Vibrant green moss on a log near Hickory Creek Falls
Royal Blue WMA
Finding Waterfall Branch Falls & Wandering in the Wilderness
Sunday March 6, 2016
Kenny & Dana Koogler
Pictures are here beginning with frame 307
Waterfall Branch Falls Pix
Waterfall Branch Falls Pix
Sunday we got up and packed things to get ready to go four wheeling to Royal Blue.
We didn't have a great time the last go round on account of the über deep snow in Campbell County.
We wanted some redemption. We had also tried before to locate Waterfall Branch Falls and
did not succeed. We had done some more studying on it and had a map and figured this time
we might find it. We headed up the road toward the Huntsville exit. Recently there was a landslide on I-75 which we would have to use to get there. The access point we needed is right by the interstate. We were able to continue. The state troopers are detouring through traffic at Caryville, but
if you are not going any further than Huntsville they let you go on past. At the Huntsville exit
they have another trooper and a command post and you will either exit or detour there.
We pulled in and parked and pretty soon we were under way. The day was cool, but warming up pretty fast. It was sunny and clear skies. We hit the Ollis Creek trail first. It was pretty, but
a lot of it is like a river of peanutbutter mud. It takes you high above the old LaFollette Reservoirs 1 and 2. You eventually come out behind the old dog pound and a left turn takes you up the road past the Ivydell Snake Handling church. No kidding! Before leaving the Ollis Creek Trail we stopped to see Yellow Branch Falls which is below the trail. You have to park and climb down to see it.
We finally found a spot to climb down through the rhodo and walk up the creek a short distance to it. It is a very pretty falls. Today there was a rainbow in it! It sits in a neat rock amphitheater.
Like last visit here we found a spot closer to the falls to climb back UP the bank and out.
It was not bad going up it, but I wouldn't have wanted to go down it.
We had to stop out at the end of Campbell Split trail to check waypoints and the little map Kenny printed off of the turns we needed to make to
find this falls. We continued. Finally we came out near the point where before I believed we were very close to finding the falls. I thought we missed it by not going down in the creek here and walking up it. Turned out that was not the case. It is close, but not as close as I had thought. The first time we tried to find it we continued on out some trails that were not completed. They were also not mapped and so we turned around that day and headed back. We more or less gave up the search the first time confused over what had we done wrong?
Today we had a little more info and the trail system had at last been finished up in the vicinity. Maybe today would be the day we'd find it?! We watched the terrain and it looked pretty promising. Rugged and a drop off to our right. We came upon an old trail barely visible to the right. It was clearly foot traffic only with a ton of tiny saplings growing up in it. It looked more like an animal path, but we parked and got out to follow it. We could hear the falls as soon as we stopped.
We bushwhacked forward with the GPS indicating it was down there. We were right atop it.
We came to this vantage first. Right at the brink of the falls with a glimpse of the top part of it.
Top of Waterfall Branch Falls. It is 22 ft high.
Kenny and I went on ahead and found a way down off the bluff a little further out. It was not easy, but we have surely done much harder things. It was a matter of taking our time and side hilling it across in the direction of the falls. Sideways and gradually down. A few saplings and things to hold onto made it not too sketchy. Finally we stood before the falls! We found it! We had also found a way to the base!
Kenny making his way toward the falls. You can see here more what the terrain was like.
It is a very pretty gorge this falls lies in.
Looking back up at the bluff where we stood moments ago.
Once we got done here we climbed back out of the hole and back to the RZR. We continued round on the trail. I think it was Trail #20. Louse Creek Trail it was called. It was very pretty. High on the ridge line at first with some partial views then down off the ridge gradually like a rollercoaster going down through the hollers. We finally came to the bottom of the mountain and were by a good sized stream. We forded and on the other side we stopped to check it out.
This was the end of it. There is pipe embedded in it and also the remnants of the pipe across the creek.
Guess this must be "Louse Creek"
We continued forward and before too long came to a trail intersection and got our first whiff of trouble. We realized at the trail intersection we had forgotten a map of the entire trail system.
All we had was one little snippet and the GPS and our knowledge of past trips. The problem was
I had NEVER been to this area before. Kenny had been once, but had little recall of it. We had a brief dispute over which way we needed to turn, but finally I prevailed and got him to believe me.
I reasoned which way the points of the compass were and we needed to head in a northerly direction.
We had been trying to head toward Town Rock next. I knew it was north/ northwest of where we had been at Waterfall Branch. We rambled around, took a wrong turn.. turned around. I was beginning to be distressed. We stopped and ate lunch. That helped some. Kenny showed me on the GPS that if we stayed with Pond Ridge Trail it would eventually lead us round to Hickory Creek Falls and that area we knew a lot more about.
Pond Ridge Trail #22 was a total mess. It was narrow in places and you could see off both sides easily! Yow! Also it was one deep rut and mud hole after another. We had not installed the winch on the RZR yet and that was cause for concern. Riding just the two of us .. no one to help us if we got stuck and no winch! We got to one place I thought we weren't going to get out of. Yet thankfully we did and boy were we glad! We kept going and finally started to see signs of civilization. We saw a few houses and people. It was reassuring to see even that much. I could also see that Kenny was correct and that the GPS was indeed leading us out of there.
One very neat thing in all this was that during our wanderings we passed something on the right that caught both our eyes. It was a green body of water that sat there in the gloom of a rock outcrop glimmering. We stopped to check it out. It was exquisite.Above and below.. views of the spring pond.
Worth wandering the wilderness for!
We eventually came to Hickory Creek Lane and more houses. We turned and started out along a dirt road then Kenny remember this was not right. We ended up somewhere in this part out in a field by Hickory Creek under what was either an electrical wire or telephone wire with it rubbing the top of the RZR! He backed it up and turned around and headed the other way. We had seen these old bridge abutments and gone past them. I could see across the stream that the trail appeared to continue. We got down to creek level and went up over the bank and continued. The area was looking familiar more and more. I looked around as we passed a small stream and the words "Small Hollow Falls" echoed in my head. I had the feeling we had been here before. There was a waterfall up that little holler. We rambled on through the hemlock woods and finally arrived at Hickory Creek Falls. There is a big galled area above it that always has trash and human sign there. Someone put Wayne's photo up .. whoever he is... and stuck it to a tree.
I was never so glad to see any place. I had been filled with tension. Now the dam broke and
Kenny came round to my side to hug me and comfort me until it subsided. It was just tears over the relief at having gotten back out of unfamiliar territory. We should be ok now. I got out to go see Hickory Creek Falls.
Looking across at Hickory Creek Falls
We continued on up the trail and eventually came to an intersection. Kenny asked me if I wanted to go on to Town Rock. I said yes. We decided though the gravel road would be a little longer we'd do that since we'd make better time on it. We started out and as we came up over a bank almost ran into a settling pond! It didn't look right so we started heading out the trail.. but I still knew something was off. I told Kenny I knew those settling ponds were on the wrong side of us. We were heading the wrong way. I was done then. I told him let's just get righted and get on out of here.
He agreed and that is what we did. We MUST remember the map. He had remarked that even if we'd had the map with us much of the trails would not have been on it since trail 20, 22, and 23 were new.
Out the road we went heading back in the direction of the truck and the parking area.
On the way out we were flagged down by a dad and his little girl. A side by side had passed them and run them nearly out into the ditch! The father got stopped just shy of a 3 1/2 foot drop off!
We stopped to see what we could do for them. Thankfully a big vehicle and a couple nice young men stopped also. The heavy vehicle and the boys long chain got the fellow unstuck. Kenny helped them hook it up while I took the little girl and got back to a safe place where we could watch without being in the way. She was a cute little gal. I asked her if the whole thing scared her and she said yes!
Out for a Sunday drive on a pretty day on the backroads and nearly get run in a ditch.
They were all set so we shook hands and headed out.
It was good to see the truck again. Back at home later in the evening I found all the Royal Blue maps and Sundquist maps! I put them in a ziplock bag and put them in the RZR. Before I did I checked them and the new trails WERE on the map. Hand drawn in by Kenny himself. I showed him. No more leaving without them. Also realized that the DeLorme Gazetteer would have helped a lot if we'd brought it. Need to start taking it along every time. At home the GPS data was able to help me understand where we'd been and what we'd done. We also need to get that winch on there ASAP!
Below is a short video clip of Thirteen Hollow Falls.