Saturday, May 28, 2016

May 9, 2016 - Vanhook Falls, Daniel Boone National Forest, Kentucky

Cindy and I decided to head to Kentucky for our anniversary this year. She did a lot of online research and found photos of some excellent waterfalls, rock formations and other scenery. Neither one of us has been there, so she picked enough locations to fill 4 days worth of hiking. We decided to camp at the Holly Bay campground in the London District since it was central to a lot of what we wanted to see.

We packed the car on Sunday, got an early start on Monday, and were setting up camp by early afternoon. As soon as we finished, we headed for a trail head. The first hike was to Vanhook Falls along a section of the Sheltowee Trace trail. We began the hike at the trail head located at the intersection of KY 192 and 1193 which was only about 3 miles from the campground. The first part of the trail was fairly easy as is gently descended into the woods. Not too far in we picked up the headwaters of Pounder Branch. A little while later we came across a very small waterfall, but decided on saving that for the way back. Maybe a mile into the hike, the creek volume picked up a bit and we passed another small waterfall with a very large pool at the base. We had to stop and shoot this one.

We actually spent more time here than we planned and soon realized we had to move on not knowing what was ahead. The trail continued to get more interesting and we soon came across this huge rock wall on our left.

The wet rock was very colorful with the variety of mosses, algae, lichen and other plants growing on it. The trail continued following Pounder Branch, but now the creek had gained volume and was in a 20-30' gorge with steep walls. We crossed a couple of side creeks, then came to a view of a tall waterfall on a side creek coming in from the opposite side. There was no way down so we had to settle for this view, then move on.

A little bit later, the trail began to descend and arrived at the point where Pounder Branch meets the larger Cane Creek. The trail crossed Pounder Branch on a footbridge, followed Cane Creek a very short distance up stream, then crossed the creek on another footbridge. From here it's not too far to Vanhook Falls, but we passed by another beautiful rock wall before getting there.

This rock wall was even more amazing than the last one, but both paled in comparison to the beautiful 40' high Vanhook Falls which was just ahead. North Carolina doesn't have many waterfalls that you can walk behind, but the Cumberland Plateau areas of Kentucky and Tennessee have plenty.

It was really hard to pull ourselves away from here, but it was late afternoon and we had over 2 1/2 miles back to the parking area. We did stop again at the waterfall we previously shot on Pounder Branch for more shots, then at the very first one we passed by earlier in the day. By now, the light was low which required longer shutter speeds. but the turquoise tint in the water was much more prominent. What a great way to start the vacation!

Sunday, May 8, 2016

May 2, 2016 - waterfalls at Wildcat Wayside, Last Falls and Sweet Thing on Slickum Creek, South Carolina

Today I planned to head to South Carolina to reshoot the waterfalls on Wildcat Branch at Wildcat Wayside and to use the directions in Thomas King's Waterfall Hikes of Upstate South Carolina book to find upper, middle, and lower Millennium Falls on the nearby Slickum Creek. I began at Wildcat Wayside and you can find the directions on my site here. I was just calling this waterfall Wildcat Falls, but since the area has been fixed up, Wildcat Wayside Falls is appearing more and more. Wildcat Branch Falls is another name that you may see for it.

lower waterfall on Wildcat Branch

The lower waterfall on Wildcat Branch is right next to the road and is a very popular spot. It's one of the very few waterfalls that are wheelchair accessible. From the road level you can actually see the middle waterfall also, but the above shot and photos below are from pool level which is right below the road.

lower waterfall on Wildcat Branch

A set of stone steps leads up the left side of the waterfall and comes out at the top of the lower falls at a view point for the middle falls. It's very safe up here as long as you stay away from the top of the lower falls.

middle waterfall on Wildcat Branch

From what I remember, the trail kept going up the left side towards the upper waterfall which is about 1/2 mile up creek, but the trail has been rerouted across the creek to the right side and shrub debris and branches have been placed to try to block people from going up the left side. This wasn't good for me because that's where the directions to the Millennium Falls say to go. More on that later.

After crossing the creek, the trail heads up to a kiosk with info and a map of the new trail. I noticed immediately that it has a 4th waterfall in addition to the upper waterfall on Wildcat Branch. From the kiosk, the trail leads to what's left of the old picnic shelter - the chimney and foundation. There's also a placard with some info on the history of this area which was very interesting!

 After the chimney, the trail splits and becomes a loop. I'm pretty sure this wasn't here when I last visited the upper falls years ago. I took the left side of the loop which crosses the creek on rocks. In a short time I was at the base of the huge rock wall that is home to the upper waterfall on Wildcat Branch. The flow today was pretty normal for this creek, but I'd love to see it after some heavy rain.

upper waterfall on Wildcat Branch

I hung around here for a good while, then headed up the trail towards the other waterfall. This one is maybe 15' high and is on a tributary of Wildcat Branch. There wasn't much water flowing, but it's still a nice spot and the gurgling water was soothing to hear. Below is a shot of it, then video of all 4 waterfalls.

waterfall on tributary of Wildcat Branch

So now that brings me back to looking for the 3 Millinnium Falls. I thought that when I got back to the middle waterfall, I would just skirt the brush pile and continue from there. There were a lot of people hanging around, so I though it was best to save that for an early morning, or look for another way in. Instead, I decided to look for the nearby Sweet Thing on Slickum Falls that my pal Bernie Boyer found years ago. It's in the King book also and parking is right down the road. Directions are on my web site here.

Last Falls on Slickum is along the same trail and is actually only about 100' up the trail. It's a nice little waterfall - not big, but with some character.

Last Falls on Slickum

Sweet Thing is only maybe 5 minutes up the trail. The trail is a little tricky in spots, but very doable and worth it. I've been seeing pictures of Sweet Thing posted on FB for a while now and am embarrassed that it took me this long to go take a look. It's only 18' high, but set in a very beautiful grotto area. Below are some shots, then video of both waterfalls.

Sweet Thing on Slickum

Saturday, May 7, 2016

April 28, 2016 - Exploration of upper Silver Run Creek


Anybody that knows how to read a topo map can make an educated guess where a waterfall should be. If the contour lines are close together, it's steep. If there's a creek shown running across those lines, it's falling water of some type. The above map is the area of the well known Silver Run Falls near Cashiers. I have the waterfall labeled at the bottom of the map. The area circled in blue at the top of the map is the upper reaches of Silver Run Creek and it certainly looks like there is a waterfall there. It's been on several people's radar over the past years, but nobody that we know of has made an attempt to find out - until today.

Famed waterfall explorer, nature photographer, and author Kevin Adams was one of the people that knew about this and he called to see if I was interested in exploring the area - oh hell yes. The thing is, there probably aren't any trails and there's private property that needs to be avoided. You just don't know what you'll run into until you get out there. The waterfall itself is public property and is in the Nantahala National Forest. Kevin had talked with a Facebook friend of ours - Spencer Clary - who also had his eye on the area. Spencer, his lady friend Stephanie Blue Brooks, and their group of friends are no strangers to off trail exploring, so Kevin messaged Spencer to see if he wanted to come. He had to work, but Stephanie wanted to go, so the 3 of us made plans to meet. Kevin had a more detailed paper map and I had my GPS with topo software which would show us where we were at all times.

This type of activity isn't for everyone. I'm not going to say exactly how we went because I don't want people wandering around out in the woods lost because of this. There it is circled on the map if you would like to give it a try. Once we got into the woods, we were able to pick up an old logging road that took us in the general direction we needed to go. The forests have a lot of these that were used years ago during the logging days. Most are no longer maintained, but can be followed on foot with little trouble. Along this old road we came across the headwaters of another creek. The water was making a nice splashing sound as it spilled over a ledge, so we went down to take a closer look.

Very nice! From the maps we knew we had to be on the other side of the ridge from where we were, so we all decided on a spot to begin the steep ascent to the top. Luckily, this was mostly open woods, but it was steep! After reaching the knob we wanted to be on, we followed the ridge line until we found the spot where we wanted to descend into the upper Silver Run Creek drainage. The woods were thicker here, but still not too bad. After making it down near creek level, we found another old road we were able to follow to a point where we knew we had to be in the creek to see what we wanted to see. By now we were in the far right part of the blue circled area in the above map. In areas like this, the rhododendron is generally thick along the creek and this was no exception. I know all of us have done worse and nobody was complaining. We came across some smaller slides and cascades, then this first significant waterfall. It's only about 15' high and was surrounded by dead trees that have fallen, but I snapped a quick picture anyway.

Not too far below that was another nice small waterfall where we decided to take a break. We still had plenty of daylight and we knew we were getting close to the prize. Kevin picked today because there was supposed to be a 50% chance of rain and we figured there would be a lot of cloud cover, but the weather guy blew it again. We had mostly sunny skies which isn't generally good for waterfall shooting.

There was another drop directly below this one and this was out next stop.

The waterfalls were getting progressively better and just below this one was the one we were after. The creek dropped off of a cliff and we had to find a safe way down. Stephanie took a look and said she thought the right side of the cliff looked better, so she led the way. We actually had to go up and away from the creek so we could avoid the rock wall, then drop down towards the base. Wow - what a spectacular find! We were all as thrilled as we could be. The falls is a drop of about 50' and there was minimal clutter around the waterfall. You never know when a new find might be covered with dead and fallen trees. First off I had Kevin and Stephanie pose on a log in front of the falls.

Kevin and Stephanie

We all then settled in and continued to enjoy the waterfall. Kevin and Stephanie discussed naming the waterfall and came up with Fulfillment Falls. We saw no evidence at all that anyone else had been here recently - no trash, no trails - nothing. You have to figure that since this is gamelands, hunters or fishermen have probably been here in the past - but maybe not! For a modern day explorer, it doesn't get much better than this.

Below are a few more shots, then some video I shot along the way.

Fulfillment Falls
Kevin shooting from the side

the 3 Musketeers

Friday, May 6, 2016

April 27, 2016 - Catawba Falls

One of the trails in Cindy's upcoming book on day hikes in the Pisgah Grandfather District is the trail to Catawba Falls in Old Fort. I hadn't been in several years and needed updated info for my site, so I was more than happy to head down the hill to the waterfall. A new parking area has been constructed since my last visit and a vault toilet has been added. The forest service did a great job on this! One thing that hadn't been done was the addition of a foot bridge over the river to keep visitors from having to wade or rock hop if the water level was low enough. (It's now May 6 and construction of the bridge started May 3! There was no completion date given.) Directions and trail description for Catawba Falls can be found on my site here.

There's more than one waterfall and numerous cascades along this stretch of river. We were the 2nd vehicle in the parking area  and I didn't want to spend a lot of time goofing around before we got to Catawba Falls. Plus, the lighting was going to be iffy today so the earlier we got to the falls the better. But when we got to Lower Catawba Falls, I had to stop for a few shots and some video. I didn't go down to the very lower part today, but did get down to the base of the biggest section, then took some shots looking down at the falls from the dam.

Lower Catawba Falls

Then when we got to where the trail crosses Chestnut Branch, I had to stop again. The creek spills over a small ledge right where it meets the Catawba River and makes for a nice little scene. I could have spent more time here, but the sun was getting higher in the sky and those pesky people that like to get in your way when you're trying to shoot were increasing in numbers.

where Chestnut Branch meets the river
We lucked up when we got to the falls and no one else was there. So now we could be those pesky photographers that hog the good shooting spots and won't move when somebody wants a selfie with the waterfall. The skies were now mostly sunny, but we were able to snap a few when a passing cloud covered the sun.

Catawba Falls

These photos don't show the entire waterfall. It spills over more little ledges up and around the corner to the right. The trail heads up steeply beside the waterfall and there are places where you can get out on the rocks for macro views of the falls, then the trail continues up even more steeply  to the upper falls. We had seen people heading that way and the light was getting worse, so we decided to save that for another day. On our way out, I spotted a small falls just below the main waterfall and had to stop one more time. I have video of all this, but am saving it when I can include the stuff I skipped this time. I hope to be back soon!

along the Catawba River

Thursday, May 5, 2016

April 23, 2016 - Melrose Falls, Polk County NC

I was fortunate enough to receive an advanced copy of the newest edition of Kevin Adams' North Carolina waterfall guide book (due out in June of this year). I had been seeing some mention of Melrose Falls on social media lately and looked to see what new info Kevin had for this waterfall. Most of the current online talk has you following some RR tracks to the creek that the waterfall is on, but Kevin talks about a new trail he found built by the Pacolet Area Conservancy. I was really impressed with this area and think you will be also if you decide to go. Directions can be found on my site here -

There's only enough room for 2 vehicles at the trail head. This is a good thing as long as you aren't the 3rd vehicle planning to stop here. There was no one here when I went and I didn't see anyone the entire time I was here. If I had done this hike a week or 2 earlier, I would have been treated to masses of blooming wildflowers. The side of the trail and surrounding woods were covered by them. Sweet White Trillium was a pleasant surprise, but most of the blooms were past peak. I did manage to find one that was still photo-worthy. It was windy today, so I skipped the wildflowers for the most part and headed towards the waterfall.

Sweet White Trillium
Solomon's Seal
Before I headed out, I looked online for any additional info and came across SCJack's blog entry where apparently they found the same trail. There was no mention of where the trail head was and it was hard to tell from his photo just how nice this waterfall is! The sun was not my friend again today and I couldn't catch a break with any passing clouds, so I didn't get the photos I wanted. Here's what I did get of this 50-60' waterfall. The viewing area is a small rocky outcropping, so the shooting angles are kind of limited here - but that's OK!

Melrose Falls
Along the way to the falls, the trail split with one way heading down towards the North Pacolet River. I had time and decided to check this trail out before heading back to the vehicle. I thought it would end up at the river, but it took a turn back towards Big Fall Creek and ended up on top of a smaller waterfall below Melrose Falls. I could see the bottom section of Melrose Falls up through the trees and could also hear vehicles through the trees on the road just on the other side of the river - oblivious to the beauty they were passing by. Below are some photos from this area, then a video of the day's activities. 

When I got back home, I called Kevin for some additional info and he said it was OK to add the waterfall to my site before his book hit the shelves - thanks friend! There's still some more investigating to be done in this area, so I'll be back!

looking up to the bottom of Melrose Falls
zoomed in to the bottom section of Melrose Falls

the top of the smaller waterfall
the last waterfall on Big Fall Creek