Sunday, January 31, 2010

Caroline's Christening
Sunday, January 24th, 2010

Last weekend Amy and I went up to Chapel Hill, NC to be Godparents at our niece Caroline's Christening.  Photos are posted here:
http://family.webshots.com/album/576501946lwUrgs

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Catawba Falls and Montreat

McDowell County, NC
Monday, January 18th, 2010

Just follow Spot!



Photos are posted here:
http://outdoors.webshots.com/album/576402864JlSZiV

Thanks to Martin Luther King, I ended up with the day off on Monday. I decided to show my appreciation for Dr. King by going hiking. Since the US Postal Service was also closed, my mailman hiking buddy Bob decided to join me as well.

After tossing around several ideas, we decided on Catawba Falls, near Old Fort, NC since neither of us had ever been there before.

We agreed to meet at the McDonalds in Old Fort at 9:00am. As usual, we were both early and each of us showed up at around 8:30am. After a quick McMuffin cholesterol boost, we drove in tandem a few miles down the road to the trailhead.

Directions to the trailhead can be found on Waterfall Rich’s website:
http://www.ncwaterfalls.com/catawba1.htm

For many years the trail to Catawba Falls crossed private property and the only reasonable way to visit the waterfall was to blatantly violate obvious No Trespassing signs. Fortunately this private property went up for sale several years ago and the “Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina” immediately stepped up to acquire the land.

http://files.wncoutdoors.info/CatawbaFallsTrailAccessRelease.pdf

The trail has recently been officially opened up to the public.


The Catawba River at the trailhead
We were the only vehicles at the trailhead and were greeted almost immediately by Spot, the resident trail guide. Spot volunteers his time to lead daily hikes to Catawba Falls. In return all he expects is a rub on the head and possibly a few bites of your sandwich.


Bob and Spot Leading the Way
So after gathering our gear, we followed Spot down the trail. Bob and I were surprised by how cold it was and how much snow was still on the ground. With temperatures forecasted in the 60s we were expecting a relatively warm hike, but things were definitely a little chilly starting out. The last thing we wanted to do was get our feet soaked!

Spot didn’t mind the cold water and lead the way across to the other side of the Catawba River. According to Rich’s directions, we should be able to rock hop across. That is unless the River is up. After a very wet winter season, a good shower the previous day, and loads of snow melt, the river was definitely up. There was no way we would be able to cross without getting our feet wet.

A less obvious trail continued upstream on our side of the river, so we followed it through the Rhododendrons. Spot backtracked through the water again to rejoin us. This trail ended up at some neato ruins from a 1920s era Hydro Electric facility. While interesting to check out, these ruins would not help us get across the river.

Fortunately we spotted where a large Hemlock Tree had fallen across the river. We used the tree as a balance beam and made our way across staying 100% dry for now. However, we knew there were (2) more crossings to come. We picked up the main trail and Spot took the lead again.



Bob crossing the Catawba River

Even with the high water levels, we did not have any problems rock hopping across the 2nd crossing (Clover Patch Branch). The trail crosses over Clover Patch Branch at a scenic little spot. A small cascade is located just above the trail, and immediately downstream is a slightly larger cascade.

A short distance later is an old dam (more remains from the 1920s hydro-electric facility) where the entire volume of the Catawba River is squeezed through a small hole in the dam, plunging down and forming an impressive waterfall. We noticed a side trail that appeared to lead towards the base of this waterfall, but decided to save that until the way back. I wanted to get to the main attraction (Catawba falls) before the sun climbed too high above the ridgeline.



Bob at the old Hydro Electric Dam

By the time we got to the third crossing (Chestnut Branch), we could see Catawba Falls through the trees. For the second time of the day, we used a downed Hemlock as a balance beam to get across Chestnut Branch. While it’s horrifying to see the devastation that the Woolly Adelgid has done to the Hemlock population, these downed giants sure came in handy today!

Catawba Falls is very impressive and well worth the hike! But we wanted more! Rich, Andy, KT, and several others who have ventured on have all said that Upper Catawba Falls is a must see! However, Andy also mentioned that trying to make it to the Upper Falls during icy conditions would be “suicidal”!



Jack at Catawba Falls

That warning did not stop Bob as he continued on up the trail. I backtracked to retrieve my pack before following in Bob’s footsteps. I wanted I place to put my tri-pod as I figured I would need both hands for the climb ahead! Plus, I had my Yak Trax in my pack just in case I needed them.

The unofficial trail to the Upper Falls leads steeply up alongside the main falls and offers several additional viewpoints. The trail was definitely as steep as Rich and Andy had described. The ice and hard-packed snow certainly didn’t help matters. There are definitely spots where you need to use all fours; grabbing on to trees, roots, and rocks as you make your way up the mountain.



Catawba Falls

A handy rope was tied off at one particularly steep area which definitely helped out. Spot was choosing to avoid the rope climb and instead crawled up through the heavy brush alongside us.

No doubt about it; this is a tough climb, but Upper Catawba Falls was worth every bit of effort it took to get there! This is truly one of the most amazing waterfalls anywhere and is now one of my all time favorites! Spot cooled off by taking a swim in the pool at the base of Upper Catawba Falls. If it was summer, I would have joined him!

The only problem with Upper Catawba Falls is that the spray from the waterfall is intense, making it almost impossible to snap a photo without getting water droplets on your lens. Especially if you are trying to use a slow shutter speed to obtain that silky water effect! Most of my shots did not come out very good due to the unwanted water droplet on lens effect. However, I did manage to get a few keepers.



Upper Catawba Falls

The climb down is actually tougher than the climb up! I decided to slip on my Yak Trax to help out on the icy sections. I am not sure why I didn’t put them on earlier in the hike! They definitely make a huge difference when it comes to traction on ice!

We returned back the way we came, taking our time to check out several other cascades and small waterfalls along the way, including the short side trail to the base of the waterfall below the dam.


Waterfall below the Old Hydro Electric Dam

Despite passing several other groups of hikers on the way back, Spot stayed by our side all the way back to our vehicles at the trailhead. I gave him a little pat on the head before leaving him to lead the next group of hikers on to Catawba Falls.



Since Catawba Falls is a relatively short hike of about 3 miles round trip (closer to 4 miles if you include the scramble climb to the Upper Falls), there was still plenty of time left in the day for another hike.

One place that I’ve wanted to check out for a while is the Montreat network of trails. A nice map and trail descriptions can be found here:

http://www.montreat.org/programs/wilderness

Using this information you can create a hike of just about any length and difficulty. I selected the Lookout Trail, but managed to make a wrong turn on the drive to the trailhead and ended up on Appalachian Way.

The goal for this afternoon was just to get a feel for the area. Therefore, it didn’t really matter what trails we hiked. Since this is where my wrong turn put us, we started our hike up the Appalachian Way Trail.

Despite all the snow still on the ground, the temperature was well into the 60s by now. After a good bit of elevation gain, we were warmed up enough to remove our jackets and zip-off pant legs. This would prove to be a mistake!

We had several options at the end of the Appalachian Way Trail and decided to hike the East Ridge Trail up and over the Summit of Brushy Mountain. This trail proved to be in horrible condition!

The shady side of the mountain was still covered with several inches of snow with drifts of over a foot deep. The snow really wasn’t much of an issue. The big problem was the huge amount of deadfall along the entire route. The winter storms have wrecked havoc on this trail system. I regretted removing my pant legs because the deadfall and briars where wrecking havoc on my bare legs!


Bob along the snow covered trail


We eventually made it to the summit of Brushy Mountain where we stopped for a late lunch. It was here that Bob realized he lost his cell phone. He though he lost it when removing his pant legs, or possibly somewhere back along the Catawba Falls trail.

So we cut our hike shorter than planned and returned to the Appalachian Way Trail via the Old Mitchell Toll Road. We thought this would be an easier route, but the deadfall along this trail was just as bad, if not worse than the East Ridge Trail. By now, I had a significant amount of blood running down my legs from various cuts.

We made it back to the spot where we removed our legs earlier, but Bob’s cell phone was not there. I even gave it a ring to see if it would call out to us from under a pile of leaves or from within a snow drift. No luck! Maybe Bob left it in his truck?

So we returned back to our vehicles. No cell phone to be found. Bob was planning to retrace his steps back at Catawba Falls. To me that sounded like searching for a needle in a haystack. And since my color-blind eyes would be absolutely no help in finding the red cell phone holster, we parted ways.

One the drive home, my cell phone rings. It was Bob! It turns out that Spot led him about half-way up the Catawba Falls Trail right to his cell phone!


Our Hero - Spot!
Additional photos from our hike are located here:
http://outdoors.webshots.com/album/576402864JlSZiV

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Larry and Kristi’s Wedding
Saturday January 16th, 2010

This past Saturday, my wife Amy performed her first ever wedding ceremony for her best friend Kristi! And I officially photographed my first wedding!



Amy and her best friend Krisi


It was by no means a formal wedding, as this will be the third or forth marriage for both the bride and the groom, but I still wanted to do a good job.

Since the wedding was in the evening and indoors, I needed to rely on a flash more than I normally like to. I was happy with most of the shots, however I didn’t get as many from the actual ceremony as I would have liked. I believe Amy may have performed the fastest wedding ceremony ever!

I also didn’t get what I consider to be a really good Bride & Groom shot of just the two of them together.

Larry and Kristi

I have no desire to ever become a professional wedding photographer, but if I am ever asked to help a friend or family member save a bunch money by having me photograph their wedding, I would like to perform to the best of my abilities! Therefore any comments and/or advice is appreciated!

Larry and Kristi’s Wedding Photos:
http://community.webshots.com/album/576399889aOLhdM

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Waterfalls of the Horsepasture River

Waterfalls of the Horsepasture River

Dayhike with Andy and Boone
Saturday, January 9th, 2009

Photos are posted here:
http://outdoors.webshots.com/album/576285461KpyVyk

Crazy People Wanted

Last week I received an eMail from Andy, one of my hiking buddies entitled, "Crazy People Wanted". He was suggesting going for a hike on what was forecasted to be one of the coldest days of the winter. I guess I fall into the category of Crazy People, because I immediately said that I was up for it.

Johnny, who is also known to be the crazy type responded as well and came up with the suggestion to do the Waterfalls of the Horsepasture River. The main attraction of this hike is the spectacular Rainbow Falls, which in my opinion is one of greatest waterfalls anywhere and should be on the must see list for anyone who is capable of doing a moderate 5 mile round trip hike!



Rainbow Falls with a Rainbow


According to Kevin Adams, "North Carolina Waterfalls" book, "My favorite time to visit Rainbow Falls is during heavy water flow, on a clear winter morning after a period of below-freezing temperatures. The heavy spray freezes on everything it touches and creates an icy spectacle."

With a very wet winter season, and looking at the weather forecast we might just be able to experience exactly what Kevin Adams described!

Unfortunately, Johnny came down with a cold and backed out at the last minute, so it would just be Me, Andy, and Andy's trusty canine companion Boone.

Weather Forecast for Hike Day: Low of 8-degrees, high of 26-degrees, chance of snow showers in the morning, clearing and sunny in the afternoon. Needless to say, I was prepared with a full arsenal of cold weather hiking gear.



The trail covered with icy spray from Rainbow Falls

Andy has already completed an excellent trip report, so rather than go through all the details of our hike, I am just going to post the link to Andy's report:

http://www.angelfire.com/trek/fungi/NC/Jocassee/Gorges_SP_1-10.html



My photos are posted here:
http://outdoors.webshots.com/album/576285461KpyVyk

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Christmas 2009 and New Years

Christmas 2009 and New Years
December 24th, 2009 thru January 1st, 2010

Photos are posted here:
http://family.webshots.com/album/576273216oKmpgO



For the last few months I have not posted any updates or photos. My little side business, http://www.hesstrucks.net/ keeps me very busy from early November through the first week of January. It literally becomes a second full time job which doesn't give me much opportunity to get out much.

However, we did get away from Spartanburg for Christmas and New Years to spend a little time with our families.

For the first time in over 10 years, I would not be spending Christmas in Virginia with my family. This year would be my first Christmas with Amy's family. So on Christmas Eve we headed on up to Rutherfordton, NC to spend a few days with Amy's parents. Amy's sister, brother-in-law, and two nieces were up for a visit as well.

There was still a surprising amount of snow on the ground from a heavy snowstorm the previous weekend, but the Christmas forecast was for just cold weather and heavy rain. The guys kept warm in the shop by firing up the giant wood stove and grill to cook up some steaks for Christmas Eve dinner. Some adult beverages might also have helped keeping us warm and toasty.

While my family tends to stay up late on Christmas Eve, opening up presents, playing cards, and enjoying each other's company; Amy's family doesn't open any presents until Christmas morning and we all hit the sack early. A heavy rain fell all night long.

Christmas morning we had a nice breakfast, opened up a bunch of presents and then headed on to Amy's Grandma's house for Christmas Lunch.

Amy's Family on Christmas Day

Amy's Grandma's house is along the Broad River in Rutherford County. The heavy rains on top of still a good amount of snow lead to Amy's Grandma receiving an automated phone call warning of possible evacuations due to possible flooding along the Broad River.

Nobody seemed to concerned since over the last 70 or so years the river has never made it all the way up to the house. However, it got me curious to see how high the river had gotten. Plus the fact that between the fireplace and woodstove, it was about 95 degrees inside, I just had to get some fresh air. So as soon as the rain let up to just a light drizzle, I dragged Amy out into the wet snow and mud!


Amy going for a walk through the wet snow and mud

The river was definitely overflowing it's banks, but it was nowhere near getting close to the house. I can't imagine what kind of storms it would take to raise the river that high. The house sits a good ways up the hill, so I figure the waters would need to rise another 30-40 feet before the house was threatened.


Since we didn't get to see my family for Christmas, we decided to head up for New Year's to spend some time with them. We spent the first night at my parent's house in Spotsylvania, VA before heading up to my sister's for New Year's Eve.

We arrived in Sterling, VA to about 2 inches of fresh snow.


Amy and my nephew Conner

My nephew Conner plays Bass Guitar in a Rock Band called the A+ Dropouts.
http://www.aplusdropouts.com/

The four band members are only 12 years old, but they are actually good enough to get some paying gigs. They had a New Year's Eve performance in Annapolis, MD and I was excited to get to see them perform.

My Virginia Tech Hokies were also playing in their Bowl Game the same evening, but through the magic of DVR and the fact that Conner's band was the earliest of several bands performing, I would get to see both.

Annapolis, MD is a neat little place. While the band set up, Amy and I went exploring around town. The cold weather and light drizzle did not stop us from checking out this neat little waterfront town.


Annapolis, MD Waterfront

I wasn't sure what to expect from a group of 12 year old musicians, but most of the time the A+ Dropouts sounded really good! The people that were doing the sound mixing left a lot to be desired, and there were some rough sounding spots, but I thoroughly enjoyed the performance.


The A+ Dropouts - My newphew Conner on Bass Guitar

For a group of 12-year olds, they have a lot of potential. I'll be looking forward to seeing them again in the future as the more they practice and play together the better they will get!


The A+ Dropouts

After the performance, we headed on back to Sterling and started up the Hokie Game about an hour behind. Being able to zap through all the commercials, we were caught up to live time by the 4th quarter and watch my Hokies Dominate Tennessee by a score of 37-14

Amy was in bed before midnight, and I came up to join her to watch the ball drop. However, I could not get the TV in the guest room to work. It probably had something to do with the giant size wine glasses that my sister kept re-filling! So we didn't get to see the ball drop and instead ended up celebrating the start of 2010 with just a midnight kiss and snuggle!

For New Year's Day, my whole family gathered at my Brother Bill's house in South Riding, VA for a late lunch/early dinner. And to open up the last of the Christmas presents.


My Family on New Year's Day

A great way to start the New Year

Photos are posted here:
http://family.webshots.com/album/576273216oKmpgO