Saturday, October 24, 2015

South Shoal Creek Falls and More

The Ten Commandments at Fields of the Wood

South Shoal Creek Falls and More

Dana Koogler and Mike Gourley
Friday October 23, 2015

Total hike distance 3 miles approx. 

Photos are here: 

       Several months back I became aware of a waterfall down in the Murphy, North Carolina area.
South Shoal Creek Falls it was called.  I found it on Panoramio.  I had never heard of it before and could find nothing else about it.   I had reached out to two different sources to try to learn more.
I had sent a message to the fellow who took the only photo I'd ever seen of it. I also located it on the map and reached out to a business in the area on the off chance they might know of it.
I did not hear anything more about it. I wanted so much to see it and learn more about it.
I did not feel comfortable going bushwhacking alone to try to find it when I knew little or nothing.
Kenny was going to have to work thanks to his busy season, but he was also curious and wanted to see it.    Monday I reached out to Mike Gourley who has a similar schedule to mine and asked him to go with me.  He initially had a schedule conflict.  He has also been working very hard on completing
some hikes that have been on his list a long time.  I sure understand what that is like so I set the
idea aside, but not completely.  

            I continued to turn the idea over in my mind and fret it a little bit as I often do.
I  am nothing if not persistent.  I did not hear back from either the business or the individual who took
the photo.   I had the strong feeling the fellow who took the photo probably did not check that account any longer.  I found mention of him on a dating site.  I admit I entertained the idea of making up a dating profile just to try to reach him about that waterfall. Yes. I am awful. I know this.
I shared the photo of the falls on Facebook and  was joking about my evil plans. I kept picking
at Mike putting messages out there "Mike, blow off your appointment. Come on with me to find this waterfall. You know you want to."  I struck lucky!  He did want to go and could go!  I was really
tickled about that.   Kenny put his order in for "Y'all go find it and take me back to see it?"

       We made our plans and Friday we would spend the day enjoying "Doc Rogers Country".
We'd hit up several attractions in that area that Mike had never seen.  We'd have some sure fire things to check out. We'd also hunt up South Shoal Creek Falls. We were both hoping for success, but prepared for failure and the inevitable return trip.

           We got an early start Friday morning so we could cram a lot into the day.
We stopped by Fields of the Woods first.  I had been before, but just gave it a cursory glance when there.   It was dead of Winter when I first visited and the place was desolate.   Today it was prettier.
Astonishing views from the mountain tops on a clear Autumn day.  Mike's interest in the place also
caused me to slow down and take a better look. I realized more of the history and significance of the place. It is a memorial but also sort of a place of religious pilgrimage for Christians.  A mountain of prayer you walk and pray and read Bible verses.  They have a cafe and gift shop.  It was very quaint and reverent.   I got far more out of it today!  We also went to the top of Burger Mountain where the
All Nations Cross is located.   Everything we saw was neat and worth the stop.

 Replica of the Ten Commandments
 The stairs to climb the mountain are the divider between the two tablets of the commandments.
 The main message of the gospel of Christ.  "Jesus died for our sins."
 The All Nations Cross is a cross shape atop the mountain outlined by the flags of many nations.
The view from the mountainside of the Valley River Mountains. 

    We wrapped up our touring of Fields of the Wood and continued down the road a bit further.
Kenny and I had been to Panther Top Lookout Tower and Mike wanted to check that out since it was nearby and so easy to reach.  We hiked 1.5 miles round trip up to see the lookout tower which is in excellent condition. The frost and cooler temperatures had the colors prettier on the hike and up top than a week ago.   
Mike checks out Panther Top Lookout Tower
View from Panther Top Tower today was even clearer! 

         Once back at the jeep we decided to head in the direction of South Shoal Creek.
We'd find us a place to eat some lunch and get started trying to locate the falls.  We had both considered two routes to reach it. One way from the east and one from the west.   We both felt more confident about the parking situation and accessibility from the western side.  The GPS in my jeep did not want to recognize the addresses I tried to give it.   We did find a church we were looking for.  It was a safe, welcoming place to park. The day was warmed up nicely. 
The grounds of the church had a picnic table and a pretty yard where we could eat lunch in a nice setting.  I brought us some sandwiches and things for lunch.  Today we did not want to spend time dining out, but eat and get going.   Mike was doing some checking out of a possible route. I was setting the table.  I had said I hoped I'd run into someone out stirring today. I planned to ask them about the falls and the best way to reach it.  My prayers were answered!
Here came a man on an atv heading up the road past the church. He had a friendly smile.
I waved him down and ran to speak with him.  He was the business owner who I had emailed!
We exchanged introductions and greetings. I asked him about the falls and the best approach to it.  We could get there either way, but the eastern approach would be far simpler. I had already figured out that the falls itself lies in the Nantahala National Forest so it was ok to be there.
It was the getting there that worried me.   Turns out that the place we had to go IS ok to access and it is in one of those states of what I call benign neglect.   Property that is lying fallow with an uncertain fate.    We were really excited to learn that there was a trail the entire way to the falls.  We were still going to do some bushwhacking and exploring, but we would not have to.

       Once we finished our lunch we gathered up and headed back the other direction!
We found the way to the falls without any trouble at all thanks to Roger.  We both felt like it was a "God thing". A divine appointment that was just meant to be.   It sure turned out to be 
a great day.  The drive was even pretty.    We gathered our gear up and began our hike.
We hiked along beside a stream on a good path through a beautiful woods filled with 
gold, bronze and all sorts of pretty Fall colors!

Meadow near the start of our hike to the falls.

       We  found the falls without the first problem.  I had a feeling of being completely turned around.  I had believed several wrong headed notions.   I now know why!  The original waypoint I had for the falls was incorrect from the source.   I converted it and that made it closer, but it was still mixing me up.   I think studying the map and having so many possible routes swimming through my mind did nothing to clear things up for me prior to the trip.
It took me getting home later and double checking the original waypoint and studying the map to orient myself and figure out what was going on.  Another wrong notion I'd had was that there were additional waterfalls in the area.  What I was seeing were merely strong whitewater cascades and not falls.  Only one falls in the area for certain, but boys howdy it was worth it!

 First glimpse of South Shoal Creek Falls near the brink

           We made it to the base!  We first saw a rock ledge with a rope tied to a tree.  One slip and you'd be gone the ledge was so narrow.   It was a forty to forty five foot drop. We both decided that the rope idea would be a last option.  We would try going further out the bluff to see if there was a better way down.  As it turned out the trail curved round and led right to the base!  You will notice in these photos there are manmade objects in each.   The sluiceway and the pipes to the left of the falls are from where a nearby homeowner rigged up a system to provide him with electricity.     The house and entire thing are now abandoned.  

          The falls is a wonderment. The forest above glowed gold with the afternoon light of Autumn.  We spent plenty of time checking it out and taking lots of photos.    It was awesome!
Once we finally got the picture taking done we planned to move toward a waypoint for a potential second waterfall.   We bushwhacked and thanks to Mike's considerable skill in way finding we made it to where we needed to be.    It was hard. It was disappointing there turned out to be no second waterfall, but we had an adventure and happened upon some of the coolest rock forms! We'd never have seen them if we didn't go exploring.   I had to rest atop the ridge.
I was not drinking enough, and was becoming dehydrated and queasy.   A short time later I felt right as rain.   We set out again. I was resigned to going back the way we came and toiling through the rhodo and the stream.  Mike was not to be so easily outdone.  He found us a far better way out of there.  He was walking along toward the sound of the falls and the bluff.
He came out with "expletive........ do I see a trail?" It sure was!  A well worn path lead along exactly parallel to where we'd come to the falls.   We hiked this trail back through the most beautifully colored forest. It provided much better vistas of the stream on this side.  We ended up making a big loop hike.    I told him I had that feeling of "finding treasure" that I sometimes dream of.    Things don't always work out right, but today was amazing!


The above three photos show various parts of the return hike. Bottom frame is Mike ahead of me. The trail was in good condition.  I think we saw one or two downed trees in total. 

        Once we got back to the jeep we changed into dry shirts and such.  Mike had driven the whole way there. We agreed I'd drive home since I was familiar with the area.    We had enough time to squeeze in a few more stops.  We went by North Shoal Creek Falls and visited that since he had never been. We also stopped by the Hiwassee Dam overlook on the way. 
It was really pretty and I hadn't been there to take photos ever before.   

 The Hiwassee Dam over Appalachia Lake
 Appalachia Lake

North Shoal Creek Falls.  Better images today. 

    We saw exactly two other hikers all day long.  They were a couple on their way up from North Shoal Creek Falls while we were starting down to it.    More Floridians!
North Shoal Creek Falls was beautiful as always and Mike really liked it.
It was growing late. We were both tired and hungry.  We had a long drive home.
We had no phone signal back in here.  We decided we'd stop in Madisonville and get a meal.
We'd call our loved ones and let them know we were ok and on the way home. 

             The drive out Joe Brown Highway was long and winding, but got us back safely.
We did not have any problems finding our way.  It did only one things for me.  I added several things to my list that I want to go back to explore.   I still did not see the waterfall Kenny spotted on the way back past Shuler Creek Road.  It was too dark to really see it. 

         I had a great time.  I feel very fortunate to have Mike as a friend. Kenny really
likes him too. We all get along fine. We're a good team.   Today was golden and I look forward to many more adventures. 

Below is a 3 minute video of South Shoal Creek Falls.  It is way high on my list of faves!

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