Tuesday, June 16, 2015

A month ago I fell and broke my toe at the cliffs in Erwin known as Monkeyhead Rocks. After a doctor's visit and realizing there really isn't anything they can do for a broken toe, I decided to test it out about five days later on a hike I had been eyeballing for some time.
Carolina on my mind.
Finally! A dirt road.

Douglas Falls is located in the Big Ivy section of Pisgah National Forest near Barnardsville, North Carolina. Located half a mile from the trail head I figured I could manage to limp out a mile despite how my toe felt. Adding to the allure of the hike is the fact that it's one of the waterfalls included in the Carolina Mountain Club 100 Waterfall Challenge, a list that's grown increasingly manageable for me the last few years. As fate would have it, I've saved Douglas Falls just for this moment, an easy hike to see how I could respond to injury.
Small wildflower along the way.
Waterfall hiking made easy!

The morning of the hike I packed my gear up and wore my tennis shoes since they didn't put the pressure on my swollen toe. I made sure I had a good hiking stick and some ibuprofen in case the pain started bothering me. The drive across the mountain is a pleasant one and I was already at the Barnardsville exit in less than an hour. The drive through the small community is really scenic as well and I glanced at my directions to make sure I was making all the right turns. Big Ivy begins at the end of Dillingham Road and turns to gravel. The road is in great shape though and I made excellent timing winding increasingly upward through the forest.
Jack in the Pulpit.
Nice sliding falls.

The road passes by several small waterfalls and creeks that taunted me for further exploration but I was determined to stay on my best behavior and on the trail especially since I was alone. One of the nicer falls I passed is known as Walker falls. At around 60 ft high it crashes over a series of ledges and through a drain pipe passing under the road. The foliage had filled in for the most part blocking the view a little but I still lingered admiring such a great waterfall. Back on the road I continued to marvel at the scenery, I passed a large rock wall and could see a climber several stories high above me while his friend looked on from the base. As I gained elevation I found the wildflowers were still in great shape and stopped for photos. Shortly before arriving at the dead end parking area for the falls the road gets really narrow around some cliffs and once again I couldn't get great views but I knew I was incredibly high.
Find the climber!
Walker Falls.
My hiking partner.

I parked as close to the trail as I could and was pleased to see that there was only one other car. I grabbed my stick and started slowly making my way toward the falls. My pace was so much different than usual that I saw many things I could have easily missed otherwise. The trail was lined in wildflowers and many other interesting plants such as Jack in the Pulpits. I found a small toad in the middle of my path and couldn't get over the towering Hemlocks that were in various stages of decay from being infected with the invasive Wolly Adelgid. One of the giants laid on its side taking with it the entirety of trail leaving exposed bedrock while the root system was towering over me by a good 10 feet. I started hearing water and could see the other people sitting on some large rocks and knew the falls were nearby.
Ghosts of the forest. The hemlock tree.
Part of the rock shelter behind Douglas Falls.
Gopro shot from behind the falls.

I stepped around some rocks and Douglas Falls came into full view. The waterfall is measured at 70ft but it's narrow stream makes it seem higher and I almost felt dizzy looking up at the top. It spills over the edge of one of the biggest rock shelters I've ever seen and I was quick to start lumbering up for a closer inspection. The folks on the rocks were friendly as I passed and asked me about other waterfalls I had visited. I stayed with them for a while comparing hiking stories and they offered to move if they were in my way. The lady asked if I was a professional photographer as I started unpacking and although it was a nice compliment, I'd much rather be known as an adventurer.
Me next to the falls.
Inside of a Hemlock tree.
Douglas Falls from the Hemlock.
Another Hemlock shot.

The cloud cover was nice and I was able to take some pictures I felt would turn out nicely. I said goodbye to my friends and climbed the far right side of the rock shelter to take some different angles of the waterfall. During my climbing I found the largest Jack in the Pulpit I'd ever seen. It stood knee high to me and I took several pictures to show it's size. Just up the hill was another dead hemlock and it's hollow remains had me playing in it like a small child. I really enjoyed the gopro that day as I was able to capture some crazy angles and such using the tree.
My stripper friend. She left without saying goodbye.
Gopro next to the largest Jack in the Pulpit I've ever seen.

I just couldn't get over the size of the waterfall and decided to set my timer for some pictures of me next to it. My timer only goes to 10 seconds so I would have to run to get into place! Thankfully it only took two tries to get the perfect picture and I moved over to the far side of the rock shelter for some more views. During this time I noticed a female hiker approaching the base of the falls. I was crouched behind some rocks with my camera working on a shot to include some wildflowers and when I noticed her start to undress I decided to let her know someone else was looking on! She quickly retreated back down the trail and didn't return, I don't know if from embarrassment or anger.

After a while and no toe pain I decided to hike out. It was still early in the day and I had read a forest service road that was nearby would lead to Craggy Gardens. I had visited the gardens before and really liked that area of the parkway and decided I should head back and check the bloom progress.
Tunnel near Craggy Gardens.
The trail and as you can see no blooms at all.

Stoney Fork Road was an absolute blast for me. The curvy gravel road brought out my Scott County roots as I blazed up the mountain. It only took me twenty minute before I popped out in the picnic area of Craggy Gardens. I drove through the picnic area and intersected the Blue Ridge Parkway heading toward Craggy Dome. I stopped at the visitor center and bought some water and rested in some rockers overlooking the mountain before me. On the horizon I could see a tiny strip of pavement which was interstate 26 crossing the mountain at Sam's Gap. The employees rustling of papers clued me in it was closing time and I was back on the parkway for more exploring.
White Trillium.
Two different blooms in the same shot.

Through a tunnel I found the parking lot from my first visit to the gardens and I was quick to hit the trail that leads to the summit and wonderful 360 views. Having conquered my fear of heights, I wanted to take some gopro shots along the edges of the cliffs there. I arrived at the summit to find I had it all to myself and jumped the retaining wall to access the cliffs. The views here are as fine as you can get and I spent over thirty minutes circling the rocky pinnacle.
Craggy Gardens summit.
One of the best trees on the parkway.

My toe still feeling awesome and having such a good day I decided I would give back a little. I had noticed on Facebook before I left that my friend Candi was taking donations for earthquake relief in Nepal, the fact that she works in a bar and I was thirsty was irrelevant. I made the short side trip to Burnsville to see her and hang out for some local brews. Halley and her friend Travis came and met us as well and a short visit turned into four hours in a bar. All the stories and laughs made for a perfect ending to my day. Until next time, happy trails!
Donation....yeah, that's why I'm here.

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