Lessons From the Trail


Chasing Waterfalls

By definition, waterfalls are always moving, following gravity. And, at times, falls may disappear – flowing underground, or, with seasonal changes, run dry. Furthermore, though a waterfall may be visible, getting close for a photograph often poses significant challenges.

During an early morning visit to Middle Fork Falls, my first time on site, it soon became apparent that the best views were from the other side of the river. Hiking around the upper plateau was easy, though views remained obscured by many small trees and branches. For a better perspective, I’d need to descend the steep hillside.

Here, the hazards were many. In addition to steepness, several successive days of heavy rainfall had fully saturated the topsoil. Some footholds remained secure for no more than only a few seconds before giving way to slide in mud. On such a grade, stopping oneself from a slip might not be possible until some 50-feet below, on the rocks at waters edge.

The ground was covered with rocks of varying sizes, each hidden under wet leaves, an issue which could not be overlooked. Small rocks wouldn’t support my weight, and large rocks – more flat than round – mirrored the angle of the slope, usually encased with a slippery, mossy-film and hazardous. So, I sought to use medium sized rocks as footholds, as these could be pushed into the ground some distance, binding long enough to provide safe footing.

There were also some smaller, 1″-wide young trees, useful for stepping topside, though not trustworthy as handholds. Most useful were my trekking poles, without which I could not have proceeded.

Next, I traveled to nearby Potter’s Falls, where, as I began to drive down into the gorge, was greeted by a substantial roar of water through the forest, and would soon face another sort of challenge.


Potter’s Falls has an upper and lower set of falls, and the river – Crooked Fork Creek – has a bridge to cross. While taking photographs on the south side of the waterway, I observed a 25-foot tall waterfall some distance away, tucked among the trees along a hillside, though deemed the terrain too dangerous to traverse. So, I set off across the bridge to the north side for a better look.

Crooked Fork Creek was full from recent rains, flowing high on the banks with fierce currents. If in the primary channel, one would surely be washed away downstream, thrashed into rocks and drowned. So, I thoughtfully set my sights on the safest options nearest to what may be defined as the edge, or shore.

I could see the waterfall across the river, though many trees impaired my direct line of sight. And, there were dozens of rocks in the water (some quite large), several of which appeared close enough that I might be able to use safely as stepping stones – climbing toward a single point I’d identified as best from which to photograph the falls.

Note: this particular waterfall has no name, present only temporarily and solely as a result of the deluge from recent rainfall, a channel from which to drain downhill into the river.

Part of this challenge was to ascertain the most viable route via closely-situated rocks and trees, most of which whose trunks were underwater. So, standing back I used my eyes to follow a variety of potential pathways, those which seemed plausible, until I decided upon the best way forward.

On slippery surfaces, it’s important to keep ones knees bent with each step, the movement of which need be slow and deliberate; indeed, one step at a time. Branches should supplement stability as handholds, if only for balance, and trekking poles are also very useful to test rocks and logs for movement before entrusting ones full weight.

After approximately 20 minutes of slow progress from shore, I had only one gap to bridge – a final area judged too broad and slippery to step across. So, using my trekking poles to tamp unseen surfaces beneath the rolling, muddy river, I carefully walked a short distance through knee deep water, shoreside of the rocks and away from the channel, cautious with each step so as not to wrench my ankles between rocks.

Climbing back out of the water and on to the furthest and final rock of my route, I learned then that the view for taking photographs was only decent, at best. Nevertheless, I’d safely navigated the first half of this challenge, which I considered a successful endeavor and worthy of sharing, herein.

Thanks for reading & enjoy the great outdoors – safely!


20 responses to “Lessons From the Trail”

  1. I think my water hikes are over, old knees and ankles just can’t take it anymore, but at least we have you willing to take the risks and bring us these amazing photos, thanks, Phil!

  2. Thank you for sharing this photographer’s adventure, Phil! It was pleasure read and I was thrilled by your detailed descriptions of how you overcame obstacles 🤩

    It was indeed a courageous endeavor and inspiring spirit you possess….😃🥂

    • Thank you for reading my post, dear Annabel ~ I’m glad that you enjoyed it. 🌸 It’s always nice to see your lovely smile, my friend, and I appreciate your kindness. 😃🥂 xoxoxo

      • It’s a pleasure! Rarely we read about how photos were actually taken, esp the waterfalls and high mountains ⛰. Those are the challenging places for most to hike , not to mention taking professional photos 😅🤩.

        Please keep writing more about your adventures, Phil!😃🥰

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