Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Waterfall Wandering Bushwhacking Adventure
Mill Creek and Rachael Creek
Just outside of Table Rock State Park, SC
Sunday, January 22nd, 2012

After contemplating several different hike options, we decided that Sunday would be the perfect day for a Waterfall Wandering Bushwhacking Adventure.

I had heard about a waterfall on Rachael Creek just outside Table Rock State Park several years ago from Waterfall Rich (http://www.ncwaterfalls.com/) and have been wanting to check it out ever since. Bernie (another master waterfall seeker) had found several additional waterfalls in the area and recently supplied Johnny with a map.

All of these waterfalls are off trail and would require a good bit of bushwhacking. They are also on fairly low volume creeks and streams, so it is best to visit when the water is up a bit.

The area has had a good bit of rain recently supplying the first necessary ingredient for a perfect day. Second, it was early enough in the year that the forest would be as open as it gets allowing easier navigation, and the poison ivy would not be out yet. Another essential element would be the overcast skies, making for perfect waterfall photography conditions.

In addition, the weather was absolutely perfect for bushwhacking. Cool enough that you could wear long pants and long sleeves so you don't turn into a bloody mess from all the briers, but warm enough that you don't have to worry about getting too cold, even if you end up falling in a creek (more on that later).

Johnny, Bob, Brenda, Andy, Boone, and I met up at the Palmetto Trailhead inside Table Rock State Park and began our hike!
Johnny and Andy at the Palmetto Trail Trailhead

About a mile in, the trail crosses over Mill Creek. Shortly afterwards, and unsigned, but fairly obvious side path heads up the left side of the creek.

Andy rock hopping across Mill Creek

This unblazed, but well-worn side trail gains approximately 600 feet of elevation over a little less than a mile and ends at the base of a very impressive waterfall on Mill Creek.

Waterfall on Mill Creek.
To give a sense of scale, Bob can be seen lining up a photo

There is a Mill Creek Falls on the same creek inside the State Park Boundary. However the one we visited is located just outside the park a short distance downstream from the more well-known and visited Mill Creek Falls. Fortunately, it is still considered public land, so no trespassing is required. I would guess this series of drops fall more than 150 feet and in my opinion, is far more impressive as the Mill Creek Falls upstream inside the Park.

One of the drops of this multi-tiered waterfall on Mill Creek

We backtracked to the Palmetto Trail and continued towards the West. Over the next two miles the trail gradually gains elevation, crossing a ridge, before beginning it's descent into the Rachael Creek area. The most notable thing about this section of trail is the amazing amount of recent damage done by wild hogs.

The trail first crosses over the main branch of Rachael Creek and a short distance later, it crosses a smaller tributary stream. All my previous hikes on this section of trail have been during the spring or summer when you cannot see very far upstream through the foliage. However, with the lack of winter foliage we could see upstream to the next waterfall! It is a bit of a scramble, but not overly difficult to get to the base of this one.

Waterfall on Rachael Creek Tributary

Continuing to the West, the Palmetto Trail crosses a second tributary of Rachael Creek. From here, we left the trail and headed downstream into the forest to begin some fairly intense Bushwhacking!

I just had to squeeze this photo of Boone in somewhere

There is absolutely no trail here and the woods are thick with Rhododendron, Briers, and a very uneven footing. We crossed the steam several times following the path of least resistance. As we got to the top of the first drop, it was obvious that the West side of the stream was the way to go.

We meandered our way down to this next waterfall, a very scenic 15-20 footer. It was nicer than anything I was expecting, but nothing compared to what was yet to come.

Waterfall above Yucca Falls

Not much further downstream, it appeared that the stream dropped off the face of the earth! It was obvious that the next waterfall would much taller than anything I was expecting. With steep cliffs all around, there was way to safely get down the side of this waterfall. So we headed into the woods and found a much safer way down around the cliffs.

My favorite part of the entire hike was coming down the side and catching our first view of what was up ahead! According to Bernie, this one is called Yucca Falls and it far exceeded my wildest expectations!

First view of Yucca Falls from the side

The fact that I was in minor pain from stepping in a hole between some rocks and twisting my knee did not stop me from continuing the steep scramble down to the base of Yucca Falls! Wow, this one is a beauty!

Yucca Falls

Just downstream from Yucca Falls, is another small but scenic waterfall of about 10-15 feet tall.

Me by a small waterfall just downstream from Yucca Falls

Shortly downstream this tributary joins the main branch of Rachael Creek, significantly increasing the volume of water. We continued downstream and found ourselves at the brink of the next drop which I am calling Rachael Creek Falls.

Finding a safe way down to the base of this one proved to be a major challenge. My knee didn't feel quite right from when I twisted it earlier and I managed to step wrong and started to fall down the side of a cliff. I managed to stop my downward momentum using my hiking pole. However the force of the fall was enough to significantly bend the end of my shaft!

My Hiking Pole

From there on out, I decided to use the much safer butt slide method to make my way most of the way down. The last part of the descent was probably the most difficult, but fortunately it would not be too far of a fall if things went wrong, so I followed Johnny's lead and used the Tarzan Swing method for the final 5 or 6 feet of descent.

Johnny then used a large log as a balance beam to get to a better vantage point across the creek. I made the mistake of using a smaller log which snapped in half from my weight and sent me plunging feet first into knee deep water. The January water was definitely cold, but since my feet were already soaked it made any remaining exploration of the creeks much easier as I wasn't concerned anymore about keeping my feet dry!

The main waterfall on Rachael Creek is not as high as some of the others we have seen, but it is still much higher than it appears to be in the photos. I would guess this series of cascades to be about a 40-50 foot drop.

Rachael Creek Falls

Downstream from here the terrain appeared to level out, and I am sure if there was any more significant drops, Bernie would have noted it on his map, so we followed Rachael Creek back upstream.

We found one more worthwhile Falls a short distance upstream, and a couple additional small cascades. We could have continued following the creek, but with the heavy vegetation creek side, we took to the more open forest back to the Palmetto Trail.

Small Waterfall on Rachael Creek just upstream from the main falls

With the shorter days of winter, we only had about 2 hours before dusk and still had about 3 miles of hiking back to our vehicles. Fortunately while a bit uncomfortable, my injured knee didn't really slow down my hiking pace.

GPS Track and Elevation Profile (Thanks to Brenda!)

This was definitely one of my most enjoyable hiking adventures in quite a while, but later that evening and the next morning I could barely walk. Fortunately my knee is feeling much better now and I don't anticipate any long term lingering effects!

The complete set of photos from our adventure is posted here:

1 comment:

HemlockMan said...

It was indeed an exciting hike! I wouldn't mind going back to see Yucca Falls and the cascade below it some time.