Thursday, May 31, 2012

Saint Mary's Wilderness & Falls Hike Trip Report

Wild Bleeding Hearts in St. Mary's Wilderness

Saint Mary's Wilderness & Falls Trip Report

Dana K├╝gler and Shirley Thiede
Friday May 18, 2012
Round Trip Hike Distance 4.4 miles

Pictures are here:

     Friday morning Shirley and I planned to go hiking. It would be Shirley's first hike ever!
I had wanted to hike up to St. Mary's Wilderness to the waterfall. I'd never hiked there in warm weather. Mom cautioned me going alone was a bad idea. Shirley was gracious and agreed to accompany me.  I was thankful for the company.   I packed us lunches.
I even planned ahead figured out what we could have for supper Friday night that would be easy and not have us in the kitchen all day?? I bought the stuff Thursday night for those good Hobo foil pouch chicken dinners.  I did not want us to have to be in a hurry to get home. Mom agreed to watch out for Jenny to get off the school bus.  We had the day to ramble.    We stopped first at Glenn Falls on Foundry Hill. I wanted to show Shirley this beautiful waterfall.  It certainly was pretty today. 

Glenn Falls on Foundry Hill, Vesuvius, VA.

     We continued to the trailhead for St. Mary's Wilderness. I had to try more than once to recall which turn off across the tracks went to the trail.   I have the tendency to make things shorter than they really are. I finally realized I had to go up under the iron bridge first to come to the correct road.  We parked and got going.   Wilderness hiking means almost certain trail confusion since wilderness areas don't manage, maintain and mark trails the way a National Park or State Park does.    I walked over near the stream to look. Shirley was right behind me and drew in her breath.  I turned around to see I had walked right past a coiled timber rattler.  It really upset me that I had not been paying more attention.  He was coiled to strike, but never rattled or moved a muscle.  It was only 59 degrees this morning and I think he was coiled because he was cold.  I was very fortunate that she saw him. I was darn glad to have company because that was time #1 where had I been alone I'd probably have been finished for the day! Shirley's response to this situation was jumping around a little saying she was gonna pee her pants. She was scared I'm sure, but I think she's too hard on herself.  I took his picture and determined to watch more closely and we continued.

Timber Rattler coiled by the stream

    We encountered a couple and their dog about the time we parted company with the first snake of the day.   They were only hiking up to the first creek crossing and turning around.   The entire hike was beautiful. Big purple clusters of Catawba rhododendron blooms were all around. Pink and white clumps of mountain laurel were also to be see along the trail.  We saw the pinkish-gray blooms of beardtounge as well.   We came to a point where it was necessary to hang onto roots and trees to work past an eroded part of the trail right next to the stream. I started seeing wild bleeding hearts! I have seen them many times in the Great Smoky Mountains, but did not know they bloomed in St. Mary's!  They were lovely.


Wild Bleeding Hearts by the stream at St. Mary's.

     We did fine with the navigating up to a point, but somewhere after the part where the trail is missing a big chunk that dropped into the creek....... we lost the path.  We ended up wading the creek back and forth and straight up the stream for a good bit.  Shirley was a trooper and we laughed and cut up and held hands and helped each other. I was once again thrilled to have a companion because this was the #2 point in my day where I'd probably have gotten upset and turned around.   Finally we came to a point in the hike where there was NO trail visible at any point. We were standing in the middle of the creek on a rock.  Stuff started coming back to me in my mind. I knew we needed to be on a trail with the stream to our right.  I asked her if she minded trying to head to our left to pick up the trail and she was game for that.  I had seen someone's tank top hanging on a limb and knew from signs of humanity we had to be close.   Moments later we were back on the path and glad as gold of it.  We sat down on a log to eat lunch a short time later and rest.   Salami and provolone on onion rolls. Yum!  A high fat lunch for energy.  Shirley is a diabetic who takes really good care of herself and controls her blood sugar well.  I didn't want her to run a low blood sugar and we were sure burning calories today. 

       We finished our lunch and continued this time was much better. We never lost the path again.   We came to the point where we had to climb down and ford the stream.   It was another spot where it was pretty and dramatic and a little excitement!

Shirley hanging onto trees where we had to climb down and ford the creek!

   I was so proud of Shirley! First hike and she was handling a wilderness trip like a champ!
There are not many women who would do this especially a first trip! She laughed and enjoyed herself like she'd been doing this for years!

      We made our last creek ford and were on the right side of the stream approaching the falls.  There is a campsite just before the waterfall.    We were thrilled we made it! The waterfall was beautiful. Lots and lots of water coming over today. We hugged and laughed and cheered for ourselves!  We stood there enjoying the view of the waterfall and the beautiful blue green water and pink tinted rock.   A young man was coming up the trail. We talked to him.  He had the same problem we did.  He was also wet and had waded the creek and missed the trail in the same section we did! This made me feel alot better and I told him so.   He was in the area on business and had a day to hike so was taking advantage of the time.   He had planned on exploring further upstream from the falls.  He went down to the stream, forded, climbed a far left corner that looked like steps and continued. Neither of us ladies had any interest in following him today.  We felt we had all we could handle today with what we'd done and getting back to the kee-yar. 


Sluice in the stream on the way to the falls. The water has the prettiest color.

St. Mary's Falls

   The area around the falls is dramatic. Scree slopes and cliffs of quartz.  This area was mined in the past for manganese ore.   Along the trail can be seen former signs of the mining operation.  There must have been a dinky line railroad trail that carried the ore out for we found railroad spikes, cable, bridge stays and things like that. Almost all of it was rusty metal.   The cliffs around the falls were dotted with pink mountain laurel, green Summer growth and purple rhododendrons.    Very pretty sight. The day was sunny and temperature comfortable.   The company was excellent!  I felt very blessed.

      We finally started back hating to leave such a pretty place.
We had an easier go on the way back and did not lose the trail a single time. I had hoped we would keep up with it better.  We made far better time without all that creek wading and crossing!   The hike back was interesting in that we encountered more people hiking in.  We also ran into snakes #2 and #3 on the way out.  Snake #2 was a northern water snake. Harmless, but right in the path.  Shirley did not want to step near him. He lay in the path where a stream crossed. I poked him to get him to move on, but he would not leave. I finally just flipped him out of the path and put him back in the water out of our way.   Snake #3 was a little garter snake eating a fat, red salamander!  I was fascinated. I've seen stuff like this on TV but never in real life.  I've seen a copperhead strike a salamander, but he hadn't eaten him yet.   I videotaped and photographed him eating.
Shirley's late spouse had snakes she helped care for and she told me some interesting facts about how they eat and digest their prey!   I did not know they had to hang onto something to crush it and grind it up, but he did exactly as she told me he would!   I learned something today and had such a great time.

   I look forward to many such adventures. I can hardly wait to hike with Shirley again!  :-)  Yes, it does make we wish we lived close.

            Thanks Shirley for your company!  Love you much!

Mountain laurel high above the falls on a cliff.

Garter snake eating a salamander

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Cypress Falls & Cave Trip Report

Maiden Hair Ferns

Cypress Falls and Cave Hike

Dana Koogler solo
Tuesday May 15, 2012
2 miles round trip

Pictures are here:

Cypress Falls Virginia Photos

Google Map of Cypress Falls and Vicinity
( 5160 Borden Grant Trail is Sam's House)
The other gold star to the west, top is Jonestown Rd.
The three stars heading down to the creek are
the drops of Cypress Falls.

     Tuesday morning I had planned on going to the woods to visit Cypress Falls.
We'd had three inches of rain the previous days and flooding in Rockbridge County.
Goshen and Natural Bridge, Virginia the hardest hit areas.  Kids two hours late to school those days. My brother-in-law, Brian works for Cintas. He left for work at O'Dark Thirty and had to turn around the day before to return home as Hwy 39 was flooded and the road closed.   I figured it was an excellent time to visit the falls and get a little therapy for my heart and head and some exercise as well.

      I  got a fairly early start. It was about eight-thirty when I started my hike.
I climbed the fence as only a lifetime expert fence climber can and walked the wet grass cow pasture down along the creek to the woods.  Past the gate that keeps the cows out the forest was really beautiful. North White Cedar grows here.  Today the woods smelled of fresh rain, damp earth, cedar boughs and wild roses.  Cypress Falls is on Uncle Lyle Koogler and Aunt Dot's place.  It is always a beautiful hike. Today putty root orchids bloomed along the path in large numbers.

       I began to see lots of small cascades in the creek which was churned up muddy brown from the hard rains the night before.   It was no time til I stood at the brink of the first big drop of 120 feet.   No way down from near the falls.  I walked over and checked out the first cave which enters the ground going straight in. Large boulders surround the cave mouth.   I climbed the hill and began working my way round to the base of the first drop.
In order to reach it you go up over the hill and down the other side. There is no official trail here, but you can see where other folks have done it before by the track on the earth.

       I worked my way up the hill and down over the other side through the rocks, briars and  underbrush.  I came out at the base of the second falls and turned to go back up to the base of the first drop.   I tied off a length of rope to make it easier to get down the bank. I crossed the creek and stood looking directly at the beautiful, raging waters of Cypress Falls main drop. It is a scene from paradise.  The plunge pool was muddy, but the waterfall itself was white and glorious.   The deep green leaves of late Spring on the trees obscured the top portion of the falls from full view.  I took some photos and video footage and decided to do something I had not done before. I explored the far side of the plunge pool and falls.
I was so glad I did! The forest floor was covered in soft pine needles and ferns.  I found springs gushing out and flowing to meet the plunge pool from a separate water source. Massive travertine rock formations abounded on this side of the pool.  The hillside was a cliff face pock marked with openings. I could see the cave Aunt Dot had told me about.
I climbed up the cliff and entered it.  I needed this experience today.  I felt like I was living a dream. So perfect. So fun! So beautiful.  I just thanked God and asked him to keep me safe, but had I died I'd have died happy. Days like today and experiences like this are treasures to me.  The cave was small, but interesting and beautiful.  I crawled around in it exploring a small passage that lead to another small opening like a window.
It was fun to stand in the cave mouth looking out. Seeing the forest below and listening to the roar of the falls close by. 

Cypress Falls from under the tree canopy
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Cypress Falls is 120 ft high
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Looking out of the cave mouthVA 056

Travertine formations. The cliff to the far left.. the larger opening is the cave I went in.  Travertine rock is formed when calcium carbonate and other minerals from the water flowing are absorbed into vegetation like grasses which eventually harden into stone.  There are a number of these type waterfalls in Virginia. Another place on the globe to find them is Plitvice in Croatia!
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     I  went back round to the opposite side and gathered up my things including my rope.
I walked down to the second falls and tied off the rope again.  The second falls is about thirty feet high.  It would have been possible to reach the base without a rope, but it sure was easier with it and it did not tear up the bank.  I enjoyed the second falls. Last time I was here my mom, my niece and nephew were with me and it was Winter.  Mom told me sternly that we had gone FAR ENOUGH. She is not a fan of my adventurous ways and with my sisters kids along I knew better than to try her patience.  Today I was free as a bird to do as I wished without recriminations.  I enjoyed the falls, but what else struck me was just how pretty this area is all around.  Lush green growth and all those hemlocks and cedars over that muddy cow creek.  I grew up swimming in stuff like this so today I was not one bit bothered by it.  The water was warm and murky, but I went on in. 
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Second drop of Cypress Falls

Muddy stream flowing on past the second drop of Cypress Falls. Beautiful!
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     I climbed back up the bank and continued down to the third drop which was not far from me.   I stood at the brink of the third drop which is about 100 feet high.
I videotaped it.  I then worked my way round in front of it.  Last time I was there was about fourteen years earlier with KT and Cathy.  We had a good view of the entire falls then, but it was January. Bitterly cold and snowy.  Today the tree leaves obscured the view.  I knew it was supposed to be possible to continue downstream all the way to where the creek  drops into South River.  I did not want to try that solo today, but I did want to go past this spot to see if I could find a way to the base of the third drop.    I had a path about 6 inches wide with only a few feet total between me and falling over the bluff.  Not a real good track here, but I managed to work my way carefully past and on downstream.  To my right the bluff rose high and steep and overgrown with every sort of vegetation and littered with downfall.  The gorge was incredible. Deep green forest gloom with the stream to keep me company on my left.  A Red Riding Hood forest like a storybook.
I loved it.  I could see after a point that the stream flattened out. There were a couple more cascades below with the largest being about fifteen feet high.
The terrain did ease and I found a spot to go down over the bank. It still was a mess getting to the base of the third drop. I had to wade the creek very carefully picking my way among fallen trees and over submerged rocks.  I finally made it and got a clear view of the falls. It was worth every bit of effort. 
The third falls is very lacey and part of the flow at the top is diverted through a hole eroded over time. Its beautiful and interesting.  Ferns were all around me.
Above me the rocky bluff loomed.  It would have been far easier and simpler to tie off and rappell down, but solo it was not a good plan. What I had done was more trouble, but safer.  I enjoyed the falls here and ate a snack and a drink break. It was getting hotter and more humid as the day wore on.  I hated to leave, but I finally tore myself away and repeated the process and was thrilled when my feet were back on the actual path. 

            I climbed back up the big hill, leveled off and worked my way back out to the gate and my vehicle.   The sun was out and the day was clearing up to be extra beautiful.  I left all my worries washed away ....... let 'em go on down to South River. 

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Third drop of Cypress Falls is 100 ft high.Below is a video of the main, biggest drop of Cypress Falls. At the top is a link to the page where I have a total of five videos from this trip. They are all good.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Fall Branch Falls Hike

Bluets growing thickly along the Hooper Bald Trail

Fall Branch Falls Hike

Dana & Kenny Koogler & Obey the Pup
Saturday May 5, 2012
 Hike distance for the day 2.5 miles RT

     Saturday we decided we just couldn't hike the Smokies and leave the dog penned up. We opted instead to take our 4 month old pup to hike with us in the Cherokee National Forest where he'd be welcome.  We picked some hikes we felt sure he'd be able to handle for difficulty and distance.
We took him to see Fall Branch Falls first.    Obey enjoys rides in a vehicle too especially if he can let his head hang out the window so his ears can fly! 

     We stopped at the Subway in Tellico Plains, and got some lunch then took it over to the visitor center to eat outdoors.  He was very well behaved, but we kept him leashed since he is so nosey and has to go speak to everyone.  We finished up our drive to the trailhead and we were all very glad to get out of the vehicle.  It was a gorgeous clear day. It had started off rainy, gray and overcast.  We weren't sure it was even going to be a fit day to hike at all.  Thankfully it cleared off.

      Once on the trail and away from the road we let the dog off the leash. He ran around like a crazy, wild animal.  The trail is a wilderness trail and is unmarked, but well traveled. It is not super well maintained and Obey had to negotiate several huge blown down trees to get over.  I first thought I'd have to lift him over, but he just wanted me to get out of his landing zone and he hopped over like he'd been doing it forever. He was very proud of himself. We could see his confidence really increase!  He ran ahead, but would come back to check on us especially me. He wanted to make sure his ole Mama could handle the hike.  He herded us some getting behind us to make us move on up the trail.  

      We could heard the roar of the waterfall as we neared the bottom of the trail.  The forest smelled heavenly fresh and green.  The air was cool.  It was only 67 degrees up here in the mountains.   Perfect hiking weather.   I was also concerned about the dog crossing the creek, but
the water level was not bad.  He skipped across like he'd been here many times before.  He again kept checking on me and Kenny to see if we were going to be able to make it. He was a champ!

       The falls is about eighty feet high and a sheer drop. It shone through the trees like a big white ribbon.  The sun filtered down through the spray.  Basswood seeds fell like tiny white propellers through the mist and sun almost constantly. It was a beautiful scene. Sunshowers!
Taking pictures here was tricky because of the spray off the falls.   The big troll tree down at the falls has fallen over. The one I always liked to get in and pose for pictures.  It toppled over sometime within the last year or so.  Bummer.   The sunny and misty conditions forced us to climb much closer to the falls than we usually do to try to find a vantage point that would permit decent photos and video clips.   The dog was already up there prowling around so we couldn't be outdone by a pup!    

        Standing to the far left of the falls up close provided a fine vantage point without spray and better lighting.  It was fun to see this falls from a different and very pretty angle.  One of those times we wondered why we hadn't done this sooner?  There is actually a small plunge pool for this falls that can be seen from this point.    Everything was lush and deep green. Obey was having the time of his life. He played fetch. He ran under my legs and the tripod. He found crawdads and ate them.
He flopped down and enjoyed the cool. He is a very hot natured dog and appreciated the misty breeze and cool rocks.   Umbrella leaf, dog hobble, and violets were the main flowers in bloom down here today. 

         We had such a good time we hated to leave. We finally did turn around and begin our hike back.  It was all uphill on the way back out.  We were made to look lazy and slow by the pup who had gotten his second wind and kept looking at me like "Mom, are you going to make it?".
We put him back on his leash as we neared the road. We knew that was going to be a real chore as he was NOT going to want to be leashed again.  Kenny called to him and he just stood and looked at him. "nope. You're not fooling me." I had a flash of inspiration and I exploited my furry child's weakness: Worry over Mom!    I went to hollering "Obey! Help! Come help Mom! I'm in trouble!"  He came dashing to me. I hugged his neck and thanked him. I clipped the leash on and let him think he was pulling me back up the trail the last bit.  I thanked him again for the help.
It was wicked, but I was sure proud of how well it worked!   He can be very stubborn when he doesn't want to do a thing. 

      We decided rather than put ourselves through anymore time cooped up on the car than necessary we'd hike out to the big open meadow at Hooper Bald.  We could all run around off our leashes and play some more.  It was lots closer than Coker Creek.   We will save that waterfall trip for another day.   Hooper Bald was nice. Obey got some more run around time off his leash. We lounged in the soft grass near the pulpit.. the main view from Hooper Bald.  We visited with some other people and enjoyed the sunshine and the breeze.  It was marvelous!  I'd never been to Hooper Bald this early in the season. Its the doldrums for flower blooms there.  All the early stuff done. The later stuff like laurel and azaleas not even started.  Still pretty.  The trees just beginning to leaf out good up this high.   

        We hiked back to the jeep putting Obey on his leash as we neared the parking lot.
Good thing since there were lots of people and other dogs there!  He had to visit everyone. He's the "Glad Paw" dog and has to greet every single person and dog.   He was adored by all except one spooked little girl.  She wasn't too sure about him. We loaded back up and headed home.
It was no time til he was sprawled and snoring in the back seat of the jeep.
All the windows down feeling the breeze!

          What a wonderful family hike.  We were very proud of how our rescue dog is turning out to be an able hiker!  Soon he'll be able to keep up with longer hikes.  Today we hiked about 2 1/2 miles and he was fine.  He was cooperative in all the ways that mattered.

Below is a video of Fall Branch Falls

Obey at the falls 

Fall Branch Falls profile view

View from Brushy Ridge Overlook

View from Hooper Bald Pulpit

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Dollywood with the Family

Grandson Michael running around in the back yard playing with water

Dollywood with the Family

Monday April 30, 2012

Pigeon Forge, TN
Dana Koogler and Family 
Pictures are here: 
Dollywood Pix

     We purchased season passes to Dollywood this year thanks to Kenny's co-worker Danny.
Got 'em for $40!  Can you believe that?  I upgraded mine to a gold pass for $40 Monday and that will pay for itself in about one more visit. No more paying to park. 10% off all food and drinks and gift store purchases.  I am very excited about it since I had not been to Dollywood for a couple years.
Adam, Crysal, Michael and Teresa and myself went on Monday.  It was Teresa's birthday so that made it really special.   We had so much fun!  We ate good food. Shopped.  Played games. Checked out shows. Rode rides. Enjoyed a gorgeous sunny, beautiful day in East Tennessee.

    It was nice too not to feel compelled to try to do it all in one day since we have season passes and can come back whenever we want!  Takes the pressure off.   It was the last day of Festival of Nations so we really lucked out.  Not alot to tell except it was great fun and much needed time with the family.   I learned that when Mike Lindsey was a kid his family owned some of the land that Dollywood is built on now! I did not know that Mike was running around over there farming and playing as a kid.  Aunt Cookie lived over there!  Very cool stuff. I was glad to learn a little bit of the history besides just the Dolly Parton stuff. 

Can't wait to go back with Kenny for a grownups day of play!

Michael tosses balls at the Angry Birds game.

Nearing the top of the Ferris Wheel

Michael's first ferris wheel ride and he liked it!

Crystal and Michael on the bees

Atahualpa plays some lovely South American flute music. I liked it so much that I purchased the CD.

Michael and Crystal playing goat skin drums at Dollywood.