The Hike 1985

Blue Ridge Parkway Spring 2020

2020 will go down as a year to remember for sure. The way this story ends is still unknown as of the time of this writing. I am writing this in a time where nearly every state is under some type of “Stay at Home” order due to the Covid 19 Virus. Staying at home at the end of March and all through April is a very difficult task indeed, especially with nature coming back to life in full force from the long, cold winter just endured. On the last weekend just before my home state of North Carolina’s order took place, I spent a Sunday afternoon on the Blue Ridge Parkway in NW North Carolina. I visited several areas in one of my favorite places to visit, Doughton Park. I was initially scouting for the potential starting place for a hike along Lovelace Creek for a waterfall adventure. Once this was done, I stayed in the area for some photos and to just “get away” from all of the Covid 19 news that was getting more depressing as the days went on. The weather was simply spectacular on this unusually warm early spring day.

There is an overlook in Doughton Park, a short turn off the BRP, known as Wildcat Rock. Here, is a beautiful, dramatic view down into a very steep Cove with a little log cabin way down in a small clearing at the bottom. The walk from the car is short and very rewarding. The short drive from the BRP passes the Bluff Mountain Lodge, which is a small lodge that has been out of commission for nearly a decade now. Every time I visit this area, there is a sort of familiarity that had been difficult to explain.

Bluff Lodge
View from Wildcat Rock

You may notice on the sign for Wildcat Rock, was also the same sign for Fodder Stack Trail. I had never taken the time to hike this Fodder Stack Trail or even look it up to see where it went…or so I thought. After looking it up, it was a short 1.2 mile or so out and back round trip that just hugs the top of the rim and goes around the Cove. Once at the end, there was nothing really there, but the open views of the cove along the way from the different angles were spectacular. On the way back, it hit me…..

I had been here before. All the remaining memories of an incredible journey that is now 35 years past, were rushing back. It was a journey that was beautiful, fun, exciting, but also one that turned into a frightening struggle for survival with my uncle, and two cousins. Also, not to mention my aunt who decided to wait at the car for what was supposed to be a short 30 minute to 1 hour hike, that turned into an 8 hour day from hell, due to uncertainty, and fearing the worst. She and I talked about this day all the way up to her passing in 2009.

The Hike 1985 Crew…probably 1976 or so?

Growing up in Winston-Salem, NC, I spent a lot of time with my mother’s sister Molly, her husband Martin, and their 2 children Anthony and Brian. They lived in Lexington, NC which is a town about 20 miles south. We spent most of the time there, or at Myrtle Beach. Going to the mountains was something I did with other members of my family., but not them. This is perhaps the only memory I have of this group going to the mountains, but what a memory.

The 5 of us were riding along the BRP on a warm summer day I can remember. The adults wanted to do just that, ride and visit overlooks. However, there were 3 kids in the back, bouncing off the walls, led by me, the oldest of the three. I was used to hiking and was looking for adventure. Anthony and Brian usually followed my lead and backed me up. We wanted to hike, get out of the car….and get some fresh air. We were in the Doughton Park area, a location that I was familiar with due to spending several summers at a church camp close by, Laurel Ridge. The camp would take small groups here during the week as part of the afternoon activities. The love of mountains was already deep in my soul.

We had arrived at a very inviting area for hiking which turned out to be a crossroad for several trails that went in different directions through the large Doughton Park. The particular spot on the Parkway was the “Alligator Back”. There was a map there, we picked our destination, and off we went. It was not to be a long hike, as I had been here before with my father. Simply a short 20 minute or so hike to the top of “the Bluffs”, for a good view and back. My aunt stayed at the car, she was a heavy smoker and had absolutely no interest in hiking to the top of a mountain for a view.

The advertised “20 minute walk”
Alligator Back Overlook

We made it to the top of The Bluffs just fine. This overlook was the goal. We should have wrapped it up and headed back to the car from here. This was the initial plan after all. However, once the muscles were all loosened up on my uncle, who was 37 at this time, he decided that we would go a little further. I’m positive that us children helped to push him into this decision. He was in charge, so on we went for awhile further, on what I now know to be the Bluff Ridge Primitive Trail. The hike turned out to much longer than he anticipated. I’m only guessing here. I can not ask him at this point as he passed away in 2003. I am guessing that he sort of remembered the map and thought we would do a loop trail back to the vehicle.

We did change trails, which once we did, at least feel like we were heading back in the right direction. At this point, we were on the “Basin Creek Trail”. A lot of the details of this section of the hike have long escaped my memory, which means the miles here must have been rather uneventful. I do remember all of us getting tired and ready for this to be over. Uncle Martin already knew he was in trouble with his lady who must be livid by now. We eventually found a cabin. It was a very old and cool cabin. We had no information about it, and was was not expecting it. At this point, the 30 minute hike had to be in its 4th or 5th hour. There were no cell phones. It was Aunt Molly we were most worried about at this point. It was also getting late in the afternoon. We were even beginning to discuss staying in the cabin for the night, but we couldn’t. We had to get back to the car. We had 2 options, either go back the long, long way we had come, or keep going forward. It was so long to get back the way we came, so this is why I believe my uncle made the crucial decision to keep going. On the map above, the trail we were on, which is the Basin Creek Trail, ended at the cabin. We really were kind of close to being back, but unforgivable terrain stood in our way. It was also beginning to get dark. Fear was beginning to set in.

The Fodder Stack Trail in red, the cabin and trail end way below

We were at the bottom of a very steep mountain, with tall cliffs on nearly all sides. The climb was 1000 feet as the light began to fade. The hike at this point took a noticeable turn, as the decisions that were made earlier put us where we were…..lost. It was summer and we could have easily camped and stayed anywhere. The next morning we would simply head back down the trails taken to get back, but we were going get back to my Aunt Mollie, their mother, and husband that night. It was the driving force behind Uncle Martin’s decision. Looking back, was climbing this mountain the right thing to do? I don’t know. We were still heading a direction that we had not been, not knowing where we might end up.

As best that I can remember,some sort of trail did leave the cabin that began working up the mountain. It was one of those unofficial trails. It did peter out a short ways up, and we found ourselves on a steep bushwhack from there on, hanging on to trees, roots and rocks for dear life, to simply maintain our elevation gained and not slip. About half way up, my uncle who was a heavy smoker stopped and told us he could go no further. He instructed us to leave him there and go save ourselves and send someone to get him. I can still clearly see that visual moment in mind, looking back down the mountain and watching him struggle. Us boys made the right decision I believe and just stopped climbing. There was no way that we were leaving him there. We moved up the mountain very slowly from there as we were all beat tired by this point. I also can’t remember having any water on this trip as it was never supposed to be anything but a quick hike up and back. The remaining 500 feet or so was one of the hardest things any of us have ever done in our lives.

Finally, with only the smallest amount of light left, we reached the top. There was a trail here, going left and right. I didn’t know it at the time or for another 35 years for that fact, but this was the Fodder Stack Trail. We had made it up one of the most grueling climbs I could ever imagine. Not only was there a trail there, but to the left were lights of some kind. This was where we might at least find help. I can’t remember how far we were, but my guess is that it was 1/4 mile back to the lodge on the Fodder Stack Trail. It felt so good to be on a trail, and have my uncle and cousins safely up the mountain. We made our way to the lodge, and were able to use the restroom and get water.

It was here that I over heard some Park Rangers talking. They were at the lodge getting a search and rescue team together. A man and three boys had fallen off the mountain. Those were the exact words I heard. OMG, my aunt. It had been 8 hours, and was pitch black. What must she had been thinking this entire time. How did she pass the time. I can’t even imagine….to this day. I immediately, rushed over and told them that was us. We were here and all safe. We had gotten lost and found our way here to this lodge. We were back near the Blue Ridge Parkway, but 2-3 miles northwest of where we began the hike. My uncle was so drained from this experience, that our initial focus to get back to my aunt, had become a struggle to get him up the mountain safely.

This map shows where we started, where he hiked is in yellow, and the trail ends at what is called the Caudill Cabin. We were only a short ways from the Fodder Stack Trail from the cabin but OMG, what a 1000 ft climb, that short ways on the map was. We were taken back to the location where my aunt was, who stayed there just in case we showed back up from that direction. It was a very emotional, tearful reunion to say the least. She thought that in an instant, she lost her husband, 2 kids, and her nephew, and was thinking this for hours….

As I mentioned, the mountains are deep within my soul and I visit them often. Every time I have passed by this trailhead, I thought that I believe this is where this hike happened. I just couldn’t put it all together. I though that when I saw the cabin way down below from Wildcat Rock, that was the place where we once rested before that crazy climb. But when I took the short hike down the Fodder Stack Trail, it all came back. This was the place where we completed that unforgettable summit. The lodge, sadly closed now was where we were able to get reunited with Mollie. I have discussed my findings with my 2 cousins…and a reunion hike of this trail we took and made in 1985 seems extremely unlikely as we are all in our mid to late 40s now. I however do plan to make a return hike to the Caudill Cabin via the Basin Creek Trail from the bottom. Even it will be a long hike but one that must be done in remembrance.

Slick Rock Falls

First entry in some time, this one is about Slick Rock Falls near Brevard, NC. 2018 was a record year for rainfall in North Carolina and 2019 has been much like 2018 through the first half anyway… In April, I made the trip to Brevard, NC on a day in which the French Broad River had flooded many areas. I was forced to turn around several times….and abandon certain waterfalls that were the original plan. Eventually, I found myself riding up US 276 past the popular Looking Glass Falls and turning left on the Forest Road FR 475B. I was considering Discovery Falls or Log Hollow Falls. As I got close to this area, the sky opened completely up on a day in which the heavy rain was forecast to have already moved out of the area. It was also about 38 degrees so I kind of kept driving past this area as well. FR 475B, if taken from US 276 is pretty much all downhill, and pretty soon I drove up on Slick Rock Falls.

Slick Rock Falls is viewable from the forest road with a parking area on the right, just before you get to it. It can be enjoyed from the road, or a short trail that begins on the left, will lead you directly to the base. As I mentioned, there had been a ton of rain and this waterfall, that sometimes resembles just a wet rock in dryer times, was flowing very nicely today. I was quite excited to see it like this as I have never seen it flow like this.

Slick Rock Falls

For such a cold and nasty day, there was a surprising number of people here, like 6-8 folks all doing the same thing as me, chasing waterfalls on a crazy day. These are the exact kind of conditions however that allows the best chances at catching the best photo.

It is worth mentioning that there is a cave on the other side from where the trail leads to, but it was way too wet and the water was way too high to try and scramble across to it, another trip for another day.

A Very Wet Hike At The Wilds

One of the great things about social media, is the opportunity to meet people and make new friends with people of similar hobby interests. I know there is plenty wrong with social media, but this story isn’t about that. Long story short, after chatting with someone on a Instagram post of mine, we agreed to meet and hike to English Falls. Shortly after, this person invited me for a day hike at a place called The Wilds.

Read more

Lower Bearwallow Falls

The last weekend of April 2017 brought me a chance to see Lower Bearwallow Falls in Gorges State Park.  I have had this one high on my “Waterfalls To See” List for years now.  It is said to be a difficult, long hike, one that should be researched and planned ahead of time.  The opportunity was there several years back but I had other plans.  Once the idea was put before me in spring 2017, I was all over it. Read more

Pot Branch Falls

Pot Branch Falls is a beautiful, yet small 3 tier waterfall, well tucked away in the South Mountain Game Lands.  After attempting to visit the waterfalls of South Mountains State Park, only to find the rather large parking area totally full on a cool 50 degree day, I opted for a plan B.  What exactly was plan B?  Wasn’t quite sure yet.   I was definitely not in the mood for nearly 100 people all at the waterfall at the same time.   As I left the park, pondering where to go next, I stopped at the bridge over Jacobs Fork River. Just upstream is a small waterfall that has been well marked “No Trespassing”for as long as I have been waterfalling.  The signs that were here were large and clear….But on this day in spring 2017, they are gone. Does this mean that this track of River is now open to view?  I can’t answer that, but I decided to check it out anyway for further research….lol Read more

Gentry Creek Falls

I haven’t visited Gentry Creek Falls in NE Tennessee until 2017.  For some strange reason, I had it in my mind that the double Gentry Creek Falls were too far away for a day trip….. Also from what I was reading, they were extremely difficult to get to.  After finally doing some more in depth research on this one, I discovered I was way off.    It is in Tennessee….but just barely.  This waterfall was about as close to me as some other NE Tennessee Waterfalls I have previously visited, such as Laurel Creek Falls, The Blue Hole, Jones Falls, and Compression Falls.  The closest town Gentry Creek Falls is associated with is Laurel Bloomery, TN.  This is a tiny town near the place where the Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina state lines all meet.  Its very close to Damascus, Va  and Mountain City, Tn, and maybe 30 minutes from Boone, NC.  This one is actually pretty close for me.  I should have visited this one  long ago.

Read more

The Waterfalls of Laurel Creek along West Virginia’s Scenic Ride Into The New River Gorge

On my first waterfall trip to West Virginia a few years back, I passed some waterfalls along WV 16 on my way to see Cathedral Falls in Gauley Bridge, along US 60. I wasn’t expecting these and was very pleasantly surprised.  There wasn’t much room to park alongside this twisty, narrow highway.  The spot that I did find was near the lower of the 2 waterfalls visible from the highway.  This one was more scenic than the upper waterfall in my opinion, but getting down to the base was no easy task.  The bank was steep, and littered with large loose rocks on a bank full of loose gravel.  In 2014 I did not make my way all the way down.  I was able to get a decent photo of the waterfall that grabbed my attention from the highway. Read more

Cove Creek Falls & The Surprisingly Beautiful Set of Cascades Along The Way

January 1, 2017, another New Year upon us and another opportunity for some memorable New Years Hikes.  Following the trend of the past few years, I set out for some “new to me” falls. There is no better place to look for new falls than on the “Carolina Mountain Club’s Waterfall Challenge 100” list that I am getting into the latter stages of.  I set out to find waterfall #78 of the 100, and Cove Creek Falls became the destination of#78.  Most of the ones left on the list for me to explore are in this area or the Great Smokies.  Finding it only required a little research into the 2 best resources for North Carolina Waterfalls….1)North Carolina Waterfalls Third Edition by Kevin Adams, and 2)www.northcarolinawaterfalls.com website by Rich Stevenson.  If one is unable  find the information for the  waterfall they seeketh on one of these two resources, chances are  the waterfall is either on private property, or doesn’t exist.   Read more

The Narrows of Eastatoe Creek

The Narrows of Eastatoe Creek is one of the waterfalls on the Carolina Mountain Club’s Waterfall Challenge 100 that I have been working, off and on to achieve the last several years.  This particular hike was a longer one at 5 miles round trip.  The majority of the hike is on a relatively (a few ups and downs)  flat forest road with just the  last section descending into the gorge and creek way, way below.  It cuts down the very steep mountainside through a series of switchbacks and well placed stairs.  It was nowhere close to being as strenuous as I had imagined it being.  At the end is a beautiful, elevated viewing deck with an unobstructed, although distant view of the very unique waterfall formation known as “The Narrows”.   Read more

Sweet Thing and Last Falls on Slickum Creek

IMG_2133.JPG

As I planned my last waterfall hike of 2016, I first chose the big one.  It came down between Pinnacle Falls and The Narrows on Eastatoe Creek, both in upstate SC along US 178.  I usually like to make a  full day so picked a few smaller, easy ones as well.  I planned to find and visit a small, delicate beauty known as Sweet Thing.  This one is a small 20 footer on Slickum Creek located just upstream from its crossing of  SC Highway 11.  Anyone that has visited the very popular Wildcat Wayside waterfall that is right along side the highway should also visit Sweet Thing.  I was quite surprised at how close the two were. Read more