Thursday, January 19, 2017

2017-01-16 Crane Creek Adventure

Miuka Falls, Winding Stairs Trail, 
and a Crane Creek Adventure
Sumter National Forest
Oconee County, SC
Monday, January 16th, 2017

Mark, Brenda, and Me at Miuka Falls


Thanks to Martin Luther King Jr. I had the day off from work!

Mark and I decided to get together to explore a section of Crane Creek with several known waterfalls.  I have been to most of them, but there were definitely a few I had not yet made it to.  Today we would try to hit them all!

Brenda was not feeling up for a difficult bushwhack / creekwalk, but did join us for the first part of our day which was mostly on trail.

Brenda and Mark at Miuka Falls
I must have said or did something Funny!

We met up at the Cherry Hill Campground in a thick fog and hiked the Winding Stairs Trail down to Miuka Falls on the West Fork of Townes Creek.

 Miuka Falls

Mark at Miuka Falls
As always Mark displays a great smile!

Mark and Me on a Rock Outcrop near Miuka Falls
(photo by Brenda)

Thomas King's "Waterfall Hikes of Upstate South Carolina" book also lists a Lower Miuka Falls further down the Winding Stairs Trail.  So we went exploring at the eastern point of one of the lower switchbacks.  We found a long cascading slide, but nothing worth pulling out the camera for.  So we continued on down the Winding Stairs Trail.

Mark and I said our goodbyes to Brenda and left the Winding Stairs Trail at a spot that would hopefully take us fairly close to the lowest drop on Crane Creek known as Crane Falls in most publications.  My navigation skills were dead on, as we arrived at Crane Creek right at the base of Crane Falls!

Unfortunately sometime over the past year a tree has fallen right in front of Crane Falls making it very unphotogenic!  This one would need a bit of chainsaw work to make photo worthy again!


Crane Falls

Note:  Crane Falls and Crane Creek Falls are not the same.  Crane Creek Falls is further upstream.  We will get to that soon!

Generally Creek Walking in January is not a good idea.  However with unseasonably warm temperatures in the 70s, bushwhacking upstream through knee deep water was not a problem and made for the quickest and easiest way to head up the creek!

The following (4) un-named cascades and slides are all located between Crane Falls and Secret Falls.

Along Crane Creek downstream from Secret Falls

 Along Crane Creek downstream from Secret Falls 

 Along Crane Creek downstream from Secret Falls 

Along Crane Creek downstream from Secret Falls

Eventually we made it to Secret Falls.  This is one of those waterfalls that is much more impressive in person than in photos!
Mark at the base of Secret Falls

Secret Falls on Crane Creek


Upstream from Secret Falls is a long series of slides.  It gets a bit too slick to creek walk so we continued upstream by bushwhacking up the right side of the Creek (River Left).

Sliding Cascade between Secret Falls and Crane Creek Falls

Eventually we made it to the base of Crane Creek Falls, which in my opinion is the most spectacular drop on Crane Creek.

Me at Crane Creek Falls

Crane Creek Falls


 Me and Mark at Crane Creek Falls

Some notes about the naming of Crane Creek Falls:

"150 South Carolina Waterfalls" by Ron Tagliapietra refers to this one as Secret Falls.  I believe that this one is actually the original Secret Falls.  However since most newer publications have adopted the Secret Falls name for the one further downstream, I am going with Waterfall Rich's designation of Crane Creek Falls.

I have also seen this one called Deep Secret Falls.

Crane Creek Falls

Up to now, this was the farthest I have ever been up Crane Creek!

Advancing upstream from here is quite the challenge!  Neither side of the creek looked appealing, but we ultimately decided to head up the left side (River Right).  This was no easy task!  The steep terrain and deadfall kept pushing us further uphill than we intended.  Since we didn't want to miss anything, we eventually we had to make a steep descent back down to the creek.

We arrived at a deadly looking slide just above what we thought was the top of Crane Creek Falls.  It turns out we were actually at the top of Yellow Jacket Falls, but did not realize that until later.

This slide was definitely not a safe place to be so we stuck to crawling through the rhododendron thickets!  Eventually arriving at Prospector Falls

Prospector Falls on Crane Creek

The Prospector Falls name was given by Scott McGaha.  Here is the story behind the name Prospector Falls from Scott:
"The first small one above the slide at the top of Yellow Jacket I call Prospector Falls. I went in there alone exploring on New Year's Day 2015 and heard something there at that falls. I look up and here comes this guy right down beside the falls wearing pants that have his rubber boots duck taped to them, shovel on a sling over his shoulder and other gear. He was in there panning for gold"

Here is one more shot of Prospector Falls

Prospector Falls on Crane Creek


The next drop upstream would probably be quite nice if it was not for all the deadfall!  Since it is highly unlikely that this deadfall will improve anytime soon, I am calling this one Deadfall Falls!

Deadfall Falls on Crane Creek

We made it to one more photo worthy drop on Crane Creek before the terrain really started to flatten out.

Uppermost photo worthy drop on Crane Creek

It was here we realized that we missed Yellow Jacket Falls, which was the drop we both most wanted to get to.  I checked my GPS Track and saw the short section of Creek immediately upstream from Crane Creek Falls that we missed.  Surprising Mark also managed to get enough of a cell phone signal to check Waterfall Rich's site and confirm that Yellow Jacket Falls is immediately upstream from Crane Creek Falls.

I really didn't want to do any backtracking, but we had no choice!  Neither of us had any intention of going home without making it to Yellow Jacket Falls!  So we hit the open forest above river left and made quick work of the backtrack bushwhack to the base of Yellow Jacket Falls!

  
Mark and Me at Yellow Jacket Falls

Mark at Yellow Jacket Falls

Again, I am going with Waterfall Rich's  name of Yellow Jacket Falls for this one.  But I have also seen it referred to as Deep Dark Secret Falls.  Upper Crane Creek Falls would also be appropriate.

Yellow Jacket Falls

 Me at Yellow Jacket Falls
Note: it had started raining so it was difficult to keep the water drops off the lens


By now the rain had started and I am fairly confident that we hit all the noteworthy drops along Crane Creek, so it was time to head on out.

We hit the open forest to the north hoping to hook back up with the Winding Stairs Trail.  The terrain naturally took us a bit higher up than I had anticipated and we ended up at the edge of a cliff about 200-feet above the trail.

In hindsight we probably should have just continued through the open forest along the ridgeline, but instead we found a place to butt slide down the cliff and did manage to get back to the Winding Stairs Trail.  However descending down that cliff turned out to be the most difficult part of the entire day!

Here is our GPS Track for the day:

GPS Track from our day's adventure
 

There are a few minor things I would have done differently, but overall I am pleased with how things turned out!  It was an awesome day!  Hopefully I can get back and lead another adventure along Crane Creek during a time with a bit more flow!

The complete set of photos from our days adventure is posted here:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/8146392@N05/albums/72157675564059064

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