Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Tuesday was to be my triumphant return to the trails after a brutal work week and the Thanksgiving holiday. I had already worked 10 days in a row and was tired but determined to get back outside, an added bonus was the fact my hiking buddy, Strickler was also off work and itching to hike. I took advantage of having one of my better hiking partners and lined us up a difficult but rewarding least on paper.
Big Bradley from one of the many scramble paths to the cliff's edge.
Steve at the gorge edge, 200 ft below is the base of Big Bradley
tough climbing back to main trail from overlook

Saluda, North Carolina is home to several nice waterfalls, during my research I also discovered them to be some of the most deadly in the state. Just three miles off Interstate 26 is the parking area for Big Bradley Falls, a nice 80ft waterfall in a deep gorge. Big Bradley is the widow maker of western North Carolina, the trail is easy to follow and flat, but the trail ends at the top of the falls. From there scramble paths cut off literally in every direction, and in my opinion that is why so many people die here. I had read about which path to take so we passed the trails leading to the brink of the gorge and top of the falls and instead swung wide around the canyon rim and descended a steep path to a rocky cliff overlook of the falls. Unfortunately the view of the main part of the falls is obscured here by a large tree, and Steve and I agreed we had to find our way to the base. We fooled around along the cliffs looking for a better vantage point and found some nice photo spots but one wrong move and you would fall about 150 feet into the gorge and your death.
Little Bradley Falls
lower section of Little Bradley
Little Bradley with pool
The trail we descended to reach the Little Bradley Trail

We made our way back up the trail and at a creek crossing just above the falls I found a cross with some flowers partially covered by leaves, it's unusual for me to Steve serious but he bent over and brushed away the leaves and said, " I never thought we would see something like this hiking, that's really awful." It was sad but caused us to focus on our footing even more and we made our way out to the parking area. I fetched my hiking directions and we drove about half a mile up the road to a pull out for Little Bradley Falls. The road had collapsed and the fill rocks, and super steep bank separated us from the trail along Cove Creek. We made our way down the bank mostly on our backsides and Steve made it to the bottom first, I was still trying to find my footing and dislodged a 200lb boulder that tumbled violently down the hill causing Steve to take cover behind a larger rock. He emerged laughing at his near death experience and we made our way along the creek to Little Bradley Falls.
Cabin near Cove Creek just before the trail turns insanely difficult.
He didn't land this jump, the log rolled.
hidden 30ft falls along the trail above Cove Creek
This cascade cut us off from following creek on up to the falls
up and around the cliff
above the cascades on the narrow section of trail

I was immediately surprised by the size of the falls, I had seen them listed at 30ft but they were at least 50ft if not more. They were very photogenic too,with a multilevel drop and a big pool at the base. Steve was also impressed and took time to climb up each level and splash around the falls.We both were not looking forward to climbing the rocky bank so instead we made our way down the trail back to the parking lot for Big Bradley even though it added a mile to our hike.
final approach to Big Bradley Falls
My favorite shot of the falls
tough terrain all around

We made a brief pit stop to eat at Subway before tackling the base hike to Big Bradley. To hike in from the bottom of the gorge we took Green River Cove road to the river level. I have never been on a more gnarly and steep road. You can see the road below you up to 10 times! Once the road reaches the river there is a small dirt road just before the Green River on the right, we took this road staying with the river to the forest gate. Several other vehicles were parked so I expected to see some other people on our hike. The first part of the hike is along a dirt road and is inside the North Carolina game lands, so you should wear orange to keep from getting shot (we didn't). The road eventually swung wide to the left and we stayed right following Cove Creek into the woods. Eventually we arrived at a field but easily picked up the trail on the far side, and was back in the woods still following the creek. The trail really started to wear on us on this stretch, there were lots of downed trees and up and down climbing. At the first ford of Cove Creek we couldn't find a good crossing and ended up getting our feet wet. The trail becomes barely discernible and climbs steeply, Cove Creek is now on our right and we were saddened to see two nice waterfalls hidden far below us in the gorge. The trail leveled briefly high above Cove Creek and descends to rejoin the creek at a left hairpin turn. Across the way, a small stream enters on the right, I recognized it to be Casey Branch and told Steve we needed to follow Cove Creek on the left instead of crossing. There literally is no trail instead it's about a foot wide path possibly followed by deer along the creek, we fought our way up the path and it eventually faded at a flat spot about 20 feet above the creek, from here we could either slide down to the creek and wade or climb a near vertical rock cliff and see if we could get around that way. We chose the creek and made it only a few yards upstream before a massive cascade cut us off surrounded by rock cliffs. We made our way back and climbed the rock cliff, it was tough going, there wasn't many hand holds and when i made my way to the top things didn't look any better. At this point we were at least 70ft above Cove Creek. The path was back but maybe wide enough for heel to toe walking now. If you fall here, it's also death, you would plummet into the cascades below which are loud and from the looks of it violent. We actually debated on going on from here, but we felt if we took our time and leaned uphill we might make it. I tried not to look down only forward and after about 100 yards the trail widened a little and headed toward a massive rock cliff, we easily made our way along this section and the elevation decreased until we met the creek again. Just around a slight bend in the creek I got my first glimpse of Big Bradley Falls, I was so relieved and pumped we had made it!
Steve happy to be alive
Me at Big Bradley Falls

The view at the base is spectacular, Big Bradley is really unique looking and the surrounding cliff walls added to the solitude. I snapped away with my camera, and thought to myself, thank God these are turning out good because I will never return. I almost always want to go back after I visit a place, but even before the even more taxing hike out I knew I shouldn't tempt death too much, Big Bradley was indeed, a one and done. Steve sat in silence watching the water fall and I asked him what he thought, he too agreed we should never come back. As I write this a day later, my knee, feet, and even shoulder hurt. I also rolled my ankle coming out and have been hopping around trying to loosen it up. Big Bradley and Little Bradley Falls are absolutely beautiful, unfortunately they are also very dangerous and not to be taken lightly. I really struggled here and until there is news of better developed trail systems I will not do it again. This post is dedicated to the people who have lost their lives there, and I hope it serves as a warning to others in the future. Until next time, happy and safe trails.

In memory of

Friday, November 2, 2012

There's an old saying, "sometimes the sun even shines on a dog's rear end." The same can be said about the Roan Highlands. I can remember setting off for Carver's Gap on many occasions with a crystal clear sky only to be swallowed up by clouds atop the balds of Roan.
Ice covered fence post leaving Carver's Gap

Recently, a cold front collided with Hurricane Sandy as it was making it's way up the eastern seaboard and dumped over a foot of snow on the Roan Highlands. Thursday, I had the chance to get up on the mountain and the scenery was almost surreal. Here is some pictures of my day, I can honestly say they don't do it justice, I had never seen anything like it. Enjoy, and...happy trails.
Mt. Mitchell on the horizon
Frozen barbwire
pine tree branches

Hump Mountain
deep drifts were everywhere
congrats, TDOT!