Waterfall Country

By Tom Poland

Several hikes proved easy. One proved tougher than nails. By the time we made it to the third waterfall of the day, an idea had firmly cemented itself. “Hiking to waterfalls is a grueling form of physical conditioning. Mountain terrain is a strenuous but rewarding obstacle course. Football coaches, take your teams on a waterfall expedition.”

Hiking trails. That’s what Robert Clark and I did for two days. We ventured up Upcountry way with an itinerary that consisted of six falls—Brasstown Falls, Pleasant Ridge Falls, Spoonauger Falls, King’s Creek Falls, Wildcat Falls, and Upper Wildcat Falls. We saw nary a wildcat.

To get to the more spectacular falls, we had to trudge uphill, crawl under fallen trees, over fallen trees, navigate loose rocks, claw through vines, and tightrope narrow paths edging drop offs all while carrying camera gear. Try it. It’ll test your mettle. 

All the exertion not only was worth it, it was good for us. Take note, coaches. Here’s a splendid way to get your team back to nature and in shape. The best reward, however, is spiritual. There’s something about thundering water that soothes the soul. Falling water and rising joy make a good tandem. If you seek another fine tandem, solitude and splendor, head to the Blue Ridge Escarpment. Robert and I did. Memorable views included the magical Middle Saluda River with its mossy rocks and white water, a glimpse of a brown trout, the Chattooga River, that wild river boring down from North Carolina, and a hiker’s cairn of sixteen stones. 

The photo of Robert … He’s standing beneath King’s Creek Falls amid trees tossed about as if some giant had been playing pick up sticks and just up and quit. Dead trees. A sad sight marred our expedition: the death of Eastern hemlocks due to infestations of the woolly adelgid, a critter with an ugly name. 

We saw a part of the Eastern Continental Divide in the form of a granite face cloaked in fog. Up here in waterfall country there ought be a fall where you can shower and have water run off your body to the Atlantic and the Gulf. I’d like that. I suspect you would too. 

We can thank two continental plates for all this falling water and rising joy. When they collided in super slow motion beneath North America 250 million years ago, they shoved metamorphic and igneous rocks into a legend that’d be known as the Blue Ridge Mountains. Rain, sleet, snow, ice, heat, and wind went to work weathering rocks, cutting drops and gorges as it forged a land destined to beckon hikers and lovers of waterfalls. Part of this folded land—cloaked in green and running white with rapids and waterfalls—would become South Carolina. Today, her waters churn, plummet, stair step, flute, froth, and run white toward two seas as hikers trek uphill and waters freefall over ledges, each in gravity’s grasp.

Here we are with autumn just around the bend. A fall color, waterfall trip sounds good to me. A friend lived in Florida for a few years and what he missed most, he said, were the seasons, especially fall and its splendid colors. You can have flat, sandy Florida and its mono-season. I’ll take a brilliant fall and a granite ledge that hangs 1,000 feet over a valley carpeted with red, yellow, and orange leaves every time. 

As the sun sets earlier and earlier, as temperatures drop, summer’s green palette gives way to autumn’s shades of red, orange, purple, cinnamon, and gold. Trees burst with brilliance, and then there’s all that whitewater as creeks and rivers abandon the horizontal for the vertical. Get thee to the Upcountry this fall. 

Author: Stephan Drew

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