Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Grassy Canyon DNF

After two weeks spent mainly at the beach working on my suntan and surfing I made it back up into the mountains with Joe last Saturday to give Grassy Canyon another try. This time we opted to attempt the canyon from the top down instead of the side entry we did last time. Our first descent was a big day but we assumed the warm weather would speed things up and we went one step further and drove as close to the top as we could with a plan to hitchhike back to the truck after the descent.

Things started innocently enough with a hour hike along an old, wet roadbed. This is a spectacular part of the forest and every time I am up there it is a treat. Endless views abound.

As we paused at our trail intersection a hiker on his way back out warned us that if we were going that way not to forget our machetes. Our plan was to hike straight down to where the water started running in the drainage - the top of the canyon. Due to the amazing views the balds gave us we could see almost all the way down to the bottom seven hundred vertical feet below us. And all we saw was a never ending sea of green. Mainly briers and small shrubs, and lots of tight mountain laurel. It didn't look good and definitely not easy, perhaps not even possible.

We went down the trail a little way trying to find a way into the thicket. We called a little trickle of water a good path to follow and headed into the brush. In short order the falling barometer gave way to a strong summer thunderstorm and the bushwhack began its torment with us. At first it was sort of easy going. We followed a bear trail and the little trickle of water when we could and when we couldn't we picked the path of least resistance. Somewhere along the way things got hard, and then really hard. It quickly became a very serious and very bushwhack in a thunderstorm in one of the absolute most remote places around. The rain was hard and it was clear we were under dressed. The water we had been following quickly morphed into a mountain stream that at times went underground. This stream doesn't flow often so it was full of hidden holes and rocks and covered with a nice carpet of moss and ferns which provide the perfect opportunity to fall in a hole and break a leg. An injury that deep in the woods would almost definitely result in a bivouac and serious search and rescue. So, we went slow and looked where each foot was going as we wrestled our way through the sordid maze.

The stream really opened up and at the top of a nice little hidden waterfall we stopped to gear up. We put our helmets on but the fall looked down climable so we left the harnesses and rope in our packs for a while longer . This was a very nice section of unexpected forest. Very canyonesque, very remote and not seen by many people. And full of very cold water.

If the water there was flowing that fast we both finally verbalized what we had both known for awhile: when we finally got down to Grassy the water would be too high to safely descend the water course. If we could have just turned around and gone back the way we had come we would have but that would have been way too hard so we had to keep going down until we could get closer to a trail. The stream was often too overgrown and hard to follow and as we got lower things got even harder. Joe was leading mostly and kept stopping to ask which way I thought we should go to which I would reply "Forward."

We found some interesting signs of human life which had us thinking there might be a way out of the nightmare but there wasn't. We poked around and kept coming up empty. So down we slogged on. We hit the confluence with Grassy and saw that indeed we could not safely descend the creek. A short way later we found the big waterfall I knew would be up there. It was easily 150-200' which meant we wouldn't have had enough rope and pull cord to do it anyway. It was still very nice to see this waterfall though. Perhaps the Holy Grail of Pisgah waterfalls? The picture doesn't do it justice - there is a whole lot more above it than you can see.

We followed the creek a little while longer and then decided it was time to head back up the mountain to try and interest the trail. It was around 400' back up to the top but luckily was not very overgrown even if it was on a forty degree slope. After some more complex navigation and route finding we finally hit the trail after around four hours of difficult bushwhacking. The fastest way back was back over the top instead of down to the road to hitchhike so we hoofed it and managed to do the 3.5 miles back in an hour.

Even if we didn't get to descend the canyon it was still a true adventure and great time and I'm glad we did it. Plus now we know just what this canyon entails. We are rating it a 3 C IV R.

A few pictures to come.

1 comment:

  1. Did you interest the trail or intersect the trail. Look at the tombstone blues video 32 secs in.