Catawba River Falls Adventure
The Catawba is arguably the most important river in North Carolina. Its hydroelectric stations provide a sizable amount of the state’s electricity needs. It has two sources of its headwaters. One is located just south of the Blue Ridge Parkway near the Linville Falls community. This is called the Catawba North Fork. The other, appropriately called the South Fork, emerges from the high ridges along the Eastern Continental Divide just south, and over the ridge from the town of Black Mountain. Over the past three years, I have hiked to the lower falls on that creek four times, and have made the hazardous climb to the higher set of falls only once. My latest trip came just three weeks ago, with spring just beginning to appear in the gorge. The Catawba drops more than 600 feet in less than half a mile, rewarding the hiker with three sets of dramatic falls and cascades along the way. The lower part of the creek, below, shows the effect of erosion and rock falls over the past half a million years.
In 1923, this concrete dam was built to harness water that powered the electric generating powerhouse further down the gorge. It served Old Fort, North Carolina. Today the broken wall shows the power of rain and ice to reshape man’s intrusions. The powerhouse is now only rock walls covered over with vines and trees.
Just below the dam, above, is the first set of falls and a cascade. That’s my friend Bryan in a place where he shouldn’t be. These moss covered rocks can be very slick and dangerous. This was in early October.
The top 30 feet of the Lower Falls is covered in vegetation, giving it the appearance of a jungle “Shangri La”. This photo was made in early June after new vegetation had covered the mossy, wet rocks. The climb to get to this point is treacherous and not advisable for the weekend climber. The Forest Service is designing a new trail that will make these falls, and the higher “Upper Falls”, accessible to the regular hiker.
After scaling the vertical wall of rock, and clinging to roots and vines along the steep trail, you hear the sound of water, and you see the high falls through the woods. This photo is from early October, and autumn colors are already creeping into the gorge.
Moving closer, the beauty of these spectacular creations becomes more and more apparent. From this point, we climbed to the top of these falls, and found a flat meadow covered in wildflowers and giant trees. I’ll warn you that the trip back down was even more difficult than the climb to the top, but Spot the Black Lab stayed by our sides the entire way up and back.
Giant thickets of Carolina Rhododendron cover the walls of the gorge throughout the entire climb. Bryan was part of the overall grotto with a pool at the bottom. This was a weekday, and, except for Spot, we had the entire gorge to ourselves.