Waterfall List

Skinny Dip FallsGibbons FallsFirehole FallsHickory Nut FallsElk FallsTriple Falls
High FallsUpper Whitewater FallsTurtleback FallsUpper Creek FallsRainbow FallsDrift Falls
Bridal Veil Falls (Highlands)Dry FallsQuarry FallsCullasaja FallsGlassmine FallsDouglas Falls
Walker FallsFalls between Walker and DouglasWardens FallsFrolictown FallsGranny Burrell FallsWildneress Falls

Waterfall List, a set on Flickr.

The list now sits at 78. If I don’t make it to another one this year, 2012 will have seen me add 30 new waterfalls to my list. With a full time job and busy life, that is a sweet accomplishment. The latest additions towards the bottom include some more waterfalls from Panthertown Valley, Wilson Creek, and the great state of West Virginia. Surely 2013 will get me over the 100 waterfall mark! Here’s to happy waterfall hiking!

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First Waterfalls Trip To West Virginia

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It is the first weekend in November, and time to see some new waterfalls. With all things considered, including a very cold air mass in place and lots of snow on the ground in places, it probably was not the best time to drive several hours north into West Virginia. I had just seen several pictures of Sandstone Falls along the New River in West Virginia. After the photos and reading up on it, I was intrigued. Only 10-25 foot high falls, but along the river spanning a width of nearly 1500 feet wide. That had potential to be something special, I had to go.

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Brooks Island

The New River starts in my home state of North Carolina, with a South Fork and a North Fork. Down here the South Fork is the bigger of the two and a major source of recreation, from tubing, rafting, canoeing, swimming, picnics, fishing….etc. I have spent many a summer day floating down this river, sometimes spending nights along it. It is very special to me, with many memories. Once the two forks come together near the Virginia line, the river really grows and begins to pick up steam. By the time it cruises through Virginia and makes it into West Virginia, it is a major river, known for is large volume of water and numerous class III and IV rapids. I have made a few trips here to raft down it, and it is certainly a different and exciting experience than than the slower, more lazy nature of it in North Carolina. I will never forget falling out of the raft in Double Z rapid and spending the rest of the rapid under the raft trying to get back to air….good times…lol

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View of Sandstone Falls-Way above along Hwy 20

The drive into West Virginia includes 2 super tunnels. One is 0.8 miles, and the other is 1.2 miles. There is no need to drive over these large mountains, just go through them. Turn those lights on, expect to lose all cell coverage and radio stations, and hope that you are not claustrophobic. It is pretty tight in there. Once in WV, I made my way by interstate, to Sandstone Falls State Park along I-64. My GPS wanted me to take HWY 20, but with all the snow, I was wondering if this was a safe journey. At the park, I thought I was there, only to have the employee tell me, that I had to drive 10 miles south on hwy 20 to the next bridge and then 8 miles back north on the other side….geez. Initially I went straight up, and was able to pull off to the right to a beautiful view of Sandstone Falls way, way above it. I thought , “this is like a mini-Niagra”. Ok that is stretching it quite a bit, but it was quite an impressive display of water below. I also passed Brooks Island, which was a nice view from above, of a very large, long island. The road soon descends towards river level and you will find yourself in Hinton, a very interesting riverside town. It is very compact, and has a number of museums. You will get an interesting view of Hinton after driving through it, crossing the bridge and heading back north, up the river. The road on the other side is very narrow, but paved thankfully. The 8 miles along it at a speed limit of 35 seem to take forever, but you really get an up close and personal view of the New River here. It is a nice drive. Once at the park, it is time to head out on the boardwalk.

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The river is very wide here, and immediately the boardwalk zig zags you out on to a very large island. The first real view here is of Lower Sandstone Falls, a smaller but still very nice section of falls. It is separated from the main falls by the very large island.

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Lower Falls From The Bridge Along The Boardwalk

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After taking this in, it is time to continue on down the boardwalk. There is a trailhead for an island trail. I kept walking along the boardwalk, which heads deeper into the river. When it ends, there is a nice view along side the main river, however it is somewhat downstream from the falls. This was not satisfactory, as I had seen many up close photos of these falls. Backtracking my way up the boardwalk, I got off onto the island and made my way up towards the falls. This starts off as a walk in the woods, then there are numerous pools and small streams of water to maneuver. This was really just an extended session of minor rock hopping with a spot or two where you have to be creative. Once at the top of the island, it is a wide cliff that sits about 10 feet above the falls. The falls here are wide and powerful. There is so much water moving all around you. Trying to photograph this turned out to be my biggest challenge, as I just do not have the equipment or skills to capture it in its entirety. It was beautiful.

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Once done here, it was time to head back. Now convinced the roads were snow free everywhere, I chose to take Hwy 20 south back to I-77. It followed the New River for quite a ways up to the Bluestone Lake and Dam.

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I had one last surprise waiting for me. There are a number of state parks along this short, scenic route. In the Pipestem community, not far from the state park, was a roadside waterfall named Pipestem Falls. It was pretty, and named after the ground cover that has hollow stems and was once used to make pipestems.

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There was also an upper section to the falls that was pretty as well. Looking back on Sandstone Falls, I can imagine in high water that the falls could drown out. I also am pretty sure that it would be much harder if not impossible to reach the views that I had. It was a great first waterfall trip to West Virginia, and in spring, I plan to go back.

Pilot Mountain Burning!!

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It is a beautiful second weekend in November. Temps are soaring into the 70’s. it is a great time to do some hiking along the trails at Pilot Mountain. There is a problem though, it is closed. The mountain is on fire!! Yes, the great Pilot Mountain, that stands alone in the northwest piedmont, with it’s distinctive Big Pinnacle, is covered in smoke and flames for a third straight day. As of Saturday evening, 700 acres have been charred.

This all began from a prescribe burn that went badly wrong. It was supposed to begin and end on Thursday 11/8, yet the fire jumped the lines and has now burned free for 2 days. Officials claim to have it contained and no homes are at risk. 1000 acres are estimated to be burned by the end. When all of this is said and done, what will this mountain look like? Is prescribed burning a good idea? If they do it to prevent wildfires, but end up causing one instead, I would say not!!

Below are some photos of the Pilot Mountain Fire from today 11/10/12. Also is a photo from this summer showing Pilot Mountain before the fire.

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Catawba & Upper Catawba Falls – The Day After Sandy

Upper Catawba Falls

Hurricane Sandy is all but a memory here in NC. After dumping close to a foot of snow in some parts of our mountains, I had to be careful of the location I chose to hike today. As I pulled out, I was uncertain of any location except that I was heading southwest. Less snow, warmer temps and sunshine were key as our northern mountains continued to get hit with snow showers. I was approaching the Black Mountains along I-40 heading west. I knew of a location near Old Fort at exit 73, that I had yet to fully explore. The Catawba Falls Trail, home to 2 super waterfalls, at the base of the storied Black Mountains, seemed to catch my interest on this day. I could see snow on the peaks at the top, so staying low, at the 2000 ft elevation seemed like a pretty good idea on this day. I really am not quite ready for winter just yet.

I first visited Catawba Falls nearly 2 years ago. Parking was along the side of the road, and stepping one foot off the trail meant you were on private property, for a short stretch. There were some very uninviting signs along the way. The main disappointment though was the waterfalls: it was summer and the 100 ft Catawba Falls was all but hidden in the trees, making it nothing special, plus the waterfall I really wanted to see, Upper Catawba Falls , was closed off by a big red sign. It was not a very special visit. I was hesitant to go back, but I keep reading such great things, and I was determined to see Upper Catawba, one of the waterfalls that has seemed to be elusive to me. Big Falls on the Thompson River is another.

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I have read that the once private property has now been purchased, and is now all part of the Pisgah National Forest. This was very promising news. Once there, there was no more parking on the side of the main road. A brand new, large parking area, with spaces for buses, and restrooms caught me by surprise. This is a big improvement. The trailhead is just beyond the restrooms and starts off pretty flat on the remains of what used to be roads. The first challenge this trail provides is crossing the Catawba River.

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Now this isn't the mighty Catawba that you cross while driving along I-40 that seems large enough for barges to pass. It is the headwaters of this mighty river, and is more of a large creek here at this point. It has many creeks to collect, along with the Linville River and Wilson Creek to collect before forming the chain of lakes that include Lake Jame, Lake Norman, And Lake Wylie to name a few. This being said, crossing it dryly could be an issue for some. Rocks are placed to walk across and today the water was low. If you plan to see these falls in high water, plan on getting wet here. Word is that a bridge is in the works and part of the plans to spruce this place up.

Once across, the trail pretty much follows the river upstream, slowly climbing steeper as it goes, but nothing strenuous yet. There are some small waterfalls on the river and tributary streams that make the trip nice. There are also some old building remains and even the remains of a dam from the early 1900's. Every site says not to cross this dam as it is unstable, so I will say it here….Do not cross or get on the dam.

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Shortly upstream from the dam, the wide trail narrows and begins navigating some rocks, fallen trees and crosses a fairly wide tributary stream. This is tricky, but easier than the first river crossing downstream. Shortly, you will come to an opening and there you are at the base of Catawba Falls!

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This waterfall is much prettier in person than the picture shows. It is 100 feet tall, and cascades all over the place as it falls. If you want to see the full waterfall……Come when the leaves are fallen, or you will walk away disappointed. The distance to here was about 1.3 miles.

Then comes decision time…..most people should enjoy this waterfall and make their way back to the trailhead. The trail does however continue along the right side of the river. It goes up, way up, way way up to the top of Catawba Falls. This is no easy climb. Luckily there are plenty of roots, rocks, and trees to help pull yourself up. It is a fairly long climb, plus there will be a section that requires rope to help pull yourself up and get down.

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There is a key part of this climb that can really mess things up for you. There is a point where it appears the trail climbs away from the river, and it does. This is not your trail. Waterfall Rich describes this well on his very popular resourceful site http://www.ncwaterfalls.com. He says not to take it, but I did anyway, not recognizing the split in trails. What is up there? I don’t know, it kept climbing, steeper than below, and I was beginning to get fatigued, which is not good on this climb, where places to rest are prime real estate. I did notice I was a good ways from the river and something did not seem right. Luckily, I had cell connection and was able to download somebody’s map of their hike to Upper Catawba Falls. I could see immediately that I was way off track. So I had to turn around and head down. This was harder than going up. I spent most of the descent on my butt, inching my way down slowly, carefully and methodically. Another hazard up here was all the fallen leaves. They are extremely slippery and I found my feet giving way several times, going up and down. Once I got back to the river, I rechecked the map and I was back where I should be. I restarted and went left over some rocks and the trail continued, much less steep I might add. From here it was some level ground, and a few more minor climbs (comparably), and then…..the waterfall I have wanted to see for 2 years!!!

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Unfortunately, here is where the low water was a real downer. The waterfall is much wider in pictures I have seen. As it turns out, Hurricane Sandy really did not provide much moisture in Southwest NC. It was still a beautiful, magical, 50 ft waterfall in a very pristine setting. The trail crosses the small river again up here, then goes up the left side to the base. Here, you can easily maneuver around for a variety of photo ops. It was totally worth the climb!!

After a 30 minute rest here, the descent begins. After what I experienced from my wrong turn debacle, the remaining climb down was fairly uneventful. Along the trail going back, I noticed several large piles of bear poo, with large muscadines in them. This made me stop and look around, but this is bear country..

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As I was walking back, the sun made a brilliant, warm, and welcome appearance. It was 50 degrees out here. I was totally soaked after that climb, even with this cool air. The sun, blue sky, and what was left of the leaves made some beautiful scenery heading back.

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I finished this day with a 3.2 mile hike that seemed much longer. It took me 2 /2 hours which is about half the speed I usually hike. This shows the level of climbing involved here. I can only compare this climb with maybe Compression Falls in Tennessee, or something at Grandfather Mountain. I am convinced after today that I must be part mountain goat!! For those unable or unwilling (or smarter than some of us) to attempt this direct climb between waterfalls, a safer way to reach Upper Catawba Falls is in the works, no idea of when or how or difficulty.

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