Sunday, September 21, 2014

Geocaching on Vacation Time (Four Factors to Consider for a Great Geocache Adventure)

Geocaching, at times, seems to be a luxury that we just don't seem to find time for anymore.  And though I can't really put my finger on why, it doesn't take away from the fact that we enjoy it immensely when we do find the time.  Perhaps it's because we've found many of the caches in our area. Maybe its because we're a bit hesitant to pursue caches that are in high "muggle" areas...I don't really know.  What I do know, however, is that I consider about four factors necessary for a great geocaching experience:  time, location, availability, and someone to share the experience with.

Time.  This should be an obvious factor, though there have been times when I really didn't have time that I made time.  I recall spending my lunch hours searching for geocaches near my office...ever done that?  How about on the way to a special event?  Ever stopped to search for a cache that wasn't pre-planned?  I have.  (This is a great opportunity to plug the Geocaching App for smart phones.  The "find nearby geocaches" tool is very valuable!)  Vacation time, as in the case of this post, is another opportunity to find time for a cache or two.  That's just what we did on our recent trip to the North Georgia mountains...keep reading for more about that.

 From the Blue Valley Overlook-Highlands, NC

 (The "Old Iron Bridge" on the Chattooga River - Highlands, NC) ** Deliverance (the movie) was filmed on this river near this location.
 A geocache find in Cornelia, GA

 A geocache find in Sky Valley, GA

 Mud Creek Falls (Sky Valley, GA)

 Toccoa Falls, Toccoa, GA

 The Suspension Bridge at Tallulah Gorge State Park, GA

 The old fire tower on top of Rabun Bald. (Georgia's second highest peak)

 Dry Falls in Highland, NC

A footbridge on the way to Holcomb Creek Falls (Clayton, GA)

Location.  Are you a beach person or a mountain person?  For those that know me, there is no doubting that I'm a mountain kind of guy.  I'd much prefer being on a trail somewhere hiking through the wilderness, observing spectacular vistas, plant life, and the many various types of wildlife.  Rugged, fearless, inquisitive....that's me! (Well, almost, at least that's who I think I am).  I am particularly fond of hiking, and camping too!  The mountains, for me, present a kind of spiritual experience.  It is there that I am able to find my way back to zero and focus on the things of life that really matter.  In the mountains, I reflect on the glory of our Creator, for it is on full display.  I revel in His majesty! (See Psalm 104)  Furthermore, I am challenged to be a better steward of these great places, as well as my time, my resources, and my family.  Again I say, it is usually in the mountains that I find my way back to zero; my priorities are re-balanced.

Availability.  The initial thought is that availability and time are one and the same.  In this case, however, I'm suggesting that there needs to be available caches in the area in which you intend to visit.  Seems elementary, huh?  You'd be surprised how many times that we've went somewhere only to find that the "find nearby caches" didn't turn up any results nearby.  This is important, especially when time is involved.  Another factor that could be included with availability is tower reception if you're using a smart phone.  This was definitely an issue for us during our most recent time in the North Georgia mountains.

 Geocaching with family members is always nice.

 My Mother-in-law finding her first geocache. (My wife is also pictured)

 My lovely wife on the trail to the summit of Rabun Bald. (We were taking a breather).  She is the one that I most enjoy geocaching with.

 Here we are at Dry Falls in Highlands, NC.  We do 'selfies'!

My favorite pic of our most recent vacation!  Here my wife is sitting on a large boulder on the Chattooga River under the "Old Iron Bridge".  We enjoyed a picnic on this very spot!

Someone to Share the Experience With.  Lastly, I'd argue that sharing the experience with a loved one is time well spent!  In my case, my wife is with me nearly 100% of the time when I geocache.  We should consider the fact that geocaching with a spouse (or loved one) allows us to work together, communicate, laugh together, and at times compromise.  All of these lead for an excellent time of "togetherness" and can be appropriately applied to friendships as well.  Additionally, who doesn't love to share the joy of someone finding their first cache?  It is a joyous occasion!

In closing, while I'm sure there are many other factors to consider for a great geocaching adventure, these are what I've come up with.  Take time to contemplate them and let me know what you think.  Draw on your past experiences and ask yourself if you may have subconsciously considered these factors.  I look forward to hearing from you.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

High Shoals Falls Trail - Review

While enjoying a tremendous breakfast at the Hole in the Wall in Blairsville, Ga., my wife and I were finalizing trip details for a waterfalls hike over near Blue Ridge when I asked our server if she had ever been there and if she'd recommend the falls that we had picked out.  She quickly nodded with approval but then suggested that if we wanted a better option that we should try the High Shoals Falls trail over near Helen.  "Just take 180 over until it dead ends into Ga 75 then take a right.  The trail will be down a couple of miles on the can't miss it."  Her enthusiasm and her eloquent description painted for us a picture that we had to see in person.  It was a great suggestion!

As her directions suggested, we took Ga 180 from Blairsville over until it dead ended into Ga 75 (south of Hiawassee and north of Helen).  We then turned right and traveled until mile marker 2 and veered off to the left onto Ga FR 283 (see the signs above).  Once on 283, after a short distance, you will encounter a washout/shoals type of crossing on the road.  This may present difficulty for lower profile cars, but we were able to pass through with no problems in our 2003 Toyota Camry.

Once on FR 283, you will travel a little over a mile (1.2) until you see a parking area for the trail on the left.  The trail is also well-marked with a sign letting you know that you are at the right place.

So now that we've illustrated what it looks like to get you where you need to be to start your hike, let's get to the good stuff!  As the above pic shows, your hike will be a descending 1.2 mile hike down to the High Shoals Falls.  We found the hike in to be moderately easy due to the slight decline in elevation.  You can expect to find certain instances where the trail narrows to about 18-24 inches, but for the most part, there is plenty of room.  There are a few switchbacks that you'll have to contend with, as well as rutty/rocky terrain from time to time.  Footbridges are also common along the trail and provide excellent photo opportunities.  The creek will also become visible at about the half way point.

Once you have made your way down the trail to the falls, you will start to hear the unmistakable sound of rushing water.  If you're like us, your excitement level will rise and you will soon find an extra amount of energy that you may not have thought you had.  That excitement and anticipation will soon be rewarded with a spectacular series of cascading water tumbling violently downward creating what we now know to be called the High Shoals Falls.  At the base of the falls, you can expect to find an observation deck and ample opportunities for photos.

As an added bonus to the hike, there is another set of falls which you'll actually come to first (if you are paying attention) on your journey down to the High Shoals Falls.  The Blue Hole Falls can be accessed at approximately the one mile mark from the trail head.  There is also a viewing platform and a large pool of water that I've been told is open for swimming, but I did not confirm that.

Once you've had your fill of waterfall eye-candy, it will be time to make the hike back out.  Obviously, since the hike in was a descent, you'll find the hike out to be quite a bit more strenuous since you'll be dealing with a moderate ascent.  Fear not; however, there are quite a few places in which the trail levels out, thus affording one ample rest if it is needed.

In summary, my wife and I would not hesitate in rating this a 5-Star hike on a scale of 1-5.  The trail itself was full of natural forest beauty, and the spectacular falls were a reward worth pursuing.  We gladly recommend this trail to anyone heading to the Blairsville-Hiawassee-Helen area!

If you'd like more information on this trail, please check out Eric Champlin's excellent review (Atlanta Trails).  Click here:  Atlanta Trails