Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Until today I never knew the value that is a .88 cent Walmart rain poncho. It's a no frill piece of plastic but my upper torso and $1200 camera sure did appreciate it's rain repelling ability. Over the past 24 hours it's rained over two inches and with the ground being completely saturated from rain from the previous few days, flooding was inevitable.

Foot bridge over Laurel Creek
THAT would kill you.

Laurel Fork Gorge is home to a section of the Appalachian Trail and Laurel Falls. The falls is by far the most popular hiking destination in the Tri-Cities area and despite the lousy weather, I was somewhat surprised when Steve and I arrived at the trail head to find no one else. From the parking lot the creek was already drowning out any chance of conversation. The rain increased as we made our way through Pond Mountain Wilderness, and we broke the ponchos out, trying to stay at least partially dry. As the trail wound between the ridges, the creek roared the canyon to life. The spray from the creek shook the leaves as if the wind was blowing. We had to cross the creek on a footbridge and the water was ripping through and with an open side (no rail) it made me dizzy as the water rushed underneath us. After ascending a ridge, I could hear Laurel Falls down in the canyon below. The trail takes a sharp turn down some rock stairs to the base of the falls. We only made it half way to the base before we entered the spray zone from the flooding. My .88 cent poncho made a valiant effort but was ripped in half by the wind flapping it wildly. I used what was left to wrap my camera and proceed to the base.
Laurel Falls today
Normal flow of Laurel Falls (took this one a few years ago)
just incredible!

I couldn't believe my eyes, Laurel Falls was almost indistinguishable with thousands of gallons roaring across the drop of the falls. The water was hitting with such force it was splashing back up half way on the main falls. The mist was like standing in a shower on the left side and I retreated downstream to a rock around a bend in the creek so I could actually get a few pictures. My normal spot I photo from was under four feet of raging water. It was impressive to see the power of water and sit creekside in the mist although I was so far away from the falls. I was thoroughly soaked but didn't regret my decision in hiking in the bad weather. Even Steve's mood had improved and agreed we made the right choice but said now that he had seen it with such power he would be disapointed visiting any other time. The hike out was straight up the stairs but my stamina has vastly improved and didn't have to rest at all on the hike up and out. The rain was unrelenting on the hike out and looked down at a certain point and noticed my feet were covered in foam. A while back I had soaked my shoes in spray and wash and never ran them through the machine and now my foam soaked spray and wash feet were litering the trail on the hike out. Steve had stopped to tie his shoes and when he caught up with me he said it looked like a wild animal had been drooling on the trail. We shared a hearty laugh but abandoned our next hike to Coon Den Falls, we threw in the towel...and the .88 cent poncho.

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