Wednesday, February 1, 2017

2017-01-28 Stillhouse Falls Adventure

Stillhouse Falls Adventure and The Pinnacle
Linville Gorge Wilderness Area
Pisgah National Forest
Burke County and McDowell County, NC
Saturday January 28th, 2017

Stillhouse Falls

I recently heard about a waterfall located in the Pisgah National Forest just outside the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area.  It is located way off trail about 2 miles and 1,200 feet in elevation below the Kistler Memorial Highway.  Getting there would not be an easy trek!

This would be a task for Team Waterfall!

Since we were not meeting up until 10:00am, I decided to start my morning with a little warm up solo hike to the Pinnacle.  (note:  I did not include this on my GPS track, but the Pinnacle is located about a mile south from where we would start our main adventure)

The hike to the Pinnacle is short and easy with just mild rock scramble at the very end.  The views are well worth the hike and proved to be a great start to my day!

View from the Pinnacle

Frosted Mountain Tops viewed from the Pinnacle

view of Lake James from the Pinnacle

After the Pinnacle I headed up the road to meet my Team Waterfall Buddies at our agreed upon meeting spot  (marked as Start on the GPS track below).

GPS Track of Our Adventure

Joining me would be Andy (Fungi) and his dog Boone, Thomas (the Badger), Kitty (the Rock Sprite), Dillon and his dog Blizzy, and Brett (the Navigator).

Badger Selfie to start our Adventure
(photo by Thomas "The Badger" Mabry)

Thomas, Kitty, and Brett had already taken care of leaving a shuttle vehicle at our planned exit point, so we were able to get moving shortly after 10:00am.

The bushwhacking started almost immediately with the first casualty being Brett's hiking pole which was gobbled up by the thick briers and brush never to be seen again!

Fortunately, once we hit the top of the ridgeline a faint semblance of a trail was picked up.  We pretty much followed this ridgeline path all the way from about 3,000 feet in elevation down to the National Forest Boundary at about 2,200 feet.
A Badger in the Wild

Brett, Andy, and Blizzy heading down the Ridgeline!
This is the closest semblance of a trail we would see all day

Dillon and The Badger

Brett (the Navigator) planning our route

We decided to follow the National Forest Boundary down to the Creek.  It appeared that the boundary line was clear cut  a while back, most likely as a fire break line during the Linville Gorge Forest Fires a few years ago.
Along the Forest Boundary

Dillon and Blizzy

This terrain was extremely steep and while easy to follow, there was not much left to grab on to on the way down making the butt slide technique essential is several spots!

The Badger demonstrating the Butt Slide Technique!

It was a welcome relief to make it down to the creek!  But things did not get any easier!

Blizzy arrives at Stillhouse Branch

Brett above a nice cascade on Stillhouse Branch

Stillhouse Branch is a narrow waterway choked with vegetation with steep cliffs on both sides.  There was no easy way to advance upstream! 

The Badger suffered a debilitating injury!  He said he was OK and told us to continue on while he treated his wounds and would meet us at the waterfall!

Dillon, Blizzy, Brett and I continued on while Andy, Boone, and Kitty hung back to make sure the Badger really was OK!

We arrived at what we are calling Lower Stillhouse Falls!  A nice little cascade, but in my opinion, not very photogenic!

 Lower Stillhouse Falls

Fortunately things got better upstream!  My favorite photo of the day came at a cool sliding cascade alongside an impressive rock wall!

Cool Slide and Rock Wall on Stillhouse Branch

Just upstream from that was the main attraction!  Stillhouse Falls is by no means the most impressive waterfall you will every see, but it's beauty exceeded our expectations!  And the fact that few people will ever venture this far off trail made it even more rewarding!

Stillhouse Falls

Blizzy at Stillhouse Falls

Dillon, Blizzy, Brett, and I hung out here for about an hour before Dillon and I started to get concerned about making it out before dark.  So we backtracked a bit to find Andy photographing the cool slide mentioned above to discuss our exit plans. 

I generally don't like splitting up the group, but neither Dillon nor I came prepared for bushwhacking in the dark.  So Dillon, Blizzy, and I would head out ahead of the rest of the group.

I had a map, My Gaia GPS App (highly recommended) on my IPhone, and very vague directions as to the way Kevin Adam's accessed Stillhouse Falls several months ago.  That was our planned escape route and we knew it would not be easy!

While no one section was overly difficult on its own, the culmination of distance and elevation made this one of the most difficult bushwhacks that Bushwhack Jack has ever experienced!  Even though I never zipped off the lower half of my hiking pants, my legs still look like they were attacked by dozens of psychotic cats!

Then in the middle of nowhere, a good mile away from the nearest road or trail, guess who we find trekking through the brush and briers?  Fellow Team Waterfall members Spencer, Stephanie, and Scott!


Stephanie and Scott

They were heading down to check out some way off trail rock outcroppings.  We took a brief break for a quick chat with our team waterfall buddies before continuing on!  We had expected things would get easier, but we were wrong!

We took a short break at an open rocky area offering up some nice views down the valley below.

 Dillon and Blizzy taking a break

view from the Rocky Outcrop

The final push up towards the road was brutal!  We kept hoping to find some sort of faint trail that Spencer, Stephanie, and Scott said they came in on, but we never did!  Finally we exited the brush onto the dirt road known as the Kistler Memorial Highway right where Stephanie, Scott, and Brett's vehicles were parked.

Unfortunately a shuttle hike only works if you finish the hike with the people you plan on shuttling back with!  Both Dillon and my vehicles were parked a good three miles down the road. 

A long  road walk to end the hike was not really in our plans, but compared to the bushwhacking it was a pleasant stroll.  However, that did not stop us from jumping in the bed of a pickup truck and hitch-hiking the final mile and a half back to our vehicles!

Always fun to end an epic hike with a little hitch-hiking!

Dillon, Blizzy, and I made it out shortly before sunset.  However Andy, Brett, Kitty, and the Badger would not make it out until a good three hours later and would end up doing the final stretch in total darkness!

Another Epic Team Waterfall Adventure!

My complete set of photos is posted here:


No comments: