English Falls - A Dangerous Beauty
If you've ever had the pleasure of listening to Kevin Adams, a notable expert on waterfalls in western North Carolina, or reading one of his several book on the topic, he'll usually show photographs of English Falls. When he tells his audience and readers about the waterfall, he's sure to mention the high level of difficulty of getting to this particular waterfall. As a frequent user of his waterfall guide book, I've come to appreciate the accuracy of his ratings for beauty and difficulty of the noted waterfalls. With that said, English Falls has always intrigued me but the stated difficulty and danger of getting to this waterfall has always prevented me from trying to photograph it.
But last fall, I saw a photograph of English Falls posted by one of my photography friends. I reached out to him to see just how difficult he found it to be. He agreed with the assessment presented by Kevin Adams but said with the right preparations, it was doable. He said he could get me to it.
I thought this adventure over in my head and asked my buddy a couple more times about it and looked at some YouTube videos to check it out more. I finally decided to try it with the understanding if at any point it seemed too much I'd back off.
Mike and I met up on the Parkway, gathered our gear and ropes and headed off. The hike quickly began a steep descent requiring some butt slides and grabbing on to bushes to control sliding. We came to first very steep descent and Mike tied up a long length of rope. With a heavy pack on, this proved more difficult than I expected. I was very happy of my decision to bring along leather gloves. They definitely helped my grip. If you lose your grip here, you're in for a long slide without anything to grab unto. The result would likely be very painful.
Having made the first section OK, we skirted around a steep area finally reaching the second steep drop around some rock cliffs. Using another section of rope and with a lot of Mike's help, I made it down. We were then within sight of the waterfall. At this point, the top view really hid the overall beauty of the waterfall. The final hurdle was getting down a straight drop down a rock face of about 7-8 feet. We were out of rope at this point. With his much younger legs than mine, Mike jumped down OK. At this point, I was quite unsure if I should even try not knowing how to even attempt getting down much less knowing anything about how to get back up. Mike encouraged me to try with his help. He quite literally grabbed my legs as I lowered myself over the embankment and safely lowered me to the ground. It only worked because my buddy was big, young and strong. Otherwise, no way.
Then I saw the full waterfall and it was breathtaking. But there was a lot of spray off the waterfall since you have to be very close to it as there is very little area to walk around. The color in the trees above the falls was great but the sun was still too high so we had to wait about 30 minutes before shooting. I would have liked moving around a bit to get different compositions, but the rocks were wet and extremely slippery. A fall here meant broken bones or worse given the steep grade of the hill. However, another photographer showed up a bit later and he rock hopped across the stream to the other side. It wasn't worth the risk to try moving from my relatively safe flat small spot.
Finally the sun went done and we started clicking away being sure to constantly clean off our lenses from all the spray. Getting a very low exposure in this spray was impossible. I managed to get a 1.6 sec shutter speed. These photos were taken with a wide angle lens at 30mm and 32mm on a full frame Nikon D850. Anything larger would likely not work very well. We only had about 45 minutes to shoot as we had to be sure to get back to our car before darkness came.
The hardest part of the hike back was getting up the initial rock face. Mike gave me a strong boost up and handed me my pack. We then used our ropes to literally pull ourselves up the steep hill. There would have been no way to get up without ropes securely tied to trees. We did see some ropes there but their condition was extremely suspect. While the distance isn't far, it's the steepness that makes this a very difficult hike. But happily, we made it back safely. And for this old dog, I was quite pleased with the adventure and my buddy's help.
I was pretty pleased with the post processed photos I came away with, see two below. We were lucky with the colors, the flow of the water, and the overall lack of wind. But we still had to contend with the spray.
If you go, please understand this is a very hard hike. By far the hardest I ever have done. Have plenty of rope too. But the last sheer drop is the one to worry about. Getting down and back up should not be underestimated. I'm not providing directions as I don't want to be responsible for anyone getting hurt. I'm not sure I'll ever attempt going here again. The internet provides directions if you feel you have to go.
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