Thursday, January 23, 2014

Bushwhacking to hidden waterfalls

I'd had been intrigued for several months about this one particular trail along the Blue Ridge Escarpment in South Carolina that I could not find out much about. There are typically two reasons for a lack of information in guidebooks and online reports about a placel- either it is (1) not noteworthy enough to warrant space, or (2) a well-kept secret.  I made some inquiries, and learned this area had a "treasure trove of waterfalls"  that weren't marked or on the main trail.  There were also some warnings-- "some seriously steep terrain”….. "evaluate risk/safety issues”  ….  “full-contact bushwhacking”….  Oooo!  FULL-CONTACT-BUSHWHACKING!  My kind of place!

Off-trail travel
I set out on a solo backpacking overnight.  When I headed off-trail in the direction of the waterfalls, I had to negotiate my way over blowdowns, briars, and icy patches.  I was glad I'd kept my pack relatively light (in contrast to the last few months as I've been trying to carry more weight to prepare for the PCT).  I really appreciate the high level of engagement required for off-trail travel-- getting to read the landscape to find your own path.  There are still false starts and backtracking, so the going can be slow, but this trip wasn't about covering miles or winning any speed records.  
How will I get down there?!?!
Oh my, how will I get down there?!?!
I knew I was close when the terrain got steep and I could hear the deep roar of the falls echoing across the valley.  That's also where I found what distinguishes "full-contact bushwhacking" from regular bushwhacking--  fingers grasping at the dirt and mud, skooching on your belly down the cliff, reaching for footholds, awareness of the pull of gravity.  Feeling small and insignificant, and yet, interconnected and part of nature.  In essence, totally alive.
What a gorgeous waterfall!
Another hidden falls!
The valley of hidden waterfalls was incredible beyond description.  There were few signs that anyone had ever been there- and no signs anyone had been there recently- no trash, no footprints, no cleared or broken branches.  My photos just don’t capture it, but maybe you can tell from my expressions just how awesome and wild it was.  Finding them felt like an exhilarating discovery.  Or maybe it was just the endorphins.
Yet another!
The value of wild places
If I saw a falls like this from an established trail, it wouldn’t spark such enthusiasm. 
Sure we need accessible trails, but we also need trail-less areas and places that aren’t on the maps.  The idea of building a trail or boardwalk to these falls makes me cringe.  Their beauty was exceptional precisely because of they were difficult to access.

Places like this that are mostly untouched capture the imagination.  For daydreaming when I'm stuck in a city.  For keeping me excited about new places.  For keeping my eyes and ears peeled for hints of what lays beyond the edge of view.  When I'm heading down an established trail and hop across a little babbling stream, I can imagine that a few hundred feet down, joining other streams, there are falls tumbling into a waterfall valley of wonder.

As I crawled my way back up the cliffs, I did my best to try to not leave even footprints (easier in theory than in practice!)I didn't want to rob the next person of the feeling of going out into uncharted territory (also this article on LNT and bushwhacking).

So... you may have figured already that I am not going to tell you where this exact place is.  The important thing is knowing that it's OUT THERE.  If you need to go somewhere like this, I am certain you can find it, or something like it.
Saved the biggest falls for the next morning.
It really did get cold overnight- forecast said 15-degrees.  Look at the ice!
Notes and resources:
Here is where I normally tell you the maps and guidebooks that provide info on the route.  Instead, check out these inspiring books:

Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey
          -My all-time favorite book.  Inspiring and irreverent.  About many things including our relationship with nature.  Will make you want to visit Utah and the southwest.

Backwood Ethics by Laura and Guy Waterman 
         -Includes chapters are on fires, thru hiking, bushwhacking and the history of Leave-No-Trace (LNT) ethics.  This book explains the variability in why people get out and the benefits of different approaches- especially helpful when trying to figure how we can all get along in the backcountry. 

Listening for Coyote: A Walk Across Oregon's Wilderness by William Sullivan     
         -Sullivan made his own path across Oregon and writes about his journey and the interesting people he meets, and mixes in views on wilderness and land use.  Inspiring!


  1. "full-contact bushwhacking" awesome!

  2. Isn't that phrase "full-contact bushwhacking" just THE BEST!?!?! Completely captures the experience.

  3. I love your advocacy for trail-less areas! Great photos!

  4. Nice! The best stuff is usually off trail anyway!

  5. So pretty! What kind of campsite did you choose? Nearby?

  6. Susan- Haha- you noticed the photos, eh? I have to confess I “cheated” and took my camera, not just the iphone camera. Definitely not a PCT “training hike.” Oh and remind me to ask you about the frogs eggs- there were a ton in the little vernal pools and a few had hatched and there were tadpoles swimming around.

    Misti- There sure is the best stuff if you take the time to go exploring off-trail. Though sometimes it doesn’t pay off, especially in summer when the plants can be vicious.

    Mary- It sure was beautiful out there. Funny you should ask about campsites- that was a bit tricky. The regulations were such that I ended up hiking a several more miles beyond the falls to camp. I really doubt anyone would have seen me there, but… Probably better anyway because it got very cold and I think I was warmer than it would have been by the falls.