Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Grandfather Mountain Camping Trip

Japanese spirea along highway 181

Grandfather Mountain Camping Trip 

Dana & Kenny Koogler 

Friday June 19-Sunday June 21, 2015

Pictures are here starting with frame 17
Grandfather Mountain Pix

   Kenny and I have been visiting and camping at Grandfather Mountain in Seven Devils, North Carolina for many years.   It had been about five years since we were there.  We were due for another camping trip. I wanted to incorporate some working on my Carolina Mountain Club
Waterfall 100 Challenge list.  We agreed we'd camp and hike.    

        We got over to the campground around noon. We picked the best route yet to travel there.
Rt 184 through Banner Elk is way easier!   We got set up and decided we'd try to grab a quick lunch at the camper and knock out a couple shorter hikes today. 

        We headed to Hebron Colony Falls first.  We both wondered after getting there why we 
had waited so long to visit a waterfall that was as close to the campground?  I think the answer to it is twofold. We did not realize how close it was to us. We did not realize it was as impressive a spot as it was.  We were focused on the Wilson Creek Wilderness and the mountain and parkway.   Hebron Colony is a stream filled with massive boulders and a series of huge cascades and individual drops of waterfalls down it. It isn't any one waterfall.  It was a neat place and I would go back.   
 One of the bigger falls along Hebron Colony
Kenny talking to another couple of hikers who are climbing up. 

   Hebron Colony on a Friday was visited by about eight or ten other hikers.   
It will never be a favorite for me because of the starkness of it and it is filled with hot, white rock that is certainly not my favorite photography scenario.   Kevin Adam's directions to it 
were good even after the intervening years since the guidebook was written.   

            Next we moved on to Steels Creek Falls.  We headed out there to fit in what should be
another short hike.   We found the place without any trouble. It was very popular for camping and we saw lots of campers.  We did not see another single hiker today out here.  
The directions to it were good and remain accurate.  The one thing I will say in the form of
negative commentary?  The directions say to cross above the cascade that sits above the "killer swimming hole".   We did this and it is a really dangerous way to do it.  A fall from here would potentially brain you or break an ankle.  I did it, but if anything ever happens to the stout rhododendrons that I used as anchors and steps this way will be out of the question.
During times of low or normal water volume on the stream I would strongly suggest to anyone to cross below the swimming hole.  I donned my water shoes and used my trekkers going back and was across in about a minute.  During high water visiting this place wouldn't be advisable anyhow.   

              Once across we found the trail and continued.  It is well blazed, but there have been 
a lot of hemlocks die and fall in this forest.   It is very pretty.  Stinging nettles were along the edges of the trail and the slopes of the stream.  Kenny and I both got plenty of nettle stings.
Never saw a single snake this entire trip.   The temperature was seventy-six, but the humidity was high.   It felt like ninety-six  even in the shade. No breeze stirring.  Getting in the water
helped some.   We made it to the falls without any problems.  Rope is there to use to climb
down to a view of Steels Creek Falls. It is a dramatic place, but another one that will never be
a favorite waterfall because it lacks that mossy, green grotto quality I crave.   We had hoped 
that going late in the evening as the sun was going down would help us tolerate the heat better.
I guess it did, but we were both miserable. We were soaked with sweat. Sweat running in our eyes burning them.  Gnats swarming us periodically and getting in our eyes and noses. It
was a misery trip.   Kenny told me I was going to owe him big for this trip. We made our way back to the truck crossing below the cascade and swimming hole this time.  We were back in short order and glad to be back in the truck and turned the AC on.    We were soaked with sweat and tired and hungry.   I was informed at this point by Kenny there was no way he was going to try to hike seven plus miles the next day. 

Steels Creek Falls-- the potholes portion of it.  

             Back at the  camper once we were clean and had eaten dinner. Kenny apologized for
his negative attitude. I told him I understood and we'd have to compromise. I admit it was harshing my mellow.  I was willing to endure the heat, but I don't have to work out in it every day.    It is my goal to hike to these waterfalls not his.   He is still suffering from weakness in his left leg and foot now and then.  We checked out the hike descriptions and decided we'd go to Harper Creek Falls as opposed to Burnthouse Branch Falls.   Harper Creek Falls hike is 3.4 miles round trip.   Burnthouse Branch Falls is 4.4 miles.   I had serious concerns about Kenny trying to negotiate the type of narrow, cliff like trail that leads to Burnthouse Branch Falls while that left leg and ankle are weak.   I still recalled the numerous times he stumbled along
the A.T. on the Sawteeth and that horror of him pitching to his death.   We'd save that one for a repeat trip when it is cooler and more enjoyable.  I will pitch my ideas for a return trip at the bottom of this blog entry.   

        We slept well.  We got up in the morning and headed out to hike to Harper Creek Falls.
It was a pretty drive and we were shocked at all we'd missed in the area.  Brown Mountain Beach is beautiful.  We got there between 9:30 and 10 am.   We found the directions to Harper Creek Falls parking to be off a tad, but I think there have been some improvements in the years that followed.   Hiking to Harper Creek Falls for me was an epiphany.

             I had been concerned about finding   Harper Creek Falls because we have done
numerous hikes in the area to other waterfalls and it is a virtual maze of trails.   I reasoned it was a popular Summer swimming hole hike so that would help. We could follow the other hikers and we'd surely find it.   We found it without any trouble.  Yes, there were plenty of other people.  I was not prepared for what else I had to face.    Harper Creek Falls is treacherous to reach. Ropes are strung up to use.    We saw people climbing down to the upper portions with their toddlers and babies hanging onto them.  It was heart wrenching. 
I did not carry my babies in my belly for nine months, endure the pains of birth, and nurse them only to take them hanging around my neck to climb down a cliff on a rope to potentially fall to their deaths.    I had to get out of there and so did Kenny.   We were both horrified
at the things we saw going on.    People are stupid sometimes. 

           I finally decided I'd try to climb down at the lower part where so far we did not see
anyone trying to climb with babies.   I was in for serious disappointment and disgrace.
I climbed down to the part where there was rope. Kenny went on down.  I let my trekkers skid 
on down the bluff ahead of me because I could not carry them and hold on.  The rock was sloped, greasy with mud, nothing besides the rope to hang on to.   I tried to make myself go down the rope.  I turned to look at it and whoever tied that rope off meant well, but they placed dynamic rope for one thing.   It had hung there until the outer coating was off. All that remained holding it was a six inch section that had four individual strands.  I watched as I took it and moved it. It stretched tight across the lip of the rock it lay over and began sawing back and forth.   I released it and made the decision right then NOT to trust that rope.  I yelled down to Kenny that I was not going to do it.  I would not be able to get an unobstructed view of the bottom part of the falls, but I couldn't trust it.  

Partial view of the upper portion of Harper Creek Falls

     I climbed back up and sat down to rest and wait on Kenny.   Going up for me is easy.
Going down is far harder.    The lower portion of Harper Creek Falls was polluted with people since we foolishly came on a weekend.  We need always to bring our OWN trustworthy rope.
I had gotten very complacent and cocky in my recovery from Miller Fisher syndrome.  
I was hopping around on the rocks at Hebron Colony like a Mexican jumping bean. 
Now I was forced to face several things I still had to cope with.  My depth perception and proprioception were still not 100% well.   Even before all the illness of my nervous system...
I don't like crowds of people. I really don't like crowds of people doing idiotic things.

      I started back the trail and was downcast.  I felt horrible.  I tried to blink back the tears, but they came anyway.   I looked toward the group of people passing me on my left.   A man in the group was hiking with a prosthetic leg.  he had a below the knee amputation.   I stopped crying and wiped my eyes.  I got Kenny's attention and showed him what I saw.   I said "That's my lesson.".  He shook his head in agreement.  I would have to accept that for now bringing along a rope would have to be like my Prosthetic Body Position Sensor.   If we bring it along and don't need it.. great. If I had a limb amputation I'd have to strap on a prosthetic limb every single hike without fail.  God is good every day.  He got my attention and reminded me quickly that things could be MUCH worse.  I could have died instead of just getting sick. I could have ended up crippled or house bound.   I'm dealing with 
sensory problems.  It is a long way from the heart.   I refuse to let the lessons of this illness be lost on me.    I know that to do so would mean repeating it.  I will instead move through this life experience with as little resistance as possible so that it doesn't last any longer than it has to.  One of the lessons 
of this is reliance on others.   I am having to learn that I can't do everything alone. I need help. I need people.  

        The hike out was fun.   We ran into lots of families and dogs.  I got over myself and 
visited with them and enjoyed them.   Yes Lord, I'm listening.   We ate lunch at one of the empty
campsites.  We rested.  It was beginning to get hot now.  We knew by the time we got out to the truck again we'd be done for the day with regards to hiking.    The drive out was horrible.  Brown Mountain Beach road was crawling with people and vehicles.   We were both nervous and aggravated by the time we got out of there.  One family ahead of us had a cute, fuzzy brown dog on the back of their truck. The dog was running around as dogs do on truck beds. The next thing we knew the dog flew off and landed on the shoulder of the road in the grass.  Kenny honked the horn to get the drivers attention. I jumped out and ran to get the dog.   He was scared, but unharmed.    I carried him shaking and shivering to his master who thanked me.  I was very relieved to see he put the dog in the truck cab with the family.  I knew my temper was not going to hold if he put the dog on the bed of the truck again.     I was over this area. Pretty as it is... I won't come back there on a Summer weekend.

             We stopped on the way out and I saw a pretty waterwheel I wanted to photograph. 
I did, but even that was sucky.  No place to pull over.  Kenny had to keep moving the truck because of traffic going this way and that.   For a spot out in the country it is way too busy to suit me.
We wondered how we had visited this area in the past and avoided all the people? The answer was simple. We were coming in from the opposite direction!  It is not overrun with hikers on the other side.  It is mainly on the Brown Mountain Beach side from Mortimer on down. 
Coffey's Siding.. the site of a historic grist mill. 

Info kiosk on Coffey's Siding.  

Roadside laden with day lilies near the intersection of Brown Mountain Beach Rd and Playmore Beach Rd. 

               We headed back toward town the way we had come.   We decided to just wing it the rest of the day and not have a plan.   We stopped in Blowing Rock to see THE BLOWING ROCK.    My mamaw Sadie got remarried there.  She had been a widow a couple years 
and then remarried Bob Moyer and that is where they tied the knot and honeymooned!
We both hate being the people who come to an area and never stop to check things out.  We'd remedy that today and see what Blowing Rock was named for.  We were both glad we did.
Admission was $5 per person.  It only took about 30 minutes to visit the whole place, but we
could have spent the whole day there for that price had we wanted to.   You can also save your receipt and come back later for whatever you want to do. Some folks return to watch the sunset there!  They have a nice short walking trail, pretty gardens, clean facilities,  a snack bar, two gift shops, and the blowing rock itself.  Legend of the Blowing Rock
Entrance to Blowing Rock

This is Blowing Rock

The view from the Blowing Rock.

   We sat in the cool shade and ate an ice cream cone.   We enjoyed the fact there were other families near by, but it was not crowded.   It was a nice peaceful spot to collect my nerves after the experience trying to visit Harper Creek Falls.   We got caught up in traffic briefly on the way back through 
Blowing Rock and Boone, but it was only one small area and only lasted five minutes.
Boone has grown just enough to be a little more interesting town to me.  

           We went back to the camper and got out of the heat. The day had grown hot and humid again.
A thunderstorm was brewing.  We no more got inside the camper than it cut loose and rained.
We took a nap and enjoyed the sound of the rain on the roof.   We fixed a nice supper of steaks on the grill, baked potatoes, and corn on the cob with watermelon for dessert.  

      We had a nice relaxing evening and showered the sweat and dirt of the day off.  
We planned that on Sunday we'd fix a nice breakfast and go up on Grandfather Mountain. 
We were getting gusts of wind through the night and the next morning that continued.  We'd get gusts of wind up to forty miles per hour!  Thankfully it wasn't continuous.   We decided we'd go first 
in the morning to Waterfalls Park up the road in Newland.     

    Two out of three drops to this pretty roadside attraction.  Waterfalls Park.

   We went to Grandfather mountain next.    I did not really want to go. I had a feeling we were going to pay our admission and be denied going up on the top part of the mountain.   That is exactly what happened.    The wind had the top closed off.    
Bear in the habitat.
Otters in their habitat.
View of the mountain from the parking area.  

   We were disappointed in our visit here today. It went like I was afraid it would.  Paid $40 to get in and be lied to that they were just about to open the top.   We took a drive along the parkway. 
We stopped at the Linn cove visitor center which is where I got my souvenir of the trip. You guessed it... a MAP of the area!!   I had ordered a map of the area at Mark Oleg's suggestion, but it did not arrive in time.  I had the gazetteer and a Wilson Creek Wilderness map. We managed, but this map!

    We sat down with it right there in the visitor center and spread it out and started looking around at what else we would rather do today.    We went and did a short hike to Thunderhole Falls.  It was the best thing we did on the trip in my opinion.    
Thunderhole Falls--green, mossy, beautiful, and no one there but us!

Kevin Adam's directions coupled with the map made finding this spot easy.
The only modification to the directions after twelve years or so?  Now you cannot drive across the cement ford of the creek.   It is gated just a few yards shy of that spot.   It is still within sight of the ford so you can be assured you are on the correct dirt road. The road itself was wide open and while dirt we found it in good condition.  It is ok for foot travel past the gate or mountain bikes.

     We came skidding in under the wire at the campground and ended up checking out about 30 minutes late, but it was ok. No one was waiting for the spot on a Sunday.  Kenny had taken time to swing by a spot along the road where I saw turks cap lilies and let me photograph them.  It required 
jumping out of the truck, crossing a busy road, wading out through waist high weeds, but it was worth it.   I checked where I stepped and parted the weeds before standing.   No snakes!
First turks cap lilies of the season.  The crowning glory of this trip.

       We packed up and headed home. We stopped at The Pedalin' Pig BBQ to eat out one time this trip.  It was really good. Last time this place was called Pappy's.  It is open, but has a new name.
I found that my favorite sauce is Piedmont style!  Charlotte NC in a bottle!
The East Carolina BBQ sauce here was not good. It was watery and flavorless.
It is usually my favorite.  

       We headed home and felt like we crammed a lot into a hot Summer weekend.
It was good to get away. It was good to have at least whittled my waterfall list from eighteen down to fifteen left to go.    


Here is a short video of my favorite waterfall from the trip.. Thunderhole Falls.

And now.. Magicmomma's Crystal Ball of the Future!

I see a return trip to the area to stay in one of the other campgrounds and give them a try.
Think next time we'll pick Down By the River Campground at Pineola.
Back up choice is Flintlock Campground in Boone.

We will come during September when it has cooled down a little.
I see us hiking to Burnthouse Branch Falls.
I see us sitting up at night at the Brown Mountain Overlook and hoping to see the Brown Mountain lights.  
I see us making the short trip from there down to Morganton to hike to High Shoals Falls.
I see me repeating my hike to Harper Creek Falls on a week day WITH rope and making it to the base and getting great photos and having a MUCH better experience.
It is on the short list and its going to happen.   I'm determined.

Monday, June 22, 2015

CMC Lookout Tower Challenge --Its Next!

Cowee Bald Tower 

CMC Lookout Tower Challenge --Its Next! 

Decided June 22, 2015

 Below I am listing which ones I still need to complete by region.

Northwestern North Carolina

Flat Top Mountain

Rendezvous Mountain

Moores Knob

Blue Ridge & Black Mountains
Bearwallow Mountain

Little Snowball 

Mt. Mitchell
Done 7/4/2015

Green Knob
Done 7/5/2015

Central NC Highlands

Chambers Mountain

Camp Creek Bald 

Rich Mountain

Great Smoky Mountains & Vicinity

Mt. Noble

Nanatahala National Forest

Yellow Mountain

Albert Mountain 

Panther Top

Hiked 10/17/15

Joanna Bald
Hiked 8/2/15

Wesser Bald

Thursday, June 18, 2015

CMC Waterfall 100 Challenge

Which ones do I have left?

Shuck Ridge Creek Falls --Brevard

Upper Falls-Shining Rock

Stairway Falls-Horsepasture River,  Lake Toxaway

Bearcamp Falls (Hilliard Falls) Lake Toxaway

Still House Falls Lake Toxaway   Hiked 10/31/15

Picklesimer Rock House Falls--Highlands Completed 9/19/15 with 4 bee stings to prove it

Moonshine Falls--Greenville Co SC 6 mi RT M

Lee Falls Oconee Co SC 4 mi RT M

Long Creek Falls Oconee Co SC 4 mi RT M

Rileymoore Falls Oconee Co. SC 2 mi RT E

Hebron Colony Falls --Blowing Rock  
Done 6/19/2015

Steels Creek Waterfall Grandfather Mtn.

Done 6/19/2015

Burnthouse Branch Falls --Grandfather Mtn.

Harper Creek Falls--Grandfather Mtn. 

Done 6/20/15

Roaring Fork Falls --Mt. Mitchell-Completed 7/4/2015

Setrock Creek Falls Mt. Mitchell  Completed 7/4/2015

Douglas Falls --Mt. Mitchell   Completed 7/3/2015

High Shoals Falls--Morganton

I am ready to get to work on these and finish them.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Armes Gap to the Frozen Head Lookout Tower--Summer Wildflower Hike

Butterfly weed along the road today

Armes Gap to the Frozen Head Lookout Tower--
Summer Wildflower Hike

Tuesday June 16, 2015

Dana Koogler solo 

Round trip distance 4.4 miles

Pictures are here starting with frame 45

Armes Gap to Frozen Head Tower Pix

Map of Armes Gap

   I had been told by a ranger several years ago that Canada lilies bloomed up in the vicinity 
of the Frozen Head Tower.   I saw the remains of lilies there one Autumn so I decided I would 
try hiking up there during the time when they should be blooming.  Maybe I'd be lucky and get to see them? I figured at the least it would be a pretty hike and not too hard.   I got an early start to avoid the blistering ninety degree heat and humidity we've been experiencing.  

     I parked at Armes Gap and crossed the road to the trail head.   It is gated.  
Note that dogs are allowed.  Hiking is allowed.  Mountain biking is allowed.  

No ATVs, Horses, gingseng diggers, are allowed.  

Seven Sisters Roses bloomed wild by where I parked my jeep.

Gate at Armes Gap Trail Head.  From here it is 2.2 miles to Tub Spring.  Then you have another 0.5 miles to the Tower.    Uphill gradually with switchbacks.  There is a side trail to the old prison mine. 

Shaded most of the way too on a Summer morning!

Black raspberries! I hadn't eaten these since I was a little girl!  We used to pick them by the bowl full and Mom would make icecream with it. The best place to pick them was Lake Wallace where we had a Summer camp!

Morning light peeping through the forest canopy.  

I saw more Indian pinkroot today along this hike than I have ever seen in one place in my life!
Hands down it gets the prize for most of this wildflower!

  The forest was filled with bird song and the drumming of one lone woodpecker.  
It smelled fresh and green and good.   The scenery is pleasant, but not anything to shout about.
It is a nice area and sees far less use than the Smoky Mountain trails.  I saw one other hiker all day.
He was just beginning as I was nearing my vehicle.   

   I climbed steadily up until I reached the next gap. It is where you find Tub Spring. It is a major intersection of three other trails.   Tub Spring campsite is nearby.  The water in the spring looked a little less yucky than the last time I took a look at it.   
Tub Spring

I rested briefly at the spring and then pushed onward. I only had half mile to go to reach the tower.   
The sun was creeping higher and illuminating the slopes above me. It was quite pretty.

I rounded the bend and began to see lilies alright. Not Canada lilies.  Pretty, but just regular day lilies.

Lots of Virginia spiderwort today too along the entire hike. 

I also saw Leather Vase Vine in several spots along the hike.  I had never seen as much of this flower in one place either!

Rounding the bend in the trail the tower came into view.  

I climbed up and sat down after awhile to have a snack and a drink.  It is very sturdily constructed.

Beautiful view out over Morgan County and the Cumberland Mountains from the top of the tower. 

 Flame azalea was in bloom at the tower site today. Not a lot of it, but some.  

Hemerocallis fulva.. day lilies galor! I did not find a single Canada lily today, but I still had a good hike.    I found lilies.. just not the kind I hoped for.  

   I hiked back and took time to go down each North Old Mac, South Old Mac and the start of the Chimneytops trail just a short distance to make certain I wasn't missing them. I don't know if they just aren't there and I got bad information. Maybe I was too early? Maybe they didn't bloom this year? Perhaps I was looking in the wrong place?  Dunno.   

    I hiked back to the jeep before it got hot and uncomfortable.   I got to spend some time in the woods. I got some fresh air, exercise and saw lots of pretty scenery and wildflowers.   I experienced Frozen Head Tower for the second time ever and the first time hiking there in Summer.  
All in all a good day.  This would be a fun hike to set a shuttle and hike up from Armes Gap and hike down Chimney Tops trail to the main grounds of the State Park in Springtime! 

 Directions to Armes Gap and the Frozen Head Summit:

From Knoxville: Take Pellissippi Parkway Hwy 140 west toward Oak Ridge. Follow it to its end where it becomes 162.. the Solway.   Stay on that until it becomes Rt. 62 through Oak Ridge.
Go through town and head toward Oliver Springs.. Stay straight through the light toward Oliver Springs.   Go over the highway... at the bottom of that ramp you'll turn right to stay on Rt. 62.
You're heading toward Frozen Head State Park , but you want to turn onto Rt. 116 for Petros BEFORE you get to the main grounds of the state park.   You'll be entering the state park thru
the back door so to speak.    

Follow Rt 116 North as it winds through the rural area past the old closed down Brushy Mountain State Prison on your left.   Armes Gap is about at the crest of the mountain.  You can park on the right or left.   the Gillotine Trail heading into Wind Rock is on the right of the gap.

The trail head to start your hike is on the left at the gate.   

Monday, June 15, 2015

Forbidden Caverns with Michael

Daylily blooming beside the stream at the mill. 

Forbidden Caverns With Michael 
Dana Koogler and grandson Michael Lindsey
Wednesday June 10, 2015

Forbidden Caverns Website

Photos are here: Forbidden Caverns Trip Pix

  Since school has been out for Summer certain days of the week I have my grandson with me.
I had been thinking of fun things for us to do that were different.   I realized that in all the time I've lived in this area I had not once been to Forbidden Caverns.  It is not that far from home. It is not
a huge tourist attraction as some places. It looked like a fun little adventure for us to share.
We set out one morning to find out for ourselves.   

      We found the place without an problems.   It was not expensive to get in. I think it was $22 for both of us.  The tour took one hour. It is a neat caverns and very well done.    It has more interesting formations than Tuckaleechee Caverns, but the waterfall in Forbidden Caverns was not running!
The underground stream was still flowing though.  It sits at the base of English Mountain.  English mountain has a large underground aquifer .    It can pump out 200,000, 000 to 300, 000, 000 gallons of spring water per day!  It is used by the Bush Beans cannery and the English Mountain spring water bottling company.   

      The place was busy enough but not crowded.    Michael liked it and so did I.  
Near the start of the cavern tour.

Columns and stalactites, stalagmites.

My grandson Michael, age 6. He is wearing Pawpaw's headlamp. He is prepared to lead the tour!

Historic reconstruction of an old moonshine still.  Moonshine was made in the cave, but 
the only parts left that were old and authentic were on a trash heap.
View of the underground stream.
Drapery formation. You can see Michael's feet behind it.
Largest white onyx wall in the world per the cave guide.  

Light show among the formations. 

Of course he's happy. Nanny is buying him stuff in the gift store!  Gotta support the local economy.

We stopped to see a small, attractive cascade just before the caverns.

A tiny bit down the road is an old grist mill.  We stopped to visit that too.
It is the Blowing Cave Mill site. 
Here is the mill race and the creek.

Michael crossing the creek on a board bridge to go see the other parts of the old mill.

Snake doctor on the watercress in the creek.

   We had a good day.  We ate at McDonald's.  We stopped at the co-op in Sevierville.
We stopped at Tractor Supply and bought mud boots for Michael.  We went home and finished a Science experiment. We petted Diesel the black devil cat.  We played cars and trucks and had races with the new toys from Tractor Supply company!

   Looking forward to the next adventure!