Friday, April 27, 2012

Wednesday, I spent my second consecutive day hiking in the mountains of North Carolina, this time I took along one of my friends, Kip. I usually hike with him when I'm going on one of my more grueling hikes, I'm not sure if this is by design or his poor luck, regardless we set off for Gorge's State Park and the Thompson River area at 930am and after a few stops along the way we were parking at Gorge's by noon.
The monstrous Rainbow Falls

Another shot of Rainbow Falls

The waterfalls in Gorge's State park are some of the best I've visited. The park itself is rather new and the visitor center is still under construction. I have a feeling the free access will eventually end and this will become a pay to play park. The park and property are along the Horsepasture River and within it's property bounds houses Bearwallow, Stairway, Rainbow, and Turtleback Falls. Just upstream from Turtleback is Drift Falls, a beautiful 80ft natural rock slide with a deep swimming pool in front, UNFORTUNATELY, this is on private property and if you would have to be blind to miss the signs littered everywhere along the river to remind you. This is a tragedy in my opinion, apparently the rock quarry across hwy 281 owns the property the falls is on and why they don't sell it or donate it to the park for use is baffling. Hopefully someone will read this and have the power to do something to change it! Anyway, after parking at the top of the mountain it's a three mile round trip hike to the falls. I have visited Gorge's several times and I was surprised as we neared the river the trail had received some nice maintenance and there is even a trail to Stairway Falls now! We decided to head on toward Rainbow Falls which is the largest falls in the park. A dull roar almost like the sound of bass can be heard well in advance of climbing the steep trail to the viewing area for Rainbow Falls, once it comes into sight it's refreshing and inspiring. The mist from this 125-150ft beauty hits you at a great distance from the falls, and it's feels wonderful after climbing the trail. I took pictures between wiping mist from my camera lens, and in a few minutes we climbed on toward Turtleback falls. At the top of Rainbow Falls, you can access the river and climb out and rock hop to look off the top of the falls. If you look upstream you can see Turtleback falls, it's awesome being between such two impressive waterfalls. It should be noted however, that UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES should you enter the river between these two falls. The bedrock is slick and there is zero grip, not to mention the current is swift and there would be no way to get your footing before being swept over Rainbow Falls and to your death. Many people have made this mistake despite warnings I have read on blogs. On my first visit here a young lady had perished just two days before, the flowers left for her were a sobering reminder of the danger.
top of Rainbow, the current is really moving here

As we approached Turtleback falls, I couldn't help but think about my first visit there. I had came with my friends, Steve and Pauline and there was a group of father and son hikers at the falls already swimming and riding the 20 foot drop off into the pool below. I was tired from hiking and sat by the pool to rest for a minute. One of the fathers was from the area and said if you swam across under the falls there was a nice ledge to sit on and relax. I was wanting to cool off so I swam over and under the falls, the current was strong and the falls thrashed me pretty good as I swam under them. I was greeted by a slick rock wall with not even a finger hold to latch onto. I couldn't find a ledge and decided to swim back as I came under the falls I came up too far over in a rip current to the opposite side of the pool. Each time I tried to swim free of the falls I was turned back under them, eventually I got choked and panic set in. I was tired and thrashing by this point and could barely keep my head above water. Although I was a good swimmer, I was about to drown. I knew if I went under again it would be it and somehow in my panic I thought as long as there is air in my lungs, I would float. Sure enough, I drew a deep breath and laid on my back, my upper body floated and I was able to push out of the current and toward the safety of the shore. I made it to the bank and laid face down on the shore, I was so grateful to have made it, I cried. Today, over two years later I still remember it vividly and think of it several times a week, I feel like it changed me as a person and I appreciate waking up each morning, and thankfully it didn't kill my love the outdoors, only strengthened my respect of it's dangers. I still regard Turtleback Falls as one of my favorite waterfalls.
Turtleback Falls, almost my final resting place
Kip beside Turtleback falls its quite large
 Since we were already so close, we went on past Turtleback falls and up the new steps installed by the falls on to Drift Falls. The trail abruptly ends about 100 yards down river from the base of these falls and although they are private property, a decent picture can be taken by rock hopping out in the middle of the river, here it is.
you can't say you weren't warned.
Drift Falls, so tempting.
We headed out and back past the two main falls of the park, as we approached the intersection of Stairway and Rainbow Falls trails we decided we had enough time to visit Stairway. The trail is new but that doesn't mean it's easy. It's narrow, steep, and slow going in places, it intersects the river along a cliff about 30ft above the water and the trail is about a foot wide as it descends the cliff to river level. I had never visited Stairway Falls and was impressed because each step of the four cascades is at least 20ft high and the pool at the base is beautiful. I would have enjoyed it more if I was oblivious to the fact that I didn't have to climb the half mile trail straight back up and out.
Stairway Falls

The climb out was indeed a gasser and once we intersected the main trail we still had a mile to weave back up the mountain to the parking lot. Once we made it I had some water and the short drive down the road to the Thompson River I thought would give my legs enough time to be continued.
Hidden Falls
Horsepasture River heading down toward Stairway and Bearwallow Falls

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