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:

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