Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Yellow Mountain Fire Tower Hike & High Falls Hike

 


Above: a freshly bloomed purple wakerobin along the High falls trail


Yellow Mountain Fire Tower Hike & High Falls Hike 

Dana Koogler

Wally & Kathy Storey

Waterfall Keepers of North Carolina

April  15 &  16 2022


Yellow Mountain Tower Pix Here


High Falls Pix Here





   I signed up to participate in a hike for wildflowers and geology hosted by Waterfall Keepers of NC.  I am a member and it provided me an opportunity to go on a guided hike with the group to a waterfall I had yet to visit.  I am working on completing the Kevin Adam's 100 Waterfall Challenge.  High Falls in the Lake Glenville area was on the list I needed to finish.   I reached out to friend Wally Storey to see if he and Kathy wanted to get together.  It was a pretty good drive to plan on doing only one hike. I suggested that we work on other lists. Wally and I are both trying to finish up the Carolina Mountain Club's Lookout Tower Challenge.   We both needed Yellow Mountain Tower.   It is a long hike coming in at 12 miles round trip.   

        We both were committed to finishing it and had resolved to do it.Neither of us was thrilled at the prospect of a 12 mile round trip.    It hit me that perhaps there was a shorter way neither of us was aware of?    I sat down and googled shorter routes to Yellow Mountain Lookout Tower. 


"Ask and ye shall receive, ye shall! "~~Wanda Wayne 




Up popped a set of directions on how to hike to the tower from a nearby gap that got the hike down to 3 miles round trip!  It required a four wheel drive vehicle, but I have that!   I did some looking into it and discussed it with Wally. We would try it.   The directions were fairly recent leading me to believe that it was an accurate report.  Checking out satellite imagery also led me to believe it was true.   I could see the trail and a check of the boundaries showed that it was all legitimate.   He met me at Dry Falls early in the day and I followed him to their hotel in Highlands.   We left the vehicle with Kathy and we took my jeep to the trailhead not far away.   

Yellow Mountain Lookout Tower from Cloud Catcher Lane Directions

    We found the trailhead without any trouble.   My jeep handled it well, but I honestly think a passenger car with decent tires and ground clearance would be sufficient.   We arrived to find no one at the trailhead besides us.   I wondered if this trail was not well known?  I didn't much care as long as it worked for us.  I sure appreciated the contribution of Mr. Caleb Adcock for sharing the knowledge.   We made the hike without any trouble. It was a gradual climb with only 700 feet elevation gain and a quarter of the original distance.    The woods at this elevation and time of year were pretty dead and brown. Not much emerging yet, but the scenery was still pretty.

  Below: This is the view from the first overlook we came to. It was not from the tower site, but from a manmade observation platform built on the side of the mountain facing north.   

Below: Wally taking in the view from the platform


  We spotted a side path leading to the left on our hike up.  A manmade structure was just barely visible through the trees.  Wally noticed it.  We turned aside to see what it was.  It was an observation platform facing to the north for the views.  I was glad we saw it and got to check it out.  

     We continued upward from there toward the summit and the tower.

It was a gradual climb and the trail was in good condition.   We arrived at the point where the long trail to the summit intersected this shorter path from Cloud Catcher Lane.   We bore to the left to continue on our route to the summit.   The trails are signed, but very few indicators.  

  We soon arrived at the mountain summit where there would be no more elevation gain.  It was nice and cool up here with fair skies. 


Above is a view of the rocky trail we came up to the tower site.  Below this is the observation platform down over the shoulder of the mountain.

Above:  We arrived at Yellow Mountain Lookout Tower at last. It is one that you can actually go up in the cab and the base is open as well.   I read that this tower was originally constructed in 1934.  I can't help thinking it has to have been maintained and updated at least some. It is in awfully good shape to be that age and 100% original.  I am not sure though.

 Below is a view from the tower site to the north east

Below: a different view from the tower site of the Cowee Mountains
Below: a view from the cab of the tower

Above:  I spotted an old communications pole and what was left of the former communications network through the trees to the northwest off the tower site out in the forest. 

Above: looking back down out of the cab on the steps. about 8 feet down.

Above: the guy wires anchored into the stone around the summit to keep the tower from blowing off the mountainside.

Below: Wally is climbing the steps. 




  I stepped into the doorway of the base of the tower.  I saw movement in the corner and it was a bird.  I thought at first it was a hawk who was injured. It turned out to be a juvenile buzzard just sitting in there to get out of the wind.  He wasn't hurt, but only resting.   We encountered several other hikers while we were there. We talked with them and all were very nice people.  I remember for sure that the large group we talked to had come up from the same way we did.   I don't remember what the others said.   

    We liked this tower site and were glad to have seen it and be able to check it off our lists.   It was a pretty hike and a neat tower.  Aside from the views and the tower itself there was not a lot to see. I think though the other way would be longer, in the future if it was Spring bloom season or Summer it might be more interesting to come up that way.    

  Another possibility would be to hike the shorter route up and see sunset from the tower site and hike back down the easy, simple trail with a head lamp. That would be a nice change.

     Once we had our tower hike over with we decided to try to find Coyote Falls around Cashiers.   We made our attempt from the shorter, upper route.  Oh Lordy. We were wandering around in the rhodo and brush.   It wasn't the hardest thing we'd ever done, but it was not real fruitful.   I finally had enough of it and so did Wally.  We just got back out of there and said we'd have to try again with more information.     I am sure glad we waited because upon getting home later this weekend I found out that coming in from the bottom route is far simpler and there is a trail the entire way.  I watched a video some folks shot of their trip.  Yeah. We were making it way harder than it had to be!  

Above and below: The only photos I took of this today were of pretty Little Whitewater Creek which is the stream Coyote Falls is on.  We found the creek, but not the falls!  cue the crickets 

🊗



  We gave up on hiking for the day. Back at the jeep and glad to be out of the brush we ate a snack, got a drink and cooled off.   We  headed back to Highlands where we met Kathy at their hotel.  We sat outside on the stone patio on a lovely afternoon and caught up a little.  We walked through town later and ate supper together at The Ugly Dog Public House.  It was a delight to be able to enjoy a nice meal with two great friends.   

      I was rather weary and so after dinner I said my good-byes and headed back to my hotel in Franklin.  I got a nice hot shower and rested.   I slept well and got up ready to face the day and our hike to High Falls.


  High Falls at Lake Glenville with Waterfall Keepers 

 

      I met Wally & Kathy the next morning and we headed to Highlands together.  Wally rode with me so Kathy had their vehicle.   We planned to meet back at a local coffee house once the hike was over.  It is worth mentioning that cell phone reception around Lake Glenville is spotty at best.  I was glad we had the framework of a plan in place because communication was not easy.   I was also glad Wally had great familiarity with the area.  I was much more relaxed not having to navigate and drive.     We made our way to the north trailhead off Hwy 107.   We found the group beginning to gather at the meeting place.  We got out and collected our gear and began to say our greetings and visit with folks.  I was pleasantly surprised to see my old friend Kevin Adams himself in attendance!

   He looked healthy, happy and terrific!    It had been way too long.  Everyone I met today was a delight.   I am proud to be part of such a positive organization.

 Just standing around at the trailhead and gazing at the ditches and surrounding slopes I could see this was going to be an amazing hike.  Spring wildflowers were popping up everywhere!  We had a guide to describe wildflowers named Susan.  We had a geology guide named Bill who was to teach us about the area geology.

        I hate to admit it, but I did not take as many photos as I do when I am alone.

It was drizzling rain for one.  I was visiting with new people and getting to know them.  I was also trying to keep up with the group and not geek out too much on the flowers.  It was a real struggle for me to resist the urge to get artsy with the camera, but today was not the day for it.  

Below is a very pretty specimen of purple wakerobin trillium. All three sepals are striped burgundy! 

Below: rain drops beneath the dangling green blooms of Solomon's Seal
Below:  I don't recall the lady's name in the red jacket, but the man in the orange rain coat is Bill who was our geology guide.
Below: the pretty stream we got to see as we crossed a bridge. 


The hike from the north trailhead is the only way I've ever hiked to High Falls so I am not qualified to compare the north vs. south routes to the falls.  Friend Wally has done both and he said the south route is shorter and very steep up and down. The north hike is longer coming in at around 4 miles but is a lot more gradual and the scenery is marvelous especially in Springtime! 


  Below is  a photo of Kevin Adams on the trail today.


   Below: is a photo of the group and the lady in the blue raincoat in the center is Susan, our wildflower guide. She did an excellent job pointing out flowers and identifying them.  She knew her stuff!




Below: white trilliums in the forest on the slopes. We saw loads of these.

Below: Bill and Wally ahead of me chatting.  So many intelligent people on this hike who asked great questions and were genuinely happy to be on this hike.  It makes a big difference. I don't like going with anyone who is bored or really doesn't want to be along.  It is a downer!



Above: large flowered bellwort with its sunny yellow blooms and lime green leaves are always a pleasure to see. We saw loads of these today on the hills in the forest.
Below: a close up shot of another red trillium with striped sepals!
Below: we saw lots of Dutchman's Breeches in bloom today. These are members of the fumitory family as are squirrel corn and bleeding heart. 

  The trees were sprouting new green leaves and Carolina silverbells were in bloom.


Above:  Carolina silverbells-- the delicate pinkish white blooms

Above: our group arrived at a small cascade on a side stream that flowed out into the trail. This is where Bill, our geology guide really began to shine.  I think the lady in the red coat on the left is Diane who serves as part of one of the committees of Waterfall Keepers.  

Below: a painted trillium. We saw quite a few of these today! They were some of the very first ones I saw this season. Their foliage is a bronze-green that reminds me of the chocolate foliage of some greenhouse cultivars! 


  Our hike flattened out and we soon came to a point where we were looking directly across at the tall, impressive Thurston Hatcher Falls. This was another new falls for me. First time seeing it!


Above: Thurston Hatcher Falls
Below:  A  horizontal orientation view of the base of the falls that shows the railing from the trail on the opposite side! 


Below is a video of Thurston Hatcher Falls

Above:  a gorgeous fresh pink Catesby's trillium opening with raindrops on it.
Below: someone left they nasty draws on the rocks. dang! Take 'em with you when you leave! (but it wouldn't be a trip report if I didn't see and post something gross, eh?) 
  

   Once we passed Thurston Hatcher Falls it wasn't much further until we approached the base of High Falls. It was a sight to behold. I have seen photos of people's visits during a water release from Lake Glenville.  It is impressive, but it was still a good looking and impressive falls to me even without the water release.   I heard Kevin telling that people go down there just any old time to see it during water release events and cross the river only to be stuck on the opposite side of where they went in!  Someone asked him what do you do if that happens? The answer was "wait for the water to go back down" or hike out the other trail to Hwy 107 and hope to get a lift back round to your vehicle at the opposite side!

   
That would be un-nerving for me. I was happy just coming at normal water volumes thanks.
Below: our group approaches High Falls 



Below: a pretty blue hole of water below the falls. 



Above:  a better look at the power of High Falls. Best viewed in the original size. Click on the image to open and enlarge it.


Above: Is a photo of the huge cliffs that surround the falls. I drew a red arrow to point out the two tiny people in the image.  I took this photo for scale to show how big this place is! 
Below: We are sitting around listening to Bill's fascinating geology lesson which while brief was full of intriguing facts.  I learned a lot in those few moments.  

For example I did not realize Western North Carolina has far more plutons than I expected.  When I think pluton I think Looking Glass Rock.  That is indeed one example, but only one.   There are many others which are overlooked!
the waterfalls in the area that have a certain rock type with that curved surface up high are also plutons that have been eroded.

    Another fact I was unaware of?  I had heard from more than one source that the Blue Ridge Mountains were once the size of the Himalayas.   This is not the case. Bill was able to succinctly explain in lay terms what the evidence was to debunk this!   

  We sat here at this spot enjoying the view of the falls and the company.  We ate lunch and rested. We gradually hiked back to the vehicles.   It was most enjoyable all around.   Wally and I said our good byes to the group and sat waiting patiently to be able to get turned around on this narrow road.   He and I both have no problem with executing 17 point turns as long as we are safe and don't tear anything up!  👀😀


  We made our way back to meet Kathy at Highlands.  We went to a restaurant and snacked and visited a little.  I finally had to tear myself away and reluctantly begin the drive home.  I decided since I wasn't really in the mood to leave yet that I would take a longer route home.  I took the scenic route through Cashiers and out through Lake Toxaway enjoying the scenery.  Once I got to Mills River I stopped at Ingles to refuel, take a bathroom break and treated myself to a tall cup of Starbucks Mocha Latte.  It helped revive me to finish my drive home.  The scenery was great. The traffic light. The high test coffee kicked in and kept me awake to make it home.  All in all it was a great trip.   

       Already looking forward to getting together with my buddies again.

Below is a video of High Falls on the West Fork Tuckasegee River




   


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Thanks for reading and commenting. If you find conditions in an area changed please let me know and I will add changes to the blog entry to reflect those. Also if you know history of an area or a good story that relates I always welcome people sharing those sorts of things. I often revisit a place and blog about it again adding the info with credit to the story teller or add it to existing entries. Peace. DK🐝