Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Head for the Most Falls

Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area
Jones Gap State Park, SC
Sunday, May 23rd, 2010

Head for the most Falls!

The full set of Photos is posted here:

Andy, Boone, and I arrived at Jones Gap State Park at around 9:30am and hit the trail. After a short distance on the Jones Gap Trail, we turned right onto the Rainbow Falls Trail.

The Rainbow Falls Trail is the newest addition to the Mountain Bridge Wilderness trail system. It is a very well designed and built trail gaining a little over 1,000 feet of elevation over about 2.5 miles (including the short section of the Jones Gap Trail).

We made excellent time up the trail, passing several groups of people in hopes of arriving to the falls before the sun rose above the ridge. There are several nice smaller waterfalls and cascades along the way, but we elected to save those for another time as we had an aggressive agenda for the day .

Our timing was pretty good, but a half hour earlier would have been a little better. We had the falls to ourselves for a few minutes before some of the people we passed earlier started to arrive.

Rainbow Falls starts out with a ribbon of water freefalling about 100-ft, followed by a series of cascades below.  It had pretty good flow due to some storms that hit the area the day before.

Rainbow Falls

After photographing the Falls we decided it was time to continue on up the trail. The Rainbow Falls Trail officially ends at the base of Rainbow Falls; however there is another trail that comes done from Camp Greenville above, which we used to continue the hike.

Camp Greenville is private property, but as long as camp is not in session they usually are happy to allow public access to their trails. However, it is best to call ahead to make sure there is nothing going on that would cause them to close the trails to the public.

The trail from Rainbow Falls to Camp Greenville is very steep in spots and requires a good bit of scrambling. Andy had to give Boone a boost up some of the rocky scrambles. It eventually levels out and the last part up to the main road through the camp is much easier!

There are some other smaller waterfalls above the main drop including Shower Bath Falls, which can be accessed from Camp Greenville, but we also decided to save those for another time.

A short stroll down the road took us to Symmes Chapel which is well worth a visit. However, it was closed to the public today due to a private ceremony (most likely a wedding). Since we had both been there before and it was a very hazy day, we were not disappointed that we didn’t get to the chapel this Sunday.

Just before the gate to Symmes Chapel we turned off on a dirt road which would eventually connect us back to the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area trail system. Since we were now at above 3,000-ft (about 1,800 feet higher than when we started the hike), we noticed that it was a little cooler, the humidity wasn’t as bad, and there was a really nice breeze. The perfect spot to break for lunch!

After lunch was when the adventure would begin!

Our main goal for today’s hike was to do some off trail exploration of Headforemost Creek and hopefully find Headforemost Falls.

I am not aware of any current publication or website that mentions this waterfall. However, I do have an old, and out of print book called “150 South Carolina Waterfalls” by Ron Tagliapietra, where Headforemost Falls is listed. Based on the very vague directions, we were expecting that this would be a bushwhack.

We reached the intersection of the Cleveland Connector Trail and the Hospital Rock Trail, and continued East on the Hospital Rock Trail. Approximately 0.7 miles later we could hear Headforemost Creek to left, which was our sign to start looking for an old logging road on the right. (Note: if the trail crosses the creek, you have gone too far)

We were pretty sure we found the correct “old logging road”, which is now covered with about 75 years worth of forest growth. The contour of the road is still fairly obvious, however it was definitely a bushwhack. The sounds of the creek started getting louder so we figured we were on the right track.

When the old logging road started veering away from the creek, we decided to start following our instincts. We left the “road” and started heading steeply downhill. At times it seemed like we were following a faint path, at other times it was a pure bushwhack full of Poison Ivy, Briars, and Ticks!

We eventually made it to a fairly flat section of the creek and we both agreed that we were too far upstream. We took off downstream taking the path of least resistance. The Poison Ivy was really thick during this stretch. On top of that, Andy discovered a few ticks on him.

Andy is not a big fan of DEET, the main active ingredient in most bug sprays. I, on the other hand would rather expose myself to chemicals in hopes of warding off the ticks and mosquitoes. This hike definitely proved that DEET does work against ticks! Andy’s final tick count was reaching double digits while I only ended up finding one!

Bushwhacking downstream, the terrain started getting even steeper and down below we came upon the first significant drop on Headforemost Creek. We decided that this one was worth getting a closer look.

Foremost Cove Falls

This turned out to be a nice little waterfall!  My guess is that this is the waterfall the Ron Tagliapietra’s book refers to as Foremost Cove Falls, so that is what I am calling it.

Based on the amount of Poison Ivy we walked through I decided to remove my socks and boots and soak my legs in the nice cool pool of water at the base of the waterfall to hopefully wash off any Poison Ivy juice before it got a chance to soak into the skin. It seemed to have worked, because it is now two days later and still no sign of Poison Ivy rash! It’s not a big enough pool to swim in, but it was perfect for cleaning up a bit!

After my bath, I applied some additional DEET and we continued downstream. We passed by several other nice looking cascades and small waterfalls. I took a few quick shots of some of them, but didn't take the time to pull out the tri-pod.

Small Waterfall on Headforemost Creek

We eventually reached what had to be the brink of the main drop of Headforemost Falls! Continuing on any further downstream from here would be suicidal! It might be possible to head back away from the creek and find a safer descent through the forest, but at this point we also had to consider time, so we decided to turn back.

The Brink of Headforemost Falls

According to my altimeter, the Brink of the Falls is about 700-feet lower than the point at which we left the Hospital Rock Trail. We would now have to regain that elevation to get back to the main trail. Fortunately we had a better idea of where we were going and made much better time on the climb up. Andy did manage to trip over something and as he fell, he almost head-butted one of the biggest Black Snakes I have ever seen!

Black Racer Snake
Back on the main trail, the worst of the hike was over. It would all be downhill from here! At least that is what I kept saying, but they do manage to squeeze in a surprisingly large number of uphill sections during this mostly downhill stretch of trail! Plus my wrong turn didn’t help matters!

We were crawling though a bunch of deadfall complaining about the poor trail maintenance. I started looking for trail blazes and realized we hadn’t seen any for a while. That’s when we realized I made a wrong turn. Fortunately we didn’t go that far out of the way, but I just hate crawling through deadfall for no reason, especially when you end up crawling through the same stuff twice!

We discovered where we took the wrong turn and continued on the main trail. Our final stop of the day would be the spectacular Falls Creek Falls! While this 200-ft waterfall is definitely a sight to behold, it is impossible to get the whole thing in one shot, and very difficult to find a place to shoot without the constant waterfall spray!

Falls Creek Falls

We had to share our time there with a slightly annoying family who seemed to be taking turns walking in front of our cameras as we were trying to photograph the falls. I still managed to get a few good ones without any people in it.

Falls Creek Falls

It was closing in on 5:00pm and we still had about 1.7 miles of trail plus another 3.0 miles of road walking back to my truck at the Jones Gap State Park parking area.

With some of the longest days of the year, I wasn’t worried about running out of daylight; however I was getting worried that my wife would start worrying if she didn’t hear from me soon. Fortunately this is one of the few Wilderness Areas where you can actually get a cell signal. I am not a big fan of Cell Phones, but it was nice to be able to call Amy and inform her that I would be a late!

We made quick time on the last stretch of the trail, and even faster time once we got to the road walk part. The first part of the road walk is actually very pleasant. We did get delayed by a herd of roaming dogs that all had to introduce themselves to Boone and they all had to do a round of butt sniffing before we could move on.

We were also entertained by the sounds of 1970s disco music coming from one of the small homes and got a quick glimpse of a couple of Hippies gyrating to the tunes while frolicking in the creek!

Much earlier in the day on the drive in, as we turned off of US276 towards Jones Jap State Park, Andy pointed out the F-Mart and said he had heard they had really good hamburgers. It’s a pretty dumpy looking place, but I was getting pretty darn hungry. So during the last part of our road walk, I suggested that we grab a few burger from the F-Mart on the drive home.

Unfortunately the F-Mart was closed and possibly out of business. So we ended up stopping at the Citgo Station in Cleveland, SC to get our burger and fries fix. I have to say, that might have been the best gas station cheese burger I have ever had. Of course, I don't eat a whole lot of gas station cheeseburgers and I was hungry enough that just about anything would have tasted great!

Even though we didn’t accomplish our ultimate goal of reaching the base of Headforemost Falls, it was still a great hike. I had my doubts to begin with and was very satisfied we made it as far as we did. We explored a section of the creek and even found a significant waterfall that very few people have ever seen!

On the drive back to Spartanburg, we discussed another future attempt to get to the base of Headforemost Falls. Next time, we will start at the Falls Creek Falls trailhead and attempt to make our way from Falls Creek to Headforemost Creek. There also looks like there might be waterfall potential up Little Falls Creek. However, this future trip will most likely have to wait for cooler weather!

The Full set of Photos is posted here:


Anonymous said...

Nice job Jack. A couple of the best images I've seen to date of Rainbow and Falls Creek Falls. Especially liked the job you did with the mixed lighting on the first Rainbow falls shot. Excellent! I'd be in the hospital if I waded through poison ivey. I can get a rash just thinking about it.
Lonewolf Dave

HemlockMan said...

You told them how to get to the falls! What kind of waterfall guy are you??!! Get with the keep-it-a-secret program!

Cool snake photo!

I used to wade through poison ivy and never be bothered by it. But the last time I tangled with that stuff it really messed me up. For weeks.

Great waterfall trip!

~Christina~ said...

I am soooo jealous!! Right down to photographing that Racer snake! Great captures and editing...just beautiful!!

Jack said...

Thanks everyone! I got a real bad case of poison ivy several years ago. Since then, I haven't got any even though I know I've trekked through it on several occassions. It is probably becuase I know what to look for now and carefully try to avoid it as much as possible. Also, the trick about soaking your legs in the first creek you come to helps a bunch. Bob, I just can't get into the Keep it secret program!