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Mark W

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Creek walking
« on: May 16, 2013, 07:39:49 PM »

Copper Creek’s thread in the Red River Gorge forum about Upper Swift Camp Creek ( http://www.kywilderness.com/forum/index.php?topic=6508.msg44129;topicseen#new  ) made me think about how the hiking subcategory of creek walking deserved its own thread.

My first experience of creek walking was as a kid in Great Smoky Mountains National Park; I’d wade around upstream or downstream of where my dad was fly fishing. My most memorable experience from that time was stumbling upon a hellbender salamander (about 2 feet long – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hellbender ) and having the bejeezus scared out of me when I was 8 or 9 years old. I was about four feet tall at the time and here was this huge salamander in the creek half as big as I was!

When I got into backpacking in my early 20s, I quickly got back into creek walking during backpacking trips. Walking creeks not only allowed me to fulfill my desire for exploration and an off-the-beaten path ambience, but provided me with a sense of discovery when I arrived at an unexpected creekside rockshelter, boulder jumble or waterfall. There’s something magical about hiking in or alongside a creek; the twists and turns, the sound of water, the obstacles – it’s without a doubt one of my favorite ways to experience a landscape, and the Cumberland Plateau is an enchanting place to creek walk. Creeks in the same drainage can have vastly different characters to them. Each contain their own charms and challenges.

In addition, I found that creek walking allowed me the opportunity to craft alternate options for backpacking trips. By hiking a creek from one trail crossing to another I was able to make loops out of what would otherwise have been out-and-back trips. In the eastern United States, where we aren’t fortunate enough to have multi-million acre national forests and thousands of miles of trails to choose from, walking creeks gave me the opportunity to enjoy a fresh perspective on places where I’d hiked several times. And of course, just as trails look different in each season, so do creeks.

I’ve won many converts to creekwalking and if you’ve yet to try it I would suggest you pick an easy creek, a good map and other appropriate safety gear, and throw on some Crocs or a beat-up pair of tennis shoes and give it a try. If you’re just getting into off-trail hiking creekwalking is a great introduction, as it’s hard to get lost if you’re just following the stream. Just make sure to keep your eyes open for trail crossings, they can be easy to miss when you’re distracted by beautiful scenery.

Here are some of my favorite creekwalking pictures from the past few years of backpacking:



Almost at the end of a 2.1 mile creekwalk. We would soon emerge onto a trail at our campsite. Daniel Boone National Forest.



Creekwalking provides a vastly different perspective on the terrain and is a powerful illustrator of the power of water to create a path of least resistance. The trail that parallels this creek, although beautiful in its own right, misses much of the most dramatic scenery. Daniel Boone National Forest.



One of my favorite sections of creek – rock on one side and rhododendron on the other. Daniel Boone National Forest.



Wet-weather waterfall at the end of a particularly rough creek. Daniel Boone National Forest.



This section of creekbed was completely filled with boulders, making upstream hiking a fun challenge. Note person in left upper-third of photograph for scale. Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area.



A gnarly section of creek. Daniel Boone National Forest.



Not on the Cumberland Plateau, but a great section of creek. I only got to explore a few hundred yards of this creek last summer – hoping to head back next month to explore a mile or two. Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness, Nantahala National Forest.

Like the threads I’ve made about off-trail arches ( http://www.kywilderness.com/forum/index.php?topic=6433.0 ) and off-trail waterfalls (  http://www.kywilderness.com/forum/index.php?topic=6450.0 ) I’m posting this thread with the intention to inspire others to go out and hike a creek, for a few hundred feet or a mile, and enjoy the incredible experience.  I’m not going to identify specific creeks or creek-to-trail routes and would appreciate it if others do not post such information in this thread. Instead, I’d encourage you all to share such information via private message or, even better, on a hike together.

Please contribute with photos or stories of your creekwalking adventures.
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copper creek

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Re: Creek walking
« Reply #1 on: May 17, 2013, 01:57:31 PM »

Hiking downstream on Swift Camp Creek either from Rock Bridge or where the old splash dam used to be located, you travel through “Hell’s Kitchen”.  The walls of the creek canyon become close together forming a relatively narrow passage.  You can wade to near where the Bear Pen Creek comes in on the left, but eventually you reach pools of deeper water blocking your way unless you want to go for a swim.

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copper creek

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Re: Creek walking
« Reply #2 on: May 17, 2013, 02:35:28 PM »

During the summer you can walk upstream on the Red River adjacent to the Douglas Trail. There are deeper pools you must hike around but much of the river can be hiked in-stream.   At places the river is less than 5 feet across.  You can tell by the large boulder in the middle of the photograph the height of the water table during the spring (when this area becomes a roaring rapid).

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copper creek

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Re: Creek walking
« Reply #3 on: May 17, 2013, 02:55:25 PM »

My youngest son and I hiked this creek a few years ago, hopping back and forth, trying to keep our feet dry.  If you were to hike this section of the creek today, you’d find a dry creek bed.  The water now drops into a sink hole and reemerges ½ mile downstream.  I agree with Mark, hiking along a forest creek after a snowfall is a special experience.



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