Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Virgin Falls / Scott's Gulf

Virgin Falls Trail 8.2 miles                                                     Outcast Total Miles: 1383.99
Polly Branch Trail 2.2
Caney Fork River Trail 3.5
Yellow Bluff Trail 1.0
Road Walk 1.6
Total Miles 16.5

The weather cooperated and we headed to Sparta, TN to hike the Virgin Falls State Natural Area and the Bridgestone/ Firestone Centennial Wilderness Wildlife Management Area.  We had hiked this area before but had to change our route a little bit because of the Caney Fork river ford that we didn't realize was so deep this time of year.  This year we planned it out without a fording of the Caney.

Before we even got on the trail, Bob and Rick pulled into the parking area and headed down the trail.  We would meet them three more times on the trail.  They were doing a day hike to Virgin Falls.

There was still patches of snow on the ground and icicles on the rocks.  With the partial thaw there was also plenty of mud.  The sign on the kiosk warned of a strenuous and dangerous trail ahead.  This is one of those trails that is easy on the way in and a steady climb on the way out.  The hardest hiking area would be around Laurel Falls.  We did not take the overlook trail this time.

We got on the trail and made the many crossings of the creek.  The cable crossing was a lot safer than last time as the water was a lot lower.  The water falls were looking good.  We stopped between Laurel and Virgin falls for lunch.   After lunch we hiked on to the loop and took it counterclockwise going by Sheep Cave first.  We met up with Bob and Rick for the third time at Virgin Falls and then we headed back up to Laurel Falls where we met them for the last time.  We were stopped for a snack break when they came by.

We hiked up to near the trailhead and made camp.  It was a cool night as we sat by the fire taking cough medicine and telling lies.  Marco and Troy headed back to the creek for some more water when Marco saw a deer in the night.  We had a small amount of sleet a couple of times before we went to bed.  That night it rained for a while and we got some light snow as well.

We got up in the morning and headed up to the trailhead where we repositioned our cars to the Polly Branch trailhead.  We headed out on Polly Branch trail, which is a road bed to start with and then cuts through the woods where you ford the Polly Branch Creek.  From there you see the Upper Polly Branch Falls and then get back on a roadbed to go to the bottom of the Gulf where you take the Caney Fork River Trail.

The Caney Fork River trail follows the river but you are hiking up and down the side of the Gulf.  It is all old roadbed except for the crossing of Gun Stock Branch which really needs a bridge.  The dam of an old lake above the rim collapsed during a flood and washed out a large section of the mountain side, creating a chasm that should be crossed carefully.

The Caney Fork River Trail is not cared for and is not marked very well.  You ford the Polly Branch just above the lower Polly Branch Falls.  There is a lot of downed trees for you to go over and it drops down to the river a couple of times before it goes up higher and stayes up.  We did kick up a couple of Turkeys and got to see a hawk while we walked.

The crossing of Gun Stock Branch is a steep basically slide down to the water and a four legged climb back out.  The trail is not marked well at all here.  After you get across head up toward the rock bluff and catch the road bed.

There is a sign where the Yellow Bluff Trail connects to the Caney Fork trail, but it does not mention the Yellow Bluff Trail.  So when you get to a sign that looks like it should be at an intersection, look uphill across the trail from the sign and you will see a green hiking dude on a marker.  That is the trail which follows an old roadbed up the side of the Gulf.  It is not marked well at all and not worn either.  A good steep climb will bring you up at the Joe Holloway Rock House.

The trail from here is poorly marked and unfollowable, so we took the road back.  You can get back on the Yellow Bluff Trail at the trailhead when you pass it, but we just walked on back to the car.

This is a pretty area with lots of water falls for hiking.  It would be rated as difficult.


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