654 – West Prong Mouse Creek Falls

Accessibility – Hard+

Height – 25′

Distance – 9.0 miles RT

Beauty – 4

Photo rating – 8

Solitude – 10

GPS Info: LAT 35.71930 LONG -83.13317

First visit: 09-03-2019

Most Recent Visit: 03-08-2020


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So you’re going to West Prong Mouse Creek Falls, huh? Why? Unless you’re doing The 500 List there is no other reason to do this waterfall. In Kevin Adams Third Edition he refers to this waterfall as someones idea of a joke. I simply call this waterfall “The Joke”. The other waterfall on this hike is Upper Mouse Creek Falls, a.k.a. the Big Green Rock. When you read this hike, it may sound negative and pessimistic. Much of this came from my first trip to “The Joke and the Big Green Rock.” One was dry and the other was drier.

Here is some backstory. When I got to the nice one in September, I actually thought to myself, Kevin was right, this is someone’s idea of a joke! HA! This was the nice one and the joke was on me! When I got to the joke I was grateful that my hiking partner Jennifer was deaf since I did a lot of swearing. While we stood there in disbelief, she typed out a message on her phone for me to read. “Is this it?” There is no worse feeling on a waterfall hike than to getting to a waterfall and having to ask that question.

This may not be the hardest hike on The 500 List but it is in the top 3. It is 4.5 miles on a trail and 4.5 miles bushwhacking, bouldering and scrambling over and through some thick undergrowth. All the rocks are covered in moss and all of them move. There are deep holes between the rocks. Plan on an all day adventure. There is no way to do this hike quickly.

The hike: Like most that leave the trail, this one is going to get vague at times and this really isn’t something you need to do unless you know how to read a topo map and are physically fir enough for nearly five miles of off trail hiking. I am going to do my best to explain what to do but it is not going to be easy to understand so please have more to go on. Conversely, using a topo map I figured this out in July 2019 and improved upon it in March 2020. The fact the ground cover was dead helped a lot on the March trip.

From Mouse Creek Falls return to the Big Creek Trail and resume the walk upstream. In 0.25 of a mile you will cross Big Creek on an iron bridge, Once across the Big Creek Trail makes a right and heads upstream. Don’t make a right but instead make a left and head downstream on a more overgrown route. In order to get where you need to be you need to stay on the old road even when it looks so much easier to head down toward Big Creek. You will see a narrow elevated area and you want to work along the top of this as it bends around following the curve of the creek. The world will open up and when it does you need to keep bending to the left until you come to a large open area.

The temptation here might be to keep following the flat land toward Mouse Creek Falls which is still about 0.2 downstream but this isn’t the way. You need to start up the open hillside. About thirty feet up I found an old road running up and to the right. I took that for about twenty feet and it switched back to the left and kept rising. It was easy enough to follow. When it runs up against a wall of rhodos there is a path going up. It will look like a run off but it is the path. Stay with this path. It will get faint at times but as long as you keep heading into the Mouse Creek drainage, you’re fine.

Unlike a lot of bushwhacks and hunts for old logging roads, you need to be on the right one or this hike is going to be even more miserable. So how do you know? The road you want is between the 2520 and 2600 foot elevations and when it turns into the Mouse Creek Drainage for real, it will pass through a cut out in the rock with several large trees lying across it. If you are below this point, you will never get around the rock without getting in the creek. If you’re above it, God bless. Once through the cut there is a fairly obvious path upstream. With the leaves off you can see Mouse Creek well from up here. Even with them on you can make it out in places.

You will pass an old rock wall covered in moss as the trail alternates between easy to follow and overgrown. It doesn’t get dicey until you get to the first crossing of a trib that comes in from the right. Pick up the path on the other side and follow it down to the first crossing of Mouse Creek. We crossed at 35.72891 -83.13450. Believe it or not, the terrain will tell you when to cross. Stay on river right for only a short time to the second crossing and a third crossing around 750 feet from the first crossing. At this point hopefully you are on river right. The next segment will be on river right.

As you are moving upstream you will come to a place where the view is open across the drainage and you may be able to see an old road high above on river left. This may seem like a way to get out of here later. I can tell you that it is not. It abruptly ends. The last crossing of Mouse Creek comes at 35.72454 -83.13213. This will be right before the creek splits. Make sure you are on river left and you follow the left left tributary. The river right trib is insanely steep while the way you want to go will be following what little is left of the road.

At this point you are 0.2 of a mile from where The Joke and the Big Green Rock merge. It is still a relatively easy hike as far as bushwhacks go but that it about to change. When you get to the confluence, cross the western trib and start up the river right side (inside the Y formed by the two creeks). It is less than 1000 feet to The Joke. When river right gets too steep and overgrown, cross to river left. I did so at 35.71984 -83.13238. You can do this part however you want but I only stayed on river left for a short time before I got into the creek and did some bouldering. From the crossing you are only 300 feet from the joke and you can see it. Good luck. So once you get there you might be uninspired by the payoff for your hard work.

In September of 2019, I was about done with this hike. On this trip, I came away with a better feeling about it. So I’m going to give you the full photo tour on this one since most will never attempt this hike. The first shot was in July. The hike summary continues below the pics.

DSC_23162
Now you see why I call it “The Joke”

DSC_00107DSC_00108DSC_00109DSC_00110

If you climb up the bank on river right, swinging wide of the ledge that makes up the lower drop and you carefully work your way up the hillside you can get to the upper drop of “The Joke.” This part of the falls wasn’t visited on my first trip and now that I came up here, I regret the fact I didn’t bring my camera. Now I have to go back because this upper section is boss. Below are two shots of the upper drop of “The Joke.”

DSC_00111DSC_00112When looking at his hike on a map you might think that the easiest way to get from The Joke to the Big Green Rock might be to go up and over the ridge that splits the adjacent drainages. Looks doable on a map but it is anything but in real life. The ridge is steep and overgrown. Reverse course back to the confluence and resume heading up the old road that got you to the confluence. You should be on the river left side of the eastern tributary. The road is obvious for about a hundred feet. After that it becomes a plunge into the jungle. Dog hobble, rhodos and downfall choke the bank. It sucks. Deal with as long as you can before crossing.

About 300 feet up the river left side it completely closes in, forcing a crossing to the river right and a field of mossy boulders that move when you walk on them. It is slow going and the best approach is higher on the bank. Once I crossed to river right, I stayed there all the way to the falls, sometimes working along the bank and other times working close to the creek. Upper Mouse Creek Falls is off to you’re right when you get to the point where the creek splits again. You can see this sucker from the place where I crossed to river right but it takes an eternity to get there.  It will be one of the slowest 900 foot hikes of your life. Here is Upper Mouse Creek Falls.

Head back out the same way you came in.

 

 

 

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