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I am grateful for the Plott Balsams December 23, 2013

Posted by Jenny in hiking, Life experience, plants, Southern Appalachians.
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Looking toward Pinnacle Bald from the Fox Hunters Camp.

Looking toward Pinnacle Bald from the Fox Hunters Camp.

I am so glad to live close to the Plott Balsams, a range that includes several 6000-foot peaks, located just southeast of the Smokies and north of Sylva, North Carolina. It takes me just fifteen minutes from my house to reach a major trailhead at 3000′ on Fisher Creek.

I was going to say I am lucky to have the Plott Balsams so near, but that isn’t quite the right word. That suggests that I ended up here by chance, when actually I am here because I made certain choices in my life. Years ago I opted for self-employment, which gave me the freedom to work from home and therefore the freedom to choose where I live.

I paid a price of uneven income and financial uncertainty for a while, but now I am in a more secure situation thanks to good financial advice and good investments.

Not everyone would want to live in a town of just 7,000 people that is also the largest town in its county—a pretty unpopulated area. And some probably scratched their heads when a couple of years ago I opted to move away from Asheville, such a fun place to live with so many interesting things to do. It’s just an hour away from here, and it’s nice to know it’s there, but I don’t go there all that often.

My life is very quiet. My main activities are writing, reading, and hiking. That would be too quiet for most people!

I head up to the Plotts two or three times a week, usually to go up the East Fork trail. It’s good exercise—quite a steep trail—but also I go because there’s something deeply restorative about it.

Today I headed out to get in a last hike before I leave town tomorrow to be with my sister in Massachusetts. After yesterday’s heavy rain, the mountains were shrugging the water off their backs. I made the short bushwhack from the trail to get over to the big waterfall.

Waterfall on East Fork of Fisher Creek.

Waterfall on East Fork of Fisher Creek.

Looking the other direction.

Looking the other direction.

The falls keep plunging down and down in stages, and you can’t get a picture of the whole thing at once.

I hiked up to the Fox Hunters Camp, a flat area at close to 5000′. Last winter the Jackson County rescue squad cleared out some brush there and opened up the view. The rescue squad does trail work each year before the infamous “Assault on Blackrock” trail race in March.

Even though the main area of the Fox Hunters Camp is bare, it has an incredible variety of plant and bird life. I saw hummingbirds there several times last summer. A couple of tall spruces grow down at the end.

Looking down the West Fork valley toward the Tuckasegee valley.

Looking down the West Fork valley toward the Tuckasegee valley.

Interesting mosses grow there, including this one that sends out long runners.

Moss and laurel.

Moss and laurel.

There are carpets of wintergreen.

There are carpets of wintergreen.

A shrub there is full of buds for next year. The buds remind me of leucothoe (dog hobble), but it’s a deciduous shrub.

All set to bloom next year.

All set to bloom next year.

There is a grove of red spruce not far below the camp where I like to stop and look at the dark, somber shapes of the trees.

A gathering of spruce.

A gathering of spruce.

Spruce are probably my favorite tree.

Grow and flourish, baby spruce!

Grow and flourish, baby spruce!

The streams in the Plotts take a different form than in the Smokies. Rather than scouring out U-shaped basins, they flow over the jumbled surface as if they were just temporary flows—even down in the zone of permanent water flow.

Left fork of the East Fork.

Left fork of the East Fork.

A magical place.

Lower East Fork as seen from trail.

Lower East Fork as seen from trail.

Waterfall on East Fork of Fisher Creek November 20, 2012

Posted by Jenny in hiking, nature, photography.
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One of the nicest waterfalls that practically no one sees despite a location near a trail.

In the summer, you can hear the tantalizing roar of this waterfall from the East Fork trail in the Plott Balsams near Sylva, NC—but you can just barely make out its flowing line of water through the trees. Once you scrabble up the last tough little rubbly pitch on the trail’s most demoralizing section (600′ in a third of a mile), you will see a rough, unmarked side path that drops to the stream. But it goes to the top of the waterfall, not the bottom, and what you see is water plunging over an edge. To get even the slightest view of the fall itself from that point, you need to hang onto a tree and lean out. It’s a bit dangerous.

In the winter, you can see more of the falls from the trail. But with the leaves down, it also becomes obvious that you can make a short, painless bushwhack to the bottom. I visited the falls by this route the other day.

I climbed up the trail, passing between what I call the “Rocks of Discouragement.” This is a spot where you’ve just done a steep climb, it almost levels off for a bit and you think life’s about to get easier, and then you look up and see it gets even steeper.

You see the water cascading down for hundreds of feet. This waterfall doesn’t ever really bottom out. Below the biggest drop, there are smaller drops going down and down the stream valley a long ways.

At a shoulder on the slope, you will see a place where you can contour around to the stream through open woods.

Here are a few photos from that trip. You can also see pictures of this part of the Plotts taken in April and June by clicking on the links. (Lots of flowers.)

Small falls just below the big falls.

Splashing water droplets over rock.

Light on water.

Water running everywhere.

Medium falls below the small falls, and it just keeps going.