Saturday, June 17, 2017

Wilson Creek SWEaTfest

Last weekend found me in Wilson Creek with Pisgah Nation for the annual SWEaTfest fun run. I did the run last year and really enjoyed the route as well as the company and have been looking forward to doing it again ever since. This year things would take an unexpected but interesting turn just a few miles in.

Just after crossing over Yellow Buck Mtn. I arrived at a trail junction I didn't remember from last year where another runner, Vince, was pondering the options. One trail was blocked by dead fall and the other one was clear but a trail sign seemed to be indicating that the dead fall trail was the way to the road where we were headed so that is the trail we picked. We started descending rapidly with lots more dead fall and I had a strong hunch it was the wrong way. I tried yelling for Vince but he had pulled way ahead and couldn't hear me so I just kept going. After a mile or so I arrived at a creek and the tell tale white circle blazes told me what I already knew - we had gone the wrong way and were at Harper Creek. What I couldn't figure out was where was Vince. I thought for sure he would have stopped at the creek to plot his next move but he was not there.  I ran a quarter mile upstream and then a quarter mile downstream hoping to find him but he was nowhere to be found. I decided he must have realized our mistake and picked an alternate route to run. I pulled out my map and did the same.

Instead of reversing course and finishing the route I opted to do a different route altogether that would have me on some new to me trails. I decided to go up Persimmon Ridge to the road and then down South Harper Creek before rejoining the route near the end. I figured Persimmon Ridge was bound to be the least used trail in the area and from the start the trail looked faint and indeed little used. It climbed steadily and steeply and I resigned myself to not worry about the time or where Vince might have gone and to instead just enjoy my day in the woods.

I stopped about three quarters of the way to the top to stretch my hip flexors and was enjoying a nice break when suddenly Vince appeared coming up the trail behind me. I wasn't expecting to see anyone on that trail, especially not Vince behind me. He quickly told me he figured out we were off course when he got to Bard Falls on Harper Creek and was reversing course so that he could finish the route. It took me a second to process what he was saying and I had to ask if he knew where he was.

"Not really," he said, "but once I get to the top where we missed the turn I will."

That didn't make sense either and it took a little more back and forth before I realized he thought he was on the same stretch of trail we had come down which was on the other side of the creek. I explained how he was nowhere near there and I had intentionally left the course after our wrong turn to do a different route. He was eager to finish the course so I gave him my map and went over what he needed to do to get back on course several times. I took a picture of the map in case I needed it and I wished him well before we went our separate ways.


A short while later the forest opened up into a grand stand of old growth trees so spectacular I had to yell aloud in amazement and wonder.


From there it was a short way up to the road and then a short stretch of gravel before descending the South Harper Creek trail. After a couple of miles on the trail a waterfall appeared and the run couldn't have gotten any better already. While not the biggest of waterfalls it was a nice spot and I pulled out my fishing pole to play around a bit. I didn't catch anything or even get a bite but that wasn't the point of the exercise.



Back out on the trail and low and behold a short distance later another waterfall appeared. This one was much bigger, much more intriguing, and ripe for canyoning.





From there it was a long distance across an overgrown trail covered in downed trees and littered with creek crossings. There was little running going on and I was getting concerned that other runners might be getting concerned about where I was so I did my best to push on as fast as I could.

After a seeming eternity I finally arrived at the final waterfall - Harper Creek Falls.


I wasn't going to stop there but it was just too inviting so I decided to take a quick dip before running the final mile back to the trail head. I went up to the big pothole in the middle of the waterfall and swam around while I watched some young men demonstrate the power of team work to free a tangled rope.


Then much to my relief I saw some other Pisgah Nation runners sliding down the falls and followed suite so I could talk to them as I was eager to know if they had seen Vince. They had not and I gave them the short version before they headed back to the beer. I hung out a little bit longer before making my own beer run.

Back at the trail head we hung out in Wilson Creek where the big question was "Where is Vince?". Hours passed and we started to get concerned but with no clue where he was there was nothing we could do but wait. He finally popped out of the woods with a smile on his face and told us about how his adventure had continued after I last saw him with more wrong turns but in the end he finished the route with an extra ten miles or so.

As for myself, Persimmon Ridge was the best wrong turn I have ever taken!


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