The Thomson River -- High Falls & Big Falls (8-6-16)
The Thompson River (along with the Toxaway, Horsepasture, and Whitewater) is one of the mighty streams which drain from the Blue Ridge down through the rugged landscape of the Jocassee Gorges of southwestern Transylvania County. To the average tourist, the Thompson is a lesser known stream. To hardcore waterfallers, however, the Thompson is legendary. Falling around 2,500-feet over its eight mile run through the gorges, the Thompson is arguably the most rugged of the rivers in the area. No less than six named waterfalls lie along that stretch...and on this day I was going to visit two of the best.
High Falls (50') and Big Falls (200'+) are the two largest cascades of the Thomson River. Big Falls, in particular, is a monster and very likely ranks near the top on most waterfallers 'Top 10' lists. High Falls is relatively easy to get to, Big Falls is decidedly harder. Surprisingly, despite the fact I've now lived for four years only 10-miles from the trailhead I had yet to make the trek to either of these falls. This was in part due to the fearsome reputation the route to Big Falls tends to have. I had decided long ago this wasn't a trip to do solo. So I waited. By this year I concluded I had waited long enough and finally got around to getting a small group of fellow waterfall junkies to join me on this long-awaited trek.
Starting from the unmarked 'trailhead' at the corner of Highway 281 and Brewer Road (about four miles south of Gorges State Park) we set off down the Thomson. Though the path is technically unofficial and unmaintained I found it to be quite easy to follow along much of its length. The mile-and-a-half of trail to High Falls is particularly well-traveled. Even the much longer route to Big Falls is fairly obvious if one pays attention. There are two major obstacles to consider, though, in attempting a visit to Big Falls. First, there's a ford of the Thompson River that needs to be made just past the spur trail to High Falls. At most times, this crossing is most definitely a wade. In periods of high water I wouldn't attempt it. The second obstacle in getting to Big Falls is the last quarter mile of the route. In this last quarter mile you drop around 600 vertical feet. It is honestly some of the steepest terrain I've had to travel to reach a waterfall. Luckily on our visit ropes were strung along the steepest pitches but there's no guarantee they'll still be there in the future. It's a serious climb, I can't stress that enough. The reward though...just WOW. Big Falls is a wonder. It defies my ability to adequately describe it. At over 200-feet in height and of a form that is amazingly unique, Big Falls immediately enraptured me. That's all I can say.
So come along with my friends and I as we descend the valley of the mighty Thompson River. It is a hike that took far too long for me to experience, and one I already look forward to experiencing again. This is a special one so please...ENJOY!!!
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 35.077996, -82.993540
Route Type: Out-and-back + spur Difficulty: HARD
Mileage Hiked: 8.1 miles Hike Duration: 6:15
Trailhead Temp: 70'F Trail Traffic: 5-10 people (all at High Falls)
Min. Elevation: 1,820' Max. Elevation: 3,050'
Total Vertical Gain: 2,100' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 259'
Trails Used (blaze color): High Falls Spur (unblazed), Thompson River (unblazed)