High Falls on the West Fork Tuckaseegee River Trip Report 4/18/15

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Most of the time, High Falls, or Cullowhee Falls as it is known to some is a nice, very tall 150 ft waterfall with a low flow. Today, 4/18/15 was the first scheduled dam release this season from Lake Glenvile, that transforms this pretty waterfall into one of the most powerful, raging waterfalls in North Carolina.  The dam release was set to be done at 10:00 am.  While I did not arrive in time to see the “transformation”,  I did get a good glance at the river in its regular flow, driving along NC 107.   Soon after leaving Sylva, NC along NC 107 heading south, the highway runs alongside the great Tuckaseegee River or “The Tuck”, as locals call it.  It’s a fairly wide mountain river with lots of water in it.  After driving through Cullowhee and Western Carolina University, NC 107 follows the river for miles into the small community of Tuckaseegee.  It’s here where the Tuckaseegee meets up with the West Fork of the Tuckaseegee River.  The West Fork was like a creek in size compared to the Tuckaseegee.  NC 107 switches here and follows the West Fork. 

I was not overwhelmed by the size or volume of the West Fork at first.  I first thought that they must not have released the dam yet on this scheduled release day from Lake Glenville, as it really looked just like a creek.  This was not the case however.  I was just in the middle of learning how long it takes the water to reach this point that originates about 6 miles upstream.  At the moment, I was more intrigued at what looked to be a 100 ft waterfall coming in on a side creek across the river.  I looked for a place to park and explore this, but was unsuccessful as it is located in the middle of some sharp curves going up/down the mountain.  I will head back up and spend more time on this one, it was really cool.

Once up the mountain, NC heads into a community area with some businesses around.  Heading south on NC 107, look here for a right turn onto Pine Creek Rd.  This will be a left turn obviously if coming up north on NC 107 from Cashiers.  The road quickly makes a sharp curve back to the right and climbs some more.  It won’t be long though as Pine Creek Road comes out at the dam area of Lake Glenville.  Cross the dam here and look to the right for a large parking area to begin the 3/4 mile hike.  This is operated and maintained by Duke Energy, and they have done what I believe is a wonderful job making this trail down to the base of a very steep waterfall.

  

  

This is my first visit here.  I was kind of just taking in the scenery and getting a feel for the place.  Duke Energy releases this dam 5-6 times per year for Kayakers to run a popular 6+ mile run that begins just below High Falls.  I guess due to saftey concerns, a 3/4 mile path has been cut by Duke Power that leads down to the base.  It is all downhill, which means a tough return trip.  It is quite a ways down just to the river level.  The trail here is wide with wood steps.  Once down near the river level, it goes across a very cool unique bridge, then the descent for the base begins.  The trail then changes to a more narrow trail with many rock steps.  It’s here that it might get difficult for some.  I have a new respect for all of the Kayakers carrying their gear down to the base.  I even passed a guy carrying 2 kayaks…wow.  Luckily, 6 miles downstream, the terrain is much easier to get the gear out of the river and back to their vehicles.  I would not want to make the climb back out of that gorge carrying a kayak and paddle + other gear.  On the way down there are some good photo ops of the river, a smaller waterfall and some good side views of High Falls.  I will mention that by this time, the water was raging….nothing like the little creek I saw 6 miles down the mountain.   

      

There were some nice trillium blooming along the way…although they were just beginning it seemed.

  

  

Then….you finally make it to the bottom. On a dam release day, plan for there to be many people down here, Kayakers scouting and preparing to put in, and lots of hikers/photographers. The Kayakers must get annoyed with us, getting in their way as they make their way to the river, and prepare for the run…lol

There is enough room down here to move around and set up for photos, but….one huge problem: Waterfall Spray. This waterfall is absolutely amazing, and it took 10 minutes for me to overcome the awe of just being this close to so much powerful falling water. Once that was done, it was time to get some photos and move on out so the steady stream of hikers coming down could have some space to enjoy this and take some photos. I was already drenched just hanging out down here trying to find a spot the was in the no-spray zone. The wind though kept moving it all around and I could find nothing constant. The cloud cover was excellent for some good shots, but the lenses were immediately covered before I could get a shot off. Lucky for me, I keep a back-up Canon pocket camera in my bag, and the iPhone has a decent camera. These options allowed me some “acceptable” shots and video. I enjoyed the moment, talked with a few other hikers and probably hung out down there for 30 minutes. The return back was all uphill as advertised. It was quite tiring, but nothing extreme. Duke Energy has built a fine trail. I did later learn that I missed out on Onion Falls, which is the first drop the West Fork makes once leaving Lake Glenville. It appears that Duke Energy may have closed this off. I will look into it and if possible visit it when I head back up there to see High Falls in normal flow and to explore the waterfall on NC 107 more. Here are some videos on High Falls, one showing some Kayakers starting off the run. This was an amazing waterfall that everyone should try to see on a release day. For more info on this hike, including 2015 future release dates, click here :


When I first got here, somebody that had been here since they first released the water said it was very muddy when the water first started. As I made my way down the mountain on NC 107 heading away, the muddy water was just getting to the point where the take out was. For whatever reason, I was just surprised that it took the released water this long to make it to this point. The brown raging river was nothing like the small creek I drove by on my way up there.

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