The Last Great Epic Adventure In North Carolina

My friends love to use the word “epic” around me because they know I hate it. Everywhere I turn, I see the word used to describe this photo or that hike. It makes me cringe. I’ve seen a few epic photos—the Wright brothers’ first flight, Armstrong on the Moon, the napalm girl, and my favorite, “Earthrise,” captured during the Apollo 8 mission. And I’ve read some epic adventures—Shackleton in Antarctica, Lewis and Clark. Those are epic. My photos, and the kinds of things I do, are just plain ordinary.

But that’s about to change, and you have an opportunity to join me. I’m getting ready to go on an epic—yes, I said epic—expedition for National Geographic. And, unbelievably, it’s going to take place in the mountains of western North Carolina. I thought our mountains had given up all of their secrets, but while working on my new North Carolina Waterfalls book, I made an astonishing discovery.

If you don’t like having chills run down your spine, stop reading now.

A month or so ago, I was studying topo maps for a region in southwestern North Carolina. I discovered a huge roadless area that I wasn’t familiar with. After further research, it seems that no one else is familiar with it, either. I contacted a friend who is an expert in satellite imagery and electronic mapping software. Using sophisticated elctropolymorphic imaging, along with isolinear geophysiatric projection, we made a startling discovery. Not only is this area totally isolated as far as roads or trails go, it quite possibly contains the largest and most spectacular waterfall in the entire country.

At about 2,400 feet, California’s Yosemite Falls is generally cited as the highest falls in the United States. Others may be higher, but they are on very small or ephemeral streams. Remarkably, the waterfall that we discovered in North Carolina may challenge Yosemite’s ranking, and it’s on a very large creek. We’re estimating it to be somewhere between 2,250 and 3,000 feet high.

So how does a waterfall like this go undetected, given so many waterfallers crawling all over the woods? The answer is even more remarkable than its existence in the first place. According to our research, the river emerges from some sort of artesian aquifer on top of the mountain. At the base of the falls, it falls directly into a cave. So there is no river to follow upstream or down to see the falls, and since it is so far away from any roads and in very rugged terrain, it has simply gone unnoticed. That made sense, but I wondered why no one had spotted it from an airplane. After more study, it appears that the waterfall produces so much spray, that from a distance, the entire area around the falls looks like a fog bank. The only way you can see it is from up close.

I contacted National Geographic, who agreed that this was an incredible discovery. They assigned some of their scientists to study our data, and their conclusion sent even more chills down my spine. The waterfall is in some sort of microenvironment that has its own microclimate. It has something to do with the extreme ruggedness of the terrain, coupled with the spray and the warm temperature of the river as it emerges from the top of the mountain. The scientists believe that this environment very likely harbors dozens of plant and animal species that are unknown to science. There’s no telling what types of critters might live there!

Clearly, this is an incredible discovery. That’s why National Geographic is mounting an expedition. As the discoverer, and since I’m a photographer and waterfall expert, they’ve agreed to let me lead it. Of course, they will send some of their people as well. I’ve also talked them into allowing me to choose 3 or 4 others to join us. I’ve already chosen my good friend and waterfall guru Rich Stevenson, but I need at least 2 more.

If you’re interested in joining us, please call or send me an email. But before you do, you need to know what to expect. The waterfall is some 60 miles from the nearest road, in the most rugged terrain in the country. We’re expecting it to take about 6 days to reach it, and we’re looking at about 3 weeks overall. We’ll be carrying 80-pound packs at the start. (The weight will go down as we eat our food stock.) There will be a lot of rappelling involved once we get there. We’ll also explore the cave system at the base of the falls, and, of course, document the plants and animals we discover. We could encounter several new species of poisonous snakes, bees, and toxic plants.

If you still want to join us, let me know. I’ll review all of the requests and make the decision in a couple weeks. The expedition is scheduled to start sometime in early June.

Oh, I’ll be doing a lot of night photography on the expedition as well. And I’m absolutely giddy about shooting this waterfall at night. One of the instruments employed by the Nat Geo scientists measures the photonic phosphorescent harmonence of waterfalls. They discovered that this waterfall emits a higher degree of photonic diometric emissions than any waterfall they had ever measured. What this means in laymen’s parlance is that the waterfall literally glows at night.

This will be the most incredible experience I’ve ever had. And I expect it to produce some of the most spectacular photographs I’ve ever made.

It might even be epic.

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