Friday, September 20, 2013

After a thrilling visit to Flat Creek Falls and seven tough miles of hiking, both Steve and I were slightly winded. However, we couldn't pass up the chance to see another beautiful waterfall just down the road. Back on highway 281 and just past the Wolf Creek Dam is Paradise Falls.

Paradise Falls is just a short distance below the dam and with the unannounced release of water from the reservoir above, you are really putting yourself in harms way by visiting the base of the waterfall. The swimming hole below the falls is a popular place for local college students from Western Carolina, and two of them were killed when the water rose too rapidly for them to reach safety just a few years back. The flow of the waterfall is normally a trickle with the stream being controlled by the dam but with it being a really rainy summer we had our hopes up of seeing it with somewhat of a heavier flow.
Steve eating bread and approaching danger.

The parking for the falls is in a wide pull off in a curve off 281 near a white church. A large sign greets you at the trail head stating "DANGER: WATER LEVELS CAN CHANGE" from there the trail descends steeply reaching the stream. We were unsure where to go but I noticed the trail on the other side of the creek and we followed it steeply up the other side of the bank to where it leveled on a sharp ridge. The unmistakable sound of a waterfall greeted us and I saw a trail that went straight down. For those of you familiar with Compression and Twisted Falls trails, well this one was actually worse. There are points on the trail where it is hand over hand climbing (similar to using a ladder) made of tree roots and rock ledges. The roar of the water had me convinced that we had picked the right day to view the falls, because there was no way a trickle could make that much noise. As we nervously scaled down toward the base, I was mesmerized by the deep green pool. I had been having trouble with my hip and it was on fire from our first hike so some cold mountain water looked like the perfect cure. We soon reached the base, but the falls are hidden from two large boulders that stagger in front of the base. Crossing the creek isn't easy either, the bed is worn from years of water erosion and foot traffic on the rock at the base of the pool. Once I crossed though, I was greeted with the wonderful sight of Paradise Falls flowing at full blast.
Paradise Falls.
Another view of the falls.

Steve and I both were taken by surprise of the beauty of the falls because we had only looked at pictures of it with a trickle running off. I took picture after picture and eventually lowered my ailing hip into the cold pool at the base. The water was stinging cold but soon I was numb and my hip was off of my mind enough for me to climb out of the steep trail. As I looked around the area I could see signs of how high the water gets when they release it from the reservoir and it was a little unsettling as I sat in the pool below the falls. I convinced Steve to head out and we both gasped and grunted our way back to the truck.
Steve resting by the pool at the base of the falls.
Natural therapy.

Paradise Falls is aptly named, it truly has a feeling of paradise. The unique surrounding boulders and deep pool separate it from most waterfalls as well. It's a very short but strenuous hike but can easily be done if you just use caution and care, just remember not to let your guard down when you get to the base because you aren't out of harms way. Until next time, happy trails.
While looking through my North Carolina waterfall guidebook I found a picture of a beautiful massive waterfall across a distant gorge. As I read on excited to get the specific directions and find myself standing in that very spot, I was disappointed to learn that the author thought that it was far too dangerous to tell how to get there plus it involved trespassing which he couldn't condone. I was upset but not defeated.
The log foot bridge across flat creek.

I told Steve of the waterfall and that the directions weren't provided due to the fact that it's considered too dangerous. He immediately become obsessed with making the trip and I began work on finding some halfway reliable directions. I visited Waterfall Rich's site and he had bushwhacked down to the top of the falls by following the creek but mentioned a trip via old logging roads and after finding similar directions from SC Jack's page I decided it was close enough for me and Steve to hike to Flat Creek Falls.
Just beyond the dirt is a sharp drop to the creek.

Flat Creek Falls is over 200ft high and is in one of the more remote areas that we've hiked. Upon arriving at the trail head at the end of a forest road we were greeted with a maze of logging roads exiting in several directions. We were on the left side of Flat Creek and I noticed the wooden foot log across the creek and decided that was where we needed to go. Steve balanced him self carefully on the log bridge while I opted to wade through the ankle deep water. The old logging road meets a wide campsite in a few feet and we swung around the right side finding a path marked with a piece of flagging tape that looked like an old ATV route. There were big dirt mounds at the beginning of this trail and we stuck with it. Soon the trail become overgrown with laurel and was tough to wind through especially with my height but it was still obvious a lot of people had come this way. We kept swinging further away from Flat Creek and soon it was completely out of earshot. As we continued on, doubt began to creep into my mind that we were going in the wrong direction. Just as I thought we should turn back we met a logging road that had seen vehicle traffic. I had read to turn right at every intersection and so that's what we did. The logging road began to swing us back in the direction of Flat Creek so my spirits were lifted. Adding to my confidence was the occasional piece of flagging tape that we were heading toward something of importance. I was unsure if we were on private property but figured there wasn't logging roads on national forest land so I stayed quite as we wound around the ridges. Soon I saw a large orange blaze and flagging tape tied to a tree on the right of the logging road. A narrow worn path struck out toward a vast opening on the horizon, and I knew we were heading to the top of Flat Creek Falls. After a few feet I could hear the roar of water. The trail started dropping sharply toward the sound and I picked up the pace but was almost stopped in my tracks when I saw the danger ahead. We were indeed at the top of the falls but we were also about fifty feet above a sharp drop off down to water level and there were no good angles for photos. Steve scaled down closer to the main drop but slid in the loose dirt and rock and almost fell to his death before quickly retreating.
Only person I know that can almost die and smile about it.

We sat in the edge of the woods taking in the danger that surrounded us and decided we had to get to the base. We couldn't get there from any route that we could see from where we were at so I told him if we went back to the logging road that I thought it would swing us wide of the cliffs and we could scramble to the base when we got close enough to the creek. We hiked back to the logging road and took a right heading around the steep ridge and soon the logging road began to switchback down the mountain. We were going toward the base! I noticed a forest property sign on the right side and realized we had been on private property although none of it was posted. Soon we met another switchback but in the corner of the turn there was flagging tape and red blazes on the trees. It was the base spur trail. The trail however doesn't get any easier being steep and lined with my personal favorite of trail obstacles, stinging weeds. When we reached the creek, there was several paths to chose from so we crossed the creek and stuck with the most obvious way heading upstream.
The bright opening in the distance is the base of the falls.

About half a mile of creek crossing and bushwhacking later I saw a small cascade and a large opening upstream and could tell I had almost made it to the base. Steve was in front of me and made it to the view of the main drop first almost falling on his face as he stared up at it's size. I was more cautious carrying my camera bag and cell phone, jumping from rock to rock. When I finally joined him at his perch on a large rock, I too was in awe. Flat Creek was at a deafening roar and mist blew wildly from the water crashing from the drop. I was thrilled with it all, even with the sun being over the falls I was still able to take photos and Steve climbed the side of the falls for a closer vantage point. As far as a "wow" factor goes this falls is a 10, pictures can't translate it's sheer massiveness and just overall awesome surroundings. In my mind, it ranks up there with Virgin Falls as one of my all time favorites. Steve and I spent over an hour at the base raving about the greatness before us, before agreeing to come back later in the year when the leaves begin to change.
Flat Creek Falls.
This is over 100ft high. Unreal in person.

Sadly, Flat Creek Falls is not for everyone. It's a long and strenuous hike over dangerous terrain. Honestly there shouldn't even be a trail to the top of the falls because there is no place for pictures and any fall from there would most likely be fatal. Although the base is less than half of the total waterfall it is still as stunning as I have seen or most likely will ever see. Hopefully I can at least do this wonderful giant a little justice with this entry, until next time, happy trails.
This butterfly had no fear of me at all.