Sunday, June 22, 2014

I first became part of what is now affectionately known as the Power Tripping Trio a few months ago. I had been asked to help lead some group hikes in a fund raising effort for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and what first started as large groups of hikers on our trips, the numbers quickly dwindled until the truly dedicated were revealed.

 Almost a year ago, I was working an unusual early shift and decided the skies were right for a evening hike to Roan Mountain to see the sunset. The rhododendron were in bloom and I knew the perfect spot to hike to see both them and the sunset, Jane Bald. As I crossed into the opening of the large rocks on Jane I was dismayed to see two other photographers in "my" spot. An older gentleman was higher up on the ridge and a young girl was settled slightly to his side with a tripod set up as well. At the time, I wasn't aware of proper trail etiquette and plopped down under the large boulder protruding  from the bald...directly in their shot.
Jane Bald sunset. One year ago. Site of the infamous photo bombing.

Steve, Amber, and I laughed and told stories as we watched the sky lower from the heavens and we eventually started making small talk with the female photographer named Halley. She was from North Carolina, so I was immediately jealous of all of the prime hiking real estate that was in her backyard. Considering I was messing up what would be a dream shot for her, she was friendly and when I arrived home that night I received a friend request on social media. I poured through her photos and marveled at her travels and talents behind a lens. She also ran a photography page called Appalachian Exposures and some of the images there were the best I had ever seen. A friendship blossomed, and we kept track of each others adventures through our facebook pages.

In December of last year, I was reassigned to a store in Church Hill, Tennessee. It was reunion with one of my childhood friends, Ray Hayes and the eventual introduction to the final member of the trio. In his spare time, Ray plays in a softball league in Kingsport and the coach of his team is an avid hiker as well. I would go into work and tell of my grand adventures on the trail and it seems that each time I was met with the same response from Ray, "My buddy Forbes has been there."
John on our first trip to White Rocks and Sand Cave.

I finally met John Forbes on our first group hike for JDRF to the Sand Cave in Ewing, Virginia. Also joining us at the last minute for the day was Halley Burleson and her trail companion, Sallie Gator the dog. John and I walked together much of the day and his attitude and story telling ability kept my mind off of the burning legs underneath me. Before we were halfway up the mountain, he was already planning our next hiking trip, I immediately liked him.  In all, 15 people hiked the 10 miles to the Sand Cave and White Rocks and our group mixed and mingled all day, with everyone seemingly having a good time. As we arrived back at the trail head, Halley asked where else she could hike that day. I'm unsure what my facial expression was but I was impressed that someone had that kind of desire after a tough day on the trail!

The next trip for JDRF was to the Devil's Bathtub, and our numbers actually grew somewhat to 17 people. Once again John and Halley were front and center for the hike and when got to the tub, they were one of the few people that had the nerve or lack of sense to take the plunge in the freezing water. By the time, we started planning another trip, excuses and responsibilities took their toll and I decided our fundraising efforts for JDRF were sufficient. Although the group hiking was fading, I had made some powerful connections and soon we were back on the trail comparing notes and making plans for trips that most people wouldn't do in a years worth of hiking.
Sallie Gator was cold just watching Halley taking the plunge at Devil's Bathtub!

Some of our recent trips have been my fondest memories on the trail. I've been blessed to meet people who enjoy the outdoors as much as myself and their attitudes help feed my drive to keep walking even when my legs are far past their limits. Stay tuned as we already have several epic trips booked and my first EVER camping trip! Until next time, happy trails!
As you can see, we know how to have a good time!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Eight waterfalls down and munching on peanut butter sandwiches, Jeff, Larry, and I were off to a great start on our mission to see 30 waterfalls in one day. It was only shortly after 1pm when we reached the Blue Ridge Parkway and a short drive later we were at our next destination, Skinny Dip Falls.
Skinny Dip Falls.
Tree on the Mountains to Sea Trail.

Skinny Dip Falls is insanely popular with both tourists and the locals so I wasn't surprised to see the parking lot at the Looking Glass Overlook jammed with cars. I still held on to hope that maybe I could get some decent shots of the falls since it was one of the more photogenic locations we were going to see that day. As we hiked the trail down the mountain we passed several groups leaving and when the falls came into view I didn't see another soul! My excitement was quickly squashed when I saw a lady sitting on the lone rock in the deep pool below the falls reading a book. She barely glanced up as I had to sneak around the boulder she was on to take a few pics and maybe salvage something useful. I noticed the bridge downstream from the pool was a nice shot so I set the tripod up for my picture and suddenly her kid ran into the scene whipping his manhood out and proudly peeing in the pool under the bridge! I was already annoyed and now I was downright mad. Not only was she ruining my dream picture, she wasn't watching a child that could easily drown downstream before she could reach him. I don't understand people that go to these places acting like they own them. I show up and take my pictures and leave so that others can enjoy them as well. Despite the challenges I was met with, I got some decent pictures without any children in the frame and Jeff and Larry were having the time of their lives so I was happy for them.

Looking Glass Rock.
Our next few falls were the easiest hiking of the day because we didn't have to leave the car to see them. Currently the Graveyard Fields is closed for expanded parking and new restrooms but the two large waterfalls in the valley below can be seen from the parkway can be seen from the road. We stopped at both and zoomed them in as best we could and were on down the parkway to meet the intersection with NC 215.

Long views from near Graveyard Fields.    

Second Falls at Graveyard Fields.
NC 215 is home to a cluster of quality waterfalls that can pad anyone's day hiking numbers in a hurry. We turned on 215 toward Waynesville and within .4 miles arrived at the trail head for the two waterfalls in Middle Prong Wilderness. It was the first time for me to see these falls so I was eager to get to them and was out of the car before Jeff could get it in park. I took my guidebook with me and was thankful I did, since the trail was confusing and involved several creek crossings and winding through rhododendron thickets with limited views. Jeff and Larry caught up with me at a campsite and the three of us found some flagging tape to follow upstream to the base of the first waterfall. I quickly noticed a swirl at it's base, which is basically the current of water picking up sediment and dead leaves making a little whirlpool. I had seen some beautiful pictures of swirls at the base of waterfalls online so I set my camera for an exposure of 20 seconds and was thrilled to see I had captured one for myself. To me, the entire trip had been worth it just for that one image. The creek and waterfall weren't the most impressive I had ever seen and the flow seemed to be down compared to the pics I had seen that made me add it to the list but the adventure factor in getting to the falls made them worthwhile. To see the upper waterfall we had to climb a steep bank and continue upstream wading the creek until it reached the base of the falls. The upper falls was beautiful, having a deep channel carved at it's base that also made for some great photography. Although it was my first visit to the two falls, I knew I would come back!

Jeff and Larry in the Middle Prong Wilderness.

Upper waterfall in MPW.
On the trail.

A short drive further down 215 we arrived at the roadside parking for Wildcat Falls. The trail follows an old railroad bed and is easy as it snakes around the ridges. The actual waterfall runs under the road with the upper portion above the bridge and a continuation below it. I set my tripod up for a picture and Larry stepped in front bragging that I knew where all the good shots were. I waited for him to finish taking pics but he sat down and settled in before I could get the picture, he was a true master of photo bombing! I even took time to step back and sneak a picture of him lost in thought and I couldn't help but smile, someone loved hiking as much as I did.
Bubbling Branch Cascades.
Deep pool on Bubbling Branch. Rain began to fall during this picture and spotted the lens.

Further down the road we stopped at one of my favorite waterfalls, Bubbling Branch Cascades. You can see the waterfall from the road but  I had told Jeff and Larry we had to climb the rock beside the waterfall to fully appreciate it. The cascade drops some 60ft and has multiple swimming holes along the climb. At the top of the waterfall is a crystal clear pool with a rope swing, I don't think there are many more perfect spots in the mountains. I looked across the gorge to where we parked and Jeff's car seemed so small surrounded by the mountain landscape. I took my time getting back down the waterfall so I was sure to get all the pictures I wanted while Jeff and Larry rested at the base. I could tell the trails and our marathon day was starting to wear on them, and truthfully, it was wearing me down as well.
My first swirl at Middle Prong Wilderness.

The next stop would bag us three more nice waterfalls and bring our total to 19 waterfalls around 4pm! I had mentioned Wash Hollow Falls several times during our trip and gloated that no one was ever there, but as we pulled in to the trail head a vehicle from South Carolina greeted us. I thought they might be there to Sam's Branch Cascades, which you have to cross on the way to Wash Hollow, but once again, I found someone right in the way of my picture. As we approached the base of the waterfall a group of four people were sitting there smoking weed! Besides being in my way, they had two dogs that ran up the bank barking and growling at us. They ran up the bank assuring us they were harmless and quickly retreated back to their spot at the base. I hated to interrupt their party, but I wasn't too upset since they ruined my chance to shoot the waterfall. I also started having some camera problems as we hiked out with my display saying the camera couldn't read my memory card. As bad as I hated to admit it, I could see the 30 waterfall total slipping away.
Section of the waterfall on Sam's Branch. This is a huge stretch of waterfalls that the trail crosses.

I worked frantically on the camera as we approached the final stop of that side of 215 at the Waterfall on the West Fork of the Pigeon River. The waterfall is right beside the road and I stayed in the vehicle while Jeff and Larry took off to take a few close up pictures. I finally got my memory card to start reading again just as we started back up the mountain and down the final leg of our trip to meet highway 64. The skies had been heavy with clouds all day and I could tell that our luck was about to run out. We had 20 waterfalls under our belts and I thought if we were lucky we could get the final three at Living Waters Ministries before the skies burst open.

Considering the waterfalls at Living Waters are on private property and beside the road, there is something about them that seem so peaceful and serene. The owners allow people to hike there at their own risk and sadly several people have died there over the years. In one of the more unique scenes in North Carolina, two creeks meet and can be photographed as they form two distinctly different waterfalls. Mill Shoal Falls cascades next to a beautiful red cabin and Mill Shoal Falls takes a vertical plunge of around 25ft. I have never been able to get decent pictures of either of them because of lighting, forgetting my tripod, or just plain user error, but I was finally able for everything to come together to capture a wonderful picture as rain began to fall. The slight drizzle quickly turned to downpour as we ran down the trail to Bird Rock Falls and the final waterfall of the day. Larry and Jeff risked the slick rock and ran out to view the falls while I took shelter in the laurel from the rain. Hiking back out we all had smiles on our faces and laughed wildly at the downpour and our now soaked clothes.
Mill Shoal Falls and Cathedral Falls at Living Waters Ministries.
A successful day of hiking in the books. We took a moment to pose for a group shot. 23 waterfalls, 10 miles hiked, in 10 hours. I'll never forget it!

The greedy side of me would have loved to top the 30 waterfall total but having 23 quality waterfalls in one day was still an impressive accomplishment and I feel like my goal of showing Jeff and Larry a good time had been met. Larry noted on the drive home that his paper had 23 lines on it and we had filled each one! It was almost an omen that we were meant to see that many and call it a day. I've already laid out a plan to return later in the year and stay closer to the trail head to knock out the elusive 30 waterfalls in one day...until then, happy trails!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

I've had a lot of wonderful experiences on the trail but this year has been the best so far. I've been hiking with different groups of people on almost every outing and I've enjoyed myself so much, I once again find myself hopelessly behind on my blog entries. I was walking through my store the other morning when a moment of inspiration struck me in the form of one our vendors. He stopped me as I passed and asked if I had updated my blog lately and that he and his girlfriend had been reading all my previous entries and were anxious for more. I don't think he realized it, but it meant a lot to me that anyone would take time from their day to read about my adventures, so Marvin, this one is for you!
Waterfall on Cedar Rock Creek.

My hiking buddy Jeff Forrester recently took a vacation and asked that I join him on a hike with his friend Larry Gullette who was flying in from Oklahoma for the week. Jeff was determined to show Larry there were other locations besides the Great Smoky Mountains to do some hikes and I went to work immediately on what may be the ultimate North Carolina waterfall sampler. I poured through Kevin Adam's North Carolina waterfall guide and picked our trip based on distance, quality, and most importantly, variety. I've been hiking in North Carolina for several years and chose a loop of sorts that started us in Brevard and swung us up to the Blue Ridge Parkway and back down 215 meeting highway 64 again outside of Brevard. When I finished my list, I wasn't sure if I could even do it but 30 waterfalls were on the agenda and I had two eager partners waiting to give it a shot.
Slick Rock Falls.

The morning of the hike I awoke at 4:30am and made the hour and a half drive to Brevard meeting Jeff and Larry at the Walmart just before the 276/64 intersection. I found Larry standing in the middle of the parking lot brushing his teeth. It was only the second time I had ever met him in person with the first meeting being just long enough to show his friends back home how tall I was with a photo op. Larry happily greeted me and I ran in to pick up some bandages for some nagging blisters and we were on our way to our first stop of the day, waterfall on Cedar Rock Creek.

Only a short distance up 276, a left turn took us toward the Pisgah Center for Wildlife and we parked there for the trail head, putting us on our first hike before 8am! The trail skirts the main building and enters the woods across a paved bridge and picks up the Cat Gap Trail. It wasn't long into the hike before I realized that Adam's book listed the distance of the hikes for one way only, our mileage was doubled. I didn't want to break Larry and Jeff's spirit so early in our day so kept the info to myself as we traversed a ridge away from the creek. I noticed Larry had a limp and he told me had proudly spent over one hundred dollars getting a "booster shot" for his knee so it wouldn't bother him on his trip. Soon I could hear the falls down to our left and within minutes we arrived at the base of a nice 20ft waterfall. It was also my first trip to see this waterfall and I was impressed with everything from the flow to the mossy rocks that surround it. Larry showed great agility and speed by rock hopping over for a closer inspection before I could even set up for my first shot! I was encouraged to see it knowing that we had a long day ahead.

Our next hike was a short drive past the Wildlife Center at the trail head for the base of Looking Glass Rock. A short 100 yards off the trail was a 40ft waterfall on a low drainage creek known as Slick Rock Falls. Although it was a mere trickle I really liked the waterfall and you could photograph it from all sides, including behind it! We all took turns grabbing our shots and were back on the road and to a stop that I knew Jeff had been waiting on for 40 years!
Looking Glass Falls.

Looking Glass Falls may be the most photographed waterfall in North Carolina. It's not only beautiful but the most accessible by being right beside of the main road. The park service has done a commendable job keeping it clean and maintaining a slight resemblance of a natural setting if you are able to hike downstream of the sidewalks a little. Jeff had sent me an image of his mother standing near the road with the waterfall as a back drop and we were able to line it up and almost recreate it with him in the same location. Larry was a blur the whole time we were at Looking Glass. He was near the base, downstream, over logs, on the get the idea, he was loving it! As much fun as we were having I rounded them up and got us back on the road to Moore Cove Falls.

The Moore Cove hike is a little longer than our first few stops and gave us a good leg stretch as it winds uphill into the valley where the waterfall is hidden. Since my first visit to Moore Cove, the park service had installed several wooden bridges and when we arrived at the base there was a large observation deck constructed. The fancy woodwork did little to contain us and Larry was once again on the loose. He walked behind the 50ft waterfall and ducked his head under it's flow gasping with approval. I scurried up the bank to the right of the falls and took some shots in the weeds eliminating the man made trails and decks in my shot. Jeff seemed to really like the waterfall and also ducked his head under it, so as I hiked down the bank I took my turn under mother nature's shower.
Jeff behind Moore Cove Falls.
Moore Cove Falls.

I'm not sure if Sliding Rock counts as a waterfall but it's a long cascade and is one of the most popular stops in the mountains of North Carolina. Due to it's popularity it's also a fee area, but we were elated to see the collection area closed with a sign stating "Free Admission Day" Jeff and Larry both were eager to hit the water slide but were slowed by closed bathrooms and having to change "on the fly" I can only imagine how much therapy bills would be for the person who would stumble upon that scene. I arrived at the observation deck above the cascade and was happy to see less than five people riding down. I had brought my new GoPro with me and gave Jeff a quick tutorial on how to use it so he could video his ride down Sliding Rock, another trip that was 40 years later for him. Larry was the first to take the slide and his enthusiasm was clear as his smile was wider than any of the children playing in the water. He crashed in sideways and Jeff was a right behind him with the camera rolling as he splashed down. Both of them were quick to make it back to the top of the rock and Larry took over the camera for the second trip down but accidentally turned it off so his video was ruined. After a couple of trips on Sliding Rock and many laughs later, we got back to the car and took turns watching for approaching vehicles so that Larry and Jeff could get dressed in dry clothes and were off to Log Hollow for more hiking.
Larry's face says it all. Sliding Rock.
Log Hollow Falls.
Northern Tributary of Log Hollow Branch.

A few weeks ago I had been in the area we were hiking and went to Log Hollow Falls for the first time and was impressed with the three waterfalls there. Jeff, Larry, and I hiked the old logging road around the ridge skipping the first waterfall to arrive at the main attraction first and then took in the furthermost of the waterfalls before stopping at the first waterfall which is the most difficult one to reach. All three falls are beautiful but Jeff and Larry seemed to be most impressed by the low flow 100ft Northern Tributary of Log Hollow Branch. Sometimes I feel like a difficult hike makes a person appreciate a waterfall even more and this was a perfect example. When we arrived back at the car we had finished the highway 276 portion of our hike and had already seen eight waterfalls!