Sunday, August 26, 2012

2012-08-24 Piglet Enemy

Piglet Enemy at the
Sooie't Relief BBQ Benefit Festival
Greer, SC
Friday, August 24th, 2012

This weekend my buddies Jeff, Steve, and Ron were taking their Piglet Enemy BBQ team into Greer, SC to compete in this years Sooie't Relief BBQ Benefit Festival.

The Piglet Enemy BBQ Team   L to R:  Ron, Jeff, and Steve-O

Last year they finished in 7th place overall and hoped to top that this year.

My buddies take these competitions seriously, but for me it is an opportunity to get together with friends, drink a few FABs, eat some awesome BBQ, and have a great time!

So Amy and I made the short 15 minute drive into Greer, SC on Friday after work to do just that! 

Here are a few photos:

 My wife Amy

 Checking on the Food

Piglet Enemy team Mascot



Lorie, Jeff, and Austin

The complete set of photos is posted here:

Thursday, August 23, 2012

2012-08-19 Rainbow Falls and Turtleback Falls

Rainbow Falls and Turtleback Falls
on the Horsepasture River
Gorges State Park, NC
Sunday, August 19th, 2012

It had rained most of the night!  Fortunately by morning the rain had cleared out, but there was no avoiding having to pack up wet camping gear! 

Our plan for the morning was to hike to Windy Falls.  However, this would not be safe with the rocks all wet from the rain, so we scrapped that idea.  Instead we decided we would just do the hike to Rainbow and Turtleback Falls.  But first, we had to pack up camp!

Since I knew I would have to make two trips and I was planning to cook breakfast at my truck, I quickly gathered up my first load of stuff and hiked up to the parking area.  After a nice breakfast of sausage and eggs, I hiked back down to the campground.

The others still hadn't started the hike with their first load of gear.  Johnny managed to pack all his stuff so that he would only require one trip, but Andy and Darrin would have to make two.  This would mean some waiting around time for Johnny and Me.

Instead of that, Johnny and I would start the hike to Rainbow Falls ahead of the others.  This actually worked out well, because Andy was able to lend me his trip-pod.

After hiking to the parking area with the rest of my gear and loading up my truck, Johnny and I hit the trail.

The new trail to Rainbow Falls is about 1.5 miles one way which is slightly longer than the old trail.  However, this new trail is better designed and significantly easier.  There are still a few steep spots and some areas that can use some more work, but for the most part it is a nice trail!

We made it to Rainbow Falls without any issues and took a few photos.  Rainbow Falls is definitely one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the Carolinas.  If you haven't been to this one, I would highly recommend a visit!

Rainbow Falls

Rainbow Falls

The trail climbs steeply past the Rainbow Falls vewing area for a short distance to the base of Turtleback Falls.  This one is nowhere near as tall as Rainbow Falls, but it does offer a lot more options for photography angles.
Turtleback Falls

Turtleback Falls

Turtleback Falls

It is also a popular swimming hole and many people actually slide down Turtleback Falls.  While this looks like fun, I have never tried it.  I am always to worried that if something goes wrong, Rainbow Falls is just a short distance downstream.  Being swept over that one would certainly be fatal!

After photographing Turtleback Falls, I met up with the others, returned Andy's tri-pod and decided to call it a day.  There was still plenty of time to do more, but I was ready to head home for a little recovery time before heading back to work on Monday!

Additional photos from Rainbow and Turtleback Falls are posted here:

It was a great weekend with some great friends!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

2012-08-18 Lower Bearwallow Falls

Lower Bearwallow Falls
Gorges State Park, NC
Saturday, August 18th, 2012

Me at Lower Bearwallow Falls

After we met Johnny at the campground, we decided we still had time for a visit to Lower Bearwallow Falls.  This is one that I have never been to, but have been wanting to check out for years!  It is normally a very long hike, but with a 4x4 vehicle with adequate ground clearance you can now drive most of the way!

So we hiked from the campground back to the parking area and I made the extreme sacrifice and offered up my Toyota Tacoma!  Four sweaty guys and two smelly dogs piled into my truck and we hit the dirt/gravel road that descends from the parking area into the gorge.

You are only allowed on this road if you have 4 wheeled drive and a minimum of 8 inches of ground clearance!  I didn't really need to engage the 4x4 on the way in, but there were several spots where we could definitely see why they require the 8 inches of ground clearance!

Near the end of the drive, the 25% downward grade led to us being able to actually smell my brake pads burning up even through I was using low gear.  Even though it felt like I was going a good pace, the drive of just over three miles took almost 30 minutes.

From the parking area at Turkey Pen Gap, we hiked the gated Auger Hole Road down to Bearwallow Creek.  During times of low water flow, you might be able to rock hop across, but today like most days the crossing requires getting your feet wet.  Since my boots were already saturated from our earlier hike, I didn't bother taking them off.  Instead while waiting for some of the others to take off their boots and put them back on, I went and photographed a nice little cascade a short distance upstream.

Cascade along Bearwallow Creek

After the creek crossing, the road gradually gains elevation.  A short distance later Andy pointed out the spot where we had to start the steep scramble back down to the creek at the base of Lower Bearwallow Falls.

While it is obvious that others have gone this way, and there were a few ribbons tied to some of the trees, there is no trail!  While not quite a bushwhack, this is a tough and very steep scramble.  Fortunately we all made it down to Lower Bearwallow Falls without any issues!  And this one is a beauty!

Lower Bearwallow Falls

We spent a good bit of time hanging out and photographing this awesome waterfall.  Here are a few more shots.

Andy is on the left side of the photo to give a sense of scale

Andy and Darrin at Lower Bearwallow Falls

Lower Bearwallow Falls

L to R:  Me, Darrin, Andy, Johnny 

Kona at Lower Bearwallow Falls

The complete set of photos is posted here:

The hike back to my truck was uneventful, but just as we all arrived, the rain started.  It just wouldn't be a camping weekend without some rain!  It was fairly light starting out, but as we drove up the road it soon turned into a gully washer of a storm!  I don't think we would have made it out without 4x4!

During the heaviest of rain, Johnny and Darrin wanted to cut the hike back down to the campground a little short, so I dropped them off where the trail to the campground crosses the road.  They might have had a shorter hike, but they got soaked!

Andy, the dogs, and I continued in my truck to the parking area where we waited out the rain in the comfort of my Tacoma!  Fortunately we didn't have to wait long until the rain cleared out.

I decided to cook my dinner on the tailgate of my truck while Andy and the Dogs hiked down to the campground.  By the time I finished eating and chatting with one of the park rangers for a little while it was almost dark, and my flashlights and headlamp were back at the campground inside my tent.  The last part of the hike was in almost total darkness!  Fortunately it is a wide trail with not too many obstacles.

It was a very enjoyable evening hanging out around the campfire.  Since all the wood available was soaked, the campfire was not much of a success.  Thankfully Darrin brought a jug of lighter fluid which I am pretty sure we used up throughout the evening to keep the fire burning!

What happens around the campfire, stays at the campfire, so I am not going to go into any details other than to say we all slept soundly!

Coming up next:
Sunday Morning's hike to Rainbow Falls and Turtle Back Falls

Monday, August 20, 2012

2012-08-18 Waterfalls on Bearwallow Creek

Split Rock Falls, Indian Camp Falls, Chute Falls, and Paw Paw Falls
Gorges State Park, NC
Saturday, August 18th, 2012

Me at Paw Paw Falls

The complete set of photos is posted here:

Andy, Darrin, Johnny, and had planned for a weekend of camping and waterfall wandering around Gorges State Park in Transylvania County, NC.  By the time the weekend came, all the others had informed me that they would not be able to get there until Saturday.  However, if I am going to go camping, I like to go for at least two nights.

So I drove up to Gorges State Park Friday evening after work.  Most of the camping that I do is considered Car Camping which means you can pretty much park at the campsite.  This time it would be a little different as the campsites are located about 0.75 miles away from the parking area.   Since I don't have much in the way of backpacking gear, I planned on making two trips to tote my heavy and bulky gear down to the campsite.

 The Pond at the Campground

I was surprised that I was the only person staying at the campground, which made for a very peaceful and relaxing evening.  I wouldn't want to camp alone for more than a couple of nights, but for one night it was very pleasant!  What surprised me the most was that it didn't rain a drop all night.

 My Campsite at Gorges State Park

I didn't want to worry about bear-proofing my food supply, so I decided to do all my cooking at my truck.  So Saturday morning I hiked back up to the parking area to cook up some breakfast and wait for Darrin, Andy, and the dogs to arrive.

Once they arrived, we hiked back down to the campground and set up their gear before beginning our main hike of the day.

Our plan was to find the (4) waterfalls on Bearwallow Creek which used to be collectively known as Paw Paw Falls.  However, recently they have been given (4) separate names.  From the campground, we hiked a series of forest service roads which took us most of the way there.  However the last stretch down to the creek would be a total bushwhack.

It was a tough bushwhack, but compared to other recent bushwhacking adventures this one was not that bad.  We arrived at the creek at the base of Split Rock Falls, which is actually the second from the top.

Split Rock Falls

Since I knew we would be doing a lot of bushwhacking, creek walking, and possibly swimming, I decided to bring my older camera along for this hike.  One critical mistake I made was that I forgot to attach the tri-pod mount to the camera.  So while I did remember my tri-pod, it was kind of useless without the mount.  Therefore most of my photos were either hand held or taken using boulders, tree trunks, and rocks as makeshift tri-pods.

Split Rock Falls was a nice start, but it ended up being my least favorite of the (4) waterfalls.  
From there we decided to bushwhack upstream to get to Indian Camp Falls.  This is a neat sliding cascade that makes a sharp 90-degree left hand turn through a narrow channel at the base.   I think this was my favorite of the (4) waterfalls.

Darrin and Andy checking out Indian Camp Falls

Indian Camp Falls

Indian Camp Falls

We backtracked down to Split Rock Falls and continued downstream by walking through the creek.  This was quite challenging and both Darrin and I took a fall in the exact same spot.  Andy decided to avoid the same mistake and instead bushwhacked through the brush.  I don't think the route he chose was any easier!

We eventually arrived at the top of Chute Falls.  We made our way down to the base along the side of the waterfall.  It was a good thing it didn't rain because this descent was scary enough on dry rocks.  It would definitely not have been safe on wet rocks!

Andy and Kona at the top of Chute Falls

Boone and Kona at Chute Falls

At the base of Chute Falls, we ran into our next problem.  At the base of the waterfall was a deep pool of water surrounded by rock walls on the sides.  There was no getting around this obstacle; we would have to get wet.  The shallowest section was about belly high (chest high for Andy).

Darrin making his way across the pool at the base of Chute Falls
At first it looked like a really good swimming hole, but the bottom of the pool was covered with boot swallowing mud!  I made it across the muddy water as quickly as possible so I could set up and photograph the others making their way across. 

Andy working his way across

From there we continued downstream along the left side of the creek.  At times it seemed like we were on an old roadbed, but then it would disappear and turn into a bushwhack.  But it wasn't long before we heard to sounds of falling water and made our way back down to the creek.

We ended up a bit further downstream than planned, but it was a fairly easy creek walk upstream to the base of Paw Paw Falls.

Working our way upstream towards Paw Paw Falls

We made this our main lunch break and Andy was kind enough to lend me his tri-pod while he ate his lunch.

 Andy at Paw Paw Falls

 Paw Paw Falls

Paw Paw Falls

Johnny was expecting to arrive later that afternoon and our plan was to meet him at the campground at around 4:00pm.  It was only about 1:00pm, so we figured we might be able to make it up to Upper Bearwallow Falls and still get back to the campground in time to meet Johnny.

From Paw Paw Falls we were able to pick up the remains of the old roadbed, which gradually got more and more navigable the further we went.  Soon we were making good progress and would definitely be able to make it to Upper Bearwallow.

After some rough bushwhacking and creek walking this was a quite pleasant and enjoyable section of the hike.  However, somewhere along the way we made a wrong turn and/or missed a turn we should have made. 

When we eventually got our bearings we realized that we were several miles away from where we should have been.  So we scrapped our plans to hit Upper Bearwallow Falls and instead worked our way back to the campground to meet Johnny.

We arrived at the campground at around 3:30pm which was perfect timing as Johnny showed up about 2 minutes later.   After Johnny set up his gear, there was still plenty of daylight left for one more waterfall wandering adventure.

Coming up next:
Saturday Afternoon Adventure to Lower Bearwallow Falls

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Another Awesome Camping and Waterfall Wandering Weekend

Just got back from a camping weekend with my buddies Andy, Johnny, and Darrin.

Here is a quick group photo of us a Lower Bearwallow Falls

L to R:  Me, Darrin, Andy, Johnny

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

2012-08-05 Miuka Falls and Crane Creek Falls

Miuka Falls and Crane Creek Falls
Winding Stairs Trail (plus some bushwhacking)
Oconee County, SC
Sunday, August 5th, 2012

I have been to both Miuka Falls and Secret Falls before and I was not very impressed with either of them.  However, a while back Waterfall Rich posted on his site about some waterfalls on Crane Creek located upstream from Secret Falls

Since seeing this post, I have wanted to get back and find the waterfall that Rich called "Crane Creek Falls".  Andy and I decided that this would be the Sunday Morning adventure of our camping weekend.

The Winding Stairs trail starts from the Cherry Hill Campground which is where we were staying.  It sure was nice not to have to drive anywhere to go hiking!

The well designed Winding Stairs trail is a series on long switchbacks which descend down the mountainside.  A little over a mile into the hike we arrived at Miuka Falls which turned out to be much nicer than I remembered.

 Miuka Falls

It helped that we had perfect photo conditions.  The lighting was perfect and it had rained most of the night adding a good amount of waterflow to this fairly low volume stream.  Also, on my previous visit I was alone, so I didn't attempt the tricky crossing to get to the only good vantage point.

From there we continued down the winding stairs trail for about another mile.  We left the trail when we could start hearing the sounds of Crane Creek.  A fairly obvious side path and a series of ribbons tied to trees led the way down the steep bank to the creek.

We arrived at an unimpressive cascade that wasn't even worth taking a photo of before continuing up the Creek to Secret Falls. 

Unfortunately a huge tree has fallen completely blocking any view of Secret Falls.  I wasn't impressed on my first visit and now it is even less impressive.  I don't figure this deadfall will be going anywhere anytime soon!

I made a feeble attempt to find a spot to photograph Secret Falls, but ended up falling on my butt at which point I gave up and decided to continue upstream to find the waterfall we came for.

The bushwhacking was tough, but not as bad as what we went through the previous day.  It took us about 20 minutes to make it to Crane Creek Falls and it was well worth the effort!

Crane Creek Falls

Unfortunately I made a critical photography mistake.  I decided to switch over to my wide angle lens which was stored inside my pack.  Also inside my pack were some chilled water bottles which made the lens colder than the outside air.

The humidity had to be close to 100%, so when the cool lens hit the humid air it completely fogged up.  Even though I was eventually able to clear the fog on the outside glass, there was still a layer fog on the inside glass which left a hazy film in all of my photos.

Crane Creek Falls

I am a bit disappointed because we had otherwise perfect photo conditions when we first arrived at the waterfall!  By the time my lens got acclimated to the temperature difference, the sun had made a permanent appearance for the day.  At least it gives me an excuse to get back here for another attempt.

I also know there are additional waterfalls further upstream, but we had only planned a half day adventure for the morning and decided to save further exploration for another day.  Plus since Andy has now officially joined me in the over 40 club, we just don't have the energy anymore to do extreme bushwhacks two days in a row!

It was a great weekend!

Additional photos are posted here:

Monday, August 6, 2012

2012-08-04 Wintergreen Falls Hike

Wintergreen Falls on the Toxaway River
Gorges State Park
Transylvania County, NC
Saturday, August 4th, 2012

Me at Wintergreen Falls

Andy and I planned a weekend of camping at the Cherry Hill Campground.  Unfortunately, Andy would not be able to make it for Friday Night, but I headed up anyway after getting off from work.  As usual, soon after I arrived and set up my site, the rain started.

So I introduced myself to the group at the neighboring campsite and took advantage of their tarp for most of the evening.  We enjoyed some FABs and shared some stories, which was much more enjoyable than sitting alone in the rain!

Saturday Morning, I met Andy, Boone, and Kona at the Frozen Creek parking area of Gorges State Park.

The first three miles of the hike is rather uninteresting along the Auger Hole trail, which is basically a wide track forest service road.  The gate and several areas of deadfall are the only things that would prevent this part of the route from being drivable.

 Boone and Kona enjoying a mud puddle along the Auger Hole Trail

There are several side paths along the way that lead to other waterfalls, but we had a long hike ahead of us and decided to pass them by.  At about the 3 mile point, we turned on to another less traveled forest service road which eventually took us to the Toxaway River.  From here we basically just followed the river upstream.

There is no official trail, but enough people have gone this way that some unofficial "fisherman's paths" do exist.

We made our first stop of the day at a small sliding cascade called 10-foot falls which got it's name because it is about 10-feet high.

10-Foot Falls

Continuing on, we crossed over Panther Branch at which point we picked up the remnants of an old logging road which headed uphill above the river.  This avoids a very difficult section of the river, but does require a steep bushwhack scramble to get back down to the river closer to Wintergreen Falls.

We had no problems making our way back down to the river and continued upstream to the base of Wintergreen Falls.  This one is a beauty!  More more impressive in person than any photos can show!   And it has one of the best swimming holes I have ever seen which we would take advantage of later!

Wintergreen Falls
 Wintergreen Falls

 Andy and Kona taking a break

Boone at Wintergreen Falls

Due to the long and difficult hike, not may people make it to Wintergreen Falls, and even fewer are crazy enough to try and continue upstream.  .  So we continued on upstream.   Absolutely no trails of any sort continue on past this point. The left side of the falls looked a bit more hospitable, so we crossed the river and started some intense bushwhacking!

Thick brush, steep rocky cliffs, briars, stinging nettle, and poison ivy were just some of the many obstacles we had to navigate through.  There was no easy way, but we surged ahead via the path of least resistance.  We eventually made it back down to the river above the lower drop at the base of the next series of falls.

 Upstream from Wintergreen Falls

 Boone and Kona

This is another neat spot.  Once of the coolest features is a huge boulder that forms a natural bridge above one of the drops.

 You can see the Natural Rock Bridge in the Upper part of this photo

We know there were other waterfalls upstream, but since we had gotten a few sprinkles of rain throughout the morning and the humidity was about 100%, the rocks were wet and very slick.  Heading up the rock face along side the falls was out of the question.

So we decided to cross the river and try bushwhacking up the right side.  After about 30 minutes we made it only about 100 yards and decided that this was not the way to go.  We backtracked and tried bushwhacking up the right side.  We made slightly better progress here, but still barely gained any ground.  We both absolutely beat, so we decided to give up and save further exploration upstream for a day when the rocks are dry!

We were drenched with a combination of sweat and moisture from the rain and wet foliage we were bushwhacking through.  So when we returned to Wintergreen Falls we decided to take advantage of the awesome swimming hole to cool off and wash all sweat and grime away.  Plus it is an excellent idea to try and wash up as soon as possible if you at all suspect you might have come in contact with poison ivy.

Andy and Me going for a swim at the base of Wintergreen Falls

From there is was a long and and mostly uphill 6 mile trek back the way we came to our vehicles at the trailhead.  That first FAB I popped open sure did taste good!

Back at the Cherry Hill Campground, it was a very enjoyable evening around the campfire.  And the rain actually held off until after we called it a night and retired to our tents.

The complete set up photos from our Wintergreen Falls Hike is posted here:

Next up, Sunday Morning's exploration of Crane Creek