Saturday, January 10, 2015

I first met the Badger on a hike to Flat Creek Falls in the Panthertown Valley. At the time, he was probably more Thomas Mabry than Badger, but make no mistake, his trail name was spot on. A trail name can't be given it must be earned, and bestowed upon you from a fellow hiker. Thomas' Badger moniker was born on a cliff bushwhack a week earlier with famed Panthertown author, Todd Ransom, that day they found a route to the base of Flat Creek Falls that didn't require trespassing to reach the base. It was that hike that led me to requesting the Badger's services for a return trip that same route, but as I would discover, the Badger's mind is squarely on the future as the past fogs quickly. I enlisted John Forbes and Shane Estep to join me on the hike promising adventure of epic proportions, I just didn't count on how much Thomas had in store for us.  From hanging on narrow ledges and about being blown free from the cliff by a helicopter full of tourists that day I experienced so many levels of terror I still jolt awake at night sometimes with the sensation of falling. Sadly we never found the route that day, but we did reach the base another way and a friendship was born that will last the rest of my life.
The Badger (far left) at the base of Flat Creek Falls. Our hike that day began way up at the top of the picture next to the highest point of the waterfall on some narrow cliffs. In this picture, I'm just happy to be alive.
Escorting the Badger into Dick Creek Valley with Sallie Gator helping copilot. Photo by Halley Burleson
Steve and Shane...notice Steve's clinched fists. Photo by Halley Burleson.

As the year went on and winter closed in, the Badger tore through hikes like a hot knife through butter. Waterfall after waterfall were scratched from his hiking to do list and before any of us realized  it he was on the cusp of 250 waterfalls for the year. I hike almost every free moment in my life and I work full time and I was still only able to see 148 waterfalls last year, so 250 is monumental! Thomas had seen some of the pictures from our Dick Creek hiking adventures and decided that he wanted to make the area the site of 250. I immediately began the recruiting process of what I felt like was an all star crew of hikers to help him celebrate the occasion. It was imperative that Shane and John were in the fold, since they endured the first hike with Thomas. Also joining our ranks were Halley Burleson  and Steve Strickler. Steve doesn't hike with me a whole lot now, but it was awesome having him back in the woods with his crazy stories and nonstop laughter. Halley and her dog, Sallie are some of my favorite hiking partners and bring so much joy to the trail as well.
Number 250! Lower Dick Creek Falls in Erwin, TN. Thomas "Badger" Mabry is in orange at back of photo.

We met near the trail head bright and early and since we were going to be doing some off roading I drove the trusty Tundra. At nearly 300,00 miles and some rusty fenders, it's still runs like the day I drove it off the lot brand new. No one else felt comfortable taking their vehicle up the rutted road from Limestone Cove so everyone piled in with me with Steve and Shane opting to ride in the back of the truck. I tried to drive up the road a little slower but I could still hear their screams as we bounced toward Dick Creek Valley. After several miles and the ever present threat of rain we were parking at the lower waterfall on Dick Creek. Everyone bailed out and was soon set up at the base shooting away at the beautiful waterfall located in a small grotto. This was also the moment Thomas had been working all year for, number 250! I think we took more pictures of him shooting the waterfall than the waterfall itself but it was such an accomplishment we wanted him to have plenty of memories of the day. Sallie the trail dog had to pose for a few pictures of her own, I've never seen a dog that loves having her picture made as much as she does! We packed up after savoring the lower falls in what I considered to be perfect lighting conditions even as a light drizzle began to fall.
Halley and Sallie ready to set up for shooting.
Downstream from Lower Dick Creek Falls.
Lower Dick Creek Falls.
Thomas with the perfect location at Upper Dick Creek Falls.
John beside Upper Dick Creek Falls.
Side view of Upper Dick Creek Falls.
Upper Dick Creek Falls.
Steve, Shane, and me at Upper Dick Creek Falls. Photo by Halley Burleson.

We continued up the old forest road to the next creek crossing and continued on foot to the what has been called Upper Dick Creek Falls. There really isn't a trail beyond the crossing but we stayed next to the creek and just hiked upstream through the mainly open forest. It's a little over half a mile to the upper falls and the four individual drops of the waterfall make for some stunning photo ops. I led everyone around the top of the falls except for John, trying to take a safer approach but Thomas took a nasty spill just across the creek but was quick to his feet saying all the years of playing football had taught him how to fall properly! The rain let up long enough for us to shoot the falls from all angles, but we didn't spend a lot of time there since the main attractions were still further upstream. The next waterfall isn't very far away but the open forest closes in with laurel tangles and is slow hiking. A little effort is worth the payoff as a beautiful 60ft waterfall comes into view and I could tell by everyone's quickened pace, they were as excited as I was.We once again scrambled to unpack and set up for photos. I settled in on a large rock in the middle of the creek while Thomas was shooting from stream level on the right side. John and Shane went around the large cliffs that surround the falls and found a way onto what we have been calling Totem Pole Rock high above us. Shane once again showed his ever growing bravery with heights and scooted out on the rock for a picture. Halley stood in the shadow of the cliffs and worried about getting Sallie around them and said she was going to stay behind while we continued upstream. We took time for a group picture under the rock ledge next to the falls and then left her to pursue more waterfalls. The group went up the right side of the cliffs which was the route Steve and I took on our first trip in the area while I broke away alone to climb the left side. I had been looking at the cliffs and could see a small ledge that led around to the upper drop of the 60ft waterfall and wanted a closer inspection. I found the rock ledge to be wider than I thought but sloped at an angle that would drop me off the cliffs if were to fall and it was covered with thick laurel. I hugged against the cliffs until I reached the bowl shaped drop of where the main waterfall squeezes through a narrow chute to the pool below. The footing was very treacherous with the mist and wet leaves so I scooted on my behind over against some trees to shoot the upper drop from a more sturdy perch. I could hear the others above me and looked to find them watching me from about 20ft higher on the cliffs. The rock wall around the falls was pristine and as I checked the LCD screen on my camera I couldn't believe how nice the photos were turning out.
Arrival at the largest waterfall on Dick Creek. Photo by Halley Burleson.
Steve, Shane, John, and Thomas beneath the largest waterfall.
Upper upper Dick Creek Falls.
The group below the waterfall. It gives yotu and idea of how large it is. The split drop at the top is where I went to photograph.
Shane on top of Totem Pole Rock. See him in the navy blue sweatshirt?
The rock wall leading to the upper drop.
Me sliding into position for the next photograph. Photo by John Forbes.
I really liked this picture. The effort to get there only makes it more special to me. The upper drop of the 60ft waterfall on Dick Creek.

I didn't want to leave Halley and Sallie alone for long with the rain for long so I almost jogged to catch up with Badger and friends near the next waterfall, it's only about 20ft tall but is one of the more photogenic locales on the creek. I shot a few pictures just for use in the blog and marched on to what would be the last waterfall of the day as the rain began to fall more steadily. Only a few feet upstream is a 10ft fall that spills over a deep rock recess. I was impressed with it's beauty immediately and unloaded in rapid fire mode with the camera. When I finally came to my senses, the rest of my group was huddled up telling stories and wondering if I would ever pack up to hike out.
The fourth waterfall on Dick Cree and one of the most photogenic.
Fifth and last waterfall of the day. Although small, I loved this one which photographed well from all angles.
Side view of the fifth waterfall.
Clear waters on Dick Creek.
Pouring Rain and time to hike out. We were all still happy!
Out of sequence but this is the moment when Thomas realized his dream of 250 waterfalls in a year. Photo by John Forbes.

The hike back out of the valley was quick and soon we reunited with Halley and Sallie who had retreated to some thicker laurel to shelter them from the rain. John and Thomas fell off the pace looking for the ledge I hiked out to see the upper drop of the falls but instead found a bicycle high on the hillside! In a few weeks time, It's the second bicycle to be found in this rugged terrain so I'm sure there's a story there waiting to emerge. Thomas' quest for 250 waterfalls was fulfilled and then some. In all, we saw five unique and stunning waterfalls on one creek. Dick Creek has become one of my favorite places to hike and although people laugh when I tell them the name of the creek, the jokes on them for not hiking in this beautiful area. Until next time, happy trails!

No comments:

Post a Comment