Backpacking the wilderness is something that has always enthralled me, but I have never really done before. I bought a pack and some other gear back in 2009 thinking I would explore this more, but only went out on one single over night trip with the Bergs (meetup group) as an intro into backpacking. It is now seven years later and I decided to wipe the dust off some of this gear to go explore Panthertown on a four day three night self supported solo adventure.
I left Charlotte last Sunday in the pouring rain pumped up because with this weather there wouldn’t be anyone on the trails. One of the reasons for going on this trip was to get away from the fast paced, on the go, traffic jams, and the dense population of people that the city is known for. I can’t wait to experience the peace that exists in the solitude of the mountainous wilderness.
I finally get to Panthertown. Using The Guide’s Guide to Panthertown by Burt Kornegay, I decided to park at the Cold Mountain Gap Trailhead. The plan was to get on the less traveled footpaths marked by the red dots on the guide map in the eastern quadrant on Sunday, Northern Quadrant on Monday, Western Quadrant on Tuesday then the southern section on Wednesday and back to the car by Wednesday evening. After sending my plans to a friend and said if you don’t hear from me by late Thursday morning then start making calls, I hastily took off down the trail.
Not too far into the hike I came across my first feature, School House Falls. I have heard amazing things about Panthertown from the few people that has previously been there, but really didn’t know what to expect. Schoolhouse Falls blew me away and after seeing this I knew this adventure was going to be special.
There was a nice big beach in front of the falls where there was a huge stacked stone structure that was roughly five feet tall. I have always seen a few stacked stones (like three or four) on River and hiking trips before but never knew the meaning behind them. This one was super cool and deserving of a picture.
I then jumped on a nearby trail and headed north at least I thought I was headed north. After realizing I got turned around a little bit and checking the compass (best five bucks I spent) I got back on track and found a little footpath that lead me to Warden’s Falls. These falls were super sweet.
There is a nice swimming hole below the falls that I didn’t take advantage of. It was getting late so I found a nice place beside the falls for the hammock. After nightfall I sat out on a rock in the middle of the creek at the base of the falls and meditated for a bit which is a work in progress. I am fairly new to this meditation thing but liking it so far The stars were out in full force without the moon to dampen any of their brightness. I crashed about 10pm and slept very comfortably listening to the water rush over the rocks and head down stream.
Monday morning arose and I went threw my morning ritual of yoga, breakfast which consisted of fruit, avocado, and trail mix, and then packed up and was on the trail by 9. Eastern quadrant here I come!
After crawling out of a Rhododendron Forest there were a couple of waterfalls to see on the way out. First was Jawbone falls, then Riding Ford falls and then two smaller ones that were not worth mentioning. Jawbone was nice but the best feature was the swimming hole between Jawbone and Riding Ford Falls.
Looking at the guide there are four waterfalls pretty close together but on unmarked trails about four miles east. Super pumped, I head that way. After a couple of miles, everything is going to plan. Then the trails start to get more faint. I read on the guide that these unmarked footpaths are sometimes hard to follow but no problemo, I had this. Luckily I checked my compass a couple of times and it said I was headed south instead of east. I thought this was weird and something must be wrong with the compass. Rookie mistake number two! After about another mile, I start to loose track of the footpath amongst all the ferns and undergrowth. I decided that this was probably the wrong way and decided to turnaround and head back. The only problem is that I can’t find the faint trail that led me out here. I wandered around and all I can see is undergrowth, ferns, and tons of signs of bear activity. My mind now starts to go crazy thinking about, do I have enough food, nobody ever comes out here, will I be found, bear attacks, will I ever find my way out? I scurry around a bit more before I decide to stop, quiet the mind, take a few deep breaths, and look at the map. Now knowing the compass said I was headed south on several occasions on the way out, I kind of figured out the vicinity of where I probably was. There was a trail the ran directly across the map and if I kept heading north and east I could not miss it. After about an hour of bush wacking north and east I finally found the trail. I felt beat up, tired, and mentally drained so I decided to head back to the pool below Jawbone Falls called Pittillo’s Pool where I may have or have not gotten naked, relaxed, and cooled off in.
After a cooling off and a late lunch I figured I had a few more miles in me before calling it a day so decided to go north a bit and get high, not in the Colorado sense but in elevation. I found a sweet spot between two trees on an amazing overlook to sleep for the night.
Day three….. After the semi traumatic experience with the unmarked footpath trails on the previous day, I decided to stick with forest service marked trails. I went north for a bit and then back down to the over look trail and then through Carlton’s way during a rainstorm. Carlton’s way is a beautiful trail and definitely my favorite with the tight single track and all the different variety of plant life packed into this half mile tropical rainforest route down the mountain.
Here are a few shots on my favorite trail Carlton’s way:
The rain finally quit as I grabbed lunch at the sandbar pool on Panthertown creek. I then decided to head west and knock out a couple of waterfalls and a overlook before finding another amazing campsite in a hemlock forest off Mac’s Gap trail.
While laying in the hammock and it is getting dusk out, I was thinking that I have not seen any animals on this trip. Low and behold something moved about 50 feet away from the hammock. All I could see was the silhouette of a big cat like creature with a big bushy tail pace back and forth scavenging the ground. I am guessing it was a fox with the bushy tail but not sure. This was my favorite campsite and again I had it all to myself.
Day four began as I packed up and headed out. The southern sites were next on the list and they did not disappoint. I walked past a shelter at 8am in which there were several people camped out. An alarm clock named Lucy came out to greet me with a loud bark as I walked by. I thought it was funny that she woke everyone up as she would not stop barking at me.
Panthertown wall was just around the corner and it was over a mile long as it reached up toward the heavens. This shot was taken at the base of the wall:
After admiring the Great Wall the only thing left was to climb out of there. The trail was easy to follow but had some big elevation to get out. I had five more waterfalls to check out before the day was done.
I hopped onto Greenland Creek trail to check out Greenland creek falls, halfway falls, and then Carlton Falls. OMG….. Greenland Creek falls was outstanding!
I made my way to the top of Greenland Creek Falls and took this picture as I stood on top of the falls way over the tree tops. To put things into perspective….If you look at the bottom of the falls in this picture at the rock in the middle…. That is the rock that I stood on to take the previous picture of the falls.
Two more falls were upstream of Greenland creek. The only problem was that I had to navigate another unmarked footpath to get there. I made it halfway falls then eventually to Carlton Falls. I don’t know who Carlton is but unlike the lame guy from the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air this Carlton did not disappoint!
After Carlton’s Falls I decided to brave another unmarked trail for several more miles to get me back to my starting point at Schoolhouse Falls. I faced my fears of this type of trail and made it back without a hitch. I finally felt that I am getting the hang of this unmarked trail thing.
To sum the trip up, I hiked over 40 miles of trails with one out and back trail and only repeating one trail twice. Saw 13 waterfalls, 5 overlooks, 1 big ass wall, a frog, snail, fish, and one big cat possibly a fox.
As I stood on the beach in front of schoolhouse falls in the pouring rain, I reflected on this whole journey. I thought why haven’t I done this before? It didn’t cost me anything except gas to get here and the food that I brought in. It was only four days which is a long weekend plus a day so it wasn’t the time. It was just the fact that I have gotten into a routine in the past and never deviated from this normal routine. I am glad that I recently started to live deliberately and to explore the possibilities that exists out there. Now I want to challenge you to think of what your normal routine is and I want you to get outside of your comfort zone and live a little. Is there something that you always thought of doing and never followed up on? Take the challenge and just get out there and do it. I am guilty in the past of listing tons of reasons why I couldn’t do something. My typical reasons were money, time, scheduling conflicts, blah blah blah. All of this was crap….. All I needed to do was list the the reasons why I could get out there and do it instead. Remember the five foot rock structure on the beach in front of Schoolhouse Falls? I decided to place a rock on top representing to get out and live deliberately. Not just for me but for everyone. Think of the reasons why you can get out there and do something. It can be anything from asking that guy/girl out on a date, to kayaking that big river, going for that new job you have been thinking about. Whatever it is just go do it! As one of my yoga teachers used to say, “If not now, then when?”