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Big Rock Mountain bouldering bushwhacking hiking Nine Times Forest Pickens scrambling South Carolina The SC Project Trip Reports

The SC Project: Big Rock Mountain

The group stopping at an overlook on the way to the summit of Big Rock Mountain.
Big Rock Mountain has been showing up a lot lately in the photo feeds of my fellow explorer friends. After seeing a few of those photos, I knew I had to get on that mountain and see what was going on up there. Surely there couldn’t be a place like this in South Carolina. Lew me tell you, Big Rock is a scramblers paradise. I’m not much involved in any kind of rock climbing or bouldering any more, and I haven’t made any effort to begin rappelling. Scrambling and bushwhacking though, that’s what we found just outside of Pickens, SC. 
The crew today would be myself, Steve (twice veteran of Linville Gorge), Josh (once veteran of Linville Gorge), Wally (who I hiked with at Mountain Bridge Wilderness and El Lieutenant in the snow), and new hiking buddies Stan and Jonathan. After snagging my typical prehike breakfast at Dunkin Donuts in Traveler’s Rest (bacon egg and cheese on a Manager’s Special cheese covered bagel… oh yeah), I made the drive like I was heading to Panthertown, but I would be at my destination much sooner. A 45 minute drive from Traveler’s Rest brought us to the obscure parking lot for Nine Times, where we could access either the Preserve or the Forest. Yeah, it’s split up. We would go beyond the red gate, then the gate warning us that security cameras were in use, so we could explore Big Rock Mountain. 
Before coming, I had very little information to go on. That’s my excuse, at least, except it’s not much of one. I had just bought the Nine Times & Big Rock Outdoor Companion (authored by local resident, Brad Caldwell) earlier in the week, but to be honest I didn’t thoroughly read it. I knew roundabout where we would be going, and assumed there was a pretty clear path up to the top. After all, I could make out the road from the satellite imagery. Should be no problem, right? Well, with my decision making skills in a bit of a fuzz this morning, we cut across a logged area and into the woods beyond instead of just following the road. On the positive side, we got to the ridge of the mountain in only half a mile instead of one-and-a-quarter-mile. On the negative side, it was a steepish bushwhack. I mean, I’ve hiked up worse and made worse errors, but this took us on the route to expend a ton of our energy reserves at the beginning of the hike, Awesome!
Pink Mountain in the foreground. What is the rocky mountain behind the furthest ridges?
We followed some old semblance of trail (or overgrown logging road, possibly) right on the spine of the ridge over to the summit of Big Rock. We could see where we were going so our direction was good. I mean, there’s a mountain with a huge rock pile on it. It’s kinda hard to miss. Finally, some of those big rocks started to emerge. “Whoa, check that out!” That’s what started to erupt from this group of hikers. A few really large boulders were on the path (ha, path, if you can call it that) we were on. At first, we were only seeing them, then hiking around them, and then pressed into them as the briers, downfall, and bushes proved the exposed rock to be the path of least resistance. It was at this point that we lost Wally to his wonder and he scrambled up those big rocks on Big Rock, leaving us to follow him up. Even the house sized boulder that he managed to get to the top of was not the peak, but once we were all up there the view was incredible. There was a large flatish mountain we first thought was Table Rock, but I quickly realized that it was in the wrong direction. I’m still working on figuring that out, so if anyone has any help with that, I’d love for you to say so in the comments here. Looking at the maps, I am thinking that it was Whiteside Mountain, but I could be wrong. A bit further up and the summit of Big Rock Mountain has a big flat rock on it, almost like some kind of altar. Stan and I chilled out up here, as he jokes that one of his biggest problems in life was a farmer’s tan. Through the trees, we were able to easily make out Table Rock, The Stool, and Cesaer’s Head beyond. Based on GPS distances readings, we were 8 miles away. Once we were all at the top, and Wally is like, “On to Pink Mountain!” which is the closest mountain to the northwest, within the forest. He didn’t realize what I had planned for the day. I think a few of the guys didn’t realize what I had planned for the day, including me. This is where the fun would begin. 
Table Rock, The Stool, and Cesaer’s Head from the Big Rock summit
I’m not really sure why I planned this the way I did. Oh yeah, it’s 1.75 miles to the top, we’ll walk around a little bit, and then come back down. Easy! Well, that didn’t include the unplanned direct brute force route to the top of the mountain. I knew I wanted to climb around on some Big Rocks, but I guess the deceptiveness of Google Earth combined with the photos that were of nearly all rock, I wasn’t thinking about all the waist high scrub and briers we would have to bushwhack through to access many of the areas. Sorry Stan, I told you shorts would be fine. Look at it this way, now you have lots of cool hiking scars on your legs. I saw some of the meanest looking briers I have ever seen up on that mountain. It is a vicious place! As I watched all the guys navigate through the scrub, I could tell the difference that Linville Gorge had made on Steve. He just seemed to spot things in a subtle different way. Climbing up on one of the boulders, Wally and I made a rough determination of where we wanted to go and how we would get there. Going by the guidebook, one area I wanted to be was at the Shaman’s Cave Boulder. We spotted it from a higher vantage point, but our route would have to take us back towards the summit as we worked around some of the more sheer rock faces.

The guys climbing up one of the many cracks in the boulder maze.

On our way down, we passed through the Big Slopey Project/The Cravasse Boulder. Way cool! This crack was one of my favorite places that we went through on the mountain. I got to do a few chimneying moves in there. Really, just to move my body in ways like that feels great. I love that feeling of just climbing on stuff, We worked down cracks, around boulders, through bushes, up gullies, and finally found ourselves at the Shaman’s Cave Boulder. We found an old ragged hammock that looks like it gave way a while ago. For the adventurous, it’d be a great campsite. There is a fire ring, and a couple bolts in the rocks for hanging a hammock that is not so ragged and still in working condition. Wally is a guy that loves to move and be active. That much is obvious. He asked me what was beyond my comfort level, so I told him anything that I would have to explain to his wife. I knew what he was thinking. Straight up the tree to the top of the Shaman’s Cave Boulder he went. How’s the view up there?? He replies, “Pretty much the same.” Coming down was a bit slower and meticulous. Fortunately, I won’t have to explain anything to his wife. Nicely done, buddy.

Shaman’s Cave Boulder
We were looking back directly at the Main Wall, and the guide had some hints towards a cave area. Naturally, I would want to find that. What is the fascination with caves? Sure, there is that sense to say, “I really want to stand on that big rock” but to enter into the earth? I’m not sure what the draw is, but for some, the allure of a cave is difficult to resist. Well, I just gave into it. Making sure everyone in the group was still doing OK, we pressed on along the Main Wall. I didn’t want to descend too low as to miss the cave for the sake of an easier route, so I stayed a bit higher. Maybe not such a great idea as far as getting snagged on briers goes. Really, I could have avoided it. We came to the base of a huge rock, and the group split ways. A few went left, a few went right. After a few moments of indecision, I called out to the left group and asked what it looked like over there. “I don’t know, awesome!” Turns out it was awesome because the cave area was there. Really, it’s a chimney, but really, it was what I was looking for! You can climb in and over a rock at one end of the crack and come out into the main area of the cave. Really cool, but not for everyone, for sure.
Wally and Stan still at our lunch spot
Wally, Stan and I climbed up on the top of a flat rock for our lunch break, and Josh, Jonathan and Steve hung out just below the climb. I scarfed my typical hikertrash lunch of a sandwich with peanut butter, bananas, and craisins, then scrambled over towards the next set of ledges and boulders. Looking back and seeing the cliff that we had eaten lunch on top of, I just had a good laugh of enjoyment at seeing where we had been sitting. After poking around the Flowering Hominid area, we decided it was time to start working back towards the car. Looking at my GPS, we were directly below the summit of the mountain we had stood on earlier. Three options: (1) we could hike down the mountain into someone’s yard, which I was not about to do. (2) hike back through the maze of boulders, which would be the long ways (3) the direct route – UP. Either we could go up right in front of us, or bushwhack further east and take a slab up there. Wally and Stan decided to scout out what was right in front of us. They called down that it was actionable, though not in those words. Based on the guide book, I think we went up the Joe Dirt route, which was rated as a 5.2 pitch. 
Before we climbed back up to the summit
Though it was a bit steep and sketchy in parts, we made it back to the summit. Somehow, we got separated coming down towards the ridgeline, but we were able to reconvene with a bit of effort. On the way out, I definitely did not want to come back down the way we had come up, but rather find the “right” way. Looking at my GPS, Stan came alongside with his cellphone and pulled up the satellite imagery of where we were. I could see the road on the satellite, and we were way off it. I guess that’s too much time trying to figure out where the rocks I wanted to visit and not enough looking at the route up the mountain. Sadly, it was really obvious. It’s a dirt road. We came down the rocky cliff faces beneath the power lines, which was a challenge in itself. The briers got really thick in there, and it was like hiking through velcro because the thorns would grab and not let you go any further until you pulled yourself free. I felt sorry again for Stan and his shorts. Sorry buddy. Anyone who knows anything about Nine Times has to be rolling their eyes at me as they read this. Go ahead, I deserve it. I poorly planned getting up the mountain. Next time will be better. 
Coming down the mountain in one of the cleanest and easiest to hike stretches
We made it back to the cars fine enough, after some more bushes, briers, and slides to access the dirt road. As we were putting our gear in the trunks, Brad Caldwell pulled up. It was great to meet him and share a few short anecdotes about our time on the mountain. He said that normally, we would be guaranteed to see rattlesnakes in the area. I was surprised we didn’t see any snakes, to be honest. We did see a few yellow jackets, but I didn’t ever disturb any nests where we got swarmed. The Lord blessed us with a safe, active, and wondrous day on the mountain. Really, a great notch in The South Carolina Project for me. Tracked distance on the GPS shows us at 4.25miles. We climbed 1206ft in elevation, and descended 1145ft (How does that work?). The highest elevation we were at was 1803ft.
GPS track overlay onto Google Earth of our hike
I do want to say a few things about the area, though, for anyone considering an adventure there. Yes, it’s incredible, I’d never seen anything like it in South Carolina, and the boulder maze was incredible to navigate. I had a blast! Navigating that boulderfield is not easy hiking, though. There is a lot of route finding, trying to work the puzzle of which is the best way, the least resistant way. There are a lot of scratchy bushes that will not ultimately hurt you but will draw blood, The kind of adventure you’ll find on Big Rock is not for everyone, but for those who love that kind of thing, it holds mega rewards. Biggest downsides: the boulderfields are south facing, so you get the full brunt of the sun. Summertime hiking would be miserable due to the heat reflecting off those rocks. Combine that with the lack of any water, creeks or streams on the mountain, and you’ve got yourself a challenge. Really, just know what you’re getting into and prepare well by packing enough water and researching your route (I could take my own lesson!). I know for sure that I’ll be back to explore Nine Times more thoroughly! It is an amazing and incredible area, a real hidden jewel for the state of South Carolina.
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Babel Tower Cabin Trail hiking http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post Linville Gorge Trail scrambling Trip Reports WNC

The First Time I Underestimated Linville Gorge

So this is actually the first trip report I ever wrote, originally posted at LinvilleGorge.net. My family and I had been to Linville Falls from the Blue Ridge Parkway before, but this would be my first time actually entering the Linville Gorge. There have been a few edits, removing silly emoticons, and changed a few of the numbers as I later found out. The guys at LG.N helped me plan this trip, and warned me that I might be biting off more than I could chew for my first visit. In fact, it was on this trip that I received a piece of advice regarding the seriousness of Linville Gorge that still stays with me:

“Two entities will see your hike: God and Linville Gorge.

If you bite off more than you can chew God will forgive you….. Linville Gorge will Not.” 
~ Bob Underwood

One of the things I really want to highlight is how we went up to the top of Babel Tower. We didn’t realize there was a very easy trail that accessed the top, and we scrambled and free climbed up to the top of it from the south face. Way sketchy, but we were all into climbing a lot. I don’t recommend anyone takes that route. Some of the hiking I had done prior that I thought would prep me for this trip was  the Raven Cliff Falls/Dismal Loop in the Mountain Bridge Wilderness of SC, Table Rock State Park in SC, and also some backpacking at Sam Knob and TurkeyPen near Brevard. I was unprepared for how rugged the terrain would actually be in Linville Gorge. Daunting then, it is something I have come to love now, over 3 years and over a dozen trips later. If you’re planning to hike in Linville, and looking at routes on the map, forming a plan, it’s a good rule of thumb to estimate an average hiking time of 1 MPH. You may go less then that, depending on how difficult of a situation you get into, and how many times you stop to take in the view.

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Well, we made it! Our PLAN was to park at Pine Gap, hike Kistler to the Babel trail, ascend Babel, then down to LGT up to Pine Gap, check out the rock face there at the toe by Bynum, then out to Kistler back to the car.

Let me start by saying, after my first trip into Linville Gorge, I underestimated it in every way.

Started out praying for our safety, the trip and that we would be marvel more at our Creator than his creation (which I knew I would be inclined to do). Then as we were pulling our packs out of the car, an ambulance drove by with his window down, waved, and yelled “Don’t do it!” but at least he said it with a smile. Hmm, this was when I began to wonder if I underestimated.

We headed up the road from Pine gap and saw a Blue square blaze on the east side of Kistler before Cabin. Does this go anywhere?? Pine Gap parking to Babel parking lot is a long haul, but it was a nice teaser as we could make out the gorge from the road. We finally get to Babel, excited, and ready to bring 2 cars next time we come so we can shuttle along Kistler. There were plenty of just-off-the-road campsites to crash at. I was actually surprised at how all the campsites we came across, even in the gorge, had such significant fire rings/pits.

(The view from the first rock outcrop on Babel Tower Trail, Babel Tower is the small peak in the middle)
We hiked down Babel after taking a few trailhead pics to the first rock outcrop where the trail turns dramatically. Wow, absolutely amazing. We took a break here because one of my buddies took off his sunglasses at the Babel parking lot and left them on one of the rails. We watched his pack while he ran back. We loved this view. It was very motivating when the guys who were with me that had not been involved in any of the planning looked down, saw Babel tower, and said “is that where we’re going?!?” It was a pleasure to say “Yeah!” The hike down to Babel tower was enjoyable, with just enough canopy to keep us cool. The trail is so eroded in places it becomes a ditch, but no so bad I guess. As we were descending, I began to understand why I should be more worried about a broken leg or rolled ankle than any wildlife.

We saw several large leafed trees, with clusters of leaves of about 8 or 9 roughly bigger than your hand (on the small ones!) Does anyone know what kind of trees they are? We enjoyed them all throughout the gorge.

(The way we went to the top of Babel Tower – which later I found out is the hard way)

So we made it to the Linville Gorge Trail (LGT) and immediately were met with overview sights of the river, then we hopped over the crevasses and boulders, hung over the hanging rock, checked out the cave/shelter overhang, etc. We eventually climbed up to the top of Babel Tower. There’s some trees there that are nice to climb and post off of, making the top easier access. On the way to the pinnacle, there is a pretty sketchy looking rope. I opted for a lift from one of our guys who stayed on the ground. The view of the gorge is absolutely breathtaking. I underestimated the vastness and how huge everything was. I’ve been looking at this through Google Earth for too long. I was blown away from atop Babel Tower. The spirit of exploration soared in all of us in this area. At this point, we had all decided this was the most awesome place we’d been. The exploration and sheer childlike wonder that was induced made this much more than a hike to see some beautiful vista. This was a completely foreign world to the east, unlike anything we’d seen. One friend had spent 3 months in Haiti as a missionary and he said all the dead trees reminded him of Haiti. I really feel like they add a it of beauty to the whole area. Anyways, I wish we would have explored it more thoroughly, but we moved on.

(Erich climbing down the south face of Babel Tower, with Ben waiting below)

We hiked west on the LGT looking for the campsites along the 2nd peninsula. After taking what seemed like a trail down to the river (across mostly boulders really), we ended up at the waterfall/swimming hole. Some guys were already there sliding down the waterfall and jumping off the cliff so we moved up to the campsite on the beach to dip in the river to cool off and eat lunch. We saw a bunch of minnows, but nothing else really. This looks like a great campsite, unless the water is high! After we ate lunch, we were trying to figure out if we had passed the LGTCS4 and were really at LGTCS1, or not. (NOTE: These are campsite names listed on the 2010 edition of the LG map from LinvilleGorge.net) Compass was really helpful here by determining which bend in the river we were facing. Plus, I thought there was no way we had gone all the way up to CS1, so we hiked back up to where we left LGT and continued on. The trails are tough to follow here with all the boulders. I started to get confused myself by the way the LGT curved by this offshoot trail, and I almost convinced myself it was Cabin. Either way we’d end up back towards Kistler so we went on, but I was about 80% sure we were still on LGT.

We met up with some guys who had just come down Cabin at a rock outcrop overlooking the first peninsula. Verified we were on LGT, and gave them some help as they were heading towards Babel tower. I told them we came in Babel and we were planning on hiking out Pine Gap. “Wow you have a full day!” Did not fill us with enthusiasm at this point. I had greatly underestimated how long we would be here. I figured 3 hours to go from Babel to Pine Gap. We were right around 3.5hrs here and hadn’t even hit Cabin yet. We voted to exit on Cabin. The guys from LG.N were right. This is not the Appalachian Trail, and distance cannot be measured normally. I was amazed at how little ground we seemed to cover compared to how much time we spent covering it. LGT is also extremely overgrown with thorny brush, to the point for several long patches we could not see where we were placing our feet.

(Looking up Cabin Trail)

Coming in, I knew and had explained to my buddies that Cabin would be one of our early exit routes should we decide not to go the whole way. We knew it was approx 900 ft out over 3/4 of a mile, and it would would be steep.. but we were totally caught off guard by what a grueling and miserable hike out this was. This is also where I figured out that I under-estimated the heat. Even though weather.com said 75F for Linville Falls, it was hot and humid this whole trip. One friend said he had done some research and Linville Gorge was actually listed as a temperate rain forest? I’d believe that! Phew! Having a river soaked bandana really helped out here. There were some straight up climbs on rock that were at least 6ft steps. Wow, this was tougher than anything we’d ever done prior. Free climbing Babel Tower was a cakewalk compared to this. At one point, we even saw a trail of blood drops, which only added to the mood of the hike. We all still had water and were drinking it, but even with that… we must have been taking a break every 50ft. I totally underestimated Cabin. I anticipated climbing out via Pine Gap!

(Blood on Cabin Trail)

Once it started to level off, it was so nice to be back to Kistler, where I just had been hoping a few hours earlier I wouldn’t have to hike anymore of, haha. The thunder also began as we hit Kistler, too. Even though we were ragged out, we were wishing someone would give us a lift but acknowledging that we wouldn’t give a lift to any guys that looked as rough as we did. As soon as we got back to the car and got our packs in, the rain fell torrentially. Coming out from Kistler, we could scarcely see the road at some points! Small kindness from God, surely.

Didn’t go to Wiseman’s or Linville Falls like I had planned, and we didn’t eat at Louise’s. Although, I did stop in and pick up a copy of Allen Hyde’s hiking guide. 2011 3rd Edition. I haven’t had much chance to look through it yet.

One thing’s for sure… we all can’t wait to go back. Enjoy! Thank you all for all your help in planning this trip! I had so much more confidence going in than I would have going in green! I imagine taking someone up Cabin who was not already in love with adventure… that would quite ruin any further adventures for them for a long time.

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High Bethel hiking http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post Lichen Falls Nantahala Panthertown Valley Trip Reports Tuckaseegee River

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

Asbury Hills and Moonshine Falls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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hiking http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post Panthertown Valley Transylvania County Trip Reports Waterfalls WNC

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
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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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Daffodil Flats http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post Marriage North Carolina PinchIn Trip Reports

Josh, Jenny and the Gorge. Take 2.

My birthday is coming up and I asked my wife Jenny for the same thing I asked for last year: a trip to Linville Gorge. Our 2012 trip was a mess that left us with plenty of good stories and started a blog (you can read it here: http://thelongroadtozion.blogspot.com/2012/04/report-that-started-this-ball-rolling.html?m=1). After the Sandy Flat trail turned waterfalls, hail storms, and the demoralizing walk from Conley Cove back to Wiseman’s View, I had to play it straight on this one.

We parked at PinchIn.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. We drove into the Gorge from I-40 to exit 90 to Nebo, around Lake James, up 126 to Kistler Memorial Highway 105. This is my favorite entrance to the Gorge because of the spectacular views of Shortoff Mountain from the road. I’m always amazed at how quick we get to the exit, yet we’re still an hour away from parking because of the slow going the surrounding roads demand. We hit the gravel on Kistler and the adventure began. I am driving my 2007 Toyota Matrix, front wheel drive, with about 4/32’s of tread on the tires.

We made it to Pinnacle parking with no problem. A short hike up to the top gives the best view of Lake James from the west side of the Gorge, as well as an amazing view of the cliffs of Shortoff Mountain. Getting back to the car, the parking area was full of a group wearing hard hats and carrying orange Home Depot buckets. I’m guessing they were goat herders.

After a short drive, we now parked at PinchIn. The goal of this trip was to see Daffodil Flats, a field if daffodils deep down by the river. They typically bloom March-ish, and we had been seeing daffodils blooming since February so I thought it would be a decent time. Options to get to Daffodil Flats: 1) PinchIn to Linville Gorge Trail. All official, longer, and a difficult climb out. Nothing perilous. 2) Pinnacle to the Mountains to Sea Trail to Leadmine to LGT. Wet. Previously scouted and decided not the best place to bring the girls. 3) Unnamed. Yeah, right. Not after last year. If I was with some hardcore bushwhacking scrambling rhodo-cracker like Wigg Faulkner, you betcha. My sweet wife? I chose PinchIn. In an effort to make this easier for her, I let her use my trekking poles, and I packed everything else (except her DSLR Canon) in my 35L Gregory pack. She was packless, and I was the pack-mule hoping this hike wouldn’t turn me into the pack-ass.

Down we went. The hike down PinchIn was really sweet. On both sides of the ridge, the recent rain was audible in waterflow. A few trickles on the south side of the ridge, and a good creek on the north side from a plateau. I noted what looked like some remnant of trail and question if that plateau is where Rock Jock extends north up to the Mossy Canyon Ridge Trail (MCRT). Once at the cliffs, we took on some of my favorite Gorge views. Shortoff to the south, the North Carolina Wall, Table Rock and Hawksbill to the north. I love being able to look at those areas and trace routes I’ve hiked previously. A wildfire from a few years ago has cleared off the ridge of all but a few charred tree trunks. There was some slip sliding down in some steeper section with dry and dusty dirt, and we just lolly gagged our way down to the river. That last leg on PinchIn after it heads north off the ridge is steeeeep, but none of it is treacherous. Just difficult. We tried to put thoughts of hiking back up PinchIn to the car out of our mind as we headed south on the LGT intersection.

Not too far from PinchIn are a few campsites, and the first one is pretty sweet right on the river. My feet and shins were complaining from walking the last mile and a half with the brakes on, and the river with a few broad rocks at the shore was pretty welcoming. Off with the socks and shoes, out with the trail mix (Omega-3 blend from Trader Joe’s is a winner). The Linville River was ICE COLD, but pretty rejuvenating to tired feet. A couple guys were camping on the east side, and I wondered where they came in from. a river crossing would have been extremely unpleasant, temperature wise. After shoeing back up, we headed south on the LGT. It was really cool to have the cliffs of Shortoff directly above us and be able to see the balcony in the side of the mountain where the Crack of Doom emerges. We were graced with the awesome sight of a blue heron gliding above the river and coming to rest on the east side. It took back to the air before we could get to a spot clear enough for a photo, but watching it gracefully fly back up the river was a truly spectacular sight.

I know that it’s easy to overestimate distance when hiking in the Gorge, but I was starting to question if I had missed it, even though I didn’t think so. About the time I started getting the urge to say, “It has to be just up ahead…?” I saw some yellow through the brush. Daffodil Flats.

They weren’t quite in full bloom, but there were still plenty enough not to disappoint. Jenny walked around and took some photos, while I checked out the area. The ground was extremely soggy along the west side of the flats, with a little stream coming down from the cliffs (from Rockefeller Plaza or Nate’s Waterfall, perhaps?). Several feet to either side of it, even though it looked dry, was boggy. I looked back when I heard the sucking sounds of Jenny pulling her feet loose from the muck. I set up the hammock (unmodified ENO DoubleNest with SlapStrapPro’s for anyone who cares), we sat back and enjoyed our turkey on hoagie sandwiches for lunch. Reclining side by side with Jenny in the hammock, leisurely enjoying our lunch, and feasting our eyes on that field of daffodils was one of those moments I wish I could have frozen time. Resting with my wife, who I love even more than hammocks in the Linville Gorge, is one of the sweetest balms to my soul. Life is difficult, and to have an excellent wife to run this race with brings so much joy to me. Honey, I love you so much.

We could have laid there forever. I was totally wishing I had packed camping gear because we would have pitched right there and stayed the night. Unfortunately, it was 2:30pm and now this good thing must come to an end. We had to head back, and this was the halfway point. I knew that this trip would have it’s difficulties, but I did not anticipate that our energy would be depleted as much as it was by the time we got to Daffodil Flats. We had over a mile before we got to the LGT PinchIn intersection where the work actually began! On the way out, we met Trish (AdventureSeeker, I think she said?) and a couple of her friends, said hi, talked about the forums at linvillegorge.net. Always nice to run into a Gorge Rat.

So back onto the LGT. There was a bunch of blowdown on the trail, making it much more difficult than it needed to be. Several trees to climb over, and some points where the trail was blocked totally. That blowdown did provide me with a nice walking staff, which I actually picked up on the way in. After a mile of climbing over and under natural hurdles, we were at PinchIn. It was time to start praying that God, giver of all good things and mercies anew, would give us the energy to ascend the 1760′ of elevation over the next 1.5 miles that has been shorthandedly named PinchIn Trail. We felt spent. We knew what was waiting for us, looming over us, between us and the car. We each had a semi-frozen 32oz Gatorade, one for each of my side pockets in my cargo pants, hoping the heat of my body would accelerate its solid to liquid transition. We were gonna need what those drinks would provide. With one step forward, we began the grind out.

The first third of PinchIn is stupidly steep, as it climbs the north side of the ridge from the river. The only view to be had is the neck cramp inducing gaze to the top of the ridgeline. Up and up and dirty step after sliding step. Praise Jesus for trekking poles and that nice staff I found on the LGT. It felt like I was rowing a boat in Venice: stick planted, pull! Stick planted, pull! And what was not near soon enough, the trees began to thin out, and we were back on the bald ridgeline. Jenny asked how far we were, at least two-thirds of the way up PinchIn? No, only one-third. We had a ways to go. I don’t feel like the ridgeline is as difficult as that first climb up from the river, but that’s not to say it isn’t steep. A steady grade of I’m guessing above 40% on exposed ridgeline. Whoever does this in the sweltering heat of summer is asking for a horrific, if not even dangerous, time. Fortunately, we had the North Carolina Wall and cliffs of Shortoff ablaze and glowing in the setting sunlight to keep us company. Amazing views. Extremely rough hike out, but really amazing views. Pressing on.Fortunately there are plenty places and rocks and logs to sit and rest upon, braking up and easing the long haul out. I’m so glad there are very few obstacles, short of the incline, on this trail. Jim DeFriess, you do a beautiful job maintaining this beast of a trail. I imagined you out there swinging a Pulaski, and a deep appreciation came over me. Thank you for all the effort you’ve put into PinchIn. Finally we make it to the cliffs, taking rest in the shade, and enjoying the quartz woven into the rock. It’s everywhere, glistening jewels giving glory to God, extolling His name while being glad they’re in the Gorge and not a countertop. Back at the plateau, taking no note of southern Rock Jock, and into the trees. My hips were bearing the full burden of my loaded backpack, which was grinding on my hips like the trail was grinding my legs. The final third, and the car at the top of the ridge. Grinding step after step, hearts pounding, swigs of Gatorade, glorious views, the best wife in the world, and our legs screaming for mercy. My Matrix never looked so good, and we joked about how despondent we would be if we still had to road walk back to the car. I also joked to Jenny, “Imagine how tough that would have been if we were bushwhacking!” Ha ha hilarious. Jenny gracious allowed me to take our post-PinchIn portrait at the trailhead sign, where I left my walking staff (someone’s gonna need it!!) and we crashed into the front seats of the car. Mercies anew. But we weren’t done.

One of my biggest regrets from the Sandy Flat trip is that we parked at Wiseman’s View and didn’t go to the overlooks. Being so close to it, I wasn’t about to let the opportunity pass again, no matter how tired we were. The only thing that stood in our way now was the Kistler Memorial Highway, which has the reputation of being one of the roughest roads in western North Carolina.

Indeed. The Matrix was doing good, and it has decent ground clearance. Front wheel drive yes, but using the torque from first and second gears, using that shifter, got us through it. It was rough and rutty up to Conley Cove, but between there and Wiseman’s View was pretty sketchy. At one turn, on a steep incline (they’re everywhere in Linville Gorge, even the roads), there were several rocks jutting up from the road, and while I made it over them, I was fearful of what my oil pan and transmission pan looked like. After the bonejarring drive several miles up Kistler and then bouncing down the access drive to Wiseman’s, I was able to check the car out and I’m happy to report my Matrix survived. The views along Kistler were fantastic. I looked at the Ampitheater and feel like the hike out of there was even more grizzly than PinchIn.

Wiseman’s View is an easy paved walkway to the cliffs, and is even handicap accessible. A nice cool down stretch after the punishment we just put our bodies through. What a view the overlooks give here. Touristy or not, Wiseman’s View offers the easiest and most magnificent views of the Linville Gorge. We gazed upon Hawksbill and Table Rock, with Brown Mountain beyond, as the sun settled behind the ridge we were standing on. The curtain was closing on the Linville Gorge for the day, and we got to see its final call. Wonderful. What a great day with my wife.

We ducked under the guardrail on the north side of Wiseman’s to take a peek off the cliffs, which I’m pretty certain was UGs Point. Looking straight down into what I’m also pretty sure was Sandy Flats, we heard music. In the side of the cliff right in front of us, a guy had set up camp, tent pitched and radio playing “How Bizarre” by OMC, one of my least favorite songs ever.

Kistler Memorial Highway north of Wiseman’s View was still slow going but in much better condition than the southern section. Pretty soon we were back on 183, and I’m pretty sure I heard my car make a big such of relief. Either that, or I cheesily made the sigh on behalf of my car. My front wheel drive Matrix had driven the entirety of Kistler Memorial Highway. Rock on.

What a full day it was. We were so tired. I felt like my legs were going to atrophy in the driver’s seat, but we still had one more stop. That’s right. The part that no trip to the Gorge is complete without. We pulled into Famous Louise’s Rockhouse for a slice of strawberry rhubarb pie. Grace upon grace and foretastes of Heaven beyond the hearth of that door! The grind of the day met with the delight of pie. What a shallow shell of an image of our life and when Jesus finally brings to fruition the new Earth and those who are His recline at the marriage supper of the Lamb who was slain. Thanks for the eschatological break there.

What a great day it was! Jenny, the Gorge, daffodils, wonderful conversation, and pie. With Linville Falls, Sandy Flat, Cathedral Falls, Conley Cove, Daffodil Flats, PinchIn (both ways!), 2 sections of the LGT, Kistler Memorial Highway, and strawberry rhubarb pie at Louise’s, I think Jenny has earned her stripes and is officially a Gorge Rat-ette…. and she’s still smiling at me.

An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.

Proverbs 31:10 esv