Danger in the Mountains: Be Aware, Be Prepared, Be Alive

By Bob Grytten | Oct 23, 2012
Photo by: Bob Grytten View waterfalls from safe ground -- live to photograph another day

Waynesville — The recent accident of Jo D'Eramo causes me to pause and take a deep breath. Jo's accident could have happened along side a trail; but, the fact that it was near cascading water flows prompts special attention to these conditions.

We must be prudent when around the mountains and their sirens call of rushing water. The only safe way to approach some of these platforms is to tie a rope around our waists and gradually inch out toward the spots we want to photograph from, or simply bypass those areas of high risk. And those who view themselves invaunerable should never be allowed to venture out - period.

Below are three different reports of just a few of the many accidents that occur regularly - I'm talking deaths here… Each should raise red flags! Each should make us better prepared to be around dangerous areas. Please read them. And please be extra careful ---

Visitor Dies in Waterfall Accident in North Carolina

Mountain Hike Turns Fatal


Transylvania County, North Carolina, is said to have more waterfalls than any county in the United States. There's even one, Whitewater Falls, that's higher than Niagara. All this beauty draws hundreds of tourists to our area to hike the trails, explore the different falls, and enjoy surroundings that differ from their own. Therein lies the problem, one that reared its ugly head again this past week when Joseph Leonard, a 54 year old man visiting from Maryland, apparently lost his footing while attempting to climb one of the falls in nearby Dupont State Forest.

Apparently, Leonard was attempting to climb the 120' Triple Falls, featured in the film Last of the Mohicans for its stunning splendor, when he fell and sustained severe head injuries. Due to the remoteness of the area, rescue workers had to hike into the forest to reach him and then carried him out on a stretcher. He was then taken by helicopter to Greenville, S.C.'s Memorial Hospital where it is now being reported that he has died.

Every year this county reports another grim statistic related to injuries and deaths incurred by visitors unfamiliar with the terrain. What may appear to be a benign hike over wet rocks can easily turn into a tragedy. Physicians are quick to report that it isn't always the height from which someone falls, but the way they fall and how they land. Tumbles as short as two feet can result in serious injury when the individual lands on his or her head.

Despite the county's efforts to post signs urging caution, people seem to overestimate their skill levels in their desire to "hit the trails" and just have a good time. Dupont Forest, the area involved in the most recent fatality, opened to the public in 2000. According to Bruce MacDonald, assistant forest supervisor, in just those few years there have been more than forty injuries reported. Every year fatalities occur as well. Just last year, a visiting physician died after a ten foot fall onto a rock-filled creek bed.

Those familiar with this area are quick to warn visitors to exercise caution. Wear sturdy hiking shoes with textured soles, don't hike alone, and, above all, know your limitations. The beauty is here to be a source of inspiration, not devastation.

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Monday, September 5, 2011


Another North Carolina Waterfall Death


Zachary Joseph Jones, 23, of Charleston died Saturday after falling 80 feet while hiking with his friends in an area known as Sky Falls in the far western part of North Carolina.

The accident happened Saturday at the remote Transylvania County waterfall near the North Carolina-South Carolina state line.

According to news reports Jones died after hitting the rocks higher up and landing at the base of the falls. It was the third death this summer at Western North Carolina waterfall.

Cedar's Take: Sky Falls is not an easy place to get to unless someone has taken you there or showed you the way in via some private property. In North Carolina's western most mountains its not wise to trespass. The falls are located on Rock Creek which feeds into the Toxaway River and Lake Jocassee.

The falls are amazing but since the place is surrounded by private property you either get permission, risk being shot or take the long way in which would be via the Foothills Trail nearly a ten mile hike.

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Fatal Accident At Windy Falls

James Karpinos a student at UNC Asheville fell to his death off of Windy Falls in Transylvania County while hiking this past Saturday with his girlfriend Lindsay Mirkin. Both of them have extensive outdoor experience and met while working as troop leaders for the University’s outdoor program.

Mirkin, a teacher at Reynolds High, said the couple arrived at Windy Falls about 11:30 a.m. with two dogs in tow. He had wanted to take her to the falls for weeks, she said. They hiked through the first few falls, stopping to swim in a pool at one point. He had never hiked to the fourth and fifth falls, so they decided to continue, she said. Mirkin stopped to rest, while Karpinos continued to walk along the rocks. “He kissed me, and I said, ‘Be careful,’” Mirkin said. She had her head down, raising it just as he slipped on a large rock, she said. He was able to stop himself for a moment but eventually fell into the water below. Mirkin rushed over the rock that bore tracks of mud from the Crocs shoes he wore. She said the rocks were very slippery. “I couldn’t find him, and I saw his shoe floating at the bottom,” she said. She thinks he fell about 4 p.m. “My legs wouldn’t work, and I had to crawl on hands and knees up the mountain” to find cell phone service, Mirkin said. She got through to emergency workers at 4:30 p.m.

Citizen Times
According to news reports it took rescue workers a half a day to get into the base of the falls. According to the World Waterfall Database Windy Falls drops 720 feet;
Windy Falls is a long series of cascades on the Horsepasture River. There does not appear to be any vertical portion of the falls over 20 or so feet, and the tallest individual cascade is only around 80 feet tall. The falls drop just over 700 feet in about 1/2 a mile’s stretch of river, and thusly appear to be nearly impossible to see in entirety from one place.

I’ve read a number of hiking and outdoor travel sites about this particular waterfall and almost all of them urge extreme caution while hiking there because of the dangers. We who love the outdoors sometimes forget how unforgiving nature can be if the worst case scenario befalls us. James Karpinos funeral will be latter this week in his hometown of Chapel Hill North Carolina.

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