Friday, January 2, 2015

Jefferson National Forest: Devil's Bathtub Hike

Today I was able to meet my good friend and coworker Burke for a hike in the Jefferson National Forest of Southwest Virginia. I met Burke at his home in Kingsport and we headed north into the coal country of Virginia. We bumped along some rough forest roads and got temporarily disoriented before finally arriving at the trailhead for the Devil's Fork Trail. Burke's wife was smart enough to realize that with the recent rains the water level would be a bit high, but Burke and I threw caution to the wind and set off on the trail with 12 creek crossings to find the infamous Devil's Bathtub.
Burke on trail

The first crossing was a difficult test.
1st creek crossing
Burke lost his footing on a wet, slippery rock and dipped his foot in the drink a bit. The crossings would not get any easier. The second crossing at least afforded a wet slippery log to use as a bridge.
log crossing
Still, even with the difficulty of the crossings, the scenery in the gorge of the Devil's Fork was pretty spectacular with lots of cascades
trail along creek
and high rock cliffs. Eventually we found ourselves at some remains of the mining industry: an old mining car near the creek bed.
mining truck

We continued on with more crossings
another crossing
and admired the effects of the recent cold weather. There were some icicles decorating the scene here and there.
icicles
Eventually we came to a really narrow section of trail with a chute of water running down below.
Burke on narrow trail
It was here that I knew we must be approaching the bathtub. Sure enough a short distance upstream we found the deep swimming hole that many hikers mistaken for the Devil's Bathtub.
swimming hole
The water was a turquoise color and extremely cold.
deep pool

We scrambled along the side of the creek and found ourselves at a natural overlook of some cascades.
falls
From internet research that I had done I recognized the site of the bathtub, but with the high water we had a difficult time getting to it. We ended up backtracking a bit downstream, crossing the water and following the official trail to a sign indicating our destination.
at sign
The high water level made the water cascade into the deep, narrow pool; and as a result the bathtub was not nearly as impressive as it had looked in the photos I've seen online. So if there's anyone out there contemplating a hike to this remarkable destination, while it may seem counter intuitive, this destination is more impressive during lower water levels. Still, it was an enjoyable hike.

We admired the view for a minute or two and after quickly scouting the scene a very short distance upstream from the bathtub, we started to make our way back to Burke's jeep.
Burke and icicles
The hike back seemed to go a bit faster then the hike in, and even many of the crossings seemed a bit easier. Before we knew it we were back to the jeep for the drive back to Tennessee.

Yearly hiking mileage total for 2015: 4.7 miles

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