Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Camps Gulf Hike to Hemlock Falls

Lobelia.. an end of Summer wildflower

Camps Gulf Hike to Hemlock Falls 

Dana Koogler 
Jay Walker
Tuesday October 6, 2015
 6 miles RT 

pictures are here: Camps Gulf Pix

    I had long wanted to hike to Hemlock Falls in Camps Gulf.  I tried unsuccessfully about six months ago.   I had no map. I  had little or no knowledge. I was alone.  I ended up going to do 
some other area hikes.   I had hiking a couple times before in Camps Gulf.  The first time was with 
Kenny. We saw the big sign "Camps Gulf Addition to Fall Creek Falls State Park".   We were intrigued.  We had to try it.  It said something about Prater homeplace and  Hemlock Falls.
We passed the ruins of an old home place.   We did find a waterfall.  We figured that was it.

          I later learned that we had NOT visited Hemlock Falls.   I saw several trip reports. One was by Marvin Bullock. He authors the Cragrock USA blog. He also works for the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation or at least he did at the time.   I saw a report where Craig and Lora of Outcast Hikers went to see it.   I then was fully aware I'd have to go back and try again!  I had been in some of the caves in Camps Gulf, but I really was not interested in going in those anymore.  I wanted to see Hemlock Falls and figure out where the real Prater home place was.   I learned that the home place we found was not it!  I knew from several rangers that it was on toward the back of the gulf.

              My friend Jay Walker took a day off during the week and we joined forces to find this place!
I did not feel comfortable going alone.  He graciously agreed to go.  We had a good day that made up for my failed trip last try.    We met a pair of rangers in the parking area and followed them in.
We encountered one another off and on through the day. They were hiking through clearing the trail of blown down trees from last weeks storms.   
 This is the signed entrance and parking space for starting a hike through Camps Gulf. This photo was taken on a previous trip.

Camps Gulf stream.. one of the fords. This was taken back in mid March.  It was an easy rock hop that day. Today it was bone dry and we did not need any water shoes! The previous times we've hiked here in early March the water was deep enough there was no way to avoid getting your feet wet.  I brought water shoes, but ended up not needing them.   There is only one stream crossing and
it is near the start of the hike.  It is perhaps 0.1 mile to the crossing.

I have embedded a map below that shows Camps Gulf. The first star is the one for the trail itself.
The second star I don't know what that is.  The third is Cueva Guapa. The fourth is Hemlock Falls.
I have submitted the waypoints to Tennessee landforms since as yet they had not been put on the database.   

       We passed the old house ruins near the beginning of the hike. They are almost immediately after the creek crossing and on the left side of the trail where it makes a bend to the right.  It is cement foundation and fencing etc.

         The trail is in fair condition and for much of the way starting out it is a wide, logging road.
It is muddy now thanks to all the recent rain.  The wind had downed some trees, but all those were cleared as of  11:30 am central time.   The rangers cleared several and did a nice job.
After awhile the trail veers left at the first trail sign for Prater Place. There at that spot another trail takes off to the right but that only goes down to the creek.  Tuesday that part of the creek was still dry.    The trail then climbs the ridge on a switch back.   The character of it now is winding and more narrow, rocky and looks a lot more like a trail and no longer an old logging road.   Going either in or out you have one or two good climbs and then it levels off like a bench.   It is above Camps Gulf Creek and at some point once you are up there you can glimpse it.  It starts to have water in it and the further back the gulf you go the harder it is running!  I think that is what makes this place so magical to me is that the stream bed starts off bone dry then starts running, strengthens then a waterfall appears!     It certainly wouldn't do much to encourage a person who has not experienced hiking
in the plateau to continue the rest of the journey to the falls.

 Opening of Camps Gulf Cave II
 Massive boulders jumble around the cliffs

Sun peeping through the forest gloom at 9 am.

A view of the bluffs high above you on part of the hike.  It is just so pretty.

Here is the first falls we visited today. It is a pit cave which contains a waterfall.
I was informed after the first time I visited here by Kristen Bobo that the name of it is
Cueva Guapa del Norte. Which means "pretty cave of the north".    We stopped by here to see this
and take some photos.  It is an interesting area geologically speaking.

Below is a short video of this cave waterfall.

              The rangers passed us by while we were down there checking it out.
We took a short cut up over the bank and picked up the trail again and continued our hike toward Hemlock Falls.   We encountered the rangers again cutting more downed trees.   Once they stopped the saw we proceeded.   It was here that we encountered a yellow jackets nest in the trail.  
We made it past with zero stings!  I hollered back to the rangers to be careful as they passed by it.
I took a minute and pointed out to them exactly where it was.   No one got stung today either coming or going.  

           The trail passed another small cascade that dropped into what appeared to be a cave or swallet.
It was a really pretty gushing spring that flowed down the hill and entered the ground again.
We did not examine it very closely.     I had not known this was here!

           The trail turned and went down and in short order we were at a large, pretty flat area.
Camps Gulf creek was to our far right.   We passed what appeared to be a large pile of mossy rocks on our right.  It was either this or another spot that was the remains of the old Prater Mansion.
We saw a flat spot above the falls that showed signs of fence posts, stone walls that could also be it.

           The forest smelled wonderful of the coming of Autumn. Not much Fall color yet, but the hickory trees shone bright gold and yellow hues.     It was pretty amidst the deep green grove of hemlocks!   The falls was  shimmering ,white, low, and wide.  It  flowed powerfully.   We were thrilled to be there!  It was a peaceful, serene setting. No one else around except for us and the two rangers and their now and then chain sawing.   Neither of them had much of an idea about the history of the area.  One had worked there right at a year. The other fellow less than a year.  Both very nice and willing to try to help, but not terribly in the know yet.  We traded knowledge and stories.
They said their good-byes and wished us a blessed day.  We lingered awhile.
We lunched here at the falls.  Took plenty of photos.  

 Hemlock Falls is very beautiful.

            Upstream of it are other pretty cascades.
   I walked up into the headwaters and explored a tiny bit.  I had seen where Alan Cressler, Chuck Sutherland and some others had explored further and found more falls at the far back split of the gulf.
The little path I was on played out in a headwaters.  I came to a place deep within the hemlock grove where the ground was saturated and water issued forth from many places. It merged and flowed from a wide area down to a more definite stream and emptied itself into Camps Gulf Creek.  There is something about a headwaters and watching it gather steam and form itself into a creek that is just
mystical.   We finally wrapped up our visit and began our hike back. It was very satisfying to finally be there!  Success at last.   It felt good to be able to re-located the cave waterfall from the previous trip. It felt great to finally make it to this spot I had long imagined visiting.  It was not disappointing at all.   I take great joy in those moments I am finally able to stand in a spot I have studied on a map.  Finding that it is particularly beautiful and remote makes the journey more meaningful.   It was great to have a friend along to share the experience.

**Notes for future trips or anyone who wishes to go back**
There are supposed to be four wheeler paths that lead into the area above Camps Gulf.
The land above there is private holdings though.    The roads come in from the Mooneyham area.
I am not sure if a logging road I found leads up to that area. The bluffs on either side of the gulf would make entry from that side difficult if not impossible.
         Also...I spotted some flowers gone to seed that looked noteworthy. I did not photograph them, but I knew they were something special. Turns out thanks to Bobbie Crawford-Hubbard.. My Ma... that I got an ID on them! They were Three Birds Orchid seed pods! Remember to go back there during August and try to catch them blooming!

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