This weekend I returned to Panthertown, a place I haven’t been in about 2 years. Between AT hikes and work, I haven’t been able to get back. But this weekend I agreed to help out with my friend’s Backpacking 101 trip. There were 11 of us signed up for a nice easy hike over two days, with temperatures in the 60s and 50s. There was a chance of rain, but nothing terrible.
We met in the parking lot where we usually carpool from, and there were only 9 at the time. By 7:15 we needed to go, and headed out. After a wrong turn or two we found the trailhead and got the packs on, and tromped off into the woods. Our first stop was Schoolhouse falls, a nice low falls about 20 feet off the water, with a hollowed out section that you can walk on, behind the falls. It’s always a fun trip, especially when there’s a bit of ice on the rocks. The water was quite high this time, but thankfully there was no ice.
We left the falls and headed up. There is only about 600 feet of elevation gain for the whole hike, but its all at once, 300 feet the first day and 300 feet the second day, in one swoop. It really lets you know how far out of shape you are. We reached the top of the hill and looked out over the valley. By now it was time for a snack, so we sat on the rocks in the sun and talked about things. About the time we were about to leave, a woman walked out of the woods. She asked if we were a meetup group.
It turns out she was one of our group members that missed the carpool group, and tried to keep up with us after a traffic light caught her. She took an entirely different direction and was able to find us based on the map she picked up in class. We were very impressed with both her road navigation and her map-reading ability, as Panthertown is a tough place to navigate if you’ve never been to it.
With our new hiker, we headed down the hill and found the next set of falls at Granny Burrell. The water was high enough there wasn’t much rock to stand on without getting wet, and the beach was totally washed out. We headed on up to the shelter to set up camp. When we arrived, we found the camping area mostly deserted except for a single tent and bear bag, with a fire smoldering in the fire ring. No one was home. The camping area has grown up a lot since I last stayed there, the briars have taken over several good tent sites. Someone needs to come in with a machete and clean it out a bit.
It was short work for everyone to pick a site and set up. About the time most of the tents went up a group of about 20 hikers came through and looked forlornly at the shelter, as it had started to rain. They kept on walking north, which was a good direction to go since across the creek there is a great open camping site, just without the tin-roofed building. We ate snacks, sat around and talked, and then some went ahead and cooked dinner. At first it looked like the night hike was going to be a no-go, but the rain quit before sunset and I asked if anyone wanted to night-hike.
Five of us headed down the trail, with one giving up before we reached the turn to go up the cliff face. She turned back and the rest of us made the 200 foot switchbacking trail hike up to the top of Big Green, where we watched the last of the sun’s rays dip behind the mountain. A cold mist rolled in and we headed back down about 10 minutes later. By the time we got back to the twisting, turning, wet path leading off the top of the outcropping, it was fully dark. Coming off a mountain in the dark is always a fun challenge, especially with mud and standing water in spots. We walked into camp, talked a little while, and then headed off to our tents.
Overnight was no big deal. The temperatures never got very bad, and the rain didn’t return in force. It either misted or condensed on leaves, to be shaken loose by the wind, but either way it was just enough to let you know it was wet outside, and to disguise the noise of anything wandering through the woods. The next day everyone was alive and no food had been molested by critters, so all in all it was a good night.
After breakfast, we slowly packed up in the morning wetness, made breakfast, and then a group of us faster camp-breakers yet slower walkers decided to head out and up. The slower-packers yet faster walkers stayed behind. About 5 of us headed down the trail and up the now much more challenging Big Green trek. At the top we debated sticking around and waiting on the slower packing people, but knowing the the other guide probably knew the way out, we laid out an arrow in limbs and kept walking. After a ridge line hike the rest of the trip was downhill to two water crossings. The last stop before the end of the day was a little campsite at Greenland Creek Falls trail.
While we were putting on our shoes after a water crossing, the second group showed up at the campsite. All but three of us headed off to see Greenland Creek Falls, which is quite impressive. Three of us stayed behind to watch the packs and rest. When the group was reunited (with one being slightly wet after falling in the creek), we headed up the gentle climb out to the parking lot. The weather the second day stayed overcast and just cool enough to hike in and be comfortable, without freezing us when we stopped.
All in all, a very fine hike.