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“Falling Rock” in Cataloochee November 23, 2014

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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Falling Rock location.

Falling Rock location.

The strange thing about the famous “Falling Rock” is that it is not located on Falling Rock Creek. It’s located on Palmer Creek, very close to the mouth of Lost Bottom Creek, on the left side of Palmer as you go upstream, but below the confluence with Falling Rock Creek.

For those of you not familiar with the story, here’s the deal: Sometime in the 1920s, Reverend Will Camel, a preacher from Cosby, TN, went camping up Palmer Creek with a friend. It was a cool evening in the spring when they found a cave-like rock formation and decided to stay there for the night. They lit a big fire to keep warm. Sometime during the night, the heat of the fire warmed up a rock slab to the point that it came crashing down on Reverend Camel, pinning his body to the ground and killing him.

His companion was not able to roll the slab off Camel’s body.  He went for help in Cataloochee and enlisted several men and a few schoolboys from Beech Grove School to help, and they succeeded in lifting the slab.

Some people may recognize the story from Wayne Caldwell’s novel, Cataloochee.  Details were changed in Caldwell’s version: in his telling, the rock formation was located at the headwaters of Lost Bottom Creek.

My friend Ken proposed that we go look for the rock formation. We had seen or heard several versions of where it was located. One version stated that it could be found 200 yards above the mouth of Lost Bottom. Other versions said only “somewhere near the mouth of Lost Bottom.” The 200-yard version sounded so specific that we believed it. Turns out it was wrong.

The junction of Lost Bottom and Palmer features a dense rhododendron thicket. In the belief we needed to go 200 yards upstream, we stayed on the trail past the worst of the rhodo before dropping down to the stream. We crossed the stream and worked along slowly—partly to be sure we saw the rock formation and partly because various obstacles of vegetation and boulders made it impossible to go quickly.

The weather had warmed after two nights of mid-teen temperatures, but plenty of ice remained along the stream.

Each rock had its own tailor-made slipcover of ice.

Each rock had its own tailor-made slipcover of ice.

  A pretty little waterfall.

A pretty little waterfall.

Ice and pool.

Ice and pool.

Large pool.

Large pool.

It took us a couple of hours to go the short distance to the Beech Creek/ Falling Rock Creek junction. We had not seen the rock formation, and we realized that we had probably bypassed it just above Lost Bottom. We climbed up to the trail and walked back, looking over at the left streambank to see if we had missed it somehow—perhaps it was higher up the slope.

We found a good place to go back down to the stream, a little above where we’d hit it before, and walked along searching for it again.

We found it, within a stone’s throw—so to speak—of the mouth of Lost Bottom. I took a picture. The picture, and you’ll laugh at this, didn’t come out. Of all the photos I took, that one came out blurry.

But you don’t really need the photo. Just go up Palmer a minute or so from Lost Bottom, and you’ll see it. Have fun!

Ken beside the stream.

Ken beside the stream.