Last Saturday Joe and I did a new, at least to us, canyon route. We picked a well known river located in the southwestern most part of the Pisgah Ranger District that boasts four very spectacular and easily accessible waterfalls near the top and one otherworldly waterfall much further down river. With a drop of over 700 feet in just a quarter mile Windy Falls is a long series of big cascades through a rugged mountain gorge. We reckoned there is no better way to experience such a place than to go right down the watercourse.
We started just below the lower of the upper falls and were greeted by some high water and strong currents. Neither one of us was sure if the water would be too high to make it down to the big waterfall we were after but we agreed to give it a try with the spoken understanding that we would turn around at the first sign of real danger. This canyon was bigger and a lot different that what we had done before - it was like Bonas Defeat on steroids and after five hours felt like a cruel torture test.
Descending the canyon required a never ending sequence of down climbing, up climbing, swimming, crawling rappelling, back tracking, squeezing, stemming and everything else you can imagine while being surrounded by a raging river. The current was strong and at several times we had to cross in in the thick of it when slipping could mean being washed away forever. Several of the down climbs had penalties for failure so severe that failure simply is not an option.
We quickly started to question or gear choices and scrambled to rearrange our ropes to distribute our weight better. Big swims in strong currents are made a lot harder when you have a heavy pack filling with water and dragging you down. At one point we landed on an oasis of driftwood and I spotted some old plastic bottles amongst the other detritus. We grabbed several, emptied out the water, put the tops back on and secured them in our packs to help aid in buoyancy. They helped a lot but on the next trip like this I'll still consider a PFD.
After several hours of this beautiful misery Joe started to question why we even brought ropes as we hadn't used them. I told him we hadn't even gotten to the waterfall yet. We had already descended a dozen or more cascades - waterfalls - as the upper quarter mile section of this canyon drops 250 feet but we still hadn't gotten to the big drop. We we got to it we knew it immediately. The river drops away and the horizon opens and the gorge walls narrow in. A primitive sign at the top warned "Slippery When Dry".
I cannot understate just what an amazing place this is. Wild and Scenic for sure and one of the most impressive places I have seen yet. The weather was prefect and even though it was the first day of fall the water felt great, clean and pure. There are only a few waterfalls in the Ranger District I have not seen and so far Windy Falls is the most amazing of them all. Dismal Falls, the falls on Laurel Creek, and Upper Greasy are all nice and all, but imagine them all stacked on top of each other and that might start to give you an idea of what Windy is like.
Joe kept asking how much further we had to go down and since I made the mistake of looking at my altimeter at the top I had to tell him we weren't even halfway yet. What we had thought wouldn't take too long was taking a long time and turning into a big day. There was no place to bail out, no place to go other than down. When we finally made it down to where an old trail provides an exit route we both happily crawled out of the river. No need for a celebratory photo pose on top of a rock - all we wanted was out.
Getting back to the truck only added to the adventure. With shaky directions at best we ended up on the wrong trail, if there even is a trail, and found ourselves bushwhacking up a big mountain. Instead of heading back down to look for another trail up we opted for the bushwhack and spent the next hour and a half crawling through rhododendron and briar thickets as we climbed a thousand vertical feet back up to where we had come from. One of the hardest bushwhacks I have ever done.
Four miles in seven and a half hours from truck to truck. If you go, go prepared.
11 hours ago