Thursday, March 5, 2015

It seems the weather has cast a long shadow over all my off days this year even causing me to have to work a few days when the snow scares tend to make work unbearable.  After two weeks of snow rushes and long hours I decided I needed to ditch the shirt and tie and hike no matter what the weather called for that Thursday. As fate would have it, a cold front blew into the area just two days before and the forecast high for Thursday was only nine degrees!
Temperature as we crossed Sam's Gap into North Carolina.
Thomas plotting our course and the birth of the homeless man I took hiking.

I've really had a lot of fun mixing and mingling with different hiking partners and seeing their excitement out on the trails all the way through the process of finishing a blog they can always look back on the trip, it's truly a rewarding experience for me...and this entry is no different.

Many of you remember Steve Strickler from our early days in the blog and our many trail blunders along the way. Steve stepped aside with the birth of his daughter Baize but with her arrival, I gained two new hiking partners! Baize's mother, Carmen and I were good friends prior to her meeting Steve and miraculously stayed friends through her pregnancy and eventual debut of Baize or as I affectionately call her, Trail Baizer. My never ending travels with work eventually landed me working with Carmen again and soon she was asking, when are we going to hike?

Carmen got to live through the beat down that was the last few weeks of work with me and both of us were more than ready for a day on the trail. Steve wasn't having it any easier and was anxious to test out his new hiking shoes if the mailman would deliver them on time. I told Steve and Carmen about my plan to visit some frozen North Carolina waterfalls and they both agreed that it would be fun with Carmen adding, "but I'll freeze!"
Frozen waterfall trail side.
Steve and Carmen behind the ice.

Steve was so happy to hike again he volunteered to drive and just like that three of the four seats in his brand new Subaru Forrester were filled. The empty seat was more than I could bear so I asked Carmen if she would mind if my friend, Thomas joined us for the day. The Badger had been hunkered down in Waynesville weathering the storm so I told him of our plans and he agreed to meet us near the Asheville Airport at one of his many rendezvous points.

After picking up the Badger we decided some breakfast was in order and swung into Bojangles to fill up and outline our day. I couldn't resist taking a quick picture of Thomas and shared it to my Facebook page claiming to have found this man on the side of the road with a "will hike for food" sign. At the time I was unaware, but my post would have some hilarious reactions as I switched my phone to airplane mode to preserve the battery.
Carmen cooling off on the hike in to Raven Rock Falls.
The Bridge of Death.

Back on the road still unsure of where it and the eventual trails would take us we traveled on through the town of Brevard as I pointed out to Carmen all of the waterfalls I knew of off of each road. Surprisingly the Badger and Carmen hit it off and plenty of laughter filled the car. Thomas always has a great story and he told Carmen of his many exploits some of which are unfit for print here.
Standing behind the Bridge of Death. Photo courtesy of Carmen Laban Pippin.
Steve and Carmen on the Bridge of Death.

As we wound our way on the narrow two lane road toward Cashiers, Thomas suddenly was struck with an idea. He asked if we would be interested in seeing Raven Rock Falls and the infamous Bridge of Death! For me it was a no brainer, a new waterfall and a bridge named after death, my only concern was what condition would the road be in to the trail head. Thomas assured us that all the rich folk live around Lake Toxaway and the highway crews take good care of them but as we turned up the winding mountain road we were almost immediately greeted with packed snow and ice. The conversation eased as we all paid attention to the road with Thomas assuring us we were only half a mile away. Some two miles later we safely pulled off the road and started bundling up for the cold weather and I was gathering my layers I noticed the temperature on the dash read seven degrees.
Death from above.
The trail as we looked behind us.
Badger in the ice jail.
A rare Bigfoot sighting. Photo by Thomas Mabry.

I don't own a lot of cold weather gear but I had layered up hoping to deflect the cold as best I could. I grabbed an old coat from the bottom of the closet as I left home that morning that I was sure with its lining would have me toasty with all the climbing I planned on doing around the waterfalls. Badger pointed out the trail just under the road bank and we all carefully stepped onto the snowy path leading downhill. Unfortunately Steve's new hiking boots had failed to arrive so both he and Carmen were hiking in tennis shoes. Thomas led the way as I stayed behind trying to help Steve and Carmen choose the best route. Even with less than ideal footwear they both were steady on their feet as we continued downhill. Several stretches of trail were so treacherous it was easier to sit down and slide to keep from falling. Our first clue the day was going to be amazing was in the form a waterfall frozen stiff next to the trail. Thomas claimed the falls were unnamed but they were an impressive sight and nice warm up to the main attraction. We continued on passing rocky cliffs with icicles that stretched from twenty feet above us all the way to the ground at our feet. I was in awe and ducked behind the ice wall snapping pictures of the others as they did the same. In the distance I could hear another waterfall and Thomas told us we were approaching the Bridge of Death. Just around the corner was another small waterfall draped in large icicles and behind it the bridge allowing you to walk behind the falls. Don't let the name of the Bridge of Death intimidate you, it's really not that bad and even with a coat of ice I was able to scoot across unscathed. The waterfall you walk behind continues to tumble down the mountain just off the edge of the bridge so if you were so unlucky to fall from there, you could possibly give the bridge name some merit. On the other side, I caught an awful scent in my nose. I asked Badger if he smelled pee and he looked perplexed. It was overwhelming and disgusting and every time I turned it was all I could smell. Thomas and I retreated away from the stench and scrambled around the corner arriving at the base of Raven Rock Falls. The only word I can think of is WOW. The waterfall was still flowing but barely. Large icicles coated the majority of the falls with the base starting to pile high with an ice mound. It was one of the first times I've ever seen water instantly freeze as it flowed out onto the mound causing it grow before my was bitterly cold but I was warm with my nice lined coat. Despite the beauty the foul smell still overwhelmed me and I as I continued to try to solve the mystery I looked down to see if I may have stepped in something and when I did, I accidentally figured out what was wrong. On my collar just under my chin was a wet spot on my coat, further evaluation revealed it to be cat pee. For all you cat lovers out there, I'll spare you my thoughts at that moment but my cat should be thankful he was a three hour drive away. I decided I would rather be cold than take the smell and ditched my coat for the time being as I started to focus on taking pictures of the falls.
Raven Rock Falls. Photo by Thomas Mabry.
Our group shot at Raven Rock Falls complete with my stinky coat.
Thomas and his super flexible pants.
Still smiling!
First stop success. Photo by Carmen Laban Pippin.

Steve and Carmen caught up to us and I told them the cat pee story while they both laughed wildly. Steve noticed the ice mound and decided he would climb out for a closer look. Before Thomas could finish saying watch your step, Steve broke through the ice into knee deep water. Thankfully it was only one leg but he still was now exposed to the cold with a soaked leg. Within a few minutes the material of his pants was frozen solid and he didn't let it slow him down as we all took in the icy scene. Thomas had got our trip off to a fantastic start and we decided this was a perfect spot for a group shot with the gopro. After the photo Steve started feeling the effects of the cold and started up the trail ahead of us. Thomas and I lingered playing behind the icicles and trying to fill our cameras' memory cards. I finally caught up to Steve and Carmen just before the parking area and finding Carmen still smiling was a good sign the day was a success be continued!

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