Sunday, May 4, 2014

Wilson Falls Adventure

Wilson Falls Off Trail Adventure

Large flowered trillium blooming along the way.



Dana & Kenny Koogler
Mike Gourley
Marlene Denton
Dwayne Allen

Sunday April 13 , 2014

11 miles through hike.
with approx. 4 miles of the trip off trail

 **I do not have a link to photos with this trip report.
My computer crashed and I lost all the Wilson Falls pictures except
for the ones I had already put on Facebook.  
At least I have those and the video material.** 



     The persons who know me in real time and are readers of my blog or 
keep up with me on Go Smokies, Facebook, and Backpacker.com  are  aware
I am recovering from a serious illness.   The name of the illness is Miller Fisher Syndrome. 
It affected my vision giving my instant double vision. It paralyzed my eyes. It took away my balance. It gave me vertigo.  It made me very weak. It  took away all my tendon reflexes. It depressed my drive to breath for a time.  Writing this blog entry is going to be one of those
difficult ones. It is so personal it is hard to frame up completely and put my emotions down
in words.   I will give it my best shot. At the time of this writing I am well. Thanks be to God!

           I have known about Wilson Falls in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
for many years.  I think I first learned of it about 11 years ago.  I saw it on a map of the park.
It is on the map but there is no trail to it.   Kenny and I first began off trail hiking about the time I learned of the existence of this place.   We did not make an attempt to locate it the first time   until a couple years after I'd been backpacking.  I talked Kenny into going backpacking with me and we stayed at CS 30 the time I completed Little River Trail.  We set up camp and 
hiked the short distance back to try to go off trail and find it.  I purchased a 1931 map of the 
Smokies before it was a National Park.  It shows all the old logging railroad grades and logging trails on that map.   We were unsuccessful this attempt.   We started up the wrong side of the stream and missed the old logging grade. 

           A year ago I had discussed with Mike Gourley and Kenny about making another attempt.    I do not recall why we did not go then, but again.. it was not in the cards.   

              I had been getting out doing some minor off trail and wilderness hiking. 
It was turning out to be really good for my recovery.  The biggest problem I had at this point
was proprioception difficulty.  My brain struggled to know the position of my limbs in space.
I read that re-training old pathways in the brain to reconnect by doing this type of activity was
one of the quickest, best ways to heal.  I was more than happy to keep at it.

       Wilson Falls had become in my mind one of those things I was conflicted over.
One part of me desperately wanted to do this trip and see this magnificent falls. 
I wanted to be among the few who could say they'd seen it.  Another part of me was afraid to make this trip.   Yet another part of me was not willing to put out the physical exertion that was going to be required to make it happen.   Another part of me wanted this so badly but was afraid it would not happen I would not allow myself to think about it much.   I kept it not even on my mental back burner of plans. I kept this one in a locked box in the closet on a high shelf.

      
       It got mentioned on Go Smokies by Mike Gourley and Marlene Denton.  I knew that
this would be one trip that I'd never attempt alone.  I also knew that it is hard to get folks to
commit to this sort of thing because of its extremity.  I did not believe I was ready owing to my 
physical limitations.  I am just going to put it out there as to what I believe happened.
If you don't agree with me........... and can't say anything nice... keep your thoughts to yourself.

Making the Decision to Go
       
I had hit a plateau of sorts in my recuperation.  Wednesday night before this hike...I experienced a rapid burst of healing.   I drove home at 10 pm from my daughters house without an eye patch for the first time.   I drove to work the next day and back home from work without it.     My vision cleared up to 98% normal. It was a marvelous feeling to be able to SEE one thing.. one image and not everything doubled.     

    
  I contacted Mike and Marlene and those who were interested and let them know Friday that Kenny and I planned to join.  I could feel it coming together.  Saturday we did a short but intense off trail hike to Chilogatee Creek Falls to see how I handled the terrain.  I was successful in that, but I admit I still had my misgivings.   I went to bed Saturday night with the 
determination that all I could do was try it.  I did not want to mess things up and ruin it for 
everyone. I did not want to live with the regret at having missed the opportunity.  We prayed
it over as a couple and asked God to watch over and guide us.   We further asked the Lord to 
please keep our companions safe and bless them.  Decision making for us goes like this:

Lord, If we are to do this thing.... remove the obstacles and make straight the way.
If we are not meant to do this thing put every obstacle in our way and prevent it from happening.    

"Thy will be done".  It is the prayer that never fails. 
Becoming a Team
 We watched in amazement as it fell into place effortlessly.   The right, likeminded, experienced 
companions. It can't go unmentioned that advice from Jenny Bennett was invaluable in our decision making.  She is a superb off trail hiker.   Favorable weather.   It was  meant to be. 

        We met up with Mike and Marlene at the Elkmont Trailhead and parked two of the cars there.  We greeted each other. Kenny and I had never met any of these fine folks before in real life.  I'd only read about them and communicated with them on line through Go Smokies.
We all admitted our misgivings to one another.  We all agreed that if any one of us got that
gut feeling we needed to quit, turn around, get out.... we would all as a unit do just that!
We agreed to TRY this trip.      
Striking Out in the General Direction
   We headed up the mountain to the Clingmans Dome road.   At the trailhead there we had a very nice surprise waiting.  It was Dwayne Allen also of Go Smokies site and Happy Valley resident.    It was wonderful meeting all of them.   We hiked the A.T. out to and just past the summit of  Mt. Collins.  Finally the terrain improved just a tad and we left the trail to
begin our descent.   

           The terrain below the summit of Mt. Collins is unlike anything we'd seen before.
We were in the balsam zone.  Pines, hemlocks, fir trees. Deep dark and green.   The snow melt
and all the rain we'd had this past cold Winter had the area saturated.  Look at the map of the 
area and imagine the fingers of blue spreading out on the map. These are the tributary streams
that feed Meigs Post Prong.  The amount of springs and tiny tributaries that make up that stream are innumerable.  It was too pretty for words.  You cannot adequately capture it in a photo. It is one of those life time experiences that you just have to be there and see it and do it yourself.   It is why we off trail hikers do what we do.  It is worth the risk. 

     We had three men with GPS devices all keeping check on our progress and 
everyone working together as a team.  Scouting. Consulting.  Encouraging. Helping. 
The humor, spirit, camaraderie of this trip was outstanding. It will never be lost on me.
I was not 100%, but I believe it was how the Lord meant it to be for me.  This was a comeback
hike for me to end all.   What it helped end for me was doubt.  I have trouble making myself
vulnerable and allowing others to see that side of me.  I don't like to ask for help. I had to ask for help. Allow vulnerabilty. Admit my weakness.  Accept help.  Show gratitude.   Everyone with me was willing to accept me and help me.  It completed me.  We all discussed the fact 
that when you go through a hard task like this with people you bond with them.  
Today I made good, lasting friends.  They more than made up for what lacked in me.
I love them all for it. 

              

  Spring beauties in the valley along Meigs Post Prong.

    


      We plowed through rhododendron at a couple points along this trip.
We made it through after a hard fight.  We sat and rested.  We had more open terrain here, but now  we realized we were very close to the top of the falls. We all had doubts about
being able to get down to the stream and below the falls to view it??  The doubts were short lived.    We soon found ourselves at the stream.    The view opened up and here is what we saw.

Top--the beginnings of Wilson Falls
Bottom--Rocky knob on the upper slopes of Mt. Collins

 Arriving at the Main Falls
     The weather we had was perfect.  It was warm enough to remove jackets now.  The skies
were blue and sunny.   The air was crisp and fresh.  It was a bluebird day for certain.
 We all took turns scrambling around on the rocks for a view of the stream and the various
drops of the massive 400 foot falls.  It is not all one falls. It is a continuous, connected serious of drops.  Patches of white on a topo map usually indicate rock.  Wilson Falls is one of those white patches.  The terrain on the opposite side of the creek was even steeper and rockier.
We definitely picked the correct side of the stream for this part of the journey.

 One of the largest drops of Wilson Falls. 

A rainbow in the bottom of Wilson Falls.


  Everyone was having a good time. We were all excited and very pleased. We had made it to thus far!
We had seen the falls!  We were all ecstatic.   I looked down and saw a rainbow in the splashing waters of one of the biggest drops of the falls.  I was overcome by emotion.  I was here. I was well.
I had friends with me and a husband who loved me, accepted me, and were willing to help and accept me.    God is truly good every day. One of the ways He shows his love and keeps his promises to us/me is through other people.  Our fellow travelers on the planet who can reach out to us. 
It is one of those rare moments in life that to me are more precious than gold. I felt like the most blessed person in the whole world right then.  

Navigating the Crux--The Boulder Field

   The next part of the trip was to be one of the most frightening experiences I've ever
lived through.  Navigating the boulder field between Wilson Falls and the terrain below to
arrive at  the remnants of the old logging grade. We would follow the stream and the old logging
road all the way to Little River Trail at Elkmont.   A boulder field high in the headwaters of a 
stream in the Smoky Mountains is treacherous.   The one we faced today was the worst thing
I've ever seen.  The boulders ranged in size from a footstool to a small room.  The problem
becomes that every step you take must be thought out and tested before moving forward.
A wrong choice can be a committing move.  A committing move is one that puts you in an 
even worse position you have no way out of and either have to see through or maybe not 
survive it at all.   The gaps between boulders can be filled by wood, loose dirt, talus, leaves, or debris.
The terrain is seldom if ever traveled so the boulders and surrounding area are often covered 
by great sheets of moss that drape them.   You cannot tell when you make a step if the ground
 will support you or if your foot and leg will keep going.  

     All of us were experienced off trail hikers.  Kenny and I have negotiated boulder fields
like this in the Smokies and elsewhere, but this was by far the worst.  It went further.
It was more slippery. The possibility for injury was greater. Marlene was ahead of me at one
point and I heard the sound of rock grinding on rock.  I looked over and saw one of those 
footstool sized boulders shifting place and sliding down the slope right for her.  I was fortunate
enough to be in the place to just reach out and stop it.   Climbing down off these boulders with 
my balance and vision still wonky was not fun.  Many spots along the down climb here
involved sliding over boulder faces that a wrong move would land you in a gaping hole beneath that boulder!  I was using my Lamaze breathing to get through this experience.  Marlene and Kenny and everyone really stuck by me with a helping hand and reassurance.  Once safely past this we 
truly had the worst of the trip behind us.  



 View from the top of Wilson Falls





 Wilson Falls deep in the heart of the Smokies where few have trod.


Middle of the Manway 

   The 1931 map shows an old logging road and it is indeed there as shown.  It is about like I expected.  You can't depend on it.  Most of it is overgrown with thick rhododendron.  Trees
have fallen across it in many spots forcing you to leave it every whip stitch.  We made our own way for most of the rest of the time. We followed the logging road when we could. We just 
mainly followed the path of least resistance with the most open terrain.  We stopped and ate lunch at one point.  I was so excited it was hard to eat.  Marlene said at one point along the trip 
that the boulder field had her so scared she thought she'd vomit.  I was sorry she felt that way, but thankful she said it. I had felt exactly the same way, but like I often do when I am scared...
I got quiet.     We all enjoyed the beauty of the surroundings and the terrain that was far easier compared to where we'd come from.

      The drainage of Meigs Post Prong is a hanging valley filled to the brim with springs
and green growing things.  Rhododendron is one of them.  All off trail hikers have a love/hate
relationship with rhodo.  On one hand we despise it because of the impediment to travel.
On the other hand we love it because of the anchors and hand holds it provides when descending
a steep slope.  We ran the full gamut of those feelings on the trip that day!   
Springtime here in this valley coats the slopes with spring beauties, trout lilies, ramps, and other pretty new vegetation.  Saying it was lush was an understatement. 

 

Top-- trout lilies blooming along the way
Bottom-- the 25 ft middle cascade of Wilson Falls which is further down Meigs Post Prong.

    One of the coolest things about this collection of hikers who for the most part did not know each
other was we all got the Hillbilly Intercom system! Ernest T. Bass on Andy Griffith used to say
Hooty Hoo to you and you.. its me its me.. its Ernest T.  We all without discussing it........ used
the same yodels to find each other in the brush. One of the cardinal rules of off trail hiking is to stay 
within ear shot of each other.   Staying in visual contact is not always possible.

   We enjoyed a stop by the middle cascade which was highly photogenic.
A little further on we fought through the second batch of downfall and rhodo of the day.
It was not as bad as the upper part, but longer. We surfed and swam through it to reach
the 50 ft falls shown below.


We paused to enjoy this spot and soak it up seeing as none of us would likely ever be back here again.
We took a group shot here.  It was a lot of fun.  Well, our kind of fun anyway.  


         Mike Gourley just below the 50 foot lower falls.  

Next we had to just continue down to try to find Meigs Post Prong Falls..a 15 foot waterfall
at the intersection of a tributary of Meigs Post Prong and the main stream.  Mike hiked further than
all the rest of us being determined to seek out and photograph ALL the waterfalls on today's trip.
Long story short is that we never found it.  It was not for the lack of his efforts. The rest of us were
not as committed to that part of it.  We were more desirous of having a real trail under foot as soon as possible.  I had said I was mainly concerned with being on the real trail before dark.
We soon came to the site of an old structure. It was probably not a home, but more likely a logging
camp structure.  It had three bed frames in close proximity to one another.  More like a bunk house than a dwelling.  Here we got up on the old logging grade and tried to stick with it as much as possible. We rooted through rhodo for the third and final time today.  This was yet a little easier than the other two times.  It was possible to stand up more than the other two belly crawls. 

At last we emerged onto the Little River Trail and were cheering!! We'd made it! It was only 4:30 pm.  We were on a real trail well before dark.  The next three hours we trudged out of there 6.8 miles back to the cars.  We were weary and footsore but happy.  The trail was beautiful with Spring green
and wildflowers and the river filled with pretty pools and cascades. 



Top --close up of fringed phacelia
Middle--Kenny along a pretty stretch of Little River Trail.
Bottom-- cluster of large flowered trilliums along the trail.


We made it to the cars by before dark. We met up with Dwayne who was waiting on us. Marlene had to motor on home fast seeing as she had work the next day very early.   We all traveled to the top of the mountain together in Mike's car.   It was good to sit down and have wheels under us. 
We enjoyed chatting with one another.   It had grown chilly and was fully dark.
We parted company with Mike and Dwayne. I know they had to be as worn out as we were.
We stopped in Gatlinburg to get a quick bite to eat at Wendy's before heading home.
We were filthy dirt, smelly and exhausted. So tired we almost didn't want to eat, but had to.
We also were very pleased with our accomplishment.  We made excellent new friends.
I"m already looking forward to seeing these folks again!

New members of our hiking family!  



4 comments:

  1. You did a pretty good job of putting down those words to tell the story! Sorry for all you've gone through, but happy for such a great accomplishment and memory. I'm going to call up Google Earth and see if I can figure out where you walked.

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  2. Thanks. I appreciate that you read it and took time to comment and encourage me. Bless you! I am going to post another blog entry later that is an addendum to this entry. This one is already so dreadfully long! I will post a video of the falls and try to include a map that shows the area. I don't know if you can read a topo map or not, but it is a bear of a trip. It is not a place I want to go again!

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  3. Amazing recount of your journey! I so regret now I didn't join you guys! I let my fears get to me. I am so so proud of you for overcoming yours! I love the prayer you say before attempting one of these hikes too! God Bless you & Keep you safe, and hope you continue to heal!

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    Replies
    1. Thank you Diane. How dear of you. I too hate you missed it but I understand. I do hope to meet you and hike with you. Maybe something NOT so extreme?!! I vote for easier! Hee hee

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