Friday, March 29, 2013

Fall Creek Falls Camping Trip

Trillium cuneatum growing in the Camps Gulf Addition

Fall Creek Falls Camping & Exploration Trip

Dana & Kenny Koogler
Friday March 22 -Sunday March 24, 2013

Pictures are here:
Fall Creek Falls Camping Pix

Videos are here:
Perrys Branch Falls

Sullivan Creek Falls

Day 1-Friday
   Kenny & I took a long weekend to do our first camping trip of this year. We picked Fall Creek Falls State Park since we had lots of stuff in that area we wanted to see and/or try to find.    The weather forecast was something like this: 
  • Friday-cold, 30% chance of rain
  • Sat. cold, 50% chance of rain
  • Sunday 30% chance of rain, cold 
  We decided to chance it anyway. Even if it rained we'd just take our rain gear and go for it.    We have a four- season camper and any day out on the trail is better than sitting home for the weekend on the couch.

      We got camp set up on Friday after lunch and decided to do something near by.
We headed out to see the Medley Arch.  It is on the Wheeler Farm Addition to Fall Creek Falls State Park. 
Medley Arch from below it.

Apparition Falls was a bonus find near the Medley Arch. Comes out of the ground at the top of the cliff.  Enters a cave at the base! 100 ft high!

   The terrain at the arch was rugged and beautiful.  Numerous sinks, caves, and huge boulders. It reminded me a a glacial cirque.  Looking up at one point the cliffs were a semicircle around us forming a natural barrier.  The arch itself was fascinating and huge!
We saw it from either side and atop it.  We found a bonus waterfall here. Lots of wildflowers just getting started. 
Underground Lake by Medley Arch down in a cave.

    We enjoyed exploring down in the sinks area and saw what appear to be some caves.
We then found a trail heading toward the road and the other portion of the Wheeler Farm.  We followed it and before long we came out at the road heading down into the gulf.  We we made our trip out far easier by walking the graded path back out instead of back tracking.   We did some driving around trying to locate roads that would put us in proximity to Perry's Branch Falls.  It was not that late and we wanted to see this falls.
We did gather some knowledge and decided to head back and check out the map compared with the roads we'd traveled. We went back to the camper and enjoyed a roaring fire and a hot home cooked meal.  Just nice to enjoy one another's company.

Our home away from home!

Nice roaring fire to sit by and keep warm in the evenings.

Grilling up some steaks for dinner

Day 2--Saturday
Saturday we got up and fixed breakfast and headed out in search of several off trail waterfalls.  Kenny had wanted to leave enough time at the end of the day to do some reconnaissance of an area he wanted to explore later in more detail.   I was good with all that.

    We pulled up in this gravel area and parked and started walking in the direction of falls #1.    Tennesseans don't seem to mind dumping their trash outdoors and while I've seen lots of this I continue to be dismayed.  Passing up the trash dump we arrived at this scene:

Cave with a spring flowing out

Dropping over the cliff

Forming the 100 ft high Sullivan Creek Falls. It diverts part of its flow thru channels within the rock. It terminates down in the gorge where a cave drinks up the entire flow. It was an amazing sight!  We saw all kinds of caves and wildflowers down in there.  It was steep and slippery, but doable and worth the effort to see.

        We climbed back up and continued out the old gravel road with the GPS coordinates leading us on to the next falls.  We found it about 1/2 mile further beyond Sullivan Creek Falls.   Below us Laurel Creek Falls plunged a sheer 50 feet down into the gorge.  We were able to climb down to see it easily. The terrain around it is much more forgiving just past the falls.  Lots of wildflowers just getting started.  So pretty!

Laurel Creek Falls in profile

Looking out of one of the cave above Sullivan Creek

Living, growing stalactites on the cave ceiling.

  We walked back out the road to the truck. Passing up all the trash and furniture dumped around and down over the bank.  We also passed an abandoned barn or shed.  Once back in the truck we decided to head to Little Falls which is on state owned property with public access.    I had wanted to visit Old Mill Cave and Cascade but Kenny talked me into leaving that for the next camping trip. It was further west than I'd realized and added a good bit more to the days drive.  So that is what we would do!

             I failed to enter the waypoints for the public access trailhead to Little Falls.
Instead I just put in the coordinates for the falls.  We ended up in someone's side yard with the GPS telling us it was only 300 yards beyond the gate to the falls.  So tempting.
But I would not like someone tromping through my side yard to gain access. I corrected my mistake by putting in the trail head coordinates. We drove 2 miles to the right place and from here it said the falls was 0.67 miles ahead.   We began on a trail, but Kenny decided the trail was not leading to the falls to suit him. He took out through the woods
and we were off trail completely.   It was rough terrain. Up and down and through a boulder field.  I was suffering from having hurt myself earlier in the week.  The motrin I'd taken for the pain was not touching it.  The rugged route we took had me winching with every step.   Finally we could hear the creek below us. I had first thought "Oh great! We've come to a bluff. Are we going to be able to get down from here?" but it turned out ok.  The descent was stepped and gradual and I was thankful.   We followed the stream up and it was so pretty. Green and mossy. We were finally on a real trail again. I was very glad about that.   Not too much further ahead we arrived at the pretty sixty foot drop.. Little Falls.  It flows down a rocky stream with a few cascades above it. It drops into a cave or sinkhole.  There is another stream nearby. The stream we followed up toward it turns and goes into a bank nearby.  Not connected to the falls!

Little Falls comes in at about 60 ft high with two small cascades above it. Note the lack of a plunge pool or stream below it?

   Kenny scouted the area around Little Falls while I shot some video footage and took pictures.  He found the actual trail above the falls!  We were both thrilled. Neither of us wanted to bushwhack up over the ridge again and now we did not have to.  Going back was a little longer hike coming in at about 3/4 mile, but so much easier and faster!
Once back at the truck we ate our lunch and Kenny said he was wanting to save Old Mill Cave & Cascade for the next camping trip. It was closer to Rock Island than Fall Creek Falls so we'd hold off on that saving it for that trip.   We ended up going to scout an area
for another upcoming adventure.

         I will not share yet where we went scouting, but I will post a few photos.
I got a real strange vibe about the place. I have not made up my mind about it yet.
I will keep an open mind about it and perhaps the next go round will be better.

Trees growing in the river.

Very clear stream.

The road to adventure or ruin?

  We finally headed the long way back to the camper after much scouting.  We enjoyed a second night of a roaring fire, a moonlit sky and a good hot meal after a day in the woods.    We slept well but heard it raining and storming some through the night. 

    Day Three-Sunday

   We woke Sunday and the birds were singing. The rain had stopped.  It was still overcast and cold, but not as bad as we'd thought it might be on the weather forecast.   We ate a quick breakfast and decided to try for Perry's Branch Falls today since it was nearby.
We headed out with our hiking gear toward the Camps Gulf addition of Fall Creek Falls.
We had seen a dirt road that headed in the general direction of Perry's Branch Falls. 
Friday we parked at a ford of Cane Creek and the GPS said it was 0.5 miles ahead.
Neither of us thought it looked a bit safe to ford Cane Creek the way it was roiling past.
The way we'd found today had us only needed to cross Camps Gulf Creek which is usually a small stream.    We parked the truck and headed out in the general direction of the falls. The rain held off and the sun actually came out for awhile.  We saw some Spring wildflowers and a few pretty cascades and had a decent hike on an old logging road.
We finally got within 0.267 miles of the falls and began working our way off trail toward them.  The going was rough and rather slippery.  We had forded  a pretty stream we believed the falls was located on.  Our trek took us away from that creek and we could not hear water anymore.  Discouragement briefly because we wondered if we'd screwed up?  

             We looked around and saw the terrain was changing.  Descending steeper. Tightening in.  A rock cliff intervened from the left and we began to hear water flowing again.   I knew this had to be it!  Kenny went to hollering "A cave! a cave!" and sure enough there was the mouth of a cave with a stream flowing out!

Stream emerging from a cave.

   We climbed up and went inside the first part of the cave.  We really did not have time today to do any serious exploration of the cave, but we did go in.  We went in the beginning part to see the underground stream.  We saw a few bats roosting. One flapped me.  I did my usual holler and run. The stream flowed down the drainage in pretty rivulets and cascades. It was very mossy and lush green.  A little further ahead the stream dropped 70 feet over a cliff forming the gorgeous and dramatic Perry's Branch Falls!

Perrys Branch Falls! We had found it! I'd say it was worth finding!

The terrain around Perry's Branch Falls is dangerous!  Steep. Slippery. Deep layers of leaves and loose rocks and dirt.  We used care in venturing out to the edge. We spied a bonus waterfall to the right through the trees.  The cliffs have projections out that give you the chance to look back and get the full view of the falls even though you're at the brink of them!  How often does that happen? Very very cool.

    We enjoyed the falls.  We enjoyed the view into the area below and around us.
We had wondered if we'd spy a better way on a more established trail out of here? It did not exist so we went back up the hill toward the old logging road.  It was rough going but far easier than the way we'd come down.  Good practice navigating.
All in all a fun and successful trip with lots of adventure.

Lots more to look forward to with my partner in crime.

Medley Arch Video

Apparition Falls Video

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Gee Creek Wilderness Hike

Oconee Bell Close-up

Gee Creek Wilderness Hike

Dana Koogler solo

4 miles round trip approx. 

Tuesday March 19, 2013

Pictures are here:

Videos are here:

    I took a notion to hike Gee Creek trail again.  I had learned there was an upper Gee Creek Falls and thanks to Tennessee land forms I had the coordinates and wanted to see if I could find it?  It had been a year or two since I had hiked this small but beautiful wilderness.  My imagination was captivated again at learning there was an upper falls and it was pretty good sized based on the photos!   I had read in a guide book that there were no more falls above the fourth one and that the trail did not continue past a certain point.
It distressed me to realize I had believed it for so long.  I did read it in more than one source though.  Turned out all that was incorrect information.

     The hike is pretty straightforward to start with.  The first creek crossing is bridged and
the trail is easy to spot.  It is a wilderness and wilderness trails are not intended to be real groomed and are never maintained to the same standard as state park or national park trails.   A wilderness trail is also not as well marked.   The hike is in a narrow gorge and follows a creek so getting lost would take some work .

Waterfall #1

Waterfall #2--Here is the first creek crossing.  There is another cascade below this area.

Waterfall #3

Waterfall #4

Remember this view from a previous trip report? The trail ended here. Now some one.. I am guessing the Cherokee Hiking Club........ has constructed trail that includes stone steps!
It is wonderfully done.  Thanks to whomever was responsible. Bravo!

    I was able to continue into the upper reaches of the wilderness without too much problem.  The hairiest section of trail was climbing over a rocky outcrop that sits up like an inverted V and gave me about six inches to stand on or rather crawl over.  A fall from here would not have killed me, but it would have hurt and landed me in the creek. Thankfully there was a downed tree just on the other side of this sloped rock I had to cross.  It gave me something to hang on to as I descended to touch the trail again.

Right after this was another creek crossing.  The gorge walls had encroached too tightly so the trail was on the far side of the stream.  There was a log here to cross just by chance.
I crawled it to the other side!

The trail in the upper portion of the wilderness was more like this! It was so pretty.

Here is an example of what the rock is like in this gorge. 

Here is an example of the steepness of the terrain around you.

Upper Gee Creek Falls! It was about 50 ft high.  It was so worth it and so pretty. I got right in the falls to take pictures and shoot video.  Very mossy and green and lush.
I had long wanted to shoot a video and take pictures where the sun and the water intersected like this. Today I finally got my chance. I loved it!

Upper Gee Creek Falls in profile. This is the #5 waterfall. It is on a side stream.

   I climbed up the super steep bank and sat in the crook of a tree to eat lunch by this spot.
All around me were too many hepaticas and windflowers to count. Later there will be trilliums!   I enjoyed the sunshine and the sound of the water.  When I finished my lunch I climbed back down.   I got over confident once I arrived at the stream I had to ford.
I was being a turkey and just going to trot right across the way I had going over.
The stream was not real deep. Only about six inches or so where I forded.
The next thing I knew I was on my back in the creek. Soaking wet. Very cold.
Very humbled.  As I got up I realized one of my trekking poles was gone!
I was already soaked so I went ahead and just searched all around the water for it.
I never did find it.  It could not have gone far because downstream from me was a dam made of sticks and debris.    What a bummer!

      I was thankful not to be injured and knew that being cold and wet was survivable.
I just plowed on through the creek on the way back.  Trying to stay dry now was pointless.  I thought on the way out about what I'd do to finish up my day?
I did not really want to go home yet.  I decided if I had my Winter coat in the jeep when I got back I'd strip down to my undies and wear the coat and my sandals home. It would look hellish, but I'd be warm and dry.  I'd just head home.

   I never saw another soul today on the way in or out.   I did not have my coat in the jeep.   I recalled there being a Dollar General store up the road a few miles.  I changed into my sandals. I sat on my jacket. I drove up there and went in wild and wooly.
I bought some of the ugliest clothes you've ever seen. I went in the bathroom and put them on.  Ugly or not........ they fell marvelous!  My skin was blood red from the waist down from the cold and it felt what I call "spicey".  So cold its hot!
I put on dry undies, dry camisole, dry yoga pants, dry tunic.  My hair was now curly as sheeps wool from having gotten wet. I had some sticks in there.  I just left that stuff.
I came wading out into the sun dry and warm and happy and looking like the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh.    I got lots of laughs and questioning glances. The cashier tried not to laugh, but I just winked at her and told her to go ahead.

      I felt good so I went on with my day.   I drove up to the top of Starr Mountain for a little hiking and checking for early Spring wildflowers and views.  I was not disappointed.
 I want Kenny to go back with me to hunt for Mason Evans cave up there. Even if I'd found it today I would not have gone in exploring alone.  I think it is near White Cliffs, but I am not certain. I have the GPS coordinates for it.  It will wait for another time.

    I enjoyed four-wheeling on the old red dirt rutted mountain roads and just goofing off.

View from White Cliffs out over Rural Vale

Trout lilies blooming early on Starr Mountain

   I went home dry and dirty and happy.  It felt good to get a shower and a hot cup of coffee and a robe when I got home.  I love it when I take a shower and sticks and leaves are left in the shower floor.  It makes me feel like I did when I was a child and there was a REALLY good bathtub ring after a day's play.  It was WORTH IT!  Now that's a good hike!  Just before washing my hair a spider jumped out of my fro onto the shower wall.
More evidence of having arrived at wild woman status. I love it!

 What I did NOT love was losing my trekking pole.  What I did NOT love was the days later hot knife sensation down my right leg and from my back to my front in my pelvis.
I don't know what I did to myself and it seems to be mending, but I will be  more careful from now on.   I injured myself in the fall, but while I was out having fun I just ignored it.
It is a long way from the heart and I am far too mean to kill.

        I plan to return to Gee Creek Wilderness later this Spring when the wildflowers are out in greater numbers. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Family Hike and Picnic at Coker Creek

Sweetly sings the donkey at the break of day.
Baby donkey and his momma donkey at Coker Creek.

Family Outing to Coker Creek
Sunday March 10, 2013
Dana & Kenny Koogler
Crystal & Michael Lindsey

Pictures are here:
Coker Creek Outing

   We planned to have Crystal and Michael come over Sunday morning for breakfast.
We ate a big breakfast and then packed a picnic and took a drive down to Coker Creek.
We stopped by Coker Village to see the baby donkey and its mother. They were so cute! 
We did a short, easy hike along the John Muir Trail to see the four waterfalls along the stream and the small "cave".   Crystal is expecting and Michael is only four so we had to keep it simple.   It was a great success.  They were doing controlled burns in the area but it did not bother us.   We enjoyed the hike. We saw two ribbon snakes emerging from their hole in the ground.   We explored the cave.  We threw rocks and sticks.
    Once back at the trail head we set up our picnic and ate a nice lunch outdoors.
Ham sammidges. Chips. Peanut butter and jelly sammidges.   Fresh fruit.  Trail slaw.
We played by the creek in the sand.  We played with boats and toys in the water.
 It was a great day!  We're ready to go again!

Michael points out the waterfalls

Coker Falls

Crystal and Michael

A little ribbon snake comes out to say hi and a little boy I know LIKES snakes!

Looking down Coker Creek as the river rolls ever onward

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Rock Creek Gorge

The uppermost falls we found on Laurel Branch

Rock Creek Gorge Hiking and Exploring

Dana & Kenny Koogler 
Hike distance = 4 1/2 miles round trip
Saturday March 9, 2013

Photos are here:

   Kenny and I moved to Tennessee eleven years ago.  Prior to that we had vacationed in the Smokies several times a year for about four years.  Once we moved down here we started branching out and hiking in other areas. One of the guidebooks I owned and used was the Longstreet Highroad Guide to the Tennessee Mountains .   First time we went down to camp and hike in the Ocoee River area I spoke to a ranger about something I read in that guidebook.  It stated in the guide that the Rock Creek gorge contained eleven falls! I knew Benton Falls was one of them. I knew there was Rock Creek Falls and beyond that I did not know. The ranger said she did not know and thought that was probably wrong.  Over the years I have learned of more of them. After this trip we've seen nine of the eleven!

      We planned to make the trek when the water flow would be just right.  We did not want a complete raging torrent to make the trip even more difficult to the point of impossible.  We wanted there to be enough water though to make the falls beautiful and worth seeing.   We had planned on going above Rock Creek Falls and heading upstream.
We found that Chestnut Mountain Falls presented too much of an obstacle to continue.
It is a high waterfall hemmed in by rocky cliffs on both sides. We were able to visit the falls on the side stream, but will have to plan another trip and come down from above to access the rest.


Waterfall #1

Waterfall #2

Waterfall #3--Rock Creek Falls

Waterfall #4--Chestnut Mountain Falls

Waterfall # 5 Thornburg Mountain Falls

Waterfall #6 Upper Thornburg Falls

Waterfall #7 Big Bluff Falls

Waterfall #8 Upper Big Bluff Falls

These are the ones we saw today.

Further up the gorge and seen on several other trips is Benton Falls which is about 65 ft high.

Benton Falls makes 9 Falls in Rock Creek Gorge.

Below is a black and white photo taken by Albert "Dutch" Roth back in the 1930's of
what is called Rock House Twin Falls. It is supposed to be the next one up from Chestnut Mountain Falls.

Rock House Twin Falls existence is proven on photographs.  A description of it was also given and I have seen a black and white photo of the rock house near it.  That brings the number of waterfalls in the gorge to 10.. one of which we have not seen.

That leaves one more to account for to come to the total of eleven!
I have taken a look at the topograhy of the gorge and I see possibilities for two or three more waterfalls in that gorge and that is about it.  The guidebook went on to describe one falls that fell over 175 ft of rock!  The location of any remaining falls is in the very heart of this gorge and that no doubt explains why the last photo taken of them was made in 1930.   I expect if we do manage to find these falls and photograph and videotape them it will be two times.... first and last!

I always like a challenge and won't give up.

Thornburg Falls has a natural bridge that part of the waterfall flows under!
This was an extremely cool trip. We enjoyed it immensely.  Challenging and rewarding all in one.

Short video of Thornburg Bridge and Falls