Last weekend brought another snowstorm to the North Carolina mountains. Jack, Jonathan, and I decided to head up to the mountains Saturday morning to hike in it. Our plans were vague – we figured we’d keep heading up until we found the white stuff.
Jack and I met Jonathan in Cleveland, and Jack drove from there. We headed for Lake Toxaway because Jack wanted to check out Crevice Falls. Brenda, Darrin, and I had visited Crevice Falls for the first time the previous weekend. Crevice Falls is on private property, but it is currently undeveloped and unposted.
There was just a dusting of snow there. Despite the addition of the snow, the waterfall wasn’t quite the same. My previous visit had been under prime conditions. Water levels were high, and fog leant the waterfall and surrounding cliffs a mysterious feel. A week later, water levels were lower, and there was even some sun peeking through the clouds.
We took a few photos before exploring the area. Jack and I followed Jonathan as he tried to scramble up the cliffs. Our goal was to see if there were additional waterfalls upstream. We didn’t make it very far. We’d gained perhaps 100’ of elevation when I noticed a house on the top of the ridge above Crevice Falls. Considering that we were on private property, I decided that we probably shouldn’t go any further. It probably wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Getting farther upstream would’ve required some serious scrambling, if not technical climbing.
We returned to Jack’s truck and headed back east on highway 64. My next idea was Courthouse Falls. I thought it would be a great destination in the snow, but when we reached the area, there was still only a dusting on the ground. We continued on up highway 215, but didn’t run into measureable snow until we were almost at the Parkway. The far (northern) side of the ridge had a couple of inches of snow, which was more encouraging.
We drove down 215 a few miles to a roadside waterfall on the West Fork of the Pigeon River. We took a few photos before doubling-back up to the cascades on Bubbling Springs Branch. This waterfall is a very short hike, but on this occasion it was tricky. The steep gully leading down from the parking area was icy, and the descent was a bit tedious. Once at the bottom, we had to cross a tributary stream to get a good view of the falls. Normally this crossing is a simple rock hop, but today all of the rocks were covered with ice. Somehow we made it across without falling in the creek. The effort was worth it, as the cascades were beautiful draped in fresh snow.
From there, we drove back up the mountain to the Mountains-to-Sea Trail (MST) crossing. It was quite cold outside, so we had lunch in the truck. Then we set out on our main hike of the day. The dogs were raring to go after a long morning spent mostly in Jack’s truck.
The goal was a hike on the MST in the Middle Prong Wilderness. I wanted to check out an obscure, seasonal waterfall that I’d seen from a distance on a previous hike. If time and energy allowed, we’d extend the hike up to a scenic meadow below Mount Hardy.
We descended from the road to rock hop Bubbling Springs Branch. Then we followed the MST through a meadow and into a deep, dark forest of spruce, fir, and rhododendron. There were a couple of inches of snow on the ground, and the fresh snow draping the tree branches added beauty to the hike.
We continued until the trail began following a creek upstream. We reached a crossing of a tributary, and left the trail there. We rock hopped the main creek and followed it upstream. The bushwhack was pretty easy, except for getting doused by falling snow every time I bumped into a tree. The final stretch was more challenging, mainly because of icy rocks and deadfall.
We reached the base of the waterfall, which I’ve heard called Mount Hardy Falls, about 10 minutes after leaving the trail. There is a neat view here, but most of the waterfall is out of sight. Based on the distant view of the falls from the trail, I’d guess that it’s close to 200’ high. The visible portion from the base is only about 30’ in two tiers. It may be possible to climb up the cliff alongside the falls for a better view, but it was too icy to attempt when we were there.
We returned to the trail, and since it was early, we extended the hike. We continued on the MST, heading west into the heart of the Middle Prong Wilderness. Before long we arrived at the previously mentioned view of the falls. It’s only a distant view, but it’s impressive. We’ll have to make another attempt at getting a closer look some other day.
A steady climb through more spruce fir forest and occasional meadows brought us to a gap below Mount Hardy. Here we picked up the unmarked trail to Green Knob. We followed it along Fork Ridge, climbing steeply for a couple of minutes to another junction. This time we veered left. A minute later we emerged from the forest into a vast meadow. From here we were treated to expansive views north, west, and south. Low, dark clouds obscured the view somewhat, but the vista of frosted trees lining the flanks of Mount Hardy was sublime.
I call this meadow “Rip Van Winkle Bald” because every time I bring someone here, they end up napping, sprawled out in the grass. It didn’t happen today. The fact that there was snow on the ground and the temperature was in the low 20’s probably had something to do with that.
We hiked back fast. It was getting late, and snow had begun falling before we reached the meadow. It really started coming down hard towards the end of the hike. We made it back in a little over an hour despite the snowy, icy conditions. Of course, the best way to stay warm in those conditions is to keep moving!
Highway 215 had been in good shape earlier, but it was starting to get snow-covered when we left. We did see a few other people on the trail, which was a bit of a surprise. Shortly after leaving the bald we passed a couple that was planning on camping up there. Later we encountered a solo hiker. On the drive out, as we passed under the Blue Ridge Parkway, we noticed two hikers crossing the bridge. I later found out that it was none other than Waterfall Rich (of ncwaterfalls.com) and his wife.
It was a great hike in what was probably the last snow of the season. Next time though, I should probably bring a spare pair of pants and socks to change into after the hike. That and gloves. Gloves would’ve been really nice to have.
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