Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Spider Web

I was roaming around my yard this afternoon looking for a photo oppurtunity.  The original plan was to head down the little path at the back of our yard which leads to a small stream at the edge of our property.  I didn't make it that far as a Spider Web blocked the path.  I liked the way the sunlight was reflecting on the web, so I took a few shots.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Steels Creek Adventure

Pisgah National Forest, Grandfather Ranger District
Burke County, NC
Saturday, August 28th, 2010

Photos are posted here:


On page 94 of Kevin Adam's, "North Carolina Waterfalls" book is a listing for Steels Creek Falls. For years I have been meaning to make a visit to this waterfall on the way to one of my twice a year camping weekends in Mortimer, NC.

Since the hike is listed at 0.89 miles, I always figured it would only take me an hour or two to check this one out. After Andy suggested this area for a day hike this weekend, I visited Waterfall Rich's website, and decided that this is not be one to tackle on a solo trip.

This adventure should be done in the summer on a day with no chance of rain following several rain free days. You do not want to attempt this when the creek is up and/or the rocks are wet! Saturday's conditions seemed perfect for this, so I agreed to join Andy for this hike.

I met Andy and Boone in Morganton, NC and rode with Andy the remaining 20-miles to the trailhead. Detailed directions to the trailhead can be found using either of the excellent resources listed above.

Boone fetching a stick in Steels Creek

 The hike starts out on an easy wide track trail. After about a quarter mile we reached a nice little cascade with a great swimming hole at the base. There was even a rope swing tied to one of the trees. Note: you won't catch me swinging into a creek on one of these. The last time I used a rope swing I ended up in an emergency room with over 20 stitches; but that is another story.

Cascade along Steels Creek (note the rope swing hanging from the top of the photo)

We knew we wanted to connect to the Mountains-to-Sea Trail on the other side of the creek, so we got our feet wet for the first time and crossed over above the cascades. You could probably find a way across by rock hopping, but since we came prepared for and knew that we would be spending a lot of time in the creek, we got the first plunge out of the way early.

To the left, the MTS trail heads South West into the Linville Gorge Wilderness towards Table Rock Mountain. We took it to the right (North) following Steels Creek upstream. The easy way to go would be to stick to the trail, but we could see the creek through the trees and wanted to see everything this section of Steels Creek had to offer.

For the most part we stayed in the creek for the next half mile. We did take to the trail a couple of times when there was no safe way to get around the occasional obstacle. We stopped at several nice cascades and small waterfalls. At one of the earlier cascades Andy accidently dropped his polarizing filter into the creek never to be seen again. He blamed it on Boone!

Cascades along Steels Creek

After about 0.75 miles we reached another great swimming hole! The entire creek volume gets squeezed through a narrow crevice in the rock and empties into this awesome spot. My photos to not do justice to this spot! It is much more impressive in person.

Awesome Swimming Hole on Steels Creek

Here, we ran across two young guys (probably college kids) who were camping near the swimming hole. They mentioned some awesome waterfalls upstream. Of course we knew that already because that is why we were here!

We decided to try heading up the left side of the creek. We found a very steep, but obvious path that kept taking us higher and higher. We could see some impressive whitewater down below through the trees, but saw no safe way down. We knew we would eventually end up back at the MTS trail and could get to the main waterfall the way we were going, but we wanted to see as much of the creek as possible.

So we backtracked back down and talked to the two guys we saw earlier. They recommended heading up the right side of the creek. So we found a faint path up through the woods to the right and soon worked our way back down to the creek and found this nice little cascade.

Cascades along Steels Creek

We continued upstream to a nice little waterfall. It was here that I fell on my butt for the first of what would be many times today! In fact, I hit the deck twice in the same spot! Those rocks are slick! I gave up trying to get the angle I wanted and settled for this shot.

Small Waterfall on Steels Creek

From here things got a little tricky! To the right of the waterfall is a cave you can climb through to get above the waterfall and on to the next series of drops. A handy rope hangs down and I made it up quickly and without any problems. However, there was no way that Boone would be able to make it through and up through the cave.

Andy and Boone went to find an alternate way up through the woods. I figure it must have been tough going for them, because I spent about 45 minutes at this next multi-tiered cascade before Andy and Boone eventually joined back up with me.

Cascades along Steels Creek

I was passing the time by posing Iggy on some rocks in front of the falls. The first thing Boone did when he emerged from the forest is he grabbed Iggy in his mouth and dropped him in the creek for a swim! Good thing Iggy floats or he might have ended up with Andy’s polarizing filter!

Iggy on the rocks (bottom of photo)

Continuing upstream we passed another nice cascade before getting within sight of the main attraction!

Cascade along Steels Creek

Continuing on to the main waterfall required crawling hands and knees up a slick and sloped rock face covered with thick patches of stinging Nettles. Unlike poison ivy, stinging nettles don't usually cause long term effects, but in the short term they sure were annoyingly itchy!

Usually, the first thing I do when I arrive at a waterfall is go for the camera! In this case the first thing I did was hit the cool swimming hole at the base of the falls to hopefully wash the sting away!

Me cooling off below Steels Creek Falls

Feeling refreshed and with the sting of the Nettles subsided; we decide to make this our main break spot for the day, so we could take our time photographing the main Waterfall on Steels Creek and enjoy our lunch.

Steels Creek Falls

The two guys we ran into earlier soon showed up. There is no way I would attempt to climb up either side of this waterfall! However, in bare feet these two guys scaled a 25-foot high 70-degree sloped rock wall to the top like it was nothing! Then one of them proceeded to do something even more insane!

Steels Creek Falls (note the two guys on top of the rocks)

He leaped off the boulder and plunged 25-feet into the pool below. I was quick with the camera and snapped off a series of shots.

Getting ready to jump

In the Air

Watch out for that rock!

He is OK - Just Insane!

Can you say Crazy! There is only about a 5-foot radius where you can safely land in the water, but oh so much could have gone wrong.

There was one more series of falls just upstream from the main drop that we wanted to check out. But neither Andy nor I is crazy enough to attempt to scale this one. So we bushwhacked up through the woods and connected with the MTS trail. From there we found a short side path to the upper drop.

Upper Steels Creek Falls

After about 4 hours, we had covered only about one mile of the creek. We decided we wanted to get a little actual hiking in, so we continued up the MTS trail about another half mile. We had planned to go further, but the trail started a series of switchbacks up hill.

According to the map, the trail should be following the creek. So why the switchbacks? We could clearly hear the creek down below and caught a glimpse of white through the trees. Obvious signs of a pretty good drop. Nothing we had previously read, heard, or seen led us to believe there were any more significant drops along this section of creek. So we decided to check it out.

I suggested that we backtrack down to the creek and head upstream. But Andy’s idea was to bushwhack down through the forest directly towards the action. Andy decision cost him dearly as he took an awkward step, slipped, and a loud crack was heard.

His beloved walking stick that has been with him since his college days had snapped.

Despite that, we eventually made it down to the creek below some huge boulders. A little more rock scrambling and creek walking and we were in sight of our big surprise of the day.

Downstream from "Screaming Right Hand Turn Falls"

A 30-40 foot sliding waterfall like this would usually be considered nice, but fairly unremarkable and not really worth the effort to get to. However, this one has a unique feature that in my opinion makes it a really cool spot!

Screaming Right Hand Turn Falls

At the base of the slide, the creek takes a 90 degree right turn through a narrow channel of rock. Since we have no idea if this waterfall has a name, Andy decided to call it, "Screaming Right Hand Turn Falls".

Screaming Right Hand Turn Falls

While I am sure others have been here, neither Andy nor I can find any reference or photos of this waterfall in any publication or anywhere on the web.

Looking on Google Earth, I can clearly make out "Screaming Right Hand Turn Falls", and it appears that there are a few more drops just upstream, so another exploration hike will definitely be required!

Rather than heading back up the trail the way we came down, we decided to stick to the creek. This proved to be a much easier way to go, and Andy with his broken hiking stick regretted not following my earlier suggestion.

Here is the best way to visit "Screaming Right Hand Turn Falls".

After the MTS trail passes the upper drops of the main Steels Creek waterfalls, continue on the trail for about another half mile. Just before the switchbacks begin, there is an obvious campsite. This is the best spot to head towards the creek. Once at the creek, make your way upstream using the path of least resistance.

For the return to Andy's vehicle, we stayed on the MTS trail the whole way. We spent about 6 hours exploring Steels Creek on the way upstream, but we made it back in less than an hour. The only eventful part of the hike back was just as we encountered a group of hikers, one of the young women in the group started screaming!

Now, I know I was all dirty from a day of bushwhacking and creek walking, but I didn’t think I was that scary. Turns out she saw a small and harmless snake at the exact same time we ran into them.

Total distance traveled was probably only about 4 miles, but it felt like a 15-mile day!

It was a great day to be outside and this turned out to be one of my more enjoyable adventures! Thanks Andy for talking me into this one!

My full set of photos is posted here:

Sunday, August 29, 2010

A few more photos from Saturday's Adventure!

Me at Steels Creek Falls

Butterfly on a Cardinal Flower

Steels Creek Falls


Iggy and a Mushroom

Andy at Screaming Right Hand Turn Falls

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Screaming Right Hand Turn Falls

The two ultimate resources for North Carolina Waterfalls (in no particular order) are:

1.  Waterfall Rich of http://www.ncwaterfalls.com/
2.  Kevin Adam, Photographer and Author of "North Carolina Waterfalls"

It is quite an accomplishment and honor to find a waterfall in North Carolina that neither of these two men have been to.  Today I believe was one of those days.

I know that both have been close, because Andy and I used directions from both Rich's website and Kevin Adams book to find the main waterfall we visited today.

However, I don't think either of them have made it to this one. 

Screaming Right Hand Turn Falls

Since we had no prior knowledge of this waterfall, we have no idea if it has a name. Andy decided to call it "Screaming Right Hand Turn Falls", because after the waterfall slides down the rock, it makes a 90-degree turn down a narrow channel.

I kind of liked the name.  It reminds me of something Kayakers would name a waterfall.  However, I don't know any Kayakers who would be crazy enough to run this!

Photographic Conditions weren't great with the sun shining directly on the falls and Andy's polarizing filter somewhere downstream in the creek, but it was a really cool waterfall!

Screaming Right Hand Turn Falls

Andy at Screaming Right Hand Turn Falls

Andy and I had a great hike!  Well more like a great bushwhack / creek walk / rock scramble.  We might have covered 4 miles in a total of about 7 hours.  I took about 500 photos!  I'll post a few more shots tomorrow and hopefully get the trip report posted on Monday.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Something Yellow!

Something Yellow
This is the theme of one of my Yahoo Photography Groups Monthly photo contest.  I am sure I could dig through my archives and find many good photos that fit this theme.  But, in the spirit of the competition, the photo submitted should be taken this month.

Yesterday while mowing the lawn, I spotted some yellow flowers growing.  I am not sure what type they are.  Heck, they could be weeds for all I know, but they definitely fit the theme.  So today I went back for a closer look:

I still got a hike tomorrow and a few more days to come up with something better, but for now this will do.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Another Attempt at HDR

All the photos I posted from this past weekends camping trip to Grandfather Mountain have been with minimal editing.

However, I decided to take on of the shots and go in a little deeper with HDR (High Dynamic Range).

Here are the (3) original exposures:

Normal Exposure



By using HDR editing, my goal was to combine the three images bringing out the best features of each image.  Basically, I wanted the detail of the rock and foliage from the overexposed image, and the sky from the underexposed image.

I played around with a few other adjustments until I got the result I was after:

A little HDR magic

I am not a big fan of going too far with HDR and making the scene look un-natural.  I think this turned out more natural looking than my first attempt at HDR.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Day 3 - Grandfather Mountain 2010 Camera Clinic

Grandfather Mountain 2010 Camera Clinic

Day 3 - Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

Day 3 Photos:

Sometime during the night at least one heavy rain shower fell from the sky ensuring that we would all be packing up wet camping gear. Fortunately, the rain had stopped by the time I exited my tent in the morning.

The thick morning fog left little hope of a sunrise, but since I guessed wrong about the previous evening’s sunset, Andy and I decided to drive up the mountain.

Foggy Grandfather Mountain

No luck! In addition to the fog, the top of Grandfather Mountain also featured an intense wind. I am not exaggerating when I estimate wind speeds of 70mph! Any attempt at photography in this would be futile!

Andy attempting to take a photo in 70mph winds

So instead of a sunrise, we got our gear all packed up, cooked up a little breakfast, and headed on to the first presentation of the morning.

Photographer Carl Galie, was giving a presentation about his book, “175 Paces”

The concept behind this photo book was to focus on a small, uncelebrated piece of land located at the edge of a trailer park in the middle of nowhere, and make a book full of beautiful photographs. 175 paces represent the length of the property he had to work with. It was an interesting concept and presentation.

During the break between presenters, I made a quick visit to the animal habitats for a few more photos:

Golden Eagle

River Otter

Family of Deer

Bill Fortney was my favorite presenter from Saturday and today he would be the final speaker of the 2010 Camera Clinic. The topic was “Storytelling your adventures through photography”. Since sharing my photography and adventures is one of the things I really enjoy about this hobby, I didn’t want to miss this one.

By noon, that 2010 Grandfather Mountain Camera Clinic was over. I was tempted to either get another hike in while I was at Grandfather Mountain or check out a few more sights on the way home. But in the end, my yearning to get home to my wife (and into the shower) after several days in the woods won out.

Overall, I am definitely glad I signed up for the 2010 Grandfather Mountain Camera Clinic! I had a great time, got some good photos, and got inspired by the work and words of others. Spending a weekend camping is one of the things I enjoy most, even though it rains on me every time!

I definitely plan on being back next year for the 2011 Grandfather Mountain Camera Clinic!

The full (but small) set of photos from Day 3 is posted here:

And for those of you that might have missed it:
Day 1 Blog Post
Day 1 Photos

Day 2 Blog Post
Day 2 Photos

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Day 2 - Grandfather Mountain 2010 Camera Clinic

Grandfather Mountain 2010 Camera Clinic

Day 2 - Saturday, August 21st, 2010

Day 2 Photos:

Once I heard others starting to stir about the campsite and saw a bit of daylight peaking through my tent, I decided to head up the mountain to catch a sunrise. There was significant cloud cover, so I really didn’t expect much. In addition to the clouds, I passed Dave driving in the opposite direction down the mountain and I figured that was a bad sign.

Dave got up well before sunrise and had eventually given up on the morning's display of light. I got there just in time for the sun to make a brief appearance through the clouds for a total of about 30 seconds.

Grandfather Mountain Sunrise

Turns out that would be the last of the sun I would see all day!

Morning Light at Grandfather Mountain
I liked the way the clouds formed around MacRae peak to the left of this photo

It wasn’t a spectacular sunrise, but it was good enough that I am glad I got up early. I also got a few good shots of some Deer on the side of the road during the drive back down to the campsite.

Deer on the side of the Road

I returned to camp and fixed myself some breakfast. After breakfast Johnny and I decided to go for a hike, but first I had to help Johnny find his glasses. I found them laying on the ground next to the pile of rocks that Johnny tripped and fell over the previous evening.

Our hike plan was to do a Lollipop loop along the Grandfather and Underwood Trails, summiting MacRae Peak along the way. This was actually the first hike I ever did after moving to the Carolinas back in 1999 and I was looking forward to doing it again.

By the time Johnny and I arrived at the Trailhead, we were surrounded by thick fog. It was obvious that there would not be any distant views today. Fortunately I enjoy hiking through fog, so it should still be an enjoyable hike.

Me taking a break along the Grandfather Trail

The Grandfather Trial is sometimes referred to as the “Chutes and Ladders Trail” for obvious reasons.

Lots of Ladders up the Mountain

While the many ladders, ropes, and bright blazes do take away from the true wilderness experience, this terrain would not be safe without them. Plus, they make for a very interesting hike! I ended up with about 50 photos of Johnny climbing up and down various chutes and ladders.

Johnny climbing a Ladder

Johnny Playing Chutes and Ladders

The Summit of MacRae Peak is only about a mile hike from the trailhead. To give an idea of how rugged this trail is; that mile hike took almost 2 hours, which is about 5 times slower than my normal hiking pace.

At the summit we could see absolutely nothing but fog and the rock below our feet, so we stuck around just long enough for Iggy to crawl out of my pack and pose next to the MacRae Peak Summit Marker.

Iggy at the Summit of MacRae Peak

The return hike down the Underwood Trail was definitely easier, but still no walk in the park! While not as many as the Grandfather Trail, the Underwood Trail still had its share of “Chutes and Ladders”

Johnny on top a ladder on the Underwood Trail

The nice thing about this hike is that I can do it again on a clear day and it will be an entirely different experience. Hopefully we will have clearer weather next year!

It started to drizzle during the tail end of our hike and it became a steady rain once we returned to the campground to fix up some lunch.

There is a running joke amongst some of my hiking groups that it always rains when I go camping. Over my past 20 camping trips, I can only remember one camping weekend when we didn’t get any rain. It doesn’t make a difference what the weather forecast calls for; the rain will come once I pitch my tent.

We were thankful for the canopies that Dave and Susan brought along, even if Dave’s canopy had the Clemson Tigers logo all over it.

The rain canopy I brought was useless. The last time I had it out, I was too lazy to try and get the cover back in the bag with the frame, forgot the cover wasn’t in the bag, and therefore ended up only bringing the frame.

I also forgot to bring camp chairs, but fortunately Johnny brought a couple of extras. That’s one of the nice things about camping with larger groups, if you forget something; chances are someone else with have you covered!

Dave’s brother Gary arrived on his Harley during one of the heavier periods of rain, and the final arrival of the weekend was Andy.

Despite the rain, Andy and I decided to get a hike in. We chose the Black Rock Trail, a one mile out and back hike (2 miles round trip). We elected to bring umbrellas in place of hiking poles.

One of the highlights of this trail is Arch Rock, a natural bridge formed by a stream eroding through the rocks over millions of years.

Arch Rock on the Black Rock Trail

An impressive view awaits at the end of the trail and the fog had actually lifted very briefly for us.

View from the end of the Black Rock Trail

Andy climbing up to another viewpoint

As we were nearing the end of our hike, the skies opened up again. You would think I would be happy to have an umbrella, but it turns out an umbrella does little good while hiking through thickets of Rhododendron!

We were both all wet and muddy and had no time to clean up and dry off before the first presentation of the day.

Bill Fortney works for Nikon and gets paid to travel across the country giving photography presentations and leading photography workshops. What an awesome Job! He showed some of his amazing work, gave us a few tips, and kept us entertained for a little over an hour.

Next up was a break for dinner which was an all you can eat buffet consisting of fried chicken, baked chicken, shredded pork BBQ, veggies, rolls, and an assortment of desserts.

Andy and I strategically got to the front of the Buffet line. The Fried Chicken was the highlight of the meal. I thought about going back for another piece, but there was still a good line of people who had yet to eat. Instead we used the remaining dinner break time to take a stroll through the animal habitats.

Black Bear

I got some good shots of the Bears, Deer, and Golden Eagle; but the Cougars and Otters were all hiding.

Nice Rack on this Buck

Golden Eagle

The next presenter of the evening was Doug Brewer.  In addition to sharing some of his awesome photography, his very unique sense of humor and style kept us entertained for the next hour.

This was actually the perfect time to be sitting inside, because we could hear a monsoon of rain pounding on the auditorium roof.

The final presenter of the evening was William Bake who recently completed a year long photography project for the Blue Ridge Parkway Association. He spent about 45 minutes sharing photos from all along the parkway and the stories behind them.

The rain had stopped, but the fog was as thick as pea soup. Our original plan was to head up the mountain for a sunset, but Andy and I were both in agreement that there would be nothing to see and instead elected to head back down to the campground and commence to drinking.

That was my biggest regret of the whole weekend. It turns out that the top of the mountain peaks were poking up into another world above the fog! We could only kick ourselves as some of the others came back and gave us a preview of what we missed on their LCD camera screens!

Above the Clouds
Photo by Joe Rone

Here is a link to Joe’s shots to get an idea of what I missed

For the second night in a row, we had a very enjoyable evening around the campfire. Since we were one of the only groups that actually had a fire (Thanks to Susan), we had several other visitors show up to hang out around our fire throughout the evening.

We all retired to our tents around midnight in hopes that a beautiful sunrise would await us the next morning.

To be continued....
Day 3 coming soon

The full set of photos from Day 2 is posted here:

And for those of you that might have missed it:
Day 1 Blog Post

Day 1 Photos