Sunday, November 1, 2009

Trick or Treat!?

Life has been pretty busy lately, and I haven't gotten out much at all. A new baby and a new house have kept me pretty occupied. Well, I was sitting in a training class with Dennis and we decided that, as long as permission was granted by Laura, we would head up to Greenville, South Carolina, for a couple of days. We got up to Caesar's Head State Park at around noon, and the weather was pretty miserable. The above picture is from an awesome overlook located near the park's visitor center. Usually you can see clean past Greenville from here, which is located about 20 miles to the south. But not today. Nothing but FOG! and lots of it.

We sat around for a bit hoping it would open up, but it never did. From there we decided to go ahead and try some hiking anyway, so we headed for Raven Cliff Fall's Overlook.

Table Rock State Park 29

Luckily, the valley this waterfall was located in was kinda protected from the fog. That meant we got some pretty good views. We spent a while just chilling at the little gazebo there, taking pictures and soaking up all the fall colors.

Table Rock State Park 30
Table Rock State Park 28
Table Rock State Park 27

It was hard to leave, but we finally did. We had to cut our return route short because we took too much time at the overlook (but who can blame us?). So we hiked back to the car and headed back into town to the Dennis residence. We were welcomed warmly as always. After some awesome lasagna and a good movie, we hit the hay, hoping the weather would get better for our trek over to Table Rock State Park the next morning.

We woke up and the weather was terrible. Absolutely terrible. The fog was still thick, and the weather people were telling us it was only going to get worse. We debated our course of action over pumpkin pancakes and almost elected to just stay at home. Dennis decided that since we had our rain gear, we should go anyway and at least get some exercise in.

With that in mind, we loaded up and headed to Table Rock. On the way there it went from thick fog to thicker fog to drizzle to heavy rain. At this point our Halloween was turning out to be more trick than treat. We sat in the parking lot at the trailhead and came close to just turning around. A little reluctant, we donned the rain gear and headed up. Halfway up the mountain we came to a little gazebo-type thing that usually offers amazing views of the valley below. The rain had finally stopped, but the fog was still there in full force. We hydrated and munched on Clif Bars and debated whether or not to head back down, when finally there was small slither of an opening in the fog. We hung around for another 15 minutes, and sure enough the clouds finally rolled back and showed us the view.

Table Rock State Park 26
Table Rock State Park 25
Table Rock State Park 24
Table Rock State Park 23
Table Rock State Park 22
Table Rock State Park 21

We sat there a while enjoying the momentary break in fog before it finally rolled back in and covered everything. The rain was still stopped, so we decided to continue climbing. Dennis had been up the mountain before and said that the views (if the fog would allow) only got better. We passed a hiker coming down and he said the fog had rolled back in and covered everything. We pressed on anyway.

When we got to the top, we were greeted with some of the best views I've ever seen on any trail anywhere. Here's the proof....

Table Rock State Park 20

Table Rock State Park 19

Table Rock State Park 18

Table Rock State Park 17

Table Rock State Park 16

Table Rock State Park 15

Table Rock State Park 14

Table Rock State Park 13

Table Rock State Park 12

Table Rock State Park 11

Table Rock State Park 10

Table Rock State Park 9

Table Rock State Park 8

Table Rock State Park 7

Table Rock State Park 6

Table Rock State Park 3

Table Rock State Park 2

Table Rock State Park 1

It started out as a trick but ended up being quite the treat. The fall colors mixed with the fog rolling in and out really made it a unique setting. It was the type of scenery that is hard to catch. We happen to be up on the mountain for the only two-hour period the fog relented for 48 hours. Can't wait to get back up there!!!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Airman Leadership School...

It's been a little bit of an awakening. Not life changing or anything like that. ALS is a school they send you to in the Air Force to prepare you to be a supervisor. You usually don't get tasked with it until you are in line to get promoted to Staff Sergeant, but lucky me, that's not the case. I get to be a supervisor without getting a raise! This is completely outside of my usual blogging spectrum, but it's the reason I haven't gotten a chance to put up any good posts lately, so I thought I would let the world (or the one or two persons that read my blog) about some of the things that are going on.

I'm going to talk politics briefly, simply because it has come up so much at ALS. While having an intelligent political discussion with a fellow Airman, he mentioned that one of the things he didn't like about the Obama administration is all these new "czar" positions. The same guy, not 15 minutes later said that the main reason he wasn't happy with the big stimulus bill was because there wasn't enough oversight. For a guy as smart as he is, I found it petty and laughable that I actually had to say out loud that the new czars are put in place to oversee some of the companies, sectors, etc., that are receiving money from the stimulus. Then he told me the Fed had nothing to do with the government. I was done with the conversation at that point.

The first weekend at the school I got a chance to get a closer look at Congaree National Park. (I had driven through there before, but didn't spend any time there. I also didn't think it was an actual National Park, but all the signs said so, so I'm going with it). I hate to say that anything in the great out-of-doors is a disappointment, but this was pretty weak. The four hour hike only had two highlights, really, one of which had nothing to do with nature. The first highlight brought me up close and personal with a feral hog. I was just walking down the trail. He didn't see me, I didn't see him. Before I knew it I was right on top of him. Luckily he wasn't in the mood for a confrontation, so he snorted and rumbled off into the woods. Later, I ran into a guy with an obvious European accent. He asked me if it was always this hot. It was low 90s and very humid. I told him normally it was a few degrees warmer. He had just arrived in the country from Holland and was staying in Columbia to take some classes at South Carolina University. We ran into each other again later down the trail (a pretty flat and uneventful trail at that), and ended up sitting and talking for a while. He came back to Shaw AFB with me to watch the UFC Pay Per View fight with me and some of the other guys.

The fight, and pretty much everything else over the period of the next month was a little disappointing. Luckily this 5 week class is coming to an end. There have been a few good things to come out of this. I realized that I need to get the lead out when it comes to getting my degree done. And I need to do whatever it is I gotta do to get that fourth stripe.

When I do come back from this class, things are going to be a lot different. Laura and I are in the process of closing on a house right now. I also found out that the shop that I have worked in for the last three years got completely dismantled, so I will be going back to a different job. That little rascal of ours is growing like a weed, so life at home is going to be different as well! Not to mention that the day after I graduate from this course I will be having my fourth knee surgery... FOURTH!!!

Hopefully recovery will be short and we can get back on the trails. By that time the little guy should be big enough to fit into his seat in the backpack. We'll keep you posted.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

North Carolina Venture

We spend a ton of time in Oconee County, South Carolina, hunting waterfalls. There is one road sign located just outside Oconee State Park. It says, "Cashiers 12". I see it all the time. Every time I see it I think about how I really need to make my way up the road that last 12 miles into North Carolina. The problem is, the drive is already near three hours AND there is always plenty in Oconee County to keep me in South Carolina. WELL! Last weekend I finally made it into Transylvania County, North Carolina. It is considered the Waterfall Capital of the World. There are tons of books that have been written about all the waterfalls. Depending on what you consider an actual waterfall, some say there are more than a couple thousand located just in this county.

We started the day with this trail located just next to the road. Silver Run Falls is just inside the border on Hwy 107 before you get to Cashiers. Now, Laura and I did some North Carolina waterfall hikes back in March, and I was just a little disappointed. It wasn't the waterfalls, but the trails. We didn't do to many hikes, but the ones we did, the trails were like wide gravel roads. The parking areas were huge, and there were marquee signs letting you know where to find them. Overall, the accessibility had been taken just a little too far. Well, Silver Run Falls was the same way. A big sign on the road made it nearly impossible to miss. The path (not trail, but path) was like a cart path at a golf course. Nonetheless, the waterfall was very nice. It was early on a Thursday, so there really wasn't much of a crowd. I did run into an Asian family leaving just as I arrived, equipped with elders and infants (again, accessibility is nice, but at some point it can be too much).

After that I made my way up to Cashiers. It's a one red light town. Very, very nice though. There were lots of really nice shops and little family restaurants. I popped into Subway and grabbed some brunch, then headed and headed east on Hwy 64 to find Horsepasture River. My guide/photography book said something about a potential new state park. Sure enough, I found the entrance to a brand-new Gorges State Park. Unfortunately, that made all the trail guides in the book obsolete. There were no park rangers, but a trail kiosk gave some good infomation. Rainbow Falls was supposed to be my final destination, but with the new trails, I was a little mixed up. I spent the first hour or so, and the first few miles, trying to figure out where everything was. Eventually I made my way down and caught my first glimpses of the famous Horsepasture River.

I finally concluded that this was Drift Falls. It took me about thirty minutes of sitting there reading the book. I also concluded that I was on the right trail, but with the new State Park, I was hiking it backwards from what the guidebook had suggested. So I knew I wasn't far from Rainbow Falls. Rainbow Falls is one of North Carolina's greatest. Kevin Adams, the author and photographer from my guide book, says that he couldn't possibly point out a single favorite, but that every time someone asks him, this one comes to mind. And that's saying something coming from a guy who has personally written trail guides for thousands of waterfalls in North Carolina alone. Needless to say, I was anxious to see it. When I reached the falls, I stood for a while just taking it in. It was quickly apparent that just one picture wouldn't work, so here are a few. Hopefully you can get an idea of the size and power of this waterfall. It was really something to take in.

Take a close look at that last photo. You may notice someone jumping off the ledge on the lower left hand portion of the cliff face. It may be kinda hard to gain perspective from this picture. The ledge was about 35 feet from the water. These guys had to work pretty hard just to get to the ledge. Three of the four plunged in feet first. One guy took much more time. It looked like maybe he was too nervous to jump. The other three started egging him on. Finally, they started counting down from three in unison. Finally, at one, the guy takes a two step running start and leaves the ledge. He then tucks his knees, pulls his head back, and starts to do a gainer (a back flip where you leave the platform facing forward rather than backward). CRAZY! After enjoying this view for a couple of hours, I headed back down stream to try and find Windy Falls.

As I headed back to a junction in the trail, the batteries on my GPS died. With this new developement, I thought it best to go all the way back to the truck and head up the road to get new batteries. On the way back I hiked a ways with some locals that told me Windy Falls is impossible to see. They have been hiking the area for 15 years, and they said in the last 2 or 3 years the trail is nearly impassible. Combining that bit of info with the fact that I was still trying to use the guidebook in reverse, I didn't think the chances of me finding the waterfall was very good. I gave it a shot anyway. We headed down a trail in the general direction of where the waterfall was. Shortly, we came to a forest road. We followed that for a while until I saw what looked like an old trail diving into the thicker woods to the right in the direction of the river. So after following this trail for about 2 miles (and losing about 1000 feet in elevation), we came to the waterfall.

The guidebook warned me. "This hike may not be worth the effort, as getting a view of the waterfall is completely and utterly impossible." I'd read that about waterfalls before, and it was almost never true. That usually meant that it was a dangerous area, and the author didn't want to be responsible for putting someone in danger. Well, this time he was right. The waterfall is huge, and falls at the opening of a nice little valley. As it plunges, it kinda snakes around a HUGE boulder in a thin sluice. All this combined, it really is impossible to view. It's hard to explain (the author said the same thing) but many people have tried and tried, and it just isn't in the cards. But I did get some neat shots from the surrounding area.

After that I was quite exhausted. There was a trail for one more waterfall in the park, but I was zapped. I knew there was one more roadside waterfall that wouldn't take much energy. So we loaded back up and headed down Hwy 281 back towards South Carolina. Just before crossing the state line we got to the trail head for a nice little falls called John's Jump. It was like 100 yards through thick rhododendron and mountain laurel, but a nice waterfall nonetheless.

And with that we called it a day. Not a bad day at all really. There is so much to explore in this one North Carolina county. Can't wait to get back up there.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Gabriel's First Adventure

What's the best cure for Cabin Fever? A cabin in Upstate South Carolina! We made a last minute decision to rent a cabin from this place just up HI-28 from Walhalla. They were located right in the middle of the area we usually go hiking in. I knew I couldn't get away with tent camping at this stage in the game, and these were the cheapest cabins around.

You've probably seen rustic looking cabins in the mountains, with wooden beams and vaulted ceilings. Those same cabins were probably decked out with all the amenities of a resort hotel. Well these cabins weren't that type of rustic. They were truly rustic. One room, measuring about 20'x 15', with a separate bathroom in the corner. A nice little, and I do mean little, front porch for sipping your morning coffee. The inside had a small kitchenette. There was no oven, but it had a small Weber grill outside and a two burner stove inside, one of which didn't work. It came equipped with a massive 13 inch T.V. and VCR, straight out of 1993. The decorations on the wall were enough to make any flea market vendor blush. Everything was clean, including the bathroom that looked like it belonged in a mobile home. But it was still quite charming, and made for a nostalgic weekend of watching old VHS's after a day in the mountains.

The first day I got up early and loaded up the dogs and headed just up the road to Oconee State Park. There was a waterfall there that I hadn't seen yet. I've pretty much wiped the map clean in this area of waterfalls, but this was one I hadn't made it out to yet. We started out at about 10 a.m. For a while it looked like we were going to have the trail to ourselves. One of the reasons I had avoided this hike in the past was because it was in the State Park, which usually means plenty of R.V. campers and busy trails. About halfway through the trail we ran into our first trail sharer. No big deal. But he suddenly started yelling ahead somewhat frantically to someone else. "ANOTHER DOG! ANOTHER DOG!... TWO! TWO MORE DOGS!" I asked him if he would feel better if I put them on the leash. I thought maybe the person ahead had a bad fear of dogs or something. Nope. It was a problem I've ran into before. It seems to happen a lot more often in this part of the country than places out west or further north. They had two dogs with them, OFF the leash, who were meat-eaters. They were the type of dog that was trained to be out for blood. I will never understand this. They obviously knew their dogs don't get along with other living things, so why bring them to a state park, to a trail in the woods. When you take a dog to the woods, their instincts are enhanced because of the environment. If they are hunting dogs, they're really going to put their nose to the ground and get to sniffing. If they are protective dogs, they are going to be even more protective because of the new surroundings. So people take these overly aggressive dogs into the trails, and they are trying to tear everything apart. It drives me nuts.

Anyhow! We rushed past, after getting their two dogs off of Austin and Star. At this point we started moving as fast as we could because I knew we wouldn't have much peaceful time at the waterfall alone before the man-killers showed up and wrecked it.

The site was one of mixed emotions. The base of the waterfall had been wrecked by runoff. I knew it had to be sometime recent, because none of this wreckage was evident in any of the pictures I had seen in the past. It took some scrambling around to get the camera set up. The waterfall itself was nice, but before I really had a chance to relax and soak it all in, our group of man-killers showed up to crash the fun. I was in the process of testing out my new remote shutter. It allowed me to set the camera up at the base, then climb up the slippery base of the falls to get a good shot of me and the dogs up high on the waterfall. Sure enough the other group with their two dogs showed up and precisely the worst time, right when I was high on the waterfall, unable to get down to my camera gear in a timely manner. I scrambled down quickly to get my stuff all put back up when I heard Austin crying from up on the waterfall's rock face. I had attached their leashes, to make it easier to pull them away if a fight ensued, and his leash got hung on some rocks. So as I headed back up, Star got entangled with one of the other dogs back down at the base. It obviously made for a less than enjoyable trail experience. I think we may go back to this waterfall again sometime in the future. The whole experience left me with a bad taste in my mouth, and I wasn't exactly able to enjoy my surroundings.

Again, sorry for the poor picture quality.

We headed back to the cabin. The rest of the day we just drove around the mountains enjoying the views. We went down to the cabin office and checked out some old movies for the VCR and Big Screen. We grilled some K-Bobs and watched Young Guns!

The next morning... or afternoon, whichever it was when we pulled ourselves out of bed, we spent some more time just driving around checking out the sights. We originally were going to hike up to a lookout tower, but when we got to the trailhead a park ranger told us that it was gated up and locked. After that we headed to the trailhead for Licklog and Pig Pen Falls. It was supposed to be a short hike, but it was one I hadn't gotten around to doing till now. When we got to the trailhead Laura told me all she had was flip-flops. That, combined with Gabriel's sudden spurt of grumpiness, I decided to call it off. I told Laura I didn't feel comfortable with her carrying him down the trail in flip-flops, especially with him being all fussy. She told me she agreed, and said I could go down myself to see if I could find the waterfall.

The trail was short, and full of excellent camping spots. There was a nice tumbling stream that followed about 50 feet below trail the whole way. After walking through the first campsite, the creek and the trail meet and stay side by side the rest of the way. Not long after that we heard some real turbulence, but the creek at that was well hidden (even though it was next to the trail) by some extremely thick Mountain Laurel and Rosebay Rhododendron. I bushwhacked to get through it and found this small but powerful sluice. There was really no way to get a good wide angle shot that would have done the scene justice.

We made it back out to the trail and headed down just a few yards to find one of the falls. Now will be a good time to mention that I left all my guide books back home for this trip, so I felt extremely lost and out of touch the entire time. I knew that Licklog Falls and Pigpen Falls was somewhere on this trail. Also, this was my first trip with a new camera. The new camera took great shots of everything except waterfalls. I really wasn't happy with what I was getting on the slow shutter speed.

The scene here was really nice though. Directly behind where I was standing to take this picture was a really nice flat camping area. I didn't realize it, but the last leg (or first leg, depending on which way you hike it) of the Foothills Trail comes right near here. Also, at this spot, the Chatooga River Trail comes through. There's a nice wooden footbridge crosses the stream just to the right. I wanted to explore it a little, but with the wife and baby waiting back at the trailhead, I didn't want to take too much time.

After reading the guide book once we got back home, I came to the conclusion that this was Pig Pen Falls. We continued downstream to arrive at the stream's junction with the Chatooga River. It came surprisingly quick, and was punctuated by the stream making a scenic 40-foot plunge into the river.

Again, a less that stellar shot that doesn't do the whole scene any sort of justice. So I checked this one out after getting back home, and come to find out this is "Lower" Licklog Falls. I had no idea. That obviously means that there is an "Upper" Licklog Falls somewhere that I missed.

We did spend a few minutes just taking this all in. There's just something about the Chatooga River that leaves me in a little bit of awe every time I arrive at it on the trail. Its really had to describe. If you are headed to Upstate South Carolina and are looking for one thing to do, this would be my recommendation. Find a few spots on the Chatooga River to go exploring. Even with Laura and Gabriel waiting for me back at the car, I still had to slow down and enjoy the dogs playing and the waters tumbling.

Next, we decided to use the last few moments of daylight to run on over to Whitewater Falls. This goliath of the South East is located just feet across the South Carolina border into North Carolina. It really depends on who you ask as to how tall this one is. Just downstream from it is Lower Whitewater Falls. A lot of people in the area add these two together and call it the tallest waterfall east of the Mississippi River. I think that's a bit of a stretch since they are separated by a good half mile, maybe more. The river does do a good bit of tumbling, which I got to see when I did the Foothills Trail with Greg this time last year. I won't even go as far to post a height for this one, since so many people have so many different numbers for it. Just know that its huge; even bigger than it looks in any of these pictures.

With that, we headed back up the trail to car. We made our way back to our cozy cabin, put some good grub on, and settled in for another great showing on the 13 inch!

Our only goal for Day 3 was to get down to the Walhalla State Fish Hatchery. We tried to pay it a visit the day before, but got there just after the doors were closed. So we pulled up, got the baby all strapped into his little carrying harness and headed in. There were people carrying fishing poles walking around everywhere. The hatchery is located on a stream. It was probably once a river, but the water usage of the hatchery makes it appear more stream-like. It's still a really pleasant setting. The hatchery itself was a bit of a surprise. Basically, it was just a series of holding pools, rectangular in shape, that had a steady current flowing through them. They were lined up, five or six long, in about four rows. It seems like they were set up in the middle of like a Walmart parking lot. Nothing special, just a large lot, leveled out, then paved. It's got a chain-link fence surrounding it, and you just walk through a simple gate right up to the holding tanks; no entry fee or anything involved. The place you enter starts you at a tank with small trout, and as you walk, they get bigger and bigger. The last few tanks had trout larger than I thought they ever got. Those fish had to be close to 10 pounds. It was pretty impressive.

After that we headed up the road to try and tackle the Bee Cove Falls series. I knew this one was pretty hard to find, so getting there without double checking my guide book (remember, I left it at home) was going to be pretty tough. We found what I thought was the proper Forest Road. We drove down it as far as we could to a fallen tree. At that point me and the dogs hopped out, leaving Laura and Gabriel in the Jeep. The road was easily followed, but after a couple miles, I had gone well past the point I had marked on the GPS signifying a break from the trail for a descent down to the creek. There was no sign of a side trail, but there was sign of some fresh bear activity. Fresh enough that I would venture to say it heard us coming down the road and scrammed (thank goodness!).

We made it back up to the car and headed down the road. I wanted to try and get to the trailhead of Lower Whitewater Falls. We went right past this beauty while we were on the Foothills Trail and missed it. I had been in the area several times with this one on my to-do list, but for some reason never made it to the trail. Again, I was flying a little blind without the guide book, but I thought I could at least find the trail head. Well, I was wrong. It wasn't where I thought it was, and I wasn't in the mood to spend the rest of the day searching for it without the luxury of my book. But now we were real close to Station Cove Falls. I had visited this one before, but it was when the water levels were so low there was nothing falling over the rocks. The hike was extremely short, less than 30 minutes, and it was a great spectacle flowing at full force.

After that excellent end to our 3rd day in the Upstate, we headed back toward the cabin. We stopped at a produce stand and got some fresh peaches, homemade jams and pickled okra to add to our evening meal. We enjoyed our last night in that little ol' cabin, and headed to bed.

We woke up slowly again Saturday morning. Took our time getting all packed up. At first we figured we would just pack up, check out, maybe grab a bite to eat in Walhwalla and head home. Last minute, as we pulled out, I decided to head on over to a roadside waterfall. Mainly, I wanted to give the new camera another try on another waterfall. I was hoping it would change my opinion. We got to the waterfall. I made the three minute hike down to Reedy Falls while Laura stayed in the car with the babe. It was going to be a quick visit.

I snapped a few more photos, and as goes the story of this trip, wasn't really very happy with any of them. I got back to the car and told Laura it was a really short hike, so she said she wanted to go down and see it. So we loaded up the baby and headed down to the waterfall again. We stopped at a little footbridge to take some family photos.

After a few hundred more pictures here, we headed down the rest of the way to the waterfall. I tried to get another good family shot at the base, but it just wasn't working out. I did get a really good one of Laura and the little man though. It's probably my favorite picture.

After that fun photo shoot, we headed over to Brasstown for one last bit of fun before heading home. I figured it would also be a good final test for the camera to see if I could fix the settings. Brasstown Falls is such a picture perfect waterfall, I knew it would be a good test. Brasstown, just in case you have missed my other posts on this great little nugget, is a series of four really great waterfalls. All four falls are located within about a quarter mile of each other, which is less than half a mile from the trail head. So that makes it a great place for families. The unfortunate part is, its accessibility brings out a lot of crowds that couldn't care less about leaving no trace behind. Often times we have been here there was trash on every inch of the trail.

Anyhow, I headed upstream to Little Brasstown Falls. We actually had been out to the Brasstown Series a number of times before we realized that this little jewel was just a few hundred yards upstream.

After that, the next one in the series is the Brasstown Cascade. Its a really nice tumble of about 45-55 feet. Its not great for photography, but its a really pretty site in person.

The third is the real beauty. Brasstown Falls (or Brasstown Veil) is literally about 20 feet downstream from the cascade. If you are standing at the base of the cascade, you can turn and easily look over the edge of the top of the veil. The trail to get to the base gets a little more tricky here, and the nature of the spray makes the rocks a serious hazard. I got to the bottom and got set up, and of course the pictures just did NOT come out like I was hoping. At that point I was feeling a little weak, so I skipped the fourth falls. It's a sluice, again starting only a few feet from the waterfall upstream. There was a pretty good crowd swimming in the pool at its base, so I knew taking good pictures wasn't going to happen anyway.

All in all I'd say it was a heck of a weekend. It's only a shame that Gabriel is too young to remember this one when he gets older! I know he'll have many more in his future though! Can't wait...