Tuesday, June 21, 2016

June 10, 2016 - Courthouse Rd (FR140) finally reopens! Red Rock and Kiesee Falls

Courthouse Rd is a 3 mile long forest road that has trail heads for several waterfalls. The most popular is Courthouse Falls, but the 2 Kiesee Falls, Chestnut Falls, and the waterfalls on upper Courthouse Creek area accessed from that road also. It has been closed since August 2015 for a bridge repair and was supposed to reopen in early spring, but was delayed. Yesterday, the forest service posted on their web site that the road was to reopen at 10am on the 10th, so Emily, Todd and I made plans to meet at the gate around 9:30 and wait. Our plan was to hike Courthouse Creek up to Red Rock Falls, then come back down the road and do Kiesee and Upper Kiesee Falls.

The gate was opened before 10 and we were the first vehicle in. Red Rock Falls was the first destination, so we headed to the end of the road and parked there. I have more info about the waterfall on my site here. We were hoping for a cloudy day so the pictures would be better, but it didn't look like that was happening. It really didn't matter since it was a beautiful day to be out and it was good to be back in this beautiful area once again. On the way up Courthouse Creek, we stopped at a couple of smaller waterfalls that were still mostly in the shade.

The first one is about 10' high and the second maybe 6-8'. By the time we got to Red Rock Falls, the sun was mostly on the waterfall and getting good shots became difficult. Quite a bit of post processing helped out a bit.

Red Rock Falls
We hung around here for quite a while hoping a cloud would pass and even out the lighting, but none did and it was time to move on. Instead of heading to the other waterfall up creek, we opted to take our time going back before doing Kiesee Falls.

There are several small waterfalls and cascades along Courthouse Creek, but to see them up close you have to leave the trail and walk up the creek. It's a lot of fun and is a combination of walking in the creek, rock hopping, and bushwhacking. We've found quite a few waterfalls by doing this up creeks that have no trails beside them. A lot of Courthouse Creek flows over exposed bedrock that is brightly colored when wet as shown in the above pictures of Red Rock Falls, and there are also several pothole areas. Below are more photos that show off some of the creek's beauty.

a very happy Emily in one of the amazing potholes

We stopped at what's called Upper Courthouse Falls, but I didn't bother with pictures of it. The last shot above is a small waterfall right above Upper Courthouse and it seemed more photo-worthy.

We were back to the vehicle by around 2, then headed back down Courthouse Rd for about a mile to the parking area for Kiesee Falls. When I first attempted to find this waterfall back in 2001, the general thinking among waterfallers was there was only one waterfall here. We later learned that there is also an upper waterfall and my friend Bernie Boyer helped bring a trail to that waterfall out of the darkness. You can read all about how to get to the 2 waterfalls on my site here. The directions I had on the site before this were sketchy at best and I was hoping a revisit would clear things up. We began with Kiesee Falls and it was just as difficult to get to as it was before. There's decent trail part of the way, then we had to leave the trail and follow the creek up to get to the falls. It's in kind of a mini box canyon and going up the creek is the only access. The going wasn't bad at first, but became more difficult the closer we got to the falls. The reward in the end was worth the difficulty. Kiesee Falls isn't that big, but the huge pothole between the drops is a geological wonder and the entire setting is really beautiful.

Kiesee Falls

Todd in the picture for scale
Upper Kiesee Falls is just above this one. If Todd were about 10' taller, he'd be able to see it from where he is in the above picture. The problem is that you can't scale the walls of this waterfall to get up there. In the areas just back from the falls, the soil layer on the steep slopes is very fragile and people can undo dozens of years of Mother Nature's work trying to scramble up them. So we backtracked to a good spot to get back up to the main trail that continued on to Upper Kiesee. There is now a very obvious side trail that leads down to the base of the waterfall, but there's a tricky drop at the end that is slippery when wet. It wasn't bad at all today. The upper waterfall is a little more open and there's an even bigger swimming hole. We hung around here about an hour, then headed back to the vehicle then back to civilization.

Upper Kiesee Falls

Emily wading out for a shot

Monday, June 13, 2016

June 2, 2016 - Case Falls and Emily Falls

Today's outing was to find 2 of the new waterfalls in Kevin Adams' new North Carolina Waterfalls book - Case Falls and Emily Falls. According to the book, both looked like they would be fairly easy to find and they weren't too far from my house.

Both waterfalls are off of Big Hungry Rd near Hendersonville and I decided to do Case Falls first since it was the closest. Directions and more info cam be found on my site here. Parking for hikers is right next to a gated lot used by kayakers that are accessing the Green River. The waterfall is very close to the parking lot, but you can't see it from the trail. I wonder how many of the boaters know that it's there. It's not a waterfall that I would visit just to hang out, but it's a nice photo subject and I had it all to myself. Here's a bit of video and then some photos.

From here it's only about 4 miles to the parking for Emily Falls. This area is part of the Green River Gamelands and it looked like there have been some improvements here in the last few years. The topo map shows parts of this area to be very steep with some hard to get to creeks, so I'll have to come back to do some more exploring. The parking area for Emily Falls was very easy to find and you can read about it here on this page of my site. The hike to the waterfall is easy and only about 1/4 mile, but it takes you through some maintained wildlife clearings, so I would stay away during hunting season. When I was there, a couple of guys with tractors were planting something and tending the fields. The waterfall isn't that big, but is in a nice setting with a little swimming hole. Both waterfalls made for a nice 1/2 day outing!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

May 31, 2016 - Fungi Falls, Polk County

Fungi Falls is relatively new to the waterfall hunting scene. A few years back, Andy (Fungi) Kunkle and SCJack were studying topo maps and saw potential in the Green River Gamelands in Polk County. They never checked out Ostin Creek themselves, but Andy mentioned it to Kevin Adams and the next day Kevin found this beautiful waterfall. I've known about it for a while since then, but this was my first good chance to check it out. It turns out it's less than 15 miles from my house!

I have directions to the waterfall on my site here. I was using the directions from Kevin, but when I got to the area and saw where the top of the upper waterfall was, I decided to start there instead. I recognized the upper waterfall from Stephanie Leigh's photos that she posted on Facebook. When I saw her pictures, I knew I had to get down there soon. I spent quite a bit of time here shooting stills and video. The first picture is the view I had when I first arrived at the falls. After shooting from here, I climbed up the rock for a closer look at the top part of the waterfall. The shelved and striped rock was amazing! You can see more of that in the video at the bottom of the page.

Upper Fungi Falls

Just below this section of waterfall is another small cascade, then a drop of 10-12' or so.

Looking down creek from the bottom of this, I could see the land dropping off dramatically. I walked over for a look and knew I had to keep heading down. This area was the very top of Fungi Falls and it is amazing.

It was very safe to be in this area as long as I didn't do anything stupid. I had a good view looking down towards the base of the falls and after I got all of the pictures and video I wanted, that's where I headed.

Looking up at all of this falling water in this pristine location really made my day. So close to civilization, but visited by very few people. The waterfall is probably over 100' high and that's not including the upper waterfall I went to first.

Fungi Falls

I could see that the creek dropped off more - and that's what my topo map showed also - but I decided to save the rest of it for another day. Below is video beginning at the top.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

May 25, 2016 - Big Beartrap Branch, Middle Prong Wilderness Area

My friend Kevin Adams gave me a call and asked if I was up for a hike - you bet! I figured this wouldn't be just a stroll through the woods and I was right. Today's adventure would be an re-exploration of Big Beartrap Branch in the Middle Prong Wilderness area. This stream tumbles down the mountain from close to the Blue Ridge Parkway to Middle Prong losing over 1300' in elevation in less than 1.5 miles. A friend and I had explored from Middle Prong up Big Beartrap a ways back in 2006 and had found some nice waterfalls then. Kevin had done the creek more recently while researching waterfalls for his new NC Waterfalls guide book, but wanted to go back and spend more time shooting.

There's a good trail up Middle Prong to the point where Big Beartrap comes in, but nothing beyond that - it's all bushwhack from there. The plan today was to leave a vehicle on FR97, then begin the hike from the Parkway and head down the creek. We me where FR97 turns off of NC215, but unfortunately the gate for FR97 was locked. This didn't stop us - it just added about a mile and a half more to the hike at the end of the day. We began the hike near Reinhart Gap on the Parkway and immediately struck out through the woods in the general direction of Big Beartrap Branch. The woods here are fairly open once you get away from the Parkway and we came to the creek in less than 15 minutes. Soon after that we came to our first waterfall of the day.

It's only about 10' high, but has some character with the moss and the way the flow splits into fingers. The next waterfall wasn't too far down stream. It wasn't as nice and the sun was shining on part of it making for a difficult shot. As a general rule, we count most drops over 10' as waterfalls and this one just made the grade including the smaller upper section.

Waterfall #3 was a little more interesting. There were some nice Red Spruce trees at the top of the falls and the rock was more interesting. Lighting still sucked, but with a little post processing, the picture didn't turn out too bad.

From here the land began getting steeper and the creek picked up it's pace. We came across more smaller cascades, then a nice slide area shown in the next photo, then a series of smaller cascades making up a larger waterfall.

It wasn't until we got to the bottom of this area and looked back up that we realized this was a nice waterfall! Notice the difference in the rock color from the wet to dry rock. The wet rock looks a lot better in a photo (if you use a polarizing filter), but the dry rock is your friend when you are creek walking.

Not too far down from this was waterfall #5 for the day. This one had more of the colorful rock and a lot of moss in the background - beautiful. Did you notice the old logging cable in the pictures?

We went another 1/4 mile before we came to the next legitimate waterfall. This one began with a 10-15' drop, then ended with a very long slide area.

The next waterfall was really interesting. A huge boulder in the middle of the creek split the flow into 2 waterfalls. The creek then came back together flowing over some reddish colored pitted rock.

The geology changed again for the next waterfall. The creek narrowed as it flowed between some nicely shaped rock in a 'Z' pattern.

That waterfall and this next one were probably my favorite waterfalls on the creek. Definitely not the biggest, but really interesting and good photo subjects.

The 10th waterfall of the day turned out to be the farthest point I reached on the creek on my trip 10 years ago. This one has a nice little swimming hole at the base.

By now I was getting worn out, but I knew we were getting closer to Big Beartrap Falls. Before that was this smaller chute type falls tucked back into a little cove.

It was late afternoon by the time we got to Big Beartrap Falls and the sun was now right behind the falls. We had some in and out cloud cover, but that didn't help much with picture quality. This waterfall is at least 75' high and it's hard to see the entire thing from one vantage point. The next shot is one I took on this day, then the 2 after that were from the previous trip in 2006. Kevin and I by-passed this section of waterfall on this trip since the lighting was so bad. Plus, we still had 3 miles to go to get back to the vehicle, then shuttle back up to the Parkway to pick up the other one. All in all it was another great day. I saw 9 new waterfalls on a beautiful stretch of mountain wilderness stream that very few people have ever been on. There's a video of some of what we saw at the bottom of the page.