Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Waterfall Hunting in the Cherokee National Forest

Sweet Betsy trillium first one of the season

Waterfall Hunting in the Cherokee National Forest 

Dana & Kenny Koogler 
Sat. March 18 2017

  We are making a little headway in getting our life back to normal.  We had a weekend to do as we pleased.  We ran off to Tellico Plains to do some waterfall hunting.   I had been studying up on a couple of places through the week. I had caught Kenny up to speed on it, and we both believed we'd have good luck finding the falls.  I also believed I had come up with a plan to avoid making it harder than it had to be. We are so bad about that.  We came fully prepared.
Brought rope just in case. 

     We headed out Saturday morning and arrived down along North River at a decent time.
It was around 10 am when we hit the trail.   We had never been to the Donley Cabin and would have to walk right by it today.  Only one other truck parked near us. It appeared the cabin was occupied at present.  We had perfect weather. It was cool and clear with bright blue skies and sunshine.  It was supposed to warm up which is nice too.  A real bluebird day.  Though the woods are still bare the trilliums are popping up. I saw a patch of sweet betsy along the creek bank.  I was very pleased to see it.  Other early wildflowers today were star chickweed, yellow violets, blue violets, hepatica, and toothwort.   
   We stopped at the picnic table aside from the cabin to get oriented.  We figured the path leading away from the cabin must be the one we needed so we followed it. It  intersected FSR 2417 which runs from North River Road up to Deep Gap.   The path leading to it may not be officially maintained, but it was easy to follow and tramped down.   North River is a hot spot for trout fishing and it appears these trails are seeing a fair amount of use.  My plan was to try to locate two waterfalls on Big Cove Branch. 
The trout unlimited narrative about the stream indicated they were "both over thirty feet high".  It also described bail out points along the creek for fishermen. Based upon the narrative I figured if the second bailout point was ABOVE the waterfalls.. then it made more sense to walk the forest service road that meets the creek at that point and work our way down.  Better than a total bushwhack or creek walk.   I also felt we could eliminate the need to check the first 0.6 miles of the stream based upon the description and the topo map.  You know what is said about the best laid plans. 

Donley Cabin on a bright Saturday morning 

Kenny at the start of the path between the cabin and the forest service road.

  We hiked up the forest road and it was not a bad climb.  Up up and more up, but it was gradual.  A few sections leveled off some.   The woods were pretty and the few Spring wildflowers along the way made it easy to keep my mind on something other than the effort. I had it in mind we needed to hike about 0.9 miles up the road to equal the straighter mileage it would have been on the stream.  We ended up hiking 1 mile up the road per the GPS measurement.   We checked the stream and the vicinity. The creek flattened out here above the road. Remember now.. the falls should be below where we are.   We did not see or hear anything like a waterfall. The stream was quite pretty.  Lots of rhododendron around.
We had passed a turn off road a ways back that lead in the right general direction. We wondered if we needed to try that road, but neither of us was willing to lose all the elevation we'd gained THEN have to go up again if we were wrong.  Better to try up the road first then come back down if need be.  

 Big Cove Branch is mossy green and beautiful. 
The road cuts through the ridge here. It reminds me of part of the Blanket Mountain manway only it is more open.  

           Having not found anything promising we went back down and turned right onto the side road that lead toward the stream.   It swung round the point of the ridge and down near but not all the way to the creek.  It dead ended to the right. To the left it continued. Very shortly it made a switchback and the lower logging road was not in good shape.  It was not traveled and had lots of briars and rhodo grown up in it.  We followed it onward.  It grew worse and worse as we went.  Finally we could see an opening ahead, but in order to reach it we had to struggle through a thicket.  We wrangled the rhodo, saplings, briars, and slogged through a spring in order to reach an open spot that may have been a home site in the past.  Lots of pioneer junk laying around.   We sat down to eat lunch and rest. We were worn out and growing frustrated.
We discussed whether we should go back the way we came or continue to bushwhack downstream?  The GPS indicated it was only 0.17 miles to the jeep so it was a no brainer. 
 Chunk of discarded guard rail bent into a ramp laying by the path. 
The guard rail is near the turn off road toward the creek. You can see Kenny ahead of me. This part of the hike was as good as any trail. 
 Looking back from the edge of the clearing at what we just wallered through.  No trail.
 The cussing bucket.  This was at the clearing.  It was our cussing place. 

       Kenny went ahead of us while I finished the last few bites of my sandwich. He wanted to see what we had in store ahead of us.  He came back reporting that we had a briar patch to pass through and then a failed tree farm with weeds and scrub. The good news was that past that was a good trail!   
These saplings were all over the place.  Laying around were the plastic sleeves that had been used to wrap the tree trunks.  

 You can just start to see a trail in this spot at the edge of those saplings.  
 More pretty trilliums
Saw several huge patches of sweet betsy.  

   Next came a healthy, mossy spring that was very pretty.   The stream continued to be attractive, but no waterfalls along this stretch.   We had been able to see all but two spots between 0.9 miles and the start of the stream down by the cabin.   A few minor cascades, but that was it.    We passed a water monitoring device. Soon we were out at the other trail and 
had bypassed the cabin.   We encountered two of the fellows staying in the cabin and talked to them.  We shared with them what we'd been up to.  They both said they had also heard there were supposed to be two nice falls on the creek.  We had even seen photos of them!  
They said they were considering going hunting them, but after hearing of our poor luck they thought better of it.    We left disappointed, but still happy to be outside today.  

           We went on to our next stop which was the confluence of Meadow Branch and Roaring Branch.    Twin waterfalls sit right by the road.   We climbed down there to get a good look at them and take some photos and video.  Lots of water today as it had rained last night. 
 No path to these roadside falls.  Lots of downed trees to use as bridges. 
 Upper Cascade on Meadow Branch is 15 ft high. It is closest to the road. 

First falls on Roaring Branch is 10 ft tall and sits away from the road. 
Roaring Branch is said to be one waterfall after another in a narrow gorge.  No easy way in or out and no trail at all.  Not even a fisherman's path. 

    We enjoyed these falls for a little bit then got back in the jeep and headed to our last stop of the day.   A friend had shared with me the location of a nice falls with the caveat that I not divulge the location since it will be coming out in a guidebook.  It was a nice gift.  
We found the stream and started up it following flagging.  It was all ok except for one spot to start with and that was not too bad.  It was an odd place where you had to stand on a few inches of rock in the creek.  Very slippery.   The path we were on petered out as did the flagging.
We realized we'd have to go up over the ridge to continue so we did.  We were fortunate to see the falls just on the other side. We were also pleased to see we would be able to get down without a problem.  We found the falls without any trouble, but looking across the creek ... there was the trail.  The REAL trail.  Gotta learn everything the hard way. 
Below is a photo of the falls.  It is a nice one.   It was marvelous to be out taking pictures today and seeing waterfalls.  We thoroughly enjoyed it.  

    We were worn out and had to face the drive home.  We stopped at Bert's restaurant in Madisonville to eat. It is always so good.  We were both ravenous. A great day in the woods.  If I am sitting in an eating establishment after a hike/bushwhack with sticks and leaves in my hair.. I consider the day a success!   

    Sitting over there in the red shirt is Kenny. He is on the trail we should have hiked up.
Oy! We've done it again.