Friday, October 18, 2013

Steve and I spent yesterday wandering through the Linville Gorge and riding the Blue Ridge Parkway. The fall colors are starting to peak in the high country of western North Carolina and our mission was simple; get as many good pictures of the mountains as possible.

Unfortunately, mother nature didn't receive our memo and the overcast skies sent us scrambling for a back up plan. The beautiful thing about cloudy days is that it makes for perfect waterfall photography. Yesterday morning, I got up early and researched my guidebooks for a few waterfalls to kill our day in the mountains on. Steve has been obsessed with completing the Carolina Waterfall 100 Challenge and there was only one waterfall left in the Grandfather Mountain section of the list, Steels Creek.
Forest road to Steels Creek.

Steels Creek for one reason or another has been overlooked by me and many other people as there are larger and more accessible falls on and along the Blue Ridge Parkway. The trip to the trail head is an adventure in itself, a four mile narrow dirt road ride with steep drop offs and no room for passing was a blast for me, for Steve, sheer terror. (my driving didn't help) When we arrived at the parking lot at the end of the forest road, I fully expected him to jump out and kiss the ground. The trail continues past the dead end in the road and around a few jeep mounds as it parallels Steels Creek. Soon you pass through a camp site that is littered with beer cans and other trash left behind by idiots. A few yards further there is a wonderful swimming hole on the creek below a small cascade. The trail crosses around the pool and above the cascade through the creek. This section could prove difficult in high water or for the average hiker. After crossing the creek the trail comes a T intersection with the Mountains to Sea Trail.
Crossing Steels Creek.
Snake swimming in the deep pool below the cascade.

The Mountains to Sea Trail is the Appalachian Trail's red headed step brother. Although much smaller and less traveled, it passes through some of the most beautiful terrain you will find anywhere. In fact, the part of Steels Creek we were hiking is affectionately known as "God's Country." The trail gains elevation leaving the creek via some switch backs up the ridge but soon switches back down the mountain meeting the creek again at a sandy beach section. The trees were a mix of reds, yellows, oranges, and greens adding to the beauty of the hike. There is a sloped rock near the beach that has a white blaze on it that can be easily missed if you aren't careful. We climbed the rock and entered the woods, steeply climbing through a ravine that kind of zigzags you up a dry stream bed until the trail finally turns sharply right and around a sharp ridge.
This guy was really enjoying modeling for photos.

Once we passed over the ridge, we both could hear the roar of the waterfall. It's always one of my favorite times in the hike, the excitement of seeing something new and being so close, and both Steve and I always pick up the pace. We came to a sharp trail that I knew led to the base of the waterfall but I suggested we continue on since the MST crosses the top of the waterfall and I wanted to see the view from there. As we stepped out onto the rocks above the falls, the scene was surreal. Steels Creek crashes wildly down multiple drops and through crazy potholes carved in the rock, it's the ultimate playground! The rocks however, are deadly slick and one wrong move and you would take the 70ft trip to the bottom the hard way. I snapped off a few photos and we made it back to the scramble path to the base for some more pictures. As the trail arrives near the base of the falls I realized we were actually only halfway down the falls and that there was a major drop just below the rock we had to find a way out on to get a decent view. The rock is sloped at a steep angle toward the creek and a rope from a tree is there to help as you slide out further for views. I was able to crab walk down a crack in the boulder and scoot over to the brink of the major drop off but below the first section of the falls with all the potholes. IT WAS PERFECT! I sat in amazement of the views as Steve managed to somehow get himself in a bind trying to cross the creek and was in all fours and snapped me back to reality. He eventually regained his balance and joined me on my perch.
Top of the watefall, lower section hidden from view.
This boulder has fell and balanced perfectly. Awesome swimming hole underneath it, if you dare.
Upper drop of the waterfall on Steels Creek.
Deep pool below the last drop.

Steels Creek was indeed impressive, the rock cliffs, fall colors, and epic waterfall made for postcard like conditions. We spent over an hour sitting on the narrow rock here, daydreaming of next summer and coming back to wade the creek up to the base and explore the uncharted waterfalls upstream on Steels Creek that show up on Google Earth. Stay tuned until then, and happy trails!
This is the bottom half of the waterfall before the long wide cascade.

Bear activity.

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