Falling Down on the FallsI took the Casita, alone, to the Mortimer Campground in the Pisgah National Forest. I’d long heard that it’s an excellent place to set up, and I have to say that overall it is a great place. Here are the things about it that I like:
It’s isolated. One has to drive for a number of miles over gravel National Forest Service roads to reach it. Most of the campsites are beside, or just across the campground road from a very nice and noisy rushing creek. There is the constant sound of babbling water which is very nice and very soothing, especially at bedtime.
When I got to the campground I found the place, to my surprise, full. I’d arrived on a Sunday afternoon thinking that most people would have headed home for the workweek. What I had not counted on were campground hosts who don’t hold the campers to strict guidelines, and so most of them were happy to ignore the check-out rules and were lingering long into the afternoon. In fact, most of them would be heading home, save for the fact that they weren’t being made to vacate their campsites.
However, I saw one campsite open. As luck would have it, it was a very nice one right beside the creek. The only problem is that I would have to back the trailer between two trees to get it set up. But I’ve gotten fairly good at backing the trailer and in quick order had it in place. Then I went about the business of setting up camp, getting the trailer leveled, the portable canopy erected, the stuff unloaded, etc.
It was until I was getting ready to pay that I noticed that I had set up in a group campsite, expressly for the use of parties of six or more people. Shit! So I walked down to the campground hosts to explain what had happened and hoped that they would not make me leave. The hosts were a husband and wife team in their mid-30s, which was a surprise. Most campground hosts that I meet are retirement aged. They seemed sympathetic, but the female member of the couple told me that I’d have to pay the group site fee—which was twice as much as the single campsite fee.
“What time is checkout?” I inquired. “I think it’s well after check-out time and I only had to take that spot because it looked like the campground was full.” (By this time, many people were leaving and it was obvious the campground would have plenty of vacant spaces.)
“You can have it for the regular fee,” the husband quickly told me.
“Thanks!” And I dropped the $20 payment in the collection box and returned to my trailer.
I spent the rest of the day avoiding the Wilson Creek Gorge section of the Forest Service road leading to the campground. It was packed to bursting with shitkickers and loud country folk, plus loads of kayakers. Nothing ag’in’ those folk, but it was just waaaaaaay too crowded. I just wandered around, checked out the area, and ended up grilling burgers over charcoals and building a nice campfire. As soon as the sun went down the evening got cool and after the fire died down I went to the bathhouse and took a hot shower, went back to the trailer, and to bed.
My campsite at Mortimer after I got everything in order.
Next morning I looked at my maps and guidebooks and chose a couple of trails I wanted to hike. These would be the North Harper Creek Trail, which had some great waterfalls, and the Little Lost Cove Cliffs Trail which had some hellacious cliffs and mountain vistas. The night had been really cool—cooler than I had figured and when I started out I was wearing hiking slacks and a shirt. But after taking a short hike to the Darkside Cliffs (love that name), I changed into swimming trunks and tank top as soon as I got to the North Harper Creek Trailhead. In summer, I’ve found that the most comfortable hiking apparel are lightweight swimming trunks and a good tank top. The fabric is really light, cutting down on weight (every ounce counts when you’re hiking up a steep trail), and it allows you to go swimming if you happen upon a good swimmin’ hole and the trunks dry off in quick order.
Standing on Darkside Cliffs (love that name!). The morning was actually quite chilly at this point.
So, dabbed in DEET, I hit the trails with my daypack filled with the emergency supplies I always carry, my camera tripod, my camera, and some snacks and lunch and lots of drinking water. I suspect my pack weighed around twenty pounds.
The hike down the North Harper Creek watershed was easy and I consistently lost elevation as I descended toward the creek itself. I didn’t see much in the way of wildlife and only a few wildflowers as I walked along. After about a mile and a half I began to hear rushing water, a sure sign of a waterfall. Sure enough, I then came to a cutoff trail that led down to the first of the waterfalls (there are two on the trail).
Always a gorgeous wildflower to be found in the Southern Appalachians.
I walked out to the falls and looked around. These are the slide-type waterfalls. The stream just plunges down exposed rock on a very steep incline, but doesn’t actually freefall, save in a few spots of about twenty-foot drops. After taking a few photos I got back on the trail and headed upstream to the second waterfall.
After about another half mile I came to the upper set of waterfalls. This one was much, much more impressive. It totals about 200 feet in total drop, some of it in a vast slide and some freefalls of around forty feet or so. I found myself at the very top of the waterfall and chose that spot to relax, take off the backpack, boots, and set up the tripod for some serious photos and videos.
Looking around, I found a couple of nice potholes where I could put my feet in the crystal clear water and cool off. One of the potholes didn’t look that deep, but when I stepped into it, I found that the water level came almost to my hips. I found myself standing on the small boulders in the bottom of the pothole that were scouring it out and making it slowly deeper—a process of many thousands of years.
I wonder how deep this pothole is?
Going back to where I had put my backpack I got out some snacks and just sat around nibbling on some peanuts and fig Newtons, just soaking up the sun and looking at the perfect blue sky. Time passed and I decided that I’d taken enough photographs and that I should pack up and continue the hike.
My camera was sitting in its case about a foot away. I had noticed that a number of large black flies had become entranced with the dark fabric and were swarming all over it. What the hell was it about that black nylon case that attracted them? I’ll try to find out. Especially because of what happened next.
Why, it's THIS deep!
I stood up after putting my boots back on, and reached down to pick up my camera. “Shoo flies,” I said, wrapping my fingers around the case. Uh-oh.
They weren’t “flies”. They sure did look like big flies at a casual glance. But they were, I soon discovered, some kind of small bumblebee about one and a half times the size of a regular honeybee. As soon as I had my fingers on the camera case, these bees attacked.
The stings weren’t bad, as such things go. I’ve suffered far worse from red wasps and big hornets. Even a honeybee sting is worse. Still, they packed a wallop, especially as about four of them did a number on my thumb and palm at the same instant.
The camerafell out of the case.
It hit the bare stone on which I was standing. The very hard and very steep bare stone. “Fuck!” I said. The camera took a bounce. And then another. I dropped the case and chased after the camera. It picked up speed.
“Fuck!” I screamed. It was headed toward the water.
“FUCK!” I filled the forest with the F-bomb.
Now, although I was chasing my camera, I was mindful of that fact that I never want to end up as a story on this website. So while I was chasing along, I was also taking care not to step into or too near the water where the surface might be slimy.
The camera, of course, picked up speed. The water suddenly took it, and it was off to the races. I scrambled alongside the falls thinking that the camera would hang up on a nub of stone and I could reach down and pluck it out of the creek.
“Haha,” said Loki.
Suddenly the stream pulled my camera into the center of the current and off it went at a rate far greater than I could ever hope to match, and in a place that was far too dangerous to go. I watched as my beautiful Canon digital camera went hurtling over the event horizon of the waterfall to go plunging forty feet straight down into oblivion.
The event horizon. Fifty feet straight down.
“FUCK! FUCKFUCKFUCKITYFUCK!” I screamed it long and loud. But of course there wasn’t another human being within miles.
Going back to my pack I shouldered it and figured that the camera had to come to a stop at the pool at the base of the falls. Surely it could go no farther. So, pack and staff in hand, I went into the forest beside the falls and tried to make my way down the mountain as quickly as I could. I was hiking beneath rhododendron and mountain laurel and the going was tough. But it looked as if I’d found a safe way to the base of the waterfall.
And I suddenly found myself lying on my side. The earth under my feet had just vanished. I’d been standing on forest loam that was soaked and nothing more than semi-solid black muck. My weight had caused it to peel free of the solid rock over which it was only tenuously perched and I no longer had a place to stand. I’d landed on my left side, and my upper thigh radiated extreme pain. My pocketknife had been between the solid rock and my flesh, imprinting its steel body into the muscles of my upper thigh. Nerve endings screamed fiery agony.
But I jumped up and carefully picked my way to the base of the falls. I looked into the water there. How deep was it? Was my camera there? I could see a pair of black shapes in the bottom of the pool. The water was churning and I couldn’t make them out in detail. Maybe one was my camera? I took off my boots and jumped in. The water was about four feet deep. I reached toward the larger of the two black shapes. My fingers wrapped around my camera!
I lifted it free of the water. It was still “on” with a single light on the top glowing yellow. I immediately took out the batteries. I grabbed the towel out of my pack and dried it off. The camera had fallen a total of about 150 feet and had been completely submerged in water for about five minutes. It was ruined.
Draining the water out of my camera and drying it as best I could, I reloaded my pack and headed back to the trail. My thigh hurt and so I headed toward my truck to retrieve my other, lesser camera, and to take a better look at my thigh to see what kind of damage I’d done. All I could think was that if I’d broken a bone or knocked myself unconscious, I’d have been totally fucked. I’d seen no other humans on the hike and, in fact, never did see any on that trail the entire day. If badly injured, I’d have been screwed.
As it was, when I got back to the truck I felt pretty good. So I put the probably-ruined camera in a towel and loaded up my old one and headed up the Little Lost Cove Cliffs Trail. I hiked that one, took a lot of shots at the top, then went back to my truck and returned to my campsite. I had a novel to write anyway.
Back at camp I ate some lunch, took a nap, and spent the rest of the day working on my novel. Oh—it was only after I got back to camp that I realized that I’d lost my wristwatch in the fall. No big deal—it was an inexpensive digital—but one more item to add to the expense of the hike. My camera was a $400 total loss. Argh.
By the time I got back home, my camera had dried out somewhat and some of the electronic systems were actually working! But the lens was packed with water, and the flash had drops of water in it, and the view finder was all fogged with water. Fuck it, I thought. I decided to put the camera on the sinktop and aim my wife’s hair drier on it. I set up my makeshift repair shop, turned on the drier and walked away and left it that way for several hours.
And what do you know? THE DAMNED THING WORKS!!!! IT FREAKING WORKS!
Yeah, it’s scratched up a little from falling 150 goddamned feet down a huge waterfall, but it works! You can’t beat Japanese quality. That’s a gottdanged fact.
PS: Canon has paid me not one thin dime for this testimonial. (But I’m open to offers.)
My Canon PowerShot S3 after its 150-foot plunge off of a waterfall. A little scratched, but the amazing thing works just fine.
North Harper Creek Falls, where my camera fell down, and so did I.