Thursday, May 31, 2012

In a previous blog post, I talked about a visit to the Thompson River area of North Carolina and the falls located on the river, that day was to be a coronation of sorts, having successfully viewed eight waterfalls in one day and seeing the best one last. Instead, Kip and I found ourselves lost twice, out of water, out of food, and narrowly escaping serious danger, staggering out of the woods as the sun vanished behind the mountains.
High Falls on Thompson, from a visit in early April

A valuable lesson was learned that day, and yesterday Steve and I packed more carefully and set out for Cashiers, North Carolina in search of the Big Falls on the Thompson River. I packed twice as many supplies this time, fully prepared for what could go wrong. All descriptions online had labeled it as a strenuous hike with the descent to the river itself being challenging and tiring having to use ropes to scale down cliff sides!

This is the 2nd falls on Thompson River, I found this one on my 1st visit, I was devastated I didn't make it to Big Falls

From the parking area along Brewer Road off hwy 281, we followed an old logging grade up the hill and into the wilderness. The trail is overgrown and many downed trees make it tough going at times. The trail forks on more than one occasion and if not for my previous failures I would still be unsure which way to go. The occasional pink flagging tape is the only sign of direction but be careful, they can lead you the wrong way as well. Several falls are heard along the trail but we saved our energy for making it to Big Falls, I was determined to make it this time! After almost three miles you come to a pile of rocks on the main trail and some pink flagging tape following a steep trail toward the river and a roaring waterfall, this is NOT THE RIGHT TRAIL! It will take you to a nice 80ft falls known as the Second Falls on Thompson. Kip and I went down the is trail the first visit and were too exhausted to follow the main trail the extra 30 minutes to the Big Falls trail head. Instead of going to Second Falls continue down the main trail, it is still overgrown and eventually you will not hear the falls or river at all (although briefly) the river sounds faint again, keep looking to the left and there will be a small path to the left marked with flag tape. The trail appears tame at first casually winding down toward the river. Our hiking experience made this an easy go for us but it is slightly steep. Suddenly the trail turns steep and gnarly, luckily there are ropes already tied off to descend the cliffs, there are three separate sections like this. Eventually you find yourself atop a 20ft high boulder and have to wiggle your way down through a crack in the rock! By this point the river can be seen through the trees and parts of Big Falls are visible. You emerge just below the falls, and have to cross the river, it's not too hard there are huge boulders everywhere and we made it with ease. We followed the right side of the river upstream but a massive boulder blocks a good view of  the falls.
Steve sitting by Big Falls
at last! a full view!
the swimming hole at the base
the river hidden by the many boulders

I had to take my shoes off to climb the boulder it was so steep (it's twice the size of my house) once I made it to the top and was so relieved to see the whole falls in all it's beauty. It's a 150ft waterfall with multilevel cascades and a steep slide at the bottom into a deep pool! We were exhausted from the climb down and honestly I was wondering how I was going to get out of that gorge, but after a snack and a Gatorade we got our wind and was exploring and taking pictures. Steve was the first to take the Big Falls slide, he climbed over while I waited to film his trip and he slid down the rock with surprising speed. He rejoined me atop the boulder and I put my camera up and took the slide myself. The water felt great and was really deep, it was somewhat choppy and probably too dangerous for kids. After all the sweat I had lost it felt good just to lay back and let the water beat against my tired body. We slide more times than I could count and each time I was laughing the whole way. It's a real shame it's so isolated, but if it were easy to get to, there would be a waiting line to ride the water slide.
I knew these ugly toes would eventually come in handy!
Steve taking the plunge!
from on top of the house sized boulder

Eventually we packed up and with heavy dread began the steep climb out. We rested four times while climbing out and it still only took 30 minutes to meet the trail head, but even then you have a three and a half mile hike uphill to the safety of the parking area. As we were hiking out we encountered a young couple heading in and visited with them briefly, they had ran in, I was stunned at their physical condition. After another mile we met an older couple who had got lost a few times, I took his map and marked the correct way and sent them on their way, I told them not to try the Big Falls trail if they were already tired too. I can't tell you how happy I was to see the truck. Surprisingly, I felt good, a sign that all my hiking has paid off with better conditioning and stamina.
Upper half of falls
love this one, slightly cuts off the slide.
heading out, four miles to go!

I would have to rate the Thompson River area as some of the finest of all the falls I've visited. Sadly, it doesn't receive the recognition it deserves because it's sandwiched between Gorge's State Park and Whitewater Falls (over 400ft) while both of those parks are highly developed and visited frequently, Thompson is a road side pull off with no facilities or even signs. If you are a waterfall junkie like me though, you would be cheating yourself if you didn't put this on your list of must see waterfalls! Until next time...happy trails!

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