Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Bob Stratton Bald Turks Cap Lily Hike 2014

Turks Cap Lily growing on my hike up from Wolf Laurel

Bob Stratton Bald Lily Hike 2014
Nantahala National Forest, NC

Dana Koogler solo

Hike distance 5.4 miles round trip*

Friday July 25, 2014

Pictures are here beginning with frame 112: 
Stratton Bald Pix

Here is a link to Stratton Bald's location on 
Tom Dunigan's Tennessee Landforms. 
Stratton Bald Map 

  Stratton Bald was my second hike of the day on Friday.   Part one of the day was the Starr Mountain Frustration Hike I wrote about in the previous blog entry.  My plan for the day over all
had been to make the drive down count. I would cram a lot into the day.  I hunted wildflowers on Starr Mountain unsuccessfully.. but I hunted 'em just the same.   My next part of the day would be to drop down off Starr Mountain and drive the 7.7 miles to Tellico Plains and start up the Skyway
toward Wolf Laurel.   I was feeling dejected over not finding anything good on Starr Mountain.
I was considering just going home.  I fought the urge to quit and tried to put it behind me.
I decided to head toward Tellico Plains and if I did not feel any better by the time I got there.. 
I'd drown my sorrows in icecream or chocolate and go home!   

      I did start to feel better. The drive was pretty.  Thoughts of all those beautiful wildflowers along the Cherohala Skyway began to fill my head.  My nosiness was helping motivate me to go. 
Being like Gladys Kravitz can come in handy!  I found that the sight of other people around helped me cheer up too.   I passed lots of folks out enjoying a pretty day on motorcycles and in other jeeps!  The Tellico River was gorgeous and rolling right along.   I began to see pretty wildflowers
along the roadside.   I saw rose pinks along the Skyway at the lower elevations.   The views from the overlooks were pretty and clear today.   I had a few misgivings because 1. I had never hiked up to Stratton Bald this late in the month of July.  2. I had never hiked up there this late in the day.
I began seeing turks cap lilies along the slopes by the road. I saw yellow fringed orchids as well!
I saw great clumps of crimson bee balm.  I saw greenheaded cone flowers. Black eyed susans.
My mood was improving by the minute.    

     I turned onto the road that leads down off the Skyway and winds around in the direction of Wolf Laurel.  I did not go last Summer so its easy to forget how very very long and isolated a trip it can be!  I passed one car on the way in.   I passed the lane leading up to the Swann Cabin and saw a gaggle of people and cars there.  I did not allow myself the usual time to goof off and climb down the mountain into the rhodo to visit Cold Spring Branch Falls upper and lower today.
I was going to have to haul the mail in order to have plenty of time to enjoy up top on the bald.

     I may as well admit now that  I madea mistake on the last trip report I wrote on Bob Stratton Bald via Wolf Laurel. I list the mileage as 3.2.  I was not sure the day I hiked it what the mileage was?
I had a map with me, but I never consulted it.  I knew the way. I knew it wasn't getting dark until 8:30 p.m. or 9 o'clock pm.   I'd be fine.   I guessed about 3 miles each way.   I was actually pretty close.  I got on the trail at 3:15. I was back to the vehicle at 6:15!   I consulted the listed mileage on the old trip report and saw it was put down as 3.2 miles round trip.  I doubted myself at once!
Where did I come up with THAT figure?  I tried looking it up online without finding anything reliable.  I used Tim Homan's book and figured it up from that.  He lists the Stratton Bald trail as 7.8 miles with the Wolf Laurel spur intersecting it at mile 5.3.  
(7.8 -5.3=2.5 miles one way)  Wolf Laurel spur trail from the parking lot is 0.2 miles (2.5+0.2=2.7 miles one way)  (2.7 x 2=5.4 miles round trip)  Five point four miles it is!  I am taking the trouble to  list my math and rationale here so I will know if I ever read this TR again WHY and HOW I arrived at this figure!  Here is a link to Tim Homan's hiking guide in case you need a copy.
Hiking Trails of the Joyce Kilmer--Slickrock & Citico Creek Wildernesses

        I like the hike up from Wolf Laurel.  It is so pretty the entire way. It is not too hard.
It has climbs followed by flatter spots.  Once you get to the intersection with Haoe Lead trail
which heads out toward Naked Ground the climbing is pretty much over.  It is mainly a nice ridge walk past that.   I have written in the past about how scary the briars can be along this path.
I would fret over snakes since I could not see my feet for part of the hike.  I had made up my mind after hiking out to The Hangover that it was pointless and I was never going to fuss about it again.
I meant it, but I did not have to this trip! Someone had cut back nearly all the briars and weeds!
It was the easiest hike out I've ever done!  I enjoyed seeing all the lush green of the forest. I  like seeing the fins of rock jut out along the ridge. I began seeing turks cap lilies once past the trail intersection.   Waiting later had the unexpected benefit of there being more lilies in bloom along the trail itself! 
Turks cap lilies in peak bloom along the Stratton Bald Trail. 


One of the interesting fins of rock thrust up along the sides of the trail.

Stratton Bald trail is still wild and wooly, but tamed down by far. No significant briars today!
Thank you! to whomever cut them back and performed the trail maintenance!

The transition zone between the two forest types. The line is abrupt.  Going from Northern hardwood to
boreal in a flash!  I'm entering the much smaller balsam zone.   There are TWO balds up here. The map I have says Stratton is the one with the campsite in the boreal forest. The second is Bob's Bald out on the grassy meadow. I'm not sure. I always thought it was the other way around.   It is a small matter. I always visit both anyhow.

 I'm entering the clear now and this is my first glimpse of the meadow. I first thought I'd waited way too long to  see any lilies out in the clearing.  The phlox has really taken over this late in the season, but a bit further out the lilies are still there!  They had diminished. I won't wait this late in the year again.  They had aged to
a yellow shade on some. Some had dried up. Some were brown around the edges.  It still had its benefits.
You will see!

          I had been the only vehicle parked at Wolf Laurel.  I had the entire place to myself up here today as far as I could tell.  I never saw or heard a soul.   I wandered around the bald for probably half hour or more.
I turned left just past this opening and headed down toward the Swann cabin.   I found the spring I'd been hunting.  The water was flowing strongly and ran down the hill in a good stream.  Now that I know where the water source is I can plan a backpack trip here. I hate having to camp where it is dry.

 Spring #1 on the bald. It is just below it toward the Swan Cabin.  There is a loop path that comes down
to this from another area just a little further out.  It all ends up the same place.

      I wandered through the fields of phlox. I was treated to Mostly sunny conditions up here today.
Still... its the high mountains of Western North Carolina. Changeable is a good word and change it did!
I did not get rained on today! Nary a drop!  I was thrilled about that.  I did see the mood change from bright and sunny to gray and back to sunny several times! Another thing I'm learning about this area.
It makes its own weather so don't fret about it.  Briers? Accept 'em.  Changing weather? LEARN to LOVE IT!     I enjoyed the hum of bees everywhere. Black butterflies danced and flitted drinking nectar from the phlox all over the mountain side.   I was feeling so much better.  Coming here in the month of July to see the flowers is a sure bet! It more than offset my down turn on Starr mountain!

Moods of the Mountain:
  Top: You can see the sky is gray with a cloud creeping across the mountain.
Bottom: Five minutes later the sun is shining brightly.  No kidding!

Top: Phlox and still plenty of turks cap lilies!
Bottom: the best view of the far mountains from this bald i've ever seen in my trips here

  I wandered across the bald checking out all the flowers.  I headed toward the Fodderstack side where the trail comes up. I knew there was another spring over there and part of me wanted to go look for it.
Another part was just real tired and a little concerned about conserving time.  I decided rather than hunt it up today seeing as how I did not know how far down that trail the water source would be I would come UP that trail on any future trips and find it  then.  I turned and began hiking back up.   I knew this side of the bald had yielded some different wildflowers on the last trip.  I paid close attention to the ground and it was most fortunate!  I started off seeing one tiny club spur orchid.   I was thrilled.  I counted forty of them and then I quit counting.  I realized there were everywhere around my feet. 

Club spur orchid cluster.  They are tiny. Only a few inches tall.   Their binomial is Platanthera clavellata.

My disappointment at the first trip was more than offset by my trip up the Skyway and to Stratton Bald.
I had found three types of native orchids and as I am wont to do periodically... I go from famine to feast!
I hit the orchid jackpot today! I thanked the Lord for the good fortune and for the improved spirits.
I was tired. I walked up to the campsite and sat down on a log to rest and have something to drink.
I ate a small snack for some energy for the return trip.  I took some more photos and wandered a little more.  I kept seeing pretty things. Crimson bee balm.  Black eyed susans.  Whorled loosestrife with its
spins of yellow blooms centered with red!  Neon orange dodder vines looking like something out of
Little Shop of Horrors crawled across all the plants in one area. Strangling them as it went.  They call it
The Love Vine. It is a parasite and loves things to death!

Top: Crimson Bee Balm and lilies being swarmed by Dodder Vine.
Bottom: Campsite and rest break spot on the bald

   I had gotten stung by a yellow wasp on my left leg several days prior.  It was still hot and red, swollen and itching like a mad bastard.   I noticed it had a deep purple bruise in the center of the red.  I knew dodder vine to be a cure for nettle stings.  I crushed up some of the dodder vine strands into a poultice in my hand and rubbed it on that nasty sting.    The itching went away immediately.  That night it was less red.
The next day that purple spot had turned into a tiny scab and fallen off.  By the following evening my leg was completely healed!  I had just proven the quote below.
" A weed is a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered."~~Ralph Waldo Emerson

       I was weary and had the hike back to the vehicle yet.  I also faced the long drive home.
I said my good-byes to this special spot on the planet and began my hike back.  I had the blessing of a nice breeze and the sun on my back most of the way out.   I had glimpses of the mountains on my way out.   The hike back was easy being mostly downhill or level.   The scenery marvelous the entire way.   The trail was in good condition.  I had mentioned I thought I had the whole place to myself?  On the hike in I ate lots of spider webs.  I never saw any other boot prints but the ones I was making.   On the hike out I came to a big patch of mud with a large mans boot print in it.
It was heading out the same way I was going!  I stopped and did a double take. I had not reached the intersection with Haoe Lead.  Where did he come from? I wasn't making this up.  It was real.
The only thing I could figure was that the individual had come across the bald and down while I was at the spring.  Either that or they came up from Naked Ground. I never saw another boot print though.  It was the only one.  I was still the only vehicle parked when I got back down to the parking area.   It was odd and a mystery, but that is in keeping with this wilderness.

   I put my gear up at the jeep.   I got a fresh cold drink. I had a snack of cantaloupe.
I wiped off some of the sweat.   I put some tunes on the iPod.  I headed back home slowly and in a much better mood.  I felt satisfied and mellow.  I encountered a couple vehicles on the way out.
I was still impressed at what a long way Wolf Laurel is from all else!   Long road honey. Long road!    It has a lot of kiss your butt turns on it.  I got almost to the Skyway and hit one of those 
washboard spots that had my jeep chatter all the way across. Boys Howdy! I was glad that happened DOWN HERE......... and NOT UP THERE!  I'd have come off the road!

I laughed hard and drove home. 


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Starr Mountain Frustration Trip

Virginia spiderwort growing on the slopes of Starr Mountain

Starr Mountain Hike

4 miles round trip approx.

Dana Koogler solo
Friday July 25, 2014
Pictures are here: Starr Mountain Pix

   I had been jonesing to get up to Starr Mountain again for some exploration.  I have a dysfunctional 
relationship with that mountain.  I've been courting it for eight years or more.   I liken it to a girl with a
bad boyfriend she should dump, but she's a stress seeker and likes pain and suffering.  I just keep going 
back for more.   It frustrates my efforts to find things. It confuses me.  I get upset and I'm ready to give up
and break it off.... then It shows me something beautiful and I'm hooked again! 

       I think for me what lured me to begin with was the pure fact it was a lonely, flat topped mountain
out there on its own.  The history of the mountain and Caleb Starr and the interesting name fueled the fire.
The stories of Mason Evans the hermit of Starr Mountain and the White Cliffs Resort Hotel added to it.
A visit there for the first time seeing  what the place looked like really took my imagination on flights of fancy.
Red dirt.  Dry. Dusty areas contrasted with black, muddy bogs snaking across the top of the mountain really 
intrigued me.    It has waterfalls on its slopes down in the Gee Creek Wilderness.  It has waterfalls on its slopes tucked in deep ravines to discover and explore down where Yellow Creek and Bullett Creek converge.   It is an isolated, remote spot on the earth. According to what I've read the stones that form the mountain were part of a billion year old ancient sea floor. They were pushed up and made into a mountain during the Alleghany orogeny 250 million years ago.  Today we see a long, flat topped mountain with sandstone texture. Parts of its forest more like the Croatan National Forest along the coast of North Carolina!  Here are some links to the history of the area: 

Here is a piece of art that depicts the White Cliffs Hotel and the hermit Mason Evans. I cannot find 
the name of the artist at this time.  It is not my work.

     I learned more about its history and the botanical wonders that are concealed there.
I climbed its fire tower.  I found views in a few spots.  I came in Fall and found the creeping in of the colors of Autumn. I found blazing stars of three different sorts.   I've watched a copperhead strike a salamander
and kill it and prepare to eat it. I've ripped and run four-wheeling along its dirt roads.   I've slipped off into
tall, soft, cool green grass in wildlife clearings to have a little X rated fun with my hubby.  I KNEW there was a reason I married him.   I have experienced bliss and defeat there on that mountain. 

 Top: Copperhead has struck his prey and is fixing to have dinner up on Starr Mountain
Bottom: Blazing star blooms up on Starr Mountain in Autumn.

      My plan on Friday July 25, 2014 was to make the trip down the road count. I'd go explore Starr Mountain and hike.  Once I was done I'd head off the back side to Tellico Plains and up the Cherohala Skyway to Wolf Laurel to hike to Stratton Bald to see the turks cap lilies.   I was enthusiastic and sure 
it would all work out.  

       I always enjoy driving out Old Mecca Pike.  It is such a pretty rural drive through farm country.
I got up there and saw where one person was camped at the parking area/camping area for Bullett Creek Trail.   I had wanted to revisit the Carolina lilies I found up there two years back.   I was confident I'd find them. I knew just where to go.   I re-created my hike as nearly as I was able.  I got about a mile into it and 
the old ugliness of the mountain reared its head.   It started off with that sense of wondering am I really going the right way?  This IS the way I went last time, isn't it?  It seems right.  I kept thinking surely I'd find that right turn just around the next bend.  I hated to admit it, but I had a growing sense that I was getting played again.   I went two miles or more out and the only possible "right turn" I saw was the sketchiest of paths.
I was mixed up.  I was not lost. I knew exactly where I was. I just could not recreate where I went the previous time.   I hate that! It makes me feel crazy like I dreamed the whole thing before!  I finally 
turned around and headed back. I was hot.  I was thirsty. The gnats were in my face and eyes.  Time to 
try something else!  

       Back at the jeep I noticed the lady was packing up her stuff and preparing to leave.
I stowed my gear and wiped the sweat.   I grabbed me a big cold drink of sweet tea with lemon out of the cooler.  I drove on out to my next spot to park and try to hike.   I was not going to be so easily outdone.

    I found my parking spot and trail head and set out again.  I crossed a wildlife clearing/road and 
headed down through weeds.   I saw some pretty butterflies.  I was pleased the heat and bugs and weeds were not as bad or as scary as last attempt.  The previous two tries I had run away scared of snakes and disgusted with all the insects and high weeds.  Today I was going to make it!  And make it I did.
I forged on until I entered the woods on a real trail.    The forest was cooler and dark with a little breeze blowing.    Black mud was all around.  The path was encroached by rhodo shrubs so badly and the trail itself
was nothing but a ditch filled with stagnant water.  So many people had diverted around this section it was 
easy enough to avoid it.   The forest was beautiful.  Mushrooms of every type and description grew here. It was surreal.   Sphagnum mosses and loamy sandy soil and black mud were around.   Tannin stained streams reminded me of Panthertown in North Carolina. 

Top & Bottom.. various views of the scenery along the Bullett Creek Trail
Some sort of Dr. Seuss looking mushroom

  I was on a small spur trail that was not actually part of Bullett Creek Trail #121 just yet. It merged with it soon, but only AFTER I'd had to cross a deep moat filled with that brown water.  It was too deep to rock hop by far.  It was not bridged officially, but I found the work of other explorers and crossed on a perfectly good log and rock formation.  What do you MEAN it looks sketchy?

My bridge that I used to cross. It was at the most shallow part of the ditch. A smart feat of engineering!

     I hiked the trail out once I hit the intersection with the real trail.A ll the way to its end with the gravel road.
It was quite pretty and I enjoyed it, but I did not find many orchids and not the kind I was hoping for.
I saw some rattlesnake orchids.  They were pretty. I saw possum paw fern. I saw a glade where the forest floor was filled with ferns. I also walked through one part of the trail where ostrich ferns enclosed the trail like great plumes!   I realized I was burning daylight and not making any headway in finding rare wildflowers.

  I was frustrated at having not been able to find the area I'd visited before.  I headed back to the jeep where I cooled off in the air conditioning. I stowed my gear for the drive to Stratton Bald.  I ate lunch and drank some water and sweet tea.  I had been foiled again by this ancient place.  I left in a huff of depression, dust, mud and tears.    I made up my mind I was DONE with coming here hunting things unless I got some good tips or fresh information.   I was wasting my time I told myself.   I was so upset I almost decided to go home and not even bother with hiking to Stratton Bald today.

        On the way down the mountain I saw trumpet vines draping from the trees. I saw tall blue bellflower and starry campion along the roadsides.  I thought two things 1.  I am looking in the wrong place. 2.  I have got to start asking for assistance. 3. I've got to be willing to share the knowledge as it is not right to ask for help but never give it.

        And then I heard that mountain whisper as I drove off.. "You'll be back. You always come back."
And I knew it was true.



Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Camping and Waterfall Hunting on a Rainy Weekend in Western North Carolina

Rose Pinks on the bank near the campground. 

Camping and Waterfall Hunting in the Rain in Western North Carolina
Thursday July 17- Sunday July 20, 2014

Dana & Kenny Koogler

Pictures are here: Waterfall Hunting Pix

   Last Monday July 14, 2014 I quit my job  where I had worked the past eleven years .    
I left with a mixture of sadness and relief.  I had known for nearly a year that I needed to quit
 for personal and professional reasons.   I was very burned out.   I had the full support of my 
family and the understanding of most of my co-workers.   It was not long before
any sense of regret was replaced completely by a sense of great relief and WHY didn't I do this sooner?    It was a prayed over decision. I had to get out while the spirit was moving me to listen! We had been planning trips for weeks that just kept crashing and burning for one reason or another.     We decided to celebrate by FINALLY taking that Summer camping trip we'd been planning for more than a month.   

       Kenny came back from Baton Rouge first of the week. He worked a normal week. 
I did things around home and prepared for us to leave.  We headed out a little before six pm on 
Thursday. I had called to let Cathy know we'd be in the area, but  she had to work this weekend.
We had both worked every other weekend for many years. I had made sure to be off the same weekend as her.   Now we were off kilter.    I had called Dale at Adventure Village to make us
a reservation.   He was pleasant as always and helpful.  We arrived about 8:30 p.m. and set up
camp.  It was probably 10 pm before things were settled in to suit Kenny.  We planned to hike the next day despite the forecast for rain, rain and more rain this weekend.   I was weary and went to bed before eleven.    I had left the flannel sheets on the bed from back in Spring.  It was forecast
to be unseasonably cool and it ended up being a real good thing to have!  I love my spouse and our
little home away from home.   I melted into that soft comfy bed to the sound of the rain beginning to fall. The room was cool and the sheets warm.   

      Next morning we had a nice hot breakfast of pancakes and bacon with hot coffee.
We packed lunches and rain gear and set out in the drizzle.    We hiked to find High Falls on the Thompson River and Waterfall on Reid Branch.   We have done lots of hikes in this area and seen 
oodles of waterfalls here in the Lake Toxaway area.    We were the only fools at the trail head in the rain.  Koogler man was not thrilled, but he was trying to go along and get along.  He knew I wanted very badly to finish some of the falls on my Carolina Mountain Club Waterfall Challenge
I had twenty three to go and I wanted to finish four this weekend.   

     The trail to Thompson River is rugged, but pretty. We had Rich's fantastic directions.
I spotted the turn for Waterfall on Reid Branch, but Kenny disputed me that it was just a drainage ditch.   We agreed we'd get to High Falls first then come back and investigate the other, smaller falls.     It was raining in earnest and seemed settled in.   We missed the right turn and made it only as far as the first big switchback when we both got that feeling something was wrong.  We re-read the directions and realized the right turn was missed and went back to correct course.  It was not a hard hike.  We found the rest of the trail easy to follow.  It seemed like no time at all we were 
there at the river.   We could hear the falls, but there is a bluff in the way of viewing it. Even 
climbing down to the river won't afford you a look at it. You have to cross the river to see it.
Kenny was sure he could get across dry footed and did. I donned my water shoes and waded.
It was not bad even with all the rain.  The first look at the falls was amazing! It is a powerful waterfall especially after the rain.  The sandy bank on the other side was carpeted in deep green moss, littered with  bright red magnolia cones. Tiny yellow flowers of fringed loosestrife dotted
much of the point of land we stood on.   The rain came down steadily,but we were prepared. Kenny held the umbrella over me to get some photos and video footage.  We spent a little while just taking it in.  We both enjoyed this beautiful spot and could not help wondering why we had not come here sooner?

High Falls on the Thompson River.  

     We made our way back across the stream and this time Kenny ended up with a wet foot and boot!  He then laughed at me because so much rain had fallen in my boots under the shrubs that my boots and socks were almost as wet as if I had just waded the river in them!   The rain eased up a little. We headed back to check out Waterfall on Reid Branch.  It was also very pretty and it 
pleased me to know that I had found the correct side path for it.  The red dirt ditch was it after all!
It was another super easy side trip. The total mileage to see these two is 3 miles round trip!
Sweet!  Here is a look at Waterfall on Reid Branch.
Getting to this falls was a short and tricky bushwhack.  The last bit is a through a tangle of rhodo limbs.   I noticed on the hike back I was having a strange experience.  I could taste and smell the color green.  I had heard of synesthesia, but I had never experienced it until today.  I later tasted and smelled the colors pink, purple, brown and gray.   It was very odd and a harbinger of sorts.

    We climbed back up the dirt ditch to the trail and soon made it back to the parking area.
We saw the only other hiker we'd encounter all day. He was a tall fellow out ready to start this hike.  Kenny stopped and spoke to him before I got there.  We met Bob Marshall from Spartanburg, SC.   We didn't have to talk to him long before we realized he was a handful on purpose.  We made a friend on a rainy day!  He is a serious waterfall hiker, hunter, bushwhacker!
We right on the spot traded information and hugs.  We all wished we'd run into one another at the start of this and could have gone together.   We are now connected on Facebook and I see many fun times in the future hunting waterfalls together! He is one of our pack for sure. 

      We dried off in the truck and ate a quick bite.  Kenny was about over it for the day.
It was raining again and we were both damp.    He asked me what I wanted to do and I told him

since I was wet already I'd just as soon go on and do one other short hike to knock a falls off my list.   We headed to hike to Waterfall on Long Branch. It was perhaps 1.5 miles round trip.
It was over in the area of Pisgah Forest so back to Brevard we went.  We have hiked to several 
waterfalls in the area off FR 475. We had passed right by this little, insignificant appearing gated 
forest service road many times never knowing a beautiful falls lay up there.  
It is the nature of Western North Carolina in general and this area of Transylvania County in particular.    A waterfall in an area of the forest is no more than a pip ginny to them on account of
there being so very many!   The sides of this road were lined with crimson bee balm, black eyed susans, purple headed sneeze weed, and rosebay rhododendron.   

     We hiked the old forest service road through mud and weeds on an easy grade.
Ferns were growing thickly on the left heading in  as well as some species of pycnanthemum.
We did not have to go far until we came to the sound of a stream gushing.   We found the side path and climbed up to see waterfall on Long Branch. 
The hike to this is supposed to be easy on the way, but the last bit a bushwhack. There is open trail the entire way now.  Someone is keeping it maintained.  More brush on the forest service road than up through the woods!  We enjoyed the falls for awhile then headed back to the truck.
We were cold, wet and dirty and ready to wrap it up for the day.  Back at the truck we agreed that if the weather report missed and it was not rainy on Saturday we'd hike.  If it was rainy we'd go 
do something non-hiking related.  We agreed we'd go visit the Western North Carolina Farmers Market in Asheville.   We stopped by Red Box in Brevard to pick up movies just in case.

   We arrived back at the camper and I had the moment that defined pretty much the whole weekend.    I opened the truck door to get out.  We were camped by a creek.  A family of ten 
ducks trotted past me quacking and got in the creek and down the creek they swam! That is all this weather is good for... ducks!  I grinned just thinking of it. They weren't the only ones going to find a way to have a good time. We were determined not to let it get us down.     
We had nice hot showers and got clean and dry.  We kept hoping against hope and checking the radar. Huge bands of green with some yellow, orange and red flowed across the screen.  We watched a movie and fixed a good dinner.    I went to bed to read and fell asleep with the rain pouring down in buckets outside. 

         We slept in on Saturday since it was nasty as promised.  It was raining more intensely
and it seemed settled in.   The radar showed more rain behind this cloud mass.    We had looked thoroughly hoping we'd find a way to go further south to avoid being stuck indoors today.  
Alas, it was not in the cards.   We ate a good breakfast and headed to Asheville to shop.  
We took umbrellas and raincoats.    We took Cathy's computer along.  I had taken it home with me and gotten Don Lewis of Etherion to fix it.   I was bringing it home to her to hook it back up.
We hoped we'd get to at least visit with her and perhaps take her out to dinner later.



     Top and Middle: Delicious produce at the WNC Farmers Market
Bottom: Pretty flowering plants at Jesse Israel & Son's Garden Center also in the WNC Farmers Market.  

     We bought cantaloupe, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, and fresh blackberries.
We went to the garden center in the market and Kenny bought me a piece of art I'd wanted for over a year.  I had wanted a red clay and rusted metal Elizabeth Keith wall hanging. 
It is made in Cary, NC.    

   Next we went to Northern Tool and Equipment for Kenny to look around and shop for  things men like. He came out with a disc grinder or some other tool he had wanted.    I read while he shopped.The rain continued to pour down.  We got some lunch in Brevard and went back to the camper.I took a nap and we watched movies.  It was a restful weekend.   I put a call in to Cathy close to time for her to get off work.  We met her at home and hooked her computer up and made certain it was working.   We went out to Cracker Barrell to eat dinner which was great.

We discussed a potential camping trip to Grandfather Mountain.  We said our good-byes and
headed home for the night. Lots of hoping and praying and checking the weather radar for the rain
to be out of there by morning.   It was looking more promising. Before we went to bed Saturday night a blessed quiet overtook us.  No more rain falling!  The frogs were out and chirping. 

     Sunday morning dawned still overcast, but no longer raining.   We ate breakfast and
headed out to hike.  We decided on Paradise Falls today followed by Raven Rock Falls.
We thought if we were really feeling frisky we'd try to hunt up Fisher Falls.  
Paradise Falls turned out to be a terrible experience for me.   I was no longer tasting and smelling 
colors, but I had a sinus headache. I took something for it.  I could tell my balance was off.
We struggled at first to find Paradise Falls trail. We picked the one that went down in the middle
of the parking area.  We came back to the truck and regrouped with better, clearer directions.
We found it quickly that time and set off again.   I was feeling my sinuses improve, but my balance
was still not right.   I struggled the entire way with the trip down that steep bank. It scared me so bad in my current state that I was sweating big drops and having trouble controlling my emotions.
Kenny was wonderfully supportive.   We made it down to see the falls. It was pretty and impressive, but I was not enjoying myself.   I was upset that my brain bucket was still messed up.
We saw a man at the top of the falls. I don't know what he was doing, but he was not real smart.

      See him up there? He was waving and carrying on.   

     The climb back up was not great, but a little easier on me.  I tried Jenny's tips for changing my perspective from what is NOT there to what IS there both on the way down and on the way up.
She is a good friend and I appreciated her advice so much. It did help some.   Between that and Lamaze breathing I got through it.    I can only explain what is going on with me by likening it to 
something else.  Only country folk or farmers may understand this.  A grated cattle guard works
because of the way the cow's perceive it.   They view it as a terrible obstacle to their safely crossing an area like a drive way.  They see the slats as a deep depression their hooves and legs may sink into up to their knees thus trapping them or breaking a leg.   They will avoid crossing it.
They may JUMP  it to avoid walking over it.  The cattle guard may be so old and filled with so much dirt there is no way they'd fall in.   It still works. Its all about perception.   My damaged brain perceives a visual stimulus like a steep cliff or bluff to climb down as WAY worse than it is.
I am a person though and my higher brain functions permit me to reason with myself and get
through an experience like creek crossings, climbing down a cliff or bluff.  It still feels horrible to me.  It is something I have no control over.  It is a reflex.  I had thought I was over all or most of that, but it was back today with a vengeance.   Kenny was tender with me and were it not for him I don't think I'd have managed.    I had two crying bouts on the trail. Very brief, but I was out of control of my emotions.   I was never so glad to see the truck and get out of a place.

    We headed back toward the camper at Cherryfield.  I calmed down.  I cooled off.
Kenny talked me into stopping at Raven Rock Falls and that was the right thing to do.  I had a great hike there and was fine.   My sinus pressure and the weird tasting colors, smelling colors was gone.  My balance was improved. I have to wonder how all this is interconnected?
We saw three gorgeous falls at Raven Rock.  Kenny was thrilled to see it for the first time.
We met a nice young couple who gave us some tips on better ways to find Fisher Falls. I had correctly identified the trail to it, but they told us a better, easier way.   Their easier way was from a place I don't think we'd be welcomed. We found a compromise for another time.
We were going to be late leaving the campground already.  We did not want to press our luck.
We stay there often and don't want to make enemies.   


Top: First falls along the hike to Raven Rock Falls. It was running well today thanks to all that rain.   
Bottom: The trail to Raven Rock falls at a spot where it is a rhododendron tunnel.

        Top: Bridge of Death Falls
Bottom: Raven Rock Falls flowing better than I'd ever seen it!

   On the way back to the campground we saw this hog trotting all around the sides of the road.  It was curious about us, but not scared of us.  Not sure if it is someone's pet. It is odd looking. It  had a white splotch in the center of its forehead and white hocks on the back.    Funny critter. We also saw a doe and twin fawns.    The sun was out and shining.   I felt better. I was at peace.  
I had completed three waterfalls off my list with the help of my husband.  I asked Kenny if he thought I would ever get 100% back to normal?  He says yes.    I certainly hope so.   I feel like we did our best to enjoy our time together and outdoors on a yucky, rainy weekend.   I've endured some rainy times in my life and I'm looking for the sun!


Below is a short video of Raven Rock Falls.
For some unknown reason.. the thumbnail at the start is turned horizontal.
I have edited the footage to flip it and it plays normally.  The thumbnail won't turn! 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Hang Over Hike --Knees to the Shoulders!

Rosebay Rhododendron is the flowering shrub of this hike!

Hike to The Hang Over--Knees to the Shoulders!

Monday July 7, 2014

Dana & Kenny Koogler
6 miles round trip

Pictures are here: Hang Over hike pix

    Kenny was finally home from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  I was glad to see him.
He was glad to be home.  We had lots of catching up to do before he had to leave to go back again.
He was tickled to be out of the Delta Country and back in the mountains.  It took no persuading
to get him to hike with me.  I had originally planned to make a second attempt at locating Burgan 
Creek Falls.  I wanted to explore that area some more. I still do and we shall in the not too distant future.   We discussed it and it was agreed that since the weather was going to be nice and clear
for good views we'd hike up to The Hangover in the Nantahala National Forest of North Carolina.

 You can reach this scenic overlook by many routes.  I opted for Hangover Lead South.
Short. Steep. To the point.  A real manly man's hike. Lots of uphill climbing.
The trail begins at Big Fat Gap.  We made the drive across the Tail of the Dragon this morning.
It was not bad being a weekday.   I had hiked out of this parking lot once before.  
All trails leaving it were wilderness trails.  I had called John Quillen one day to get some advice 
about the hike and his words were true.   One trail leads up and left heading out of this parking area.  Its easy to spot.   I knew it was going to be a rugged hike.  

 The start of the trail goes up..... 

              and ever up........

          We gathered our stuff in our packs and set off up the trail. Kenny usually prefers uphill climbing because he is long legged and it is easy for him.   My poor little heart and lungs and short legs struggle with it compared to him. I've done plenty of it though over the years.  One lady taught me long ago a tool I've used ever since.  She taught me the Mountaineers Rest Step
I learned it and use it all the time.   Its better to keep going even if it is very slowly rather than 
all this stopping and starting.   Knowing and using that simple technique and getting in a good head space has helped me learn to cope with and even enjoy uphill climbs.   The climb up Hangover Lead South seems relentless to start with, but it moderates.  You get flat spots or less strenuous grades a little later on the hike.   

         I had always wondered why I did not see photos of this hike?  I knew why now.
Who cares about taking photos when you're climbing a steep trail as this?  I will also say that while this trail is worth doing it is not ever going to rate up there as a favorite hike.   I find that pretty scenery along the way really helps kill the pain.  It is not bad, but it is not as attractive as some others.  It is more utilitarian for a good part of the way.   I was using Tim Homan's guidebook
and I really like his writing. He does a fine job of giving detailed directions.  It helped a lot having it.   Here is a link to it. Hiking Trails of Joyce Kilmer Slickrock Citico Creek Wilderness

     What made this hike good?  It was a first time experience. I had my spouse with me.
The rosebay rhododendron was in bloom. We saw beautiful old growth trees.  It was challenging.
The views at the top would  be worth it.  My curiosity about it would  at last be satisfied. 
We hiked along and Kenny realized he lost the end cap of a trekker.   We made a mental note to look for it from that point along the trail on the hike back.    We continued on and on until we came to Grassy Gap. It is a flatter area along the trail and it is indeed a grassy gap just as the name implies.   It is pretty.  The trail description indicated the forest changed abruptly at this point from hardwood forest with oaks and maples to hemlock, pine, birch, beech and silverbell.   We found that to be the case and it was easy to spot the division as we gained altitude.  
Top: The trail winding along through Grassy Gap
Bottom: Deep woods with a little sun peering through near Grassy Gap.  

     We came to the place where the trail's character changed again and got rougher.  It is a wilderness trail so it is not going to be as groomed or maintained and that is ok with us.
It had climbs moderated by spots where it leveled off a bit.  The trail was out on the edge of the mountain in places and it was muddy and slick. Roots. Rocks. Downed trees.  Briars. 
We ran into a little of all of it.  Gnats were in play today, but not as bad as we had seen them 
on other Summer trips.  

        We had sat down and gotten a drink and rested by a massive rock formation along the trail.
We read the trail narrative to have a good idea of where we were milage wise based on what we were seeing.    We finally came to the "double switchbacks" he mentions.   A rudimentary path cut down and right along the edges of a rock outcrop.  Another more distinct path headed up and left.
We had to do some more checking the book and the map.  I don't know where on earth that down/right path went or even IF it was a real path.  We headed up and to the left.  It was clear this was correct.  While standing there at the intersection and ciphering out where we needed to go we both heard the voices of men.  
          We did not go too much further until we emerged onto a heath bald as he promised we would.
It was quite beautiful. It was like walking under a bridal archway decked with pink and white flowers of rose bay.  We had a clear, perfect day for our trip.  It was not too hot and we were catching an occasional breeze.  We could hear the voices of men again.  
I got really tickled when we began our climb down and out to the first overlook.  I could hear the men and realized this had to be the people we were unable to see moments before.  Hiking out this narrow gully of heath walled vegetation is something else!  Rosebay here is stunted as are other species due to the elevation.  We made it out to a nice rocky overlook. Getting out here was an experience like no other. Imagine yourself walking along a rocky, narrow trench hemmed in on both sides by thick rows of shrubs on each side.  Now add to that an uneven surface on the rocks where you are climbing up on some and down over others.  At one point I was standing high on a rock in the middle of this trench just high enough to see head and shoulders over the hedge row. The view that lay before me and about me was stunning. Grand mountains of blue and green and gray rolling out under a blue sky. Ahead of me down this trench is another man and all I see of him is his head and shoulders. We both caught the irony and weirdness of the moment and grinned! It is THIS moment and THIS view that will bring me back here again and made this hike worth doing!  Two other men were there with a friendly dog.    We talked to them a little.  They had hiked in from Bob's Bald.  We asked them about other overlooks in the area and they replied that far as they knew there weren't any.   I don't like to correct people or criticize them out on the trail especially.  I did not say a word, but perhaps this time I should have.  They had hiked in all that way and it seems they ended up missing the actual Hangover.  I may be wrong, but I don't see how
if they had been there when we asked about other overlooks ... they said no.  
 Here is the view from overlook #1.  We had lunch here and rested.  I got misty eyed when I beheld this view.  The feeling of gratitude over being well and no longer having double vision has not left me.  I thank God for His divine healing.  It is also not lost upon me how good it feels to be able to walk normally and have my sense of balance return.  I sat here soaking up the view.
Birds swooped and dived around us twittering and chirping.   I saw swifts. I saw a rufous sided towhee.  I saw a flash of bright yellow as a goldfinch winged its way past us.   Such a scene of beauty with a view in about 340 degrees.   I thought of William Bartram's words about these mountains and his experiences so long ago. Watching the shadows of clouds move across the face of the mountains.    We finished our lunch. I experimented with my new Vivitar camcorder. I've had it for three years and I'm just now fooling with it.  I will let you know how that comes out. It is cool. It is easy to use and takes photos or videos.   We took time to re group and figure out our next move.  We realized we certainly were not at the Hangover.  I was not going to miss it after hiking a tough 2.5 miles to get here.  It was only 0.5 miles further, but it was more up.  I did not care. I was determined to see it. We moved on to the goal.

              The trail here is rockier and in one spot birch tree knees and roots form a set of natural steps.   Up and up and more up.  We passed a very wet muddy spot.  We arrived at the next trail intersection which was actually flagged and signed.  The ridge line was mercifully flat so we caught a break.   We hiked out to Saddle Tree Gap and the campsite.   We passed the intersection with Deep Gap Trail. It is also signed, but the sign is broken and sitting on the ground. No kidding.
I hunted for the spring here at the indicated spot below the campsite. It was dry today. 
We were going to have to ration water on the rest of the hike as we did not bring enough for this hot day.     We met the only two other hikers we saw all day.  Kenny visited with them while I hunted for the spring.   I returned up the hill with a negative report on the water situation. 

       We finished our hike out to the Hangover proper.  I realized today that all my bellyaching in the past about the brier tunnel going out to Bob Stratton Bald is for nothing.  It is not unique to that area. It is just how this entire area is during Summer. I guess I always knew it, but since that was my primary focus I made it a bigger deal than it was.  Now I stood plowing through a tunnel of heath vegetation and briers. Praying for no snakes.  I raised a hiking pole high over my head and the tip did not clear the height of this stuff. I'd say its nine or ten feet high.   I was fine as frog hair.
Glad I did not lie and say I was not going "off trail" this Summer.  I was ON a trail, but oh what conditions of that trail.   The hike out to the Hangover was another narrow heath tunnel over rocks.   Just a little more UP and we were there!  It is a spectacular spot on Earth.  A 360 degree view of these mountains.  It was good to finally be here! Will I come back? Probably. It was worth it.  It was a challenge. I may pick a different way just for variety and perhaps better scenery. 

Views from the Hangover: Top-- toward Cheoah bottom out toward Haoe.

Worth the work to get here!

      We soaked up the view and wallered in it. It is a Grand Stand view to be sure!

   We began our weary hike back.  Dreading the limited water on a hot day. 
We were dreading the down hill on our knees.   On the hike back we found a second spring that WAS flowing and thankfully filtered wonderfully cold, clear water and had our fill.  We were both relieved at having two bottles a piece of fresh cold spring water for the hike out. We had plenty of drinks in the cooler in the jeep. We just did not plan well enough.   We trudged back down down down.  My right knee and Kenny's feet began hurting.    I will say that this is was only the second time we've had a hike be so intensely steep it hurt going up and down.  The first time was Elliots Knob hike to the summit in Virginia.  We turned around and walked backwards on the descent to take the strain off our knees. Today this trail was too harsh for that.  We just had to suck it up and
continue.  We rested some, but Kenny needed to get back at a reasonable time to call James Corum  his co-worker and Bud, the operations manager at work.  They had to coordinate a plan for the work week and his trip BACK to Baton Rouge.    

       We made it back to the jeep and we were so glad to see it.  It felt good to sit down.
My knees quit hurting. Kenny's feet recovered.  He told me he was proud of me for doing hard hikes and continuing to try to get back in shape and loose weight. He is supportive of me and I appreciate him tackling hard tasks with me.  He must like a challenge or he'd not have married me, right?   

      We headed back across the Tail of the Dragon toward home.   We had done it!
We hiked the Hangover and made it count!

          The rest of what I had planned for this area will have to wait.
Any repeat hikes here will include: bring more water. pick a different season or another trail for variety.  

          In my Crystal Ball of the Future I see:

A hike to Wildcat Falls
A camping trip to the Topton area to hike the terminus of The Bartram Trail and 
see Bartram Falls and Ledbetter Creek
A hunt for Burgan Creek Falls 
Visiting Tulula Bog and hunting for carnivorous plants
A repeat visit to Teyahalee Bald and climbing the firetower for the view
Happy Times with my love. 

I will post a blog with the videos from this hike and another blog entry to make a comparison 
between the video and image quality of the Vivitar camcorder and the Olympus.


Thursday, July 10, 2014

Panthertown Backpack Trip 2014

Rhodo minus at Panthertown 

Panthertown Backpack Trip 2014

Dana Koogler
Catherine Howell
Jennifer Bennett

Friday June 25- Sat. June 26, 2014

Friday hike distance 4.2miles
 Sat. hike distance 11.2 miles

Pictures are here beginning with frame 55

Panthertown Pix 

      I had planned to meet up with my best friend Cathy and another friend, Jenny Bennett to go
backpacking.  We agreed on Panthertown North Carolina.   I headed over to Cathy's house 
Thursday evening to visit with her and meet another of her friends for dinner.  We had a good time 
of fellowship together and a nice meal.  We packed up that night for our trip. We planned to meet
Jenny at the Cold Mountain parking area. 

      We arrived and finally got together and set out.  We headed down the trail to Mac's Falls and Pothole Falls. We all wanted to see waterfalls this trip including some new ones.   A short hike later and we made it down to the first falls.  Mac's Falls is a low, scenic waterfall with a pretty plunge pool. The water in Panthertown is stained brown from tannins.   It is also flecked with mica
particles.   The rhododendron blooming was pink and white rosebay and a few blooms of Carolina rhodo.   Purples and pinks and deep greens of Summer.   My companions kidded me about how I am so bad to get in the creek.  I did not go swimming this trip since it was rainy, but I did get in the creek.   We were taking in Mac's Falls and then ambled down to see the nearby Pothole Falls just below it.    It is also a low, scenic waterfall hemmed tightly into the same stream.  It is carved out
by the water and very different from Mac's Falls.   Below this falls was a rocky shoals.

Top:  Jenny approaches Pothole Falls
Bottom Macs Falls

    We had planned to set up camp in a good location and hike out from there.
We did not want to lug that stuff all over Panthertown for the entire time. Cathy and I knew of a good campsite from last year.  It was along Greenland Creek and near waterfalls Jenny had never seen before.  We decided to take her to see those today.  We'd just camp there.   We made our way along a lower portion of trail along Greenland Creek as the rain cut loose.  We had some cover from the tree and shrub canopy, but  we were still getting rained on.   We donned our rain gear and continued.   We made it to the trail intersection and the trail confusion cleared up.
We were close to the camp site so we went a few steps further and arrived. 

     We set up our tents and made camp.  We ate a quick lunch and the rain let up a bit.
We would continue down the Greenland Creek Trail and go off trail all the way to see 
Greenland Creek Falls, Halfway Falls, and Carlton Falls.   I was dreading the climb up above
Greenland Creek Falls. I had done it before so I knew what was waiting for me.
Yet the things I found hiking with these two ladies in the rain was that with company... the discomfort is less.  Having done it before... somehow it seems not as bad this time. 
The rain continued, but we did not let it stop us. The stream was murky and brown having been churned up by the torrential rain.   The falls were not quite as scenic due to that, but they made up for it in volume!  It is always neat seeing another friends response to their first visit to 
a pretty place.  Jenny was digging Panthertown and everyone was getting on well. It struck me funny that here I was off trail in the wilderness in Summer and completely at ease. I was not one bit concerned about snakes.  I felt charmed.  Is this rational? No.  It is me though and I never claimed to be anything but crazy head to toe 24/7.  

Top: Greenland Creek Falls
Middle: Halfway Falls
Bottom: Carlton Falls all muddied by the hard rain.

      We took in all the falls up Greenland Creek and made the trek back to camp.
The rain finally quit.  We were wet and dirty.   We were tired and hungry.  We had a good
meal over the backpack stove.  Chicken and fried rice.  Jenny had brought homemade goodies!
Butterscotch brownies!  We enjoyed them and her tremendously.   I got cleaned up a bit and
after some sitting around the campfire time of chatting we turned in.   Cathy and I racked in the same tent.  We talked a little while, but soon were asleep.   I kept waking up through the night thinking it was raining. It wasn't. All I was hearing was the wind and the stream.  I rested ok, but I've slept better on backpack trips.   I am not sure what was wrong with me. I did not feel bad. 
My rest was just broken. I chalked it up to being excited.

       Next morning over coffee and oatmeal... we learned that Jenny was not feeling up to par.
She hurt her hip long ago and it had been bothering her.  She decided the wisest thing to do was to 
head out for home rather than aggravate it.  We hated to see her go, but understood.  We hiked
out with her to the parking area.  We saw her off with lots of hugs and promises she was not getting away that easy.  We'll have to do it again soon when she is feeling better.
Once we knew she was safely on her way we headed out for the days hike.

    I had not been to Schoolhouse Falls since my kids were ages 12 and 15!  The last time
I was there I was with them.   We hiked with Rich, Harry, Jan, KT, Cathy, Kenny, Dana, Jared
and Crystal.. and maybe more but that's all I recall.  We made it as far as just below Riding Ford Falls that trip. We were going to head for Devils Elbow, but it was late in the year. It was raining and very slick.  It was going to require wading the Tuck.  It was also going to require putting up
with swimming with snakes.  My kids weren't having it.  So we wrapped it up and headed back to Harry's that trip.   I still need to finish that trip!

        Today we approached Schoolhouse Falls from the opposite direction of the last hike.
We were confused.  We asked people about it and it turned out they were heading the same place 
so we all hung in there together.   We made it safely and I admit this hike is a tad longer, but it was easy and quite pretty.   Schoolhouse Falls was beautiful as always! Such a nice spot.  

      Schoolhouse Falls

Rhododendron arborescens blooming at Schoolhouse Falls 

      The rain began falling on us again before we even left Schoolhouse Falls.  We donned our rain gear.  We parted company with the other hikers and continued on our planned route to Tranquility Point.  It is a high overlook on Little Green Mountain. I had not been to any of these overlook type hikes in this wilderness so I was pleased.  We found it easy enough.   We enjoyed the views from the large rocky outcrops.  The rain had stopped again.  My camera was fogged while trying to take photos here.  It was bad and getting worse.  Having my camera malfunction for me is
a hardship.  It is not as bad as double vision, but it really upsets me. It is like a part of me on hikes.  I feel like one of my eyes have been put out.  I was trying to make the best of it and hoping
the camera would somehow be okay.   

       The views here were gorgeous.  The heath vegetation was pretty. We were surrounded by ripening blueberries which we ate.  We also saw fire cherries.   We tried them all.   We saw true rhodo minus.. the small cousin of catawba rhodo. Carolina rhodo is the middling sized cousin of both.   All are pretty.   We had passed a good number of people who camped at a spot near Tranquility Point.   I would not care for it as a camp site.  It requires a long trek back down to the stream to get water then haul it BACK UP the mountain to camp.  No thanks!  It was not wasted on me that Cathy told me on the hike up the mountain she had done this before.  I couldn't help wondering why she felt the need to study the map while I was taking pictures?  I knew what it most likely meant and just readied myself for it.  More trail confusion was on the way.  Ah the joys of hiking in Panthertown.   


Top: View from Tranquility Point
Bottom: Cathreen studying the map of Panthertown awfully hard.
 You can tell in the bottom photo how bad my camera was fogged at this point. I was distressed about that.  

      We left Tranquility Point and motored on.   The plan for the day was this: Parking lot at Cold Mountain Trail head .. Panthertown Trail to Schoolhouse Falls, up Little Green Mtn trail to Tranquility Point, down to Mac's Gap Trail and out to Granny Burrell Falls.  Red dot footpath near Granny Burrell Falls to the top of Big Green Mountain. Hike along the top of Big Green Mountain to enjoy the views off The Great Wall of Panthertown.     Merge onto Big Green Trail and back around to the campsite near Greenland Creek closing our loop hike for the day.  

   Go ahead and laugh now those who are familiar with Panthertown. Josh Simons, Todd Ransom, 
Stephen Wilder... I can hear you now.  Yeah. We were crazy and the person unfamiliar with Panthertown will see why later.   

     It was only a matter of steps away from Tranquility Point and minutes until we were experiencing trail confusion for the second time today.   We did what we sometimes do. We go back to where we knew we were on track and do it over... what did we miss?  Okay this trail heading down hill doesn't look right.  Let's try going on this one that turns right and goes into the woods by those tents.  Yeah. This must be it!   I prayed Lord! Please help us through this?
He is always faithful to answer.   It was not long til we did not like that option either. The trail was growing sketchier by the second.  Trail Dawgs that we are... we pushed on through the brush and 
emerged onto the open rock face that rims Little Green Mountain.  We could hear people. We headed in their direction. They could hear us and were heading in OUR direction. Both groups hoping we could help each other.  We did help each other, but we were both crazy.  Helping them showed me the depth of our insanity.  They showed us where we needed to get back on track.
We said we'd take them up the trail and show them where they needed to turn to continue.
I can barely type this from laughing at the thoughts of it.  The look on their faces when I took them back to the hole in the thicket we came out of and said to them "You go in here!" ~~~> 
The internal dialogue was something like this. damn. how embarrassing. yes, we really came through that and it turned out ok.  can't believe i'm asking them to do that. No mention of I cant believe WE did that. That part was unquestioned.  Its what we do.

   Thank goodness another man came along right about then and said "No, let me help them.  Y'all go on".   We took him up on it relieved to have found them assistance and gained some assistance for ourselves.   We saw moments later that the trail was marked ON THE ROCK on the ground... with white arrows.  Ok then.    We came to the intersection of Mac's Gap Trail and Little Green
Trail.   We turned right onto Mac's Gap Trail and headed toward Granny Burrell Falls.  
I felt like everything was going to be smoother now as the trail was like the Road to Hell... wide and easy.  It was mostly gentle grades or level right across the valley floor.  

    I liked this trail more than all others.  It is too pretty for words. It is the quintessential Red
Riding Hood forest.  Tall stately pines towering above. A sandy, level trail carpet of pine needles.
It smelled so good.  We were also shopping at this point for camp sites for future trips!
We found some too!  We wanted pretty and near water.  We found all of that.  The forest floor here
is over run with ground pine, running cedar, and ferns.  It is like a natural cathedral.  
The bog of Panthertown is there with its mushy soil too fragile to walk on, but one can peer over into it.   Mosses of all different kinds abound.  Foxtails run here and there across the ground.
Great mounds of sphagnum. Pincushion mosses of pale celery green.  It is delightful to see and touch.     Birds sang and flitted. The rain started and stopped as it had all weekend.  

    I was very down about my camera, but just kept trying not to think on it. 
We made our way to Granny Burrell Falls watching every turn off the trail closely.   We frequently checked the map against the reality of what we were seeing.  

Top: running cedar coats the ground along Mac's Gap Trail
Bottom: Mac's Gap Trail. We've hiked it all!  Coated in rusty red, soft pine needles over sand.

     We arrived at Granny Burrell Falls to a cacophony of laughter and squeals.  It was clear there were lots of people enjoying the falls today before we ever got there!  It was a happy sound and we did not mind. We talked to nice families and children.   We sat down at the top of the falls and watched kids have races with "boats" of sticks letting them go down the stream.  Kids were sliding down the low, pretty falls.   The brown stain of the stream is oddly beautiful with the gold flecks of mica minerals in it.   Gray beach of stones.  Placid pools on this beach of dark brown water.
Sunshine. Clouds.  Sprinkles of rain.  The weather changing its mood moment my moment.
I had the company of my friend and all this natural beauty.   Salami sammidges. Fresh cheese.
Veggies and dip. Apple slices.  Grapes. yummy!   We took in the falls and I got out my camera for photos.  All the fog was gone!  Praise the Lord for that!  My camera was going to be OK.
What a relief.     

     I was having my misgivings about the planned route.  I knew that those red dots on the Panthertown Map can mean just about anything is possible.  The red dot path up to Carlton Falls is cake compared to some off trail hikes we've done.  The red dot path here to the top of Big Green on its far end..... ? My thought on it based on the topography was that this was not going to be the case.   It is extreme.  I had doubts it was used at all if ever.  I did not want to rain on the parade, but wanted to go along and get along.  We would do it if it could be done.  We hunted for it.
We tried the tiny path that lead above Granny Burrell Falls to see where that went?? 
Cathy and some little boys at Granny Burrell Falls.

     The unofficial path turned out to be worth hiking.  The rain storm was upon us in earnest again.
We donned all our rain gear.   I put my pack cover on.   My poor camera had been through enough!  We hiked this short path that felt like I had stepped into a windowless closet and closed the door behind me.  Parts of this rhodo tunnel were so impenetrably black. Add to that the 2 pm full on thunder storm with a downpour of rain amplifying the darkness at  mid afternoon. 
We passed another pretty cascade and slide on the upper part of the stream above Granny Burrell.    We passed a strange tailwaters of the stream. The stream split off into an odd cut away section where the water backed up.  It was black.  The rhodo tunnel here above that stream was pitch black. The stream was pitch black.  I was not scared but captivated.  It is impossible for a camera to show a scene like that, but I am glad I got to experience it.   We emerged about the time
the rain let up a little on the Great Wall Trail. We knew where we were, but this was not right.
We would  be below the mountain not on top of it.  We headed back to try try again!

      We had more hikers ask us about their own trail confusion.  We helped them. 
We asked two ladies about the foot path we were seeking.  They did not know where it was, but the one lady said she had heard it was "serious".  She seemed to know what she was talking about and the topo map bore it out.    We stopped by an unofficial campsite that had been formed 
near Granny Burrell Falls and at the back of it was a path.  Cathy said it petered out as it headed up and she was not convinced this was it.   I had doubts, but felt this WAS it.   I figured it was hardly ever used and thus was going to be like that lady said. SERIOUS.   Hard to find. Hard to follow. Hard to climb.   Since we were unsure we struck a wonderful compromise that suited me to a tee.   We'd just hike Mac's Gap Trail back.   This would give me a chance to enjoy the beauty of the trail and forest. I'd get a chance to photograph it.  I felt confident we'd not have anymore trail confusion.   We would be OK.   

      We hiked it back and got rained on some more.    Toward the end of the hike the sun was trying to come out.  It was uphill part of the way, but not too bad.  We finally got back to camp.
I was happy, but very tired.  I was picking up a vibe from my pal.  I turned to Cathy and asked her what she wanted to do?  She hemmed and hawed. I could tell she was trying to spare my feelings.
I told her I did not care one way or the other.  Either way I felt like I won. Either another night in the woods with my friend OR go back home early and get clean and dry and sleep in a real bed?? 
She said she wanted to leave. She was tired of being wet and dirty.  We packed up and headed home.   I was happy as a clam.   I like backpacking, but I can be such a pussy sometimes.
I am a woman of great contradictions.  I will crawl through the brush and be like a wild animal.
I can grow tired of the dirt,wet, mud and be ready to go home, get clean and dry and be smelling like Bath & Body works.   I can hike my toenails off, but then be ready to go home and get a pedicure and paint those same raggedy toes.   I had blisters and hamburger feet. 
My hiking boots had fairy glamor gold sparkles all over them mingled with mud.

   What a groovy trip.  I can't wait to go again.  Next time.. Salt Rock Gap. 
We're gonna hike the top of Big Green mountain and find that path down off the other side!
Came home and posted on Exploring Panthertown Facebook group... I was right!
The campsite trail WAS the footpath up to Big Green. It is skeery and sketchy!
Let the suffering never end! LOL 





Below is a short video of Granny Burrell Falls