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Escaping Hurricane Matthew

posted Oct 10, 2016, 6:36 AM by Justin P   [ updated Oct 14, 2016, 5:25 PM ]

Last weekend, Sandy and I headed to the mountains for some waterfalls.  It was a good weekend to get away as Hurricane Matthew was making a lot of rain around Raleigh.  Out in the mountains, though, the weather was pretty nice – mostly blue skies with some wind gusts.  We left early and headed out to Gorges State Park, arriving around 10.  We parked at the Grassy Ridge Trailhead and hiked down Rainbow Falls and Raymond Fisher Trails.  In a quarter-mile, we turned left and continued on the blue-blazed Raymond Fisher Trail to Chestnut Mountain Road.  Turning right, we followed the 4WD road just a short ways to a big pile of gravel.  A small path led from behind the pile and headed towards Horsepasture River and eventually became more of an overgrown road.  This road eventually leads to the top of Windy Falls.  In about a quarter-mile, a second old road came in from the left and just past where the two roads converged, we got off the trail and bushwhacked towards the river.  There was enough of a trail and flagging that it was pretty easy to follow.  We went between two small knolls than up a ridge and then steeply down to the river.  Near river level, we found a scramble path that led upstream to the base of Sidepocket Falls.  We found some rocks at the base to sit and eat lunch and get some pictures of the lower section of the falls.  I thought the lower section was more scenic than the upper section.

After we ate lunch, we scrambled up the rocks to see the upper section.  We got about half way up and then had to climb across some down trees to get up for a view of the upper portion of the waterfall.  After a couple pictures, we returned the way we came.

Climbing up from Horsepasture, we were able to switchback a bit more to avoid some of the steepest sections.  Back at Chestnut Mountain Road, we turned right on Raymond Fisher Trail and followed it down to the pond and campground.  At the campground, we followed a service road past the campsite to a junction and made a sharp right.  Hiking down another old road, we made a left at the next two intersections and then forded Bearwallow Creek.  Once across the creek, we bushwhacked downstream following the creek closely.  There were some cascades and small drops and then we came to Indian Camp Falls about a quarter-mile from the ford.

We could see the waterfall from an angle, but for a good view, I had to wade the creek and climb onto the rocks directly across from the waterfall.  It was a cool setting for the falls with the creek making a 90-degree turn at the base of the waterfall.

Just below this waterfall was Split Rock Falls, where the water tumbles down a split in the rock face.

From here, the bushwhack got very difficult.  Cliff faces made us have to go high above the creek to proceed downstream.  Eventually, we were able to get back down towards the creek and came out at Chute Falls.  This was my favorite of the waterfall on this short run of Bearwallow Creek.  Unfortunately, a big tree had recently fallen down right in front of it and the foliage prevented getting any good pictures.

We crossed the creek here and bushwhacked down to Paw Paw Falls.  I dropped my phone somewhere along the way and had to run up and get it.  It was starting to get late so I didn’t bother to go back for a picture.  We then bushwhacked up the ridge and eventually came out on the road before the ford.  We followed the same route back and took Chestnut Mountain Road back to the parking area.  As we got back to the parking area, we talked to a ranger on an ATV, who must have known we were bushwhacking by how tired and dirty we were.  He asked if we had gone to Windy Falls, so I told him about our adventures for the day.  Then he took off and we headed to our hotel in South Carolina for the evening.  Passing by Lake Keowee on the way, we saw a beautiful sunset.

Sunday morning, we headed to the Courthouse Creek area in Pisgah National Forest to get Kiesee Falls. It was raining the last time we were here and we were unable to get all the way to the base of the waterfall. We drove up Courthouse Creek Road (FSR-140) from NC-215 and parked near the trailhead just past where the road crosses Kiesee Creek. From here, we hiked up the old road with yellow Closed to Vehicles sign for about a quarter-mile to a split and went right. At the next split, we went right again and the trail became progressively more difficult. We first had to get around some rhododendron and soon the path became so overgrown, it was hardly better than nothing. But we just needed to follow the creek upstream. The path ended at the creek, where we crossed and bushwhacked through dog hobble up the other side. We came out in the creek just below a small waterfall below the main one. We then went up a very steep path to the cliff face. Directions I’ve read indicate you have to climb up the cliff and scale across and then back down to the base of the waterfall. I think we found an easier way. Instead of going up, we carefully went down the wet rock towards the creek. There were enough down trees that we could climb across these right to the base of the waterfall. This seemed a lot easier and safer than climbing up the cliff and then back down.  Kiesee Falls is small, but very scenic.

We got a couple pictures and then headed back. Next, we headed to DuPont State Forest for a quick hike to Hooker Falls, as Sandy has never been to this one.  Midday sunlight was shining right on the waterfall, so there was no reason to spend much time on pictures.

From here, our plan was to head to Wintergreen Falls. But the Guion Farm parking area was completely full, so we started heading home. On the way, we stopped at Crowders Mountain State Park. Starting from the Linwood Access, we hiked a loop up to the summit of Crowders Mountain and back. It was a beautiful day and so the summit was very crowded. I climbed up a rock to get a couple pictures and then we took the Tower Trail back to the parking area.