Friday, March 20, 2015

After striking the ice jackpot at Raven Rock Falls everyone was feeling the excitement, including Carmen, and once we were safely off the mountain and back on clear roads the day held a lot of promise. Thomas wasn't through with his brainstorming and suggested another stop that wasn't on my makeshift itinerary.
Silver Run Falls.
Hiding under some laurel trying to knock the sun off my camera at Silver Run Falls.

Silver Run Falls is just a short drive off of highway 64 and an even shorter hike. Surprisingly no one was at the trail head but single digit temperatures tend to tame even the most hardcore hikers and photographers. We arrived at the base of the falls to find them flowing but with ice framing both sides of the falls and the splash pool starting to freeze up with wild swirl patterns in the ice. The sun had to play spoiler as it often does and was directly overhead causing us to be creative in our shots. Ironically, Carmen captured one of the best shots with her cell phone by climbing onto a large rock and peering through some branches to take the picture. After we posed for another gopro group shot we were back at the car waiting on Thomas to emerge from the bush. Steve decided to turn around while we waited and drove down the road and when we came back Thomas had reappeared and was pretending to hitchhike. I took another pic to post online and claimed the stranger from the airport had somehow followed us further adding to the story developing some two hours away.
Our friend from the airport found us and wanted another lift!

After a pit stop for some snacks, we headed into the town of Highland to see Glen Falls. When we found the road leading to the trail head covered in deep snow we took a vote and common sense won out, we would instead enter the Cullasaja River Gorge.
Bridal Veil Falls.
Standing behind Bridal Veil Falls. I have no idea how this ice hung on.
Beware of Badger! Standing at the barricade at Bridal Veil Falls.

When I first planned on visiting North Carolina in search iced over waterfalls one in particular stood out in my mind. Dry Falls is about as touristy of a hike I can stand. Public restrooms, paved walking path complete with fencing all away around the falls, and a big gate to lock you out in bad weather, well you get the idea, but it also has some of the best opportunities to get up close and personal with some huge icicles. On the drive into the gorge the road passes Bridal Veil Falls. The waterfall is unique because they have paved the road behind it allowing you to drive behind the falls. With all the ice and snow the park service had barricaded the road but we still stopped and took pictures of the icicles hanging all over the falls. During this stop I really felt how cold it was that day as wind was ripping through the gorge and cutting through my layers of clothes. Carmen retreated back to the car while Steve, Thomas, and I walked behind the falls for a few pictures.

As we approached the parking area for Dry Falls I fully expected several cars when we arrived despite the temperature but even if it's lot was empty as the only car there was pulling away when we arrived. I believe I got out of the car before it stopped moving I was so excited. The paved path leaves the parking area winding downhill until the falls come into view. The steps were coated in ice but I didn't let it slow me down. When the falls came into view my trip had been worth it, some of the largest icicles I'd ever seen completely engulfed the outer edges of the roaring waterfall. Of course the gate near the main drop of the waterfall was locked but I was able to hop across and walk behind the falls. The ice behind the waterfall was equally impressive and nearly touched the ground. I had to crawl on my hands and knees to go to the opposite side. When I finally came out of my daze of excitement, I looked to see Thomas coming down the trail to join me with a man in a brown jacket in hot pursuit. For a minute, I assumed it was a ranger coming to bust me for trespassing but as he hopped the gate and joined me I realized it was fellow hiker Scott Burns!
Dry Falls. On most days you can walk behind it and stay dry.
Ice like I've never seen.
Walking behind the falls.
This was cool...literally and figuratively.

Thomas had been texting with Scott keeping him posted on whereabouts and he decided to join us for a couple of stops! Scott was like any other hiker I've met, easy to get along with and easy to talk to, and he too was stunned by the huge ice at Dry Falls. Steve and Carmen caught up to us behind the falls and we made the waterfall our personal playground. The icicles were strange looking appearing more like cotton candy than ice, it was the first time I'd seen any like them. Scott, Thomas, and I hiked to the furtherest point on the opposite side of the falls while Steve and Carmen began hiking back to the car with his still soaked tennis shoe. Seeing them on the other side of the gorge really illustrated how large the waterfall and gorge is. I made a few videos as I paced back toward the waterfall to rejoin them that I've watched several times since that day and it still seems unbelievable.
Steve under the ice while Badger captures the moment.
Looking back at Scott Burns.
Looking up as I crawl under the ice.
Scott inside the ice at Dry Falls.
Dry Falls from the far side of the gorge.
Steve and Carmen at Dry Falls.

A short drive further down the gorge brought us to our final stop in the area and one of the more scarier stretches of road I've traveled on. Highway 64 gets pinched tight as it swings around the cliffs above the 200ft Cullasaja Falls. The paint along the guardrails and rock walls on the opposite side are evident the entire length of its narrow pass. The parking for Cullasaja Falls is yet another problem with only room for two cars in a small pullout. Luckily we arrived to find it empty we were out of the cars looking down on the icy monster. Everyone took pictures standing on or around the guardrail and ice coated the majority of the falls. Scott asked if we would like to hike to the base and both Thomas and I jumped at the opportunity. Steve elected to stay in the car with Carmen still trying to warm his foot from the dip he took at Raven Rock Falls.
Scott at the base of Cullasaja Falls.
Cullasaja Falls.
Gopro style at Cullasaja Falls. You can see the guard rail and road at the top left of picture.

Scott led us over the guardrail and down a steep decent into the gorge. The trail wasn't terrible but there were spots were water had ran across the rocks and froze so we still had to pay attention. The steepness reminded me of Compression Falls Trail in Carter County, TN but was a much shorter trip to the bottom. We arrived at the creek downstream from the falls and worked our way around large rocks lining the creek until we reached the base. I'll have to say, it was an impressive sight to stand in the shadow of the 200ft waterfall. I looked up to the road high above us and just the thought of going over that guard rail was terrifying. Thomas played along the banks of the creek while Scott and I took various positions to try to include the majority of the falls in our pictures. I lined us up a shot with the gopro and we were back on the trail and the uphill grind to the top. Scott absolutely crushed the return trip up to the car and I started thinking of how exhausting it would be to keep up with him all day! Sadly he had other obligations that day and we said our goodbyes as we left the Cullasaja Gorge in search of some food and bathrooms.

After a pit stop at Wendy's in Cashiers we decided to stop off on NC 281 to hit a few falls before heading home. The snow storm had hit this area much lighter but instead they had received mainly ice, the only thing not coated in ice was the road! Our first stop was the 400ft Whitewater Falls, also a tourist trap, we elected to run out to snag a picture just to say we had been there. We traveled back out 281 to an unsigned parking area for John's Jump Falls. I'm not sure how many people drive right by the nice 30ft waterfall every day unaware of it's existence as it's hidden just under the road bank. It requires a steep scramble on a makeshift path and with the coating of ice it made it downright treacherous. Steve found out by falling flat on his back above me on the trail and sliding past as I caught him by his crotch with my leg. It probably wasn't the best rescue but it kept him from sliding into a large tree just off the trail. When we reached the falls, I regretted not bringing my tripod out of the car. The lighting and ice made for a beautiful scene. Thomas Scrambled out into the middle of the creek shooting from a small rock while Steve and I waited for him to finish. Carmen had elected to stay in the car as the temperatures were starting to plunge in the afternoon hours. Amazingly we hiked out without incident and Carmen decided she would drive us the rest of the way forcing Steve into the backseat with the Badger. Our final stop of the day was White Owl Falls, another small roadside beauty. Carmen decided to go with us since it was the final stop but she turned back when Steve fell again on ice trying to get down a tricky section of trail. I brought my tripod and camera for the final stop to have a few images to use for my quest for 500 trail miles Facebook page. We found the waterfall to be beautiful and very frozen with ice literally on everything we touched. While packing up my camera gear I got to take a fall myself and nearly slid into the creek! When I caught Steve and Thomas near the car I told them I had put a nice dent in the ground near the falls causing them to laugh out loud.
John's Jump Falls.
White Owl Falls.
A shot of White Owl Falls with the Canon Rebel.

Our appetites couldn't wait on anymore waterfall hikes so we headed toward home making a pit stop at Twin Dragons Buffet in Brevard. After dinner we dropped Thomas off at his car and sped toward home. Carmen napped in the back seat while Steve and I relived our day. We had 10 waterfalls under our belts and plenty of good memories. I got to meet Scott, who I've been friends with on Facebook for several months and hike with the Badger. It was awesome to have Steve back on the trail with me after so many epic trips in the past and the addition of Carmen added beauty and humor to our trip. Hopefully we can share many more trail days together in the coming months, in warmer temperatures of course!

Our trip wouldn't be complete without a collage!
When I came staggering up the steps that night at home, Amber told me about her friend calling her at work asking what Jason was thinking picking up strangers to hike with! The next day at work a coworker approached and said his wife called him saying I'd picked up a stranger and he was following us around North Carolina hitchhiking from place to place. Thomas and I had inadvertently caused quite the stir as we often do, but it made for some good laughs in the following days as people tried to solve the mystery of the man in the orange shirt. Until next time, happy trails!

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