The Elusive Waterfall Hikes

Now that the glow of ‘Hairnt-fest’ has sadly begun to fade, and residue of the ‘real-world’ threatens to crush the inspiration right out of me, the solace of Nature seems sweeter than ever.  I won’t bore you with everything that has been happening, but there are reasons to feel blessed, so let’s get right to the ‘good stuff’.

The Upper Triplets Falls

The first of the ‘elusive waterfall hikes’ was an impromptu trek up onto Rich Mountain.  I didn’t really have a plan, but in the back of my mind, there are always places in the Sampson Wilderness that I am curious about and would like to explore.  Perhaps you have heard, or read, about the ‘Triplets’ waterfalls that I ‘discovered’ a couple of years ago, after walking by them, both below and above, for nearly 20 years, never suspecting the magnitude of that secret valley.  Indeed, it appears rather insignificant at first glance, but after further inspection, the extent of the valley is quite incredible.  Ever since accidentally stumbling across the nearly hundred foot high waterfall and cliff face, and the subsequent smaller, yet significant falls, this valley has had the allure of a new girlfriend upon me.

Although extremely difficult and quite dangerous to climb (particularly the 2nd and largest of the ‘significant’ falls), I have a deep respect and admiration for the raw and rugged beauty that these falls bring to life.  Resembling a somewhat smaller version of the enormous ‘Buckeye Falls’, also in the Sampson Wilderness, the dancing waters of the ‘Triplets’ valley attracts me with curiosity and wonder as I seek to understand how the hiking club and I could have possibly missed these waterfalls back when we were much younger looking for such places.  I believe that valley has a spirit that is quite shy, and resists exploration, which is why I sometimes feel reluctant to even speak of ‘her’.

Even so, now that I have come to know the valley better, there were still places that have gone unexplored.  There is an old log road above the ‘explored’ part that valley that the ‘Rat Patrol Hiking Club’ used to hike on our way to other incredible waterfalls in a neighboring valley, which was part of the ‘waterfall tour’ back then in the late 1980’s.  Since I somehow wound up in the vicinity of this place, I decided to trek down to the ‘Triplet’ creek, and climb up further, curious to know if there were still other waterfalls and cascades to be seen.  It was a rather steep climb, and at times rather difficult, but to make a long story a bit shorter, I did find two more waterfalls, one being a ‘significant’ 45-footer.  There were other discoveries as well, such as the existence of the ‘lost road’ I have yet to explore.  Eventually, I ended up on top of Rich Mountain, just above where the dancing waters of the Triplets Valley bubbles up out of the ground.  Having quenched my thirst at the spring, I hiked down to ‘Bear Wallow Gap’, and back down the ‘Longarm Trail’ to Clark’s Creek, where my car was parked.  I didn’t have a camera on that day, so there aren’t any photos available as of yet.

Jones Branch Falls

On another such day-hike, I went to the ‘Jones Branch Falls’–another elusive waterfall not far from the Appalachian Trail.  This lovely stair-stepping waterfall would be quite popular if people knew about it, and could actually find it.  Like many of my ‘discoveries’, I found this waterfall by accident 4 or 5 years ago while scouting around on Unaka Mountain.  I had no idea it was there. This waterfall is pretty well hidden, so well, in fact, that on 2 subsequent hikes to the falls, I couldn’t find them.  I was beginning to believe that I had inadvertently passed through an ‘Avalon-like’ zone where space and time shape-shifts, and obscures the path, until I finally re-discovered them recently.

Obviously, someone else knows about the existence of these falls, and has now opened up a path that will get you fairly close to them, so it is much easier now than what I remember it being a few years ago.  Even so, the trail is a bit tricky in places, and seemingly dead-ends about 2/10ths of a mile below the falls, so one must climb the creek-bed to get there.  Those last 2/10ths are pretty rough, but the beauty of the scenery is worth the climb if you can get there.


I tried to watch my steps closely, having found a pretty ‘tobacco-sunburst’ colored snake along the trail going in.  Relieved to know that the waterfalls were not merely a figment of my imagination, I climbed to the top of them, to the ‘chasm’ where water cascades below the large cliff wall that overshadows the falls, taking several photographs along the way.

I had some more time, so on the way back out, I decided to hike up the Appalachian Trail to the ‘big rock’ that projects out of the side of the unnamed ridge that leads into Curly Maple Gap.  There are good views to be had on top of the rock, and the mountain laurel just happened to be in full bloom that day, so it was a very nice experience.

Mill Creek Falls (Bol’Dar Goes Digital)

The third of the ‘elusive waterfall hikes’ was the trek up to ‘Mill Creek Falls’ on Rich Mountain in the intermittent rain.  It had been nearly 20 years since my first (and only) trip to these falls, back in the ‘hiking club’ days, and I wasn’t really sure if I could find them.  ‘Rat Patrol’ had suggested that I go there and get some photos, since we apparently didn’t have any for the website, and even loaned me a digital camera.  It was a good thing that he did, because I am so sick of film, I don’t think I would have gone up there without one.  Perhaps he is tired of looking at my blurry photos, as well, and listening to me complain about the photos that didn’t turn out well.  In any event, I did eventually find the trail, only to realize how cluttered in fallen logs and buried in laurels it had become.

There were a few times when I wondered if I was really on the right trail, even though it is only about a mile up to the falls, when I finally reached the remnants of the ‘Old Homestead’ place.  20 years ago, there were still remnants of the cabin somewhat standing, but now, the only visible remains of the old homestead is what I believe to be a rock-lined root cellar.  My first impression of the narrow, rock-lined cellar was that it somewhat resembled a short civil war trench.  It was a bit spooky, and the photos seem to agree with that fact.  Anyhow, (trying not to get on the ‘spooky’ tangent) not far beyond the remnants of the ‘Old Homestead’ is the waterfalls.  They are very pretty, and enjoyable, if you can find them.


A Few Notes…

There was only one other hike to speak of, a short climb up the north end of Sampson Mountain and back, but mostly I was content to hang out and wade around in Clarks Creek and enjoy the cool water.  I want to thank everyone who has sent in photos to the website for our eclectic photo gallery recently, including Betty from Oregon, Becky from Tennessee, Lisa from Georgia, and ‘Rat Patrol’, also from Tennessee.  If the photos haven’t been uploaded yet, they will be as soon as time allows.  Thanks again for your fascinating submissions, and also thanks to everyone who reads the blog here, and keeping me inspired.  Hopefully, I will have more (exciting) adventures to write about soon.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Boulderman 6/10/2009

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