Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Virgin Falls

Virgin Falls Trail……4.5 .................Outcasts Total 401.4
Caney Fork River Trail……1.4 Miles
Day one total……………....5.9 Miles

Virgin Falls Trail………….....3 Miles
Polly Branch Falls Trail …..1.8 Miles
Bee Branch Overlook Trail….6 Miles
Connector Trail………….…..3 Miles
Chestnut Mountain Ranch Trail..1.9 Miles
Day two total………………….7.6 Miles

Total hike…………………..13.5

It ended up just being Marco and me on the hike this time. This is the first time in the area and we wanted to check it out. If you have never been here before, there are no signs anywhere on the roads until you get to the only entrance and then there is a sign for Bridgestone/Firestone.

There were three other vehicles in the parking area for Virgin Falls Trailhead. Being a Sunday and with a prediction of 12 degrees tonight, we figured that they were weekend hikers and would be on the way out. We were wrong.

The sign states that this is a very strenuous trail. It starts off with a nice flat 1.4-mile walk through the woods. This is where we passed six hikers that were going in. There are a couple of stream crossings before you get to the first water fall, Big Branch Falls. The trail starts down hill here and will continue until you get to Big Laurel Falls.

The waterfalls were beautiful with all of the rain that we had gotten over the last two weeks. After Big Branch waterfall you come to a major water crossing that they have put up a cable to hold onto as you step across rocks. With the water being up as high as it was, we had to look for an alternative route. We found one just down stream where you have to jump to the first rock, but after that it was easy.

From here you have to option to take the loop to Martha’s Pretty Point overlook or stay on the main trail. We went to the overlook. There is a wooden set of steps to take to get up to the top of the drop off. The view was nice, but it was a foggy day.

The trail down to Laurel Falls was steep and Marco was falling everyway a man could fall and slipping the rest of the time. Laurel Falls is a beautiful falls with a large cave behind it. We stopped here and had some lunch.

From Laurel Falls to Sheep Cave Falls is a rather flat hike with a few hills. The trail is a loop trail to Sheep Cave Falls, Virgin Falls, and back. We went to the right to Sheep Cave Falls. If you take the trail up to Sheep Cave; you find that the water actually comes out of Sheep Cave to the falls. This is where we saw the other two hikers and their dog. This is also where I found that my camera batteries were going dead.

From this point we headed to Virgin Falls, which was really beautiful. There is a campsite at each of the falls on this trail. After Virgin Falls we took the trail to the Caney Fork River Trail. We got as far as Fish Hole ford when we found we had a problem with our trail plan. The Caney Fork River was up around 10 to 15 feet and around 60 foot wide. One look at the rapids and we decided against hiking any further.

We have about two hours of daylight left so we did some figuring. We could make it back to the truck about dark or stay where we were and hike out in the morning. We could then hike some more trails that afternoon. We did hike down to Davis ford down stream and with the wind picking up we decided to hike back to the Virgin Falls River campsite.

We gathered wood and set up camp. I walked back to the Caney Fork River and got water, while Marco started the fire. When I came back Marco was all frustrated and there was no fire. He said that he had got it going twice and it went out. So while he worked on his hammock, I worked on the fire. After I got it going, it just died back out. I looked at it and found the problem. Marco had read in Backpacker magazine, where you start a wet wood fire on top of a layer of wood. Well, just to be extra caution he builds up two layers of wood. Our fire would get going and then all of the ashes would fall into the basement. After we took all of the wood back off the fire we got it started again for the night.

Marco hung the thermometer on a branch and we watched the temperature drop to 18 degrees by 9:30pm. The sky was clear and we saw three different falling stars. I think
they froze and fell out of the sky. It really only got cold around the fire when the wind got gusting up. I woke up once in the night, got the fire going again hoping that there would be hot coals in the morning. I thawed out the water bucket and my platypus hoping that would last a while too. It didn’t.

My two bag sleeping method worked. I had my 25 and 45-degree Kelty Lightyear bags and I stayed warm all night. Early the next morning, I felt a bit of cold coming through the pad in my hammock and I just put my long underwear top under me and went back to sleep. When I got up I checked the thermometer and it read 5 degrees so I know that my bags are good down to that. Marco wasn’t as lucky as he said that his feet froze all night. He warmed them up by the fire and burnt his new Smartwool socks.

It got up to a balmy 18 degrees by the time we hit the trail. We hiked back to the parking lot seeing a lot of pretty ice formations on the way back. There were lots of ice cycles and around the falls it looked liked it snowed. We ate lunch at the truck and then headed out on the other side of the park. We had problems with the hoses on our platypus freezing. It helped to blow the water out after you took a drink, but still froze up. We swapped to water bottles on the second part of our hike, but now the bottle necks were freezing up.

We hiked Polly Branch Falls trail and took in a hike to the Bee Branch overlook. From there we hiked to Upper Polly Branch Falls and then took the Spur trail to Chestnut Mountain Ranch trail.

On Chestnut Mountain Ranch trail you need to keep an eye out for the little hiker dude that they mark the trail with. Twice, while talking, we ended up going back to find the trail. One time we ended up in a field by a ranch and the other time we ended up on the entrance road. We probably added a mile on our trip between our detours and the going down stream to find a place to cross on our many river crossings.

There are a lot of trails left here to hike. We will have to come back during low water and warmer weather to finish them.



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