Panther Creek Falls’ trail head is less than a fifteen minute drive from my house and is one of the most popular trails in North Georgia. Most weekends the parking lot is full and cars are parked up and down both sides of old 441. I have hiked the trail several times before and did some drawing at the top of the falls last summer but I had never painted it. Almost every weekend when I am deciding which waterfall to go paint I wonder if it is the right weekend for Panther Creek. I usually decide it is not. It is a 3 1/2 mile hike to the falls and every time I have been there (even in the rain) there have been lots of other people there. But Labor Day weekend the weather was perfect and I had plenty of time so I set out early with my painting supplies and wonderful new early birthday present in my backpack.
When I got to the trail head around 9am there were already half a dozen cars parked by the bridge. I passed a few groups of people camping and saw a couple of people along the trail, but the vast majority of the time I had the trail to myself. It really is a lovely walk. A week or so later my daughter’s cross country team ran it. I think that must be incredibly difficult. The rocks and roots in several portions of the trail required my full concentration at a walking pace. I cannot imagine what running or even jogging it would be like. I am glad she and her teammates all made it back in one piece.
When got to the falls around 10:20 there were about 10 people already there enjoying its beauty. Most were sitting on a fallen log that crosses the beach area. The sand/soil was very damp so I would have probably had to try and find a place amongst them if it were not for the aforementioned present. I am now the proud owner of a little Big Agnes Skyline chair. At just barely over a pound in weight and small enough to fit in my backpack with my paint supplies it is incredibly easy to bring along. I had no idea how much I needed it until it was given to me. It is the perfect addition to my plein air adventures. Because I had the chair I was able to set up right at the edge of the water in front of a small tree. I was incredibly comfortable as well as partially hidden from my fellow waterfallers. More and more people arrived to swim, climb, and picnic. One man played simple melodies on a flute while he waded and watched his wife and grandaughters swim and climb. Other people’s sounds were not quite as relaxing, but with the sound of the falling water and my focus on my painting they were not all that distracting.
I spent about 2 and a half hours painting. I think I would have stayed longer but as the afternoon progressed and the sun moved across the sky my spot moved from shade to full sun. The added warmth combined with the change of light on the falls made me decide to call it a day a little after 1. As always the part of the trail that feels like a gradual descent at the start of the day felt like a steep ascent by the end. I know some people hike 20 miles or more in a day, but 7 feels like plenty for me. Overall it was a pretty spectacular way to spend the day.
The way paintings look to me while I am working on them outside really is quite different than how they look when I get back home. Sometimes it feels like the color has changed greatly while we travel. When I first started doing plein air painting I felt like the purity of the piece would be comprised if I worked on it after I left the site, but I am over that. I touched up some of the trees in the upper right hand corner of the painting back in the studio which I think made it a stronger painting.