More Hiking Adventures–High Rocks, Chigger Branch Falls, and Sill Branch

You may have noticed the new home page for the website, a major upgrade since we were hacked last summer. All the links work, except for the ‘Trail Stories’ page, which is still in the works. Many thanks to the Web-Wizard for re-building the website, and adapting those awesome transparent templates. Now if we could only get more pictures of raccoons and groundhogs–Hairnt!

One final note about the ‘Groundhogs Day’, and then I will shut up. When I was growing up in Johnson City, there weren’t a lot of groundhogs living around us to drag out of a hole, shadow or not, but everyone in the neighborhood knew that it wasn’t truly Springtime until ‘Old Man Miller’ was spotted rooting around in his garden. He would be about 115 years old now, and I haven’t gone looking for his ghost, but I am quite sure he would have been out there last week…in his garden.

I went out to the woods during the big warm-up, and took some photos of the snow around Spivey Gap on the Appalachian Trail. I also documented some of the seldom seen cliffs and boulders that rise up out of the ridges. I detoured off the trail, taking a left through the snow-covered ‘boulder-fields’, and ended up ascending the large, yet nameless, north-eastern ridge of Bald Mountain (the one that buttes against Sugarloaf Mountain), which led me directly to the summit of ‘High Rocks’. There were foot and a half high snowdrifts in places along the ridge tops, but they were melting in the afternoon warmth. I continued on toward ‘Whistling Gap’. On the way back, the Sun was sinking fast, and the snow was re-freezing. On the descent into ‘Spivey Gap’, the trail was very slippery, and I slid a lot, as if wearing skis instead of boots.

On the next trip, I went to the Sampson Wilderness to take photos of the ‘Chigger Branch Falls’.  For some reason, neither myself or ‘Rat Patrol’ had any pictures of this incredible waterfall that he re-named ‘The Milkyway Cascades’ when we first found them in the late 1980’s, because of the way the water appears milky-white against the dark mountain rock, especially when the Sun is shining upon the falls.  The trail into the ‘Chigger Branch’ is a bit rough, as wave after wave of hemlocks and laurel hells try to repel you, and there is yet another place where you just have to rock-hop up the creek for a little way, before the valley finally opens up, and the trail becomes a bit easier.  I took a bunch of photos of the waterfalls, climbing up the side of them (which was a bit tricky), and back around the steep, rocky Rich Mountain slope.


A few days later, I went back to Spivey Gap as a trail volunteer, helping ‘Rat Patrol’ maintain his section of the Appalachian Trail.  Rat had gotten dropped off near Big Bald Mountain and hiked his way back to Spivey Gap.  Mostly he was taking inventory; seeing how many trees had fallen across the trail, clearing out water bars, making notes, and stuff (Sam Waddle used to call that ‘putting down footprints’).  I got a late start and worked my way, clearing branches out of the trail, from Spivey Gap to where I eventually found ‘Rat Patrol’ hiking out of Whistling Gap toward ‘High Rocks’.  He had already taken several nice photos off of the summit of ‘Big Bald’ and ‘Little Bald’ that morning and afternoon, and took some more pictures of ‘High Rocks’ on the way back to Spivey Gap.


I managed to get out into the woods again on the 11th, mostly just stretching my legs a bit, and studying the terrain in and around ‘Sill Branch’ in the Sampson Wilderness.  For quite sometime now, I have wanted to stand upon the rocks that overlook the Sill Branch Valley and have been scouting out a better way to do that.  Almost all of the routes I could think about required a 6-mile hike, or a near vertical ascent; but after further study, I have found a way to the lookoff, without too much climbing, that would make a 3 or 4 mile loop hike, incorporating not only the cliffs, but both sets of waterfalls on the ‘north fork’ of Sill Branch.  I never realized how under-utilized the ‘Mill Creek Trail’ that runs the divide between Embreeville Mountain and Rich Mountain has been, as far as accessing the Sill Branch Valley.  Anyway, it was a beautiful day on the mountain, and I saw quite a lot of wildlife–I stood within 20 feet of a marvelous doe, and also saw dozens of hawks and crows.

—————————————————boulderman 3/12/09

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