In the 1950’s, a series of hydroelectric dams was built in the headwaters of the East Fork of the Tuckaseegee River between Cashiers and Sylva, NC.  In the process, the river and some of its tributaries were impounded.  One side effect of this construction was the alteration or destruction of several waterfalls.  One such waterfall, Paradise Falls on Wolf Creek, still exists.  However, the volume of water passing over the falls was severely reduced from historic levels.


A couple of weeks ago, Kevin Adams posted on his yahoo group site ( that the level of the Wolf Creek Reservoir was being reduced in preparation for repair work on the dam.  As a result, the flow over the falls was at pre-dam levels.  I had never visited the area, but I knew that this situation presented a unique opportunity.  I contacted my friend Jack, and we began making plans to visit the falls.


That weekend was a little complicated for me.  My cousin Brian had traveled by train from Philadelphia to Charlotte on Friday.  He was planning to meet some friends in Morganton on Saturday.  Starting Sunday morning, they were planning to cycle across North Carolina, from Morganton to the coast.  Their plan was ambitious, as they were hoping to spend the following weekend scuba diving along the outer banks.


I agreed to give Brian a ride from Charlotte to Morganton on Saturday.  He had a hotel room reserved for Saturday night, and offered to let me stay.  This was convenient for me, as it would give me a head start on the drive west on Sunday morning.  I planned to meet Jack at Wolf Creek later that morning.  After our hike, I’d continue on to Chattanooga, where I was scheduled to work the following week.


Brian and I had a pleasant drive to Morganton.  We actually continued on to Marion, where we met up with his friends, Johnny and Jenny.  They had started on a tandem bike from Chattanooga a few days earlier.  They’d endured a tough ride through the mountains, and Jenny’s knee was swollen and painful.  In Marion, Brian subbed in for Jenny, and rode with Johnny from there.  I gave Jenny a ride, and we all reconvened for lunch in Glen Alpine.   


Brian and I spent the afternoon catching up.  We had plenty to talk about, as we hadn’t seen each other in years.  We also shared stories of our most recent adventures.  Christy and I had just returned from Peru, while Brian had spent Christmas mountain biking in Bolivia.  Our trips shared a common thread – we’d both had first-hand experience with South American medical care.   Christy had been hospitalized with food poisoning, while Brian had been treated for a broken pelvis following a biking accident.


Late that afternoon I went for a run on the Catawba River Greenway.  It was a delightful experience in 90 degree heat.  At least most of the greenway is in the shade.


That evening we had dinner at Judge’s restaurant.  Judge’s, which is situated on the bank of the Catawba River, has long been my favorite restaurant in Morganton.  Afterwards, we stopped at a smoke shop so Brian could pick up some pipe tobacco.  Having never set foot in a smoke shop, I joined him inside out of curiosity.  The shop was small, but it seemed to contain every fun thing imaginable.   They had smoking accessories, booze, and an impressive, yet alarmingly vague, selection of pornography.  I mean, who would buy a porno that is only described simply as “Latino”?  I think I’d want a few more details – hypothetically, of course. 


We went to bed fairly early in anticipation of a big day on Sunday.  The next morning we took advantage of the free hotel breakfast before heading back over to Glen Alpine.  We met Johnny and Jenny there, and all three of them spent a few minutes organizing their gear.  Afterwards I wished them well on their journey.  Their plan was to catch a ride to Taylorsville.  From there, they planned to ride about 70 miles to my mom’s house in Winston-Salem.  I haven’t heard from Brian since, so I’m hoping the rest of their ride was a success.


I drove west to Sylva and on to Cullowhee.  Either I missed the town of Cullowhee or drove right through it without noticing.  From there, I enjoyed driving a windy stretch of road along the Tuckaseegee River.  I arrived at the trailhead exactly at 10:30, which was pretty astonishing considering that I really didn’t have much of an idea of how long the drive would take.  I found Jack waiting for me.  He was talking to “Waterfall Rich”, the owner of  I’d met Rich once, briefly, several years earlier.  He had arrived earlier that morning to see Paradise Falls in its restored glory.  We chatted for a few minutes, and Rich gave us some ideas of other places to visit before parting ways.


Jack and I noted a danger sign warning of high water levels and picked up a trail at the north end of the parking lot.  From there, we followed Rich’s directions down to Wolf Creek.  At this point, we were forced to wade the stream.  It is probably an easy rock hop under normal conditions, but we’d come here specifically because the water was up.  Unfortunately I’d neglected to bring my river shoes.  My penalty for that oversight was getting to walk around in wet Gore Tex boots all day.


We climbed the bank on the far side.  A couple of minutes later we began a steep descent on a muddy, eroded slope.  The descent is a bit nasty, but it’s not really dangerous as long as proper caution is exercised.  At the bottom we waded the creek again to get a better view of the falls.  And what a view it was!  The water was thundering over the falls and between two sheer cliffs that act like a portal between the cascade and a deep blue pool.  It was a real treat to see the falls in all of their glory!


We spent an hour or so there, mostly waiting for clouds to block the sun so we could get decent photos.  Eventually we headed back up.  After ascending part way though, we explored a path that led down to an interesting side view of the falls.  From there, it was even possible to climb around almost behind the falls. 


On the way out, we swung by the brink of the falls, where we found a group enjoying a picnic.  Then, we passed another couple near the trailhead.  We hadn’t seen anyone at the base of the falls, but it seemed like the crowds were starting to arrive.


From there, we drove up the road to the pulloff for the upper waterfall on Sols Creek.  We were a little confused when we first arrived.  We were in the right place, but didn’t realize it.  We continued on up the road for a couple of miles before doubling-back.


We parked on the shoulder and walked up the road a short distance to a gravel road.  The road was blocked with boulders and a rope, and there was a “no trespassing” sign posted.  Normally I wouldn’t ignore posted property, but I could see the National Forest boundary marked on a tree only a few yards away.  It might be technically possible to avoid crossing private property here by climbing around in the bushes, but I wasn’t in the mood.  Instead I scooted across, with Jack following, and headed down the trail.  We reached Sols Creek a few minutes later.  From there, we headed upstream, following faint paths and crossing the stream occasionally.  My boots were already soaked, so I didn’t expend any effort trying to rock hop.


We reached the base of the falls a few minutes later.  Upper Sols Creek Falls is a beauty, and Jack and I were both impressed.  The sun was blazing when we arrived, so I spent a few minutes doing some “gardening”, which consisted of removing some large tree limbs from the creek.  Eventually clouds came, but our window for photography was brief.  The clouds signaled the arrival of a thunderstorm.  We had time for a few quick pictures before hurrying back to the car.  Our timing was good, as we arrived just before the storm broke.


I wasn’t ready to call it a day, so I flipped through Kevin’s guidebook to see what else was in the area.  After a bit of debate, we decided to drive over to the trailhead for the waterfall on Double Springs Branch.  This one sounded less exciting, but we hoped that the storm would pass while we were driving over there. 


The storm was so powerful we could barely see the road.  When we arrived at what we thought was the trailhead the storm was still raging.  Jack decided to call it a day.  I elected to give it 10 more minutes, and was rewarded for my patience.  I was just about to give up when the rain began to slacken.  A couple of minutes later it was down to a roaring drizzle, and I was ready for another hike.


I didn’t want to carry the guidebook because of the rain.  So, I memorized Kevin’s directions and headed down the gated, gravel road.  I encountered some confusion early on.  The book mentions a side road joining the main route early on.  I was watching for it, but didn’t see one.  This made me wonder if I’d started in the right place.  Before long I found a faint side path heading downhill.  This looked promising, so I headed that way, keeping an ear out for the sound of the falls.  Unfortunately, it was still raining enough that the rain was the only thing I could hear.  After a few minutes I reached an old road.  I turned right on the road, thinking it would lead to the creek.


I ended up in a maze of old logging roads and trails.  Many of them were marked with striped ribbons, but I had no idea where they were leading.  I blundered around for a bit, and eventually did find my way to a creek.  There was no waterfall there though, and the immediate surrounding area didn’t look too promising.  At this point I was having serious doubts as to whether I had started my hike from the correct spot. 


I’d been reminded of the folly of hiking in an unfamiliar place without any sort of map.  I headed back to the car.  I drove farther down the road, until I was satisfied that I was in the right place to begin with.  Then, I re-read Kevin’s directions and decided to give it another try.  This time, I spotted the old road, which has nearly disappeared under deadfall.  After a short distance I ran into Paul, another waterfall enthusiast, who had hiked previously with Jack.  We chatted for a few minutes, and he set me straight.  This time I found the falls without any trouble.  The waterfall was nice, but nothing compared to what we’d seen earlier in the day.  The water level was low, too, despite the recent downpour.


From there, I drove over to Charley’s Creek.  My intention was one last hike to a waterfall upstream.  First though, I decided to check out a small waterfall just downstream from the bridge.  Kevin mentions it briefly in the guide, and it is visible from the road.  I climbed under the guard rail and descended a steep path to the creek.  The waterfall is about 10’ high, but it’s worth a look if you’re in the neighborhood.  Unfortunately it started raining again right after I arrived.  I hurried back to the car and reconsidered my plans.  It was pouring again, and the hike to the waterfall on Charley’s Creek is a bit longer than the ones we’d done earlier.  After a bit of debate, I decided that the rain was a sign that it was time to get on the road.  After all, it was getting late, and I still had a long drive to Chattanooga.


It was thrilling to see Paradise Falls the way it was meant to be.  The upper waterfall on Sols Creek was a real gem, too.  Overall, it was a great day for waterfall wandering!

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