Sunday, September 23, 2012

Laurel-Snow Pocket Wilderness Hike

Blazing Star growing along the trail.

Laurel-Snow Pocket Wilderness Hike

Dana Koogler solo

Hike distance 5 mi. RT

(Out & back to Laurel Falls)

Pictures are here:

Videos are here: 

Lower Laurel Falls

Laurel Falls

Paine Creek Falls
(To see Paine Creek Falls see notes at bottom of page)

    I got up Thursday early and drove down to Dayton to hike. I'd been wanting
to hike Laurel-Snow Pocket Wilderness again.   Kenny and I hiked it about eight years earlier and it was real nice.  I don't recall everything about that trip, but I remember thinking I'd like to do it over when we'd had plenty of rain.   Today was my chance.  We got five inches of rain over the weekend with it finally drying up Wednesday.   I figured the crossing to Snow Falls would be a bust and it was.  The guide book warns that reaching Snow Falls at the far end of the hike is a wet foot crossing and that during times of heavy rain fall the creek is impassable.  Long way to hike only to have to turn around.    I contented myself with the idea of hiking the parts of the gorge that should be accessible this trip.  I was far from disappointed.

      The drive to Dayton is long at around 93 miles for me.   I got an early start, but after the drive I still did not get on the trail until 10 a.m.   Finding the wilderness itself was a challenge even with the tom tom to assist me.  I missed the turn, but realized it almost immediately and simply turned around.  I checked my directions and sure enough I was correct.  I need to update my tomtom as it seems to be on the fritz about half the time.    I had no recall of the road into the pocket wilderness.  I was not even sure I was at the right place.   It is worth mentioning that all the trash that had been in the woods at the parking area was now gone! That much I do remember.   I had called Bowater and the Tennessee Dept. of Natural Resources because folks were using the land as a dumping ground for old appliances,  household garbage, old furniture, you name it.   All of that is now cleaned up! The parking area is very tidy and improved.   

    I had not gone out of sight of the parking area when I heard a loud roaring to my right.  The creek to my left was raging, but even over that I could tell there was something off the trail to my right.  I recalled seeing that there was supposed to be a ten foot waterfall near the start of the trail.  I walked off the trail and went up the bank and followed the track others had trod.  Among room sized boulders, trees and logs was a beautiful waterfall about twenty-five feet  high. It was raging and from the point where I stood it flowed down the hill and formed a series of beautiful cascades.   The stream's flow split into about three parts among the rocks and gushed forth powerfully. 


Paine Creek Falls

    I continued on enjoying the view of the rushing stream to my left and the old stone structures from the mines to my right.  It was not long until I was flanked on the right by towering stone cliffs.  I passed the mine entrance and had to go in to see it.    It was dripping with water back there today.

Looking out of the mine.

One of many clusters of boulders and rapids along the stream.

      I saw only half dozen people on my hike in.  All of them were just day hiking.
I was surprised how quickly I arrived at the intersection where the trail continues straight up a short distance to the old Dayton Reservoir and the main trail veers sharply right and uphill.    I had visited the reservoir the last time so today I opted to stay on the main trail.
I saw a few blown down trees that were nearly all cleaned up and moved.  The trail was high above the stream now and provided good views of the bluffs on the far side of the gorge.  I got a good look at Buzzard Point complete with soaring, gliding buzzards!
I'll hike there next trip.

Buzzard Point viewed from the main trail.

  The trail up high continued for a short spell and soon I was rounding the bend where the forest changed character.   The air was cooler and the trail dropped to a lower level. The forest here was a healthy hemlock gorge.  I arrived at the first metal bridge over a stream.
All around me was verdant, lush and green with rushing white ribbons of water passing beneath the bridge.   Ahead on Laurel Creek I could see one cascade after another.
Just across the bridge the trail splits and goes right for Laurel Falls and left for Snow Falls.
I headed right and soon came to this spot where I had lunch. 

Lunch spot by some massive boulders and a lovely cascade on Laurel Creek.

    I followed the trail only a short distance until I arrived at Lower Laurel Falls.
It is a very pretty ten foot tall cascade on Laurel Creek.   The trail then continues
uphill.   I had to crawl through a hole in some boulders to keep going. That is how the trail is routed here. Makes it interesting.

Lower Laurel Falls

     I followed the trail uphill on some easy switchbacks.  I did not recall going this way before, but the blazes were consistent and I had no trouble finding my way.   I noticed lots of colorful Autumn wildflowers along the path.  Red hearts-a-bursting. Pale purple & white asters.  Golden asters. Goldenrod.  Pink Blazing stars.  I saw lots of bees, butterflies, and dragonflies today as well.   The stream was to my right now and filled with numerous cascades and small falls.  The terrain was treacherous and I was alone so I did not explore the gorge the way I would had I been with Kenny.   Instead I continued until
I glimpsed the top of eighty foot high Laurel Falls. I could hear it well before I could see it.
It was a raging cataract today and extremely impressive!   The spray from the falls had everything slick so I had to use caution getting close to the base.  I finally ended up
coming around to the far side of the falls to get the best photos and video footage without being drenched in mist.   The sun shining down through the spray was so pretty.  The wind was gusting. Above me against the high cliffs was another wet weather falls that was about sixty feet high.    I sat and soaked in the beauty and glory of this place today.
I was glad I had the chance to see it and I hope to be able to bring Kenny back to enjoy it.
When we were here before one thing I do recall is that it was nowhere near this much water coming over the falls.

Laurel Falls from the side.

    I can hardly wait to come back here to do some more exploring.
I eased on back toward the trail head. I encountered more people on my way out.
Most of them were kayakers!  It occurred to me that I wondered if anyone ever died kayaking Morgan Creek?   American Whitewater's statistics say no, but there have been numerous close calls.   Morgan Creek is one of the steepest streams in the area and descends the entire plateau in minutes.  Much of it is what they deem un-runnable and mandatory portages.  When extreme creek kayakers say something is un-runnable it gets my attention.   The North Pole run begins on the other side of the gorge at Snow Falls and continues down. I don't know what they consider the takeout point.

     I had a hankering to visit a fire tower today and managed to find one nearby.
I visited the attractive Summer City Fire Tower and what a day for views!

Summer City Fire Tower is accessible to the public, but the cab is locked.

View from the Summer City Fire Tower

Here is a link to a few photos from Summer City and other fire towers.

    I have a link posted up top to several really good videos of waterfalls from the day's outing.  I ended my day by hunting for Morphy Falls.  It was supposed to be in the area nearby.  I did find it, but was dismayed to find it was on private property.  I had pulled down into a lane and was hunting for a wide enough place to turn around safely.  I looked up and there it was right before me at the end of the road.  I figured no harm in snapping a few photos and a short video clip.  It was not a super great waterfall, but I was pleased to get to see it.   

     It was a fun day and I was tickled at having seen so many pretty and new sights.
I was also happy to get to practice using the GPS to successfully locate neat things!

**Paine Creek Falls and other beautiful waterfalls are on a side canyon where Paine Creek enters the Laurel Falls gorge from the right heading in.  You will have barely left the parking area before you encounter a side stream on the right. That is it.  There is no official trail to visit these falls, but it is possible to bushwhack/ creek crawl up there to see a series of falls. **

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