Friday, May 20, 2016

Dick's Creek Falls and Crow Mountain

A few weeks ago I'd taken the family up to Long Creek and Sea Creek Falls, and they had a pretty good time, aside from Kathryn getting relatively carsick from driving on twisty roads all day. The week after we all walked on the Alpharetta Greenway for a bit and had an equally good time. Last week we were talking about reprising those good times by going back up to the mountains again, and I thought I might be able to get us in to a spot that didn't involve too many mountain roads.

My plan actually worked, and Kathryn wasn't feeling the least bit sick as we arrived at Dick's Creek Falls.

We were nearly alone though. That place is typically packed, but I guess the water was just a little too cold, and it was vacant except for a few fishermen and errant folks like ourselves.

The Girls and a Guy Fishing at Dicks Creek Falls The Family at Dicks Creek Falls Sophie at Dicks Creek

The falls itself raged with a power I hadn't seen before.

Dicks Creek Falls Dicks Creek Falls Up Close

I guess I'd only been up there during droughts in the past.

After climbing all over the nearby rocks, and wading barefoot in the creek, the next logical thing to do was go for a swim.

Damn, the water was cold. But, after a few dips I got acclimated, and after a few leaps from the lower ledges, I felt confident I could leap safely from the Cliff of Death.

Kathryn had brought her new camera. Iz was perched pensively on the rocks nearest the falls. Kathryn had an artistic photo framed, and right as she took the photo, my ridiculous flailing body came sailing in from the right.

Photobombing from the Cliff of Death

She still got her shot, but I bombed her first attempt.

We stayed there for a few hours, actually. I enjoyed being in the water. The girls seemed to enjoy NOT being in the water. Kathryn shot a satisfying number of photos and got fairly familiar with her camera.

But that was just the first part of the day. We planned to go for a walk too. I'd read of another waterfall on Crow Mountain Creek, and the old USGS topo maps show an old road leading up to it. The girls and I had explored an adjacent set of trails 8 or 9 years ago. I figured we'd hike up Old Crow Mountain Road and come down the old road that parallels Blood Mountain Creek.

A few miles, tops.

We were all up for it. Let's go.

We hiked up the road and hung a right onto the old road. This seemed to take no time at all.

The old road was steep and chunky, and deep below grade, but clearly got some amount of traffic. From the looks of it, a good bit of horse traffic.

Old Crow Mountain Road Climbing Old Crow Mountain Road

Sophie's blood sugar started crashing, but I managed to catch it before it got too bad, and she was feeling fine again by the time we got to the falls.

The falls were interesting, but not all that spectacular though, at least not from the top.

Crow Mountain Creek Falls

It was a long, but very shallow sliding falls. I had an easy time walking all over it. It might have been more impressive at the base, but it wasn't a good day to find out so I left that for another trip.

We crossed the creek right after the falls, and Sophie's legs were just slightly too much shorter than the rest of ours for her to have an easy time of it.

Tentative Creek Crossing

It was the weirdest thing too. The old road began to improve significantly after the creek.

More of Old Crow Mountain Road

And then there was a meadow.

Meadow Above Crow Mountain

And then another stretch of even more improved road, with tire tracks.

This was a little confusing at the time. How could the trail be improving. There's no way anyone drives up what we'd been on earlier. There's only 1 road in the area, due west, which mainly runs north-south, and I'd been to the end of it before. There must be a pretty long spur leading east from it over to these meadows, but no map shows any such thing. Hmmm....

I pondered all of this as we walked, but the sudden appearance of an enormous black bear, a 500 pound cinnamon boar, directly ahead of us cast all such thoughts from my mind. "Bear!" I shouted, and raised my arms above my head. Isabel, apparently, had the same response. Good job Iz! Kathryn and Sophie took a second, but at least neither of them ran away, which has always been my fear. The girls and I had only seen one bear together before, on Smith Creek, near Helen, years ago, but it was a long way away, across a deep valley, I noticed it first, and gently informed them about it, so they didn't really react, just respond, mainly with curiosity. Since then I'd always ask them, every single time we'd go for a hike: "What do you do if you see a bear?" "Put your arms up." "Do you run away?" "No!"

We'd never actually walked up on one before though. People say that humans don't act on primitive instinct, but the people who say that have never seen a bear in the woods. I can very confidently tell you that the urge to run is very strong, and without the right presence of mind, you will have begun to do it before you realize that you have. I've seen it happen, and I've experienced the urge myself, but I've also seen enough bear since then to have been re-trained. With the girls, it's one thing for them to be able to recite what to do, but I've always wondered how they would really react. I guess now I know, and I was really pleased to find out.

Bear do act on primitive instinct, and this one took off the second it realized we were there, leaving a trail of droppings in the direction it fled. We literally scared the poop out of it. Reminded me of a tale that my brother told me that Andy Skurka had told him. But that's another story...

Ours continued north past more meadows and along ever-improving trail.

Looking More Like Civilization

One meadow perfectly framed Blood Mountain and gave me a really good idea of where we were. Sadly I neglected to take a photo. We eventually came upon a gate and it looked like the trail I wanted to take back down ought to tee in right there as well. It was nowhere to be seen though. Had I been alone I'd have probably explored around off-trail until I found it. They're not much for off-trail hiking though, and we hadn't so much as pushed aside a branch all day. I gave them the options: "1) Bushwhack until we find the other trail. 2) Direct abort - turn around and walk back down the way we came up. 3) Keep going - we're surrounded by The Blood Mountain Wilderness, the road ahead must bend around and lead to the main road, as there is no other road in the area, and it simply can't lead into the Wilderness." They chose option 3 and we pressed on.

The road just kept going north though and before long we were off the top of the map. The road would bend west promisingly, and then just bend back north. Sophie was especially frustrated by this. Iz and Kathryn, surprisingly, didn't seem to care, and were in generally good spirits.

At length, the road bent back south, and joined the main road at a 6-way intersection. I recognized it. I'd been there before. We still had a ways to go though.

We made great time, and Sophie was in better spirits until she slipped off of a little berm and slammed on her left hip. We thought she might develop a bruise, but it turned out to be just a really bad scrape. It kept sticking to her clothes, so I eventually had to pull out the little first aid kit, clean it up, and bandage it.

Before long we started passing campsites and waterfalls.

Small Falls on Dicks Creek

It was getting late and chilly. We were out of Clif Blocks. I showed everyone where we were on the map and how much further we had to go, and again, gave them options. Option 1 - Push on together. Option 2 - Post up in one of these campsites, build a little fire, I'd go get the truck and drive back up to pick them up.

They really liked option 2.

Option 2!

Fake Camping

It only took 20 minutes or so to get back to the truck and like 5 more to pick them up. But they were relaxing by the roaring fire the whole time, and if they'd come with me, it would have taken like twice as long, and they'd have been burnt. I think we made the right decision.

We packed up, but didn't take off immediately. The fire was warm and cozy. They'd even drug over some logs to sit on. It was getting kind of late though, and the girls had school the next day, so we did get going around 8:30 or so.

We grabbed some Subway in Dahlonega, though I cannot account for why they preferred Subway to Rooster's Cafe. Rooster's has seriously good chicken. No accounting for taste, I guess.

And that was about it. We later reflected on the long list of ironies. My family doesn't value Adventure or Adversity like I do. But... I can't remember the last time I was that wrong about the layout of the trails. I can't remember the last time I had to improvise like that to find my way out of the woods. I can't remember the last time I ended up off-map. I can't remember, offhand at least, the last time someone got hurt. I've been carrying around a first aid kit for years and never had to use it until this trip. I've been carrying around emergency fire-starting materials for years and never had to use it until this trip. Not to mention the bear!


On the one day I was actively trying to avoid it.

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