Thunder Falls

May 04, 2015  •  5 Comments

Last weekend was a special trek for me.  Accompanied by Ronnie “Waterfall Man” and Amy “Goldilocks”, we set out to find a new unnamed waterfall.  This was finally my chance to actually name one if found.

We started out looking for wildflowers, specifically the elusive and rarely seen yellow lady slipper.  Ronnie had good information as to where we might find a batch so we met him at this undisclosed location.  After searching the area we could not find even one.  We determined that it might still be a bit early for them so we gathered our packs and headed back to our vehicles.  A short drive later we found ourselves at the Piney Trail in Rhea County.  

I was on a tight schedule and when Ronnie said it would be around 5 miles each way I had my doubts about being able to do the whole trip.  Needless to say we headed off into the sea of green leaves and fragment aromas of nature.  

The trail was very pleasant and easy to navigate except for the numerous downed trees across the path that we had to negotiate over, around, or under.  After almost 30 minutes of playing follow the leader on this single wide path we had clicked off a mile, maybe farther.  If Barry Cole was leader we would have been at least a quarter mile further, at the blistering pace he likes to hike (jog).  After another mile or so I was thinking to myself, I’m not gonna (yes, southern slang) make it all the way before I have to turn back, when the sound of silent footsteps on the trail was interrupted by Ronnie’s declaration “we’re here”.  We had made it to McDonald Creek.  Let the torture begin.  Here's Ronnie in his best Lewis & Clark pose.

Ronnie Phipps best Lewis & Clark pose

McDonald Creek is a small tributary flowing into the Piney River, full of boulders and downed trees.  We left the nicely groomed path and started making our way upstream.  Little by little, step by step, we climbed over boulders and debris.  There was the occasional small water feature or cascade, but we were here to find something much bigger.  As Amy would say, “ginormous”.  You might ask yourself as I did, is “ginormous” really a word?  Although first used circa 1948, it didn’t make the dictionary until 2007 according to the internet.

Climbing McDonald Creek Me climbing the hillside

After crawling upstream for a few hundred feet I spotted the waterfall through the dense growth.  It was still a ways off, but I now had my destination locked and loaded.  Thinking it would be easier, we decided to exit the creek bed and scale the steep banks surrounding us.   Ronnie had beaten us to the base of the waterfall and had already begun taking pictures, but it didn’t matter.  There it was, 35 feet of free falling water rolling off the ledge and crashing into the rocks at our feet.  The light was just starting to make its way onto the top of the falls so I quickly setup and started shooting.

Thunder Falls Base of Thunder Falls

After taking many photos of the waterfalls and other items of interest we assessed our return route and decided to climb up the hill and skirt the bluff before heading back down to the trail.  On our way back there were several opportunities for using the butt slide technique which Amy demonstrates very well.  After returning back to the Piney Trail we made our way back to the vehicles and decided to try our luck at finding some red lady slippers.  We did manage to find a few wildflowers along the way, including this Pitcher Plant.

Amy clearing the way. Pitcher Plant

Earlier I mentioned and unnamed waterfall.  Well, it isn’t unnamed any longer.  Ronnie let me name this one.  I guess after the previous 15 he’s found and named, he could afford to let one go.  Fact is, he’s that nice of a guy.  After submitting the location, description, size, etc. to the appropriate folks we found out that it did in fact qualify for a new waterfall.  You already know the name.   It’s the title of this blog entry.  Now my buddy Thunder will forever have something named after him, it doesn’t get much better than that.  Okay, maybe a National Park or even a comet, but I’m content with a waterfall.

Tennessee Landforms entry It’s not easy to get to, but if you ever do, say hi to my buddy when you stop by.

Thunder @ Crater lakeThunder @ Crater lake

Until next time, Big Bear signing off. 



Ronnie Phipps(non-registered)
I told you He would get his name on one, this just seemed like the right place and falls for ole Thunder to stake his claim
Eldon & Bonny(non-registered)
How special!!! So glad you got to name a gorgeous waterfall for your
Your commentary and photography terrific, as usual. Keep them coming.
Robin & Larry Dewey(non-registered)
Very nice, John. Thank you for sharing.
Dan Graf(non-registered)
What a sweet story and to have it documented on the map is so cool. You did have some sweets didn't you?
Janie Barbosa(non-registered)
Too bad you didn't find the yellow lady slippers, but looks like a fun time was had!
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