Wednesday, April 30, 2014

I can't say enough good things about the Clark's Creek area of Erwin, Tennessee. To me it's the waterfall mecca of Northeast Tennessee with a wide variety of waterfalls and trails from beginner family friendly hikes such as Sill Branch Falls to one of the most difficult hikes in the entire state, Buckeye Falls.

This afternoon I had completed all my house chores and was finally feeling better after spending over a week with a head cold. I wanted to get out in the woods for a while and Clark's Creek was calling my name. A few weeks ago I visited Delsatch Falls off of the Buckeye Falls Trail and fell in love with it. Delsatch is over 85ft high and located on Chigger Branch that flows into Clark's Creek. Despite it's height, it receives very few visitors or attention, which is quite frankly, baffling. The trail begins at the dead end circular parking area on Clark's Creek Road. There is a immediate creek crossing that is a fairly good indicator of what kind of flow to expect at the falls, if you don't have to get your feet wet, I would suggest hiking elsewhere. The past few days it's rained hard and for most of the day. I was anticipating swollen muddy creek conditions but found it to be calm and maybe slightly above normal levels. I did have to wade the creek at the crossing so I trudged on up the wide road that serves as a horse trail trying to stay quite in hopes of seeing one of the many bears that call Clark's Creek home. The warm temperatures have really helped with the woods greening up and all types of wildflowers lined the trail. I noticed the trilliums were starting to wilt, another bothersome development, considering they're one of my favorites.
Trail heading up Chigger Branch.
Plants along the trail.

In all, there are seven creek crossings before you need to start watching for a small faint path that will turn left and cross Clark's Creek at the mouth of Chigger Branch. It's not marked so just pay attention to the lay of the land you will see the large valley of Chigger Branch as you approach the spur trail. Once across Clark's Creek you will see a path on the left of the branch. I was surprised at how easy the trail was to follow but was informed that another group of hikers had cleared it a while back thinking they were blazing the way to Buckeye Falls. In reality, Buckeye Falls is much further up Clarks' Creek and far more difficult to access. The trail although easy to follow isn't worn and you get the feeling of being one of the first people up that valley. There's no sign of trash or graffiti and the hike is level as it stays with the creek. I took my time and soaked in the beauty of it all stopping to take pictures of flowers and cascades along the way. I can't recall hiking on a trail that has as many grapevines as Delsatch does, sometimes you have to pick your way over and under them as they hug the trail for a small stretch. As the trail begins gently rising I was pleased to see that most of the Trillium was still at full peak and as I stopped to photograph one I saw a tiny spider hiding in the bloom. Sometimes I wonder of what I miss on some of the hikes I have rushed through.
Spider posing on a Trillium bloom.
Chigger Branch.
Delsatch Falls.
A short distance up the waterfall and the rock is super slick!

As I mentioned earlier, the trail is faint but clear, sometimes it's easier just to wade up the creek and picking the best route for you. The creek will take you directly to the base of the waterfall so there's no way to get lost. When closing in on the waterfall the creek kind of spreads out and one fork of it is dry and easy to hike in. A cool breeze starts coming from ahead and through the trees you can see the upper portion of the cascading waterfall. I climbed around a large rock and fallen log and found a flat spot to set my tripod on. There's a lot of dead fall piled up here but today I spent some time moving it to the bank below the falls. Some people would suggest against tampering with the scene but I feel there's no harm in removing something that is already dead. Once I finished I was really pleased with my efforts, a small pool was now visible and enhanced the waterfall *in my opinion* Large white bloom Trillium line both sides of the waterfall and I climbed around to take pictures of some of the larger ones. A huge tree has fell about halfway down the waterfall into some of the cascade but it doesn't distract from the falls too bad in it's current resting place. I climbed up to just below it to look down the falls, it certainly isn't a spot you would want to fall. It would be a long slide and a painful landing! As I was finishing up the clouds parted and the sun came out, making my hike out a little warmer but just as pleasant. Enjoy the pictures and get out and enjoy the woods, and as always, happy trails!
Dwarf Iris.

Monday, April 7, 2014

 Regardless if it's lesser known or overlooked, Squibb Creek Falls should be near the top of everyone's hiking to do list. The waterfall is at the end of a 2.5 mile trail in the Sampson Mountain Wilderness, whose claim to fame is having the second highest bear population next to the Smoky Mountains. I have always wanted to encounter a bear with proper spacing and time to draw a camera's focus for a dream shot but so far they have eluded me with the exception of the one I met crawling on my knees through a laurel tangle at Pine Ridge Falls. My only regret from that day was the fact I was wearing my favorite underwear... so with the knowledge of the possibility of a bear and a waterfall I haven't seen I made the call to one of my favorite hiking partners for the trip to Horse Creek Park near Greeneville, Tennessee.
What's that?
He just needed to get comfortable so I could take his picture.

Jeff Forrester and I first met at one of my many tours of duty in the grocery business in Kingsport, Tennessee. I was told he was an avid hiker and had traveled the country as he had worked for other retail businesses. Jeff and I, or Old Man Winter as I named him, quickly became friends and although we've had many calamity befall us on our trips, his wife still allows him to tromp through the woods with me at every opportunity.
This was taken around 8pm as daylight faded.

We arrived at the end of Horse Creek Road near the picnic area and all access jeep road with plenty of sunshine and the warmest weather we've had this year. It was the first time this year I've been able to wear a t-shirt and shorts on a hike and it felt more like a midsummer day instead of early April. Having the benefit of daylight savings time, we had plenty of daylight despite arriving after 5pm. I glanced at my directions and we took the dirt road that follows the creek away from the noise of the family picnics and trout fishers to the isolation of the valley ahead. Even the breeze was warm and Jeff and I tore through the first mile with ease. We came upon a campsite and the intersection of several ATV roads and I didn't remember from my directions. Upon closer inspection, we had hiked over a mile the wrong way! Near where we parked, we passed a wooden bridge across the creek and the correct way to Squibb Creek Falls. Suddenly, we were at a disadvantage of time and daylight and we stretched our pace to make up for my error.
Day two and one of my favorite shots from the hike.
Snail on a mossy log.
Had to zoom on this cascade, the pool is really deep!

When we finally made the foot bridge we had hiked over two miles and still have 2.5 miles to go to arrive at the waterfall and it was after 6pm...two hours before dark. Despite the mistake, we had high spirits. We weren't wearing neck ties or answering mind numbing questions, we were in nature. Wild flowers were popping up everywhere lining the trail and the rhododendron tunnels shaded us from the afternoon sun. A short distance past the Sampson Wilderness sign we crossed two nice wooden bridges just before arriving at a nice A frame cabin next to the creek. A small patch of private property is crossed at the cabin before joining national forest land just after the first rock hop crossing of the creek. The trail stays with Squibb Creek and there are many cascades and photo ops along the way, but with daylight fading, I kept my camera packed and hustled further up the mountain.
Of course the sun would come out!
Remains of a old bridge.

Our quick pace got to Jeff's legs first and we stopped occasionally to let him get his breath. I had managed to read that it was over 1100ft in elevation gain from start to finish and it was becoming obvious that the number wasn't exaggerated. Several long uphill grades were negotiated with heavy breathing and burning legs but at each leveling of the trail we were treated with another beautiful cascade. Out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw a squirrel running through the woods to our left, but it turned out to be a raccoon! I immediately dug into my camera bag for a quick lens change to get a zoom on him as he scurried up a tree. He picked a fork in the tree to come to a rest and it set me up perfectly to get a good picture. Time was the furthest thing from my mind and when I finally looked over for Jeff I noticed he was gone, continuing to hike on without me. I put away my gear and entered a slight jog to catch up with him near a downed tree. The tree was the perfect height to piss you off. It was too low to comfortably crawl under but too high to get a leg over the top. I was able to get my leg over and pushed my weight down enough to lower it for Jeff to cross with me. As we wound into the upper valley of Squibb creek the banks of the creek grew steeper and a cool breeze was in our face as we labored on, and I knew we had to be getting close to the waterfall. A sharp switchback lifts the trail around a slide area and as I rounded a bend Squibb Creek Falls came into view.
Another wonderful cascade.
Slightly different angle on the same cascade.
Squibb Creek Falls.
From the left side of the falls. Helps illustrate the height.

I felt the rush of seeing a new waterfall for the first time and was at the base of the falls a good five minutes ahead of Jeff. The waterfall is 25ft high as it is pinched between boulders before fanning out bouncing off a large boulder near it's base. The height is deceptive because of the way the falls twists near the base and the vantage point of looking at it straight on. Although the banks are steep on either side I climbed up on the left side of the waterfall and found a good angle as the sun faded behind the mountains. I knew we didn't have much time left so I hurriedly shot and tried to squeeze in as many angles as possible. Jeff didn't bring his camera but took out his cellphone for a few pictures anyway. As bad as it pained me, we had to get moving or we would be in the bear filled woods at dark with no flashlights.
Squibb Creek is unreal.
Last one from Squibb Creek Trail.

The hike out was mostly downhill and at each beautiful cascade I passed I kicked myself for not reading the directions more carefully to start with. As we made the last bridge crossing before the main road it was completely dark, our eyes had adjusted to it enough for us to make it back to the parking area and the safety of the truck. A few days later I once again had some free time and a day to spend in the woods, and I came back to snag all the pictures I didn't get to on my first visit. Before I even realized it, I had spent 6 hours on the trail and completely drained my camera battery. As I stated earlier, Squibb Creek is as good a hike that you can take in Northeast Tennessee. Hopefully the pictures I took over two different hikes will do it justice. Until next time, happy trails!