Friday, August 24, 2012

UPDATE 04-08-13: Sad to report a 22 year old male lost his life at the falls yesterday. The steep terrain around the top should not be taken lightly. Don't be the next statistic! Stay safe!

Russell County, Virginia is near and dear to my heart for many reasons. I worked there briefly in the town of St. Paul and made many friends that I still have to this day. While I worked there, people eventually learned of my obsession with hiking and some of the locals asked if I had ever heard of Russell Creek Falls.
Clinch River

Immediately I imagined a small stream trickling over a 15ft drop and a waste of my time, but eventually curiosity got the better of me and I enlisted the help of the hiking guru from that area, Daniel Barnette. Working with Daniel is an adventure in itself, so I was almost nervous wandering into unfamiliar territory with him. When I showed up to pick him up, he had on his work clothes, khakis and dress shoes and announced he would just "roll his britches up" if the creek was high. We had a word of mouth set of directions and between narrowly escaping an oncoming train along a narrow pass and wading down a cliff strewn with briers (I had on shorts) we found a old jeep road along the Clinch River as we approached a side stream that blocked our path I heard the familiar roar of a waterfall. I also saw that the area was mowed, well maintained, and had NO TRESPASSING signs posted on either side of the stream. I didn't see anyone else nearby so I decided to take a few pictures anyway. I couldn't help but laugh at Daniel wading the stream, pants rolled up, carrying his shoes, with a cigarette bouncing freely on his lips.
Russell Creek Falls

The falls were huge! I was stunned they were hidden in a little gorge with two large boulders crisscrossing in front and the water narrowly drained swiftly and loudly into a deep green pool. I only had a cell phone camera that day and took as many pictures as I could but vowed to return.
Main drop of Russell Creek
water draining from the pool below the falls
standing along one of the large boulders

Fast forward two years, Once again Daniel was my hiking partner as well as our friend, Matt Mullins. We found the falls much easier than our first trip and we both noted the improved roads and development along the way. Right as we approached the falls, I noticed new more prominent no trespassing signs and two tents set up along the stream. I had bought a nice camera and just wanted photos, so yet again, I continued on.

The falls were lower flowing this time but still magnificent. It was Matt's first visit and he proclaimed them better than the insanely popular Laurel Falls. (I agree) The main drop is anywhere from 50ft-60ft and the falls pool deeply there before being forced down a narrow chute around two large boulders into a deeper pool below. I could spend an entire day here just listening to that water. Daniel has floated the nearby river and decided we should go upstream to some rapids along the Clinch, the trail was nonexistent and the weeds were up to my elbows, or Daniel's face. We came to a clearing along the river and found the rapids. Daniel and Matt swam for awhile before we went back to the main falls to pick up the trail home.
Matt (L) and Daniel (R)
Clinch River rapids
still waters along the Clinch
Daniel meeting the Clinch, a few feet over and he would have met a jagged rock just under the water.

As we approached the falls I heard a faint noise similar to a lawn mower, but as we got close to the falls, the water overpowered any other sound. As we turned to leave a man on a 4X4 mule ATV pulled up. I just knew I was busted, he got out and approached us but it turned out he was a heck of a guy. He lived just down river and was friends with the owner and done some of the trail maintenance or at least it appeared that way with his chainsaw and weedeater in the bed of the ATV. I told him we were just wanting some pictures and he said it was posted because of people's disrespect to the property by leaving trash but we were welcome there as long as we didn't trash the property. I was relieved and told him we were gonna hike on out cause it was getting dark and he said we would give us a lift to the top of the mountain. I got the comfort of the front seat while Daniel and Matt got to sit gingerly atop a chainsaw and a weedeater.Here's some pictures of our adventure from yesterday, hope you enjoy and happy trails!

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