Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Dennis Cove Camping Weekend August 7th-9th, 2009

Dennis Cove Camping Weekend
August 7-9, 2009
Carter County, TN
Jack, Andy & Boone

Warning: The following trip report and photo link contains images and descriptions of women in Bikinis. If this type of material offends you, don’t click on the following link and stop reading now.

Photos from our weekend are posted here:

Normally I don’t do a lot of camping in the heat of the summer, but when my buddy Andy threw out the idea of a camping weekend, I found myself in the mood for a weekend escape. Plus, it had been over a month since my last significant hike and I have never been to the area of Tennessee where we planned to camp.

Friday, August 7th, 2009

It was a slow day at work on Friday, and I was eager with anticipation, so around 2:00pm I scooted out the door and headed up to the Mountains of Tennessee. From Spartanburg, the Dennis Cove Campground is located about 120 miles up I-26 plus about 25 miles of back roads, making for a total drive of about 145 miles and about 2.5 hours.

It took me a little longer than that as I made a several stops along the way. I always top off the gas tank before leaving SC and this was the first time I have driven the new section of I-26 North of Asheville.

This is a very scenic section of highway and there are a couple of overlook pull-offs that I decided to check out. Some nice views, but with the humidity, my camera lens fogged up as soon as I took it from the cool and dry air-conditioned air inside my truck to the humid outdoors. Plus with the heavy haze in the air I decided to save any photos from the overlooks for another visit.

From I-26, my TomTom GPS led me through Johnson City and Elizabethtown, TN. This is a fine route if you need to stop at the Wal-Mart or get a hit of Fast Food before entering the wilderness. However, there were way too many slow drivers and traffic lights for my taste. In the future I would definitely recommend getting off I-26 a few exits earlier and taking a variety of back roads across to Hampton, TN.

I arrived at the campground around 4:45pm and took a few moments to scout it out. It is a small campground with only 15 sites, 10 of which were vacant upon my arrival. It’s a nice campground, almost all the sites are nicely shaded, and there is a fair amount of privacy space between most sites. There is a moderately clean bath house with both Men’s & Women’s flush toilets. There are no shower facilities and no water or electrical hookups at the individual campsites.

After walking around the campground, looking over all the available sites, and doing a little Kepner-Tregoe Decision Analysis Matrix in my head, I chose the site that I felt would best suit our needs.
Note: don’t worry if you don’t understand the Kepner-Tregoe reference. That will only make sense to a few readers!

After setting up my tent, I knew I still had about an hour before I expected Andy to arrive, so I took my camera and tri-pod and headed up the Laurel Fork Trail which leaves from the campground. I probably went about a mile before deciding to turn back. There are some nice river scenes, swimming holes, and small cascades, but nothing too exciting.

When I got back to camp, I popped open a FAB, pulled out my “Waterfalls of Tennessee” book by Gregory Plumb, and sat down to relax. I realized that if I would have continued up the Laurel Fork Trail just a little further I would have gotten to Dennis Cove Falls. I’ll just have to save that one for the next time I camp here.

At around 6:30pm Andy and Boone arrived. The three of us took a short walk up the same Laurel Fork Trail I just got back from, found a nice swimming hole and played throw the stick in the water with Boone.

We got back to camp and fired up Andy’s charcoal grill. Due to a very limited amount of lighter fluid and some questionable charcoal this took much longer than anticipated.

Several more FABs were consumed before the coals were finally hot enough to grill up my skewers of seasoned shrimp, pineapple, pearl onions, and mild-hot peppers. Andy grilled up some fresh corn on the cob to go along with the skewers and dinner was fabulous!

The rest of the evening was spent relaxing at the campsite while Andy told stories about his recent month long Alaskan adventure. A couple of swigs of a certain crystal clear elixir from the gods (courtesy of Amy’s Dad) certainly aided in Andy’s description of several Grizzly Bear encounters and a narrow escape from a glacier induced Tidal Wave!

I am sure there will be several entertaining trip reports and some awesome photos posted by Andy over the next few weeks from his Alaskan Adventures!

Saturday, August 8th, 2009
Elk Falls to Twisting Falls Exploratory Hike

I was awakened by Boone Barks coming from a nearby tent. Since I saw a hint of daylight, I didn’t bother trying to go back to sleep. Once I got up and started fiddling around the campsite, the Boone Barks got more and more frequent until finally Andy & Boone emerged from their tent.

After a quick camp stove breakfast, we hit the road. The plan for the day was an exploratory hike to see if it is possible to hike from Elk Falls (aka Big Falls) to Twisting Falls on the Elk River. We started our day of exploration with an exploratory drive. Andy wanted to see if you can get to the trailhead via back roads.

I suggested that since the road we were driving intersects the AT several times, why don’t we park there and connect to Elk Falls via the AT. This way would also take us past Jones Falls and save a little bit of drive time. Andy agreed that was a good idea, so that was our plan.

The National Geographic Trails Illustrated map we had was horrible when it came to the network of forest roads in the area. There were many more intersections and roads than the map was showing.

We never did find the spot where the AT crossed the road, but even if we did, I am not sure if there would have been a safe place to park the car. We did manage to find our way to US19, so it was back to Plan A, and on to the Elk Falls trailhead. While these back roads probably saved distance, they definitely did not save drive time! However, it was a more interesting drive and we did spot some wildlife along the way.

The hike to the very impressive Elk Falls is short, easy, and very popular. Fortunately we were there early enough that the crowds were not too thick. After snapping some shots, we continued on to the meat of our hike.

From Elk Falls, we connected with the Forest Road up the bank, and continued downstream. A short distance later we came to a spot where we had to cross the Elk River. It’s an easy ford, but unless you are Jesus or you are hiking with Moses, it is not possible to hike across without getting your feet wet.

This was new territory for both of us, so we weren’t sure what to expect. While the Trails Illustrated Map shows the road eventually ending, the USGS topo maps show the old road we were hiking continuing on all the way to and beyond the area of Twisting Falls. We were counting on the USGS topo maps being accurate even though they were created some 30 years ago.

A few areas were overgrown, but for the most part it was very easy to follow, and the old USGS topo map was dead-on accurate. This path zigzags back and forth across the Tennessee / North Carolina state line about 10 times following the elevation contour lines making for some easy hiking. It also crosses underneath a power line several times making it very easy to pinpoint exactly where we were on the map.

On the North Carolina Side, the trail does cross private property owned by the development company currently building “The Headwaters at Banner Elk” community. Fortunately there were not any No Trespassing signs posted or any other sign that hikers were not welcome. However, unless some conservancy organization steps in, this trail we were hiking will likely eventually become another upscale housing development.

While not the most exciting section of trail I have ever hiked, there was an impressive display of summer wildflowers. However, the big excitement of the hike was when we spotted the bear! At first I thought it was a dog way down the trail walking towards us. Just another friend for Boone to play with!

We quickly realized that it wasn’t a dog, but a baby black bear. It was small enough that I don’t think it posed much of a threat. However, baby bear cubs usually don't stroll around the forest alone. Mommy Bear was likely close by!

This was one of the rare times that we spotted the bear before he spotted us. We stopped for a second, but the cute little bear cub kept coming towards us looking down and sniffing the trail as he went. As soon as he looked up and spotted us, he did a 180 and quickly scampered down the bank away from the trail. This all happened too quickly for me to be able to get my camera out.

We were still worried about Mommy & Daddy bear as we did see some piles of bear crap much larger than the little bear cub could have produced. However, we never saw any adult bears or the baby cub again. Nothing like the Grizzly Bear Encounters Andy vividly described the night before!

Once we got close enough to hear the raging river down below we spotted an obvious side trail leading down the steep bank. It wasn’t the one that Andy had remember on his last hike coming from the opposite direction, but we figured it would be a short cut to Twisting Falls, so we took it.
After a descent of about 500-ft in elevation we arrived at the river just upstream from Twisting Falls. We knew there would be no safe way to get to the base from here and we would have to backtrack. However, it wasn’t a total waste as we were treated to a nice surprise little waterfall dropping from a feeder stream into the Elk River.
After some after hike research, I have concluded that the side path we took is the one that kayakers use to portage around Twisting Falls. I never could find if the waterfall we found on the feeder stream has a name. We were not looking forward to the steep climb back out, but I can imagine it would be even worse having to tote a Kayak up that steep trail!

Andy came up with the wonderful idea that instead of climbing all the way back up, we would take another faint side path we spotted about half-way down. That worked fine for a few minutes, but then the bushwhacking adventure began!

That was some tough going, but we eventually safely made it down to the base of Twisting Falls. I won’t be doing that bushwhack again, but I do regret not putting forth a little extra effort to try and find some spots to view some of the Upper Drops of Twisting Falls. As it is, we only got to see the Lower Drop.

I was really expecting Twisting Falls to be a secluded, not heavily visited waterfall that we would likely have to ourselves. I was dead wrong! Apparently this is a popular spot for the college kids to come play on a hot summer day.

We probably saw close to 50 people here, making it almost impossible to get any shots of the waterfall without people in them. I’ll definitely have to get back (taking the shorter route) early in the morning sometime to capture this one without the crowds.

There were several positive things about the crowd.
1. People give a nice sense of scale to the photos
2. It was entertaining watching people jump and slide down the falls.
3. I was able to experiment with my zoom lens using some of the bikini clad beauties as my photo subjects!

I felt like an old pervert as some of these women were young enough to be my daughter. But when a young and attractive women in a bikini steps out between my lens and a waterfall, what else could I do? There was no way to get a shot of the falls without them in my photo, so why not zoom in and experiment with distant close-ups on an attractive subject!

I decided that the best view of the Lower Falls would be from the other side of the river. My boots were already wet, so I headed across, slipped on a rock and fell into what seemed like a bottomless pool in the river.

I am a good swimmer, so I wasn't concerned about my safety, but my camera gear does not swim very well. As much as I tried to keep it above water, my camera gear was 100% submerged for at least a few seconds. While I would not call it waterproof, my camera bag succeeded in keeping things dry enough to prevent any damage during my unintentional swim.

I eventually found an easier spot downstream to cross, but there were still some tricky spots. I wouldn’t want to attempt the crossing with the river any higher than it was.

Most of the people sliding and jumping from the falls were using a rope to climb to the top of the lower drop. We weren’t about to attempt this, especially with our camera gear. But, as we were getting ready to head out, we saw some more bikini clad girls taking a side path and coming out at the top.

We were tempted to head back across the river to see if we could get to the upper drops that way, but decided to save it for another visit. Andy had Monday off from work and was planning to stay in the area. He said he might go back early Monday morning to check it out. Unfortunately, I already have plans to exceed my vacation allotment for the year and just couldn't take Monday off. I will be curious to find out if Andy made it and had any luck!

We took the main trail that 99% of people use to climb out of the gorge. While still very very steep, it was much easier going than the bushwhack we used on our approach!

If you plan to visit Twisting Falls (which I highly recommend) you will most likely want to go via this shorter route. It is less than a mile hike, but you descend a good 700-feet in elevation over that mile, which means that you will have to climb that same 700-feet of elevation on the way out!

The return hike was uneventful and much quicker. At one point we did hear some cascades way down below and decided to check out one more side path, but this quickly fizzled out an neither of us was in the mood to do any more bushwhacking.

We also planned to visit Jones Falls if there was time, but we just didn't feel up for it. We probably hiked about 12 miles. Although most of it was very easy, the two very steep climbs out of the gorge and the tedious bushwhacking drained our energy. We figured at this point we needed to restore our carbohydrate level with some FABs at the campsite.

Since we were both very rank after hiking and bushwhacking on one of the hottest days of the summer and the campground did not have showers, we made another stop at the end of the hike to take a swim at the base of Elk Falls. The water was cool, but very refreshing!

We stayed on the main paved roads on the drive back so we could stop and buy some lighter fluid and so Andy could replenish his FAB supply.

Back at camp we fired up the charcoal grill and Andy threw on some Grill Cajun Chicken, a couple of baked potatoes, and some fresh corn. We both must have been real hungry, because after all that I threw on a couple of burgers for dessert which we also consumed in near record time!

Sunday, August 9th, 2009
Appalachian Trail from Dennis Cove to Laurel Falls

I wanted to get back home at a reasonable time so I could wind down a little before starting the work week. But I still wanted to get another hike in so we planned a short half-day hike along the AT to visit Laurel Falls.

This was the first time in several years that I went camping and it didn't rain. It sure was nice to be able to pack things up and know I didn't have to unpack it all again when I got home to let it all dry out!

After packing up camp, we drove about a mile up the road from the campground to the AT parking area.

This is a pleasant and easy stroll along an old railroad grade, with some very interesting stone work left over from the old railroad days. A neat little bridge crosses the Laurel Fork River which continues on the twist and turn around Potato Top Mountain.

We decided to take the short but steep unmarked side trail up to the summit of Potato Top. There are some views, but nothing spectacular. Andy remembered the views being better, but I guess the trees and shrubs around the summit of Potato Top of grown a little since his last visit. It was still interesting enough to be worth the climb.

A short distance past Potato Top the AT leaves the main railroad grade and descends very steeply to the base of Laurel Falls. The railroad grade does continue on offering up an alternative Route for AT hikers during times of high water as the lower section of trail is subject to frequent flooding.

Wow! Laurel Falls is a nice one! The only problem was the bright sun made photography a little challenging. I few light clouds did pass by every now and then giving a brief window of opportunity for a few decent photos.

After a nice break, we continued down stream along a very interesting section of creek side trail before intersection with and returning back on the High Water route making a little Lolly-Pop Loop.

We though about trying to find another waterfall that is supposedly upstream from Laurel Fork Falls. We saw a few spots were we might have been able to safely bushwhack back down to the river, but decided to save that for another day.

The drive home was uneventful. I did decide to try an alternate route avoiding Elizabethtown and Johnson City by taking Hwy 361 & Hwy 359 across to I-26. This route was no further distance-wise and there were no traffic lights, making it a much better route.

It was a great weekend!

Additional Photos are posted here:

1 comment:

HemlockMan said...

Great trip report!

You can NEVER get enough photos of bikini-clad co-eds, dude!