Tuesday, September 22, 2015

2015-09-19 Thompson River Adventure

Thompson River Adventure
From Lake Jocassee to the Foothills Trail
Oconee County, SC and Transylvania County, NC
Saturday, September 19th, 2015

This past Saturday, I had another awesome River Adventure with my Team Waterfall Friends.  This stretch of river is loaded with Waterfalls, Cascades, Slides, and one awesome swimming hole after another!

With the exception of the bright sunshine making for less than optimal photo conditions, it would turn out to be the ideal day for this type of adventure:
1. Water Levels on the Thompson River are low making for a much easier and safer trip
2.  0% chance of rain would keep the exposed rocks dry
3.  Musterground Road is open for Hunting Season allowing much easier access to the Thompson River Area.

As usual, I was running ahead of schedule so I made a stop to check out the view of Lake Jocassee.

view of Lake Jocassee

The group met at the Bad Creek parking area / trailhead for the Foothills Trail.  We combined into (2) 4x4 vehicles and drove down Musterground Road for about 4.5 miles to where the road starts to parallel the Thompson River.

Note: Musterground Road is only open during Hunting Season and requires a 4x4 vehicle with good ground clearance.

The first challenge would be getting down to the river as there was a very steep scramble down from the road.  I am fairly certain that the route we chose was not the best way!

 Darrin making his way down to the Thompson River

But we made it and arrived at the spot where the Thompson River empties into Lake Jocassee.

Where the Thompson River empties into Lake Jocassee

 Scott on a rock at the mouth of the Thompson River

Once at the river, our plan was to head upstream via whatever path looks easiest.  The low water levels made this much easier than it would normally be.  However off trail river walking is always a challenge no matter what the situation, especially when dealing with significant elevation changes.

We were rewarded with one cascade after another.  And just about every drop had an awesome swimming hole at it's base.  These (3) were all within the first quarter mile up from the Lake.

Nice Cascades along the Thompson River

 Nice Cascades along the Thompson River

 Nice Cascades along the Thompson River

The next significant drop was a unique sliding flume we seemed to go on forever.  The entire river was squeezed into about a narrow chute. 
 Thompson River Water Slide

Darrin took the lead and slid on down!

 Darrin going for a slide!

After Darrin proved out the safety of this awesome water slide, most of the rest of us followed suit:

 Scott trying out the slide

Bob sliding down the Thompson River

Continuing upstream, we passed by many more cascades and swimming holes!

Bob hiking up the Thompson River

Kitty showing how to cross the river

 Nice cascade along the Thompson River

Andy - Team Waterfall Hike Leader!

The group takes a break along the Thompson River


Scott on the Rocks

Andy, Kitty, and Bob watch Darrin do a Flip

Cascade along the Thompson River

We explored a short ways up one of the tributary steam and found another nice waterfall which would be even more impressive during higher flow.

Small Waterfall on Tributary Stream

Just upstream from where the tributary stream enters the Thompson is a really cool area with rocky cliffs on both sides of the river.

Kitty hiking up the Thompson River

Scott holding up the rocks

The next major landmark was where Musterground Road crosses over the Thompson River.

 Musterground Road crosses over the Thompson River

 Bob under Musterground Road

We continued on upstream and found several more cascades, slides, awesome swimming holes.

Andy makes a splash

 River Planking by Kitty

 Darrin Walking On Water

Darrin goes for another slide

Eventually we reach our goal of hitting the Foothills Trail. 

Darrin and Bob on the Foothills Trail

The rest of the group decided that they wanted to push things even further and go all the way to Big Falls.  I was really hoping to finish up at a reasonable hour, and since I have been to Big Falls twice in the past year including one time going the exact route we would be heading, I decided to pass on this hike add on.  

No doubt about it, Big Falls is incredible, but I didn't feel that I needed another visit so soon after my last one. 

So I said my goodbyes to the rest of the group and backtracked downstream.  Once at Musterground Road, I left the River and just walked the road the rest of the way back to my truck.

This was another great adventure with my awesome "Team Waterfall" friends!

The complete set of photos is posted here:

Friday, September 18, 2015

2015-09-13 Upper Whitewater River

Upper Whitewater River Adventure
Transylvania and Jackson Counties, NC
Sunday, September 13th, 2015

Group Photo at Exit Falls   (photo by Andy Kunkle)

The Whitewater River is most known for the spectacular Whitewater Falls, one of the most heavily visited waterfalls in the Carolinas.  A few miles upstream from Whitewater Falls is another spectacular section of the Whitewater River that very few people ever see.

Joining me today would be Andy, Christy, Brenda, Dillon, and Thomas (aka the Badger).  Most of the group was just planning to do a small section of river, but the Badger and I wanted to do the whole shebang!

So we left my vehicle at a small pull-off where the Whitewater River crosses under NC Hwy281 (this would be the end point of our adventure), and combined vehicles for the drive to the starting point.

Since first part of our adventure took us through a short stretch of private property, I am not going to post directions to where we started.

If you wish to explore this section of river, you can start from Hwy281 and head upstream all they way to Exit Falls staying entirely on public lands.  However, it would really be pushing things to try and do this all the way out and back in one day!

Fortunately we able to obtain permission to pass through the private property allowing The Badger and me to do a one-way shuttle hike, and the rest of the group easier access to some of the highlights!

The first highlight we hit was the Whitewater River Slot Canyon starting with Entrance Falls.  It was a beautiful but very bright and sunny day making for some horrific photo conditions!  So I apologize for the poor quality of these photos!

 Andy alongside Entrance Falls

 Dillon going out on a limb for a shot!

Several of us bushwhacked a bit to another vantage point on the rim of the slot canyon which gave us a nice view of Sculpted Falls.

Sculpted Falls

The next major drop is Exit Falls where the river exits the Slot Canyon.  Since you can not safely travel downstream through the slot canyon, we had to do a little bit of backtracking to get around the canyon to the base of Exit Falls.

 Exit Falls

Thomas, Brenda, and Dillon at the Beach at Exit Falls

Christy soaking up some sun at Exit Falls

Brenda at Exit Falls

From the base of Exit Falls it appears impossible to safely get to the top and into the slot canyon above. However, a hidden cave provides a relatively safe route to the top. Here is the Badger climbing up through the cave! The graffiti on the rocks prove that we were not the first humans to find this spot.
 The Badger climbing through the cave to the top of Exit Falls

The Slot Canyon above Exit Falls

Since Thomas and I still had a full day of bushwhacking and river walking ahead of us, we parted ways with the others and continued our journey downstream.  At this point there is a relatively good trail along river left which took us to Bedrock Betty, the next major drop along the Whitewater River.

Bedrock Betty

Bedrock Betty

Continuing downstream, the next drop along the river is what the Kayakers call Merge Lane Falls, and then 55mph Falls.

 Merge Lane Falls
55mph Falls

Just downstream from 55mph Falls is one of the largest river swimming holes I have ever seen!

Awesome swimming hole with 55mph Falls in the background!

At this point the "trail" we were following down river left had disappeared so we took to river walking in order to continue our journey downstream.  Fortunately water levels were fairly low all of the exposed rocks were dry making this difficult river walk feasible!  I would not attempt this in high water or if there was a chance of rain in the forecast!

Even with the lower than normal water levels there were definitely some tricky spots and both Thomas and I each had several river flops resulting in unintentional swims in the Whitewater River!

Thomas immediately before his unintentional Badger Slide!

The Badger slide resulted in the Badger hiking pole being sucked into the undercurrents of the Whitewater River never to be seen again. Fortunately we found a suitable replacement in the form of a tree limb!

Next up along our journey was Big Ledge Falls.  While the bright sun of the day resulted in mostly disappointing waterfalls photos, Big Ledge Falls was located mostly in the shade, so I was happy with the way these came out.

Big Ledge Falls

Big Ledge Falls

A relatively flat stretch of river leads up to the next series of drops which the Kayakers call Wheelchair Accessible.

Thomas navigating past one of the drops of "Wheelchair Accessible"

The final major drop along this stretch of river is called Portage Left Falls.  To get around it we Portaged Left!
 Portage Left Falls

 Thomas portaging left at Portage Left Falls

Portage Left Falls

We continued our river walk for the next hour before spotting a campsite up above river left.  From there we picked up some semblance of a trail for the rest of our journey alongside the Whitewater River.

This was one awesome adventure!

The complete set of photos is posted here: