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bushwhacking hiking http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post North Carolina off-trail Panthertown Creek Falls Panthertown Valley Todd Ransom Waterfalls Waterfalls of Western North Carolina WNC

In Search of Panthertown Creek Falls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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