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

Rare Life in the Carolina Bogs

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

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

Pitcher Plant

Sundew, beneath Pitcher plants and Horned Bladderwort

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

Mountain Laurel

Horned Bladderwort growing in the thin sediment

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

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

The SC Project: Waterfalls Off 11

Group shot at Lower New Millenium Falls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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


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

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

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