Adventures in Pisgah

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

living the good life

Summer has come to the mountains and I have fallen into a lazy days pattern. There is nothing to train for. Nothing to worry about. Plenty of work. Plenty of daylight. It could always go wrong, but for now it is all perfect.

I'm not doing much. Just a little bit of everything. Getting ready to run again. Trying to make the bike silent. Sleeping late and eating a lot. Hanging from ropes and reading in hammocks. Learning trees and contemplating waterfalls. There is a kayak in my garage I have hardly touched.

My tenkara rod is going almost everywhere I go. It has even accompanied me up to the top of Mt. Mtichell. Tenkara + Everything and I'm catching tons of fish!

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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Having a High Time

Last weekend was perfect. An extra day meant I could do everything. Friday was Canyoneering. Saturday was mountain biking. Sunday was kayaking. And my tenkara rod joined me on all my adventures.

Most notable was Friday's canyoning with Joe and Edmund. We did the same route I had done solo the week before except we did it the opposite direction, descending the big watercourse. There were indeed four waterfalls right after each other near the beginning which meant there were three rappels and a sketchy hand line.  This was a really good canyon, but after the week before's epic ascent  I was left feeling like it was a little too easy. What the rappels lacked in technical difficulty was offset by the amazing beauty of this remote stretch of forest. We are calling it Left Hand Canyon, in honor of my dislocated thumb. (Right Hand Canyon soon to follow).

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Thursday, July 3, 2014

Shower Climbing Pisgah

When Daniel was here back in April he asked if we ever go up our streams and waterfalls. He had done so in Japan where they call it Shower Climbing. I wasn't sure I knew just what he was talking about but was sure it wasn't something we do around here. His question sparked my interest and since his visit I've been dreaming of a route where you go up one watercourse and then down another. Ever the reasonable type, I figured my best option would be to go up something easy with no waterfalls and then down something a little harder with a couple of small waterfalls. After scouring my maps I picked two streams that diverge into one and whose headwaters are somewhat easily accessible by a common trail. I headed off alone on Saturday morning to see what I could find.

It took a little work to identify which stream to go up but I found it and up I went. I had my Tenkara rod, of course, and fished as I slowly worked my way upstream. Things started out rather overgrown but the canopy opened up into Carolina blue skies and around every bend was yet another perfect pool. I kept thinking okay, now is time to put up the rod, but there was another bend and another pristine cascade and another perfect pool.

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Cast again. And again. and again....

At first I was little worried the route was going to be too easy and too boring. But then things started to get a little harder. Huge log jams appeared. Wherever I stepped the driftwood caved in. The upclimbs started to increase in difficulty. The margin of error decreased exponentially.

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I was carrying full technical gear and decided if I was carrying a helmet it was now time to use it. At least my head might be safe. I stepped up onto a big stone on a dry oasis in the middle of the stream to have a bite to eat, sip of water and to put on my helmet but when I went to step off that large stone it shifted under my weight and tossed me four feet down to the creek. My knees and shins banged the boulders and I stuck out my arms to catch me. My left thumb caught the brunt of the fall and I watched it bend back to touch my wrist. Pain coursed through my body and after grinding to a halt I assessed the damage: and while it hurt really bad I could still make a fist, grab my fishing rod and flex my fingers.  Not quite tragedy narrowly adverted but also far from worst case scenario.

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As if to wash away the pain from my stupid accident and injury around the very next bend I was greeted by a perfect 100', three tired waterfall. There weren't supposed to be any waterfalls on this creek so I considered myself lucky. The sides of the creek were narrow and the waterfall had just enough of a gentle grade and vegetation off to the sides to tell me I could climb it. Now was time to put away the tenkara rod. With a lot of work I manage to scrape my way all the way up it.

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Climbing that beast was exhilarating and exhausting and once I topped out I was happy for it to be over but there to great me above the horizon was yet another large waterfall. It was as if I just entered canyon heaven but instead of going down on ropes I was headed up alone instead. I didn't take long to linger, I just focused and went up.

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This one was a little harder to get up. It was vertical in many places and there weren't as many reliable holds. I scraped and clawed my way up. While this snail makes it look easy my grip was not nearly as good.

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Now by my count there had already been tow major waterfalls where there should have been none so imagine my surprise when at the top of this latest waterfall I looked up to see two more waterfalls waiting just upstream for me.

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At this point I was just going on pure adrenaline. My left thumb and hand were throbbing almost as hard as my chest was pounding. There was nowhere to go but up.

This one was the hardest yet. Halfway up I decided I wanted to go down but couldn't. I wanted to just traverse off to the side but couldn't. I couldn't find a decent handhold. Things were getting sketchy to say the least as falling was not an option. I finally found a large crack above me, stuck my mangled left hand in it, made a fist and held on with all my might. After a seemingly impossible amount of time I managed to slowly work my way over to a slight ledge. From there I retreated off to the side through some vegetation.

Tragedy narrowly adverted indeed.

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From there luckily the waterfalls ended. It had been a very hard stretch and I was glad to be out of that gorge.

At the trail where I had planned to go left and then down another stream I stopped for lunch. I was beat and felt like going down a similar stream to what I had just been up might be pushing my luck so I did the smart thing and went right instead.

There was still another stream to go down but this one was flatter and near a trail and not too technical at all.  Perfect for a little more tenkara fishing before calling it a day.

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Monday, June 23, 2014

hidden giant

Deep in the heart of Shining Rock Wilderness there lies a very large and very elusive waterfall. It appears on some maps but the remoteness of the area means that few people manage to view it close up and in person. Last summer Joe and I caught a fleeting glimpse of it but were under roped and over watered and could not rappel it. Last winter I managed to see it from afar while searching for a train.

A few weeks back Edmund and I succeeded in reaching this waterfall and rappelling it and then descended the rest of the watercourse. It was hard to reach. We tried to go straight to the top of the waterfall by hiking much further up on the mountain before bushwhacking down to the creek but were stymied by impenetrable thickets of briars and rhododendron and ended up reaching the creek at the lower fall where I have been many times before. From there we worked our way up the creek, stopping for a little Tenkara fishing along the way, in search of the giant, hidden waterfall. Just when we had resigned to give up the search and turn around there it was shining like a beacon.

The rappel itself required every inch of the 200' rope we had brought for the job but wasn't overly challenging. Instead of technical difficulty this trip was all about the splendid beauty of true wilderness. Standing atop the precipice looking out over the lush green expanse of nothing but mountains and it was all worth it. Halfway down the waterfall I paused to soak in the miraculous splendor of it all and  took comfort in that we still have such wild places where our souls can be nourished and replenished.

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Friday, June 6, 2014

Dark Prong

We started Saturday's adventure in Pisgah by hitchhiking on the Blue Ridge Parkway to save ourselves a shuttle and long walk. I was going to suggest that Any hide in the bushes or at least try to cover his long hair and tattoos so he could look respectable like me but when he donned a floppy leather hat and told me it was lucky I decided luck was better than hiding so out went our thumbs.

The first dozen cars to pass were all either Fit's or Prius's with their occupants holding the wheel and trying not to look at us. Then an SUV with a kayak on top slowed long enough for the passenger to say sorry and for me to see that there wasn't room inside for us or our gear. Then a Jeep driven by a young trail runner pulled over and in we jumped. He was headed for Black Balsam as well and after a few minutes of pleasant conversation we were parting ways with Andy I headed East on Mountains to Sea and the driver headed North on Art Loeb.

On the approach hike I couldn't figure out if I was way out of shape or if Andy is in really good shape and in hindsight I realize it was likely both, but we made it to the headwaters of Dark Prong without too much effort. From there we left the trail and started to follow the watercourse. After a half hour or so of walking down the creek the water volume started to increase and the vegetation started to open up. Horizon lines started to appear and and a series of cascades with perfect pools at the bottom popped up. It was east coast canyon heaven but all I could think about was when I could stop and pull out my new fishing rod.

My fishing rod  is a Tenkara rod, of course. After last months Tenkara + Canyoneering trip I've been dreaming of getting back onto a remote mountain stream to combine Tenkara and canyoneering again. Joe surprised me with a sweet Iwana rod from TenkaraUSA as a wedding gift and it made it's debut on this trip. Years ago when I first moved here I bought a traditional western style fly rod and tried it a few times but could never really get into it. The rod was too long, the reel too bulky and it didn't pack down small enough to take adventuring with me. And to top it all off it was just too involved - there was too much gear and too much to think about. The beauty of tenkara is the simplicity: just a rod, line and fly. Even the fly can be simplified by using just a single traditional pattern. I get it and am hooked.

So, there we are on the Dark Prong and all I can think about is when to start fishing. I managed to hold out for a few minutes but at the top of a nice little 15' waterfall with a perfect pool at the bottom I couldn't resist any longer and pulled out the rod and rigged up. For the most part I kept the rod extended and just casted a few times into each pool as we worked our way down the stream. The canyon for the most part with littered with a long series of small cascades, many of which made for sketchy down climbs. There was a single rappel down a very nice 60' waterfall that doesn't appear to be named or on any maps (which isn't surprising considered just how remote this stream is). I stopped to fish the pool at the bottom of the waterfall while Andy stuffed the rope. On my second cast I had a strike but missed it. On my fourth cast I landed a perfect nine inch wild brook trout. Happy with my success I then let Any play around with the rod for a little bit before we continued downstream.

I was utterly amazed at just how easy tenkara makes it fish these remote mountain streams. Patience isn't my virtue and I like to stay on the move and with my tenkara rod I was able to do just that. When the stream got choked in with vegetation or the terrain got too technical I would just collapse the rod and wrap the line in the line holder - it is a very efficient system. I shared the rod with Andy at every opportunity and at one pool he managed to get a few strikes and almost land a fish of his own.

We had been going down for two and a half hours when we came across another fisherman working his way up stream. A couple of guys wearing harnesses and helmets and carrying a tenkara rod were the last thing he was expecting to see climbing down the waterfall where he was fishing.

How far are we to the bottom? I asked.

I started up five hours ago, he said,  How far are we from the top?

We started two and half hours ago, and are moving fast. I answered.

 Neither of us was as close to our destinations as we would have liked but there was also no less spectacular of a place where we could have been. Dark Prong is a pristine blue line that snakes through one of the wildest parts of the Pisgah District. If you are looking for true Wilderness you can find it on Dark Prong.

After passing the other fisherman we figured he had already spooked most of the fish ahead of us and decided it was time to get moving so I packed up the rod and we finished up the trip in another two and half hours. A most excellent adventure in Pisgah!


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