A couple of years ago, while researching a hike in the Dobson Knob area west of Linville Gorge, I stumbled across a brief mention of a waterfall Iíd never heard of.† I found a lead on the North Carolina Sierra Clubís website here:
The website describes it as a 50í waterfall on the Yellow Fork of Paddy Creek, just upstream from the Yellow Forkís confluence with the Black Fork.† I was intrigued, yet skeptical.† The usual resources for North Carolina waterfalls made no mention of it.† Plus, the topo map doesnít really suggest the presence of a major waterfall.† †On the other hand, I figured it couldnít hurt to have a look.† Topo maps arenít always completely accurate, and sometimes features can ďhideĒ between those 40í elevation contours.
A year so ago I made a solo attempt at exploring the area.† The source referenced above mentions two trails running west from the Kistler highway into the Paddy Creek drainage.† On that first attempt I hiked one of them.† Unfortunately I picked the wrong one.† The trail (actually an old road) ended up curving back to the road.† I made a brief attempt at bushwhacking down towards the creek, but gave up quickly.
Last weekend I decided to make another attempt.† One of my hiking buddies, Brenda, had recently expressed interest in exploring Linville Gorge.† She had never been there, so I suggested a pair of half day hikes.† The first would be an attempt at the mystery waterfall.† That afternoon weíd hike the Rockjock Trail, which would give Brenda a scenic introduction to the most dramatic canyon in the southeastern U.S.†
We made plans to meet at one of the boat ramps on Lake James off highway 126.† However, there was a bit of a snafu, and we ended up in different parking areas.† Fortunately our cell phones worked, and I was able to determine that she was actually at one of the access points for Lake James State Park.† I figured she was at the new Paddy Creek access and drove up there.† Iíd never been in this new part of the park, and couldnít believe how long the entrance road was.† I finally reached the visitorís center at the end, only to discover that she wasnít there.† After another phone call I realized that she was actually farther west on 126.† Once we got that figured out I gave her directions to meet me. She arrived a couple of minutes later and followed me from there.
The drive up Kistler was interesting.† There were trees down across the road in several places, presumably from the high winds that had started the previous afternoon.† Luckily all of them were avoidable.† I did stop at one of the overlooks on Kistler so Brenda could check out the view of Shortoff and Lake James.† Iíve seen it so many times that I rarely pause there, but seeing her take it in for the first time was a reminder of just how dramatic it is.
We continued up Kistler but pulled off on the shoulder about a ľ mile before reaching the southern trailhead for the Mountains to Sea Trailhead.† There are actually two trails heading west along this part of Kistler.† The first (if coming from the south) is the old road Iíd tried a year earlier.† The footpath we attempted on this hike is another 0.1 mile to the north.† At our visit the trailhead was marked with orange ribbons and a plastic grocery bag tied to a small tree.
We got something of a late start thanks to our earlier confusion.† At least that gave the day a chance to warm up a bit.† We started our hike under partly sunny skies, but temperatures were still in the low 30s without considering the gusty winds.
We followed a faint but reasonably clear trail into the woods.† Before long the path joined an old roadbed, and we began contouring around the north side of hill 2715í.† After a few minutes we reached a junction marked with a cairn.† There is also an old rusty bucket in the woods just above the trail.†
I pondered the map for a couple of minutes.† The road stayed on an even contour, and it looked like it might just continue swinging around hill 2715í.† The other trail descended rather steeply towards the creek.† It looked like that trail was heading north of our target, which was the confluence of the Yellow Fork and the Black Fork.† However, it looked a lot more promising than the old roadbed.† We headed down.
My dog Boone led the way as we worked our way down through partially burned forest.† The descent was moderately steep but not unreasonable.† The trail was in better shape than Iíd expected.† In fact, I was pleased to be on a trail at all.† Iíd come expecting at least some bushwhacking.
We were within ear-shot of the creek when we reached the next junction.† This one was also marked with a cairn.† Although the vegetation was rather thick, we could see the lay of the land fairly well here.† The creek was directly below us, and we could see that it dropped significantly over a very short distance.† Sheer cliffs on the opposite side of the creek offered more evidence of the presence of a waterfall.† To this point, Iíd had relatively low expectations for this hike.† I wasnít expecting anything more dramatic than a short run of cascades.† However, now I was beginning to believe that there might be a serious waterfall here.
We took the left fork there, as it seemed to be heading towards the likely location of the waterfall. †After a short distance we reached the brink of a cliff.† At first I didnít see a route down.† Then I spotted the ladder.† There was a 10í wooded ladder propped against the side of the cliff below us.† I wasnít sure whether to be relieved or alarmed.† The ladder looked dubious at best.† Just approaching it was going to be a challenge.
I sat down and ďbuttwhackedĒ until I could get my feet on the top rung.† When I touched it, the whole thing swayed alarmingly.† Yikes!† The base of the ladder was resting against a couple of small trees, but it just didnít look very stable.† I wasnít real comfortable with it Ė plus, how would I get the dog down?† We decided to look for another route.
We tried the other trail first.† We followed it down to the creek just upstream from where we suspected the falls were.† I believe the trail crosses the creek here and climbs up to join FR106 near the microwave tower near Dobson Knob.† However, we didnít scout that part of the trail.† Instead, we tried to force our way downstream.† This effort did lead us to an impressive overhanging cliff, but a horrific tangle of rhododendrons and briers blocked further progress.† We abandoned that attempt after a bit of thrashing around and subsequent bleeding.
We returned to the ladder and Brenda decided to give it a try.† To our relief, the ladder stabilized once she got to the second rung.† She descended it like a crab, facing out.† I followed, and found it much more stable than it had appeared.† At the base, I noticed that it is well-anchored around the trunks of two small trees.
We still had one dilemma.† Boone was still at the top of the cliff, whining and crying.† Thereís nothing more distressing to Boone than being left behind.† I explored a bit, and found a break in the cliffs just south of the ladder.† I thought he could descend there, but he didnít want anything to do with it.† Eventually I conceded defeat and suggested that Brenda check out the falls while I waited with Boone.† When she returned, she could babysit the dog while I took my turn at the waterfall.
Brenda disappeared, and I endured 15 minutes of Boone's whining.† I spent most of that time trying to encourage him to come down, but he wasnít having it.† Finally Brenda returned with a twinkle in her eye and a grin on her face.† Apparently we had struck gold.†
I hurried down the steep hillside.† There isnít much of a trail beyond the ladder, but the route was obvious.† Moments later I caught my first glimpse of the falls, and that view spurred me on.† I reached the creek a minute later, and was thrilled with what I saw.
I was in a deep grotto, surrounded by jagged cliffs on every side.† The creek spilled through a notch in the cliffs above, free falling and then cascading into a beautiful pool.† That pool is incredibly deep and crystal clear.† Iíd guess itís at least 10í deep at the base of the falls, but itís hard to judge.† It might actually be deeper!† The waterfall certainly isnít 50í high though.† If anything, Iíd guess itís half that.† However, it is quite lovely and photogenic.†
The waterfall is beautiful, but thatís only the beginning.† The entire area is fascinating.† Downstream from the pool is a massive boulder.† The creek actually disappears below the boulder.† The stream then tumbles over an underground waterfall that is clearly audible from the opposite side of the rock.† The creek then re-emerges just downstream in another beautiful, peaceful pool. †My buddy Johnny would describe this waterfall as the kind of place youíd want to bring a lady friend for a picnic.† Well, thatís assuming that your lady friend doesnít mind steep trails, wobbly ladders, and briers.
I had to laugh at our earlier efforts at following the creek from upstream.† Thereís no way we wouldíve made it down from there without rappelling gear!
I had just started taking photos when Boone arrived.† Brenda arrived a couple of minutes later, eager for another visit.† Apparently she had tried to coax Boone down just as I had.† After a few minutes she gave up and started climbing the ladder.† She was most of the way up when Boone pushed past her and raced down the ladder unassisted.
We lounged there for awhile enjoying the falls.† At one point I waded a shallow part of the pool to get a better angle for photos.† Flurries were in the air, and that water was COLD!† Afterwards I had an early lunch of warm soup, but my feet didnít really thaw until we hiked out.
We had one other foot related fiasco while we were there.† While scrambling around near the base of the falls, Brenda dislodged a large rock that fell directly on her foot.† That was ugly, but it couldíve been worse.† It didnít appear to do any serious damage beyond a nasty bruise.
It was after noon when we started back up.† Getting Boone back up the cliff was the only major challenge.† I led him up through the break in the cliffs and gave him a boost up to the top.† I climbed up after him, since I was already most of the way up.† From there we endured a strenuous but straight-forward hike back out.† The return hike took less than an hour.† We ended up spending 3 hours on the hike, but much of that time was spent getting Boone up and down the cliff and simply enjoying the falls.
Iíd like to find out more about the waterfall we found.† Thereís no mention of it on the interwebs, with the exception of the Sierra Club website mentioned at the beginning of the report.† Clearly we arenít the first people to visit this waterfall (as evidenced by a pretty good trail and a ladder).† On the other hand, there were no other signs of people around the falls.† There are no real trails along the creek.† Thereís also no trash, which was a pleasant surprise.
Iíll definitely return to this area.† Iíd like to explore more, though all off-trail hiking in that area is extremely difficult thanks to the cliffs, briers, and rhododendrons.† In particular Iíd like to check out the Black Fork, just to see if there is anything along there.† Pond Ridge is also intriguing, as it features a lot of exposed quartz.† At the very least Iíll be back to visit the falls, as Iím sure some of my friends will want to see it.
Here is a link to the GPS track that Brenda took on our hike:
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