Sunday, November 30, 2014

Black Friday ushers in the holiday shopping season the day after Thanksgiving each year. People line up for a good deal on a television or other electronics sometimes as early as a couple of weeks in advance. I had the good fortune of being off for this momentous occasion and opted out of being trampled by the minivan clan of angry moms and instead took my hiking buddy Steve to a seldom seen set of waterfalls near Erwin, Tennessee.
The road to Dick Creek valley.

We started out for Erwin early Friday morning and I chose to drive my old Toyota Tundra as were going to be doing some off roading to cut down on our hiking time since both of us had prior commitments in the afternoon hours. I usually frown upon driving anywhere near a waterfall for the fear of the area being trashed (which is why I will leave directions out) but it was nice to know we were going to save ourselves around three miles of tough climbing. The Tundra was impressive as we plowed through the creek and headed up the old logging road toward Dick Creek valley. I was a little nervous how it would perform after not being drove in over a month and having nearly 300,000 miles on the odometer but it tore up the road like a brand new vehicle. As we gained elevation, the scenery changed and the snow from the previous two days went from a dusting to a few inches deep. Steve and I laughed as we bounced and rocked up the road getting to splash through large frozen over mud pits, dodging fallen trees, and finally making the turn up the creek to the first waterfall.
Bear tracks at Lower Dick Creek Falls.
and it's a big bear!

It was so nice stepping out into the snowy scene and knowing we were the only people on the mountain. We parked in the middle of the road and and hiked the 50 yards or so over to the first waterfall on the creek known as Lower Dick Creek Falls. As I led the way I was stopped dead in my tracks by something else's tracks!  A large bear had passed right by the falls earlier that morning and I threw down a dollar bill to scale the size of the track in pictures. Steve followed the tracks around the top of the waterfall where they vanished into the creek and I scrambled down the bank to set up my tripod for some photography. I've visited this falls several times but seeing the snow covered trees, deep green pool, and colorful rock wall surrounding it was a real treat. Steve soon joined me and just kept repeating himself, "this place is beautiful." No matter the beauty we were taking in, this waterfall wasn't our real mission that day and we were soon back in the truck driving further up the valley. We came to a creek crossing that seemed too dangerous to go any further on wheels and parked along the road for the real hiking to begin.
Lower Dick Creek Falls.

Before I go any further, let me say that if your idea of hiking is a well blazed trail and a map then don't come here. There isn't a trail beyond this creek crossing and I honestly hope there never is. There's a few basic rules in finding waterfalls. First you need a creek, then some elevation change along the creek, but most importantly, the desire to find way upstream or downstream to find the waterfalls.  Sure there are obstacles along the way but I'm 7'4" and take up more room than anyone I hike with and I still make it to them because I WANT to.  When you start out to find these falls on Dick Creek, just know that you've been warned, now, back to the story...

Across the creek I ducked through some laurel ad found the forest opened up along the creek for a while. Steve and I found two more sets of bear tracks and decided to follow them for a while since we were ahead of schedule. The path of a bear is a winding one and we zigzagged for half a mile or more before returning to within earshot of the creek. The snow deepened to what I would guess to be five inches or in spots and the laurel hung low with the weight of the snow. I resembled frosty as I led the way and the snow stuck to my fleece sweatshirt. We soon found an old lost logging road and followed it high above the creek a short distance before arriving at Upper Dick Creek Falls.

Upper Dick Creek Falls.

Steve and I at Upper Dick Creek Falls.

The top of Upper Dick Creek Falls.
I've seen Upper Dick Creek Falls before but would never pass an opportunity to shoot them especially with the snow and good light. We crossed the creek at the top of the falls as it's easier to get down the cliffs that surround the waterfall and to it's base. A few icicles hung down as we hugged the rock wall down to the base of the falls.  I found a rock nearby to set up on and take pictures while Steve explored the large fallen rock that liter the base. We took time to set up and have a group picture using the cameras timer before packing up for the undocumented falls upstream.

First glimpse of the largest waterfall on the creek.

60ft waterfall on Dick Creek.

The cliffs we had to climb over to see the other waterfalls.

Steve underneath the waterfall.
On our return trip across the top of the falls Steve slipped and soaked his foot in the frigid water. I was worried he would want to go back but in typical Steve fashion he chose to continue on! We climbed around some increasingly steep terrain that was covered in laurel and some of the sharpest thorns I've felt scrape across my legs. We came across a miniature boulder field and with the deep snow it was really hard to tell where to step. Some of the boulders had large holes between them, and I didnt' want a broken leg this far from help. After negotiating the boulders, I spotted the next waterfall and even from a long distance away I could tell it was huge. The banks surrounding  the falls were steep and I chose to sit down and slide down to the creek instead of risk falling. The snow was cold on my hands since I had forgotten my gloves but it was a fun little slide. I noticed some old steel cable near the base of the waterfall and although it was said to be a newly discovered falls, someone had been there, although many years ago. I was quick to set up for pictures as Steve caught back up to me and we raved at the size of the falls. Without having official measuring equipment I would say there are 60+ feet in height! The surrounding cliffs add to the scenery and there is the largest tree we had seen wedged in the base of the waterfall. The surrounding trees are no where near as big as the one stuck in the waterfall so we both guessed that it had been there for many decades. We took turns standing beneath the rock ledge under the waterfall and the fact that I didn't have to duck to stand there was another testament to the size of the falls. Our elation gave way to the realization that in order to see the other waterfalls upstream we had to get around the cliffs. The waterfall is around sixty feet high but the cliffs extend well above them at around 100ft tall. I had noticed a steep crack in the right side of the cliffs that I thought we could climb so our route was chosen. Steve led the way and we came to another downed tree that had been coated in ice blocking our way up the cliff. I wedged my leg against the log letting Steve step up and jump over to a flat spot on the rock ledge from there I passed him up my camera gear and was able to make the ledge thinks to my long legs. The rest of the cliff was pretty easy to get around since there was plenty of hand holds to keep us moving up the trench. At the top we emerged in some of the thickest laurel of the trip and finding our way back down to the creek was tough! Once I got to the creek the opposite side was much more open so we crossed again to save ourselves from fighting laurel.
Climbing over the cliff. This wasn't halfway!
Steve looking for the best way to continue up the cliff side.
Can you see the waterfall?
Steve sees it. The sun was just starting to come up over the ridge.

I could hear the roar of water downstream but didn't think it was the falls we just came from so we hiked down being cut off by a sharp ledge. We climbed the ridge and could spot another waterfall just below the ledge. We continued up the ridge until we found a safe way around the rock wall, then it was an easy hike back to the base of the falls. I recognized the waterfall from pictures some of my hiking buddies had posted online a week earlier and knew that we still had a few more upstream to see. I took my pictures once again and noticed my hands were completely numb and I knew if they were that cold that Steve's foot had to be frozen. I asked him if we was satisfied with our day and he agreed we should hike out.
I made it!
One of the most photogenic waterfalls I've seen.
Another successful mission in the books!

It wasn't an easy hike but the adventure and being were few would attempt to hike made up for our short day. The four waterfalls we visited were wonderful and some of the best in Tennessee in my opinion, and knowing that there are still more further up the mountain just gives me a great reason to go back. Until next time, happy trails!

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