Thursday, May 16, 2013

Day one of Strickler and I's hiking vacation was spent traveling to the Cumberland Plateau in middle Tennessee. The Cumberland Plateau is loaded with waterfalls from roadside strolls to some serious deep woods hiking. Last year we visited the area during the spring and it had hardly rained so we saw the falls in a lot lower flow than usual. The week before we left this year the area had a week filled with rain so we knew we were in for a treat.
Ozone Falls drop. Don't fall here!
Ozone Falls from the side, one of the best views and most photographed angles.
The rock in foreground was an excellent makeshift tripod. 

Our first stop of the day was just off interstate 40 in the town of Ozone, TN (just west of Knoxville) Ozone is home to a wonderful waterfall located just off the road. Ozone Falls barrels 90ft over a large half circle rock cliff into a deep green pool. The limestone caves that litter the area serves as it's drainage with very little water leaving the creek downstream. I have been to the falls several times and saw that the creek was flowing as strong as I had ever seen it. We hiked first to the top of the falls and scooted to the edge for pictures of the drop and then wound our way down to the base for more pictures.
Looking through the ferns along the cliffs at Piney Falls.
Behind Upper Piney Falls.
Steve beneath Upper Piney Falls.
Across the gorge from Upper Piney Falls.

After leaving Ozone, TN we traveled south to the town of Grandiview, TN jut outside of Spring City, TN to visit Upper and Lower Piney Falls. Dad and I had been here before but once again the water was huge compared to the last time. Someone had been courteous enough to put up signs since I was there and we hiked to the top of Upper Piney first to see the huge drop below. We wound around the trail and hiked along a towering cliff working our way to the base. The trail leads directly behind the falls around to the opposite side for great views. Upper Piney was loud and I could hardly hear Steve on the opposite side of the falls. The waterfall drops 85ft and cascades another 15ft into a bright green pool. We followed the trail back up the mountain to the intersection with Lower Piney Falls trail, the lower falls is at least 65ft if not higher, there is lots of confusion on it's height because the trail only leads to the top of the falls. Cliffs on either side of the gorge prevent people from visiting it's base, well most people. Steve and I surveyed the cliffs on the opposite side of the creek and noticed they decreased in size downstream from the falls and looked as if we could get down and work our way upstream to the falls. We waded the stream just above the top of the falls and bushwhacked up the cliff. It was a steep grade but not too hard with lots of trees to hold on to. At the top of the cliff the grade leveled off and began a downward slope downstream. We stayed close to the stream easing our way along the cliffs as they gradually decreased. Eventually the drop was less than 10ft and I found a natural staircase down to the creek bed. I was so excited I left Steve to find the way down for himself and quickly arrived back at the base of the falls. The deep moss that covered all the rocks was evidence that very few people have made it here. I took photo after photo completely in awe of it's size and beauty. Eventually Steve joined me on the flat rock on the left side of the falls. Both of us were impressed with it and satisfied our efforts had paid off. Climbing out was much more difficult and my trusty water shoes finally broke down at the worst possible time, with both heel straps ripping apart.  I had to negotiate the cliffs with broken shoes! We made it back to the truck and again traveled south toward the town of Dayton, TN.
Rock formations below the cliffs on the way to Lower Piney Falls.
We waded the stream just above this small cascade to go down to the base.
Lower Piney Falls. REALLY rare photograph.
Downstream from Lower Piney Falls.
Reflection picture of Lower Piney Falls. 

Just before the town of Dayton, TN is the Laurel Snow Pocket Wilderness. I had never been here but the guidebooks directions were spot on and soon we were at the trail head. The hike was easy for the first two miles and followed a stream that had more swimming holes and huge boulders than I had ever seen. There was plenty of beauty to behold and even a few abandoned mine sites along the way. The trail eventually swings away from the main creek and joins a tributary where we crossed a long steel bridge. Another set of switchbacks brings you to Lower Laurel Falls. Although these falls weren't big they were beautiful! Just downstream a 10ft drop is pinched between boulders and has made a deep swimming hole and upstream at the main falls they cascade about 20ft over a large unique looking rock shelf. We got confused by the trail blazes here and spent several minutes wandering around house sized boulders. I found a double blaze on a trail (indicating a sharp turn) and noticed the trail had done a hairpin turn up the mountain away from the creek. The switchback up the mountain was steep and when we topped the ridge we turned back toward the stream. The trail was so rocky my feet were on fire and I  knew that I had rubbed some blisters ( I changed shoes at the trail head) I could hear Upper Laurel Falls well before I could see it, and when I finally caught a glimpse all the pain in my feet was forgotten. Laurel Falls drops 100ft from a large cliff and trees line the upper portion of the falls. It cascades another 25ft down before pooling at a huge boulder. Steve and I climbed up on the rock and the mist was wonderful after sweating for over 3.5m to get there. We spent plenty of time resting and taking pictures before the hike out. Not realizing how long it would take at Laurel Snow had put us an hour behind so we were trying to hike at a fast pace which would come back to haunt me later in the day.
One of the many swimming holes on the trail to Laurel Falls.
The rock beside this little pool was huge. Notice the white crosses near it's base.
Lower Laurel Falls.
Laurel Falls. 

When we made it out, my feet were shot. I took my shoes off and had a quarter sized blister on my heel and no hide on two of my toes. The wet straps from my water shoes had cut the sides of my feet from the earlier hike and were bleeding too. I put on some sandals for the drive up highway 30 toward Pikeville, TN and Fall Creek Falls State Park.

The trip up 30 was brutal. The road was really curvy and crossed four mountains before arriving at the Fall Creek Falls exit. Steve was tired too and we both agreed we should see Fall Creek another day and travel on to Sparta, TN where we were staying for the night. The Royal Inn is a no thrill motel located just off highway 111, but I was tired from driving and hiking it seemed like the most wonderful place I had ever been. We unpacked our gear from the day and I worked on loading some pictures but neither of us stayed awake long because we knew day two would be even better. To be continued....

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