Piney Falls State Natural Area

April 06, 2015  •  7 Comments

Did someone say Lower Piney?

Going back to December 2014, I was alongside Ronnie (Squatchie) and Dan (Lt. Dan), about to descend into the bowels of hell after a visit to Upper Piney Falls in the Piney Falls State natural Area near Spring City, TN.  The side trip to Lower Piney Falls is off the main trail and immediately has you going down a steep muddy grade.  We used one section of 100 foot rope, making it safer going down and easier coming back up.

After the descent we had landed at the top of the falls.  We crossed the shallow stream and started bushwhacking around a bluff.  This is where it gets good.  While traveling in Ronnie and Dan’s footsteps, I grabbed onto a tree limb which decided it couldn’t hold my weight and broke.  I fell backwards, landing over the top of one leg, resting precariously on a small sapling which stopped me from continuing my uncontrolled descent down the remaining 120 feet.  At that point I was having trouble getting up as my pack was weighing me down and the position in which I landed restricted my movement.  Dan and Ronnie turned around and were amazed (I think) that I was an expert contortionist and yoga guru before coming to the conclusion that I needed help.  I think Ronnie might have even snapped a picture.  My first thought was a hyperextended knee, but figured I had made it this far so we continued onward even though it did hurt, A LOT.  We came to an opening where we again tied off another section of 100 foot rope in order to lower ourselves the remaining 120 feet to the base of Lower Piney Falls.  I roped and butt slid the rest of the way down but then decided to stay in one place and take my pictures.

Upper Piney FallsOlympus E-M1: Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8: ISO 100: 4 sec @ f/20.0 Lower Piney FallsOlympus E-M1: Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8: ISO 100: 4 sec @ f/22.0

It’s funny how you don’t think about things when they’re important but after getting to the bottom I realized that I had to climb back out.  Ronnie graciously offered to carry my pack but unbeknownst to him it was packed with rocks, or at least that’s his story.  We made it out although much slower than going in.  Prognosis of injury, three partially torn ligaments and a meniscus tear which needed surgery to repair.

Fast forward a few months after knee surgery, physical therapy, and healing of the three partially torn ligaments, someone says “let’s do Lower Piney”.  Seems Daniel has wanted to do this trip for the past six years.  Needless to say, we got a group together and hit the trail last Saturday.  There were seven in all, one person forgot about the time zone difference and didn’t make it (DJ).  ☺

It was cool enough for a light jacket with the sun beginning to rise after the lunar eclipse earlier that morning, I feared the sun would ruin the our pictures with hotspots and blowouts but we had a bucket list item to complete so onward ho!  We decided if we had any chance of getting good images of Lower Piney we would go there first, so at the junction we tied off 100’ of rope and made the descent.  Hmmm, starting to sound familiar? 

Piney Falls TrailApple iPhone 6 Plus: Apple 4.15mm f/2.2: ISO 50: 1/15 @ f/2.2 Amy on the ropesApple iPhone 6 Plus: Apple 4.15mm f/2.2: ISO 32: 1/40 @ f/2.2

Down to the top of Piney River, we looked for a spot to cross.  The water was knee deep in places and the current was swift.  We decided the best way to forge the stream (river) was to send someone across with rope and tie off to the other side so the rest of us could use it to assist in the crossing.  Who better to sacrifice but Lt. Dan?  So we tied a rope to Dan and sent him on his way.  He made it across without hesitation, tied the rope to another tree and we were set.  One by one we crossed the Piney River.  After four of us made it safely to the other side, the remaining three decided to try and find an easier spot to cross or take pictures from downstream.

Lt. Dan crossing Piney RiverApple iPhone 6 Plus: Apple 4.15mm f/2.2: ISO 32: 1/50 @ f/2.2 Piney River CrossingApple iPhone 6 Plus: Apple 4.15mm f/2.2: ISO 32: 1/40 @ f/2.2

Now the fun part was just about to begin.  We bushwhacked our way around the bluff and down the remaining 120 feet of ridge line to the base of the waterfall.  I remember this section well and even found the broken limb where I took hold and the branch gave way.  I gave thanks to the small sapling that save me.  We continued around the bluff and found a place to secure yet another 100 foot of rope and headed down.  The last 20 feet beyond the rope’s reach required butt sliding (group photo to prove it).  We all had made it without injury and started setting up our gear.  The sun had decided to bless us with its presence and while it really doesn’t help for good waterfall pictures it did create a spectacular rainbow for us.
Butt SlideNikon D750: Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8: ISO 200: 1/200 @ f/11.0

I didn’t really scout around for other shooting locations since the sun wasn’t cooperating I figured I wanted the rainbow in all of my shots so I stayed put.  Satisfied with the images captured on our memory cards, we started the ascent.  We all took different routes back up until we hit the rope then followed the line until it ended.  There was still another section to climb and we did so with little trouble.  I, on the other hand took a limb to the face and ended up with a nice cut which decided to drain about a half cup of blood from my body.  I’m batting 1000 for injuries on this trip.

Lower Piney FallsNikon D750: Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8: ISO 50: 0.8 sec @ f/22.0 Amy ascendingApple iPhone 6 Plus: Apple 4.15mm f/2.2: ISO 40: 1/30 @ f/2.2

Once back to the river crossing we again used Lt. Dan to tow the line back across the current after the rest of us made it safely.  We managed to make it back to the junction where we took a couple of group shots and parted ways with most of the group.  Three of us headed to Upper Piney Falls and the others headed back to the cars.  It must be almost a half mile to the upper waterfall from the junction and we made good time.  Amy needed to go to work so we were on a tight schedule. 


Upper Piney Falls was much nicer than Lower Piney due to the lack of sunlight hitting the water.  We took several shots from both sides and behind the waterfall before packing up and heading out.

Upper Piney FallsNikon D750: Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8: ISO 64: 1.3 sec @ f/22.0 Upper Piney FallsNikon D750: Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8: ISO 50: 1.6 sec @ f/22.0 Behind Upper Piney FallsApple iPhone 6 Plus: Apple 4.15mm f/2.2: ISO 32: 1/350 @ f/2.2

Lastly, we took Daniel’s ninja trail back up to “save time”.  I’m not so sure we saved time but I do think Amy was about to hit one of us with her tripod by the end of the trek.  Lt. Dan and I have said it before but this time we mean it, “NOT DOING THIS ONE AGAIN”.

Piney Falls Group ShotNikon D750: Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8: ISO 200: 1/500 @ f/11.0

Until next time, Big Bear signing off.


Eldon & Bonny(non-registered)
Fantastic, as always. Sounds like quite the adventure!! Hope the injuries healed. A little too much for us - glad you can still do it.

We are back in the U S after 30 days. Great trip! Looking forward to your next adventure.
Lori Montgomery(non-registered)
Wish we were there looks like a fantastic area!!
Thanks for sharing.
Janie Barbosa(non-registered)
Great fun!
Joe Guzi(non-registered)
Good stuff John! Glad to hear you're back in action.
Great story, John and you tell your adventures so well. Glad you have a group of adventurers to share.
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