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.

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