Waterfall Adventure #1

September 22, 2014  •  8 Comments

I was very excited to go on a waterfall adventure hike today with some people from Dayton, TN.   After meeting Ronnie, Dan, and Elmer at the local Hardee's, we all piled into one truck and headed for the trail. We arrived at the gate where we met Ronnie's wife, Gail.  She would be shuttling us to the trailhead in her buggy, a two seat atv with a bench in the back.  I got to ride shotgun and the other three had the pleasure of riding the bench. The trail was pretty narrow and had many low hanging branches, thank God I was in the front. Gail about scared the boys to death on the four mile ride into the woods.  She found a mud hole and performed a couple of expert maneuvers (donuts) before dropping us off.  The buggy felt a little top heavy and I'm pretty sure Dan had a few choice words, that's all I'm going to say about that.

Elmer, Dan, Gail, John, Ronnie (front)Photo by Ronnie Phipps

Our first feature was a natural bridge/ arch, I'm told the only one in Rhea County.  You had to climb down by way of rope into a narrow slot.  When you got to the bottom and turned around, Bam! It was right in front of you. I have a full frame Nikon DSLR and the famed 14-24 f/2.8 lens still couldn't manage to capture the entire bridge.  

Gooch Creek ArchNikon D800: Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8: ISO 1600: 1/30 @ f/6.3 Gooch Creek Arch is a natural sandstone arch in Rhea County, Tennessee. It is 45 feet (14 m) high with a span of 78 feet (24 m), making it one of the largest arches in Tennessee.  After climbing back out, we headed towards our first waterfall of the day.  

Gooch Creek ArchNikon D800: Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8: ISO 800: 1/60 @ f/2.8

It was a short hike to Hidden Falls. We all took up spots around the waterfall and started shooting.  This was a very easy waterfall to photograph and there were a multitude of vantage points to acquire unique angles from.

Hidden FallsPhoto by Ronnie Phipps

Hidden FallsNikon D800: Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8: ISO 64: 2.5 sec @ f/22

We then descended into the Laurel Snow Pocket Wilderness.  Climbing down a pretty rugged, steep, rock strewn trail.  Well, they called it a trail anyway.  The weather had been cooperating all day but upon our arrival at Laurel Falls the clouds decided to part and let the sun find its way down to us.  We chose a shaded spot under the trees to have lunch.  We dined on Gail's pb&j sandwiches along with some chips.  She had made enough for a small army and Ronnie was packing it all.  As we were enjoying the sound of the water free falling 80' straight down before crashing on the rocks below.  A man suddenly appeared, his name was Ed.  He was a slim, older fellow and had a bloody arm.   I think he might have had a fight with a bobcat or something before he found us.  He asked some questions about the trail and then vanished just as quick.  We resumed our enjoyment of the surrounding beauty and jovial camaraderie.  Not much time had passed when Ed showed back up, asking if he could follow us back down.  We obliged, packed up our gear, and started our descent.

Laurel FallsNikon D800: Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8: ISO 50: 8 sec @ f/22

We ran into a couple of unnamed falls or cascades on our way down.  Ronnie was in the lead but for some reason had an aneurism at one point and took Ed's advice on direction.  There wasn't much of a trail in this area and we followed Ed's directions straight into a dead end with the exception of a small opening between two very large boulders.  Dan was in front with me following.  Note to self; it's really not a good idea to have the smallest guy test the rabbit hole for fit.  Dan made it through with ease then it was my turn.  Surprisingly, I somehow managed to squeeze through.  Sure am glad I've lost all that weight.  Ed then proclaimed he didn't come that way and we found ourselves surrounded by downed trees, large boulders, and lots of poison ivy.  I still remember asking Ronnie at Hardee's if I should put jeans on and his reply "no, it won't be that bad" (a phrase we'd hear over and over again that day).  Well it was that bad.  Bushwhacking and butt sliding through all of the ivy, I knew I'd pay for it later.  Finally exiting the bush, we got our shots of the cascades and continued onward.  I managed to get my feet wet crossing the raging river from taking photos of the last cascade.  We noticed Ed had disappeared at this point.  Not sure if something dragged him off or he decided to leave on his own. Onward ho!

Cascades #1Nikon D800: Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8: ISO 50: 13 sec 1/50 @ f/22

Cascades #2Nikon D800: Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8: ISO 50: 25 sec @ f/22
















We finally made it to the "developed" trail which my feet, knees, thighs, and respiratory system all thanked me for.  This was apparently an old coal mine area "back in the day" (yes, I'm learning the local slang).  We passed one old mine entrance and a stone wall that had been erected without the use of any binding agent such as concrete, mortar, mud, or super glue.  We came upon the ruins of another mine entrance where Ronnie came to an abrupt stop and asked who wanted to visit Monkey Head Falls.  Dan was pretty quick to decline and Elmer was right behind with a resounding "No". That should have been my clue as well, but I'm a freak'in nut and said yes.

Abandoned Coal Mine EntranceApple iPhone 5s: 4.12mm f/4.0: ISO 40: 1/40 @ f/2.2

Our fearless leader then proceeded to make a sharp left turn and head straight up the hill.  No, not the type of hill you're thinking of but the kind you have to use ropes in order to make the ascent safely.  After summiting the first ridge I was informed there was just one more to go with a section of a narrow ledge to traverse in between.  After all that, we used the rope once more to lower ourselves down into the creek bed.  I probably didn't need them here but they did make the descent much easier.

Monkey Head FallsNikon D800: Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8: ISO 50: 13 sec @ f/22

After Ronnie and I captured numerous shots of Monkey Head Falls we backtracked to the main trail. Then it was a short hike back to the parking area where Dan and Elmer were waiting for us at the truck.

After approximately five miles hiked and five waterfalls visited, I was spent.  It was a great day.  Mother Nature lifted her vail and displayed all her beauty to us on this grand day.


Robin Dewey(non-registered)
Great adventure story writing and beautiful shots, John. Thanks for sharing. Are you still in TN?
Kelly Cossette(non-registered)
You have great talent... And looks like you are having fun!!
great story and great pics as always
Sharon Ridenour(non-registered)
Awesome photos once again John. I'm convinced you'd climb up or drag yourself through anything Mother Nature put before you, just to get the perfect shot. I'm also convinced that you are about 10 shades of crazy too. It pays off for sure. Beautiful! I'm so glad to hear you are picking up the local slang as well. It will serve you well. Hope to see you soon. :-)
Great shots John...
Phrase "...no, it won't be that bad..." sounds like something Kirk Bramlett would say on our " easy" hike around Valle's Caldra in NM. lol
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