Monday, July 22, 2013

First of all, welcome to all my new readers! When I learned that I would be featured in my company's employee magazine and that my blog link would be shared, I decided what better way to celebrate than to take a hike. Today's entry takes us deep in the mountains of North Carolina to where very few people venture. I first learned of Dismal Creek while reading Kevin Adam's guidebook  His assessment of the area got me interested and further research on Rich Stevenson's website ( sealed the decision for me, Steve and I would hike to Dismal Falls.
Large pine tree stand the trail passes through.

Dismal Creek is known as one of the most foreboding places in the Southern Appalachians and for good reason as we would find out. The parking for the falls is off of 281 north near Lake Toxaway on a section of road that has recently been rerouted by the state. We parked just past the entrance of Trails Carolina on a old forest road that was gated at the parking area. I found a scrap of paper and wrote "Hiking to Dismal Falls, Two in party" and tucked it under the windshield wiper as we were loading our gear. Steve seemed surprised by my note, and I said, "wouldn't it be ironic if this is what saved us" The first part of the trail follows the old logging road past the gate crossing several low flow streams. Stevenson's directions are SPOT ON and we made good timing over the first half mile arriving at the side trail that leads to Aunt Sally's Falls. Steve didn't want to visit this falls since it was only listed at 40ft but I convinced him noting that it said it was a very short distance off the main trail. Sure enough, within a five minute walk I could hear the falls and soon see it through the trees. The first thing I noticed was the flow, most pictures I had seen had this falls at a trickle, today it was running at full force. I pointed it out to Steve, knowing that we were in for a treat if we could find Dismal Falls.
Aunt Sally's Falls

From Aunt Sally's Falls, we stayed on the main trail and traveled through several areas of pine forests with their soft needles padding our walk. The trail remains relatively level occasionally snaking uphill around downed trees, but it remains obvious on which way to go. Just past the mile point the trail meets the river but its more of a creek only being a few feet wide where you cross. There are several paths veering off in different directions but I stuck with the main trail and after crossing the creek it rises steeply and quickly. The trail is so steep I had to use my hands in spots to climb using roots and small trees to pull myself forward, it soon winds around some large rocks and this area was very muddy causing us to sink ankle deep in the mud. After another short stretch of climbing, the trail arrives at a unnamed waterfall on a creek that isn't listed on the forest service topo maps. It's hard to believe a waterfall of it's magnitude would be so lightly regarded. A tree has fell across the falls midway up but other than that, it's one of the better one's I've seen on a creek that small.
The unnamed falls we found. Around 50ft high!

We rested after the leg burning climb at the base of the falls, but soon Steve was back on his feet ready to continue on. The climb remains absurd leaving the falls and winds around the ridge into another watershed, we both were gasping but were excited to know that we were closing in on Rhapsodie Falls. The pictures I had seen of the falls were nice but nothing could prepare us for what we saw as we took the spur trail down into the gorge to it's base. It was a towering waterfall and was also at peak flow. The total drop was nearly 100ft with lots of vegetation growing behind the falls. Although I was excited to see the falls in person, it was devastating knowing my DSLR camera was sitting in Connecticut being repaired and all I had was a point and shoot. Steve was quickly down the bank and behind the falls exploring, I snapped a quick picture of him for scaling it's size.
Steve behind Rhapsodie Falls.
Rhapsodie Falls again. Lots of vegetation growing behind the falls.

I took a glance at my directions and was a little surprised to see that it said to Rhapsodie Falls was the easy part of the hike! I was already gassed and almost dreading going on, we were now at two miles in and the landscape was indeed, very foreboding. The trail turns nearly vertical leaving the gorge from Rhapsodie and it was slow going. The humidity was brutal and the sun refused to stay behind the clouds baking me in my own sweat. Steve trudged forward occasionally letting out sighs of exasperation, and rooting me on up the mountain. I could see off to our left that we were high above the neighboring mountain ranges and that the gorge to our left was steep and intimidating. We were closing in on Dismal Creek.

For almost a mile the trail vertically rose up the spine of the ridge, there was no talking, just heavy breathing. A spur trail turned off to the left toward the gorge's brink but I called Steve back noting that it would only take us to the 30ft waterfall on Dismal Creek and from there you couldn't get upstream to the main falls. Instead we climbed for probably another hundred yards to a sharp point and the trail literally drops off the face of the earth toward the Dismal Creek gorge. Steve even looked stunned when he looked back laughing saying, "THAT's the trail?!" I took a minute to look at the directions on my phone and to our dismay it was.

The trail is more of a muddy, long, vertical slide. The only good thing is there are plenty of laurel trees to use as hand holds on the descent. The roar of the falls served as motivation as we were about halfway down. There are a few tricky spots around some rock ledges but we took our time and continued on. The final stretch to creek level follows a long sloped rock that was as slick as ice with moss.

Steve was the first to reach the creek and the open view of the falls, the tone of his voice when he said "you're gonna love this" was already proof that this was a special place. It's hard to describe my first thoughts when I gazed up at all 150ft of Dismal Falls. I dropped my pack and crawled on my knees to the pool dunking my head to cool off. I settled on a nice rock at the base and soaked in the beauty all around us. I thought back to the descriptions of Adams and Stevenson and had to agree, if you were to get hurt here there would be no rescue. Steve was sitting in stunned silence as well, but soon noted that it looked like you could climb up the right side of the falls toward the main drop. We both took off up the side of the falls and made it halfway before a large rock ledge cut us off from continuing on. Downstream from where we were was the cascades and upstream was more cascades and the main vertical drop.

I don't think I've ever felt a greater sense of accomplishment than I did standing there that day. I also have motivation to come back, once my high defintion camera is repaired, I will make the journey back to the North Carolina mountains and the foreboding landscape that is the Dismal Creek gorge. Until then, happy trails.
The spectacular Dismal Falls.

halfway up the falls on Dismal Creek.

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