Monday, May 23, 2011

Slave Falls and Needle Arch - Big South Fork - 5/21/2011

As you have heard, yesterday was supposed to be the rapture and Robin reported that we were going out in our style. Of course that meant walking in the woods. After Robin had been cooped up in the house most of the week and me having a busy week at work, we were both itching to seek solace in the trees and sandstone geology of The Big South Fork NRRA. This time we decided to do a hike that we hadn't done in close to 10 years: the Sawmill Trail to Slave Falls and Needle Arch.

Our original plan was to do the Slave Falls Loop. Of course with Robin working overtime all the time right now, we decided that she would make the call as to whether or not we would do the whole loop or come back out after seeing Slave Falls and Needle Arch. We really couldn't have asked for better weather as the rain was forecast to hold off another day. I suppose if there was one complaint, it would have been for the temps to be a couple of degrees cooler but nonetheless we weren't going to complain and enjoyed our time.

The trailhead is located on the graveled Fork Ridge Road. To get there from Knoxville, you travel north on I-75 to the Oneida exit in Scott County. From there you take Highway 63 through Huntsville. At the light turn right on Highway 27 to Oneida. At the first stop light in Oneida's industrial area take a left onto 297 and continue left on 297 at the stop sign. From here follow the signs to The Big South Fork NRRA. Once in the park stay on 297 all the way through the park until you come to Highway 154. This is a bit of a drive so don't worry, you will stay on 297 until you get to 154 and have no choice but to turn right or left. At this junction turn right towards Pickett State Park until you come to the sign for Charit Creek Lodge. Turn right at the sign onto the graveled Divide Road and then turn right onto Fork Ridge Road. Go down Fork Ridge Road until you come to the parking lot for Sawmill Trail. It's just past the Middle Creek Trailhead area.

From the trailhead we donned our gear and were ready to head down the trail when a lady exited the trail with a full pack. Minutes later, as I was waypointing the trailhead, a man exited the trail with a nice sized pack as well. It was at this point he asked Robin if she could get their picture. Turns out the man and woman were together and had just hiked out from Charit Creek Lodge where they had stayed the night. After he took a good 5 minutes to explain how to properly operate his point and shoot to a woman holding a Canon 60D (bless his heart!), Robin snapped a few pictures for them and the gentleman offered to do the same for us. I handed him my camera and we (Robin, Clover, and I) posed for our group mugshot.

After exchanging pleasantries we finally set down the trail which followed alongside the graveled road we drove in on. Within two to three tenths of a mile we came to the point where the loop begins and you can turn left to cross the road or right to take the loop in a clockwise direction. It was also at this point, while once again waypointing this spot, we were met by a large group of adults and kids hiking back from what appeared to be a scout outing on the trail. Everyone admired Clover and one little boy mentioned that at first he thought "We were walking a skunk" because all he seen was a black and white tail. Too cute.

We turned right at this point and headed downhill on the trail through a mixed pine, hemlock, and hardwood forest. Along the way, we enjoyed the sound of birds flitting and chirping throughout the forest. We spotted toadstools and other fungi, as well as many different wildflowers amongst a fern-covered forest floor. We had the trail to ourselves and relished in that fact. We continued hiking, making mention of things we both saw.

At one point in the trail, about a half mile in, we noticed that a creek was meandering along to the right of the trail. We took a moment to let Clover get her paws wet and discussed how that would be a great water source for backpackers. Once Clover was done playing, we continued on for another .2 miles when we came upon a footbridge that crossed over the creek. We decided once again to take a small detour and let Clover play in the water once more. She absolutely loves playing in the creeks if you hadn't noticed by now. The interesting thing about the creek at this point was that it seemed to drop in behind a rock and then flow out of it's opening, which was pretty cool.

We continued on once more making our way further down the trail towards Slave Falls. It was around this point that I noticed the "CPS" had lost the satellite signal. Previous to our starting down the trail, Trimble decided to throw some sort of exception error. I had to restart the program and it appeared that all was well. Unfortunately, we were no longer recording our trip past the footbridge and it wasn't til the next day that I discovered it wasn't going to record any trips until I reset the whole phone. Oh well, c'est la vie.

Shortly after the footbridge we came to a point in the trail where it traverses the rim edge of the hollow where Slave Falls is located. Another .2 miles and we reached the junction in the trail where we could turn right to the Indian Rock House and continue the loop or continue straight for another tenth of a mile or two to the point in the trail where we had to decide if we wanted to go to the falls first or the arch first. We opted to turn left on the trail and head down to the falls. The trail to the falls is .2 miles and meanders alongside the rock overhang of the hollow rim. This part of the trail is where you can expect to get, in the very least, dirty and at the worst muddy as water from rain and runoff continuously drips from the overhang.

As we continued to descend into the hollow alongside the rim wall, we finally made it to the falls. There is an observation point here with fence and sign to allow safe viewing. However, being the photographers that we Robin are is, we decided in order to get the shot we had to CLIMB down the trail to the rock pool at the foot of the falls. This is where we got the dirtiest as we had to slip and slide down steep, muddy trail and butt slide down boulders to get there. (Makes me wish I had brought our climbing rope. :P). Once at the bottom we snapped several photos and then let Clover off the leash to romp in the pool created by the 60' Slave Falls -named for the slaves that took refuge in the rock overhangs in the area and the amphitheater that was created by the erosion from wind and the waterfall.

After what seemed like an hour enjoying the waterfall and surrounding scenery, it was time to head back up and check out Needle Arch. Of course this meant scrambling back up the muddy embankment to the observation area and then back to the main trail. Once back to the main trail we turned to the left from the falls trail and hiked another .2 miles to the arch. Needle Arch is a natural sandstone arch formed over time from erosion. At the arch, you can go right on the trail for another 1.5 miles to Jake's Place and then eventually to Charit Creek Lodge. However, after spending a little bit at the arch admiring the geological formation and taking Robin's 10 week pregnancy picture we decided to head back to the loop trail. After all if we were going to do the entire loop we had to get a move on.

We headed back the way we came until we came to the decision point as to whether to finish the loop or just head back out the way we came. Robin was feeling pretty tired after climbing down and then back from the falls so we opted to take the short route and head back out the way we came. We took our time and enjoyed what was left of our time in the woods, snapping a few more pictures. We came to the point where the trail traverses along the rim and I decided to see if I could give Robin a mini heart attack walk to the edge and glimpse the waterfall from above. Unfortunately, all I did was get a scolding for sliding down the rock to the ledge as Robin thought I was gone 60' down in a hurry.

At this point we continued our walk back to the car and enjoying each others company. We got back to the car to realize as always our car was the last one in the parking lot. We kicked off our shoes, removed our packs, put on our flip flops and headed home. We had to take time at the trailhead long enough to enjoy our PB&J sandwiches and oatmeal cream pies though. We had definitely earned them.

On our way back home we made countless jokes about the rapture. It wasn't quite "time" yet but drawing closer. We decided to stop at a little market (The Hitching Post) to grab a couple of sodas and a bottle of water for the Beene. We decided that it had that "Wrong Turn" feel to it as it reeked with that creepy vibe. It couldn't have been a more fitting place for the "pending rapture".

Nothing happened - as we all knew it wouldn't. Jesus will come in his own time, not some quack's time. Until then, there are plenty more trail to follow.

For bunches more pictures, go here and view this hike's web album.

BTW - we're transitioning to Picasa for our photos. Soon we'll have them all moved over from our Flickr.

Happy Trails,
Tim and Robin