Monday, January 13, 2014

2014 is here and I have vowed to blow past last years blog entry total all while working on my first book. So far I've squeezed two hikes into the new year and they have been framed by one of the more rare weather events that we've had in recent memory.

Early Monday morning a polar vortex swept through the region taking temperatures from nearly 60 degrees to the teens within a eight hour period. I was off Monday and hit the woods of Greeneville, Tennessee to visit Margarette Falls. The falls are a relatively easy 1.3 mile hike with minimal elevation gain. Upon arriving at the trail head I was greeted by light snow with an inch already on the ground. I was hoping the falls would be frozen over and as I made my way up the trail the snow increased and grew deeper as I gained elevation. When I arrived at the falls, it was a beautiful scene but there was no ice, the temperatures from the previous day had melted it all away. After some photos, I trekked out to the truck and headed to Erwin for a few waterfalls. Sill Branch Falls is a simple half mile hike to a nice 50ft waterfall. I really enjoy going there and there is rarely anyone else on the trail. Sadly, the ice from the last few days had melted away prior to me arriving but I still had excellent photography conditions with a light snow falling.
Sill Branch North.

Me at the base of Sill Branch Falls.
Yesterday I was off once again and after Tuesday's temps never leaving the teens and most areas dropping below zero overnight, I knew I had my best shot at seeing the elusive frozen waterfall. Steve was off as well and joined me on the trail. We started at Sill Branch Falls. Much of the snow from Monday was starting to fade but the trail was still framed with enough of it to make it a beautiful scene. The sun was starting to come up over the ridge and it's rays shot through the trees and kept us warm despite the temperature still hovering below the freezing mark. The creek crossing before the falls was frozen over and I could hardly contain my excitement of seeing what the falls would look like. I gained a large lead over Steve hurrying to catch the first glimpse of the falls. As I made the final turn before arriving at the base, I couldn't believe my eyes. The falls was gone! In it's place was a mass of ice covering the entire rock face. I was in awe of the difference in less than three days. Here's a look at both Monday and then Thursday at Sill Branch Falls.
Sill Branch Falls on Monday
Sill Branch Falls on Thursday
The stunning difference was almost unbelievable. I ran around  incapable of focusing on taking pictures just snapping wildly. Steve walked over on the large mound of snow and ice at the base, he too, was impressed. As much as I wanted to stay there all day, we had a packed agenda and within twenty minutes we were on our way back to the truck.
Frozen Pine Ridge Falls.
Steve on top of the falls.

The next stop of the day was just up the road at the parking area for the Long Arm Branch Trail. I had been reading a lot in the area in the previous days and had found that above the first waterfall off of LABT there were two more waterfalls I had never seen! The problem was that to get to them we had to climb over rocks on the side of Pine Ridge Falls and any fall from them would be disaster. Once we took the half mile hike to Pine Ridge Falls, it too, was covered in ice. The waterfall is normally about 20ft high but with the ice accumulation making a large bowl at it's base it was only about five feet high. My excitement was short lived when I saw the trail that we needed to take to continue upstream to the other waterfalls. It was steep and the rocks to the right of the falls were narrow and now caked in a few inches worth of clear ice. I told Steve it wasn't worth it to me and I was unsure how far or if we would have to get our feet wet to see them. Steve would have none of it and clumsily clinged to the rock cliff as best he could and started climbing upward. It took a few minutes but to my surprise and relief Steve made it to the top. I strapped my camera bag down tight so that I would have both hands free to work with. My legs are longer and I too made it across the waterfall without much problem at all. We both took a few minutes to stand at the brink of the falls and celebrate our accomplishment. Looking down into the deep ice bowl made a chill run through my body and I turned upstream to find a faint trail on the right side of the creek, we were on our way to Josiah Falls!
Top of Pine Ridge Falls.

"Yep, there's no trail up there!"
Creek surface frozen solid.

The first few minutes of hiking passed quickly and with ease as we followed the narrow path through the snow. There were no footprints making us feel even more manly than usual. The trail came to another iced over creek crossing but luckily we had a tree to use and both made it being able to stay dry. The trail on the opposite side began to fade and soon we were greeted with thick laurel and no trail. I thrashed my way upstream but soon I determined the only way to continue on was to get our feet wet and wade up the creek. We still had several falls to visit and we decided to wait to see the falls another day. We soon arrived back at the Pine Ridge Falls crossing and it was just as difficult going down, if not a little harder. I opted to jump off the rock to avoid sliding and rolled my ankle pretty bad. Between the cold and adrenaline I kept hiking however. I could my feel my heart beating in my throbbing ankle but I knew the day wouldn't get any easier, we were on our way to Red Fork Falls. To be continued...