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.