Tuesday, September 17, 2013

South Mountain State Park - High Shoals Falls

               in South Mountains State Park
High Shoals Falls


After visiting South Mountains State Park and hiking the Chestnut Knob Trail, we decided to return to visit the most popular destination - The High Shoals Falls....and what a great hike we experienced!

Leaving the parking lot and passing the picnic area we joined others hiking up the River Trail. And we were greeted by colorful wildflowers that adorned the trail.

The High Shoals Loop trail follows the Jacobs Fork Branch upstream to the base of the falls.  The Jacobs Fork Branch is a quickly moving mountain stream offering plenty of small waterfalls and rapids cascading through large and small boulders.

Like all mountain streams, the rushing water beckons you to come and play on the rocks....this stream was no exception....


The trail leads to the base of the High Shoals Falls....many wooden steps and a nice bridge allows the trail to cross the Jacob Forks Branch.  From the view below, you can only get fleeting glimpse of the falls....but the cascades over large boulders are spectacular.

 From the bridge at the base of the cascades, the trail turns uphill....following the cascades to the base of the High Shoal Falls....steps and more steps carry you up about 7 stories worth.....the total elevation change has to be over 600 feet.

Along the way up we got a glimpse of a neat old tree and a couple of window views of  the Gorge Overlook on the Chestnut Knob.

At the top of the steps the trail splits with a bridge leading to the right....more steps the left....don't go left or you will miss the falls....and you don't want to miss these falls....the High Shoals Falls may be the best waterfall in the state!
The falls are 80 feet tall and water rushes over the cliff at a rate that sprays the overlook.....and the roar can be heard throughout the gorge.
We met a nice couple from Charlotte who wanted to be in the famous Hiking with a Fat Bald White Guy blog.....so I obliged.  Don't they look young, happy and in love?  Now they are famous too!

Close up of High Shoals Falls water spray

The High Shoals Falls is one of those creations of nature that you cannot fully appreciate until you stand at the base and gaze at the majesty of God's creation. Words cannot describe it because being there captures all senses for you can both feel and hear the Falls.


Leaving the falls we traveled up a 100 feet of stairs to the top of the falls and found one of the most tranquil scenes which was in great contrast to the falls below.  The trail leaves the Jacob's Fork Branch and moves along the ridgeline opposite the Chestnut Knob.  We  chose to hike the Upper Falls trail looping with Headquarters trail to make a five mile loop hike.  The Upper Falls Trail is also an equestrian trail and like most trails in South Mountains State Park is a former logging road.

The trail turned out to be much steeper than we had thought....and after hiking up the equivalent of a 10 story building we felt the leg burn.  Seeing no cairn on the trail, we constructed one as we caught our breath in the hike up to the ridge top.  Doing this always causes me to pause and thank our Creator for allowing us to participate in His Creation....and in doing so I am reminded of a quote by Albert Einstein:

 "What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of humility. This is a genuinely religious feeling that has nothing to do with mysticism"
Through the trees we could see Chestnut Knob (2291') to the north and Buzzard Roost Mountain (2980') to the south. From this ridgeline trail we could finally understand just how large this park is.

The Upper Falls Trail once we topped the ridge soon intersected with the Headquarters trail and we saw a sign indicating the parking lot was 2.4 miles away....thankfully downhill!  Along the way back we got to pause a time or two to enjoy the wildflowers adorning the trail.

We first thought this creature was a caterpillar but soon recognized it to be a wooly worm. Truth is a wooly worm is a caterpillar...a winter caterpillar that produces a tiger moth in the spring.  The most important function of the wooly worm is that it can predict the severity of the winter.
There is a lot of folklore surrounding the banded wooly worm, particularly related to its supposed power to predict upcoming winter weather each fall. The typical banded wooly worm has sections of black hairs at each end, and a section of orange-brown hairs in the center. Legend says that the more black on a banded wooly worm, the more severe the winter will be. Some folks have taken this to an extreme, and noting that there are thirteen segments in a typical banded wooly worm, they argue that each segment represents one week of winter. Orange segments predict mild weeks, and black ones foretell bad winter weather.
The Headquarters Trail merged into the Shinny Creek Trail which took us to the River Trail and one of the best views of the day.  Climbing into the Jacob's Fork Branch I got to photograph a unique rapid highlighted by the afternoon sun peaking through the leaves

Returning to the parking lot we detoured along a half mile handicapped accessible nature trail which adjoined the Jacobs Ford River.  It was one of the most well designed handicap trail I have ever seen.

Sometimes you find on a trail scenes you never imagined....we have seen this in Linville Gorge countless times....spectacular views replaced by simply breathtaking aspects of nature.....we found such a place in South Mountains State Park....on the High Shoals Trail may be the best waterfall I have seen in North Carolina...majestic yet simple...you really have to see it to fully appreciate it....So how do I rate this hike....access is an 8.....trails are an 8.....the scenery is a 9.....overall an 8+ hike....South Mountains State Park is another real gem....something for everyone! 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

South Mountain State Park - Chestnut Knob


                                    Chestnut Knob Trail

Every time we go to Linville Gorge as we exit from I-40 at Morganton we see the sign for the South Mountains State Park....but we always turn right and head for the Gorge....on this Sunday, turned left and ventured to another great North Carolina State Park. South Mountains State Park is located in Burke, Cleveland and Rutherford Counties.  The South Mountains were the geological buffer between the Cherokee and Catawba Indians. Early settlers were shocked to find gold flakes in the river mud they used to seal their log cabins....soon a gold rush followed in 1828 and some mining continued into the early 20th century.  Like most of our State Parks, the existence of South Mountains State Park is owed to the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Boasting 100,000 acres, the park is one of the largest in the State Park System and has many hiking trails both short and long....a nice mountain river to frolic in.... great camping and picnic areas...and more equestrian trails than I have ever seen in one park.....and some nice mountain views.

The Ranger suggested to us the Chestnut Knob trail but warned us of the steep ascent at the beginning of the trail.... but undaunted we jumped at the chance to prove our cardio vascular health!

Leaving the parking lot and passing the picnic area we found ourselves on a wide hiking boulevard ....with lots of Sunday "hikers"....the trail is a former logging road and is labeled the River Trail...it runs parallel to the Jacob's Fork River and links up with the High Shoals Loop which leads to the most popular destination in the Park, the  High Shoal Falls which we were told is an 80 foot tall waterfall.  

Soon we found the Chestnut Knob trail head and parted company with the other "hikers".  Just like Mr. Ranger said....the initial ascent was a bit steep.....it reminded us of Flat Top Mountain but thankfully much shorter.   The trail has many nice switchbacks and steps to aid the ascent and on a hot and humid day in the mid 80's it was all the FBWG and his hiking companion wanted in the way of a work out.  The trail ascends for nearly a mile on its way to the Gorge View Overlook.

I don't know the name of this yellow flower but we stopped to get a closer look at it and catch our breath about halfway up the initial ascent.

At several points along the trail we were treated with a forest window view of the mountain scenery we expected to see on the summit.  This view revealed the early signs of fall as some leaves had begun to show some color....

The Gorge View Overlook offered a nice bench which we shared with a father and two young daughters from the Charlotte area....the girls had lunch....had trudged up the same steep trail and had not broken a sweat nor seemed out of breath at all....oh the advantages of youth! 

The High Shoals Falls were seen in the distance as only a shiny rock face on an the side of a mountain....we could not see the falls at all until I unpacked by binoculars

Leaving the Gorge View Overlook, we traveled along another logging road which provided a much more gentle ascent toward the peak of Chestnut Knob.  The final ascent being assisted by stairs.  The summit is another logging road which leads down to the Chestnut Knob Overlook from which there are some nice views and more importantly on that hot day a nice cool breeze too.
Looking Southeast toward the City of Charlotte

The elevation at the overlook is only 2291 feet...similar to that of Moore's Knob in Hanging Rock State Park but the rugged terrain makes it feel like you are much higher in the mountains.  Mr. Ranger said on a clear day you could see the skyline of Charlotte....but all I saw was an odd shaped pointed mountain.

The rocky knob featured an bowed pine tree which provided an interesting framing to the photograph of the mountains to the south.

I also took some photographic liberties with a dead tree on the summit.  I liked the way the shadows of the limbs contrasted with the white clouds and the blue sky.   The sunburst through the pine bows offered another interesting view.  Reminding me of a quote of Kahil Gabron: "Life without love is like a tree with out blossoms or fruit"

We met a nice young couple who originally grew up in the State of Maine.  They scampered to the another rock cliff and I could not resist making this lady famous by putting her in Hiking with the Fat Bald White Guy.....I could tell she was impressed too!

The view from this rocky cliff was as pretty as the young lady from Maine.  At the peak in the distance you can make out the outline of an abandoned fire observation tower.

As is custom on the hikes we are usually entertained by soaring hawks. This hike was no exception.  Four or five graceful birds took turns entertaining us with as they soared in the winds overhead.

One even perched on a nearby tree and allowed me to photograph him chillin.

Leaving the rock cliffs I captured a view of the Chestnut Knob from a window in a rock.

The South Mountains State Park is another gem.  The trails are a 9 as they are well maintained and well marked...the access is an 8....just 20 miles southeast of Morganton...follow the signs....the scenery is an 8....not breathtaking but merely spectacular. This is a park that anyone can enjoy.  Overall a solid 8.

 On the way home as we approached 1-40 at Morganton we noticed we encountered a summer shower coming off the mountains...and we spied in the distance two familiar friends....Table Rock and Hawksbill Mountains.