Monday, September 29, 2014

How to Find Waterfalls--Part Three

Fort Harry Falls in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN

How to Find Waterfalls--Part Three
For the Advanced Waterfall Seeker

Dana Koogler
Monday September 29, 2014

      You've begun hiking to waterfalls. You really like it. You want more of it. You have 
begun searching them out in other places. It is a very enjoyable pass time for you.  It is great for your
well being. It helps you stay fit.  It helps soothe the soul. It helps you enjoy life more all around.
It is VERY habit forming.   Perhaps you picked a goal of hiking to all the waterfalls in a guidebook
on a given area and have completed all of those. Congratulations!   You got you some good guidebooks.
You got in the habit of talking to various persons in real time and on social media about waterfalls. 
You surf the net hunting for info on waterfalls. You keep your eyes peeled in the areas where you drive.
You are developing the mental  habits to find waterfalls. You are developing the physical fitness to  be
able to do more of this.    All these things are good.

       Once you've been doing this eight or ten years you are not likely to fall out of love with it.
Something may happen that changes it for you  though. Perhaps you will become
dissatisfied with your hobby. Something is missing in your enjoyment of your hobby! 
The novelty wears off. You have been to most of them. Human romances need tending to be kept
fresh and fun.  So does your love of waterfalls. Everything gets boring after awhile.
       Perhaps you are growing jaded because you've been to see most of them.
You've made repeat trips back to most of them.  Maybe you've grown to like the stillness of the forest more
and you seek greater solitude than heavily visited, popular areas will afford you.  You might be 
seeking a greater physical challenge. You might be seeking more of a navigational challenge.  Sometimes
you may read about the history of a certain spot where a waterfall occurs and you're just dying to get there
to experience it for yourself.   Once this change takes place in you its time to move on to the next stages of waterfall seeking.  

                      Defining Advanced Waterfall Seekers

 I will start by saying I am not trying to sound like I am personally some elite waterfall seeking force.
I am not part of some elite group of persons either.   It is not a competition.  Waterfall hunting is an individual 
journey and part of each persons enjoyment of life. It can also be a team sport and part of the growth and
bonding of a group of friends.  Each person who engages in this activity takes risks and should be fully
aware of the risks involved.  Each person brings different skills to the mix.  Each person starts off with 
different physical abilities, mental and psychological abilities, navigating skills, etc. 
I may know how to find waterfalls like a son-of-a-gun, but I am not able to get there because it is outside
my skill set.   I will define advanced waterfall seekers very loosely for this blog entry as such:
They have been at it awhile and experienced some success in finding waterfalls both on the beaten track and off trail.   At some point if you are going to be in this group of advanced waterfall hunters you're going to 
find yourself leaving the traveled path and going off trail.   

       Bushwhacking to waterfalls is risky and the risks vary wildly from damn near impossible to 
not that bad.   I will address the off trail travel part in more depth in a bit. The first thing that has to happen
in order to reach them?  It goes back to FINDING them.    What is the first step in finding them?
Knowing they EXIST!   

How to Know a Waterfall Exists? 

   You may know a waterfall exists because you've seen a photo of it, read a trip report about it,
saw mention of it in a hiking guide, or an acquaintance or co-worker mentioned it to you. 
You don't doubt it is real.  You still have to find it.  All you need initially is something to make you suspect
a falls is in a given area. You can then do web searches, check maps, ask persons questions, go to the library for additional source material to try to find out more clues.  What if you could tell by simply looking at
a map that a waterfall SHOULD exist in a given area?  Boys howdy, wouldn't that bust the world of 
waterfall possibilities wide open?  
         I'm going to teach you how to find them on a map. It will then be up to you to find out
if they exist.  The best way is to go see for yourself.  Once you've learned how to see them on a map
on your own and backed it up with some first hand success in proving you were correct.. you'll be off
to the races!   
Reading a Topo Map to Spot Waterfalls 

     A topo map is shortening of the word topography map.   It is one of those maps that has all the 
squiggley lines on it. It not only shows the roads and trails in an area, but shows the lay of the land.
It shows where the mountains are, valleys, creeks, campsites, roads, trails. Get familiar with maps period.
Get good at reading topo maps specifically if you travel off trail. It is a great way to find waterfalls
if you learn to see them.  Waterfalls take a stream of water descending over rock in order to occur.
Spotting a stream on a map is not hard.  Spotting a waterfall on a map is harder, but not impossible.
I am not speaking of the ones that are shown. Some maps actually have the waterfalls on them and 
that is a good thing.  Let's take a look at some of those now.  Hunting waterfalls like this will work
about anywhere you want to name.   The Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee presents a special set of 
challenges because there are so many caves.   Out in the plateau you may look at a map and it won't show
a stream that exists because the water that forms the falls does go over rocks, but it comes directly out
of the ground, falls and then goes subterranean again. Finding waterfalls like that is for the lucky, obsessed,
and the crazy.   We won't get into that for this blog.  Even advanced waterfall seekers prefer dealing
with streams that behave normally.

Looking for Clues on the Map

Look at the map image above.  The light gray squiggles are contours on the map.  Customarily
Each squiggle is a contour line. You're looking at the map as if you're looking at the mountains and
you have to try to picture them in 3-Dimensions.   The blue lines are the streams and tributaries of the stream.
The red line is a trail.  The black lines with dots and dashes are boundary lines like a county or state.
When you hunt up a waterfall using this method you want to look for places where the blue line
representing the stream crosses over the contour lines. This would indicate it is dropping or falling.
It could be a waterfall.  Some streams are low flow and in reality if you went and checked them out
the are nothing more than wet rocks or "wet weather" waterfalls.  Sometimes a bunch of close together
contour lines like a big series of V's with a blue line coming down through its center is NOT a likely place
for a waterfall. ANY place that a blue line crosses a contour could be a falls, but the most likely place is
not that.   Look at the photo above and see how well you do picking out where you think a falls would be?

Click the link below to see the answer: Spot the Waterfall Answer 
I will also put the photo image answer at the bottom of the blog entry.  
Scroll down to check your answer when you are ready.

     What you're wanting to look for is a squared off U shape with a blue line going across it.
It is not always the case, but I have found it to be true more often than not.
How did you do figuring it out?  Fun, isn't it?!

   What is even more fun is looking at the map where no waterfall is known to be, going out to the wild
and proving you were correct!  It is not a matter of being right either. It is simply gaining the ability to find
them and confidently go visit the area in real time and see something beautiful and new to you.
Possibly new to all.  Its a lot of fun.  I have proven in real time that there is a waterfall with two drops
at the location listed, but it is already on the database. I reported it a long time ago.

   Practice Makes Perfect

    Now you're figuring out how to see waterfalls without anything other than a topo map.
I'm sure by now you've got at least the basic maps for a given area where you hiked the trails to see
the known waterfalls.  Get them out from time to time and give them another look to see if you can spot
additional waterfalls above where you went or below?  That would be a good place to start trying out
your new skill set.    

Above is a photo of Mouse Creek Falls. I went to see it a long time ago.  Several years later I began to
suspect there were more falls above it because I was scrutinizing the topo map and saw that squared off
U shape above the falls. Actually two spots above the falls and I thought "Ah ha! I bet there is more up there!" and it turned out to be correct. Below is a shot of one of the falls above Mouse Creek Falls.
There are a couple of others besides!

     Important Tools and Resources

     Once you have progressed to the next stage of hunting for waterfalls you need some
 new tools and techniques in the tool box.   You just got a big one in learning how to see them
on topo maps.   What other kinds of maps would be good to use?  For persons who like to
hunt up waterfalls and are adventuresome let me introduce you to another invaluable tool.

 Meet the DeLorme Atlas & Gazetteer.  This is the one for the state of Tennessee.
They come in all flavors.  Get one for the state or states you visit.   Go to the front and find
the section you need.  Let's say you're going to check out the Cumberland Plateau.
You're going to check out the area around Spring City, Tennessee.  Your Auntie is having a family reunion
there and you want to make use of the time you'll be in the area.  Look at the map for the area and you
will see that real often if an area has interesting features or known things like waterfalls they will be listed
right on the map.  You have to look close, but they are actually printed on the map.  Low and behold
there it is.. Stinging Fork Falls is listed on the map.  You can then do a google search and come up
with Directions to Stinging Fork Falls
Here is an old image of Stinging Fork Falls.

   You may find waterfalls listed on the map and they are known and recorded,but you cannot
find directions to them.   Expect it.  It may be because they are on private property.  It may be that
the falls are Ok to visit, but hardly anyone goes to them so no one has bothered to record directions, take pictures, or write a blog on them.     Now you need another resource.

Tennessee Landforms-- Is a database for our state and the brain child of  Tom Dunigan.
He has invested a great deal of time and energy into compiling this fabulous database of the waterfalls
and other land forms in our great state.    Tennessee Landforms Waterfalls

How do I use it?
Go to the county or area you're planning to visit or explore. Click on that and it will bring you up
a list of waterfalls in that area.   Open the entry for each waterfall and included are maps, driving directions,
and way points that can help you locate them.

What if my area doesn't have a waterfall or landform database?
First of all, search and ask around to see if you do or don't.

If you DON"T... then it sucks to be you.  :-)  But nah...  you can get a pretty good idea
from the Gazetteer what the GPS coordinates are. It will at least get you in the ball park.
The latitude and longitude coordinates are along the edges of the page. Stinging Fork would be approx.
Lat 35*. 7100 something and Long. -84*.900 something.  The metric coordinates are given which is what
I am guesstimating here.   The old style coordinates are also given which are degrees, minutes, seconds.

 Global Positioning System--GPS

Get you a hand held GPS unit and learn to use it.  We have had two Garmin units.
The first one was the least expensive one Garmin made and was incredibly difficult to use.
It was also not the most reliable even when it got a signal.   Our second one is also a Garmin
and it way more costly, but it is also far more accurate, reliable, and simpler to use.

You can plug in the GPS coordinates and let them lead you to waterfalls.
They will usually get you to within 100 feet of a falls. Many of the newer models are more accurate than that.
Within that distance you should be able to hear a waterfall if it is flowing decently.

What else can I do with a GPS?

You can draw a track and let it lead you not only by the waypoints, but
it will show you if you are following the course you set for yourself.   It will demonstrate for you visually
if you are on or off track. Ours beeps briefly when we get right on the track.   It is reassuring.

You can  mark a waterfall you found.
You can mark a route and save it.

A navigation system in the car helps get to waterfalls as well.
A Tomtom navigator will permit you to enter GPS coordinates and it will get you there which can help, but
there is a down side to that.   If you are going to visit a waterfall that does not have an easy road access
it is going to screw you up.    A tomtom will try to take you by the ROAD routes.  Be careful doing that.
Check the google maps and your Gazetteer to see if you can do this realistically.

Learning to use a GPS takes some time, practice and patience. Start off with easy ones and plug in coordinates to ON the trail, known waterfalls and test the accuracy of your equipment.  It will also
give you a low to no pressure situation to learn to use the device without the worry of getting lost or simply not getting to see the waterfall because you cannot find it.  You don't need the added frustration just starting out using one of these things no matter how experienced a hiker you are.

 Google Earth

 Technology is wonderful when it works properly.  Google Earth , computers, satellite communication, 
and smart televisions have really rocked the world.    We have a smart TV and we love to use google earth
to check out places before we go.    It can give you visual clues and help you know if access roads or trails are there? Are the roads gated? Are there homes nearby? It helps you read the terrain.   It takes some getting used to, but it can be both fun and a great help.  

Here is a link to Google Earth and a satellite view of the area around Stinging Fork Falls.

To return to a road map view go to the bottom left corner and click that white box.
You can zoom in, zoom out. You can scroll. You can measure distance. You can see images of the falls if they exist.  In this case you can zoom in and see the waterfall!  It helps you spot the trail and get a better 
understanding of how it works its way across the terrain toward the falls.

It will help you to think in 3-D and get an idea if an area is even accessible. .
We used this as a reality check prior to going to visit Wilson Falls in the Smokies.
We use it for many things. Hunting waterfalls is only one of them. Another potential use for
the capabilities of Google Earth?  Check our your topo maps. Find those squared off U's where you think
there may be a waterfall and "fly there" via google earth to check it out! You'd be amazed!

Assumptions and Risks

  All these tools when taken  together should provide you with a big leap forward in your
waterfall hunting adventures.   I have touched on avoiding assumptions in the previous two blog entries.
One thing you don't want to assume is that it is always OK to visit these places.  Some will end up
being on private land.   Find out from locals if it is permissible to visit there when possible?
Some areas are known and visited all the time and no one minds.   Ask land owners if its ok if you can find out who to speak to.   I assume no responsibility for you ending up in trouble for trespassing.
I assume no responsibility for injuries that may occur because of your adventures.  Hunting for 
waterfalls can be dangerous and difficult, but can also be rewarding.     

  There is  a level of waterfall hunting beyond  "advanced" and that is harder to explain.
 I may do a blog piece later about off trail travel. and discuss some of the subtler points of waterfall hunting.   I think I will because it is too much for this blog entry. 

           I mentioned obscurities before.  It is hard for me to explain that to just anyone. 
I will try.   I have had dreams about a simple word or a place name that will come to me.  I will jot it down.
It may take a long time. Sometimes months or years, but  those little tidbits from the internet, from a dream, from my subconcious mind end up being answers to locations of waterfalls.

        Don't discard tidbits of info you find on the net.  Don't discount things that emerge from your dreams.
Leave your waking mind open to possibilities of communication with your deeper, subconcious mind.
Sounds crazy, doesn't it?    Very esoteric!  But here are two examples of times that came in handy.
A friend was looking for a waterfall near the TN/NC line.  He had information that it was near White Rocks or some such name.   He was frustrated at all the time and energy he'd put into searching the area unsuccessfully.  I told him to give me a little time to put my mind on it and I'd get him some answers.

           I went to bed and woke one day with the words "Black Stack Cliffs". I told him the answer was coming to me. The words came to me again in a waking vision.   It carried a sense of importance with it.
I knew it was the answer, but Blackstack Cliffs is an overlook! Not a waterfall!
I looked at a hiking guide and a map.  It came to me with certainty that Higgins Creek Falls was 
the waterfall he was searching for.  Someone else had called it a different name. It mixed him up.
Once he looked at the map with me .. he had to agree and the matter was settled.  While the names did not jive, the description and location given did.    

         Another example was that my husband told me about a conversation between he and  his co-worker and friend Shane Watkins.  Shane described to him an area behind Ozone Falls where 
"there was a lot of riding."   I instantly knew that conversation was important even though he never mentioned anything about waterfalls.
 I did not know why until literally years later.
I got that gazetteer out and began hunting for waterfalls and places to ride.  I ended up taking us to Basin Rock and Falls.  Shane's words came echoing back.  See?!  Witness the Reticular Activating System 
in Action!  Tune your intuition and don't discount it.   It will surprise you as much as anything ever has.

Basin Rock

    Basin Falls below Basin Rock



Saw Mill Falls. All these beautiful experiences and more from one conversation years earlier. Thanks Shane. :-)

Answer Image Key to Spotting the Waterfalls on the Topo Map.
The circled areas are where waterfalls occur or are likely to occur.


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