Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Let It Snow!

When they started forecasting the possibility of snow a few days ago, as usual I got really excited.  Of course the prediction was that our area would see only a slight dusting to maybe a half an inch at best.  Some forecast models even showed our area getting zilch.  As is often the case, we got more than predicted.  Not much more, but at least it wasn't just a dusting.  Usually with Gulf moisture storms, our snows tend to be wet and fluffy, but this time due to an extremely cold air mass already in place, the snow was very fine, almost powder-like.  If the moisture had been increased and the temperatures slightly warmer, our inch would have likely been 3 or 4, and that's still with the bulk of the moisture to our south and east. 

As the snow started coming down around lunchtime on January 28th, I kept thinking, "You know this could be a nice snow."  I had my camera fired up and ready to go.  All I needed was the right opportunities.  I was not disappointed.  By 3:00 in the afternoon, the snow had accumulated enough that I could get some great shots.  To make it better, the marina bay at Lake Lure had re-frozen and a thin layer of snow had descended upon it.  Here's a couple of shots I grabbed.

Of course, I knew that such a small amount of snow wouldn't stick around too long so I had to get out early to get more shots.  The morning was clear and cold with just enough clouds in the sky to offer some contrast.  Here's the same shots as above, only with sun and no snow falling.

With the sky as clear as it was and plenty of snow on the cliff faces around the lake.  I thought I would also grab a few shots there too.  When the snow was coming down, it was impossible to see the mountains because the ceiling dropped so low.

Since the Town has been working on Buffalo Creek Park, I thought that I probably ought to get some winter time shots over there too.  I was tempted to hike the whole 3.5 miles, but the temperature was in the teens and I wasn't exactly bundled up for those kind of temperatures, nor did I have other appropriate trail gear for snow trekking.  I still was able to come away with some good shots.  I was also reminded while I was there that one of the reasons I like snow is because I get to see wildlife activity.  When I first got to where I would get my first shots, I noticed some tracks I had never seen before and it took me a while to figure out exactly what they were.  I also found fresh scat which looked odd.  After studying the tracks for a while, I concluded that maybe it was river otter tracks which was confirmed after returning to my office and doing a little research.  I wish now that I had taken a picture of the tracks and the slide marks.  It was obviously a pair as there were two sets.  They must have been having a playful romp in the snow as I have read is common with otters.  I also saw some tracks from the elusive bobcat.
Bobcat tracks
Here are some of the shots I was able to get from the trail and along Buffalo Creek.

I love being in the woods in the snow.  I love the quietness and the feel of isolation from the world outside of the forest.  Snow is what I call an equalizer because it hides the impacts we as humans create as we develop roads, paths, and parking lots.  For just a little while snow hides the ugliness of man's creation and exposes the beauty and simplicity of God's creation.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

My Visit to the Narrows

In western North Carolina, whether you are a local or a visitor, there are certain places that should go on every outdoor adventurer's life list.  Some examples might be Dry Falls near Highlands, Whiteside Mountain (also near Highlands), and Linville Gorge.  These places are typically characterized by unique location and some type of ultimate reward, usually involving superb scenery or something to that effect.  The Green River Narrows is no exception.

The Narrows lie in the heart of Green River Gorge and begin just upriver of the Henderson/Polk County line on the Henderson County side just below the Green's confluence with the Big Hungry River.  The Narrows has a reputation as one of the most extreme kayaking destinations in the eastern United States and has 11 major class IV+ to V+ rapids.  The Narrows section is approximately 3 river miles long, dropping an average of 178 feet per mile.  The middle section (where all the fun is) drops about 342 feet over a half mile.

The Narrows is tough whitewater kayaking and has been the site of numerous injuries and fatalities.  It's extreme nature is what makes it so attractive to world class kayakers who compete every year in the Green Race, which is run on the first Saturday of November every year.

I'm not a kayaker, so for me the Narrows offers something besides extreme whitewater.  The Narrows is a a place that rewards you for the effort you take getting to it.  The first time I went to the Narrows I was truly amazed, but my sense of reward was diminished by the fact that I climbed out of the Gorge via an incredibly difficult route that left me tired and frustrated at the end.  That's not to say I didn't enjoy the adventure, but sometimes it's better to keep things simple.

I called up my good buddy Chris to see if he wanted to go on an adventure.  He was of course happy to go.  We had started an adventure to the Narrows a couple of years ago that more or less went awry because we never got where we were going (not for lack of trying) and we got wet (had to cross the river to get to the vehicles).  The problem with that trip was we tried to do something easy the hard way.  Hey, I learn from my mistakes.  This trip would be different.

Winter time hiking offers its own set of challenges so you always have to be prepared, particularly for ice, frozen ground, and slick areas where thaw has occurred.  Chris and I were certainly up for the challenge.  We arrived at the Pulliam Creek Trailhead off of Big Hungry Road (this was not the way we went on the failed attempt).  We hiked in about two miles until we came to the trail (more like a goat path) that leads down into the Gorge.  This is the main route people take when they come to see the race in November.  There are handlines strung from tree to tree to assist with getting down the very steep hill to the river.  At the bottom of the hill, you find yourself at the confluence of Pulliam Creek and the Green River.  A quick scramble and a leap across Pulliam Creek and you are met by the awesomeness that is The Narrows.

Falls on Pulliam Creek at confluence with the
Green River

Green River Gorge is not the deepest gorge in western North Carolina, but it is fairly narrow which is what makes the Green river so spectacular here.  Imagine trying to shove a lot of water through a tight space.  That's what it's like at The Narrows.

Once you cross Pulliam Creek at the bottom of the hill, the river is on the left and you then begin making your way up river, enjoying each huge rapid as you go.
Groove Tube is the first rapid you see when you reach the river. 
It's also the last rapid for kayakers who choose to take out
before taking on the toughest rapid of The Narrows called Sunshine
Rapid Transit reminds me of one of those log rides you might
 get on at an amusement park.
This rapid is known as Power Slide.
Here's Chris standing at the top of Power Slide.  The rapid series known
 as the Gorilla is in the background.  This picture serves as a scale for
the size and power of these rapids.

Known as Nies' Pieces, this rapid is the last in a series of five
 called the Gorilla.

Scream Machine is the fourth in the Gorilla series.
The signature rapid of The Narrows, this rapid is the third and most iconic of the Gorilla series.  The Flume is the 16 foot waterfall which drops into the Speed Trap.  The distance across the Speed Trap is approximately 6 to 8 feet across. 
The Notch is quite possibly the coolest rapid of Gorilla.  The span from
rock to rock is 4 to 6 feet.  The entire river is flowing through this extremely
tight section.  This spot is the namesake of The Narrows.

Pencil Sharpener is the first rapid in the Gorilla Series.  Just upstream is
the take out for those who don't want to challenge Gorilla. 
Once you're committed, you pretty much have to run it.

As I said, The Narrows is one of the coolest places you can ever visit.  I've only been in the winter so I'm sure the place is even more spectacular with leaves on the trees, especially in the Fall.  Chris and I had a great time on this adventure, but let me provide a few words of caution.  The Narrows is a seriously hairy place.  It is not easy to get in and out of and is really not a place for the inexperienced hiker or outdoorsman.  You need to have some basic survival skills knowledge in case something goes wrong.  Broken legs from falls are not uncommon here.  Not to mention, one slip on some slick rock and you're in the river in very swift, dangerous water.  Getting out is a tough climb, so you need to be in good enough physical shape to get in and get out.  Watch for black ice and slick rock, especially near the water's edge.  One wrong step and you'll be floating down the river.  After about 2 o'clock, the sun goes behind the south wall of the Gorge so the temperature can fall rapidly.  Again, be prepared for anything.  Most importantly, don't hike The Narrows by yourself.  You never know what can happen, plus it's always fun to have a good friend along to pontificate about life with.

Get out there and have fun!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Buffalo Creek Park Trail Moving Along

   The work on the Buffalo Creek Park Trail is progressing nicely.  At present, Trail Dynamics has completed the ground work of our Type II trail, with 3.5 miles of distance.  The Type II trail is a loop trail that has an average grade of about 3%, which is a deceiving number because there are some fairly steep climbs in a couple of places.  The trail terrain is very variable with a lot of up and down.  Topography has been a huge factor in layout and construction of the Type II trail  due to the steep ravines and gullies that occur everywhere on the property.  Currently Trail Dynamics is working on completing two stream crossings which will be elevated boardwalk.  Once these two crossings are complete, the trail will be open for users.  It should be noted that currently, parking is very limited with no parking on the Rumbling Bald Resort side and only space for about four vehicles on the Buffalo Creek Road side.  The Town will hopefully be addressing this issue very shortly. 
The Yellow loop trail with the red line through the middle of it is the completed trail.  The trail west and the Green loop will come as we continue to develop the property.  A trail profile is provided so it's possible to see the terrain changes as you ride or hike.  We believe this will be a unique experience for riders and hikers alike that are looking for something a little more challenging and remote than some of the other hiking opportunities found in Hickory Nut Gorge.

   If you want, feel free to take the picture tour by checking out the links to my Picasa album.  Every aspect of construction from beginning to end has been photo documented.  The album will give viewers an idea of just how difficult and challenging the terrain is for constructing trail.