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Big Brevard 2014

posted Jul 3, 2014, 11:32 AM by Justin P   [ updated Jul 23, 2014, 6:25 AM ]

This past weekend was our annual Big Brevard trip.  Having taken a lot of time off of work, I couldn’t take any more, so I left after work Friday evening.  I met up with Bill and we drove out, arriving at Kuykendall campground a little bit before 9.  There was still just enough daylight left to get our tents set up before dark and then we spent a little while socializing around the campfire before going to sleep.  In the morning, we woke up and got started early for a day of waterfall hunting.  Right at 8, we took a group shot of the entire group before breaking up into smaller groups for the day’s activities.  Right after the picture, it started raining and it turned out my tent was leaking.  I threw all my stuff in my car and covered it with a tarp, hoping for the best.  Then we took off, heading west on US-64 to NC-215 north.  It was about 20 miles to our first destination - Lower Waterfall on Sam Branch and Waterfall in Wash Hollow.  We parked along the side of NC-215 in a sharp left-hand curve, about four miles north of the Blue Ridge Parkway.  We followed a steep path up a bank then the trail leveled off, following what looked like an overgrown old logging road.  It was only ten minutes or so to the Lower Waterfall on Sam Branch, a scenic cascading waterfall.

There are a lot more waterfalls on Sam Branch going upstream, but its extremely challenging, so we only planned to hit this easily accessible one.  After a few minutes here, we crossed the creek and could already see the next waterfall - Waterfall in Wash Hollow.  This was another long, sliding waterfall.  The sun actually poked out from behind the clouds, about the only time we'd see the sun today, and made photography a bit more difficult.

We spent a few minutes here, then started heading back.  Before we got to the first waterfall, we bushwhacked down a bit and came out below some more cascades below the waterfall.  From here, we could see the Lower Waterfall on Sam Branch more completely and a big log near the base made for some good pictures.

Once we were finished here, we made the short hike back to the car and then a very short drive up NC-215 to a pulloff just past the bridge over West Fork Pigeon River.  Here, we could see the roadside Waterfall on West Fork Pigeon River as it flowed under the road.  We climbed out onto the rocks on the south side of the bridge for some pictures and to enjoy the falls and then went to the other side of the bridge and scrambled down a steep hill to the base of the waterfall.  Here, we could see the waterfall flowing under the High Arch Bridge on NC-215.  Normally, I would think a road would be a distraction and take away from the view of a waterfall.  But this lovely stone bridge, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, really added something to the scenery.

When we were finished, we climbed back up to the road and started driving back south on NC-215.  We had initially planned to hit up the waterfalls on Bubbling Spring Branch, but decided to skip these at it had started to rain and we had several other waterfalls to hit today.  Instead, we continued past the Blue Ridge Parkway and turned onto Forest Road 4663.  In about 2 miles, there is a turn for 4663-B and we parked here, not sure of the condition of this second road.  The Forest Service recommends 4WD, though hiking the road, it seemed doable for a 2WD vehicle.  It was about 0.6 miles to the end of the forest road, where three paths split off.  First, we took the one to the right that lead steeply up a hill and then leveled off.  Along here, we saw some Indian Pipe alongside the trail.  This interesting plant is all white - no green - and is not photosynthetic, but rather parasitic, deriving energy from a forest fungus.

Shortly after the trail leveled off, a side path marked by flagging tape led down to the base of Upper Dill Falls, a very scenic 25-foot waterfall.  In total, it may be even higher, but it was difficult to see the upper portions.  And the recent rain made climbing too far up on the rocks dangerous.

After a few minutes, we headed back to the end of the forest road and then took the middle path that led down to Dill Falls.  Dill Falls is a really beautiful waterfall, probably my favorite of the weekend.  In total, it’s about a 50-foot drop on Tanasee Creek with a short freefall followed by a long slide.  The area around the falls is pretty clear so there were great photo opportunities.

We took turns climbing out on the rocks and downed trees in the creek in front of the falls getting pictures of this beautiful waterfall.  Then we started making our way back to the car.  As we were driving back along FS-4663, Grace’s car in front of us slid off the side of the road.  We all stopped and could see that it wouldn’t be easy to get the car back on the road.  So Betsy and Leslie drove to the end of the forest road where there was a house.  Fortunately, the nice gentleman and his wife came back with a truck and chains and saved the day, pulling Grace’s car safely back onto the road.  He certainly knew what he was doing; this was not the first time he had to rescue some tourists.

We thanked him and gave him some money and gasoline for helping us, then continued on our way.  We drove a little further down NC-215 and parked along the road at Living Waters Ministry.  It had started raining heavily at this point, so we waited in the cars for a little while, hoping the rain would clear.  After ten minutes or so, it was looking as though the rain has not intention of quitting.  So, despite the rain, we hiked down to Bird Rock Fall.  Although the weather made for miserable hiking, it also made for much more powerful waterfalls.  As we approached Bird Rock Falls, there were two narrow waterfalls flowing down the side of the huge cliff above the falls.  I don’t think these normally exist, except after a good rain.  I've visited this waterfall before and never seen the water pouring down the cliff face.  And Bird Rock Falls itself was flowing much more powerfully than when I had seen it in the past.  The water, however, was very brown and muddy; I guess the heavy rains had stirred up mud and sediment upstream.

From here, we hiked back up to the trail to see Mill Shoals - two waterfalls in one.  French Broad Falls on North Fork French Broad River and Shoal Creek Falls on its namesake creek come together to form two 15-foot waterfalls in a semi-circle.

It’s tricky to get a picture of both without a very wide-angle lens and especially in the heavy rain.  Here the water was again very brown and muddy.  A couple of people in bathing suits came down to the falls and were planning to swim, but decided against it due to the mud.  We headed back to the cars and several people were tired of the rain and wanted to go back to camp.  So I hopped in the car with Justine, Grace, Isabel, and Monica and we continued on for more waterfalls.  We got on Shoal Creek Road, which turns into Forest Road 475 entering Pisgah National Forest and followed this to the Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education.  Behind the center, we got on the orange-blazed Cat Gap Trail (#120) and followed this for less than a mile to a short spur leading to Waterfall on Cedar Rock Creek.  Although only about 20 feet high, this was a very scenic waterfall with the main flow coming down to the left and a smaller flow on the right.  I’m not sure if this would have two distinct flows in drier times.  There were also some beautiful rhododendron blooming near the falls, adding some color to the scenery.

We then hiked back to the car and drove a short ways back on Forest Road 475 to the gated FR-5095.  It was about a mile down this closed forest road to our last waterfall of the day - Waterfall on Long Branch.  Despite walking on a gravel road, the heavy and consistent rain all day made this a bit more like walking through a swamp.  But we were already soaked, so what difference did a little more water make.  Where the road crossed Long Branch, we followed a steep side trail up to the base of the waterfall.  This waterfall is a 15-foot freefall, followed by a wide slide fanning out over down a large rock face.  The water flow was so high that the upper drop looked like the water was exploding out of the cliff face.

Unfortunately, the high water also prevented us from getting out into the middle of the base where we could have gotten better pictures.  A lot of tree branches and foliage were in the way, partially obscuring the views of the falls.  Nonetheless, it was quite a waterfall.  When we were done, we hiked back to the car and then made our way into Brevard for dinner at El Ranchero.  Nothing like some good Mexican food and beer after a long day of hiking and exploring.  We made it back to camp a little bit before dark and socialized around the campfire before getting to bed.

Sunday, we decided to hit just one waterfall, though it would be a pretty long hike.  After packing up camp, we drove up Cathey’s Creek Road (FR-471) to where it ends at Gloucester Gap and FR-475.  We left some cars here and shuttled another to the parking area just past FR-5095 and the trailhead for Waterfall on Long Branch at the trailhead for Daniel Ridge Loop Trail.  Then we started hiking from Gloucester Gap up the Art Loeb Trail (Section 2) towards Pilot Mountain.  In the past, it was possible to drive up FR-229 to near the summit, but this road has been closed due to unstable condition.  So we had to make the extremely steep climb up the Art Loeb Trail.  To make matters worse, the trail was incredibly overgrown, so for much of the climb, we were practically bushwhacking through dense vegetation.  And of course it rained a bit, so that vegetation was wet.  Dan had a machete and chopped away at some of it, but it did little to help.  The trail crossed the forest road a couple of times and after about an hour and a half, we made it to the summit of Pilot Mountain.

Although there were still quite a few clouds in the sky, we were actually higher than most and had some nice views over the mountains from up here.  We stopped here for a few minutes to get some pictures, enjoy the view, and relax after the strenuous climb up, then continued on the trail.  Going down from Pilot Mountain, the trail was again overgrown, but shortly it leveled off and became more open as we followed an old road.  There were some campsites and several splits in the trail, which was poorly marked.  Using maps and GPS, we were able to figure the way out and after another mile and a half or so, we got to Farlow Gap.  There was a stake here and we were able to pick up Farlow Gap Trail (#106), which leads to the waterfall.  This trail was much more cleared and blazed and a lot easier to follow.  The trail was quite steep, but going this way it was heading down so not nearly as bad.  However, it would not be fun climbing up going in the other direction.  In about a mile, we got to Shuck Ridge Creek Falls.  The trail crossed the creek above the falls and there was a very steep scramble down to the base, made even worse by the wet rocks.  But we managed to get down safely, get a couple of pictures, and then climb back up.  Luckily, some exposed roots on the wet rocks provided a handhold to climb up.

Then we crossed the creek and continued to follow Farlow Gap Trail.  It was a much more gradual slope downwards from this point and the trail was much easier to follow.  In about 2 miles, we got to the junction with Daniel Ridge Loop Trail (#105).  We saw some mountain bikers along this trail, which is open to both hiking and biking and turned right, following the trail downwards along a creek.  Right after the turn, we saw some enormous Chicken of the Woods fungi growing on a tree.  Overall, this was a particularly beautiful section of trail with rosebay rhododendron blooming along the creek and the trail.  At one point, the rhododendron formed a tunnel of green leaves and white flowers to hike through.  In about a mile, the trail followed another logging road and crossed Davidson River on a big bridge that led back to the parking lot.  I shuttled the other drivers back to their cars at Gloucester Gap and then we packed the cars up and began the long drive home.