Sunday, October 24, 2010

Lower Higgins Creek Falls

It was mid-afternoon when I decided to make a quick scouting trip to see Lower Higgins Creek Falls in Unicoi Co.. I was hoping to see some falls colors still hanging around and maybe some decent reflections in the pools, the results were so-so on both counts.

The hike was quite taxing, no doubt because I hadn't been doing much actual hiking lately, and the elevation gain was more than I expected. But after getting to the parking area and saw the terrain I knew I was in for an ordeal. The total one-way distance is about 8/10ths of a mile; the first 6/10ths are about what you expect for an east tennessee waterfall trail, but the final 2/10ths will get your heart pumping and your legs burning. The total elevation gain is only 850 feet, but that's made in less than a mile, and the lion share of that in the last 2/10ths of a mile.

The rickety bridge that crosses the creek from the parking area to the trail didn't make a good first impression, and the squishy wet trail for the next 50 ft didn't help either, but after that initially weak start, the trail turned into a standard east tennessee waterfall trail. Like most other waterfall trails in our area, this trail is an old logging road that generally follows the creek as it climbs up a ravine toward the top of the mountain. The creek itself is replete (how's that for a $10 word) with small falls and cascades that are quite photogenic themselves, but time was getting away and I wanted to get to the main attraction.

After huffing and puffing my way to the falls, I was met with an incredibly steep 100 foot descent over rocks, roots and vines down to the base of the falls. You have to go down there because that's the only place you can get any unobstructed views of the falls. I snapped away for about 30 minutes at the edge of the plunge pool which is behind some large moss-covered logs. The fall itself is about 100 ft high and has three distinct tiers, only one of which is visible from the bottom.

So after climbing back up the cliff to the trail I followed the trail on up the mountain to see the two upper tiers. the middle tier is obscured by rhododendron but I made it down to the upper tier. And that's where I snapped this long exposure shot in which the leaves made some swirlies! I like swirlies. It was getting dark so they are not especially good swirlies, but they are definitely there.

Directions: Take I-26E to the Temple Hill exit #43 just south of Erwin. Go left at the end of the ramp then turn right onto the old Asheville Highway (19/23). Travel 3/4 mile and turn right onto Lower Higgins Creek Road. Drive 1.5 miles until you reach a dead end whenr you can park.

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