Entries For: January 2008
Hiking through South Mountain will get any hiker interested in geology.
Because of its low altitude, South Mountain State Park is a prime year-round destination, except maybe in the heart of the summer. Though the highest point is about 3,000 ft., when you’re looking down into a valley 2,000 ft below, you can feel on top of the local world. The wind whistling through the pines, the ridge vistas, the tumbling water give you the same rush as higher altitudes. The state park has cut trees to open up views and even arranged logs for low benches. White-tail deer, not usually seen at the higher elevations, is abundant here.
Walking down High Shoals Falls can get any hiker interested in geology. Water travels through the park toward the Catawba River and cuts deep into the land, forming steep slopes. Rock slabs moved down the slope and piled up at the base. They have broken off by the process of exfoliation, a type of weathering that occurs in rocks which have uniform texture. Think of exfoliating the skin to make it smoother. As a layer is peeled off, like peeling off an onion, the underlying rock expands upward. Cracks form and eventually the rock break off along these cracks.
As you come down the staircase, you’ll find large slabs of rocks with vertical fractures called joints. These fractures get wider when water seeps in and freezes. Plant roots make their way into cracks and expand the rock. Flowing water also encourages joints to widen. Every once in a while, a block of rock separates from the cliff along one of the joints and tumbles down. In 1989, Hurricane Hugo dumped a great deal of rain in South Mountain State Park. Many loose rocks slid off at once, resulting in the Hugo landslide.
The Catawba River is a major river in the Carolinas which provides water for the city of Charlotte and beyond. But here, at the headwaters, the river flows wild, though it is creek size. The walk to the Lower Falls is moderate; however, reaching the Upper Falls is very difficult and should not be undertaken lightly. There are ropes for the rockiest part; you’ll need to pull yourself with your hands on other sections. This hike is good any time. However, if you plan to go to the Upper Falls, you’ll want to avoid yellow jacket season. Please stay on the trail – good advice in general, but especially where waterfalls are involved. Two ropes, in tandem, have been secured to tree trunks - you might find it harder to go down than up. Only one person should use these ropes at a time. One experienced hiker said of climbing to Upper Catawba Falls “It didn’t get this technical up to the base camp on Mt. Everest.”
In the early 1900s, Colonel Daniel W. Adams, a pioneer in the development of hydroelectric power, bought thousands of acres of land in the Old Fort area, including the Falls. In the 1920s, he built the dams you’ll pass on the hike, which created electricity for the town of Old Fort. In 1928 he sold the power plant to a small power company. Eventually Duke Power Company took it over and closed the Catawba facility.
Catawba Falls was always private; hikers could only to the falls with permission of the landowners. Catawba Falls, itself, were acquired by the Pisgah in the late 1980s from the Adams family. But a short access trail to the falls stayed in private hands; the falls became landlocked.
When the heirs put the 23 acre property on the market, the Foothills Conservancy acted very quickly to buy it with loan funds to secure public access to the trail. The Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina, a regional land trust, is dedicated to working cooperatively with landowners and public and private conservation partners to preserve and protect important natural areas and open spaces of the Blue Ridge Foothills region, including watersheds, environmentally significant habitats, forests and farmland, for this and future generations. FCNC now owns more than 1,000 acres in the Catawba Headwaters and has allowed access to Catawba Falls. The Conservancy has taken out a loan to buy this access to Catawba Falls and obviously needs to repay it. Please make a contribution and support where you hike. See http://www.foothillsconservancy.org/news.htm