Monday, October 10, 2011

Exploring DeSoto Falls

Yesterday was supposed to land me at Sand Rock, where I should have been thrashing what little skin remained on my fingertips as I got back in climbing shape during some spectacular weather.  Instead, I had a fitful night that left me wrought with some serious discomfort in my stomach in the morning.  I decided it might be wiser to spend the day catching up on some work, but not without first watching "The Eiger Sanction" over breakfast and writing a draft for a post here about the adventures of the past weekend.

On Friday and Saturday, I ran a scouting mission to north Alabama for a trip I will be leading with the University of Alabama Outdoor Recreation over fall break (October 27 to October 30).  Ostensibly, the purpose of the trip is to "explore Little River Canyon."  Unfortunately, that is a rather difficult and demanding task unless you are a Class V whitewater boater or a 5.12 rock climber.  Since I am neither of those things, I can hardly expect college student participants with no prior experience to be those things either.  This obviously threw a small wrench in the plan.  Also less-than-fortuitous, camping is not allowed in the canyon and is only permitted on the surrounding lands until September 30, at which point camping is closed for the winter.  In other words, my co-leader, Matt, and I had to get a little creative.

My first course of action was to call my friend Sam England.  Sam is a Huntsville native and has spent plenty of time in the Canyon.  He also worked for a short time as an instructor with Nature's Classroom, a nearby experiential learning center serving elementary and middle school students.  (Sam also happens to be both a Class V boater and a 5.12 rock climber.)  Combined with his local knowledge, I knew that we were sure to find some suitable objectives for our trip.

Lucky for us, while Little River Canyon proper is an intimidating and committing place, the West Fork of the Little River and the associated canyon just upstream are much more accessible.  Our plan was to use DeSoto State Park as a basecamp and run day trips into the canyon from there.  One of these was an excursion to DeSoto Falls and the surrounding area.

Rough map of DeSoto Falls and the surrounding area
The whole area provided a great day of fun exploration.  The falls themselves are beautiful, and the overlook and parking area are readily located about 6 miles up County Road 89 from DeSoto State Park just by following the signs.  A short distance back up the road, just west of the falls, is a small gravel pull-off on the side of the road that provides parking near a "no camping" sign.  From this trailhead it is possible to access the land below the falls.

The area provides a decent, though small, top roping area for beginner climbing as well as a few 5.11 sport routes further upstream.  The intrepid explorer will also find a saltpetre cave used by the Confederacy during the Civil War to produce gun powder as well as the mysterious "Welsh Caves" high up the cliffs.  Reportedly, there is also good fishing in the pool below the falls.

Latone after sending the crack
On our second day of scouting, joined by Sam Latone, we headed to a nearby boulder field, populated with massive sandstone blocks.  We found some truly impressive lines and more than a few highball problems.  Like true trad climbers, our first problem of the day was a conglomerated V4 hand/finger crack chock full of crystals and pebbles guaranteed to leave blood on the rock.

Latone finishing a very pumpy V3 traverse
We also spent a good portion of our day on some tall, juggy, dynamic lines. Though not particularly difficult, it was probably the most fun day I have spent bouldering in a long time, probably owing to the good company.  While I did not get to go to Sand Rock, I am certainly not disappointed with how the weekend turned out.

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