Monday, October 17, 2016

With the release of Kevin Adam's North Carolina Waterfalls Volume 3 came another wave of hikes that had me reevaluating my never ending to do list and planning trips into the mountains to maximize the adventure. Quick to move up the list were the higher the danger scale hikes, which for some reason seem to pay off with more beauty and guaranteed seclusion, two of the main criteria of any hike I go on. Plus, if I'm going to drive for over two hours to hike, it better be worth it.
Jesus is ready to roll!
Entering the Tuck. The river was so calm to begin the hike I wondered if we were on the right stream.
The large deep pool was the first clue we were going in the right direction. We skirted the bank on the right side, the water was thigh deep near the shore.
John thinking, "what's he got me into?"

A crucial part of the planning process for some of the hikes listed in the book is the weather. Having a record setting heatwave this summer and lack of rain has put much of the area in a severe drought. Growing up relying on rain to buy our school clothes with tobacco money, I appreciate it as much as the next person, but it does allow for some good ol river scrambling hikes that would otherwise be difficult if not impossible. 
I won't lie, I got pretty excited when I spotted this sign.
Potholes start to show up, small at first...
The river runs through rock layers in some spots.
The entrance of the slot canyon.
John inspecting the strange rock formations.
A deep pool and small falls near the slot canyon.
There was plenty of time to reflect on such a beautiful hike.

One such hike is Bonas Defeat Gorge. The name itself strikes curiosity and allure, and for the reader of this blog I bet you're wondering how it came to be called that in the first place. The story goes that a hunter had trained his hunting dog, Bonas to chase animals over the 400ft cliff wall towering above the gorge. One day Bonas gave chase a little too far and also perished in the gorge below, Bonas was defeated.
Even John was reflecting.
This was a bottomless pothole.
Grandma's Kitchen Falls.
Settle in, I'm gonna share a lot of pictures of this.
One of the potholes at the falls.
Up close and personal with Grandma's Kitchen Falls.
John included for scale.

The flow of the East Fork Tuckasegee River is controlled by a dam at the Tanassee Creek Reservoir, downstream the once powerful river has carved a maze of slot canyons,  potholes, and boulder mazes that are now exposed due to the dam and the drought were in. The entire stretch of river is now referred to as the Bonas Defeat Gorge.
Another angle from Grandma's Kitchen Falls.
Looking down on Grandma's Kitchen Falls.
Grandma's Kitchen Falls.....AGAIN.
John above the Kitchen.

Purchasing Kevin's book and knowing the forecast for about a week leading up to the hike I decided it was time to see the gorge for myself and recruited my friend John Lane to join me for the trip. Now whether it was concern for safety or pure unadulterated ego, there was quite the social media warfare launched over the hike through Bonas. My work schedule has kept me at bay but I did enjoy the back and forth debates as I prepared to go there myself. Proper skill sets, canyoneering experience, etc...you get the point, was all of this necessary? We were going to find out for ourselves.
Looking downstream from the kitchen.
Moving on...see you later, Kitchen.
Here comes Jesus.
The luxurious beach on the Tuck.
I see skies are blue...
Things seemed easy at this point...the joke was on us.
Still moving along nicely.
Rocks are growing and a way forward seems in doubt.
What about here...nope too fat.

John and I arrived at the end of Grays Ridge Road to find a nice parking area and kiosk. The hike down to the river followed a curvy gravel road that was gated and labelled private road. In the book, Kevin states that it is perfectly legal to hike this road despite the sign that says "If you trespass on this road a picture of you and your vehicle will be taken" so hopefully his book will hold up in a court of law. Anyway, the weather was perfect, the first signs of fall were popping up and a slight breeze made the sun seem comfortable. We arrived at a large bridge over Wolf Creek and turned upstream toward the buzz of a power station just out of sight. We worked past the station's outflow and crossed the creek walking behind the station and a massive intake pipe and found ourselves at the start of our hike at the mouth of the East Fork Tuck.
John will not be denied!
There's that man again.
A good look at the Conundrum area.
John exits the keyhole.
Look at John just past the keyhole.
OK this way I think.
"Hey John, I see something cool." I could have said this hundreds of times.
Grandma's Pantry Falls.
Another view of Grandma's Pantry.
Grandma's Pantry.
Dang right, I'm gonna take a picture of my shoes.

The river was surprisingly calm with no hint of the grandeur that awaited. Clumps of grass grew in the riverbed and although I could have rock hopped upstream I went ahead and started wading in the ankle deep water. John was eerily quiet and I knew he was probably having his doubts of my promised adventure but we were moving quickly upstream when the first obstacle appeared. A large deep pool kept us from moving up the riverbed and we skirted the river right side of the pool having to climb over a few rock ledges, we would later learn a path led higher above the river but we were able to get through.
Talus Cave Falls. This little thing was neat, completely hidden under the boulders.
One of my favorite pictures of John I've ever took.
A look back from where we came. This is the backside of the Conundrum area.
It made a nice place to rest in the shade.
The top of Grandma's Pantry Falls.

The river started showing signs of promise with a few small potholes popping up and rocks carved in downright bizarre fashion. It was around this time that I spotted the official Welcome to Bonas Defeat sign. Hanging above the river is a large metal sign warning of the automated spillway upstream that could release a torrent of water unannounced on hikers below. I forgot to mention that part huh? The dam is automated which means there's not a set schedule of water release, whenever the lake level is at a certain point the gates open and release the water, and truthfully, you'd be incredibly lucky to survive it.
A tree twisted by a torrent of water.
The boulders were just one after another.
Rocks that make their mark.

John perked up and we took turns taking pictures with the sign before continuing up the gorge. The rocks seemed to grow the further we moved up river and we came to potholes of formidable size including the entrance to a beautiful slot canyon. John worked his way up to the brink of the canyon while I jammed my hiking stick as far as I could down the potholes without luck of finding bottom. The whole scene was wild and dreamlike and we were only beginning.
Looking up at what appears to be some cliffs ahead.
Some trail huh?
"John, you won't believe this."

It was cool to be swimming so we opted to the take the scramble path around the slot canyon on a narrow goat path above it. We were able to slide down a bank popping out just above the canyon at the base of Grandma's Kitchen Falls. I probably wanted to see this more than anything else in the gorge and it didn't disappoint. A small waterfall cascaded down deep potholes of various sizes and depths. Bonas should be honored to have an area so beautiful named after him. We unpacked and spent a good bit of time playing around on the rocks and taking pictures from all angles. We were able to stay in the river bed and climb the falls, albeit carefully, and continue through a calm section of river just above it. The river kinda snakes through this section with a nice beach area in a curve that we went to inspect. Another set of potholes and a tiny chute of around a hundred feet were the highlights of this stretch. Moving up river and now feeling our hiking high seemed easy, so far Bonas Defeat was hype not hard. The river must have read my mind and decided to stack a monstrous jumble of boulders right in my way as I rounded the corner. Could this be the Conundrum Rocks? I went left and was cut off by a jump onto a sloped rock that was doable but not wise, so I backtracked over to the right side and found a sloped rock with some obvious scramble scars and a tiny beam of light at the top. We had found the keyhole. Let me just say, I probably looked ridiculous worming my way through that hole but it was fun! The only concerning part was you had to commit to landing on a pile of dead fall, so thoughts of bees, snakes, spiders, and even if it would hold my weight ran through my mind ever so briefly. Once I was clear of the keyhole I waited to watch John emerge from below as well.
I see a way!
Pothole drought.
This picture is crazy. Look at John in the corner.

Getting past the keyhole wasn't the only obstacle in the Conundrum Rocks area as a a maze of possible wrong and right ways to move up river are blended together. Luckily John and I wound through fairly quickly thanks in part to a fallen tree that made the perfect bridge. Peering over a sharp rock to the river below I spotted Grandma's Pantry Falls. For me, this was the best part of the whole gorge. We were now behind the towering rock maze and the loud water coming from beneath a boulder just above us clued me into the location of Talus Cave Falls. As the water leaves the boulder falls, it cuts through all the potholes that make up Grandma's Pantry Falls. We decided to rest briefly here and soak in the gorge. While John worked on photos, I told him i would scout out the path ahead. I worked up river right side though another small keyhole that I was able to duck walk through and found a narrow ledge that would serve as my way up river. The ledge led to the brink of a deep pothole and the rock was sloped smooth and uphill to try to continue on. I searched for a hand hold but found nothing. This one spot was the only one I had found all day that I probably would need someone else's help to get around it. I went back to get John and we came back to the ledge with me pushing him up and him serving as an anchor for me, before marching onward.
The log leaning against the second keyhole.
The pothole next to the tricky step up.
The ledge walk.
Imagine water that deep that it hits the tree line. You really think about that dam in spots like this.

We continued to marvel at the landscape and many sights and sounds of the gorge, as we looked back we could tell we had gained elevation as the ridges grew on the horizon. The cliff walls around us were increasing as well and as I made my way around another bend the namesake feature of the gorge loomed above us. The 400ft Bonas Defeat Wall is as impressive slab of rock that you will lay eyes on. As fate would have it, the afternoon sun was directly over it and made for a difficult picture. Rocks as large as small houses are littered at its base so I started climbing from one to another to get as high as I could for the photo. There was one sketchy log that I had to use for my final climb to the highest boulder but being on top made my efforts worthwhile. I convinced John to join me and we both decided that hiking back would be the best decision since it was late in the day. I had read that all the "best stuff" was downstream from the wall anyway.
Ring neck snake just chilling in the gorge.
Monster tree near the Bonas Defeat Wall.
John for some perspective.

We had left our packs back at Grandma's Pantry Falls and John made note of the time when he grabbed his before heading out. On the hike back I took a few pictures here and there but we moved at a much more deliberate pace. We used the high path above the river around the lower deep pool and found it to be harder than the way we had came in but other than that we made excellent time, arriving back at the truck in one hour and ten minutes from leaving the waterfall.
John at the Bonas Defeat Wall.
John and Jason..on the rocks.
John meditates before we head out.

We worked up a good appetite scrambling around and I stopped in Brevard to introduce John to my favorite Chinese Buffet. We both agreed the gorge was an adventure on another level but can be done by (SPOILER ALERT...keep reading to continue) just about anyone with some level of physical fitness and a little common sense, and we both are excited to come back for swimming season and further exploration. There is one thing that is not up for debate, the beauty of Bonas Defeat is incomparable. Until next time, happy trails.

Bonas defeated.

I loved this hike.

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