Saturday, February 21, 2015

Chimneys State Natural Area

Chimneys State Natural Area
Dana & Kenny Koogler
Friday Feb. 13, 2015
Hike Distance  3 mi. approx. 

Pictures are here: Coppinger Cove Pix
(Combined photos from three days worth of exploring in the area)

   We had been wanting to get down to the Marion County, Tennessee area and explore
for some time.   Good campgrounds in the area are scarce.   The closest good one we'd found
was Hale's Bar Marina and Campground.   Seeing as how it was Winter and the camper was 
put up for the year it was a moot point right now.   We'd have to get a motel nearby.  
Plenty of those around.   We realized about a month ago that we have never  used our rewards 
points on our credit card.   We decided to use up some of them and so we did.  We got a free 
two night stay at a decent motel.  Pretty sweet!   

       We came down to Jasper and on the way stopped off at one of the places we wanted to 
hike.   We went to the Chimneys State Natural Area in Whitwell.     We had been there before
many years ago.    It was this same time of year and it was even colder that year than now!
A quick reprise of that trip: We had stayed in Monteagle at the Sunday School Assembly and hiked from there.   It was ten degrees or less the entire weekend.  Wind whipping and so cold
you could hardly stand to be outdoors.   We stopped off at the Chimneys on the way home.
Back then it was The Chimneys City Park for Whitwell.   The trash strewn along the road 
on the drive there was distressing.   Deliverance country.  We managed then to visit 
Mike's Branch Falls and the overlook of the Chimneys and we headed out ending our visit.

    Since that time I had learned there was a way to actually get down there to visit the
Chimneys themselves. They have an arch under them.    I also learned there were a total of
seven waterfalls there.   I had seen photos from different folks visits. I knew the state had taken
the area over. I knew that there had been a big clean up of the area by the state and if memory serves the caving community.    I was stoked.  I figured this would be a far cry better visit.

     We found the Chimneys area without any problem.  The drive in revealed far less trash.
The community is much improved over how it used to be.   My step-dad used to live in Tracy
City and told me it was Chop Shop Capitol of the USA.  I found out where they dumped
their rejects.  The sign at the Chimneys info kiosk read that they had cleaned up many 
stolen cars that had been driven down over the cliff at the Chimneys overlook.   I admit it.
I doubted him when he told me some of those wild stories. I believed they were colored up for 
effect.   Once again it has been proven he was telling the unvarnished truth.

    We found our memories of the past trip only made trying to find our way around 
worse.  Finally giving up and just going where it was logical. We checked out the overlook first. 
It was a pretty view today. We had cold, clear weather with temps in the thirties. 

View of The Chimneys from the overlook.

   We found Overlook Falls, but all it was today was a drip and some icicles hanging from the cliff.
Not much.  One down... six to go.

We finally figured out where and how to go to get down off the cliff to visit the Chimneys from the base.    It is an unofficial trail down over some icy rocks to the left of the info kiosk if facing it.
I had Dr. Ben Mohr's trip report map printed and it helped some.    The climb down was slippery, 
treacherous with ice and mud, but we made it.  The clean up made things better, but old car parts
and one old car still lays at the bottom of the cliff and strewn about.   I say if you're going to drive
a car off the cliff you should have to remain in it.   Suicides should be the only ones permitted to litter that way.   Grisly? Yep.   I get real provoked with assholes who trash the woods. The forest
around the Chimneys is hemlock.  They have treated a great many of the hemlocks in the gorge.

   Pocket Creek was running fast today and medium deep.    A massive hemlock formed a bridge
to cross the creek.   We forded the creek on it.   I got down there and got half way across when
the surface changed from relatively flat to very curved and full of stobs going this way and that.
My balance is better, but I could see I was in trouble.  I sat down on my bottom and scooched across the rest of the way.   Trying to focus on my footwork with rushing water going under
turned out to be too much for my still healing brain and my filters are still not 100%. 

     Creek crossing safely over and we bushwhacked through the rhododendron up the bank to the Chimneys. It was a short bushwhack fraught with lots of smilax.   We climbed up into the arch
of the Chimneys.  It is quite a place.  The Chimneys tower over you. The hemlocks surround you.
Pocket Creek wraps around it all!  

First perspective of the Chimneys from under them.

That rock is precariously balanced up there. One reason I doubt they'll ever construct an official trail down
to the Chimneys.. Liability if something falls off there and injures or kills someone.  

Double arch under the Chimneys with Kenny for perspective on the size.

Looking out of the larger of the arches. What a pretty day!

   We climbed down off the back of the little mound the Chimneys rest on. We bushwhacked in the direction the GPS was indicating for Bridge Creek Falls.   We found it without any real trouble.
It was about 0.20 miles from where we were if memory serves.  It was worth the visit.

 Bridge Creek Falls is about 25-30 ft high. It was quite pretty today with the ice. It has a dead
hemlock fallen over it to the left.   Another thing we learned is that there are more 'chimneys".
There are at least two more great hulks of stone pinnacles.  Down in there where Bridge Creek Falls lies it is dark as a Jericho Mile.  
The sun barely makes it into the little mini gorge where Bridge Creek Falls is.  This will be the most brightly lit it will be all day.  

    We bushwhacked down the stream and tried to figure out how to reach Pocket Creek Falls.
Kenny and I both grew very frustrated with the cold and the rhodo.  To be so close to something 
and have to struggle so hard to reach it.  He asked me how high the falls was? I said 15 ft.
That was enough for both of us.  The three falls on Pocket Creek are 15 ft, 10 and 8 or something like that. Not with the bushwhack when there are so many other things we'd like to see.
We ended up spending too much time fooling with trying to reach those.  We tried from both sides of the stream.   If we ever go back we need to stay on the side of Bridge Creek Falls and just put up with the rhodo on that side because the terrain on the other side is littered with boulders, ice and old car parts!

     We made our way up the bank again.  We got back in the truck and tried to figure out
how to visit Mike's Branch Falls. I was sitting there with GPS coordinates and a guidebook with directions. I also had a head full of conflicting memories I couldn't trust.  Kenny had no recall of visiting it in the past.  I was frustrated.    To make a long story short I finally looked up and saw 
a yellow sign very faded and broken in half.  It indicated the direction of travel to reach the falls.
We made our way out there and finally saw it.  Oy!  What a disappointment.  Not alot of water.
You view it from an overlook and the trees have grown up at the base of the falls and on the overlook to where you wonder "Why did I bother coming out here?" .. Unless we go back and bushwhack to the base of it.. I won't bother coming here again.  There are actually two falls there.
Neither one is very good and the trees obstruct both. 
Mike's Branch Falls. What you can see of it. It is about 70 ft high, but not much. 

   We went on out the bluff line a ways and checked out some other overlooks we found.
The views were really pretty.  We also tried to spot the elusive "Abraham Falls" across the gorge where it was supposed to lie off Rankin Rd/ Mt. Olive Road.   All we saw was a few frozen icicles.

View from Overlook #1

View from Overlook #2

     We ate lunch at one of these overlooks.   I could tell something was wrong with me. 
I began chilling, shivering more and more.  We got back in the truck. My hands, face and torso were like ice.  I got drowsy.  I was having a little spell of after drop.   I knew it would pass, but it would be three or four hours until I was right again.  I had not been eating enough or drinking enough. I had gotten very sweaty
climbing around in the brush and then stopped moving as much.   Now I was chilled.

We went and checked into the motel so I could take care of myself and feel better. I did not want
the weekend ruined over one day's activities.    By four pm or so I recovered and warmed up.
I was going to be fine.  We rested up for the next day going to Coppinger Cove to ride the RZR.


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