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The SC Project: Kid Friendly Waterfall Training at Wildcat Wayside

Recently, the kids and I had a couple hours to spend while mommy visited with a friend. We diverted from our normal destination of Paris Mountain to Highway 11 for some waterfall training. I say training because there is a level of danger when hiking around waterfalls. This year, several hikers have fallen to their deaths at waterfalls. I’m aware of at least two death that occurred at Upper Wildcat falls in years prior. Waterfall training is important because there is a natural draw to them, but there are also ways we can enjoy them recklessly that can turn fun into danger in half an instant. There are rules to stay safe while still marveling over God’s amazing creation with awe and wonder. You’re now free to exhale and read on.
This is a relatively easy (I recorded 212ft of elevation) loop hike just over 1 mile with 4 waterfalls. The smallest children may have some difficulty, but the trail is good and the area is beautiful.
We started at the parking area right below the Wildcat Wayside sign. From there, a short set of stone steps led us to Lower Wildcat Falls. Oftentimes in the summer, there are folks selling produce and boiled peanuts at the road while people enjoy wading in the plunge pool below the falls. 
To the left of the falls, the trail ascends to Middle Wildcat Falls immediately. This is probably my favorite section of this area. The plunge pool is more shallow than the one below, and is perfect for kiddies to splash around in. This is also where the training begins. A series of rocks serves as a broken bridge to cross the creek. The kids are not allowed to be in the pool downstream of those rocks, because the top of Lower Wildcat is just beyond them. We splashed around a bit in the sandy bottomed pool at Middle Wildcat. Closer to the falls where it gets rocky, there are a couple “deep” sections, like 18 inches maybe. My son stumbled into it and soaked himself, but fortunately it was a warm day for October. 
Lesson 1: Wet rocks are slick and slippery.

After the rock hop across the creek, there is an information and map kiosk about the park. The “Falls” notated on the map are for a low flow unnamed cascade along the loop trail. Also, there is the top of Middle Wildcat. Very firmly and clearly, it was time for me to give more training.
Lesson 2: We do NOT play at the top of waterfalls.
The trail levels out at the foundation and still standing chimney of an old cabin. Beyond that, the trail forks. You can go either direction, as the trail is a loop. Follow the yellow blazes painted on the rocks and trees. We took the right side path and started gaining elevation. This will undoubtedly be the most difficult portion of the hike for the youngest explorers, as it takes the energy to hike up the hill and they will need the encouragement that “We will go back to those waterfalls on the way out.” It is a beautiful hike along the edge of the valley. A turn and we were at the Falls, which I count as a waterfall but is not that impressive in all honesty. 


Much more is the upcoming Upper Wildcat Falls. Which brought us back into training time.

Lesson 3: People have died at waterfalls.

Waterfalls are unforgiving. Their beauty demands a healthy respect. Admittedly, sometimes the groups I hike with can blur the lines of what that looks like, but that doesn’t change the fact that dangerous areas demand caution. This day, Upper Wildcat was flowing low, but this 100′ waterfall still is an awe inspiring rock formation, and safe as long as you stay on the trail. My two older kids both said,”Whoa!!!” as the trees gave way to bare rock cliffs when hiking on the trail. The Danger signs are in 3 locations, so there’s plenty notice of the need for caution and tempered exploring. You’ll have to cross the creek with a small rock hop.

The trail meanders through the forest next to the creek at a much easier elevation during this section. There are some cool cascades in the valley as Wildcat Creek makes its way from the Upper to Middle to Lower Falls and eventually the Middle Saluda River. These are visible from the trail.

Soon, we were back at Lower Wildcat for some wading in the chilly plunge pool. The kids easily waded up to the falls close enough to touch it. 

This really is a great hike for families. Despite the dangers of waterfalls, if you stay on the trail, it is quite safe. There are lots of things to see, and it’s a wonderful way to get outside. What a jewel we have in the Upstate of South Carolina! With places like this, we can ease our kids (and ourselves!) into the outdoors. If you’re looking for something with a lot of payoff for little effort, Wildcat Wayside should be on your list. My kids loved it.

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bushwhacking Gorges State Park Heaven hiking Horsepasture River http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post reflection Team Waterfall Trip report Waterfalls Windy Falls

The Day We Went to Windy Falls

Windy Falls first showed up on my radar over a year ago on the day my friend Luke and I met and hiked together for the first time. There had been talk of trying to hike it, but there were also several reports of people slipping on the Falls and dying there, as well. It was a hike both of us felt like we never needed to have on our list of accomplishments. On the tail end of this past winter, I planned to make an ascent of Narrow Rock Ridge while section hiking the Foothills Trail to get a distant view of Windy Falls, but foggy and soggy conditions factored into that plan being abandoned. A couple months ago, my friend Andy, who had spent several years working different approaches and researching past attempts and failures, led a small group on a successful expedition to the base of Windy Falls. It could be done, but not without difficulty. A few more groups that I’m aware of made successful trips to the base. Then came the invite, and I wanted to visit Windy Falls.
The Horsepasture Drop-Off
I hitched a ride with my buddy Darrin up to Gorges State Park where we would meet up with several friends, some new to us, some old to us. Those who met at the morning rendezvous were Darrin, myself, Luke, Scott, Emily, Johnny, Jack, Stephanie, Kitty, and the infamous Thomas “Badger” Mabry. At 8:45, we hit the trail. The main trails in Gorges are wide gravel roads that are super easy to follow. We left those trails and meandered down uneven trodden dirt to reach the Horsepasture River.
The boulders in that river are massive. The water flow in that river was full and powerful, even though levels were obviously down. Luke and I climbed some of the boulders upstream, and as we sat there watching the force of the water come from above and disappear over an obvious drop below, one of the late Keith Green’s songs began playing in my mind. This place is living in a garbage can compared to what’s waiting in Heaven. Luke quips, “Let’s hope we don’t find out today.” 
House-sized boulder in the upper sections of Windy Falls
The next stop downstream on the Horsepasture River is the Windy Falls terrace, a huge sloping rock where it would be less than easy to meet your demise. When we got there, the conditions were dry, so we were able to carefully explore around it. If that rock is wet, it is also slick, and no attempt should be made to walk on it. At the top of the area, the river rushes beneath a house sized boulder. We made no attempt to get close to the river. A slip up here, and you’re done. About halfway down the rock face is a large separation Crack that becomes a wedge after about four feet. It has been called the Crack of Doom in all seriousness and tongue-in-cheek. (Either way, it is nothing like the Crack of Doom in Linville Gorge.) We took the opportunity to make light of a serious place and play like we were falling in the Crack. 
Don’t slip on the upper terrace
The next section down came with much more difficulty. The path, which was essentially non-existent, split our group up in attempts to find the safest way down. Sheer Rock faces to the left of us, Windy Falls to the right, with the rugged tangle of North Carolina jungle filling in every space between. After using rope to scramble down dripping wet rock faces into standing puddles of black mud, we finally emerged through a pile of boulders onto the clear balcony overlooking the most powerful section of Windy Falls with the most technical section of the route still in front of us.
The Badger enters the Windy Falls keyhole
From the balcony above the plunge pool, with an overhanging cave right behind it, there are two ways down. The first and unfavorable option is over the edge. The water below obscures some hefty boulders that will win against your mass and inertia. The second option is climbing down through the rocks. The easiest way is a tight squeeze through a keyhole. That squeeze can be bypassed with the use of sturdy enough rope, and you can unsafely rappell-lite around the keyhole. Either through or around the keyhole, a rock shelf is the next stop, with the ground another 8 feet below. From here, the rocks angled down toward the water, but another passageway allowed us to travel beneath the boulder balcony into a near silent cave littered with rocks and driftwood beaten to smooth rounded edges by the Horsepasture River. A short scramble or committed walk in the water and we were at the base of the main drop. 
Kitty, Stephanie, and Luke exit the cave
Windy Falls is a raging fury of whitewater as the Horsepasture River crashes down rugged Rock to the plunge pool below. Within the walls of this gorge, the Horsepasture claims full right to its designation as a Wild and Scenic River. 
For the next several hours, the group spent their time eating lunch, taking pictures, scrambling on boulders, exploring ledges to get down river, were joined by Spencer and Stephanie, jumping off and sliding down rocks to swim in the plunge pools. The one thing I really wanted to do for myself was hang a hammock down there, and I was able to find a place after scouting a bit. One by one, the group split as we made our way from the pools, through the cave, out the keyhole, and back up through the boulders and black mud and ledges. 
Darrin goes for one of many slides on the slick rock, with Spencer on the balcony above.
Darrin, Scott, and I stopped at the same pool we visited earlier (where the Keith Green song came to mind), and we got back in the water. Scott took the water leisurely to enjoy a relaxing float about the surface. I wasn’t up to a full swim. Darrin got several more jumps and slides in. If there’s one thing to be said about hiking with Darrin, that dude loves to be in the water. Jumping off rocks into deep river plunge pools and lakes is his thing, for sure. The look on his face, man, he just loves life at that moment. Badger, Kitty, and Stephanie soon joined us, and they too happily entered the waters. It was like other lenses came over my eyes and these thoughts flooded my mind in that contemplative moment:
Team Waterfall loving Windy Falls with abandon
Loving life, there is no question. What struck me was the thought, where does that love come from? How is it that playing carefree in the waters equates with ultimate life? How is it possible that we can enjoy such a good gift as swimming in plunge pools and the sitting beneath the cooling, pummeling pressure of waterfalls? I know that we do, but what precedes that? Deeper questions than any of the pools, for sure. As I meditate on it, that train of thought ends at the Father. Man’s joy is a reflection of the Father’s joy, as we are made in His image. Raw delight points back to the Father, who is the fountain of living water Himself. All these things are gifts and yet, outside of Christ, we are not in a restored relationship with the Father and reject His goodness. We sit, like I did, on the side of the river, not wanting to commit to the waters. (I promise I did not sit out of the water to force that analogy.) In Jesus, the Father beckons us to abandon the shore and plunge into the depths of His reconciling grace to taste the satisfying pleasures of being His.
The walk back to the parking lot was uneventful. I’m surprised we made it the whole day without any timber rattler or copperhead sightings, considering where we had been poking around. For my first visit to Gorges State Park, outside of dipping into it on the Foothills Trail, I’d say it’s going to be hard to beat.
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The SC Project: Waterfalls Off 11

Group shot at Lower New Millenium Falls

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

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

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

Raven Cliff Falls from the base
So there I was.. surrounded by a tangle of deadfall, briers, and rhododendron. That wasn’t even the worst part. Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ll start at the beginning.

It was my pleasure to join up with some members of Team Waterfall for an exciting and challenging exploration of Raven Cliff Falls and beyond in South Carolina’s Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area. Since I wasn’t planning any of the routes or destination, and it is highly discouraged to leave the trail in South Carolina’s parks (for good reason), I left my GPS at home. I wanted to enjoy the freedom of not messing with a gadget, to give my trust completely to the planner for where we would go, and to not record any route for others to follow. I don’t encourage anyone to try to reproduce what we did as described in this trip report. To have an injury in some of the areas we went would mean a world of hurt, and an extremely difficult search and rescue.

As we drove up 276 towards Caesar’s Head, we caught a few glimpses of the sun as it faithfully emerged over the horizon as a burning ball of neon orange, a color only the sun can so vividly reproduce as contrasted against the fading remnants of night. What a glorious way to start the day.

Darrin, Andy, Van and I pulled into the parking lot for Raven Cliff Falls and left the car to began our hike at 7:20am. The last thermometer reading on the car’s dash display was 20°F. It was gonna be a cold day. Praise God it was only briskly crisp, without any wind.

The most complete view of Raven Cliff Falls

I have hiked Raven Cliff twice before. Once, just to the observation deck, and once the Dismal/Naturaland/Gum Gap loop (clockwise). To my surprise, we left the main trail even before getting to the observation deck. In fact, we never even saw the observation deck on the way in. Rolling hills gave way to steep descents. The trees and scrub cleared briefly to frame our first view of Raven Cliff Falls, which was awesome. You can see so much more of it than from the observation deck or the boulder overlook on Dismal Trail. The suspension bridge, first drop, upper cascades, second drop (the big one), and lower cascades are all visible.

Then we started descending… in earnest.

It was here where I first noticed the leaves. Mid-November, there was some fall color still hanging on, though not abundantly at this elevation. Most of those leaves were now on the ground. On top of being deafening, descending over leaves is super slippery. If you’ve ever hiked down a steep slope over leaves, you know it’s more of a slide than a hike. So the descent to Matthews Creek in some places went really quickly, because I was essentially sitting on the ground and butt sliding, using feet for braking and hands for stabilizing. Yep, leaves are sketchy. They make for really unstable footing, as well as hiding hazards like rocks and roots. When we weren’t sliding, we were scrambling down rock formations, some several feet high. If you’re familiar with Linville Gorge, you might call the descent to the base of Raven Cliff Falls as a rough Cabin Trail.

We came out of a chute in a huge rockpile formation, and Matthews Creek was at our feet. The sun was just beginning to clear the ridges and illuminating the valley. You could hear the roar of the waterfall, but it was completely out of sight. Water poured over rock and ground from several directions, disappearing out of sight downstream over more rock. A wet crossing brought us to mostly dry rock with several completely frozen puddles. It would have been really easy to take a fall here. Walking upstream and then BAM! Raven Cliff Falls in all its glory. The light was perfect. Warming sunlight behind us, with the falls still hidden away in its mountain pocket, and the setting waning moon still visible above the ridge. Absolutely gorgeous. It was at this exact moment that I decided Raven Cliff Falls was my favorite waterfall. Just incredible.

Raven Cliff Falls beneath the waning moon

From here, we would begin our climb out. Our next destination was to the base of the main drop, but it’s impossible to just dead-reckon straight towards it. So here began the real tangle at the beginning of this report, which by the way, is an over-dramatic but sensational way to start a story. Bushwhacking uphill from the base of Raven Cliff Falls is a steep mess of scratchy briers and bushes, with leaves on the ground giving you the “two steps forward one step back” effect, huge jungle vines, fallen trees, rhododendron thickets, and cliff faces that block your progress. When your in a mess like that, you have one of two ways to look at your situation. Option one: You can either feel hopelessly lost with not knowing where you are exactly in an area that is fighting your every movement and will likely hide your remains from ever being found. Option two: You can enjoy the puzzle of having a vague idea where you are, but not knowing exactly, and move with the obstacles instead of against them (even if it means ungracefully doing a head over feet when a vine snags your boot while climbing over a fallen tree) in hopes that it eventually clears out while following a path of least resistance, which likely will still be quite resistant. I suppose we went with option two since we emerged to dive into another tangle on another day. Route finding in the bush is really one of the most challenging aspects of trips like these, but there are rewards.

Raven Cliff Falls on ice
Like standing at the base of the main drop of a huge waterfall. Even cooler, everything was iced over from the spray of the falls and frigid temps the last couple days. Every branch of every bush was encased in ice. The rhododendron leaves were covered with layers of ice so thick that each rhodo plant sounded like a wooden wind chime when the branches were shaken. Totally cool in there! (Check out the short video I recorded of the area) We hung around for a while, took a bazillion pictures, and hauled our way out of the slick ice and mud back to the top, where it was a long walk through deadfall and brush and deafening leaves until we finally emerged onto Gum Gap Trail.

It felt like another long walk, but we eventually made it to the suspension bridge at the top of the falls. We ate lunch at a great open section of bedrock along the bank of Matthews Creek just at the brink of the first drop of Raven Cliff Falls. Darrin and I bushwhacked down to the base of the first drop, and got a cool view of the upper falls with the bridge right above it. We neglected to go any further down, as we had some other goals we wanted to achieve during the rest of our hike. We had a long ways to go to the car. Here, Van had to part ways with us. He headed back to the car, and Darrin, Andy and I continued on.

Andy and Van on the suspension bridge above Raven Cliff Falls

At the opposite sign of the suspension bridge, there are signs saying the Naturaland Trust Trail is closed. We wanted to check out the condition of the trail, since it was closed after the extremely rainy summer of 2013 that caused landslides in the area, so we proceeded against caution. There were several points on the trail where it narrows down and it’d be easy to plummet off the side. Probably a good decision to heed the caution we didn’t. Even if the trail was open, it felt really confusing with lots of twists and turns and steep climbs down rocky terrain that demand attentive and selective foot placement. Add in the leaves, and our hike down the trail was slow. At one point, we took the trail less traveled through more scrub like we’d been through earlier, and emerged on a perfect ledge to overlook the falls. What might have been a couple hundred feet away from us was the frozen point we were standing over two hours prior. It’s a lot of work to get from one side of the falls to the other. What an awesome time at Raven Cliff Falls. We got to see it from several unique and excellent perspectives. This would be our last view of the falls today.

Ledge view of Raven Cliff Falls
What we came to next has been a favorite of mine from the first time I saw it over three years ago. That first visit to The Cathedral was also the last time I had been there, until this hike. Really, there is no way to photograph or describe the Cathedral accurately. It really must be seen to be believed. The best I can tell you is that it’s a huge multifaceted rock wall that dominates the whole area and commands attention. Water had been trickling down the sides and formed several icicles. Darrin even pointed out a hawks next in a giant crack, where he had seen the hawk circle and eventually land on a previous trip.
Ice on the walls of The Cathedral. The hawk nest is about halfway up the crack on the left

The final landmark on Naturaland Trust Trail on our way out was the old cable crossing bridge over Matthews Creek. The cable bridge had been taken down, which I heard reports of but couldn’t give a first hand account of. Indeed, the cable bridge is down. The trees it was attached to are dead, but not fallen over. Other nearby trees are, though. Two big trees have fallen over at the same spot the cable bridge used to be. The trees cross in the middle, making for an awkward climb over, but it wasn’t too bad.

After the creek crossing, the elevation levels out. We passed by the Dismal Trail and loudly sloshed our way through the leaves towards Asbury Hills. Decision time, at the intersection of Naturaland Trust and path to the car, which was just over a mile away. Back to the car? We still had a couple hours of daylight.

We continued on Naturaland Trust, looking for the large rock cairns that stand on the way to Moonshine Falls. I had been there this past May, but visiting there would really add to this trip! The leaves seemed thicker on the ground here than what we had seen prior. It was was deafening, to the point we couldn’t hear each other talk over the sound of the leaves. Though the ground cover of leaves was thick, many trees still had fall colors clinging to their branches. The displays of yellows, oranges, and reds were far better here than they had been at the trail head of Raven Cliff Falls.

One cairn, two cairns, off the ridge at the sound of water and we’re at the overhang that still has old rusted remains of moonshine stills and barrels beneath it and Matthews Creek pouring over the top of it. A pretty impressive collection of remains, really. Moonshine Falls is one of my favorite waterfalls because of the unique “cave” area behind it that isn’t overly common on our Carolina waterfalls. I found myself wondering how long ago this water had fallen over the edge of Raven Cliff Falls, and if it had become part of Moonshine Falls at the same time we were arriving. The pool at the base was full of leaves. This is really my favorite view of the falls.

Andy crafting the shot from behind Moonshine Falls

We still had daylight, still had time. When I had come earlier in the year, TJ and I made an attempt to find Confusion Falls, but abandoned it after we couldn’t follow the trail any longer down the steep slope. Today, we would find it. We dropped our packs and I found the slope down was even steeper than I had previously thought. We took turns sliding down, went too far, and had to backtrack the creek, climbing over deadfall and through rhododendron. Confusion Falls is really cool, as its the conversion of two creeks, plummeting off an overhang to become one creek at the base. It has an almost tropical feel to it, even in the midst of a South Carolina autumn.

Confusion Falls

The climb back up the ridge is a complete grunt. Andy described it as a 50-degree slope covered in acorns and dry leaves. There were several sections I slid back down towards the bottom. Secure footing is a wish and absent dream on that ascent. The best emerging technique for climbing out seemed to be to launch from one tree to another, as the trees became handholds and footholds. It’s a short trip to Confusion Falls from Moonshine Falls, but it’s not without its price.

The day had been full of leg destroying adventures, so we were looking forward to the easy hike out, even if it was still over two miles to the car. There is still an intact cable bridge over Matthews Creek on Asbury Hills property. Darrin and I used the bridge, but being only half and hour from the car, Andy decided to wade across. On the Red Trail closer to the parking area, the leaves were as bad as they’d been, obscuring thick roots and embedded rocks. Thank you, leaves, for giving us a few finals stumbles and falls at the last stretch of the hike. Though we didn’t track it with a GPS, Darrin estimates we covered at least 10 miles. 

Our final photo op over the recreation lake at Asbury Hills

Nearly at the parking lot is a small lake at Asbury Hills. The mountain behind it was lit with the last rays of the evening sun, igniting the fall leaves in a glowing tapestry of color that reflected perfectly against the mirror stillness of the lake. The day opened and closed with majestic paintings of the Lord in the colors of the sun, almost like the front and back covers of a book that told of His glory. Certainly, that was the story my eyes saw this day.

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Kayaking Lake Jocassee – Guest Post by Rick Morris

(Laurel Fork Falls, photo by Rick Morris)
I met Rick Morris last year on our hike to the Lower NC Wall and the Sphinx in the Linville Gorge. We had a great time, and have kept in touch some since that hike. In May 2014, Rick went on a grand hiking, camping, kayaking, and waterfall adventure on Lake Jocassee, putting out from Devil’s Fork State Park. I loved seeing the photos, and I had freshly started focusing more on exploring Upstate SC. This was a unique way to see the area, and Rick was kind to write up a trip report, sharing his thoughts and experiences, to be shared here. Make sure you visit the link to his pictures at the end of this post. A huge thank you to Rick for taking the time to share your travels! So without further delay…


I have always heard stories about Lake Jocassee and the waterfalls the fall into the Lake. So when I heard that Piedmont Environmental Center out of High Point North Carolina was talking a Kayak Trip there, I immediately signed up. We left early on a rainy Thursday morning headed down I-85 towards South Carolina. Just after getting into South Carolina we turned off on HWY 11 or better known as the Cherokee Foothills Parkway. A beautifully designed two lane Scenic Road that travels the Upstate. It lies in the Piedmont Section just South of the Blue Ridge Escarpment with the Foothills Hiking Trail very close by. Cowpens National Battlefield is along HWY 11 that had a decisive win for the Contenental Army against the British in the Revolutionary War. 

What caught my eyes 30 minutes after traveling west was how steep the Mountains just to our north were. The further west we got, the Ruggedness was getting into South Carolina. First Ceasars Head then Table Rock where The Foothills Trail starts. It is an 80 mile Trail with many other connector trails that travels along the Northern Part of Lake Jocassee and ends at Oconee State Park in Northwestern South Carolina bordering Georgia. I did not realize till now how rugged this part of the State is!

Upon Arrival at Devils Fork State Park the skies had darkened again. We went to the Visitors Center which seemed to be relatively new. Very nice facilities with a camp store inside. There is a Boat Launch just north of the visitors center and 3 other ones in the State Park. There are Cabins, RV sites and Primitive sites. The sites we were going to required over a 1 mile paddle to. These sites are boat in only and all the sites are right along the lake. It made them very quiet. The first night there were only 2 other People staying at the Campsites. However by Friday night the sites were full.

It soon cleared up and the views were incredible. We had a beautiful Sunset! The next Morning I woke up before sunrise and walked a quarter of a mile to the other side of the Peninsula to take Sunrise Photos. I enjoy the Splendor of a Sunrise because it is so quiet and it is easier for me to take in the views that God has given us to enjoy! There were Carolina Rhododendron blooming all over the place. After an hour of this peaceful time I decided to go on a hike before breakfast. There are trails behind the campsite and I climbed the first Mountain in a mile and 900 Vertical feet. The trail continued on but I needed to be back to get ready to Kayak that day.

After breakfast we got in our Kayaks and headed West on a peaceful Lake Jocassee. This is a deep lake with quite a few structures that are still on the Lake bottom and are favorites of Scuba Divers. We headed up to where the Whitewater River flowed into the Lake.  The first Waterfall we went to was Lower Whitewater Falls a beautiful Cascade that drops directly into the Lake. The Upper Whitewater Falls are the Highest Waterfalls on the East Coast of the USA that are a few miles upstream. There was another small fall to the left of the Pumping Station that Pumps water into the Bad Creek Lake. We then backtracked a mile and headed up the Thompson River finger of the lake to take a view of the Wright Creek Falls. This is a 3 tiered falls that the last section drops directly into the lake. If it is warm enough for you, you can get your kayak under the last section. As we were at this beautiful Falls the weather turned Sour. The wind Picked up and the rain started. At this time we decided we would head back to camp and live another day. The water was rough on the way back with lots of Whitecaps. We stayed as close to shore as possible. Paddling back we noticed another Waterfall up on the side of a mountain falling at least 100 feet. Total mileage for the day was 9 miles. Soon after we got back to camp and it was very nice to be on dry land after the wind we had been paddling with. It finally cleared up and just in time to have a wonderful dinner. 

After a good nights sleep except to be awakened by some raccoons, it was time to get ready for day 2 of our kayaking. This was going to be our tougher day of paddling. We were headed up the Horsepasture and Toxaway river fingers east from the campsite then turning north. The day started off relatively calm and that fact would change soon enough. The first Falls we came to was Devils Hole Creek Waterfall. A beautiful fall but somewhat obstructed by some tree branches. We headed further up the lake and came to Laurel Creek Waterfalls. This is a multi-tiered waterfall that you have to move around to see all the falls. Total height is maybe 150 feet if you add all sections. The last part drops directly into the lake with a wonderful place for picture opportunities. There are some cliffs here also which we watched some younger folks jumping into the lake @ 25 feet. Nearby we ate lunch where the Foothills Trail makes its way down to the lake. There is a small creek that has some small cascades that drops into the lake here. After lunch it started to rain. The wind was blowing from the south. The way we were headed. It looked like we were going to have a headwind all the way back. I made a side trip after leaving our lunch spot and caught my last waterfall of the day. It was a lot better when I got up close than I thought it may be. After that we paddled into a headwind through Whitecaps most of the way back to our campsite. 12 miles total this day on the lake. After getting back we had a heavy rainstorm and I got in my hammock and took a nap listening to the rain bouncing off my tarp. It cleared off, we had a great dinner and there was a beautiful Sunset.

The next Morning we had to paddle back to our kayak trailers a little over a mile and pack up for our trip home. I feel very fortunate to have been on this trip and from the sights I saw I plan on spending more time in the Upstate of South Carolina. I encourage anyone else who hasn’t to put this on your destination bucket list.

Picture Link:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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


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

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

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




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Panthertown Valley. 20 Waterfalls. One Day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Stats for the day:
20 waterfalls
somewhere between 19.5 and 23.85 miles
13 hours and 17 minutes
Categories
FlickinAmazing.com Guidebook Todd Ransom Waterfalls Waterfalls of Panthertown Valley WNC

Todd Ransom on Waterfalls of Panthertown Valley

Last month, I reviewed the new guidebook “Waterfalls of Panthertown Valley” by Todd Ransom. One month later, I wanted to check in with Mr. Ransom and see how it was going.

[Josh] Congratulations on the release of your guide book, Waterfalls of Panthertown Valley. It’s been out for a month now. How has the reception been? Any surprises?

[Todd] Thanks, Josh. The reception to the book has been unbelievable. There have been so many local book stores, hiking clubs, photography groups, outfitters, bloggers, and others that have helped spread the word about the book, it really has been an amazing show of support from the local outdoor community here. 

[Josh] What challenges did you come up against in the process of making your guide?

[Todd] Believe it or not, I don’t feel like I faced any significant challenges making this book. It’s almost as if I had been preparing to make this guide for the past twenty years of my career: studying and developing my skills in design, photography, writing, product development, product testing, software development, etc. Once I realized I had the ability to make this book, I jumped at the chance to spend as much time as I could in Panthertown. I’ve been there on the most beautiful days of the year and I’ve been there when everything is frozen solid, but Panthertown Valley always shows me something new and amazing.  I have spent many nights above Panthertown Valley on wind swept balds contemplating the mysteries of guidebook design. LOL

[Josh] In our last interview, we talked about how you developed an interest in photography. In addition to your new guidebook for Panthertown, you also have a guide app for Waterfalls of Western North Carolina. What brought you beyond photography and into guide writing?

[Todd] I actually started as a software developer, so the iPhone guidebooks came first. I had a camera but I was still in the “why doesn’t anything look like I want it to look?” phase of my photography career. If you saw my iPhone guidebook then, it was pretty pathetic. A design that emphasizes photography needs great photography and so I really started delving into the technical aspects of that in order to make my guidebook better. Being a 20 year computer geek, it was natural that I start there. But exposure and histograms really aren’t that hard to understand. I started to consider myself a real photographer when I really became concerned with expressing the character of these amazing backcountry places I was going. The print guidebook is an extension of that, I gave it a focus on photography and a focus on the amazing uniqueness of Panthertown Valley in the hope that others will also fall in love with this special place and it will remain protected in the future.

[Josh] There is so much to experience when you visit a place like Panthertown Valley, not just in the way of waterfalls but for the senses as well. What is one thing you hope your guide users will experience when they visit the Valley?

[Todd] It is easy to walk down some of the wide gravel roads of Panthertown Valley and think of it as a safe, civilized place. I hope my readers have respect for the Valley, both in the sense that it can be a rugged, dangerous, harsh wilderness and in the sense that it is a fragile ecosystem which needs to be protected. How do you show respect to a wilderness area? You slow down to wilderness speed, appreciate the backcountry as it is without altering it, and try to experience as much of it as you can without harming anything.

[Josh] Taking into consideration water flow, wildflowers, and uniqueness, what are the best times through the day and year to visit Panthertown?

[Todd] Every day is different. As long as you are prepared for the conditions, and respectful of the dangers nature can inflict, you can see amazing things any day of the year in Panthertown Valley. A sunrise from one of Panthertown’s granite balds, like the appropriately named “Tranquility Point”, is something to remember. A steady rain that makes all the creeks rise will give you a healthy respect for nature. A week of freezing weather which turns the waterfalls into frozen sculptures is a beautiful sight, and rare in the south.

[Josh] Do you have any intentions of creating a second volume that includes the northern half of Panthertown and Bonas Defeat?

[Todd] I’m not sure what the future holds. I will make more guidebooks, I know that. Whether they are in print or electronic form, or both, I don’t know. The northern half of Panthertown Valley is a rugged, dangerous place and my guidebook is meant to be accessible to all. After much consideration, I decided to leave Bonas Defeat and the entire Rock Bridge rd area out of this guidebook. I have certainly considered making an “Adventurer’s Guide to Panthertown Valley”, but it is just a vague thought at this point. I’ve got a lot of vague thoughts. Some of them turn into real projects that get finished and many others get forgotten when I narrow my focus to finish something. 
———————-
Todd Ransom is an independent app developer, author, and photographer living and working out of Asheville, NC. He has published iPhone and iPad guidebooks to the Waterfalls of Western North Carolina as well as a print guidebook to Panthertown Valley. You can find him and his work online at flickinamazing.com.
You can find my review of “Waterfalls of Panthertown Valley” here and my previous interview with Todd here.
Categories
bushwhacking hiking http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post North Carolina off-trail Panthertown Creek Falls Panthertown Valley Todd Ransom Waterfalls Waterfalls of Western North Carolina WNC

In Search of Panthertown Creek Falls

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