Sunday, January 4, 2015

Sometimes it's hard to find the motivation or even the words to get a blog finished after a hiking trip. The experience of living through it is never translated accurately by words or pictures, but I still find myself staring blankly at my screen trying to find some way to help the reader feel as if they are along for the trip. Yesterday was the first day of 2015 and I spent it fighting hoards of people hiking along the Appalachian Trail to Charlie's Bunion. As I was standing in line waiting behind roughly fifteen people trying to avoid a muddy spot along the trail my mind took me back to one of the last hikes I went on in 2014 and why it was so special to me.

Two of Virginia's more obscure hiking destinations are separated by a short drive and big time payoffs from a hiking and photography standpoint. Big Creek empties into the Holston River near the town of Lindell outside of Abingdon, Virginia. The two waterfalls along Big Creek are some of the more unique I've seen and when John Forbes visited them a few weeks ago his images were enough to make me schedule a trip to see them the next day. I first visited the waterfalls on a hot summer day after a trip up to the Channels with a large group of hiking friends. Between the people running back and forth around the falls and the bright mid afternoon sun it was hard for me to get a decent picture, but I knew I would be back, I just didn't know when.

With a week of nonstop rain and overcast skies, the rain subsided long enough for Shane Estep, John Forbes, and I to make a return trip to the waterfalls on Big Creek. I've hiked with John more than anyone else this year and having Shane along was icing on my hiking cake. We met in Abingdon and Shane volunteered to drive us over to the trail head. It was a short ride to the parking area near one of the many swinging bridges across the river. We quickly got our gear and crossed the bridge as there are several residences nearby and we didn't want to disturb the land owners. On the other side we hiked downstream a short distance to where Big Creek enters the river and the largest of the waterfalls is visible immediately. Known affectionately as Cobweb Falls for its resemblance to, you guessed it, a cobweb. The water level was perfect and with it still being early in the morning the sun would not play any factor in my photography, here's a look at Cobweb Falls as it appeared that day.
55ft high Cobweb Falls aka Lower waterfall on Big Creek.
Downstream from the falls. Crossing the creek was a challenge at times trying to keep our feet dry.

John pointed out one of the more unusual formations in the rock almost dead center of the falls. A mossy outline appeared eerily similar to Mary holding Baby Jesus. I usually don't get into the finding the shape in the clouds and rocks crowd but it was pretty impressive in person. The sheer size of the waterfall is staggering, not just height (around 55ft) the width makes for some challenging shots without the use of a wide angle lens. With the perfect conditions, I was lost for an hour in my photography and although John was there the day before he snapped away with his many cameras he packs. Shane was just loving being there and chose to sit by the falls and absorb the great scene.
Self portrait in front of the falls.
The crew before heading upstream.

As hard as it was to pluck myself away from the lower waterfall, I knew there was more to see upstream and soon we were climbing around the steep right side of the lower falls. You could probably swing further away from the cliffs surrounding the falls to get upstream but we took a goat path that had us no more than a few feet from the brink of the falls, it's a little unnerving but a great spot to shoot down on the waterfall to further illustrate it's size. Once above the falls I noticed a ledge on the other side of the creek that would give me a good spot to photograph the upper most drop of the falls that can't be seen from the base. I found a rock hop across the creek and carefully slid my way down to the spot that had no more room than for one person. It was a cool spot for sure but I hurriedly got my shots and jogged to catch up to Shane and John making their way upstream. There Re several small falls ranging from 5 to 8ft in height and we stopped at each of them as we continued our mission to see the upper waterfall known as Lachash Falls which was a play on two people's names that discovered them, Mark Lackey and Ashley Bowen. A four wheeling road runs above the creek on the left bank and we followed it across some really cool wooden bridges made from fallen trees and soon I could see Lachash Falls in the distance.
Climbing next to Cobweb Falls.
The uppermost drop of Cobweb Falls to my right is the main part of the waterfall.
Small Falls approaching Lachash Falls.

My first thoughts were once again at how large the falls were. The terrain before the falls wouldn't make you think there was anything of interest up the valley but a large rock shelf spans the void and forms Lachash Falls. It had the same unique look as Cobweb on a smaller scale and the trail here also allows you to easily climb out on the brink for some photo ops. We all took turns having our picture made on the falls and as I stalked around the base I couldn't help but notice piles of trash that I kept having to pluck out of my shots. Old tires, cans, bottles, and even guttering for a house or cabin was all strewn about. John noted there was a cabin further upstream and determined that's where most of the trash had came from. It's such a shame that people have such little respect for the environment or the few of us that enjoy a natural scene. After another lengthy session of pictures we were on the hike out for our next destination of the day, Pinnacle Rock.
Standing on top of Lachash Falls.
Lachash Falls.
Mary and Baby Jesus.

Another short drive and a even sketchier  parking situation than that of Cobweb Falls and we were at the "trail head" for Pinnacle Rock. I always get a little nervous here because you aren't really sure how people feel about you walking behind an abandoned house and through a pasture field to access the trail, it isn't posted but I still hike a little faster and keep my head a little lower until I hit the woods on the far uphill side of the pasture field.
Gopro shot from Lachash Falls.
The brutal climb up the mountain to the Pinnacle.
One of the larger freestanding rocks that make up the Pinnacle.

The chasms between the rocks are seen here, John would later jump these!
Full view of Pinnacle Rock from the edge of the cliff.
This ladder actually held me!
John heading down to the base.
Shane preparing his mind for the descent.
A look back at that ladder. The bottom rung was already broken.

Speaking of uphill, this trail will flat destroy your legs! Although a mile long, the elevation gain is a thousand feet straight up the spine of the ridge. The fallen leaves add to your woes and it's slow going up the mountain. I tried just to stare at my feet and put one foot in front of the other because each time I looked up I just seen more discouraging climbing. Having Shane and John along was a help and we rested together several times sharing stories and laughs until our lungs stopped burning and our legs quit screaming and we could continue on. About halfway up, I seemed to catch a second wind and led us through the rocky field nearing the summit. It was cold that day but I didn't expect to see snow on the ground but as I was climbing onto the edge of Pinnacle Rock the ground was white with a light dusting.
John and Shane inside of what I call the window of the world.
Standing under Pinnacle Rock on a narrow ledge.
One of my favorite pictures of the day.

Climbing onto the behemoth rocks I could see the full span of the Pinnacle. It's also one of the more unique looking formations in our area and unlike the Smokies, you never have to worry about standing in line on the trail. In fact, I've never seen anyone else here on previous hikes. It's obvious people do come here though, and not the brightest of individuals either. The lower portions of the rock are covered in various graffiti from this person loves that person or hippie quotes. Here's my advice, leave your damn paint at home.
Shane blends into his surroundings.
This rock has spray paint damage that I had to clone over so it won't show up here.
Shane below the Pinnacle Rock. You can see the ladder we climbed behind him.
John and I below Pinnacle Rock. It was one of the more spectacular days we had on the trail and you're about to see why!

As I made a video of the scene, I couldn't help but laugh as John finally made his way into full view of the Pinnacle and his oohs and ahhs overrode my commentary. He had never hiked to the Pinnacle so his excitement had Shane and I grinning from ear to ear. Between the towering boulders are large chasms that keep most people off the largest of the Pinnacle rocks but John was soon lining up to make the run to the summit. The scary thing is if he misses a jump from one rock to the next the fall would be fatal. Shane isn't a fan of heights anyway and he almost cringed as John kept from one boulder to the next, I was too busy shooting pictures to fully capture the moment for John. Just before the main rock a large jump of around six feet has to be cleared and then it's a simple step across onto glory. John measured his stride carefully and with a running start made the jump safely across! He ran up to the summit and looked like an ant on top of the rock from where Shane and I were set up snacking. He stayed there for a while as Shane and I started to explore the rocks. I showed Shane the old ladder that allows you to hike below the base of the Pinnacle. He was scared to even move around last time we were there and now he was contiplating climbing down the old ladder! John jumped across the gorge to join us and went down the ladder first. He told me he thought it was good and waited at the bottom as I started down  between the narrow boulders. I tried to keep the majority of my weight on my arms and had them pushed against the rock walls as I could feel the wooden steps bow with my weight. I made it safely to the bottom and although it took us a minute to get Shane coaxed into coming down but he eventually joined us at the bottom! We spent over an hour playing around the rock towers and really soaked in the experience. Before leaving for the day, I wanted to capture a video of John jumping the gaps at the rock and he happily obliged.
John beginning the run to the Pinnacle!
The birth of Skywalker Forbes. I took this picture but it doesn't seem real. One of the most iconic images I've ever captured on the hiking trail. I'm just thankful he's still alive!
Last jump and safely back to solid ground! You get a little bit of the height of the rocks in this image as you can see on the bottom left at the distance to the laurel below.

It was a memorable day at two of the nicest and lesser known hiking destinations in the area. I had circled it as the last hike I would be able to complete in 2014 but with some luck I was able to join Thomas Mabry on finishing his quest of 250 waterfalls in one year at Dick Creek almost a week later, but I'll save that entry for another day. As for this year, I already have four new hikes planned that will be some of the better locals I've ever stepped foot on, so be ready for another exciting hiking season in 2015. Until then, happy trails!

1 comment:

  1. I've enjoyed your great Blog! The pics are both professional and beautiful. What an eye you have for conveying God's Wonders!