should have just brought the second bottle with me. We met some guys coming in, had a short conversation with them, and walked towards Canaan Land. This with the first time I’ve walked across that footbridge and there hasn’t been music playing. We made it down to the Little Green Trail by the shortcut at the end of the first switchback, instead of taking all the switchbacks.
(10) Schoolhouse Falls

If any one waterfall were to define Panthertown Valley, it’d be Schoolhouse Falls. It’s iconic to the area. The beach was swarming with violet butterflies. I had never seen so many in one spot. Another rare sight was that there wasn’t anyone else at the falls with us. We rock hopped the creek along the left side to circle around the back of the falls, which is super refreshing. Coming back out the right side, we had one leg of this trip behind us. It was time to head up Devil’s Elbow.
(11) Warden’s Falls

This one was hard to get a good visual of. We came out of the trees on the footpath and recent rains had the waters up. There is supposed to be a footpath across the river we could follow up to Jawbone Falls, but the steep rock on that side with the higher water levels made us decide to backtrack up to Devil’s Elbow. We barely stayed here for more than just a couple minutes. 
(12) Jawbone Falls

I hadn’t given much attention to Jawbone prior to this trip, but sitting on the grassy beach, just watching the water, this is definitely a new highlight in the valley for me. It seemed like the perfect time to switch out into wet shoes (me in VFF Komodo’s and Luke in Chaco Z2’s). We were heading up to Riding Ford, which was for sure a wet trail crossing. Before leaving, we got our first feel of the water. It was warm…on the shore. That mountain water is COLD. I’m sure it would only be chilly instead of frigid had we been doing this in say, August. We thought we would follow a footpath from Jawbone up to Riding Ford Falls.
(13) Riding Ford Falls
We headed down the waterfall, which doesn’t seem much more than a river crossing when Riding Ford Trail forces you into it. At the bottom of the falls is a truck sized boulder I was able to scramble up on for a good shot. There is a giant pothole at the bottom of the falls that one could easily fit into, and you can see it really well on the photo. From the bottom of the falls, we found ourselves in another overhanging cave area littered with enough debris to let me know I wouldn’t want to be in there in high water. We entered the river. This didn’t last long, though. The water was really cold. As we looked at the map, we thought we’d be able to pick up the footpath that goes down to Elbow Falls. I had been to Elbow Falls a couple years ago, and knew that where the river becomes the waterfall was not a place that I needed to be hiking in the water. We chose to take to the land, which meant bushwhacking in shorts. We fought our way through the rhododendron and briers, angling north, and finally decided our progress was so bad that we would just try to get to the Devil’s Elbow Trail and find the footpath from there. Once on Devil’s Elbow Trail, there are run-offs built into the side of the trail. We passed several, and I spotted a trail extending out of one of them. We took it. As it turns out, that trail really was just a run-off and we were back in the briers. More bush pushing finally brought us to trail that we were able to take down to Elbow Falls.
(14) Elbow Falls
Really the best way to get a photo of Elbow Falls would have to be an aerial perspective, due to the bends in it around the rock. It drops down drastically into a deep slot (good thing we didn’t stay in the river), bends around a giant rock slab with a downed tree on it, and then over a couple smaller cascades. While the formation of each segment of the waterfall may not be the most exciting in the valley, this is a spot where you can really feel that Panthertown is an ancient place. There’s the wild Tuckasegee River (“The Tuck”) winding its way, not so dramatically through the valley, but in the rock along that blue map line. It ceases to be a place where tourists or your average hiker without a heightened sense of exploration would normally go. Elbow Falls is, to me, the doorway to what I think of when I think fondly of Panthertown. It was time to keep going further in. We backtracked into the forest along actual trail to the trail to Red Butt Falls, but we came out a little further downstream than I intended.
(15) Red Butt Falls
When we left the woods, we were in the cave at the base of Red Butt Falls. A fun area for sure, but the water is too deep here to maneuver unless you wanted to go for a swim. I didn’t have a dry bag big enough for everything that needed to be dry, so we made our way up the side of the falls a few yards to where it looked the least sketchy to cross. There are these awesome colored bands in the rock at Red Butt, and honestly I don’t remember making note of them anywhere else in Panthertown during this trip. I’m also amazed at the power of flowing water. You wouldn’t think that crossing a river that is only 6″ deep would be that challenging, but when its speed increases coming down the rock and the rock is already slick (which I can only assume provided the falls its name when someone slipped), we had to take it slow! Luke almost had a red butt himself here as we stepped into the water, and I caught him only because I was in the path of his fall. It would have only been a wet landing for him and he had a dry bag for his stuff. 
Once crossing Red Butt Falls, we stopped at what I’ve been calling Coffee Rock, as my first visit here we climbed up on top and made Starbucks Via in a Jetboil. Coffee Rock is a giant blade of rock standing at a 100degree angle in the middle of the Tuck. We didn’t climb up on top today, but we did stash our packs on one of the boulders at its base. I only took with me my camera, GPS, and trekking poles. We started making our way downstream, and I hadn’t quite committed to the water yet because I was staying on the slickrock at the shore. They don’t call it slickrock for nothing, as it made the decision for me to commit me to the water. I went in the drink just below my chest in one of the deeper sections. I’m pleased to report that my Canon Powershot D10 really is waterproof, and my Garmin took the water as well. Our next waterfall was one of our most anticipated falls of the day, Lichen Falls.
(16) Lichen Falls
On one hand, there is no trail to Lichen Falls. On the other hand, it was the widest trail we’d been on all day. I’m pretty sure the Tuck is wider than the Panthertown Valley Trail at this point. Still, we’d be wading and rock hopping and trying to choose the safest and surefooted path through the river as white water was increasing. Luke has been through Bonas Defeat (which was the original plan for this day), and he commented how this was starting to look a lot like it. We passed our first landmark, Honeycamp Branch, and then the Tuckasegee River went from rocky and shallow to being choked with great boulders and rapids. We were still able to navigate the river by scrambling up the boulders, wading where it was shallow enough (I don’t think we were ever in over waist deep, aside from my entry slip). Up ahead on the left, we could see some water coming over the rocks, and knew we were close. That small stream of water coming over the boulder was like the curtain that was pulled aside to reveal the main event. Lichen Falls was gushing! I had seen some pictures of it, but I didn’t anticipate it would be as big as it was, as dramatic as it was. Lichen Falls is tucked back in a cove, framed by rock and boulders. What a beautiful falls. The river walk plus all the aspects of the falls really made this one of the biggest highlights of my day. Here at the base, we also took note of a bat clinging on the side of the rocks. It took us about 30 minutes to get here from Coffee Rock.
It only took us 20 minutes to get back to Coffee Rock from Lichen Falls, which is interesting to me. On the way in, we could see into the water fairly well, but on the way back the glare of the sun made foot placement unsure. Going back, we were also fighting the current now. We also noticed by this point that the water wasn’t as biting cold as it had first been. I think acclimating to the water temps as well as the type of movement required to walk in the creek allowed us to navigate it very easily. We stopped for a snack and resupplying our water. We slowly crossed Red Butt Falls again, and easily followed the trail back to Devil’s Elbow. No bushwhacking required. Once we had made it back to the top and crossed Riding Ford, it was time to swap back into dry shoes. While doing this, we noted some guys on the other side of the river in swim trunks looking like they were getting ready to make the slide down Riding Ford Falls. The looked hesitant, standing there in trunks and shirts off. We waved, changed shoes, and were on our way before we got to see if they finally took the slide. If they found the pothole at the base, I hope it was a pleasant experience for them.
As this was definitely waterfall day, Lichen Falls would be the last picture I’d take of a waterfall for a while. Luke had not seen a lot of the places off the beaten path, so we decided to take Riding Ford Trail down to Powerline Trail and over to the Overlook Trail so we could take in the sweeping views of the valley. We came to the first view, which I call the false view because it is obscured by trees and scrub that are just below the cliffs on Blackrock Mountain, and kept heading west until we go to the REAL view. In my opinion, the bald on the Overlook Trail is the best “big view” in Panthertown Valley, and should be experienced by anyone who enjoys hiking here. Only one other gentleman was sharing the view with us here. It doesn’t have anything obscuring the view, and you can see a panorama of mountains and valleys laid out before you. Most prominent are Cold Mountain, Little Green Mountain, and Big Green Mountain. What a view! As we sat there taking it in, a group of hikers came up the cliffs. They didn’t come in on the Overlook Trail, but as we engaged them, they had followed the cliffs up after leaving Carlton’s Way. I’ve been in that area partially, but only to stand beneath the cliffs. They were definitely glad to be at the top! As we cut our scenic stop short in effort to continue our day, our friend who had shared the overlook with us commented, “That wasn’t long.” Well, we still had a lot of ground to cover, and at this point I was starting to be considerate of daylight. We had headlamps, though.
We literally ran all the way down Carlton’s Way. I’ve been up it twice, and I have to say that it is much more pleasant in descent. We took this way because I had it in my mind to find the infamous Fat Man’s Misery, as mentioned by Burt Kornegay. There is a faint trail listed on his map below the cliffs of Blackrock Mountain that I had very strong suspicions would lead us to this “boulder choked slot canyon.” Not a waterfall, and I was starting to question even looking for it on this trip since it wasn’t a waterfall and of our daylight situation, but I was feeling ambitious. We followed an obvious path just east of Salt Rock into the forest. After crossing a creek, we began to see mini-canyons filled with boulders and rhododendron. From an article I recently read, I knew we had to be in the right spot. We followed the trail until it became too faint to follow, and found ourselves at the base of the cliffs. What we did find there was bolted sport climbing routes. We climbed through boulders and briers and rhodo searching for a hole that looked like the teaser photo of Burt on the 2013 edition of his map. Eventually, Luke found something. It is possible that what he found was Fat Man’s Misery, because it was definitely a giant series of boulders you could squeeze around underneath, but if it was Fat Man’s Misery, both of us were underwhelmed. For anyone who wants to make the search, I hope this was of some help to you. For us, it cost an hour of daylight and a lot of spent energy. Maybe too much. For those interested, we noted an Indian sign tree in this area, as well.
Back on the hunt for waterfalls. Wilderness Falls would be next on our list, but we needed to decide which was the best way to get to it. We decided just to take the main trail up Salt Rock and snag the big view there. Very nice, and certainly more accessible than the one on the Overlook Trail. 
(17) Wilderness Falls 
Like with Carlton’s Way, we ran down the Deep Gap Trail on our way to Wilderness Falls. We only stopped here briefly, took our pictures, and headed on to the next one, which is only a few minutes away. We ran there, too.
(18) Frolictown Falls
While not as large or dramatic as some of the other falls in Panthertown, I personally really like Frolictown Falls. The area is just calm and serene. Waterfalls definitely have a restorative element to them, and that element is in effect here at the base of Frolictown Falls. I would need it. It was here I started noticing being thirsty, giving clue that I had become dehydrated. The small pool at the bottom was a great place to resupply our water, and though I knew we were starting to get onto a time crunch, I also knew I needed to drink. On to the Great Wall Trail. We ran until we started hearing people near the shelter. We crossed Panthertown Creek, and one of the stepping stone rocks wobbled and I was up to my ankles in water. My shoes were soaked. I didn’t consider it a huge deal because I had gotten them a little wet earlier when we were on Greenland Creek, and they had dried out. We got to the shelter and the whole area was filled with tents and even more hammocks. At least 3 hammocks were hung up inside the shelter itself. I took note of ENO and Grand Trunk, and I didn’t see anyone with an underquilt.
Now would come the big effort. We were about a mile from the next waterfall, and it would be an out an back. Fortunately we would have very little elevation to deal with here. Also, we had the Great Wall of Panthertown to keep us company the whole way. The Great Wall is the bald face of Big Green Mountain that faces southwest, and as we walked and partially ran the trail (energy was beginning to wane), the Great Wall of Panthertown seemed to never leave us. We got to the curve in the trail that takes us up Big Green Mountain towards the steps cut into the stone, but our sidetrack came much before that. Within a few minutes of the turn, we found the trail cutting off to the right towards Panthertown Creek Falls.
(19) Panthertown Creek Falls
Fortunately I was familiar with this area from the trip Todd Ransom and I had made together in January. I knew to angle off the trail above the creek, in search for a clearing. From there, remnants of old flagging would lead us about to the area of the falls. What a delightful surprise it was to find out that there is brand new bright pinkish-orange flagging out there! It isn’t quite a trail yet, but if people keep following the flags, it will be. We found the clearing and followed the flags to the steep side trails that lead to the different segments of Panthertown Creek Falls. We came out in the middle, and had to climb straight down the dirt and rock to the impressive falls. At the very top, there is a huge rock face, and the falls come out below it in a series of twists and turns as the creek flows downstream. As much as I would have loved to stay here, we had to move. We grabbed a quick snack and started back. We had less than an hour before sunset.
It was on the way back through the flagging to the Great Wall Trail that I really noticed a difference in how I felt. I started feeling a low grade upset stomach, which I attributed to my being dehydrated. This would be the beginning of my physical descent. I also lost the flagging on the way out, which was silly because it had been so easy to follow on the way in. Luke had gained some distance ahead of me, though we were still in earshot, and I ended up bushwhacking through to the Great Wall Trail. I had my GPS to follow the track from the way in, but I was already off at that point. Coming back up the Great Wall Trail, I also noticed my feet were still wet. And cold. But we had one more waterfall to go. Back on the Great Wall Trail, the sun was lighting up the granite. This was Luke’s highlight of the day. It was really an awesome sight.  We got back to the shelter and headed into the rhododendron tunnel that is the Granny Burrell Trail. This would begin the worst section of our hike all day, as far as trail goes.
(20) Granny Burrell Falls
The trail was a soggy mess. Black mud with expansive puddles we tried to sidestep, but still couldn’t completely avoid. With the last moments of daylight, we emerged from the rhodo to the grand waterslide, Granny Burrell Falls, with it’s beautiful pool beneath.I would have loved to just crash here, but that couldn’t happen. Not only were my feet still cold, but with the sun setting, the ambient temperature was dropping, too. Our original thought was to sidetrack and climb up Little Green Mountain on the way out so we could get the big view from Tranquility Point, but that energy and daylight had been spent in searching for Fat Man’s Misery. What’s done is done. Time to go. 
We cut through the pine forest shortcut off of Mac’s Gap Trail. I jumped a big mud puddle, and in slow motion I could feel the spring coiling in my leg. My right calf tightened up on me in a wicked charlie horse. It was good that I had trekking poles and my hands looped into the straps, because I leaned on them for all they were worth. As the cramp subsided, I started to walk only for it to come back again with a vengeance. Had it not been for my trekking poles, I would have fallen flat on the ground here. When the worst of it was over, I began to slowly walk it out again, as Luke was right next to me encouraging me through it. He was in much better shape than I was at this point (hmm, so that’s what electrolyte tablets do for you), and he was ahead of me on the trail. Within a few minutes of the charlie horses going to work on my leg, I announced, “I have to stop.” My low grade stomach ache that started at Panthertown Creek Falls had waved it”s white flag of surrender, and with a flash of heat, I threw up. Again, thank God for trekking poles. These things supported me all day long, in good and bad. Feeling much better, I felt the need to crack a joke about giving the coyotes something to look forward to. The temperature had dropped, as the warmth of the sun had left us. We abandoned Tranquility Point, due to my condition and the lack of light we now had, and we were back on the Panthertown Valley Trail. 
This was the worst trail we had been on all day. The whole trail in sections was flooded to where you couldn’t jump over it, not that I would have made the attempt anyway. What a soggy, nasty mess. We crossed paths with the guys we had met earlier in the day when we made our stop at the cars. They told us they had set up camp at Schoolhouse Falls, and were out exploring while the rest of their group was sleeping. As the Panthertown Valley Trail neared where Panthertown Creek and Greenland Creek merge to form the Tuckasegee River, the trail conditions improved greatly. The terrain turned from black mud pits to white sand, and we saw the cool white sandbars. We took the shortcut straight up the ridge and avoided the switchbacks. Finally, finally, back at the car. Wow.. what a day. 
We did it. I could barely believe to have visited all the waterfalls in Panthertown Valley in one day. We got to see so much, and we got to travel in all kinds of terrain. Dry trail, sandbars, steep hills, rocky scrambles, creek walks, mud pits, rhodo and brier bushwhacks.. This day was truly a grand adventure. Again, Luke was a great hiking partner, and I enjoyed his company as our conversation was filled with faith, creation, environmental stewardship, adventures, anecdotes, and husbandry.
As the day came to a close, a verse from Psalms 98 came to mind. I had first read it this morning at the base of Raven Rock Falls, and it came back to me again as I sat in the car. 
Let the rivers clap their hands;
let the hills sing for joy together
before the Lord, for he comes
to judge the earth.

We truly experienced the glory of God displayed in creation today. The glory of Panthertown Valley and it’s waterfalls does not belong to the valley, and certainly not to the mere men who hike it, but to the One who crafted it. 

UPDATE: I finally got the Google Earth overlay of our track off my Garmin, and according to Google Earth the distance was significantly shorter than my Garmin recorded. At any rate, here is our path for this day.



Stats for the day:
20 waterfalls
somewhere between 19.5 and 23.85 miles
13 hours and 17 minutes
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
Big Pisgah Devil's Elbow Dismal Falls hiking http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post North Carolina Panthertown Valley Raven Rock Falls Rhapsodie Falls Trip Reports Waterfalls

Cold Mountain and Big Pisgah Adventure

James, Nick, and I started looking for the post with “61” on it around 8:30am. At 4.7 miles from the turn off 281 onto Cold Mountain Rd, we found our pulloff and started the first leg of a full day of adventuring. It was a pretty easy hike down to Raven Rock Falls on a easy to follow trail. You pass a couple small waterfalls and cross over a wooden footbridge, when once you’re down at Raven Rock Falls there is a nice shallow pool before the creek makes its way down the mountain. There are a couple spots where you have to be careful not to whack your head and a few slick spots, but overall it’s a pretty big payoff for little effort. Highly recommended.

Next on the agenda is the recently found, or at least recently documented and surveyed, August Cave. I was able to get some directions from the founder, Buford Pruitt, who I have never met. Cavers are aware that caves are fragile environments, and they definitely and rightly don’t want to have their caves full of goat trash. The only way I was able to get those directions was from my involvement with the online Linville Gorge community. I am intentionally vague with my descriptions here. I do my best to follow Leave No Trace outdoor ethics, and I will simply leave it at that, get off my soapbox, and continue on. We drove around a short while looking for the description Buford gave me for where to park in search of the cave’s southern entrance. We loosely followed a ridge up, looking for signs of previous foot traffic that we could follow, didn’t see much except false game trails, and ended up doing some low-level bush whacking. Back and forth we explored and poked, looking for what I could remember from Buford’s photos of the entrance. Finally, we doubled back and I was ready to give up. We’d been bush-pushing out here for over half-an-hour and weren’t getting really anywhere. I was pretty disappointed, but it is was it is, and I knew we may come away empty handed. After all, I had a lengthy hike planned starting in Panthertown. No sense in spending all day looking for a hole in the ground. On the traverse back to where we were going to head back down the ridge, I noticed what may be a promising area in the opposite direction from where we had been investigating, and left James and Nick at the ridge in case this proved fruitless. I climbed up and over and through the bushes until the guys were well out of sight. I found it. “I found it!!!” I hollered back. Pretty soon, we were all standing at the mouth of August Cave, a contrasting black space breathing a cold breeze down the hill. We took a couple pictures, put on our headlamps, and headed in. I’m estimating the entrance to be maybe 3′ wide and 8′ tall. We stepped in and within a couple yards, we could see another side entrance of slightly smaller size come in a few feet off to the left. With our eyes upwards, we were glad to not see any bats, but we did see a mess of spiders in one area and a few high chockstones that would be nasty to have fall on your noggin should the mountain decide to shift. After crawling under a chockstone, the passage narrowed quite a bit, not for the claustrophobic. Even with daylight still visible at the entrance, I couldn’t believe how inky black it was in there. Pressing on, the cave walls (which I’m assuming are some kind of granite gneiss) were striped almost perfectly horizontally with a stark white quartzite. Very cool! The floor began to fall away beneath us, but ledges of maybe 2-3″ in width gave us enough foothold to continue backwards as we pressed our backs against the wall. Here, I’m guessing the crack passage we were in was right around 12″ wide. Looking around, each wall of the cave seemed to perfectly match the other, so I’m guessing at one time this cave was solid, and I took another glance up at the chockstones. We went maybe a total 40-50ft in. We decided not to climb down, as the flake that was against the wall looked too smooth to climb out should we go down that far, and none of us were interested in exploring upwards which would only increase our fall should we lose footing. As totally novice cavers (does that make us spelunkers?), we chose to head back out. Upon exiting, we were all taken aback by the temperature difference. I had in Buford’s report of a pit entrance to August Cave. We circled around a bit, and I scrambled around and found my old dear friend the greenbrier guarding the upper ledges. I continued up, leaving James and Nick below the briers, and poked around a bit but came up with nothing. Time to head back to the car and park at the Cold Mountain lot. For further reading, I recommend yo you Buford Pruitt’s blog at onrappel.blogspot.com.

With Burt Kornegay’s “A Guide’s Guide to Panthertown” map, which I consider essential for hiking in Panthertown, we left my Matrix at the Cold Mountain Gap Trailhead at 11:15am. Now, the big item on my checklist today (as if August Cave wasn’t cool enough) was Dismal Falls. This is actually one of my bucket list destinations for 2013. If you have any knowledge of Dismal Falls and it’s location, you’re probably asking why I parked at Cold Mountain instead of 281. Apparently because I like pain and suffering. From 281, it’s approximately 4-5 miles round trip. From Cold Mountain? I don’t carry a GPS with me, and someone correct me if they have an accurate number, but I’m guessing it was at least a solid 8-9 miles round trip (which is on top of the terrain we already covered up to this point). I was over-zealous and since this was James’ first time hiking (and come to find out Nick’s as well), I wanted to show off Panthertown. We headed down the trail past the familiar worship music that is always playing from the gate and bridge at Canaan Land. We did see some pink and painted trillium on the way in along the Panthertown Valley Trail and the switchback bypass, some lovely orange flowers scattered throughout the whole area later identified as the fire azalea, and plenty of ground level violets, but I was disappointed that the rhododendron and mountain laurel weren’t blooming. Once we made it to Greenland Creek, we took the turn on Devil’s Elbow and started the 1.5 mile hike to get to the unofficial trail (unofficially named West Fork Way) which would lead us to the hard stuff. Last time I was there, we were in the Tuckasegee Gorge area with fantastic waterfalls and scenery, and the way to Dismal from there was along the east rim up the Devil’s Elbow trail. Unfortunately, the great scenery I remembered from the valley was hidden up on the ridge. There was very little reward, aside from the trillium, for parking where we did. It mostly only added extra miles to the hike.

West Fork Way is named as such, I’m assuming, because it follows the west fork of the French Broad River. One thing I had not counted on was how wet the trail would be. There was thick black soggy mud in several sections. We also had quite a few creek crossings, which I did anticipate. Unfortunately, they didn’t all have easy stepping stones. Some of them required a hefty jump across, or a step that you hoped wouldn’t sink your foot. I wore my 5.10 Guide Tennies (which I heartily recommend to any scrambler like myself). They aren’t waterproof, but they are leather, with soles and toes sealed by climbing shoe rubber. My guys were wearing New Balance and canvas sided boots. This’ll add to the difficulty of the trip later on. For what seemed like way longer than it should have taken, and with more trail in the middle of the creek than i would have liked, we slogged along the West Fork Way with an eye out for that left turn to start up the gorge in the north side of Big Pisgah and to Rhapsodie Falls and Dismal Falls. It finally came (I was starting to wonder if I’d missed it) in a patch of white pines. A few yards south we came to a great campsite with plenty of level ground to pitch a tent (for my ground dweller friends) and at least a couple spots to hang a hammock from (for my tree hanger friends). We stopped here and had lunch. We pumped some water from the West Fork and started studying the final leg of getting to the halfway point in our hike. I feel like it was sometime around 1:15 when we stopped, but cant recall exactly. From this point on, I stashed the Kournegay map and went off a printed description to Dismal Falls from www.ncwaterfalls.com, which is a great site for anyone who is looking for some destinations. After the last two hours of hiking up and down muddy trails and creek crossings, with no big views or vistas, and only the occasional flame azalea or deep burgundy trillium to break up the endless green tunnel, I didn’t have the heart to tell them that the easy part was over and our work was about to begin.

Dismal Creek has been spoken of as being one of the hardest hikes in North Carolina and one of the most foreboding places in southern Appalachia. We were about to find out just how much truth was behind those words.

We crossed the West Fork of the French Broad, managed to lose footing or step on sinking rocks thus finalizing our wet feet, and came upon a lower waterfall on an unnamed creek, which is not on the map. Rhapsodie Falls is upstream of this falls. Dismal Creek is the next drainage to the east, which was totally out of sight from here. From here, there was trail on either the right side of the waterfall (which would require an easy and dry crossing) or the left side (which was steeper but would keep us on the Dismal Falls side). We stayed left, and this is where the flagging became confusing. The guide said that on the left there would be a false trail to the right, but skip that, and keep on going until a good trail on the right will take us to the base of Rhapsodie Falls. We ended up hiking steeply next to house sized boulders, and came to a giant overhang. Someone was even so thoughtful to spray paint “420” with a peace sign as the 0. Is no place safe from goats? At least there wasn’t a pile of empty beer cans. We went around the 420 overhang to the left and were met with pink and orange flagging, each following a different route and seemingly sometimes intersecting. There is a huge rock wall downstream from Dismal Falls which may or may not be flagged that I wanted to visit, but would require an hour sidetrip per the guide, and I felt sure the left-most trail would take us that way. We could catch Rhapsodie later. To my surprise, the trail I was estimating took us to Dismal spit us out right at the base of what I immediately recognized to be Rhapsodie Falls! It was totally green and lush with an amazing pool of shallow crystal clear water at the bottom. Water flow was good as it plunged from 70′ above us, spraying and misting everywhere, creating an almost tropical environment. Praise the Lord that we didn’t have tropical temperatures that day, or they may have found us washed up somewhere in Asheville.

I decided to skip the rock wall for sure at this point, which we passed. Orange flagging equals rock wall (I’m guessing). Pink flagging equals Dismal Falls. Up we went. The guide said at this point we were only (a very difficult) 1/4 mile from Dismal Falls, and as we started up the mountain was when I began to feel bad for James and Nick that I brought them out here for their first hike. I heavily considered adventuring out to Bullface Ledge in the Linville Gorge for this trip, but decided against it because, “I don’t want to do that to James.” Sorry buddy. I need to start using Linville comparisons here to describe the difficulty, though.

We began to climb up the ridge to the drainage that contained Dismal Creek, which I would describe as steep as Linville’s Ampitheater with trail easy to follow like PinchIn. The grade was ridiculous as we went up and up and up. This would have surely been not as tiring had we come in off 281 instead of Cold Mountain. Just a note for people I have mentioned this to as being brutal. It didn’t have to be as hard as it was. The terrain is still super steep, but after hiking the ups and downs of Panthertown, Devil’s Elbow, and West Fork Way, we were not at our freshest and most energetic. I’m estimating 4 miles of hilly terrain just to get to the crossing below Rhapsodie. Back to the uphill, sorry. At least the trail was good as we hiked up that mountain. Easy to follow and flagged pink, not rocky or rooty, but just a plain steep uphill grind. Then we got to the top of the ridge, which had the potential to be the biggest obstacle of our entire day, and it was the final obstacle that stood between us and our ultimate destination.The best comparison I can give for the descent trail to Dismal Falls is that it is like a combination of the last stretch of Leadmine where it meets the Linville Gorge Trail and the descent to the viewing area of Cathedral Falls from the Linville Gorge Trail, except it’s over 100ft in elevation. I am not sure exactly all the numbers of it, but I estimated it at a 60% grade. It is all trail, though! I remember thinking of the movie Predator, where Jesse Ventura said, “If you lose it out here, you’re in a world of hurt.” If you were to get injured on Big Pisgah, rescue would be extraordinarily difficult. We safely made it to the bottom after several sections of butt sliding and came away with dirty pants only, no injuries, praise God. The sound of the falls was loud in our ears and we knew it was close! Some more mud, creek walking, scrambling over downed trees and rocks, and we came to a spot where Nick went left as he was in the lead, but I caught a pink flag way up the hill on a slick rock drainage. I called him back, but scouted up towards the flag by myself so I wasn’t dragging them up any more elevation that wasn’t necessary. Just past the flag and a left turn, I emerged at the base of Dismal Falls! I was caught up in it, took a video, then heard them yelling. I forgot I had told them to wait as I scouted. Oops! With the final push, Nick and James emerged from the bushes, past the last pink surveyor’s flagging tape, and stood at the base of one of the most amazing waterfalls I’ve ever seen. We had certainly paid to get this far, moreso than necessary thanks to my route planning, but at over 150′ high Dismal Falls gave us a payoff that was huge. It was about 3:15. it took us nearly 2 hours to climb and descend here (although that included some route finding and a stopping rest at Rhapsodie). We took our pictures, soaked in the beauty of the waterfall that is so big you can see it from Google Earth and Bing Bird’s Eye, and rested from the arduous hike that brought us here. This was the halfway point. 

We started our climb back out, which consisted of standing at the base of one tree and grabbing for the next one up. At one point in one of the steepest sections, we actually had a vine to use as we climbed up (I did get a picture of that), but as I looked back I saw Nick carrying the vine after the ascent, so I suppose it won’t be there now… The climb out, while tough, was actually a lot of fun and not nearly as bad as we thought it would be. No severe slips or slides, we were tired at the top of the ridge, but we were having a good time. Going back down the mountain wasn’t so bad either having gravity on our side, I was able to kind of do a side shuffle move aiming for the trees to catch myself. Yeah, how’s that for a mental picture? By the time we got down to the creek, we needed to refill our water again. I peeled off my socks and shoes and dunked them in the cold mountain water of the West Fork while I pumped (upstream of my feet) water for the remainder of the hike back. With shoes off, the crossing was easy, but I think we had at least one pair of wet shoes again after the crossing. Looking at my watch, it took us an hour to get back to this point from Dismal Falls. Two hours up, one hour down. It’s all regular trail back from here to the car, although some of it is soggy. That regular trail is about 4 miles, too.

Unfortunately, I think this is the point where the trip became “ready to be over.” Somewhere between the West Fork and Devil’s Elbow, the wet feet gave way to friction and I’m pretty sure hot spots were giving way to blisters in my buddies shoes. What would normally be an uneventful hike with the usual trail banter to pass the time became what I saw as painful. On one of our stops, I broke out the bag of dried apricots, one of my favorite trail snacks, hoping for a nice sugary energy boost. I don’t think it did a lick for sore feet, though. It seemed like West Fork Way would never end and Devil’s Elbow would never come, but finally we emerged. As we made our way back down to the valley floor, the Tuckasegee River was loud below us, and visions of descending to what we call Coffee Rock kept coming to mind. That would require a descent, a bit of backtracking on unofficial trail, and walking through the water to even get there. Not this time. I’d be doing good to make it to Schoolhouse Falls, which even in the condition we were in, I felt the short side trip was doable. Once we made it back to the Panthertown Valley Trail, I mentioned Schoolhouse and we mutually decided to just go back to the car. We opted for the short but steep ascent on one of the bypass trails instead of the extra distance but easier grade of the switchbacks to get back to the trailhead. As we approached Canaan Land, the song “I love you Lord” was playing:

“I love you Lord and I lift my voice To worship You, oh my soul, rejoice. 
Take joy my King in what You hear. Let it be a sweet sweet sound in Your ears.” 

 Knowing that the music meant less than 5 minutes to the car, those words brought more hope than usual. We made it to the car, and finally back down to Rosman and the way too curvy 178 back into South Carolina. If you’ve ever been on a Caribbean cab ride, that’s what I always think of when I’m on 178.

I cannot remember the conversation that led up to this, but it was worth remembering this as the quote of the day. 
Me: “Carpe diem, James.” 
James: “Oh, there was seizing: my ligaments.”

This was what I would describe as a brutal hike. Yes, Big Pisgah has ridges that are steeper than any trail (not including off-trail) I’ve hiked on, but there is great opportunity for fun and adventure on Big Pisgah. There are great creeks, drainages, boulders, rock walls, and waterfalls all for exploring. I’m confident that shadowy and ominous mountain holds more pearls to be found. What made the hike so tough was coming in from Panthertown Valley, adding at least 4 extra miles of green tunnel and elevation gain and loss, than if we had parked at 281. Or better yet, camping at the site just north of the West Fork crossing. Without the added mileage, wet feet, and blisters, this would be a great adventure. It still was, but those added elements were for sure detractors. I think the combination of Rhapsodie/Dismal Falls makes this one of my favorite waterfall destinations. Additionally, we didn’t see another soul all day, with the exception of a line backpacker returning to his car at Cold Mountain Gap Trailhead while we were heading into the valley. I sincerely hope to return, now more educated, to find what secrets are out there. This hike proved that Panthertown has the potential to be as easy or as difficult as you want to make it. It can be a leisurely stroll to good waterfalls you can reach out and touch, or it can be a meatgrinder leading you to places where few fear to tread. There is so much out in Panthertown. So many creeks and falls and cliffs to explore and map. So much adventure. Even if your adventure doesn’t take you the long way to great sights, the short way still offers great rewards that are easy enough to take children with and can be had with only a few hours. Whatever you’re after, Panthertown caters to almost everybody, with or without seizing your ligaments.

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Trip Report – Panthertown Valley May 11-12, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moving on.

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

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

6:20am. Awake.

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

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

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

Pucker factor just went to high alert.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pictures are on my Facebook.

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Panthertown Valley is this week!

Panthertown Valley.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Plan is Coming Together

The Panthertown Valley hike for next month is coming together.

Studying Burt Kornegay’s Map (a great map, with official and unofficial trails), Google Earth (wow!), Backpacker Magazine, Blue Ridge Outdoors, and some other online resources, I’ve put together a rough draft of the route for this upcoming trip. I’ve taken Backpacker’s lollipop route, and adjusted it for an east side entry, and also incorporating Big Green Mountain. This will essentially be a figure-8. So here we go..

May 11th, I hope to be leaving Greenville by 4:00PM which will put us at the parking approximately 5:30PM. Parking at the Cold Mountain Gap Trailhead, we will head northwest on the Panthertown Valley Trail, which crosses Greenland Creek via a bridge (or so I read) which will take us through the valley along Panthertown Creek, to the base of Big Green Mountain. This is largely a flat area, which should have plentiful places to pitch a campsite. If we don’t come to any places, once we pass Granny Burrell Falls, there is a shelter we can stay in or near. After morning, we will hike south along Panthertown Creek on the Great Wall Trail with The Great Wall of Panthertown looming over us (this is quite impressive from even Google Earth). Turning north, we’ll intersect with the Big Green Trail and take that to the summit, then down the far more gentle east side of Big Green Mountain. This will put us back near Granny Burrell Falls. From here, we will follow Mac’s Gap Trail to the Little Green Trail, to ascend Little Green Mountain. We will come down the east side and divert to School House Falls, then back up to our initial trailhead.

The mileage is kind of hard to track, but I am estimating between 8-9 miles of hiking, with astounding views.

I have already sent out a few invitations to guys who may be interested, but if you ARE interested in going on this trip let me know.

The Forest Service map does not show the unofficial trails, but it can somewhat be followed for this. Here is the link —-> NCWaterfalls.com – Panthertown Forest map.

If you wish to get a copy of the waterproof map for Panthertown Valley and adjacent areas (Bonas Defeat and Big Pisgah), you can buy it from Slickrock Expeditions.

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The beginning of a plan

It’s almost the end of April and I haven’t done one over-nighter yet. Since many of the guys I go outdoors with laugh at me for always planning in Linville Gorge, I’m taking their advice when they tell me, “You know, there ARE other places than Linville…”

Really?

But I love Linville.

I came across a brief mention of Panthertown Valley in Nantahala Forest a year or so ago in Backpacker Magazine. It has been dubbed “The Yosemite of the East.” I also said, “yeah right” when I saw that until I read that it earned that name from being formed in the same way as the great western stomping grounds of Ansel Adams and John Muir. Largely, it has been off my radar due to an infatuation with Linville Gorge (rightly so), and the reputation Panthertown has of confusing and unnamed trails. I heard there was a map, but it was only available locally, and it was hand drawn.

Well, I was in Mast General Store downtown Greenville last month and spotted out of the corner of my eye a waterproof map of Panthertown Valley by Burt Kornegay, the same author of the map locally available. The topo map is 1:24,000 and has great detail, even differentiating between official trails and unofficial trails, along with point to point mileage. It will be a great asset.

Backpacker Magazine has a 5.6 mile loop, which I won’t be taking in its entirety, but a large portion of it. I hope to ascend Big and Little Green Mountains. The Great Wall of Panthertown is seen in the foreground, the great granite wall on Big Green Mountain.

Looking at Google Earth, the terrain is definitely more mild than Linville Gorge. I guess I can try something else. Who knows, I may be amazed.

Hopefully, in a couple weeks, this trip will come together.