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Toxaway waterfalls, with a rope climb! February 19, 2010

Posted by Jenny in hiking, nature.
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Waterfall #4. Click for zoom to get a feel for the millions of bouncing water droplets.

There are two ways that you can see these waterfalls on Toxaway Creek without breaking some rules.  One is to join the Pisgah Hikers, a wonderful group of people based in Brevard, NC, on their annual hike to this area, which is privately owned.  The other is to become a Christian camper.

The Pisgah Hikers have obtained permission to hike here once a year—in the off-season—from “The Wilds,” the very large Christian camp that owns this stream.  But I’m not going to delve into the ethics of private ownership of this wild and beautiful stream—I don’t want to jeopardize the Pisgah Hikers’ access to this place, and also, I see the camp’s ownership as a symptom of a larger problem.

It’s all too common.  Very close to where I live, Connestee Falls, a very appealing waterfall at the junction of two streams, is privately owned, and I guess I’d have to say that I’ve been party to this situation, as I have been living in a short-term furnished rental within the development of Connestee Falls—the gated community whose property includes the waterfall.  By the way, I’ll also mention that I’m moving to a more permanent living situation in Asheville in a couple of weeks.  So I’ll not only say goodbye to living in a gated community, but I’ll have to say goodbye to Brevard’s famous white squirrels!

I saw this squirrel in my own backyard

The situation of “private waterfalls” seems parallel to the situation of “private beaches” that sometimes causes big problems in New England.  I can only hope that one day all of these places will become accessible to the public.

At any rate, this morning the Pisgah Hikers started from the central lodge of the Christian camp and followed a wide trail that parallels Toxaway Creek.  Before very long we reached a suspension bridge over the creek.

Jay and Dave hang out at the bridge

Then we went west a very short distance and visited the bridge that crosses the much larger Toxaway River, which soon (due to the dam) becomes Lake Jocassee.

This is the northernmost arm of Lake Jocassee

People told me that when they were here two years ago in drought conditions, there was a huge “bathtub ring” of bare dirt around the perimeter of the lake.  Downstream, this water collects additional volumes from the Horsepasture River and Bearcamp Creek, and eventually becomes a gigantic artificial lake.  (Sorry, my Southern friends, I don’t consider a reservoir to be a real lake.  But it sure is pretty.)

So this was a down-then-up hike.  We climbed back up along the creek and took a side trail to Waterfall #4.  We negotiated a slightly difficult section with the help of a fixed rope—there would be more of this later on.

Our group negotiates the descent to the waterfall

At the bottom of our slippery descent, we confronted the amazing waterfall.  The best way I can describe it is to say that it is a complicated waterfall.  It drops down in two major tiers, with some of the water diverting to the side and then rejoining the main flow, and with many bumps and lumps that make for a giant intricate display of splashing, foaming, sliding, bouncing water.

Jim took a picture of me, Jay, and Dave in front of the falls

Since the whole falls wouldn’t fit in the lens, I took a separate picture that shows the upper falls as it erupts out of the woods:

The upper section of Waterfall #4

We had lunch there, then tackled the most difficult part of the hike.  And I have to admit that it was pretty challenging.  We climbed up very steeply, holding onto roots and rocks.

It flattens out in the picture, but it's probably a 30% grade

The “crux” of the climb gives you a choice of two ropes to hang onto.  I had thought beforehand that I wouldn’t use the ropes, but there was a section where it would have been hard to do without them.

Jim tackles the steepest section

I got up to the top and admired the technique of the other hikers:

Dave grunts his way up the rope

The next lengthy stop was at Waterfall #2.  Just another beautiful waterfall?  Ho, hum!

It ran down into a deep, crystalline pool

But, in a strange sort of way, the shoals above Waterfall #1 seemed even better: a tumbling, racing, sliding place where the water glided more than it fell.

It all had to do with the curvature, the speed, like a luge run

We got back up to the giant Christian camp complex, with its many dormitories and parking lots, around 2:30 in the afternoon.  The whole day, we were very happy to feel the clear sunny air after a lot of cold, gloomy weather.



1. Thomas Stazyk - February 20, 2010

The descent looks a little scary, but seeing the waterfall would make it worthwhile.

I know what you mean about the private ownership issue. We are having that problem down here with overseas celebrities buying up beautiful coastal properties and then asserting property rights and preventing people from hiking, camping or even enjoying the beach.

2. Jenny - February 20, 2010

Yes, that seems to happen in a lot of beautiful places. In New England there has been a definite change in the past decade or so—owners of beachfront property are now much more likely to post “No trespassing” signs than they used to be. In some cases, generations of town residents have enjoyed certain beaches, but with a change of ownership, they no longer have access.

3. kaslkaos - February 28, 2010

Those are gorgeous photos. What a shame those falls are private. There ought to be some balance. We all like our own place in the world, but hey, sharing is nice too.

Jenny - February 28, 2010

I’m glad you enjoyed the pictures. I don’t think there’s anything special about the photography, it’s just that the subject is so compelling: giant waterfalls. I think that perhaps one day we will go back to the idea of the “commons” when it comes to private land: that was the prevalent idea centuries ago. (Just read about the history of the Enclosure Acts in the UK.) So much better to reserve the most beautiful places for common enjoyment, while there still could be “private property” around the fringes–as long as people realize that “property” is just a formality when it comes to woods, streams, mountains.

4. john coker - February 8, 2012

send me information about when you do your toxaway hike.

Jenny - February 8, 2012

The Pisgah Hikers, based in Brevard, do the hike once a year. I don’t live there any more and I’m not hiking with those great folks these days, but you can check out their website. (Google “Pisgah Hikers” to find it.) I don’t know if they’ve done it yet this year (it’s always sometime in the winter).

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