Friday, May 29, 2015

Flat Creek Falls Bushwhack

Yellow lady slippers seen Friday in the GSMNP

Flat Creek Falls Hike/Bushwhack

Friday May 22, 2015
Dana Koogler
Mike Gourley
Kitty Myers

Pictures are here beginning with frame 46
The rest of the photos in the album are from previous trips to 
Flat Creek Falls 

Flat Creek Falls Pix

Here is a link to a previous trip report . It shows a different time of year.

 Dana's Solo Bushwhack to Flat Creek Falls

     Flat Creek Falls is far and away one of the least visited waterfalls in the 
Great Smoky Mountains National Park.   Heintooga is where it is located and the area
gets a lot less visitation than other areas.  The road to it is gated for seven months of the year because of the weather up high.    The other reason not many folks go to see this falls is 
that there is no trail that takes you to the falls.   Flat Creek Trail takes you on a pleasant walk from Heintooga Picnic Area down the hill, out through the woods and back up the hill to the road 
below the picnic area and nature trail.    An unmaintained man-way takes you down to Flat Creek from the trail to a tiny cascade above the falls.  Once at the creek level there is no path of any kind.
The other turn offs to making this trek?   Weeds. High weeds. Lots of briers.  Snakes in the weeds
that are crawling over your feet and ankles while you're trying to find your way through those weeds.
Treacherously steep terrain.  Rhododendron.  Last of all a boulder field.  

     The falls is over two hundred feet high.   It is worth seeing, but it cannot be viewed from any point
not even a helicopter or an airplane in its entirety.  Why? Because of the steepness of the terrain and the rhododendron and trees overhanging the stream.  

       I first visited it in May 2002 with Kenny.  We found it and made it to the base on the first attempt.   It was quite a neat experience for us especially as I was trying to hike to all the guidebook
waterfalls in the Smokies. It was one of our early attempts at going off trail.   

         I made a second attempt at visiting it with Maggie Bacon in August 2009.  
We made the mistake many do and tried going down a chute to the left.  I got very uneasy and bailed out on the try.  The weeds and snakes crawling over me did not do anything to steady my nerves.
I was disgusted that I could not recall how to reach the base. I was determined to return and do it
on general principle.  June of the next year I did just that.   I returned during purple fringed orchid season in June and I went to the falls and made it to the base solo!  It was a very heady experience.
I experienced all the drops of the falls that time in a way never before.   It was almost like being
in a trance state.   I have thought back on that experience and shuddered in horror.   Why?
I simply cannot believe I was foolish enough to risk such a thing alone.

        Thomas Mabry had wanted to go to the base.  I told him I'd get him there.  Others invited
were Kitty Myers and Mike Gourley.  Thomas ended up not going.  We had a good time and things
went off without a hitch.   I had never seen the falls with quite that much water coming over.
The gate was opened that morning Friday May 22.. the day we picked to hike it. Earlier in the season
is better. More water on the falls.  Less chance of snakes.  Less vegetation.  It was worth going below the falls today seeing as how the lower drops of the falls were more scenic than I had experience on past trips.  It also gave me courage having buddies along for the trip.

                   Flat Creek Trail is a pleasant, easy walk on a well maintained trail.
The manway to the creek level has fallen trees and weeds on it.   Mike started down the
tromped path to the "Chute of Doom". The wrong way to the falls. Having done it before I
can easily understand why folks head that way.  

     Instead we crossed the creek and today to keep myself from having to wade the creek to find the trail on the return trip.. I flagged our route with bright orange survey tape.   We got down there and
wriggled our way through the rhododendron and weeds. The soil is soft and loamy. It is black and slippery. There are lose rocks and boulders on the way down.   It is a hypnotically beautiful falls.
Like before I got out on the rocks and trees near the edge to see as much of it as I could.  It was
worth it.

              There isn't much room to stand and view the falls at the base or shoot photographs,but
we made do.  We got wet and dirty, but it was cooler today and the trip easier than expected.
Mike got to looking at the GPS and we briefly considered heading over the ridge toward Bunches
Creek.   I had flashes of the map come back to memory once I got oriented.  I refused to do it.
It is only 1/4 mile to the road and/or creek, but the drop is about 400 feet.  No way man. I told Mike
I did not want to run Kitty off as I was just getting to know her and hike with her.  I was also not
wanting any of us to get hurt or to be miserable.   I knew I'd be miserable in a struggle like that.
We returned the way we came down.  It gave me a known quantity to deal with and the chance to
remove my survey tape.   The rest of the hike back out was uphill, but pretty easy.


Below is a video from this trip to Flat Creek Falls. It is longer than usual, but I had to do so
in order to include the last two parts of the falls.   The video showcases the falls far better than
any photo could ever hope to.


Pink lady slippers on the way over the mountain

We met at Mingus Mill. I shot a short video and photos while I waited on them.  Elk were munching all along the road.  The day turned out to be perfect!

Mountain laurel over Mingus Creek

No trail to the base of the falls. It is ugly.

Mike and Kitty in the brush around the falls.

Made it to the base.. but wait! There is more!

Cobwebby cascade below the main drop of Flat Creek Falls

This was the last drop of the falls we could reach today.  All of it is quite unique and beautiful.

  I certainly enjoyed meeting Kitty for the first time.  I hope we can hike together and have many more adventures.   She is an easy going person and very interesting to chat with.   She fits my style
of talking sometimes and being quiet sometimes.  

 She had been up late the night before working, but made it just the same!
What a trooper!  She was ready to bug out and head on home though after this part of the adventure.
Mike and I decided to head over toward Kephart Prong and see what other trouble we could round up for the day.   

Here is the link to the sound track in my head for the day.
I often hear this tune when I am bushwhacking or doing anything that requires
extreme focus, pain killer, and involves risk.

Sober-- by Tool

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