Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Midnight Hole and Mouse Creek Falls

The first time I saw a picture of the Midnight Hole I said to myself  "self, you should go there, that's probably a really cool place". It's taken me two years to get there, and it was, uh, pretty ok. Let me explain ...

I've seen some really nice pictures of the Midnight Hole and Mouse Creek Falls and I had some high hopes for getting some cool shots myself, but this summer's weather has done a number on the creeks, rivers and waterfalls around the area. We've had cycles of too much rain, then none at all, then flash floods, then no rain ... rinse, repeat. And it's not just the lack of falling water that messes up the picture taking, the floods sweep all the debris along the creeks and trails into piles of very un-photogenic ... stuff ... into piles along the creek banks and in the waterfalls and cascades. It's a real mess out there, some places are worse than others.

I have already planned a trip for the middle of October with some other photo-folk from Ga. to see the Hole and the Falls. So John and I decided to go on a scouting trip to see them now, just to make sure the fall trip would be worth the effort. Because the Midnight Hole is a very popular swimming hole we loaded up before dawn on Sunday, trying to get there before the swimmers - you'll also notice the trail is a favorite place for horses to defecate. We suspected that the water levels would be way down, and when we got close our suspicions were confirmed ... the Pigeon River along I-40 was way, way low. We found the parking area and got on the trail about 8AM and started walking.

The first 1/2 mile was high above the creek,; the tree canopy was thick so we couldn't get a good read on the water level of the creek. Once the creek met up with the trail we started seeing side trails to the creek. We walked by several before deciding a break was in order, so we took the next one and found the cascade pictured below. Pretty nice, eh?

first Big Creek cascade
We shot all the good angles at this cascade then got back on the trail. We were looking for a side trail that was supposed to be visible about the 1 mile mark that leads to the 'Rock House'. We didn't find it, we'll try again when the leaves are off the trees.

Just a bit further up the trail was the first major attraction of the hike, the Midnight Hole. It was here that we could see just how low the water level has fallen. Every picture I'd of the Hole had water flowing in at two places, over both sides of the rock in the center - if you don't believe me go ahead a Google it, I'll wait. But this time the water was so low that the flow into the pool was only over the side closest to the trail, bummer. It was still quite a cool place, we rock-hopped out onto some mostly-dry rocks in the middle of the creek and snapped away. The picture below is a 9-shot HDR (3 x 3 brackets) panorama. This will be a great shot once the trees have some good color.

the Midnight Hole
One goal I have for this place is a swirly picture once there's leaves floating on the surface. The picture below is from an angle that I think can deliver ... it's already got some flotsam swirly action going on the right side.

After shooting from all the cool angles and noshing a protein bar we got back on the trail. The creek follows the trail closely through this area, and there are several side trails to explore. The sun was getting up a bit high, and the cloud cover was thinning out, so we skipped most of them. The shot below is at the end of one of the side trails we didn't skip. The shot up this little piece of the creek will be outstanding when the trees are really colored up.

second Big Creek cascade
The sun was really getting up now, so we got back on the trail and headed for Mouse Creek Falls. The water over the falls was also very low, so the falls were thin and wispy. With such a small amount of water over the falls, I decided to climb down to creek level and take a panorama with Big Creek in front and Mouse Creek falls in the background. This is another 9-shot HDR (3 x 3 brackets) panorama. Turned out not to be the best plan because the Falls almost disappear into the background.

Mouse Creek Falls

Hopefully we'll get some good rain between now and the trip back this fall and the trees will be in full color when we get there. We also want to find the Rock House and find the 'largest standing chimney in the park' which is supposed to be a 1/4 mile up the Baxter Creek trail.

If you want to go there yourself ...

From I-40, take the Waterville Road exit (#451). Cross the bridge and turn left. Proceed 2.3 miles to an intersection. Continue straight across, keep going past the ranger station to the large parking area at the end of the road. You will pass the Big Creek trailhead on the right, about 100yds before the parking area. There is a sign for Midnight Hole and Mouse Creek Falls.

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