Saturday, January 9, 2016

January 7, 2016 - Bull Cove Falls and High Falls in the Southern Nantahala Wilderness area

I had today's hike planned for a couple of weeks now and knew it was going to be a tough one - an 8 to 9 mile loop with a 2500' gain in elevation, then 2500' drop back down to my vehicle.  I was heading back to the same area Cindy, Brenda, Bernie and I hiked in yesterday, but this time I was by myself.  I hadn't been to Bull Cove and High Falls since 2004 and wanted to go back for updated directions and to do the entire loop that Kevin Adams talks about in his North Carolina Waterfall book.

I set the alarm for 4AM, but actually woke up at 3:45 excited to get started.  It's almost 3 hours to the trail head and I needed to get on the trail by first light to be sure I finished the hike by dark.  I have directions to the trail head and description of the hike to the waterfalls on my site here.   I don't really remember the 3 campgrounds along Tallulah River Rd from the 2004 visit, but now knowing they are here means we'll be back again when the weather warms for some camping and exploring.  Yesterday, we began our hike at the trail head at the end of the road, but today I started at the Beech Creek trail head about a mile from the end.

The trail begins as a series of steep switchbacks, but levels out after 1/4 mile, then gently descends towards the first crossing of Beech Creek.  With all the recent rain I figured I would be wading the creek, but I was able to stay dry by crossing on a fallen log.  My first destination was the 40' Bull Cove Falls which is a mile from the trail head.  Even though temps were above freezing today, there was still ice from the previous colder days.

I didn't spend a lot of time shooting here not knowing how long it was going to take me to finish the rest of the hike.  Back on the main trail up the mountain, my next obstacle was another crossing of Beech Creek.  This crossing wasn't as easy as the first, but I did manage to get across with mostly dry feet.  My next destination was High Falls, but there would be many more stops along the way.

The trail from here up to the waterfall is a mile and a quarter along an old road that is steep, rocky, and badly eroded in a lot of places.  This is the steepest long section of trail that I've been on lately and I was feeling it.  I stopped quite often just to catch my breath and give my legs a break.  Luckily, the trail (road) follows Beech Creek up the mountain and there were a lot of smaller cascades I could admire during my breaks.  I caught another break at 1/2 mile from the creek crossing when I came across a nice wet weather waterfall coming in from the left.

bonus waterfall

I took an extra long break here, shooting still shots and video.  I really need to get back to this area when the weather warms and I can spend more time.  Areas like this look so much better when the plants aren't dormant and everything is greener.  I continued the trudge up the trail to the next spot where I had a legitimate reason to put my pack down.  About 1/2 mile from the little waterfall is a man-made stone wall.  In Kevin Adams' description of this hike he says that "the wall is the remains of an old rail support.  The rail was used to sluice rock from a corundum mine farther up the mountain to the crushers below."  Interesting!

 From here the road switchbacks to the left, but I wasn't paying attention and continued straight on what looked like the road.  It ended in a short distance at Beech Creek and this nice little 10' cascade.

small waterfall on Beech Creek

I knew something was wrong when there was no trail from here, so I pulled out the directions and saw I had missed the turn.  I still had another 1/4 mile of even steeper hiking left before the side trail to High Falls and this required even more stops to catch my breath.  There used to be a sign nailed to a tree indicating the side path to the waterfall, but now there's no tree and the sign is in a pile of rocks on the ground.

High Falls isn't visible from here, but it's only a short distance down to the creek and up into the cove and the waterfall.  It's really a magnificent sight and one of the finest waterfalls in the area.

A couple of big logs have fallen at the base of the falls, but the upper section is still clean and beautiful.  On the last trip I had climbed up the rocks to that section, but I didn't want to risk it today.  The rocks were wet and slippery and I didn't want to chance any kind of injury.  I was pleased with the shots and video I got, so after eating some lunch, I continued on.

Back at the Beech Creek Trail, the old road got even steeper and more eroded.  Finally after another 1/2 mile of this, the road leveled out a bit and became more of a trail instead of a washed out old road.  The trail still followed Beech Creek, but the water volume began to fade and the creek finally ended as a big wet area.  This section of trail passes through a nice section of the forest with a lot of beech trees - go figure.  In his description of the rest of the loop hike, Kevin mentions a Scaly Nature Trail.  There's no sign anymore, but I took the trail a short distance up to see if there was a view.  There was, but it's through the trees and I didn't feel like exploring any farther. 
view from the trail
From here the main trail does a hard 180 as it swings around Big Scaly Mountain.  The last 4 miles of the loop is just about all down hill.  The trail is steep, rocky, and eroded in places, but it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be.  I reached the junction of the Deep Gap Trail about 2:15 and made it back to my car right at 3 - well ahead of schedule.  Don't think I'll be doing that full loop any time soon, but hope to make it back to those waterfalls some time later this year. 


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