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The First Time I Underestimated Linville Gorge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Looking up Cabin Trail)

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

(Blood on Cabin Trail)

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

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

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

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Panthertown Valley. 20 Waterfalls. One Day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Stats for the day:
20 waterfalls
somewhere between 19.5 and 23.85 miles
13 hours and 17 minutes
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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.
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Guidebook Review: Waterfalls of Panthertown Valley

If you’ve been looking to visit Panthertown Valley in Western North Carolina, there is a new guidebook on the market by Asheville photographer Todd Ransom, “Waterfalls of Panthertown Valley.”
When visiting Panthertown, the trail network is complex, so it’s crucial to the enjoyment of your time there to go in with a map or guide. Waterfalls of Panthertown Valley gives you both, and covers the main southern valley of Panthertown. The guide even ventures into the more wild Big Pisgah area to the northeast. 
The guide opens up with a simple and easy to follow map for three main parking areas: Cold Mountain Gap, Salt Rock Gap, and Big Pisgah. What follows is topo maps with tracks and waypoints mapped by Todd Ransom himself.
What stands out immediately to me from these maps is locations of campsites. In the times I have visited Panthertown, trying to plan a backpacking trip has been difficult due to the lack of published resources designating campsite locations. This will be a great aid for any backpackers looking for more than a dayhike.
Beyond just being a guide to the valley, the author also gives the reader important sections on skills of navigation and staying found, as well as Leave No Trace principles. While this may seem redundant to some, the education is vitally important to be in the hands of would-be adventurers. Lack of knowledge is how campfires become wildfires, and how the over ambitious get lost and need Search and Rescue to find them. There is also a section on what kind of wildlife you may come across while in Panthertown, what to look for, and even notes on how to tie up a bear bag.
Throughout the guide you’ll find beautiful photographs of Panthertown and it’s waterfalls, all taken by Todd Ransom. The meat of the guide is divided into three sections: Devil’s Elbow area, Big Green Mountain area, and Big Pisgah Mountain area. Within each of these, the waterfalls each have their own guide (note their locations on the included maps for planning your own hikes). Each waterfall is given distance, estimated time, difficulty (with elevation ascent and descent), and the description of the falls and how to get there. The waterfalls you’ll find in the valley will range from the easy access and iconic Schoolhouse Falls, to the river wading Lichen Falls, to the wild and remote Dismal Falls and Panthertown Creek Falls. You will really find an amazing variety of waterfalls in this very compact area.
As a bonus, the author includes some non-waterfalls destinations such as Tranquility Point, Laurel Knob, and the Great Wall of Panthertown.
I mentioned previously using the maps to plan your own hikes. If that kind of planning isn’t for you, there are also several suggested hikes in the guide, ranging from relaxed atmosphere to the go-getter.
Closing out the Waterfalls of Panthertown Valley guide is one of my favorite parts, history of the valley. While I’m hiking, I love to know some of the happenings that have gone on before me, who has blazed and cut the trails, and stories of those who have lived in the valley and features and landmarks were named after.
To finalize the book, there’s a checklist index for you to keep track of your ramblings in the valley. At the time of my writing this, I have visited about half of the destinations. I’ll be using this guide myself for my upcoming plans in Panthertown.
Waterfalls of Panthertown Valley belongs in the library of any explorer. The beautiful photography inspires you to use the guide and get out there and see those waterfalls for yourself! For anyone who wants to do more than scratch the surface of Panthertown, I highly recommend Waterfalls of Panthertown Valley to you. It will be a benefit to multi-day backpackers and family day hikers all the same. 
To purchase your copy of the guide, please visit http://flickinamazing.com/panthertown
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bushwhacking hiking http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post North Carolina off-trail Panthertown Creek Falls Panthertown Valley Todd Ransom Waterfalls Waterfalls of Western North Carolina WNC

In Search of Panthertown Creek Falls

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

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

===

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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