(or, a most excellent backup plan)



Last Saturday I planned a return trip to Windy Falls on the Horsepasture River.I had hiked there in October with Brenda, Bob J, and Billy.On that day, we hiked to the top of the falls before descending an obscure route to a stone perch just above the plunge pool at the base of the main drop.That hiked had stirred up a lot of interest on social media.For our return, I hoped to find a route down through the ďKeyholeĒ to reach the plunge pool itself.I was expecting a lot of serious scrambling to go along with the hardcore bushwhacking that is necessary to access this area.


I planned the hike for Saturday, March 14th because my friend Mitch would be in town.Mitch was visiting Darrin, and they planned to spend the whole week hiking.Saturday was the only day that we could all hike together though.


I invited a number of other hikers to join us.However, the invitation had one caveat Ė we would need dry weather the day before the hike and the day of the hike.Otherwise, the rocks near the top of the falls would be too slippery to traverse safely.


The best ways to guarantee rain are for my friend Jack to go camping or to plan a hike to Windy Falls.On Monday, the forecast looked discouraging.It was expected to rain all week, and not let up until Saturday afternoon.As the week went on, the forecast failed to improve.I had 10 hardcore hikers signed up for the Windy Falls hike.That meant that I needed a backup plan worthy of such an accomplished group.


I made a few suggestions, including Laurel Leap Falls near Linville Gorge and Fungi Falls in the Green River Game Lands.I also suggested an exploratory hike to a possible waterfall near Rocky Bottom, SC.It is on a creek that looks somewhat promising on the topo map.Spencer asked if it was on Abner Creek.I replied that Abner Creek wasnít the one I was referring to, but that Abner was also on my to-do list.


Some research and info from friends revealed that the waterfall on Abner Creek is Pinnacle Falls.Iíd heard about Pinnacle Falls previously, but never knew exactly where it was.All of the information I found indicated that it was on private property.The property is a camp that is owned by Clemson University.


I did some additional researching using the topo map and the GIS map for Pickens County.Based upon the GIS, the waterfall actually appears to be on public property owned by the State of South Carolina.The private property boundary is actually a short distance downstream from the falls.The only easy access is through camp property, but Team Waterfall isnít necessarily interested in easy access.We frequently enjoy doing things the hard way.


We all met at the Foothills Trail parking area on Horsepasture Road around 9:30 Saturday morning.Our group consisted of Brenda, Jack, Darrin, Mitch, Thomas (the Badger), Kitty (the Rock Sprite), Spencer, Stephanie, and Dillon. It was great seeing Mitch again.We had last hiked together a year earlier, though I had visited him more recently during a work trip to St. Louis.It was also the first time Iíd seen Darrin in over a month, and the first time Iíd hiked with Jack in several months.In fact, I hadnít even seen Brenda since January!


It was my first time hiking with everybody else.Spencer is an energetic explorer that has made a number of exciting discoveries in Linville Gorge and throughout the southeast.His girlfriend, Stephanie, is equally enthusiastic, and the two of them are two of the strongest hikers Iíve ever met.Their friend Dillon was also eager for another adventure.Thomas and Kitty are well-known explorers of waterfalls, and it was obvious that they would fit right with Team Waterfall, too.


We were all standing around the parking lot chatting in the rain, and I was amazed.How many people do you know that would be eager to go bushwhacking in the rain on a Saturday morning?I guess we have a way of finding each other.


We had 10 in our group, not counting my dogs, Boone and Kona.Since Boone and Kona are official members of Team Waterfall, we named our group the Dirty Dozen.With a week of sold rain and bushwhacking on the agenda, we were sure to live up to our new name.


Spencerís original plan had been to hike off-trail from highway 178 north of the camp property.We would skirt around the private property, staying west and north of the camp, before working our way to the base of the falls.However, some folks (mostly me) had some misgivings about starting our hike with a steep bushwhack through wet vegetation.Iíd come up with an alternate approach.We could start our hike at Chimneytop Gap, on the road to Sassafras Mountain.From there, we could follow a logging road that winds around and down past the camp to highway 178.The road would provide easier access to the jumping off point where weíd have to bushwhack over to the base of the falls.Starting at Chimneytop Gap also meant that it would be easier to park several cars.We werenít sure about parking along highway 178.


We actually managed to get 10 people, 2 dogs, and gear into 3 cars for the short drive to the trailhead.We found a wide pulloff with plenty of room between two dirt roads heading in the correct direction.The upper road heads uphill towards Chimneytop Mountain.The second road, which descends gradually to Abner Creek, was the one we wanted.


The first part of the hike was on the old road, which was muddy and rather ugly.It took us where we needed to go though, and offered easy hiking.We descended to a ford of Abner Creek.Crossing was a little tricky because the water was way up.Luckily there were some fallen logs that enabled most of us to cross without getting our feet wet.A short distance farther on we hopped across Dogwood Creek Ė a major tributary.Although the water was up, this creek was much smaller.After the crossing, we followed the road up and around a major ridge. There were a number of side roads along here, but I was mainly navigating by instinct.We generally stuck to the main road, and when in doubt, went left.Eventually we began to descend again, and soon we found ourselves on a narrow ridge.After another descent, we could hear the waterfall roaring off to our left.At this point, Spencer noticed an old roadbed contouring down into the valley below us.It looked promising, so we decided to follow it.


There wasnít much left of the road, but were able to follow remnants.We contoured through a gully and onto another ridge.We followed this ridge steeply down to its base.From there, a short walk brought us to Abner Creek.A tricky, slippery rock hop enabled us to cross the creek.On the far side, we found a good trail marked with ribbons coming up from the camp.We followed it back upstream, and reached the base of a significant cascade a couple of minutes later.


At first I was disappointed.Was this it?I had been expecting more.However, it looked like the creek curved around a bend just upstream from the cascade.Maybe there was more up there.


We were debating which side to climb when Spencer returned from scouting.Heíd found a good trail, complete with steps and railings, heading up the right side.We followed him, and after a couple of minutes Pinnacle Falls came into view.Wow!One of the best parts of hiking to a new waterfall is that initial thrill when you first see it.Pinnacle Falls does not disappoint in that regard.Itís big, powerful, and pretty.


The trail led to a developed overlook.We stopped there for photos, before descending to the base of the falls.The route down is steep and slippery, but there are fixed ropes in place.The view from the base of the falls was even better.Some folks waded the creek at the brink of the lower cascades and found another trail switchbacking up the left side of the falls.A spur path off that trail leads out to a cool spot near the top of the falls.There is an overhead cable spanning the creek here, and Darrin, Mitch, and Stephanie took turns swinging on it.That led to some amazing photos that looked much more dangerous than they really were.


I avoided that spot, as I didnít want to risk taking the dogs that close to the brink of the falls.I was content with taking photos of the falls from the base, both with people and without.Conditions were challenging due to the spray and the rhododendrons blowing in the wind, but the results were still worth the effort.


Everyone eventually crossed the creek and continued up the trail along the left side of the falls.The trail continued beyond the top of the falls, so we decided to follow it.We were pretty sure it would provide an easier route back to the car.


A long run of switchbacks steered us away from the falls.We crested the top of the mountain, and picked up an old road.At one point a fork of the road led down towards the creek.Spencer and Jack scouted it briefly before returning.We resumed the hike on the old road, which led out to the road we had come in on.We turned right on it, and immediately arrived at the crossing of Dogwood Creek.


If you want to hike to Pinnacle Falls and avoid the private property, the easiest route is to follow the old road down from Chimneytop Gap.Youíll cross Abner Creek and Dogwood Creek.Just after Dogwood Creek, turn left on an unmarked old road.Follow it to the trail, which leads to the top of the falls and then the base.Getting to the official overlook from that point requires wading the creek and climbing the bank on the opposite side.


Here is Brendaís GPS track showing our route:




We returned to our cars and drove up to Sassafras Mountain.The mountain was still fogged in, but some folks had never been up there.We went to the official overlook, which provided a nice view of a bank of fog.Then we followed a path up to the summit.The top of Sassafras Mountain was recently clearcut so that a summit observation platform could be constructed.Construction hasnít started yet, and the summit is currently an ugly mess.One of Spencerís favorite campsites used to be here, but now it is in the middle of the clearcut.Time will tell, but I wonder if the overlook will be worth this level of destruction.


From there, we returned to highway 178 and stopped at Bobís Place / The Roadkill Grill for a beer.Weíve passed Bobís dozens of times over the years, and weíve considered stopping many times.Today we finally did.Itís a cozy little place, with friendly folks and cheap beer.The beer selection is pretty lacking (Bud, Bud Lite, and Coors Lite), but I wasnít exactly expecting a selection of microbrews.It was a little odd that they didnít have PBR though, since there is a giant PBR sign in the front yard.My guess is that they decided to stop carrying it when it got popular with the hipsters.


It was 4pm when we left Bobís.Jack and Brenda headed for home, but the rest of us followed Spencer over to the Nine Times Preserve to check out Big Rock Mountain.Big Rock Mountain used to be private property, but was recently purchased by Naturaland Trust.Big Rock Mountain is a spectacular jumble of cliffs and boulders, featuring fine views of the mountains and the Piedmont of South Carolina.I was looking forward to checking it out.I had hiked in the Nine Times Preserve nearby previously, but on that occasion Big Rock Mountain had still been private property.


We parked at the Cedar Rock Trailhead and crossed the road to a gated logging road.The road was muddy, and led up through an extensive logging operation.It wound around for a while, before we reached a junction.The main road continued ahead, and slightly downhill.We turned right to climb more steeply towards the summit.That road eventually faded away, and we scrambled off trail to a maze of cliffs and boulders.We played around for a bit, knowing that we could easily spend hours exploring there.


We worked our way around the mountain, before eventually climbing to the summit.We found a nice campsite there, and a view of Table Rock through the trees.At that point it was getting late.Most of us followed the main road (which ends at the summit) down from there.Spencer, Stephanie, and Dillon decided to linger to do some additional exploring.


I really enjoyed visiting with old friends and meeting new ones on Saturday.Iím looking forward to more fun adventures with them!

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