Waterfall Safety and Respecting Nature
When visiting any waterfall, whether in Western North Carolina or elsewhere, it is extremely important to be respectful of nature and to abide by a few simply safety precautions. As with any outdoor activity, it is important to always tread respectfully when exploring waterfalls and their surroundings. Another good reference book for information about waterfall hikes in Western NC, "Waterfalls of the Blue Ridge", recommends the following etiquette suggestions to hikers of the Blue Ridge Mountains:
- Stay on maintained trails. This reduces erosion, preserves trails, and maximizes a hiker's personal safety.
- Travel quietly and wear earth-tones while in the woods. Hikers are less likely to disturb wildlife or intrude upon the experience of other hikers when they follow this advice.
- Hike during the off-season. Visiting popular natural areas on weekdays and/or winter (if possible) helps to spread out visitor use.
- Travel in small groups. Hikers lessen their impact upon natural areas when they travel in smaller groups (10 members or less, 4-6 being optimal).
- Pack everything out. This includes biodegradable materials--leave no trace. Plan ahead and carry bags specifically for packing out your trash, food scraps, waste, and personal hygiene items.
- Respect Wildlife. Remember, you are traveling through areas which are home to wild creatures. Try to lessen your interruption into their lives. Do not feed the animals.
- Leave the things of nature in their place. Many waterfalls are part of rare ecosystems with plant and animal life unique to that particular environment. Do not deplete natural areas of rocks, flora, or fauna. This robs other hikers of the same grand experience you were afforded. Take photographs as souvenirs instead!
Source: Blouin, Nicole; Bordonaro, Steve; and Marilou Wier Bordonaro. Waterfalls of the Blue Ridge. Birmingham, AL: Menasha Ridge Press, 1994. Pages 8-9.
The author would like to emphasize that hikers are responsible for their own personal safety while out in the woods. Waterfalls are literally deadly to those who do not respect the inherent dangers present. Nearby rocks and footholds are almost always slippery due to water spray and to the moss/algae that grows in spray zones. Hikers who do not exercise extra care when walking close to waterfalls will increase chances of falling down, which will almost certainly cause injury.
Jumping off the top of a waterfall into its plunge pool may seem exciting and thrilling, but is in fact a very dangerous thing to do. Many daredevils will tell you they have jumped a particular waterfall before, or seen it successfully done by another person. Please keep in mind that waterfalls and the rocks/pools they carve are dynamic by their very nature. A mere rainstorm has the power to change a waterfall's personality.
In 1998, a friend of the author visited a waterfall in Watauga County with which they were both incredibly familiar. This particular waterfall's plunge pool had, in the past, been reliably safe for jumping. Recent heavy rain in the area had caused a tremendous log to become trapped in the plunge pool below, hidden completely out of sight. The author's friend jumped, struck the log, and shattered every bone in both of his feet all the way up past his ankles. This log was an entirely new feature at a familiar waterfall. Never jump into a pool of water assuming that it will be the same as when you last visited!