Monday, August 17, 2015

Alarka Falls, Bradley Branch Falls, and Wrights Creek Falls


Pink Turtleheads


Alarka Falls, Bradley Branch Falls, &  Wrights Creek Falls 

Dana & Kenny Koogler
Mike Gourley
Mike Maples

Sunday August 16, 2015

Photos are here starting with frame 507

Photos for the rest of the trip are here
beginning with frame 289

Bradley Branch Falls and Wrights Creek Falls 

     Sunday we got up early and met Mike Gourley and Mike Maples at Sugarlands Visitor 
Center.  We had planned a trip back to Alarka Falls so they could see it for themselves.  We had 
discussed going into the headwaters exploring, but that idea was a poor one. Rich had a startling
rattlesnake encounter last week . It is Dog Days.  Between the two things the prospect of bushwhacking in an area devoid of trails was not appealing. Kenny flat refused to do it.  
Rich wanted to go, but was not keen on it at this time of year. We put that idea off until 
Fall when things cool down and the snakes go to bed.   

      Kenny had met Mike Gourley and hiked with him before.   I introduced him to Mike Maples.
I had met Mike before and have been familiar with him for a long while.  Today would be the first time we would hike together!  I felt very fortunate indeed.   We talked it over and quickly decided
that we'd just take Kenny's truck and all ride in style.  I love me some wild eyed Southern boys and pickup trucks.  We decided to go to the base of Alarka Falls and climb up to the top, visit the various
drops of it, then climb back down.  We'd eat some lunch and then go round to the Qualla Boundary to explore some short waterfall hikes.   All of today's adventures would be new for the two Mikes.
The Qualla Boundary waterfalls would be new to all of us.  I had waypoints for all of them as did Mike Gourley.   Kenny's navigation system in the truck takes the decimal style that I had.  

       We realized on the way down the road that we had taken off without the cooler which
contained our beverages and lunch.   We got there with snacks and everything else important but that.
We made a quick detour in Cherokee on the way to our hike and grabbed some drinks and Subway 
sandwiches.   Problem solved.    

      I had brought a printed, bound copy of the Alarka Laurel Trail Guide with me. 
I wanted to see how useful it could be when put to practice.   Kenny disputed me on the 
exit and the direction of travel on the US 74 Expressway. I pulled out my written instructions and voila!  I had it right there in black and white.    I think this is going to be very good!

           The drive back to Alarka at the base of the falls trail is an experience in getting to 
the back woods.  Both Mike Gourley and Mike Maples are accustomed to it so they like us were not
put off in the slightest.   The sort of isolation in a place like that can be unsettling to some 
persons.   We lived in an Ag-Forestal District for decades so it seems natural to us.  

        We gathered our gear and hit the trail.   We passed by a few side trails that cut over to 
the stream.   We stopped for photos of a few smaller, scenic cascades on the hike up. 
We approached the base of the falls and  saw an owl!  It hung around for awhile and we 
were able to enjoy seeing it and get some photos.   I had seen an owl hear once before.
I realized today what the message of the owl was for me and what Alarka has been trying to 
tell me.   It was good to be there today.  It is such a special, beautiful place and I felt great getting
to share it with my friends.  

Hooty Hoo to you and you!  Owl in the forest at Alarka Falls. 

Alarka Falls from the main, first vantage at the base of it.    We spent some time goofing off here
and taking photos.  It is hard to take it all in.   It was such an easy hike up to that point.  
Mike Maples and Mike Gourley were thinking this was it.  I explained that there was a lot more.
We would not be able to see it from here. We would have to continue climbing if we wished to 
see the rest of it.  These two mountain goats don't mind it at all.   I knew they would find it easy.
It is not easy for me, but I surprised myself in a good way.   Climbing up the mountain to see it is
far easier than climbing down. It is also much easier than hiking out to it, climbing down, then climbing back up, and hiking all the way out.   It appears the manway up the slope is being traveled and has been improved.  Downed trees are now gone.  The way is easier and if you stay over away from the brink of the falls you can save yourself a lot of trouble and worry.   

          We climbed up and went over to a few drops of it for photos.   The climb up was tough for me.
I was stunned beyond belief when we got to a point where the trail turned and went down and right.
We went a few feet and I was standing looking at the little homemade platform and cable at the top of the falls! I exclaimed "We're here! We are at the very top!"   From there I went out and got photos of the very top cascade which is pretty.  Kenny waited on me and set up his Fantasty Football league.
Mike and Mike began climbing down to start photographing the drops of the falls below us.

     Uppermost Cascade of Alarka Falls.  

One of many slides and cascades on the way down. I read today that the height estimate for this falls is 280 ft.  I had said 200,but felt that was probably on the conservative side.  

     I was glad to not be here alone and to have Kenny with me.  I began remembering last September
being there with Cathy. We got way off course and got too close to the brink of the falls both going down and climbing back up.   I could see the mistakes I made as I went down the manway this time.
By the time we got to the next drop where we stopped to take photos my hands were trembling and I was having to take some slow, deep breaths.  Kenny reassured me and I calmed down pretty readily.

           We got some photos of the falls and the spray and the terrain made it really tough.

Middle drop of Alarka Falls. This one is my most favorite view of it.  

Mike Gourley liked it best too.  
Mike Maples at the brink of the drop below me.  Masses of pink turtlehead flowers in the foreground.

  Once we got done taking pictures here we packed up and headed down.  It went a lot better than 
previous times.  Karma really is a bitch.  I was telling Mike Maples a story about Mike Gourley falling at Smith Branch and rolling and I fell right then.  Mike Gourley was behind me and saw it and laughed at me.  Next HE fell and I got to laugh at him again. Mike Maples laughed at both of us.
Kenny remarked that Mike Maples was so nimble he was like a squirrel!    It makes me so jealous.

   We scarfed down some lunch back at the truck.  We loaded up and headed to hunt for more waterfalls.   The GPS tried to tell us the next batch of falls was thirty three miles away.  I knew that could not be correct and it wasn't.    We headed back toward Cherokee and the Qualla Boundary.
We stopped on the way back out Alarka Road for the two Mikes to get some photos of the old log
cabins in the area.     Once we got headed in the right direction on the 74 Expressway the distance 
dropped to fifteen miles.   

  World Waterfall Database is an excellent resource.   We had four green lighted falls shown on the list in one little area.  Crowe Hill Falls, Reed Falls, Bradley Branch Falls and Wrights Creek Falls.
My assessment of it based on google maps and the satellite view was that we'd find them all, but 
that Wrights Creek Falls and Bradley Branch Falls would be the two best ones.   Turns out that was how it went.  Waterfall hunters are never completely satisfied if they find all the falls easily, simply every time.   We have to have a little mystery and challenge left.   Crowe Hill Falls would be the 
mystery of the day. I will expound on that later in the trip report.  

     Mike Gourley sitting in the back with his handheld GPS turned out to be a far more sensible 
and effective navigator than Kenny's truck system!  He doesn't try to loop you ten miles out of the way to make a U turn either!   He even lined them up along the road as to what we would come to first.   Reed Falls is about 15 ft high, visible from the road. Not much water and has a house at the top of it.   Crowe Hill Falls we found, but the given way point was a two foot tall slanting, wet rock in a creek that looked like a drainage ditch.   Bradley Branch Falls is beside Wrights Creek Church.
You can pull in there and it is about ninety feet high.  It needs more water volume to be spectacular, but is so easy to access that it would be worth including in a return trip if we've had good rain.

 Bradley Branch Falls

    Cranefly orchids by Bradley Branch Falls.  Saw lots of these pretty, native orchids.

      We laughed and carried on. Mike Maples teased me about having pooped my pants because my backside was grubby dirty from all the falling around and scooting down dirt banks.   We were all clowning today and it felt mighty good to be silly.    

           We moved on to the last falls of the day which turned out to be the pick of the litter out of this batch of four waterfalls.     Wrights Creek Falls is located behind the Waterfalls Church. It is an easy 150 yard walk back there to see it. It is only about fifteen feet high, but so scenic.   It has rocky grottoes and old stone structures around it.  It is shaded for much of the day making it a good place to get waterfall photos.    We strolled back through gaura that was seven feet tall, golden wingstem about six feet tall, purple new york ironweed, four foot high orange spotted jewelweed.  The setting there in this residential area of the Qualla boundary is idyllic.    Being there with my husband and my friends was excellent.  

        Wrights Creek is a very healthy stream with a good Summer time flow.   That being said take along your water shoes or prepare for wet boots getting to the falls.   You pass a stone BBQ pit on the way to the falls. Mike Maples explained to me that style of old BBQ pit is a 'blacksmith style". Make sense. I remember a lot of folks having those when I was a little girl.    Right beyond that was a stone structure like a little house.   It was set in a stone grotto cut out of the bank. 

Old BBQ pit

Stone house by Wrights Creek Falls

Rock grotto within the stone house
 Rock outcrop you have to go round to reach the falls.
Wrights Creek Falls! Gorgeous!

   We had plenty of time to check out the waterfall and enjoy the cool green setting.  Mike Maples
explored up the creek above the falls.   I remarked that he and Cathy were cut from the same clothe. They both like to go up the creek or amble around to see what else they can find!

Below is a mellow video of Wrights Creek Falls.  It sums our day up very well.

I enjoyed my day with my hubby and our pals.  It was great.  Exactly what I needed.

  Solving the Mystery of Crowe Hill Falls

      I mentioned in the trip report that we found Crowe Hill Falls, but it was piddley.  The waypoint was dead on it.    World Waterfall Database has a criterion for what qualifies as a waterfall.  It has to be fifteen feet tall to make the cut.  I emailed them and related to Bryan what we found , and that I felt it should be removed from the database.  Making a long story short, it turns out that the way point  is incorrect and Crowe Hill Falls is a five foot tall cascade we saw on Wrights Creek on our way up there.   It is a pretty cascade,but still not big enough to be included on the database. I don't know what they'll decide to do about it.   Mystery solved? Maybe si, maybe no.   We passed a road
later in our day going through Cherokee that said "Crowe Hill Falls Lane". 

***Magicmomma's Crystal Ball of the Future***

I see an Autumn trip back to the headwaters of Alarka.
I see finding more waterfalls up there.
I see a movie made from the headwaters to the base of the falls.
I see the U.S. Forest Service removing the trash barrel.
I see the Mud Pit  pull off blocked to further vehicle access.
I see the trail to the top of the falls cut back.
I see myself hiking the trail from the Red Spruce Bog all the way
round to the Top of the Falls trail. 
I see the property owners at the bottom along Alarka Road
telling me it IS okay to visit Fall Branch Falls.
I see me and my pals and my hubby going to Mingo and Upper Mingo Falls.
I see a guidebook completed for Alarka Laurel!


  1. Great blog and interesting side note on Crowe Hill Falls. Lots of reasons for a future trip!

    1. I ain't' playin. I know how to reel you guys back in for round two! ;-D
      Thanks. I enjoyed yours too! I like being there in person much mo' bettah.. unless it involves too much uphill.. I didn't sign up for this. whine!!! hahaha!


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