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Panthertown backpack July 3, 2014

Posted by Jenny in camping, hiking, Nantahala National Forest, Pisgah National Forest, Southern Appalachians.
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Pothole Falls.

Pothole Falls.

Last weekend I went backpacking in Panthertown with my new friends Dana and Cathy. The plan was to meet Friday morning, camp two nights, and come out Sunday. We had no set itinerary—just the desire to wander about ethereal realms of granite plutons and splendid waterfalls. Plus, Dana had a really good tip about a beautiful place to camp, not far from the Cold Mountain Road entrance.

Panthertown is located south of Sylva NC and west of Brevard NC. It is considered to be partly in Nantahala National Forest and partly in Pisgah NF.

As it turned out, we got rained on pretty hard a few hours after we arrived. In some ways that was bad luck, but in one way it was nice—we got to see some of the waterfalls foaming and roaring from the heavy rainfall. I opted to leave Saturday morning because I had aggravated a chronic hip flexor problem two days earlier on a bushwhack up Cole Creek and it was really bothering me. Dana and Cathy opted to leave Saturday evening because everything was so wet and dirty by that point that it made sense to go home and dry off.

We started by going up the Mac’s Gap Trail to the Greenland Creek Trail and turning northwest to go along a pretty rough pathway to see a couple of falls. There were lots of roots and rocks and steep little climbs, but that’s what Panthertown is all about. First we came to Mac’s Falls.

It was jungly along the edge of the stream.

It was jungly along the edge of the stream.

Mac's Falls from downstream. Peaceful.

Mac’s Falls from downstream. Peaceful.

A little further along we came to Pothole Falls.

Pothole Falls.

Pothole Falls.

We headed back upstream and located the camping spot Dana had heard about. It was just perfect, carpeted with pine needles and right beside the amber waters of Greenland Creek. There was even a tiny beach area with very fine grains of sand.

The only problem was that at this point it was pouring—just as we were trying to set up our tents. I was in such a hurry to get my tent up that when I yanked it out of its stuff sack, the little bag with the tent pegs went flying into the brush and I didn’t even see it go. Then, when I couldn’t find the pegs, I figured I’d left them behind the last time I used the tent. Dana and Cathy had extras which they kindly loaned me. Dana spotted the little bag when they broke camp.

After we got things set up, the rain tapered off and we explored the three falls upstream from there. First was Greenland Creek Falls.

Beautiful the way the Panthertown falls are all fringed with luxuriant green.

Beautiful the way the Panthertown falls are all fringed with luxuriant green.

The water was churning and foaming from the rain. To me, it had a strangely industrial sound, as if subterranean machinery was busily at work. I remember saying to the others, “It sounds like a machine,” but I couldn’t quite explain what I meant.

The fogging on my lens got worse as I went along. Well, at least it gives you a feel for how damp things were.

Raging waters.

Raging waters.

Patterns of foam below Halfway Falls.

Patterns of foam below Halfway Falls.

This rhodo blossom wanted to be admired.

This rhodo blossom wanted to be admired.

We came to the uppermost of the falls, Carlton’s Falls.

Contrast between white foam and dark amber pool.

Contrast between white foam and dark amber pool.

I took a picture of Dana and Cathy. Unfortunately, the fogged-up lens turned Cathy into a ghost.

Dana and Cathy with fog on the lens.

Dana and Cathy with fog on the lens.

We returned to camp and had supper. Afterward, I wandered up and down Greenland Creek a short distance and gazed at the beautiful stream.

There is no other place quite like Panthertown.

Carlton's Falls.

Carlton’s Falls.



Waterfalls of the Dismal Creek wilds February 18, 2014

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Nantahala National Forest.
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Rhapsodie Falls

Mini-gardens of Rhapsodie Falls.

Ah… Panthertown. What a great place. Today I explored in the fastnesses around Dismal Creek, which lies in the wildest part of Panthertown, the Big Pisgah tract. For those of you not familiar with Panthertown, it can be defined as the headwaters of the Tuckasegee and the West Fork of the French Broad, straddling Jackson and Transylvania Counties, North Carolina. So now you understand it, right?

Panthertown is considered part of the Nantahala National Forest, but US forest rangers are not seen in Big Pisgah. (Added 2/19: Unlike the rest of Panthertown, Big Pisgah is designated as part of Pisgah National Forest. Bottom line, the Forest Service doesn’t have funds for maintaining trails in Panthertown, especially in remote areas like Big Pisgah.) Even in the more heavily used areas, like Panthertown Valley, the Forest Service treads lightly. Many of the trails are not marked. People get lost in Panthertown all the time.

The USGS quads are inadequate when it comes to trail locations. I have Burt Kornegay’s map (though not the latest version), the best guide to the area. It shows official Forest Service trails with a brown dotted line and informal paths with red dots. Those red dots can be pretty hard to follow. They’re not marked or blazed, and they can be very rough.

Last year I decided I’d hike to Dismal Falls. It was a red-dot side trail off another red-dot trail, the West Fork Way. By the time I figured out where the Dismal Falls side trail started, it was too late to go past the first waterfall.

I came back home and found some good information on the Web. The Dismal Falls trail isn’t really a trail. It’s a route marked occasionally by surveyor’s tape.

Lovely fluorescent pink surveyor's tape.

Lovely fluorescent pink surveyor’s tape.

I have been known to take down surveyor’s tape. (I can just imagine the horrified reaction.)  Don’t worry, I didn’t remove any today. I figured since I was doing the hike over snow-covered ground, I might actually end up benefiting from the tape.

Having done it today, I would say I really only benefited in one or two places, in ambiguous places going down the steep descent to the base of Dismal Falls. Even with the snow, I could easily see the trough of the footpath, and there were plenty of old pruning cuts to give more clues. I could have managed the whole day without it.

Here’s the important distinction: unobtrusive flagging placed where even a careful person might go the wrong way, versus conspicuous flagging not needed for anyone who’s studied the map.

Pruning cut.

Pruning cut.

If it had been summer, I would have been awfully tempted to rip that godawful ugly stuff out of the trees. But I didn’t. The only reason the horrible pink has been used so freely is that Dismal Falls is on the Carolina Mountain Club’s “Waterfall Challenge” list of 100 area waterfalls. So we have waterfall-baggers, like peakbaggers, and wherever bagging is involved, we start seeing surveyor’s tape.

I found a couple of good route descriptions on the Web. So I did the car-sickness drive on NC 281 south from Cullhowee and found the obscure trailhead for the West Fork Way. Early fog had burned off, and the day was evolving into a beautiful sunny warm appetizer for spring. Great to be out in this weather.

I re-found the side trail with no problem and soon crossed the West Fork.

The West Fork of the French Broad isn't very broad here.

The West Fork of the French Broad isn’t very broad here.

Panthertown water is the color of panthers.

Panthertown water is the color of panthers.

I didn't need the surveyor's tape in these parts.

I didn’t need the surveyor’s tape in these parts.

I came to a small unnamed waterfall. Since many of the waterfalls in the area have names, I suggest calling it Ethelred Falls, in honor of the ruler from the Dark Ages, Ethelred the Unready. I’m sure no one will adopt that.

Ethelred Falls.

Ethelred Falls.

I climbed along on the left bank of this stream—an unnamed stream that is not the same drainage as Dismal Creek—and reached a side trail to Rhapsodie Falls. One of my route descriptions from the Web said, “Rhapsodie Falls is a beautiful 70′ waterfall that will give you the feeling you are in a tropical rainforest—unless you go in the winter.”

Well, I did go in the winter, and I found it to be an absolutely beautiful waterfall, full of green life. I might even say this is one of the best waterfalls I have ever experienced. It was just horribly lovely.

Icicles and rainforest, combined. Incredible.

Icicles and rainforest, combined. Incredible.

Tidy shelves of icicles and plants.

Tidy shelves of icicles and plants.

Miniature dog hobble under snow and ice.

Miniature dog hobble under snow and ice.

I tore myself away from this enchanting place and continued climbing. Now the path traversed the divide between the drainage of Rhapsodie and Dismal Creek. I knew from the Web trip reports that a side path went over to a big wall of rock in a gorge on Dismal. I saw where that path split off, but decided I’d wait until after I’d done Dismal Falls to make up my mind whether to do that side trip.

I climbed along the dividing ridge, then descended the steep path toward Dismal Falls as it did the typical “unmaintained manway” thing of lurching from one clump of rhodo to another, or sneaked across underneath ledge systems. In slippery slushy snow, this was just a delight. Ha ha, you didn’t really believe that, did you?

I went down most of it on the seat of my pants. Since I tended to pick up considerable speed once I started sliding, I’d look out for a friendly tree or shrub where I could plant my foot and put on the brakes. It was sketchy.

Finally I made it down to the bottom of Dismal Falls. Just before I arrived, I heard a big rockslide—no doubt caused by the suddenly warming temperatures. That loud and ominous sound made me realize I might not want to spend a lot of time in a narrow slot surrounded by cliffs.

At the bottom, the falls disappeared neatly under a collar of ice.

The running water disappeared under the ice.

The running water disappeared under the ice.

Dismal Falls is said to be 150′ high. Due to subtleties of slope angle and perspective, it doesn’t look as high as that. And there was another problem for me—when I was looking up at the falls, I was looking absolutely straight at the sun. I knew it would be hard to get a decent photo. This was the best I could do.

Dismal Falls.

Dismal Falls.

I figured I might as well leave the falls and tackle the climb up the slope that I had butt-glissaded most of the way down. It wasn’t easy. I diverged from the path into the brush many places to get better footing. I wonder if there is anything slipperier than an unmaintained pathway that’s steep and packed down and covered with slush. These really weren’t the best conditions to do this trip.

I found the sight of my own footprints to be cheering once I topped out on the ridge and made my way back. Given the conditions, I opted not to do the side trip to the rock wall and the gorge.

Cheering footprints.

Cheering footprints. They’re at an angle because I was climbing—the slope isn’t obvious in the photo.

After I got back to the West Fork Way, I made a side trip to Aunt Sally Falls. Now see, if there can be an Aunt Sally Falls, why can’t there be an Ethelred Falls?

Ho hum, just another waterfall in Panthertown.

Ho hum, just another waterfall in Panthertown.

Plane over Tuckasegee River October 24, 2012

Posted by Jenny in nature, poetry.
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Tuckasegee River

Not quite white noise, pale orange maybe,

river’s sound breaks down in tiny

splashes. Not quite a seamless hum.

From my deck I make the river change

its sound—I turn my head, its teeming

thrum runs deeper now.

At night through open screens the sound winds slowly

through vast half-asleep terrain of hope and

shadow. Just last night

a plane flew up the river,

rumpled up black air. The steady bumble

of its sound proceeded purposefully upstream.

It headed south toward Panthertown,

the river’s source,

where amber water gathers from

a thousand seams, and glides


on potholed rock toward


River, plane, made vectors in a wedge

of time in opposite directions.

Philosophers of flux:

dip your toes twice,

sever past from present.

— Jenny Bennett