Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Fern Camp and Exploring and Trail Maintenance

Down in the Fern Camp Gorge

Fern Camp Gorge Exploring and a Day of Trail Maintenance

Dana & Kenny Koogler
Saturday Feb. 28, 2015

   We'd been trying to get back over to Jamestown to do some exploring areas we wanted to visit.
The weather finally broke and we got a weekend to get away.   We planned to do some hiking
and riding.  We were going to stay at the Jordan Motel or the Overton Motel and spend a single night.
We'd enjoy Saturday and Sunday doing what we like.  The ice storm had knocked out power to
a great number of residents of Cumberland County and some of Fentress.   The Jordan initially had no vacancy thanks to the electric linemen in the area staying there.  They put us on the list to get a room if
anything opened up.

     We started out the interstate toward Jamestown Saturday morning and the traffic advisory warning was
flashing.  The radio station advised all lanes of traffic going west bound on the interstate were blocked from
exit 329 on.  That was Crab Orchard so we got off the highway in Rockwood and took the backroads
which ended up being ten miles closer, but took a little longer. At least we were still moving and not stuck
sitting on the interstate waiting for them to clear a wreck.

   Our scenic detour didn't throw us off.  We got to Jamestown and went and parked the rig to hike
down into the gorge arm of Buffalo Cove that is Fern Camp.  We had visited Fern Camp Falls from the rim of the gulf last Spring.   It was worth the hike, but I knew there were caves and more waterfalls down in the gorge at the bottom.   I had a photo of a waterfall I wanted to see, but not an exact way point for it.
I only had a guess where it was. Kenny is a good sport so we decided to satisfy our curiosity about this
area and check it out.  We hiked back there without a trail. The woods were open and pretty. The day was cold, but clear. I had the GPS set to the waypoint for the waterfall up top as I guessed the waterfall I was seeking was either on that drainage or the one next to it. On the plateau level the tributary of Fern Camp
Creek has a couple scenic cascades we'd visited also.   The falls surely was on one or the other.

        The rock formations down in the gorge were interesting and beautiful. The forest is open.
We didn't have any trouble with downed trees in here.  It looked like this area was spared the damage of the ice storm.  Boulders were everywhere. They are huge and ancient.  The sky was blue and the sun was filtering down into the bottom of the gorge lighting it up so pretty.  We did not have to hike long until we finally came to the spot in the creek bed where there is water at last.  What is funny is that hiking up Fern Camp Creek the first place you see water ... it disappears in a flash!  There is a large swallet cave there that drinks in the flow of the stream about as soon as you glimpse it.

First set of waterfalls on Fern Camp Creek.  Two pretty cascades.
The stream disappears to a swallet in the bottom left corner area of this photo.

Below is a video of this waterfall pair.

     We stopped along the way to enjoy the pretty cascades and tranquil spots along the stream.
The lay of the land down in the gorge turned out to be just as we had anticipated.  The going was actually
not that bad except that the ground was covered in snow.  It was easier on the way in when the snow was fully packed and frozen.  We were in there long enough for the sun to begin to melt it and make it slushy and slick!  The trip back out was not bad, but it was slippery in some spots because of ice and melting snow.

     We did not find the falls I was seeking or the cave.  We got within 0.16 miles of the top falls.
We narrowed down the location and we gained a ton of info for another attempt.   It is either up the main drainage near the base of the top falls. We will have to approach from the right side heading up stream as the terrain on the left from 0.16 miles on is impassable.  The rock forms and cliff line roll in toward the creek leaving no place to walk on that side.  The right side is a boulder field, but appears to be tough, but doable.
The only other place it could be is up the Fern Camp Cascades drainage which we will have to check also.
Kenny walked up over a berm and said that what he could see of that drainage is shows it to be even harsher than the main one.   The climb from 0.16 miles up to the gorge rim is 350 feet.  The falls and/or cave
is about 100 feet down from there I am guessing.  So 250 feet of climb in .16 miles.   We've done worse.

        We made our way back down the gorge slipping and sliding all the while.

         A few photos from the day in Fern Camp.
Top: some large boulders in the drainage.
Middle : a pretty cascade a little higher up.
Bottom: The slopes to the west of the gorge.

Short video of the next waterfall/cascade up on Fern Camp. Set to Twin Peaks music. I'm a David Lynch fan and today turned out to be a David Lynch type, weird day!

     Once we were done in Fern Camp we headed out to check what the situation was in Woo Hoo Holler.
Our friend Sharon's place in West Fentress.   We pulled in there and took a look around and thankfully
it was spared the damage of the ice storm. Not a thing was out of place. All was well.  Once that was taken care of we headed down to the river to see what the water level was like.  It was up as expected and unfordable, but not as bad as it has been.   The stream is always so pretty.

Two different glimpses of the same river.  Rocky shoals and rapids on the bottom view. Top is a deep aquamarine pool .

       We decided to ride up Bill's Creek which was our shortest route to set a way point on an arch we'd found previously.    We were heading to Mason Road to check out the Cravenstown Arch near Tay's store.
We also wanted to find an access point for Big Piney.   We were pleasantly surprised that Bill's Creek didn't have a lot of trees down on the first part. We had to stop and cut trees only twice and roll logs out of the way.  The real bad rutted area was another matter. Kenny handled it like a boss, but he said right then and there he was NOT coming back down it.    Further up Bill's Creek we had to cut more trees out of the way and moved a lot of downed limbs.   Once we got to Manson Road we stopped to eat lunch.  We met
Jim and Tammi, some local folks who were also clearing the road and we made two new friends who ride!
We really hit it off with them and I look forward to getting to know them better.  Very nice folks and so interesting!   They saved us the time it took to ride out to the one arch to mark it.  They are friends with the fellow who built his residence under the arch. It was NOT a play place for teenagers or children. He built a bonafide residence under there.  I am not in agreement with that, but we live in America and he can do that. Life is different for different people. I surely was not going to mark his home with a way point and put it
on Tennessee land forms and send visitors to it!  I respect my fellow human more than that.

       We moved on to other things.   We found the Cravenstown Arch.  I will stop and photograph it sometime just for the humor value of it.   It is only a few inches high as viewed from the road. We had driven past it numerous times.   Someone has built a hog pen or some sort of shack on top of it toward one end.
According to Tom the Hanging Limb arch doesn't have any structures on it or under it, but it is not "visually significant.".   Glad we didn't waste time on that one.

       We went on to try to access the portion of Mason Road that goes down toward Big Piney Creek.
There are only a couple access points where you can actually get into the gorge and reach creek level.  Manson Road, Savage Boles Road, and from the East Fork River itself.  Big Piney Creek is dry part of the year and most times you see dry, rocky gulch down in the area where it meets the East Fork River.
We found Manson Road open and ungated thanks to someone who must have begged to differ that it was ever gated at all.  The gate lay smashed on the ground with just the dogs still in the posts.

     We proceeded down the road and found it to be an excellent trail with the road bed in good condition.
The problem was simply all the downed trees.  We were mighty lumber jacks for several hours.
I was getting tired and thinking about the time getting away from us.   Thinking about trying to go back down Bill's Creek and knowing that we would almost certainly have to cut a lot of trees on that upper trail in order to avoid going back down the dirt gully. Kenny was worried we'd turn over in the ditch.   The alpen glow of the evening sun crept into the gorge where we kept clearning "just one more tree".   We stopped and checked our progress and realized we were half done. We were losing the light so we knew we had to quit.
I looked down in the gully below us where a stream flowed.  I saw a tv sitting in the stream with the scream shot completely out. I thought of Elvis Presley shooting the TV over seeing Robert Goulet on it.

      The only thing we saw down on Big Piney gulch that far that is worth mentioning is a massive rock sheler which looks like during times of heavy rain might be a waterfall.

Ice cave/Rock house on Big Piney.

Peeping out of the bars of the ice jail. I am under the rock shelter on its upper levels.

 We made it back round to Bills Creek and took the upper trail.  It was the second turn to the left.  The lumberjacking picked up almost at once.  We cleared trees and cleared trees. Kenny had some serious anxiety about it. He was worrying about whether we'd find the right turn we needed to get down off this trail. He was worried about it getting dark on us in the woods.   I shared some of his concerns, but one thing I find I have gotten better about is gaging time and distance in situations like this and reading the lay of the land.
I knew he was thinking we'd gone farther than we had. I just kept calm and positive and kept reassuring we'll spot it when we see it.  We'll make it. We're a good team. We really are too.  We compensate for one another's short comings.     It did grow dark on us in the woods and we ended up coming out in the pitch black dark, but we made it. Finding the turn to the right was made harder by an odd phenomena.
We saw several places where great big swathes of leaves washed down off the top bank creating the appearance of a trail to the right heading into the woods, but then it played out.   The actual trail looked a lot
like that!  Not as easy as you'd think,but it was flagged with survey tape.   I pointed it out to him and he got out and checked it and was relieved we had found it!    We finally began to lose elevation and come back down to the main trail.  We hit it just right and came out below the dirt ditch.   We hauled ass to the truck and  were mighty glad to get there and load up.  I helped him load everything and secure it.

     Once back in the truck he realized going down the road he had left the back up lights on. 
He got out to check them and turn them off.  I sat there waiting on him.  I lifted my eyes and saw a boulder across the road at an intersection. Someone had graffiti tagged it with the simple word FUCK. 
It was ugly, but so help me I told him about it when we got to the restaurant later and we sat in the truck laughing our heads off. It was not very nice, but it perfectly described our sentiments about the kind of day we'd had.   The timing was right on.  

 We were exhausted.  He wanted to go home to our own comfortable bed instead of paying to sleep 
in a motel on a lumpy mattress.  We grabbed some dinner and did just that.  When I arrived home..
and removed my clothes... the carpet had to be vacuumed behind me.  Sticks, leaves, pine sap, rocks,.....
I sat in Arby's wearing that mess.  :-)  Hell yeah! 


  1. What incredible landscapes to explore!

  2. With your love of Arches, you and Kenny need to plan a trip out west to visit Arches National Park in Utah. Also, I had to chuckle about Kenny worrying about getting out in time. Maples does that sometimes. Me...I am the king of getting out right at dark! I can't count how many times I got back to my car right at dark! Enjoyed the blog

    1. Mike, that would be cool. Kenny is usually the calm one about darkness overtaking us. If we are on the trail with head lamps on foot we don't worry especially if we are in an area that is on an established, well known trail. He had only traveled the upper trail once and that time wasn't after an ice storm which downed trees. They missed the turn that day and had to hunt for it and that was during daylight hours. We had light sources with us a plenty. He could just see how this had potential to go very wrong. We are the main or only ones who ride these trails so it is going to be up to us to re-open them. There is the occasional other person who uses them, but some never get ridden if we don't. I will have to take a photo of the dirt ditch he didn't want to go down. Winching out of a hole at night would not be fun either. Some of the predicaments we get ourselves into involve me standing on the side of the RZR to counter balance it so it doesn't tip. I have to be prepared to jump for it if that fails. Buck Coward, our friend, got his machine down in that gully and tore it up on a previous trip. We're going to have to cut some logs and repair that spot. I see a weekend of primitive camping and even more serious trail maintenance. Going to shoot you a PM on Facebook. You need to see photos of what we are hunting. You will want to go along! Hugs! Dana Bee


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.