Last week I received last minute notice that Iíd be working in Paris.Ooh la la!Too bad they were sending me to Paris, Texas.Instead of experiencing The Louvre, Iíd have to settle for visiting a museum containing the worldís largest display of giant belt buckles with names on them.Rather than dining at fancy French restaurants, Iíd have to be content with Tex Mex and barbeque.I could only hope that the trip was at least as exciting as prior engagements in thrilling international destinations such as Florence (South Carolina), Rome (Georgia), and Sparta (North Carolina).


With a week of misery looming, I knew I needed to make the most of the weekend.Fortunately I already had big plans.Saturday featured an Appalachian State football game.Regrettably, at the last minute Christy decided not to go.We were fostering a stray Weimaraner named Rainey, but after a few weeks we concluded that it wasnít working out.Rainey is very stressed, and needs more attention during the day than we can give her.The rescue agency we work with found her a new foster home, where Rainey would be with a woman that is home all day.Unfortunately, that home is in Norfolk, VA.The new foster parents just happened to be in Charlotte on Saturday, so Christy decided to skip the weekend festivities so she could pass Rainey along to her new caretakers.


Since Christy wasnít going, I decided to extend the weekend and camp Saturday night.That way I could hike on Sunday and check out the last of the fall foliage.


I headed up to Boone on Saturday morning with our dog, Boone.I met my friend Eric in town, and we commenced tailgating at 9:30am.Kickoff was set for 3:30, meaning we had just enough time to enjoy the full tailgating experience.It was a lovely day, with perfect weather and a huge homecoming crowd.The great thing about homecoming is that itís a bit like Halloween Ė you never know whatís going to come crawling out of the woodwork.That afternoon we were tailgating with some friends when a woman walked by wearing pants that were made of rubber.I donít mean they looked like they were rubber, I mean they WERE rubber.As you might guess, this generated some intriguing conversation in our crowd.I speculated that perhaps she had a sponsorship.Why wear sweatpants with ďJUICYĒ written across the butt when you go can with rubber pants that say ďMICHELINĒ*.


The game went well, as ASU overcame a slow start to beat Samford (& Son) 35-17.Eric and I grabbed a quick bite to eat after the game before parting ways.He headed home, while I drove over to the Wilson Creek area to camp.I passed through Linville and then headed down a forest road towards North Harper Creek, Lost Cove Cliffs, and Hunt Fish Falls.Plan A was a group of primitive campsite along the road a short distance from North Harper Creek.That area is usually occupied though, so I didnít have high hopes of getting a spot there.My backup plan was one of a handful of sites farther down the road.If that didnít work out, Iíd continue on down to the official forest service campground at Mortimer.


I was pleasantly surprised to find that first group of campsites available.In fact, I nearly drove right past them in the dark.I set up camp quickly and let Boone run around.Heíd had an eventful day, with lots of attention from other tailgaters.However, after a long nap in the car during the game, he was ready to blow off a little steam.He ran laps around the campsite while I set up the tent and got my hiking gear organized for the following day.


I went to bed early and slept fairly well even though Boone was restless.It was fairly cold that night (30ís) and I had a difficult time keeping Boone wrapped up in the extra sleeping bag Iíd brought for him.For some reason that just wasnít good enough for him, and he kept trying to infiltrate my bag.


I got up at first light on Sunday morning and broke camp.I drove down the road a couple of miles to the trailhead for my first hike of the day.Inexplicably, I hadnít hiked out to Darkside Cliffs in many, many years.This is a bit odd, since itís a short, easy hike to a great viewpoint.Truthfully though, I havenít done much hiking in the Wilson Creek area in recent years.I spent a lot of time there back in the 90ís, to the point where I started to get a little burned out on it.


The hike only took about 15 minutes.Along the way I passed through some nice fall foliage.There were already a lot of leaves on the ground, but there was still enough color to make for a pretty day.The view from the cliffs was as good as I remembered.I gazed out over Lost Cove to the rock massif of Grandfather Mountain.There was still some fall color holding on along the ridge, and down in the valley below.The view is very similar to the vista from Little Lost Cove Cliffs, but the overlook is a little easier to get to.


The cliffs were in the shade, and it was still quite chilly.The view was hard to leave though, so I had breakfast there on the edge of the cliff.Eating granola cereal with powdered milk out of a ziplock bag works really well for a quick breakfast, as long as there isnít a hole in the bottom of the bag.Breakfast was a little messier than Iíd expected, but somehow I managed.


After eating I returned to the car and drove on to the dayís main event.My plan was to hike a 9-mile loop combining the Harper Creek and Raider Camp Trails.The loop would take me past Harper Falls and South Harper Falls, which are two of the most significant cascades in northwest North Carolina.In between are several miles of beautiful mountain stream, shaded by a mature forest that hasnít been logged in about 90 years.


The loop also features 12 crossings of Harper Creek. I was hopeful that low water levels would enable me to rock hop most of them.However, I knew the first 3 crossings downstream from the confluence of Harper Creek and North Harper Creek would probably have to be waded.


The trailhead parking area was overflowing when I arrived.Luckily I found one parking spot in the actual parking lot.I released the hound and grabbed my pack, eager to get on the trail.


I started out with a steep climb on a badly eroded trail.After a few minutes I reached a junction with another path heading down.This one appears to be more gradual, but it doesnít look like itís being used or maintained.The climb continued a bit farther before reaching a minor gap and a junction with the Yellow Buck Knob Trail.From there I enjoyed a pleasant, gradual descent to Harper Creek.Once at the creek I began passing campsite after campsite.Most of them were occupied, which explained all of the cars at the trailhead.I also passed a couple of groups heading out that morning.The first couple of miles seemed downright crowded, right up to the first creek crossing.After that, I didnít see a single person until the final mile of my hike.


I reached the junction with the Raider Camp Trail at another campsite, but stayed on the Harper Creek Trail.I continued upstream, following an old railroad bed well above the creek.I passed more campsites far below before arriving at another junction.The Harper Creek Trail turns right and climbs here, but I continued ahead to Harper Falls.I followed the railroad bed to an overlook with a partially obscured view down at the waterfall.At that point there is a steep, rope-assisted descent to an open rock at the base of the main drop.Instead I backtracked and descended a little farther downstream.This path is steep and slick, but also has a fixed rope in place.I was thankful for the rope, because the path descends a slippery, treacherous rock face near the base.From the bottom I was treated to a fine view of all three tiers of Harper Falls.Although it was already 10am, the light was still passable for photography.I took a few photos before heading back up the rope and returning to the trail.


A hearty climb got me above and beyond the falls.I then descended to the creek and arrived at the first crossing a few minutes later.I explored upstream, but didnít see a place where rock hopping would be possible without some serious acrobatics.I changed into water shoes and waded into the stream.The water was as cold as expected, but deeper and swifter than Iíd anticipated.I made it across, but realized that Iíd have to be careful from there on, particularly since Iíd forgotten my waterproof camera bag.


I was a little pressed for time, so I decided against changing back into my boots after the crossing.I hiked on in my water shoes, and reached the next ford a bit later.This crossing was broader, and rather lacking in rocks.Rock hopping here wouldíve been even more difficult than at the previous point.I made a long ford, taking breaks twice on rocks so that my feet would stop throbbing from the cold.


I continued upstream, occasionally passing through some lovely fall foliage.Eventually I reached the junction with the North Harper Creek Trail, which is hard to spot.This junction is critical, since the Harper Creek Trail actually fords Harper Creek at the junction, which is immediately downstream from the confluence of the streams.It would be all too easy to inadvertently continue upstream along North Harper Creek.A quick glance at the Wilson Creek trail map shows just how much of a disaster that would be.


I forded the creek for a third time, but switched back to my boots on the far side.I was hopeful that the crossings would be easier beyond this point, since the stream is much smaller above the confluence.


My hopes were dashed at the next crossing.I rock hopped half way across before realizing that I had nowhere to go.I doubled-back, changed shoes, and waded.I continued on in my water shoes, once again reluctant to spend a lot of time switching back and forth between boots and wading shoes.


A couple of miles and a few more crossings later I stopped at a small but pretty cascade for some photos.It was a sunny day, and this was one of the few parts of the creek Iíd found completely in the shade.It was also well past noon, so I ate lunch there before resuming my hike.


After the dayís 10th crossing I was pretty sure I was nearing the base of South Harper Falls.I didnít want to make the climb up along the falls in my water shoes, plus I was pretty confident that the 11th crossing, which is just upstream from the falls, would be a reasonable rock hop.I switched to boots, and minutes later got my first glimpse of the falls through the trees.Briefly I was tempted to continue upstream to base of the falls.However, I didnít have any extra time to spare, and I recalled that getting to the base of the falls is a significant undertaking.Instead I stayed on the trail and began climbing switchbacks, with the falls just out of sight.


Near the top of the climb I followed a spur trail out towards the falls.That path ends just above a nearly flat rock adjacent to the falls, about 2/3rds of the way up.With a tremendous amount of caution, itís possible to walk out onto the rock right next to the cascade.From there is a great view of the upper part of the falls.Itís a precarious spot though, since it is right at the brink of a 150í drop.I worked my way out there carefully and was contemplating some photos when I looked around for Boone.He was having a drink in the creek, a few feet from the brink.I nearly had a heart attack.I called him to me, and made him sit next to me while I set up the tripod.


Luckily the upper part of the falls was in the shade.The cliffs above were blocking the sun, even though it was early afternoon.I took a few quick photos, but didnít linger long.I just wasnít comfortable having my clumsy dog there.


We returned to the trail and completed the climb to the top of the falls.Just beyond we reached a junction.The Harper Creek Trail leaves the creek here and continues out to a trailhead at a remote forest road.I continued ahead, now on the Raider Camp Trail.A minute later I arrived at the 11th crossing of Harper Creek.First, I walked upstream a short distance to a pretty cascade that was covered in colorful leaves.It wouldíve made a nice photo except the light was awful.I guess you canít always be lucky with the light.I returned to the crossing and began rock hopping.I was confident this time, having rock hopped at this spot many times over the years.


My confidence nearly ended in disaster. The problem was that it had rained a good bit there earlier in the week.The water had risen, but was now coming back down.Unfortunately, that left the tops of many of the rocks extremely slippery.I was on one of them, preparing to jump, when I began sliding.I quickly realized that my only chance was to leap.I landed rather ungracefully, but at least I stayed dry.Heart racing, I made my way over to the bank and regained the trail, glad to have most of the dayís creek crossings behind me.


From there I climbed up and away from the creek.After a few minutes I picked up a blue-blazed trail that took me down to a cliff.From there I had a spectacular view of South Harper Falls directly below.That was only the beginning of the view though.The hillside across from me (which Iíd climbed earlier) was still sporting some fine fall foliage.More fall color rolled away from there, on up to the rugged peaks of Grandmother and Grandfather Mountains.


I loitered there for awhile, as that viewpoint is a hard one to leave.Eventually I pulled myself away though, following the blue-blazed trail back out to the Raider Camp Trail.This part of the Raider Camp Trail is also part of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.I followed those blazes along an old road, first along a ridge and then down into the drainage of Raider Camp Creek.This section of trail was a little steep and badly eroded.Raider Camp Creek drops dramatically here, and there are definitely some cascades and slides down below the trail.Iím not sure if there are any substantial waterfalls though.My guess is that there probably isnít anything significant, since it is a pretty small stream.Still, it might be worth checking that area out some day when I have more time.


The trail eventually bottomed out at some campsites.From there it was just a short walk to the final crossing of Harper Creek.I knew rock hopping was unlikely before I arrived, and after my near-disaster earlier, I wasnít inclined to push my luck.I changed shoes two more times on either side of the stream before finishing my hike with a brisk walk back to the trailhead.


The drive out was tedious, thanks to slow moving traffic along Wilson Creek.I have no idea why some people find it necessary to drive 15mph on good dirt roads.At the very least, if there is a long line of cars backed up behind you, considering pulling off to let less-challenged drivers go by.I know this is North Carolina, where courteous driving is a foreign concept, but why not give it a try?


I eventually passed the one-car roadblock, but it wasnít until well after weíd reached pavement.Strictly speaking, I didnít wait for an officially sanctioned passing zone, but under the circumstances I didnít feel bad.At the rate we were going, I may have ended up spending the night in a motel in Morganton.


OK, rant off.Perhaps now is a good time for the next installment of my new ďMy FavoriteÖ..Ē series.Todayís installment:My Favorite Wilson:


1)    Wilson Creek Wild & Scenic River:

2)    ďWilsonĒ, by Phish: you still have fun?

3)    ďWilson?ĒďWilson!Ē:

4)    Wilson:

99) Wilson Phillips:


It was great getting back to some of my favorite places last weekend.In particular, the cliff overlook of South Harper Falls must be one of the best views in northwest North Carolina.Thatís been one of my favorite spots for many years, and I had it all to myself on Sunday afternoon.Iíll have to make a point to get back there again soon.




*This particular pair of rubber pants didnít actually have anything written on them, but I think my suggestion wouldíve really set her apart from all of the other women wearing rubber pants that day.

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