Thursday, July 13, 2017

2017-07-08 Horsepasture River Adventure to Windy Falls and Beyond

Horsepasture River Adventure to
Windy Falls and Beyond
Windy Falls, Terrifying Falls, Wolverine Falls, 
Hen Tail Falls, and Rooster Tail Falls
Transylvania County, NC
Saturday, July 8th, 2017
with Scott (the Professor), Pamela, Wendy, and The other Jack

Group Photo at Rooster Tail Falls
L to R:  Me, Scott, Pamela, Wendy, the other Jack

Windy Falls on the Horsepasture River has kind of a cult following amongst the waterfall community.  I made my first visit back in 2015, and was looking forward to a return visit.

Joining me on this adventure would be Scott (The Professor), his girlfriend Pamela, Wendy, and "the other Jack".  I have been Facebook friends with Jack Buchanan for several years, but this would be the first time the two Jacks would meet up in person!  This would also be my first time hiking with Wendy and Pamela!

My hiking partners for the day
Jack Buchanan, Scott (the Professor), Pamela, and Wendy

Disclaimer:  Windy Falls should only be attempted by those experienced with off trail bushwhacking, creek walking, rock scrambling, rope climbing, etc!  Therefore, I am not going to post any directions or GPS tracks.  Even if you are experienced with this type of adventure, first time visitors should make sure they go with a group where at least one person has been here before an knows they best and safest ways to go!   Under no circumstances should this be attempted solo, during times of very heavy flow, or in the rain!

From the Parking area at Gorges State Park it is a little over a mile and about 700ft of elevation descent down to the Horsepasture River.  We arrived at the  River at a nice campsite next to a small waterfall that I like to call Campsite Falls.  There is also a great swimming hole here which we decided to save for the end of the day.  This makes for a great spot to clean up and cool off after a long day of bushwhacking!

A short distance downstream are the upper drops of Windy Falls.

 Scott and Jack heading towards the top of Windy Falls

 Scott and Jack at the top of the main drop of Windy Falls

There is no easy way to get to the base of Windy Falls.  Most potential routes could easily lead to death.  Fortunately, there is a relatively safe way down!

We headed back into the woods where we picked up some scramble paths away from danger.  There are still a few areas where ropes are very helpful!
Pamela using a rope to descend down a tricky section of "trail"

We arrived at a nice rock face alongside the main drop.  From here a rope is essential if you want to get to the base alive!

 Jack rigging up the rope

Pamela showing us the ropes

The keyhole is a small opening just large enough for an average size human to fit through.  If you can make it through the keyhole, you can avoid the scariest part of the final descent!  At just a hair over 6 feet and about 195 pounds, I am about the maximum size for the keyhole.   We also made things much easier and safer by lowering our gear down with the rope, so we could all make the climb down unencumbered. 

The professor descending down the final climb below the keyhole.
Note:  the little bit of light near the top right of this photo is the keyhole opening

From the bottom of the keyhole route you can either jump in the awesome swimming hole at the base of Windy Falls, or stay a little dryer and head for the cave route.

 Wendy and Pamela heading through the cave to the base of Windy Falls

Once through the cave its an easy knee deep wade to the rocks which offer a great view of Windy Falls!

 Windy Falls

Jack at Windy Falls

The Professor gives Windy Falls a well deserved Two Thumbs Up!

Wendy at Windy

After a nice break at Windy Falls, we decided to continue our journey downstream.  Jack's route of choice required us to cross the Horsepasture River at the base of Windy Falls.  A good bit of teamwork was used to keep all our gear dry and prevent any of us from going on an unplanned swim!  The water currents here are much stronger than they appear!

Crossing the Horsepasture River at the base of Windy Falls

Windy Falls from the other side of the River

The next significant drop is Terrifying!    Terrifying Falls that is!  The waterfall itself is not really Terrifying, but the journey to get to it most definitely is!   Rumor has it that on a previous trip, The Badger (Thomas Mabry) was almost swept away to his death in an attempt to get to the base of Terrifying Falls!
Terrifying Falls

 Rhododendron Bloom at Terrifying Falls

To get here requires either a leap of faith from a slippery slope, or a traverse through a channel with surprisingly swift currents!

 Wendy Downstream from Terrifying Falls
That channel of water on the left side of this photo is surprisingly difficult to get across!

From there we continued downstream.  There are really no easy sections of this journey!

Scott gives Pamela a helping hand

Continuing downstream along the Horsepasture River

Next up is a multi-tiered cascade that Jack calls Wolverine Falls!

 Wolverine Falls
Pamela and Wendy at Wolverine Falls

Technically the river is split at this point and we were on an island.  The two channels join back together at the base of Rooster Tail Falls.  But first we would check out the smaller (River Left) channel which contains another waterfall called Hen Tail Falls.

 Upper Hen Tail Falls

It was a short but brutal bushwhack to get to the Lower Drop of Hen Tail Falls.  Fortunately this one has a nice swimming hole at the base which was very refreshing!
 Lower Hen Tail Falls

 Pamela and Scott swimming at the base of Lower Hen Tail Falls
Can you spot the heart above the two Lovebirds?

An even better swimming hole can be found at the base of Rooster Tail Falls!

 Rooster Tail Falls

 Wendy at Rooster Tail Falls

My photos do not really give a good sense of scale to this one.  So here is one of Wendy's shots of me swimming at the base!

Swimming at the base of Rooster Tail Falls

Up until this point it had been a bright and sunny day.  Not really optimal for waterfall photography, but essential to keeping the rocks dry for this type of adventure!  I was pleased to get a bit of cloud cover for a few long exposure photos of Rooster Tail Falls!

   Rooster Tail Falls

Unfortunately, along with the clouds came some Thunder Booms!  This is definitely not a place you want to be during a rainstorm.  If the skies did open up, we did not want to get caught in a flash flood or have to traverse across any wet sloping rocks.  Rather than head back the way we came, we decided the safest course of action wood be to head off into the woods and bushwhack upstream.

 The rains definitely did come, making our decision to bushwhack a very wise choice.  We rejoined the river just downstream from Windy Falls.  There was one slick section we had to get across where I lost my footing, almost lost my hiking pole, and came very close to going for an unintended swim!
Windy Falls from Downstream

We all made it safely across the tricky section and took the opportunity to photograph Windy Falls in better light than earlier.  The only challenge was fighting off the raindrops.

 Windy Falls

In a matter of seconds, the light rain turned into a torrential downpour, so I quickly packed my camera away and we continued on to our next challenge.

Here is Jack Buchanan's description of our climb back up from Windy Falls:

"Y'all let me tell you why it's good to hike with amazing friends and hikers. We were at Windy Falls when the sky opened up and it poured for a long time. Knowing we had to get back up and through the keyhole we just went for it! Scott Burns went up first and hauled up the soaked back packs by rope( those aren't light as anyone who hiked in the rain can tell you!) Got them as far as the keyhole then had to put them through the keyhole one by one.
Wendy went second and was nearly blinded by the pouring rain getting in and on her contacts. She got safely through. Remember this was Pamela's first time here so she went next through the rain(and I'm talking it was like someone was up there throwing buckets of water through the keyhole. Please know this isn't easy in perfect conditions! She made it through like a champ! Jack Thyen went next and carried up everyone who used ones hiking poles. It was s team effort! No one freaked out and no one panicked! We were all smiles throughout the day and stayed that way through this! It made for a truly epic adventure!"

The worst of the danger was past us, since we would stay far away from the open rock faces above Windy Falls on the hike out!  We were all a wet and muddy mess!  Fortunately the swimming hole I mentioned near the beginning of this post was waiting for us at the base of Campsite Falls!  This offered the perfect place to cool off an clean up before final climb back to the parking area.
Wendy at Campsite Falls

 Wendy, Jack, Scott, and Pamela by the great swimming hole at Campsite Falls

This was an awesome adventure and an overall perfect day!  It was great to finally meet "the other Jack", and really appreciated him leading us further down the Horsepasture than I have ever been!   While I have briefly met Wendy and a Team Waterfall Social Gathering, it was a pleasure to finally get to hike with her!

It is always a treat to be able to hook up with Scott for a hike and today was a double treat because I finally got a chance to meet his girlfriend Pamela, who is an absolute sweetheart!

The complete set of photos from our Horsepasture River Adventure is posted here:


Tuesday, July 4, 2017

2017-06-30 Cullowhee Area Waterfalls

Cullowhee Area Waterfalls
Bearwallow Falls, Sugar Creek Falls, Gina Falls
Jackson County, NC
with Brenda, Mark, and Dan
Friday, June 30th, 2017

 Group Photo at Bearwallow Falls
L to R:  Mark, Me, Brenda, Dan

I decided to take a day off from work to join Brenda, Mark, and Dan on a waterfall adventure.  Earlier this year, Brenda and Mark failed in their attempt to get to Bearwallow Falls near Cullowhee, NC.  Our primary and first goal for the day would be to reach the main drop of Bearwallow Falls

Based on the weather forecast, I was fairly certain it would be a rainy day.  And I did come prepared for hiking in the rain!  However, I did not come adequately prepared for photography in the rain.  Most of my photos from the day have water drops and water smudge marks. 

The waterfalls we visited today can all be found on pages 372 through 379 of Kevin Adam's "North Carolina Waterfalls" Book (Third Edition).  Therefore I am not going to repeat the directions here.

Bearwallow Falls is located off trail about a half mile bushwhack from the road.  We reached the creak a bit further downstream than planned at the confluence of Bearwallow Creek and Piney Mountain Creek.

 The Confluence of Bearwallow Creek and Piney Mountain Creek

With higher than normal flow, and all the rocks being wet from all the rain we didn't feel comfortable creek walking, so we headed back into the forest to bushwhack upstream.  Eventually we made it to the Base of Bearwallow Falls!

 Bearwallow Falls

 Group Photo at Bearwallow Falls

 Bearwallow Falls

From there we planned to bushwhack over to Piney Mountain Falls, but we could not find a good route so we continued downstream on Bearwallow Creek to a few other nice drops.

 The next drop downstream from Bearwallow Falls

 Downstream from Bearwallow Falls

It was pouring down rain now which made the rocks very slick.  Mark had made it to Piney Mountain Falls on a previous trip and was not very impressed, so we decided it wasn't worth trying to continue in these conditions.  Instead we elected to head over to Sugar Creek Falls which is more of a trail hike.

Sugar Creek Falls is a short and easy hike of about a half mile (1.0 mile round trip).  There is a creek crossing which could probably be rock hopped on most days, but not when the water is up like it was today.  So I would end up saturating my second pair of hiking boots on the day!

Sugar Creek Falls

There is also another waterfall on Dryland Laurel Branch which feeds into Sugar Creek.  This one had some nice Rhododendrons blooming along side, but the rain and the wind made it impossible to get the shot I wanted.

Waterfall on Dryland Laurel Branch

For our final waterfall we decided to do a longer hike of about 5.0 miles (2.5 miles out and back) to Gina Falls outside of Sylva, NC.

What we failed to realize is that along with the 2.5 miles came almost 1,500 feet of elevation gain.  About halfway up, Brenda had run out of gas.  So she and Dan decided to turn back while Mark and I continued on.  On top of the 1,500 feet of elevation gain, there is also a short but difficult bushwhack at the end to get to this seldom visited waterfall!

 Gina Falls

 Mark at Gina Falls

Gina Falls

After Gina Falls, we considered continuing on up the trail to The Pinnacle.  But instead our cravings for some frosty adult beverages won out.  We ended up heading back and ending our day at Kevin Adam's favorite Brewery.  Mark and I made our first visit to the Boonjum Brewery tasting room in Waynesville for a flight at an appetizer!  Boonjum is a highly recommend after hike stop if you are in the Waynesville, NC area!

Despite the virtually non-stop rain, it was still a great day of waterfall wandering.  Much better than a day at the office!

As stated earlier, it was a huge challenge keeping the rain drops off the camera lens.  So out of about 150 photos, only 15 made my final cut.  They are posted here: