Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Waterfalls of Tankersley Branch

The Waterfalls of Tankersley Branch
Greenville County, SC
Sunday, March 25th, 2012

I like to help support and follow the efforts of several area conservation groups.  Organizations like the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy, The Nature Conservancy, and the Palmetto Conservation Foundation have helped protect thousands of acres of land in the Carolinas from development.

One 600 acre chunk of land that has recently been protected is located adjacent to Jones Gap State Park, SC.  Several years ago I heard rumors that Tankersley Branch which flows down the middle of this piece of property contains some impressive waterfalls.

It appears that this piece of property will soon become part of Jones Gap State Park, but who knows how long that will take.  We wanted to explore it now.

Andy came up with a plan to access Tankersley Branch starting from the Falls Creek Falls trailhead, hiking to the top of Falls Creek Falls, and then bushwhacking east towards Tankersley Branch.  Brenda and I decided to join in on Andy's plan.

However, the more I studied the maps, the more I disliked Andy's plan.   I came up with and suggested an alternate route which would hopefully be much easier and still avoid trespassing across private property.  Brenda and Andy agreed that my plan looked like it just might work.

From Jones Gap, we took Gap Creek Road to Rhodes Lane to Cedar Rock Drive.  I had planned to drive a bit further up Cedar Rock Drive but the road was gated a short ways in.  Fortunately there were not any no trespassing signs, so we parked at a small pull-off before the gate and started our hike up the road.

 Brenda, Andy and Boone hiking along the road

After climbing a pair of long sweeping switchbacks, we spotted an obvious side road heading towards the east which is the direction we wanted to go, so we took that.  However, this road soon turned towards the south and took us to an obvious private property boundary.

From there we followed a barb-wire fence along the property boundary towards the North-East.  It was obvious that others have followed this same path and it was very easy going.  We crossed a small tributary stream and shortly after  arrived at Tankersley Branch.

The terrain was pretty flat here but we knew things would change as we followed Tankersley Branch upstream. 

We started out on the West side of the creek through a fairly open forest.  We soon came upon the ruins of an old cabin with only the remains of a stone chimney still standing.  We took a quick break here before continuing on upstream.

 Andy checking out the old chimney ruins

The terrain started getting steeper, but it was made easier when we picked up an obvious path the led us to the base of the first waterfall just in time for the sun to make it first appearance of the day!
Lower Waterfall on Tankersley Branch

We took a quick photo break, before continuing upstream.  Above the first waterfall is a long and impressive waterslide.  However, we could not find a safe spot to compose a decent photo, so we continued upstream. 

Above the slide, the rock face is mostly dry as the entire creek volume flows through a 2-foot wide channel.  This was an impressive site but my photos do not do it justice.

 Cascades along Tankersley Branch

We continued upstream by walking along the exposed rock.  This is fairly easy since the rock face was dry, but it would be suicide in wet conditions.  Eventually the exposed rock section ended and we were forced into some very thick vegetation.  Despite the weather being plenty warm, I regretted my decision to wear shorts as my legs were getting shredded by briars!

But we pushed on and eventually made our way to the base of another nice waterfall!
 Waterfall on Tankersley Branch

Form here neither side of the creek look very hospitable and I almost suggested we turn back.  Fortunately Andy encouraged Brenda and I to continue on.  We stayed on the west side of the creek moving at a speed of about 20 feet per hour.  We eventually gave up on the west side of the creek and crossed over to the east side.

The forest was a bit more open, but it was extremely rugged with huge boulders to navigate up, over, and around.   
 Boone on one of the huge boulders

Fortunately several additional waterfalls and cascades made our efforts worthwhile and gave us an excuse to stop and take a break.

 Me by a nice smaller waterfall on Tankersley Branch

I was more than satisfied with what we had found and would have been perfectly happy turning back at this point.  However, while Brenda and I stopped to check out one of the smaller waterfalls, Andy forged on ahead.
 Another nice series of smaller waterfalls and cascades along Tankersley Branch

When we eventually met back up, Andy informed us that what was ahead was not to be missed.

Andy was right, this last waterfall is a beauty! 

 Andy's Falls on Tankersley Branch

We could call this one Upper Tankersley Branch Falls, but instead we are going to call this one Andy's Falls!  This one is very cool and I am sure that not many people have made it to this spot!

 Brenda at Andy's Falls

There might be a few more smaller drops further upstream, but not even Andy was willing to push on any further.

For our return, we ventured a bit further away from the creek where the forest was a bit more open.  About halfway down we picked up an old roadbed that headed to the east.  This intrigued us since Peter's Branch, the next significant stream over, comes down the same mountainside and should have its own share of waterfalls.

We followed this old roadbed a short distance before it eventually petered out.  We could have still continued on, but even if were able to make it all the way to Peter's Branch, we would not have enough time to explore.  Plus, we wanted to do a bit more research about the property ownership before attempting that.

Note:  it turns out that except for the high headwaters, Peter's Branch is entirely on private property.  It is not likely that we will ever get the chance to explore that one.

We continued back down to the banks of Tankersley Branch.  The Butt slide method was essential during many parts of this final steep descent.  

 Andy using the Butt Slide method to work his way down the mountain

Since we were already on our butts most of the way down, it made photographing the wildflowers that much easier and this section of the forest contained the most impressive display of wildflowers we had seen on our hike.
 Bloodroot Bloom

We eventually made it back to the creek, crossed over and met back up with familiar territory.  From there we retraced our early steps back to my truck.

 Andy and Brenda crossing Tankersley Branch

To get an idea of how rugged this bushwhack was, according to Brenda's GPS we traveled a total of only 3.5 miles during our 5-hour adventure!

It was 3:00pm when we finished up.  Andy suggested we squeeze a few more miles in and explore a bit up Little Falls Creek.  Brenda was not feeling up to it, and I was worried about time.  So we decided to save our Little Falls Creek exploration for another time.

Andy and I did make a quick stop to check out the Poinsett Bridge on the way home.

 Poinsett Bridge

This was another successful and enjoyable waterfall discovery bushwhacking adventure!  Thanks Andy for encouraging us on to that final waterfall!

The complete set of photos is posted here:


Eeyore said...

Impressive adventure and falls. I see your blood. I guess bushwhacking does really need to be done in long, tough pants.

HemlockMan said...

Man! All that effort to log only 3.5 miles! YOW!

I need to get over to see Poinsett Bridge.