JUST A SHORT BUSHWHACK UP LICKLOG CREEK
"It doesn't look too bad up ahead"
Saturday Andy and I had a hike planned in the Curtis Creek area of Pisgah National Forest. He knew of an established trail that began at the Curtis Creek Campground, went up the mountain ridge that lies between Curtis Creek and Mackey Creek, and had a great view point at the ridge. We were then going to look for an old (apparently unmaintained trail) that went down the other side to Mackey Creek.
Oh, and we also were going to throw in a short bushwhack up Licklog Creek to look for a potential waterfall around the 2600 foot elevation contour.
We decided to start with the Licklog exploration; after all, it was just going to be a short, quick bushwhack about 300 feet in elevation up the creek. We started our hike just before 9:30.
At 4pm, we were still shooting waterfalls on Licklog Creek!!
In between we explored an incredible creek valley full of wildflowers; steep, narrow hillsides; spots where the creek flowed down in wide, long, curving cascades; other places where it was squeezed through a long, narrow, winding, rocky chute. On the return, we climbed up to the ridge to the south of the creek, and saw some fantastic views off to both sides.
This was an area that had a controlled burn done only one month ago, and even though I'm not a fan of burns, this one seemed to be done in a very responsible manner. I've run into areas before that had "controlled burns done", and even months and months later, everything visible was nothing but char.
That was not the case here. In many cases, you weren't even aware that you were walking thru a burn area unless you looked closely at the ground itself ... you noticed no thick undergrowth, and the soil was a lot looser than normal.
We started the hike heading up the hillside to the south of Licklog Creek, since at creek level the terrain was very steep, and the creek very rocky. This would be the theme for the day!
We were able to keep the creek in view the whole way, and between following its two curves, plus looking at my GPS's elevation reading, we found the spot where Andy was expecting a waterfall. And there was one indeed!! And what a beauty! Wide, long, curving cascade, with the creek sheeting down the rock face. Two areas of shallow pools along the cascade. And as beautiful as the cascade was, looking at the creek as a whole was captivating ... looking upstream, the cascade continued to curve upward and out of sight, and a long river valley full of green closing in.
That's all that Andy needed to pique his interest!
Curious if there was more upstream, we headed back up to the hillside to continue further up.
"UP" it turns out, was the operative word for the day. We tried to stay as close to the creek as possible, but in many places, the terrain was just too vertical, or too impassable. Every now and then we'd hit a rather "open" area and Andy would say "It doesn't look too bad up ahead", and we'd make 20 feet of progress, only to run into a mass of totally impassable downed rhodos or something.
We even hit the remains of an old (VERY old) roadbed at one point, only to have it end at a 20 foot vertical cliff.
Climbing higher to get above that, we continued on upstream, alternately hitting impassable blockages only to be followed by an open area that "didn't look too bad up ahead"!!
At about the 3000 foot elevation contour, the creek suddenly narrowed, getting squeezed into a twisty, curvy, rocky sluice, which even from far above the creek where we found ourselves when we saw it, looked gorgeous. We headed down to creek level, and the power of the water at this point was impressive.
Since we were already this far upstream, Andy got curious about a portion of the creek that was at the 3300 foot elevation contour. It was 1:30pm at this point, and even though the going had been pretty slow, we still had plenty of time to explore. Studying the map, we even got intrigued about working our way up to the end of an old FS road that was on the map, just NE of the spot on the creek we were trying to head to (at 3300 feet). Despite how much both of us hate road walking, the going had been mighty tough to this point, and that road presented one option for a quick easy return to the car. Of course we'd have to FIND the road's end. And of course all this assumed the road still existed. But it was on the map. And even had a number (FS974), usually a good sign that a FS road is still in existence.
Well, we didn't have to worry about any of those things. We never made it to the road. We never made it to the 3300 contour. Brenda pooped out.
We crossed the creek at this rocky sluice because the other side of the creek looked a little better for making upstream progress.
But over the next 30 minutes, we covered only 0.3 mile and gained only 136 feet in elevation. But I swear it seemed like we were going straight up. This was one aspect that the burn had made more difficult ... normally on steep climbs like this, I'm pulling myself along with my arms as well as my legs, pulling on rhodos, logs on the ground, whatever. But the burn had loosened everything, and even logs on the ground were loosened and pulled up without any effort. Lower branches of rhodos had been broken off, and pulled out with the slightest tug.
Andy and I finally hit an area with two really tall straight trees that would make good land marks. As much as I hated saying it, I told him I simply couldn't go any further, and would wait for him here. The terrain at this point was so vertical that I had to prop myself on the uphill side of the tree to keep from sliding downhill once I sat down.
After about 10 minutes, Andy returned. I'll let him translate what he said when I asked him what he'd found up ahead, but basically, it was more of the same, only worse!! At home, once I'd downloaded my GPS track and looked at this particular section, it shows it was significantly steeper than all the rest of the day's hiking ... check out the area between mile 2.5 and 2.6 (!!) :
At this point, given how tough the going had been to get to this point, Andy and I looked at the map and decided to cross the creek and head up to the ridge, and follow that back down to the road. The top of that ridge line suggested a very easy downhill grade, and at the spot where we were, the ridge line was not that far away at all.
Well, that was a great idea, and over the next hour, we were able to cover the astounding distance of 3/4 mile, making it almost halfway back to the car. While the terrain was very easy (flat to gently sloping), the area was thick with mountain laurel with branches RIGHT at head and face level that we kept having to punch thru. And, this was one area where the burned area actually looked burned, and there was a lot of charred wood and branches all around.
The high point along this area was one spot, where, looking back up the stream's valley from the ridge, the whole valley, and surrounding hillsides, as well as the mountain ridge above the creek's headwaters were all visible in one grand, sweeping view that encompassed the entire visible area. Every shade of green imaginable was coloring the hillside, and to top it off, a layer of fog was gently resting over the upper most ridges.
Soon after that view point, the creek came into view, and we made our way back down to it, to find another gorgeous cascade (this was around the 2500 foot elevation point). We had completely bypassed this area on the way up, since we were much further up the hillside. But here, the creek as it came downstream, made a hard left turn along a vertical rocky wall that had all sorts of greenery growing out of it. Once around that "wall", the creek had a freefall of about 10 feet, and it spread out in a wide fan sort of shape, and once at the base, made another 90 degree turn and continued downstream. There was a lot of smaller dead fall right at the base, and Andy did some "landscaping" here!
After this it was another 0.3 mile, 200 feet of elevation drop, and 20 minutes to get back to the car.
The day had threatened rain all day, but never did anything until somewhere along our return route home. I don't recall it ever really raining hard, but by the time we got to the car, both of us were wet to the bone. But, we'd both brought complete changes of clothing (although Boone and Kona felt the need to walk all over Andy's clean clothing pile when they jumped into the car!!).
Andy had an easier drive home; he said he had only light sprinkles to drive through. I, on the other hand, and a full blown storm to drive thru the entire way back to Transylvania County. Saw areas of ponding across the road in a lot of areas. One area along I-40, I noticed everyone getting over to the left lane, and as I got closer, I saw why ... water was totally covering 3/4 of the right hand lane at that spot. Would hate to hit that at 50 or 60 mph!!
GPS track here:
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