Wednesday, August 2, 2017

2017-07-29 Team Waterfall Horsepature River Camping Weekend

Horsepasture River Camping Weekend
and Andy's Birthday Celebration
A Team Waterfall Adventure!
Transylvania County, NC
Saturday, July 29th and Sunday July 30th, 2017

Me at Windy Falls

For many years Andy has wanted to get to Windy Falls on the Horsepasture River from downstream. In recent years Team Waterfall has been all over Windy Falls coming from upstream, but nobody has been coming from the downstream direction.  Andy decided that would be our main goal for his birthday celebration weekend this year.

A group of Ten epic explorers met up at Gorges State Park early Saturday Morning and combined into three vehicles.  The journey down to the campsite would require a 7-mile drive on some of the roughest 4x4 forest service roads out there!

L to R: Christy, Andy, Darrin, Elliot, Me, Jill, Bob, Kitty, John, Scott
Ten Went In!

These roads are open to the public, however you are required to have 4-Wheel Drive and a minimum of 8" of ground clearance.  Since my new truck only has 7.8" of clearance, I decide to go with my wife Amy's Subaru (aka Wallie) which has 8.7" of clearance.

I didn't run into any issues on the drive in, but the real test would come on the steep drive out!  I wouldn't attempt these roads with any less clearance and 4WD is absolutely essential!    It took almost an hour to drive the 7-miles to the campsite.

Soon after we started setting up camp, Kyle, Angelina, Josh, and Ziggy rolled in, so we were up to 13 plus one dog, which would be the group for Saturday's main adventure.

The majority of us successfully made it all the way to Windy Falls and back.  The section of river is loaded with awesome waterfalls, cascades, slides, swimming holes.  A true Team Waterfall Playground!  Here are some of the photos:

The first of many awesome swimming holes we came across

Darrin going for a slide

Bob sliding down a waterfall

Jill gives it a go

Darrin staring into the face of a Demon

Darrin goes down head first

Angelina makes a splash

Soaring above the Horsepasture River


Kyle takes on the steep slide

Kyle, Ziggy, and Darrin

Kyle takes another turn

Darrin getting some Go Pro footage of his slide

The professor relaxing

Heading up towards Rooster Tail Falls
Can you spot Kitty and Jill?  

Kyle at Rooster Tail Falls

Josh takes a leap

Bob and Andy at Windy Falls

 Darrin and Elliot

 The Professor Gives Windy Falls the Thumbs Up!

 Josh at Windy Falls

 Darrin at Windy Falls

 John goes 2.7 seconds on a log named Fu-Manchu

 Darrin sliding down the side of Windy Falls

Andy and Christy at Rooster Tail Falls

On the return trip I was bushwacking under and around some deadfall when I stirred up a Yellow Jacket nest.  I managed to escape with only two stings, but one of them was on my bottom lip which is by far the most awkward place I have ever been stung.  I sure hope never to top that one!

While we were out on our adventure, Johnny arrived at the campsite bringing the total up to 14 plus Ziggy!

Johnny presents Andy with a Birthday Treasure!

 Most of the Group hanging out at Camp

Shortly before dark, Spencer showed up with three friends bringing the Grand Total to 18 plus Ziggy!

A very enjoyable evening was had around the campfire!

Andy's Birthday Celebration Group Photo
(not my best photography work, but a great time with some awesome friends!)

The next morning after packing up camp, the large group of (18) would split into several smaller groups. 

For my morning hike, I joined Johnny, Darrin, Bob, and Elliot on a hike to Lower Bearwallow Falls.  I had been to this one once before about 5 years ago, and I was eager for a return visit.  In my opinion, Lower Bearwallow Falls is one of the prettiest waterfalls anywhere!

Lower Bearwallow Falls

 Lower Bearwallow Falls - Vertical Composition

Group Photo at Lower Bearwallow Falls
L to R:  Elliot, Me, Bob, Darrin, Johnny

On the hike out, we ran into most of the others giving us an opportunity to say our goodbyes once again  (until next time).

Wallie handled the drive out like a champ!  My respect for Subaru Engineering jumped up a few notches after that drive!

It was an awesome weekend with some awesome friends both new and old!
HAPPY BIRTHDAY ANDY  (one of the OLD ones)!

My complete set of photos is posted here:

Thursday, July 13, 2017

2017-07-08 Horsepasture River Adventure to Windy Falls and Beyond

Horsepasture River Adventure to
Windy Falls and Beyond
Windy Falls, Terrifying Falls, Wolverine Falls, 
Hen Tail Falls, and Rooster Tail Falls
Transylvania County, NC
Saturday, July 8th, 2017
with Scott (the Professor), Pamela, Wendy, and The other Jack

Group Photo at Rooster Tail Falls
L to R:  Me, Scott, Pamela, Wendy, the other Jack

Windy Falls on the Horsepasture River has kind of a cult following amongst the waterfall community.  I made my first visit back in 2015, and was looking forward to a return visit.

Joining me on this adventure would be Scott (The Professor), his girlfriend Pamela, Wendy, and "the other Jack".  I have been Facebook friends with Jack Buchanan for several years, but this would be the first time the two Jacks would meet up in person!  This would also be my first time hiking with Wendy and Pamela!

My hiking partners for the day
Jack Buchanan, Scott (the Professor), Pamela, and Wendy

Disclaimer:  Windy Falls should only be attempted by those experienced with off trail bushwhacking, creek walking, rock scrambling, rope climbing, etc!  Therefore, I am not going to post any directions or GPS tracks.  Even if you are experienced with this type of adventure, first time visitors should make sure they go with a group where at least one person has been here before an knows they best and safest ways to go!   Under no circumstances should this be attempted solo, during times of very heavy flow, or in the rain!

From the Parking area at Gorges State Park it is a little over a mile and about 700ft of elevation descent down to the Horsepasture River.  We arrived at the  River at a nice campsite next to a small waterfall that I like to call Campsite Falls.  There is also a great swimming hole here which we decided to save for the end of the day.  This makes for a great spot to clean up and cool off after a long day of bushwhacking!

A short distance downstream are the upper drops of Windy Falls.

 Scott and Jack heading towards the top of Windy Falls

 Scott and Jack at the top of the main drop of Windy Falls

There is no easy way to get to the base of Windy Falls.  Most potential routes could easily lead to death.  Fortunately, there is a relatively safe way down!

We headed back into the woods where we picked up some scramble paths away from danger.  There are still a few areas where ropes are very helpful!
Pamela using a rope to descend down a tricky section of "trail"

We arrived at a nice rock face alongside the main drop.  From here a rope is essential if you want to get to the base alive!

 Jack rigging up the rope

Pamela showing us the ropes

The keyhole is a small opening just large enough for an average size human to fit through.  If you can make it through the keyhole, you can avoid the scariest part of the final descent!  At just a hair over 6 feet and about 195 pounds, I am about the maximum size for the keyhole.   We also made things much easier and safer by lowering our gear down with the rope, so we could all make the climb down unencumbered. 

The professor descending down the final climb below the keyhole.
Note:  the little bit of light near the top right of this photo is the keyhole opening

From the bottom of the keyhole route you can either jump in the awesome swimming hole at the base of Windy Falls, or stay a little dryer and head for the cave route.

 Wendy and Pamela heading through the cave to the base of Windy Falls

Once through the cave its an easy knee deep wade to the rocks which offer a great view of Windy Falls!

 Windy Falls

Jack at Windy Falls

The Professor gives Windy Falls a well deserved Two Thumbs Up!

Wendy at Windy

After a nice break at Windy Falls, we decided to continue our journey downstream.  Jack's route of choice required us to cross the Horsepasture River at the base of Windy Falls.  A good bit of teamwork was used to keep all our gear dry and prevent any of us from going on an unplanned swim!  The water currents here are much stronger than they appear!

Crossing the Horsepasture River at the base of Windy Falls

Windy Falls from the other side of the River

The next significant drop is Terrifying!    Terrifying Falls that is!  The waterfall itself is not really Terrifying, but the journey to get to it most definitely is!   Rumor has it that on a previous trip, The Badger (Thomas Mabry) was almost swept away to his death in an attempt to get to the base of Terrifying Falls!
Terrifying Falls

 Rhododendron Bloom at Terrifying Falls

To get here requires either a leap of faith from a slippery slope, or a traverse through a channel with surprisingly swift currents!

 Wendy Downstream from Terrifying Falls
That channel of water on the left side of this photo is surprisingly difficult to get across!

From there we continued downstream.  There are really no easy sections of this journey!

Scott gives Pamela a helping hand

Continuing downstream along the Horsepasture River

Next up is a multi-tiered cascade that Jack calls Wolverine Falls!

 Wolverine Falls
Pamela and Wendy at Wolverine Falls

Technically the river is split at this point and we were on an island.  The two channels join back together at the base of Rooster Tail Falls.  But first we would check out the smaller (River Left) channel which contains another waterfall called Hen Tail Falls.

 Upper Hen Tail Falls

It was a short but brutal bushwhack to get to the Lower Drop of Hen Tail Falls.  Fortunately this one has a nice swimming hole at the base which was very refreshing!
 Lower Hen Tail Falls

 Pamela and Scott swimming at the base of Lower Hen Tail Falls
Can you spot the heart above the two Lovebirds?

An even better swimming hole can be found at the base of Rooster Tail Falls!

 Rooster Tail Falls

 Wendy at Rooster Tail Falls

My photos do not really give a good sense of scale to this one.  So here is one of Wendy's shots of me swimming at the base!

Swimming at the base of Rooster Tail Falls

Up until this point it had been a bright and sunny day.  Not really optimal for waterfall photography, but essential to keeping the rocks dry for this type of adventure!  I was pleased to get a bit of cloud cover for a few long exposure photos of Rooster Tail Falls!

   Rooster Tail Falls

Unfortunately, along with the clouds came some Thunder Booms!  This is definitely not a place you want to be during a rainstorm.  If the skies did open up, we did not want to get caught in a flash flood or have to traverse across any wet sloping rocks.  Rather than head back the way we came, we decided the safest course of action wood be to head off into the woods and bushwhack upstream.

 The rains definitely did come, making our decision to bushwhack a very wise choice.  We rejoined the river just downstream from Windy Falls.  There was one slick section we had to get across where I lost my footing, almost lost my hiking pole, and came very close to going for an unintended swim!
Windy Falls from Downstream

We all made it safely across the tricky section and took the opportunity to photograph Windy Falls in better light than earlier.  The only challenge was fighting off the raindrops.

 Windy Falls

In a matter of seconds, the light rain turned into a torrential downpour, so I quickly packed my camera away and we continued on to our next challenge.

Here is Jack Buchanan's description of our climb back up from Windy Falls:

"Y'all let me tell you why it's good to hike with amazing friends and hikers. We were at Windy Falls when the sky opened up and it poured for a long time. Knowing we had to get back up and through the keyhole we just went for it! Scott Burns went up first and hauled up the soaked back packs by rope( those aren't light as anyone who hiked in the rain can tell you!) Got them as far as the keyhole then had to put them through the keyhole one by one.
Wendy went second and was nearly blinded by the pouring rain getting in and on her contacts. She got safely through. Remember this was Pamela's first time here so she went next through the rain(and I'm talking it was like someone was up there throwing buckets of water through the keyhole. Please know this isn't easy in perfect conditions! She made it through like a champ! Jack Thyen went next and carried up everyone who used ones hiking poles. It was s team effort! No one freaked out and no one panicked! We were all smiles throughout the day and stayed that way through this! It made for a truly epic adventure!"

The worst of the danger was past us, since we would stay far away from the open rock faces above Windy Falls on the hike out!  We were all a wet and muddy mess!  Fortunately the swimming hole I mentioned near the beginning of this post was waiting for us at the base of Campsite Falls!  This offered the perfect place to cool off an clean up before final climb back to the parking area.
Wendy at Campsite Falls

 Wendy, Jack, Scott, and Pamela by the great swimming hole at Campsite Falls

This was an awesome adventure and an overall perfect day!  It was great to finally meet "the other Jack", and really appreciated him leading us further down the Horsepasture than I have ever been!   While I have briefly met Wendy and a Team Waterfall Social Gathering, it was a pleasure to finally get to hike with her!

It is always a treat to be able to hook up with Scott for a hike and today was a double treat because I finally got a chance to meet his girlfriend Pamela, who is an absolute sweetheart!

The complete set of photos from our Horsepasture River Adventure is posted here: