With just over an hour to spare before dark we arrived at the Cold Mountain Access to Panthertown Valley. My hopes of finding a decent camp site were dashed when we found the parking lot jammed with cars. Sleeping in the truck wouldn't be possible so we gathered our packs from the bed of the truck and started down the Schoolhouse Falls Trail. The trail is easy and the waterfall is one of the most visited in the valley. Surprisingly, we didn't pass anyone on the hike in and were greeted with music from the Cannan Land property adjacent to the trail. I mistakenly took one of Carlton McNeil's twisting winding trails that led us through a tangle of laurel and by the top of the waterfall and it seemed our packs snagged on every branch we passed by! Carlton was a pioneer in the valley and blazed many of the present day trails recognized on forest service maps, he even has his own waterfall named for him there, Carlton Falls.
|Ready for day two! Photo by John Forbes.|
As we passed the base of Schoolhouse Falls the first campsite across the creek was already taken by another group of hikers. The trail widens again downstream at another camp site. Thankfully this one was empty, and in a prime location too. Pine needles softened the ground and a slight trail led down the creek bank giving us a water source. Shane and John suggested we find enough firewood to last through the night and we started scavenging the area dragging dead logs and twigs we found back to our site. As we had left the truck (now over a mile away) Shane noticed a small black bag in the bed and asked if it was mine. I didn't recognize it and John had already started down the trail ahead of us so I assumed it was something he decided he didn't need for later. After we gathered our firewood, John started working on getting the fire going while Shane assembled his tent. I laid on my sleep pad and rested my tired feet staring up at the night sky. John suggested I start unpacking my tent he had let me borrow while he made dinner. I asked him where it was and the look on his face made it obvious what was in that small black bag in Shane's truck, my tent! It was now dark so I grabbed my headlamp and started back to the truck. The hike went by fast and was surprisingly peaceful. I grabbed some water and my tent and set off back to camp. I stumped my toe on the hike back on a sharp stick that knocked the hide off below my big toe but with all the other cuts I had from earlier it did very little to slow me. I arrived back at camp to find John preparing dinner and Shane returning from a bath in the creek. Shane's refreshed look inspired me so I too took off to the creek for a dip. I shed my clothes on the bank and used a extra sock I had packed for a wash cloth. Getting all the dirt and debris from my cuts made me feel a lot better and I rejoined camp just in time for my own hot pot of Ramen Noodles. After dinner we sat around telling stories and reliving our crazy experience on the cliffs. Shortly after 11pm, we all retired to our tents for the night and an early morning appointment with more trails.
With a thin mat and sore body, I slept in thirty minute spurts through the night. While tossing in my sleeping bag, I discovered a new injury to my foot. Apparently the stick I stumped my toe on had slipped under my foot and punctured the ball of my foot, I rubbed my hand over the wound and found it wet with blood. I awoke for the final time around 6am and exited my tent finding that I was the first one up. John began groaning complaining of a headache and asked if I had any Tylenol. Shane started rummaging around his tent and found some medicine for John in his first aid kit. We decided the best plan of action was to hit some of the more popular falls early that morning avoiding the crowds and breaking camp later in the afternoon. Our first stop was just upstream at Schoolhouse Falls. With a deep pool in front of the falls and the ability to photograph it from all sides, including behind it, it's easy to see why it's one of the most popular falls in Panthertown Valley.
|John and Shane behind Schoolhouse Falls.|
|John in the pot hole at Warden's Falls.|
|Shane and I inside the pot hole at Riding Ford Falls.|
Shane and John were impressed and circled the falls clicking away with their cameras. I took their pictures behind the falls and made a short video of my own walk behind the waterfall. We had a lot to see so we set off on the trail traveling back through camp and on to the trail intersection for the Devil's Elbow. The Devil's Elbow Trail passes by five waterfalls and I had brought Burt Kornegay's Panthertown map with me to keep us on course. The first stop on the trail was at Warden's Falls. I had visited this waterfall last fall and really liked it so I kept quiet and let John and Shane soak it in for themselves. The trail crosses the top of the falls and a slight scramble gets you to the base. Both John and Shane were impressed and Shane was in the water playing on it's natural water slide in no time. I poked around downstream and found a deep pot hole which was the perfect fit for John. He jumped in and I took some pictures with the waterfall as a back drop. Satisfied with our first falls we were off to find Jawbone Falls. We climbed back up the ridge meeting the Devil's Elbow and followed it down to the next spur trail that once again emptied us above the waterfall. It was the first time for me seeing this falls and I was impressed with it's wide slide and massive deep pool below the falls. We worked down the bedrock and John was first to it's base. He decided to climb out to a rock in the pool for a better view and forgot to take his electronic cigarette from his pocket and ruined it for any use the rest of the day. I was afraid it would ruin the day for him but he kept his spirits high as we continued downstream and crossed over to a sandy beach which I thought was the best view of Jawbone Falls. Just around the bend was our next waterfall, Riding Ford Falls. Riding Ford was more of a long cascade but with a large collection of boulders at the base and yet another cool looking pot hole I found it to be very photogenic. Both Shane and John were already wet and with a little convincing, I was taking the plunge in the pot hole inside of the waterfall. It was in two sections with one being too deep for me to touch but the other compartment I could stand up in and lean back letting the water cascade over me. I seriously could have spent the rest of the day here. John and Shane climbed on one of the large boulders and eventually took turns joining me in the pot hole for photo ops. After we all had cooled off, we set off to find Elbow Falls further downstream. I was excited to see this one it reminded me of a smaller Turtle Back Falls but it was even smaller than what I could depict from photographs I'd seen, only being about 10ft high. Although it's small, it forms a deep channel and sharp "elbow" bend as it continues on down the valley. The trees along the banks here were the most photogenic being covered in curtains of thick moss and two of the largest dead trees had washed in on the bed rock below the falls indicating that this place sees some serious flooding. Our final stop on the Devil's Elbow was at Red Butt Falls. We climbed out of the gorge and found the trail again, as we hiked toward the spur trail we noticed some flagging tape lined on either side of the main trail. Thankfully, John saw some writing on the tape and we stopped to look. Someone had took time to warn other hikers of a yellow jackets nest right next to the trail! I spotted it in the leaves and we snuck by trying not to alarm them. So to whoever did this, I thank you! The trail to Red Butt is overgrown indicating not many people get down in the valley that far. When we arrived at the falls we were at the top and it was very similar to Riding Ford Falls with a large cliff looming over it's base. Shane examined the rock and found a perfect slide to test out. As he zipped down the rock laughing wildly, I knew I had to try it for myself. The footing is a little tough but once I was on my rear the water pushed me down to a small pool at the end of the slide. I was in love, as quick as I would land I would scramble back up for another ride! Eventually both Shane and I "raced" each other down the plunge, pushing and shoving trying to be the first to reach the pool. I think Shane summed up the Devil's Elbow hike the best when he said, "we made each of those waterfalls our own."
|The old trees surrounding Elbow Falls.|
|Shane preparing for launch at Red Butt Falls.|
Thrilled with our morning of adventure and play time we hiked back to camp energized by six quality waterfalls under our belts. We packed our gear and our new found energy burned quickly with the midday sun and tired legs from the day before. We arrived at the truck and made the short drive to the end of the Cold Mountain Access for a trip to see our final three waterfalls, Greenland Creek, Halfway Falls, and Carlton Falls. We all were starting to get hungry and our insults and arguing only intensified as we wound toward Greenland Creek. As Shane and John stepped out on the rocks below the waterfall, their stunned looks made me almost forgive them for their ridicule on the hike in! Greenland Creek Falls is nice and big around 70ft high. To continue on to the other falls we had to climb the steep trail next to its' drop. My legs and energy were shot but I made it to the top first and found a little path that led me down to the top of the falls. I wouldn't recommend hanging out here, a stiff breeze or a slip would certainly mean your death. John and Shane joined me and we decided that we had a great trip but it was time for some food! I didn't argue with them either, I was starved, and our hungry served as our motivation on the hike out, soon we were in the truck on the way to the Twin Dragons Buffet.
|Cooling off at Red Butt Falls.|
|Greenland Creek Falls.|
|John and Shane leaving camp.|
|My shredded legs.|