There are quite a lot of trail adventures to talk about, so let’s get right to it.
Back to Buckeye Falls…
A couple of days after getting back from Buckeye Falls (see previous blog), I showed the foggy waterfall photos that I took from the ridge to my trail-hiking buddy, ‘Rat Patrol’—he said he ‘fell out of (his) chair’ when he saw them. It was soon apparent that he wanted to go back and view the falls from that vantage point for himself. After counseling, we made plans to leave on our expedition early on a Saturday morning (March 6th). The weather cooperated, and despite being plagued by insomnia, we were on the trail by 8 a.m. His son Tyler, who had never been to the falls, also went on the adventure.
It was a cold, but sunny, morning and the creek crossings were a little easier to traverse than they were just 11 days earlier when I had hiked up the creek solo. There was snow on the ground, and the further in the valley we went, the deeper the snow became. The trail wasn’t easy to follow, but it was made a little easier to navigate by tracing the paw-tracks of a large cat-like animal that had wandered up the valley since the snow had fallen.
Everything went pretty well, and since it was ‘Rat Patrol’ who had first taken me to see the incredible waterfalls back in 1987, I must say it was rather rewarding to be the one to lead the way for him and his son (who wasn’t even born the last time Rat Patrol had been to Buckeye Falls) up the steep ridgeline to where a view of the falls, and the sheer cliff wall adjacent to the falls, was attainable.
Having been in a dense rain-cloud on the previous trip up the ridge, I was well compensated for the effort, viewing the falls again without obstruction, for the most part. I was also surprised at how well one can view the end of the Clark’s Creek Valley, where Sampson Mountain and Rich Mountain butte together.
The trip back down the ridge was quite an adventure, because of the steep inclination and the boot-deep snow. We all had traction issues, and at times slid out of control down the point of the ridge. The thorny briers and shrubbery, however, held us back somewhat (the only time I have found a use for these strong, rope-like, thorns) and we reached the base of the ridge without too many injuries. Rat made the comment on the way back that the ridge hike up the steep Buckeye-ridge made the ‘Meat-grinder Ridge‘ seem like a piece of cake; it was pretty extreme.
The Sill Branch Hikes…
There were two hikes into Sill Branch in March. The first one was a solo hike to both the upper and lower falls in the rain. Worth mentioning, besides the enjoyable nature and scenic beauty of the falls themselves, and the view over to the Sill Branch Overlook, was the dreadful and degraded condition of the trail to the upper falls. There was one cluster of fallen trees in particular on the trail that necessitated climbing around the entire mess, which is easier said than done on that steep side-hill. There was a rather thin vine that I used to pull myself up (‘Batman and Robin’ style) to a level where I could finally get around the massive cluster. If the vine had broken, I would have fallen backwards for 15 or 20 feet, but I was lucky that it was strong enough hold my weight.
The second hike was with ‘Rat Patrol’ and Tyler to the Sill Branch Overlook—the cliffs on the northern end of the Sill Branch Valley which we have nicknamed ‘The Monkey-Head Rocks’. Upon closer examination, however, some of the cliff-rocks more resemble Picasso-like abstract art-faces, giant birds, Sphinx-heads, and other monstrous creatures. Then again, there are one or two that look like ‘Monkey-heads’, if you have an imagination. It was very sunny out on the overlook-rocks, and we cooked beneath the March Sun, at least until we found a nice shady place right on top of the line of cliff-rocks with a nice breeze, and a view of the lower Sill Branch Falls.
A funny thing happened on the way back from the Overlook, when ‘Rat Patrol‘ fell in the creek!
Trail Maintenance Trip…
There was one volunteer trail maintenance trip on the Appalachian Trail; Rat Patrol was dropped off at Big Bald and came down the trail section (Little Bald to Spivey Gap) while I went in from Spivey Gap, cutting and dragging what fallen trees that I could out of the trail. I thought that I had had a rough time, what with all the cuts, scrapes and bruises, until we met up later at ‘Whistling Gap’ and I heard his story. After a brief counsel, listening to Rat’s ordeal of (trying) to walk in waist deep, crust covered snow, we hiked out the Forest Service Road that runs below Whistling Gap back to Spivey Gap.
The Appalachian Trail Hikes…
There were two other hikes on the Appalachian Trail; a 6-mile solo hike to Curly Maple Gap and back, and a hike (with the ‘Rat Patrol family’) to Laurel Fork Falls. The hike to Curly Maple Gap was uneventful, for the most part, but I was happy to see that the trail crews responsible for that section of trail had cleaned up all the winter storm damage (many fallen trees) out of the trail—they really did a great job, hats off to those folks!
The hike to Laurel Fork Falls was pleasant, although quite chilly in the morning, and genuinely hot in the afternoon. I expected to see a lot of people on the trail (that is a very popular section), but was amazed at how many people we encountered during the hike, including another trail crew, sawing blow-downs out of the trail.
Thanks to Dave, Melissa, and Rat Patrol for all their impressive additions to the Trailstealth photo gallery. More adventures soon, I hope…