Thursday, January 15, 2009

Panther Creek Falls

Dennis sent me a text message about two weeks ago. It read, "Man, I wanna go backpacking!" He hadn't been out since back in the fall when I took him to the Golden Corner of South Carolina for his first backpacking trip. (See the "Another Lifer" entry for more details). I had just finished reading Backpacker Magazine's entry on what was voted the best hike in Georgia, Panther Creek Falls (click on the title of this blog for a link to their website's trail description). So we set it up, and Monday after some early morning appointments we both had, we headed off.

We got to the trailhead a little later than I planned. The last thing I wanted to do was finish the hike and set up in the dark. It's just annoying. So, we had 3.6 miles of trail ahead of us and a little less than 2 hours of daylight left. With that in mind, we left the sight-seeing for tomorrow's return hike and kept a steady pace till the falls. We got there in almost exactly an hour. Pretty darn good trail time. We set up and still had a decent amount of sunlight left to soak in the scenery.

Here we all are in front of the tent. Austin is the tan one on the left, then me in the blue, then Star sitting in the middle, then Dennis. The waterfall was so much taller than we expected. The pictures we had seen before didn't make the waterfall appear more than maybe 30 feet high. In actuality the waterfall was all total about 120 feet tall. Even in this picture you can't see the water as it tumbles from around the rock outcrops on the left. At the base of the falls was a really nice sandy area that made for the perfect place to set up camp. The base of the waterfall is a huge breath-taking pool perfect for swimming. No, we didn't swim. It was in the 20's when we got there and got even colder as the night progressed. The creek past the waterfall was littered with car sized boulders. All in all it really was a great spot to set up a tent.

Now, the hike in... well it could have been better. To start, the trailhead was on a busy two-lane road, with room for only three vehicles. When we got there, all three spots were taken. It presented quite the danger opening the hatch of the Jeep and letting the dogs out so close to a busy road (yeah, I forgot their leashes). Right off the bat you have to walk under an overpass while on the trail. Shortly after that you come to a clearing for high rise powerlines, where a huge cable also passes over the creek, protruding from the high creek bank, then disappearing into the other side. There is tons of construction debris from the overpass and trash from passing vehicles. Luckily, you quickly disappear into the thick woods of the Chattahoochee National Forest. The next slight disappointment is that, although the creek rumbled loudly below, you are so far above it and the foliage is so thick, you can't see anything going on in the creek. Finally, after about a mile, you reach the creek's side. By this time the water has calmed down quite a bit. This is when the trail really became enjoyable. There were an alarming number of fallen large timbers, but other than that it was a very scenic trail. There were flat areas for camping all along the bank. A few times the trail rises above the creek, mainly at the numerous sharp bends. During the last mile, the creek begins to give you some hint of what lies ahead. Then finally you start hearing the rumble of Panther Creek Falls. The trail takes you along a rock outcrop that hangs at the very edge above the huge waterfall, where you get a nice view of the camping area below.

Your options once at the campsite are to either continue on the banks of Panther Creek to the eastern terminus at Yonah Camp/Yonah Dam. That is supposed to be another 2 miles or so (I can't verify that because we didn't hike it). Or, of course, backtrack to the main trailhead at the Panther Creek Recreation area. Be prepared for a bit of a climb. 750 feet in all, with most of it coming in that last mile.