Hidden Secrets of Pinnacle Mountain
One of my hiking pals, Johnny Corn, had received beta from another hiker concerning seven largely unknown waterfalls at the border of Table Rock State Park and Jocassee Gorge. The information was definite (from a veteran waterfall wanderer/discoverer named Bernie) and we would be assured of finding some spectacular new waterfalls.
So we gathered a crew of worthy folk who are accustomed to bushhwacking in the southern Appalachians. This kind of hiking isn't easy. The slopes off trail are achingly steep, generally very slick, and the mazes of mountain laurel and rhododendron are almost sure to rip the pack from your back at every opportunity. And so it was that Andy Kunkle, Jack Thyen, Johnny Corn, Brenda Wiley and I all signed up for the tough ten-mile hike. (The hike ended up coming in at 9.9 miles.)
Johnny Corn had suggested that we access the new falls through Table Rock State Park in South Carolina. We used the Palmetto Trail to access the park. The terminus we used was in the campground section of the park which was surprisingly completely vacant. There's a large parking lot at the trail head that we used and soon we were heading up into the high country.
South Carolina's northwestern edge is very mountainous and the Blue Ridge Escarpment rises abruptly here. The elevation roars up from a few hundred feet above sea level to over 3,400 feet in a brief distance. This sudden increase in elevation produces conditions that have been conducive to a vast and varied ecosystem. It also is one of the most conducive for the creation of waterfalls. Most of the rock present here is very tough material and erodes slowly. Add to this the very high level of rainfall and you have the perfect conditions. The area is packed cheek by jowl with, quite literally, many, many hundreds of top-notch waterfalls.
We were there to seek out seven of them. Seven that not many visitors to these parks will be likely to see, and six of which not many visitors to the park have ever seen.
The first falls we hit was about one mile in on the Palmetto Trail. At around that point there is a well-trod but unofficial trail leading off to the right and heading steeply up the slopes of Pinnacle Mountain. Here you have to climb several hundred very tough feet to get to the first and highest of the falls we encountered on the hike. This falls was composed of a number of plunges and has to easily be well over 200 feet high. It ended up being one of the best waterfalls I have encountered in South Carolina.
We spent quite a lot of time at this first falls taking photos and videos. But we headed back down the manway to the Palmetto Trail and headed north. The next part of the hike consisted of two miles on the Palmetto Trail. The going was relatively easy with a long climb up to a ridge and then back down into a gap where we found a small cascades. We knew from Bernie's information that an impressive falls was just beyond this cascade about 100 vertical feet up the mountain. True to his information, we indeed found a "new" and important waterfall.
Then we were back down to the trail and within a short distance it was time to start some serious bushwhacking. After we left the trail we plunged down the slopes and soon came to the next waterfall. It was only about fifteen feet high, but the volume was good and it was quite a photogenic spot. Beyond its base we could hear the crash of more water and knew that the next falls was probably more impressive, but we could also tell that the mountain fell precipitously and that we'd need to pick our route carefully.
Indeed, if you try to go straight down the creek from that point you'd end up dead in short order. So we swung far to the right and circled back down to the creek via extremely tough slopes with soaked soil overlaying solid rock. The soil can slide out from under you and take you down the mountain in quick and painful order. Care must be taken to keep this from happening.
And the reward for this effort was the only named falls that we found on the day: Yucca Falls. I don't know why it has this name, or who named it. But I was assured that it does have this name. This was, from a purely technical standpoint, the most spectacular waterfall of the day. It has a sheer untouched plunge of seventy to seventy-five feet. It was indeed a worthy goal of the day, but we had several more falls to investigate before the hike out.
After quite a while at this waterfall we again headed downstream, losing elevation quickly. The going here is very sketchy and care must be taken. The rhododendron was thick here and I had to backtrack a number of times to retrieve things torn out of my pack by greedy branches. But shortly we found ourselves at what was--for me--the prettiest waterfall of the day.
This falls was not composed of a sheer drop, but was instead a series of slides and cataracts that combined--along with the good volume of water--to create a truly beautiful scene couched there in the steep gorge and surrounded by heath shrubs and a classic cove hardwood forest. To me, it was the jewel in the crown of that day. In addition, the weather had remained cool and overcast the entire time, which made for ideal conditions to take waterfall photographs.
After that, we saw two more waterfalls as we made our way back up the watershed. They were nice scenes, but nothing like the waterfalls we had already encountered. They are, of course, well worth the effort to see, but when compared to the scenes we had already witnessed, they paled. Add to that the fact that we were getting tired and had a lot of hiking to do to get back to the trailhead, and you just had a situation where five waterfall wanderers had run out of superlatives to describe the hike.
We made the Table Rock State Park campground not long before twilight and climbed into our vehicles to drive back home. It was a hell of a hike and now I know that these mountains shelter more great waterfalls than most park visitors will ever imagine.
The unnamed cascades below Yucca Falls.
The first, big falls.
Side View of Yucca Falls.
First unnamed falls on Rachel Creek tributary.
The beauty of falling water.