Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Wintergreen Falls on the Toxaway River

Cranefly Orchid blooming in Gorges State Park, NC

Wintergreen Falls on the Toxaway River

Dana Koogler & Cathy Howell
Sunday August 24, 2014

10 miles round trip

Working on the Carolina Mountain Club Waterfall 100 Challenge

Pictures are here: Wintergreen Falls Pix

    We went out to dinner at Lone Star Steak House on Saturday night.    It was delicious.
We had a nice leisurely dinner.    We had no plan for what to do on Sunday.
I had brought church clothes and was thinking we'd go to church on Sunday morning and spend the afternoon tubing in Davidson River and eating ice cream.   Cathy's preacher was out of town on  family trip
for a wedding so we played hooky from church.   Back at the house we lay down in the floor with the maps
and guidebooks and the cat and just wallered.   We were trying to hit upon a falls neither one had been to.

     I was daydreaming about the Middle Prong Wilderness and some falls we had seen
up there long ago with Rich and the gang.   We were not sure how to reach those as they had no names aside from the ones we gave them.   I am not really sure how we came up with the plan to go to Wintergreen
Falls on the Toxaway River.  I guess in reading and comparing "have you been heres?" it was the first one
we discussed that neither had visited.  It struck a chord and we both wanted to go.  Cathy said we'd best get to bed so we could get an early start.   We agreed to set our alarms for 7 am.  I was so excited it was hard to sleep at first.   I was a little concerned about how difficult it was going to be. I wanted to do something
hard and be up to the task. I wanted to start something hard and finish it!   I said a little prayer about it and went to sleep.  I woke up in the night turned the wrong way in the bed with my feet hanging out in space.
I dreamed strange things.

       We got ready to leave in the morning quickly.  I got my duffel bag and toiletries put together.
I planned on driving home in the evening. I had to be back to take Michael to school and to go to a doctors appointment on Monday.   I knew I'd be tired and not looking forward to the drive home after a tough days hike.   We arrived at the Frozen Creek access to Gorges State Park and there was only one car in the lot.
We began the long trudge down the Auger Hole Road.  It certainly is pretty. I had forgotten just how
pretty that area was.   I had sworn to keep the camera put up for most of the hike and limit the picture taking especially on the hike in.   We booked it and it only took us an hour and 30 minutes to travel the 3.1 miles to the right turn for Wintergreen Falls.  We had passed Chub Line Falls way down in the gorge.  I will make it back to see that one another day. It looks powerful and impressive!

      We rested briefly at the trail intersection.  We moved on  speedily. We tried to cover ground quickly on the actual trail since we knew we wouldn't make much time on the off trail portion.  We arrived at the end of the "trail" and had a very brief rest before we took on the off trail portion.   I ignored swimming holes and three smaller, but significant waterfalls on the way in on account of trying to focus and get there.
I did snap a few photos at this spot along the Toxaway.


Toxaway River with cardinal flower. 

The trail can still be seen here in this beautiful spot.  Partridge berry and moss cover the ground.
Just beyond here the track comes and goes or is lost all together.

   The off trail portion was a real bitch.  It involved picking the best way upstream for about a mile.  
Part of that took us up a cliff climb on the edge of a bluff. Thankfully someone else had flagged it with survey tape which really helped.   We came to the end of that part and tied off some rope to rappell down.  
We got to the last ledge and ran out of rope.   We were able to climb down that one because the ledge sloped and at the far end of it it was closer to the ground.  It made it a manageable distance to get down.
Soon after that I ended up in a yellow jackets nest in the middle of the "trail".  I got stung six times.
I was being chased and swarmed.  Cathy got stung once.  We dove into the creek to get away from the little
bastages.   It hurt like a sumbitch, but I knew I'd hurt worse tomorrow.  That's how bee stings do me.
We finally got our nerve up and got back to the task of heading upstream.   I was very discouraged and paranoid about getting stung anymore.    It was not long until Cathy said for me to look through the trees.
I could see a glint of white. We were within sight of it!  

       We worked our way out toward the river and around and over some big rocks. 
I had already made up my mind I was NOT going above the falls. My ordeal on Flat Laurel Creek convinced me I was beyond my pay grade doing that sort of thing.   We approached the massive, roaring Wintergreen Falls at last.   A golden eagle rose from a downed tree in the plunge pool and flew into the forest down the Toxaway.   It was a benediction.    I was thrilled that we had made it.   It was an answered prayer.   I took pictures. I got in the water and cooled off my bee stings and briar scratches.  I had felt a blood vessel break in my right eye which was now bruised and sore.   I have only had the experience once before where I was so upset at what it took to reach a waterfall... that I did not enjoy being there.  All I could think on was what we had to do to get back out.  The first time was that Gragg Prong debacle.
Today was only slightly better.  I finally was able to choke down part of lunch.  I calmed down and 
tried to enjoy being there.   

Massive Wintergreen Falls on the Toxaway River.  The photo doesn't do it justice.

     Cathy and I are a good team.  We made it here. We'd make it back.   Each trip together. Each difficulty overcome bonds us and forges us as both better friends and a stronger team.    We managed to avoid the bees on the way back out.  We found the spot to climb back up the rope. Going up was a lot easier than coming down.  The cliff climb was still tough, but we made it faster and easier having done it once today already.    Once we got back to the intersection near the Toxaway where the real trail starts we were so glad!    We knew this would be our last chance to get in the water and it was hot and humid.  We got in the creek and soaked a long while.    We were doing good time wise.   The river felt good on my stings.
It washed away the sweat and heat.  I felt better about life.   We faced the long trudge back out.  Cathy turned out to be right. The hike back was mostly uphill which is harder to take when you're already tired.
We did it though.  We made it out in about 2 1/2 hours.   Back at the vehicle I changed clothes and it felt so good to be dry finally.   My legs were scratched and bruised and stung all to hell.   I was too tired to be hungry.   We had done it!   I told her on the hike back out I needed to take up a new hobby that was not so dangerous and difficult.  She told me she agreed and said I needed to take up quilting.
Below is a photo of the trail leading to the Toxaway where we went and got in the water.

What will the next episode bring? 


  1. Great Blog. Those Yellow buggers scare me more than the snakes or bears! I looked this up on my NC waterfall database. Looks like a lot of falls in the area but many appear to be off trail. How far of a drive was this?

    1. Mike the drive was 2 1/2 hrs for me from here one way. This area of Gorges SP is beautiful but the falls here in this area are mostly off trail. There is one or two main access points to reach them. Auger Hole Falls and Maple Springs Branch were relatively easy. Chub Line would be a bitch on its own, but a little less difficult. I've been to Lower Bearwallow Falls which was longer, but not as difficult a bushwhack. Prettier falls than Wintergreen. You would not find it as hard as I found it.

  2. I'm interested to here the Gragg Prong story. I plan on being there Saturday.

    1. Jason, Gragg Prong is not bad in lower water. You can go down the rocks on the dry part beside the falls. We went during higher water and that was not an option. Long story short we descended via a pine tree down a cliff. Stupid. Just don't do that. TAKE ROPE along in case you need it and you won't go wrong. It was a case of being poorly prepared for the task as usual with me.


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