Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Old Favorite

One of my favorite places to hike and backpack used to be Panthertown Valley in the mountains near Highlands, North Carolina. I won't talk too much about the history of how it came to become a part of Nantahala National Forest except to say that originally it was to have been declared a wilderness area. But Duke Power stepped in and snatched it away from those wanting to protect it and rammed a transmission line through the center of it. Yes, they then sold the land on either side of their right-of-way to those same interests who subsequently bequeathed it to the National Forest system. But with a powerline running down the center of it, there is no way that it could ever be considered wilderness, or be designated as such.

When I first discovered Panthertown is was known but not often visited by crowds. So I used to be able to go there and hike all day without seeing anyone. I once backpacked in there for two nights and three days and never saw another human. And the vistas were forested with no sign of the hand of Man (other than that freaking powerline).

But in recent years it has become extremely popular. When I go there now to hike or backpack it's with the resignation that I will encounter many other hikers and backpackers and horseback riders and mountain bikers and kayakers. Those mountains that once held no sign of habitation are now speckled with million-dollar homes the crowd in around the edges of the protected areas. You cannot walk very far without hearing people talking or their dogs barking. It just ain't what it once was.

I still go there from time to time, but it's not one of my favorite destinations anymore.

(All of these stitched panoramas were taken in Panthertown Valley on a solo backpacking trip in 2004. I didn't see another person in there for three whole days. That wouldn't happen, now.)

I had to cross this river to remain on the trail I was hiking. Water was up. Beyond the bend there was a pretty impressive waterfall. I did not want to lose my balance here.

This is near a spot called Salt Gap. It used to be hard to get to. But now there is a parking area not far from it and it gets a lot of traffic.

This is at Granny Burrell Falls. I pitched my tent not far from the top of the falls.
I shot this the last time I backpacked there. It was cold and snowy. But I still ran into what I can only define as crowds of people deep into Panthertown. Solitude? Not anymore.

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