Thursday, September 5, 2013

Pisgah Forest Camping and Hiking Trip--Waterfalls on Laurel Fork and High Falls South Fork Mills River

Crimson Bee Balm growing near Dill Falls.

Pisgah Forest Camping and Hiking Trip

Dana & Kenny Koogler
and Cathy Howell
Labor Day Weekend 
Sept. 2, 2013
Pictures are here: Pisgah Forest Hiking Pix

Videos are  here: Pisgah National Forest Waterfalls

We've been going through some trying times as a family the last few months. I have been going through some especially trying times with my health. I have answers at last and I'm on my road to recovery.   I've got a way to go, but just knowing what's wrong and that it is fixable is a relief.   We had planned a get away weekend to try to de-stress and have a little fun.

We took the camper to Adventure Village Campground just outside Brevard, NC on Thursday.
Once we got set up we headed out to do some waterfall hiking. We had a short day so we chose Upper Dill Falls and Dill Falls.  We passed Camp Living Waters in the way there and decided we'd stop on the way back.  We saw lots of waterfalls 
in the time we had!  We had both been to see Corn Mill Shoals Falls and 
Bird Rock Falls before, but it had been a long time. We'd only been once. 
Today there was far more water flowing than when we were first there.

Dill Falls

Upper Dill Falls

Corn Mill Shoals

Shady trail at Camp Living Waters.

Bird Rock Falls

     We checked out all we could and headed back to the camper for dinner.
We were hungry and tired. We got a good nights sleep for the next days adventure.

   The next day  we fixed french toast for breakfast outside and headed out to hike to High Falls on the South Fork of Mills River.   It was supposed to be a 4 mile round trip easy-moderate trip.  Trail and bushwhack.  We headed to Pisgah Forest and parked at a trail head that has the highest privvy I've ever seen!

Oh High and Mighty Privvy in the sky!

     The day was clear and pretty and slightly hot and humid.  We had a breeze stirring. The creek kept us company the whole time.   The forest smelled wonderful and fresh.  The trail was mostly sandy and soft under foot with some rocky areas and some muddy spots.    We enjoyed the sights and sounds of late Summer wildflowers, birds and butterflies as we went our way.   We decided to hike up to Billy Branch Falls first.

Billy Branch Falls is 20-25 ft high and quite pretty.

View of South Fork Mills River on the way.

     We enjoyed the hike to High Falls which is only about 20 ft high...but was very pretty.
The entire hike is along the river and it is filled with numerous scenic cascades along the way.  Today the water level was just enough to call for caution approaching some of them.  Yet we forded S. Fork Mills River without any trouble in a wide, calm spot. It was a deep wade in water shoes.   Crossing back we saw a foot long hellbender in the river!
Kenny was stepping pretty high and jabbing at him with his trekking poles.  :-)

High Falls on South Fork Mills River

   We hiked back to the trail head and saw the onlyother group of persons using the trail 
all day. It was a group of four or five fishermen.   We had passed the trail for Barnett Branch on the way in and I knew there was a set of falls on that trail. I had directions to it from Rich's website printed off the computer this go round.  We were a little tired, but since we were close and it was a short hike we went back to check it out.  Barnett Branch is a nice falls. The area it drains is very small so while we were pleased with the view of the main falls.. the upper falls was not worth a photo today.  The higher into a headwaters you go.. generally the less water there is.  I also think a recent rain would have helped some.  
Barnett Branch Falls

   We had wanted to go up on the Blue Ridge Parkway today for some views.
We were camped near Hwy 215 so we went up Hwy 276 and turned and drove back in the direction of Hwy 215. It would be a varied and slightly closer way back to the camper.
The parkway was quite pretty, but the views a little hazy.   The Summer wildflowers were ample and mostly yellows of sunflowers, coneflowers, and yellow and orange jewelweed.

View of Looking Glass Rock from the Blue Ridge Parkway. I loved how the sunflowers framed it and there were butterflies all around!

   We were surprised what a short jag it was on the parkway to reach the junction of route 215.   The few miles up near the top portion of the road were new territory with different sights to see, but we had driven all the rest of it on Thursday.   Still a beautiful drive to be enjoyed.  It is a residential area.   Camp Living Waters and the turn off for Dill Falls is here along this road.  I got a glimpse of something small and bright orange on our ride out.
I was sure it was yellow fringed orchids so Kenny looked for a place to turn around to let me get out to see.  It was quite a production finding a turn around, but we made it back and I was rewarded having found 18 or more plants in full bloom!  We had passed all these the previous evening without spotting them.  I had not seen any this year so I was thrilled.  We saw more on the way out, but just one here and there. No more big clusters of them by the road.
Here is a photo of the best one. I'm using it as a blog banner currently.

    We also passed  two massive fields of  deep purple ironweed intermingled with goldenrod, sunflowers, coneflowers, spotted jewelweed, and pale pink Joe Pye weed.
I sure do enjoy the late Summer wildflowers. The colors are rich and varied.
Spotted jewelweed by the road

Fields of Late Summer wildflowers. What I call the Seaon of Purple and Gold.

    Back at the camper we fixed chicken quesadillas for dinner and relaxed. It was a great day.  I finally heard from Cathy. Cell phone reception down in this hole is sketchy at best.
We made plans to meet the next day in Brevard to do some hiking and bushwhacking together.

       We met Cathy the next morning at The Hub camping, biking, outdoor store and pub in Brevard.  We car pooled to the trailhead. We had first decided in the parking area to go see two waterfalls in one day. Waterfall on Laurel Fork and the one on the tributary stream not too far away.  We were feeling froggy and said once that was done.. we'd eat lunch in town at Hawg Wild BBQ and  go hike to High Falls on the Thompson River.
Remember that for later.  We reached the trailhead and parked and began trying to decipher Kevin Adam's directions.   We opted to try the upstream approach.
We  had to pull out all the stops with the women folk using their map orienteering skills to prove the logic of it.  Thank goodness we were correct. Kenny was of the opinion he could write a better guidebook easier to understand. Cathy set him straight saying probably so, but it would not be a book, rather a pamphlet! haha! Score one for the ace female bushwhacker.

    We came at last to this beautiful falls.

Twenty foot sliding cascade on tributary of Laurel Fork.

   Once down here to view this falls we had to back track. We were not going anywhere from this vantage point.  Back on the very rudimentary "trail" we found that we had missed the "sloping rock you have to climb over".  described in the trail directions.  We made it but it was a tense moment. This hike was less than a mile in distance.. I'd put it at 0.9 miles though and rated a 7- 10. It is challenging to be sure.  We hiked through lots of black mud where we sunk in.  Most times bushwhacking rhododendron and dog hobble are undesirable but by the time we finished we were darn glad to have it around to use as hand holds.   Both these hikes today were on steep, slippery terrain with lots of spots where you can see the way  you need to go , but it makes you want to cry.  Up and up and up. Knees to the shoulders. Through brush and brambles. Greenbiers.  Under logs and fallen trees and sometimes over them.  We followed the suggestion to go UP the first stream first and then double back to see the second waterfall. Thanks Kevin. Had we done it in reverse we'd have been put off from going to the 2nd one at all.  Hard bushwhacking  honey. Both these falls involved reaching headwaters split by a ridge. Each part was about 0.9 miles to reach.  Both hard as hell.   Both WORTH IT!

  We had moments of confusion along the trail as to which was which. I was of the opinion that the first trek was to the Waterfall on Tributary of Laurel Fork, but Kenny and Cathy thought otherwise.  It did not matter. We found both.  I turned out to be right, but it did not make a lick of difference or make the trips any easier.  None of us wants to be 'right" at this age. We all just want to see the falls and be happy.

    We finally glimpsed the falls on the first leg of the journey and Cathy pointed out something that was a revelation.  High in the trees you could barely see movement.
Water moving in the tree tops! It let me know this falls was going to be a doozy!

And was it ever! 75 ft high. If not higher!

Waterfall on Tributary of Laurel Fork. The photo doesn't do it justice. It had a pretty good amount of water on it today. The only thing that would have helped even more was a recent rain and we were glad for that to have held off!

    We made our way back down to the turn off to start the bushwhack to Waterfall on Laurel Fork.  We forded the stream and began working our way up the side drainage.  It was just about the same as the previous hike. Steep but not that bad yet. Through Summer growth,but mostly open woods.  Cathy by this time has recalled that she was already up to the first waterfall once before. We were not surprised. It somehow makes me disgusted that she has forgotten more waterfalls than we'll probably ever hike to.
We trudged along on this tough little leg of the journey.  Over and under obstacles.
Hunting for the way.  There comes a point on every tough journey where you have an epiphany as to just how bad a situation is. I had one.  We struggled and toiled along and I came to a point where I watched the longer legged Kenny and Cathy ahead of me. I saw a bend in the way as we climbed the drainage. Not a glimpse of white water yet. Can't hear a thing except the wind, ourselves and a gentle stream below trickling.

    I knew when I got to this point that when I drew nearer to where Kenny stood.. and could see...beyond it... that the track was going to go UP UP UP and more UP and that it was going to be ugly.  And I arrived there to learn it was so.  Kenny admitted later he thought I was going to say heck with it and that I was done.  I was not going to quit after coming this far.  I was just resigned to it.  We were at the crux of the thing now.  I've gotten good at reading the lay of the land.  Up to the base of a rock ledge then left would be the only way we could proceed. A strong, tough tangle through rhododendron and dog hobble would be next.  It was true. It involved the removing of packs, passing ahead trekking poles, dragging ourselves and wriggling through tight spots in rhododendron trunks and trees.  Claustrophobia begins to set in.  This is where physical determination, and a bull dog grip on your mind is necessary.  We finally got where we could glimpse the falls, but getting down to where we could really see it was going to be hard.
We tried first one way. Then another.  The vegetation was all we had to hold onto and it was slick with spray.  We all made it down to the base of the falls unharmed save a few dog hobble scratches.

Waterfall on Laurel Fork in Pisgah National Forest, NC  It is 55 feet high
and well worth the energy and struggle to visit.  I admit now that getting down to it
was so treacherous I had a reaction to it similar to Gragg Prong's base.
( some of you may remember that Gragg Prong vs. Little Lost Cove Falls trip)
I was dreading getting back up out of there so bad I did not enjoy it fully.
I did not feel relaxed again until we were back up and past the big rocks on this trek.
 It made me rather nervous.

The water here all channels down a gully, under a rock and emerges on the other side
in two streams. Then down over the mountain it goes. This stream has several other pretty falls and cascades, but I was too tired and stressed out to care.

We made it back out of there and I was absolutely filthy. I was grimed in black mud and drenched in sweat.  On arriving back to the truck I grabbed a bag of dry, clean clothes and a towel. I got under the bridge near the parking lot. I got under there and stripped off all my clothes and bathed in the creek. It felt great to get clean. I scrubbed off the stink and the black mud. I dried off and dressed in clean clothes. My hair was perfectly wet and wild, but I did not care.  I was at least fit to  ride in the vehicle and go in to the restaurant to dine.    Not one of us was interested in hiking to High Falls on the Thompson anymore.
We are getting older and slowing down.  I was once again ready for the nursing home.
A good hot meal and some rest was fantastic. We hugged and kissed Cathy good bye for now.  I always hate to see her go.  I love her dearly.  She is a great Christian friend. She knows how to have a good time.

     We had a tough task to face on this trip.  We tried to talk Cathy into going along but she politely declined.  We had to go to Jared's former residence and gather up his HEAVY lawn furniture and move it back home. He has moved and is better satisfied, but doesn't have a place for that anywhere.  He met us to help load it.  While there we finally met the local witch. Yes. I am serious. A witch... on a lawnmower. She was something to see.
We visited with Jared a little and did not tarry. He had to work that night and needed a nap.  We hauled all that stuff back with us. The witch still mowing the lawn furiously as we drove away.  I was sorry Jared had to move, but proud of him for having the gumption to do it. He was living with a couple of friends who were into some occult things he was not willing to accept.  Since moving he feels better and has been blessed for his obedience to God.  Way to Go Jared! Thank you Lord!

     We went back home and rested in the camper and had a good fire that night.
I read a book and enjoyed the quiet of the campground. It had quite a few families here and it was just right. Enough going on to be fun and lively without annoying anybody.
Just cozy and sweet.  Our bed in the camper felt great that night.  I slept like a log.

We woke in the morning and fixed a hot breakfast of french toast and bacon.
We did a short, leg stretcher hike to Moore Cove Falls and Little Moore Cove Falls.
We went early so there was only one other couple and their dog on the trail.
On the way back to the parking area we met the start of the thundering herds for the day!
It is a popular hike and is very easy.

Moore Cove Falls

Little Moore Cove Falls

   We went back to the camper and prepared a lunch of cheeseburgers on the grill and watermelon.   We enjoyed that and packed up.  We headed home. It was great to go and Kenny said something that really endeared me to him on the hike back out of Moore Cove Falls. He remarked pitifully that he wished we could stay a couple more days because he was having such a good time. I told him when he says things like that for me it is like the Heavens open and the angels sing!  It lets me know we will be back again and soon!
I love this man so much.

 The plans and dreams that appear in Magicmomma's Crystal Ball of the Future............
are this.         Return to Moore Cove Falls and bushwhack all the way up photographing and video taping all of it. There is yet another UPPER Falls!

Hike to *Upper, Second and Yellowstone falls.
Hike to *Shuck Ridge Falls.
Hike to Flat Laurel Creek and Sam Knob
Hike to *High Falls on the Thompson River.

* indicates which falls are on the list for the CMC Waterfall 100.