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    Posted August 1, 2014 by
    Asheville, North Carolina
    Related to: My trip down the most endangered river in America
    CNN's John Sutter took a three-week trip down the most endangered river in America: California's San Joaquin. See the tweets from his adventure.
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Your favorite river

    Rock Hopping on the Yellowstone Prong

    The Yellowstone Prong is considered a second home to my wife and I. We hike this river at least ten times a year and it is the first place we bring friends and family when they want to see what we do for fun in Asheville, North Carolina. Skinny Dip Falls is what most people come to experience on the Yellowstone Prong. Here, you can watch white water bubble over massive ancient boulders as well as take a plunge from the rocks down into the clearest water I have ever seen. Here, most visitors stay to bask on the rocks and enjoy the cold water on a hot summer day. Here, the river ends for most. However, this is just the beginning for us.
    The river flows down a mountain, creating white water and making for an arduous climb up. Rock hopping is somewhere in between rock climbing and hiking and the Yellowstone Prong is the only river I have discovered that truly feels like a jungle gym for adults. We leap and bound over some rocks. Others take time and ingenuity. For instance, using the roots of a tree to lean your weight over the water and skirt your way to the next dry rock. Or climbing up a fallen log to get atop a twelve feet high boulder. Some jumps take a certain level of faith in ones physical ability, mustering the courage, judging the distance, flying through the air before landing on all fours in a Spiderman stance, all the while trying not to fall in the drink. Along the way, if one is mindful enough to take in all the beauty the river has to offer, one may find a variety of salamander species hidden under the lips of rocks. Even the riverbed exudes beauty as it is littered with smooth stones of many colors and is dusted in gold mica, which shines brightly at the bottom of such clear water. The rocks here are older than the Himalayas and are heavily worn away in some areas due to countless years of water erosion, adding character and depth to the story of this river.
    Two to three hours into the hike you will hit a wall. Literally. It is a massive slab of rock towering straight up before rounding off at the top where the river drapes down it. This is Graveyard Falls, where the adventurous hiker can grab on to the roots of a Catawba Rhododendron tree that grows alongside it. One can climb these roots to the top of the falls. Only, it isn't the top at all. Here, the water now rushes down the flat, smooth face of the mountain at what must be at least a 45% angle. This marks the end of the trail, so to speak. Getting back down is another matter entirely. To hike the Graveyard Upper Falls of the Yellowstone Prong, it’s best to drive up to the next exit on the parkway.
    What I love most about visiting the Yellowstone Prong really isn't the hiking at all. It's the collective atmosphere. It's the roar of the water you have to yell over. It's the feeling of ice cold water on my feet in the summer heat. It's being surrounded by a lush forest of dense overgrowth, rather than concrete buildings. And since it is such a rocky river, it's also a perfect place to take the time to stack rocks, or rock balance. Which sounds absurdly easy and yet remains an extremely meditative challenge. Rock stacking is exactly what it sounds like. The challenge being to build a stack of rocks as high as one can or to stack rocks that simply appear to be incompatible with one another. With nothing but the white noise of the white water in my head and the mind focused on a mindless task, it becomes quite relaxing. Up and down the river you will find rock stacks left by hikers, teetering on boulders and fallen logs, humble monuments left behind in honor of the Yellowstone Prong.

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