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Today is:March 16, 2017

A Really Wild Climb

Author: Joe Maher
Date: March 30, 2004
The morning had started off with an overcast sky and the possibility of rain was hanging over our heads as we pulled out of the driveway and headed north in search of a climbing area to which we had never been before. I will not tell you where we were initially headed because that will eventually become the subject of another adventurous tale. Let it suffice for me to say that we ended up somewhere far, far away from our original destination and had ourselves a climb that I would have to rate as an "8" on my personal adventure scale.

On the evening before this adventure took place I had spent considerable time on my computer studying my National Geographic maps of the area we intended to scout. Now it must be understood that I absolutely love maps. I will pore over them for hours looking for those elusive opportunities for unusual adventures. So, as I was scanning back and forth across those many square miles of green forest on my maps, my eyes came to rest on a ribbon of blue, a creek, and the words "Noontootlah Falls." Now this was nowhere near the original subject of my study. This was discovered as a consequence of my inability to close the program and look at something besides a map.

While I like swamps most of all, never let it be said that I ever turned my back on any feature of natural interest available for my exploration. The absence of a trail to this waterfall confirmed the necessity of a visit. Places without trails are usually remote and I like remote places. I like waterfalls, too. I had also heard of the Noontootlah Creek before but had never been there. I printed out a map of the area and added it to the pile of stuff that would go along with us on our scouting trip.

Upon arrival in the area of our original objective Brother Bill and I were immediately discouraged by the number of houses, farms, roads and people that were all over the place. As stated above, I like remote places. This was not remote. No amount of imagination could make me see this place as remote. That was all the excuse I needed and within minutes Wild Bill and I were off in search of the wonderfully remote and elusive Noontootlah Creek and its attendant waterfall.

Down Highway 60, hang a right on the Double Gap road just past the seven mile marker, down the Double Gap road till it turns to dirt, continuing on past the county road department at work, and finally hang a left onto Forest Service Road number fifty-eight. We were now in the woods. The road wound upwards following along beside a rushing creek that I suddenly realized was the Noontootlah. Very beautiful! There were huge conifers all over the place. Conifers are dirty trees to climb, filling the hair with bits of bark and moss and getting sticky resin all over the climbing ropes, but I saw at least a hundred, any one of which would make a great climb. We continued on. The area of the falls was still several miles away, farther up the road with a walk to follow.

We finally came to the intersection with Forest Service Road number fifty-eight E and knew we were getting close. The road would cross the creek in a few more hundred feet and that was where we would park and begin the walk. There it was, right where it was supposed to be, and I was starting to feel good about everything.

The map had not shown a trail and so far as I could see, there wasn't one. There was an indication that people had gone to the falls before us, but it would be a gross exaggeration to call their route of passage a trail. Looking upwards along the creek I could discern a faint flash of glistening white through the foliage and decided that there must indeed be a waterfall up there. The map had shown it to be no more than a few hundred yards off the road. What the map had also shown was a preponderance of black contour lines, all very close together, indicating a steep route of travel. Everything I was looking at was in synch with what the map had told me. The creek was here, there was little or no trail, the mountainside was very steep, and there was the rushing sound of falling water above us through the trees.

There were enough big trees about for me to feel real good about the possibility of finding something to climb up by the falls. We packed the climbing gear and with a show of optimism I added my camera and my bigshot to the equipment. The climb appeared to be so steep that I was not about to go without my equipment and then have to return to get it.

And steep it was. Wild Bill utilized the inclinometer feature on his compass several times and reported that our angle of ascent was more than forty degrees and that it sometimes exceeded forty-five degrees. Within moments of leaving the truck I was hanging on to tree trunks for balance and pulling myself upwards as often as walking. It was a mighty struggle. In addition to the steep terrain the ground was covered in pine needles. In case you don't know it, pine needles can be slick! Mixed in with the pine needles was a lot of hardwood residue and the mixture combined to hide all of the nasty little rocks and sticks waiting to roll out from under our feet as we advanced upwards toward the sound of the rushing water. I went crashing to the ground quite a few times and was never so happy as when I could actually see the waterfall through the trees and was able to assure myself that this walk was worth the trouble.

It was with relief that we finally arrived at the side of the falls. Coming up on the creek we realized that we had already ascended upward past half of the waterfall and that there was still at least another hundred feet of waterfall above us. I was quite happy to see a rather nice but only medium-sized poplar growing right at the water's edge and leaning out over the falls. The tree's highest limbs would be only about fifty feet up from where were standing, but I calculated that once in the top, it would be well over a hundred feet straight down to that part of the waterfall directly beneath it, and still another hundred feet to the base of the waterfall, which is where a climber would end up if the climber should fall from the tree. Now, how to get a line up into this tree and retrieve the line from the middle of the waterfall? I was starting to feel good about having brought the bigshot.

So here was the situation: We were three hundred yards up a mountainside above our parked truck that was along a roadside deep in the Chattahoochee National Forest. We were at the side of a waterfall with at least a hundred feet of waterfall below us and another hundred feet of waterfall above us. We had a nice medium-sized poplar tree right in front of us that leaned out and across the waterfall, with several very nice limbs at a height of about fifty feet above where were standing but at least a hundred feet above the water and another hundred feet above the base of the falls. There was a lot of foliage between us and those nice limbs fifty feet over our heads. Any line that was placed over those limbs would need to be retrieved from about the center of the waterfall twenty feet in front of us. Once a rope was in place, I would then have the problem of convincing my brother that he should hang on the rope out over the waterfall so that I could get some nice photographs of him tree climbing with a waterfall in the background.

The first shot with the bigshot placed a line exactly where I wanted it. Line retrieval was accomplished with the help of a lice long dead limb and a bit of acrobatic clinging to the hillside. The only problem was that the rope wouldn't go over the limb when we tried to haul it up. I reversed the direction of pull and that wouldn't work either. I pulled the line out of the tree, loaded up the bigshot, and tried again. This time I got the line over a limb on the opposite side of the tree from that gotten on the first shot. Once again line retrieval was accomplished by employing the help of the same convenient dead limb plus a lot of leaning into space with my brother hanging onto my belt from behind. This time everything worked and in minutes I was on the way up, keeping myself against the upper side of the trunk and trying not to fall out over the water. I didn't want to go there until I had checked out the anchor and was real sure that we were on a safe setting. Once at the top I had to take a break. The view of the falls was awesome. In the other direction the view out across north Georgia's mountains was even more awesome. I took time to unpack the camera from its case and take a couple of photos, then went about the business of rigging another setting for Wild Bill. Because of the angle of things I had to descend all the way to the ground in order to get Bill's rope into his hands. Now the only problem left was to convince him that he should take a swing out over the falls and make his climb out there for the sake of good photos. I will have to give him credit. He went right on out there without even a whimper and was two thirds of the way into the tree before I could catch up with him. The photos look great!

The only problem left now was that as he was descending he was hanging out over the waterfall with no way to get back to the hillside. I was in the top of the tree enjoying the view, he was dangling on his rope over the waterfall nowhere near the creek bank. I let him dangle as I sat in the top of the tree enjoying the view and telling myself that things just couldn't get any better than this!

A sudden shaking of the tree trunk brought me quickly back into the real world. Here I was hanging on a rope a hundred feet above rushing water with the base of a waterfall almost two hundred feet beneath me and was being shaken about the top of a tree by a gone-wild brother who was working violently to create enough swing in his rope to get himself back to the creek bank. I headed down immediately.

By the time I reached the ground he had gotten himself back to safety and was packing up his gear. It had been a wonderful climb and a great adventure!

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