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.

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