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December 6, 2016

Seven Day Swimming Adventure

The crew took to the road at 4am on a Saturday morning in early June. Leaving from Philadelphia, we began the first leg of our seven-day swimming adventure. Our caravan of adventurers drove through the night until we finally met our first destination just a few hours after daybreak. We were all thrilled to start the trip and to see the first stop of the swimming tour.

OhioPyle Natural Water Slide greeted us with raging waters.

Upon first glance, my nerves stood at full attention. I watched the water rush through the long, narrow crevasse and slam from wall to wall! Honestly, I was not expecting such rough conditions at our first swimming adventure. I knew I would be the first to attempt this Natural Water Slide considering I brought everyone here. I was not going to let anyone else “test” this one. I was nearly petrified at the thought as I approached.

Against my better judgement, I stepped up to the top of the slide and sat down. My mind was fighting with itself as the water pushed against my back urging me towards the thin, white waterflow before me. With the cameras rolling, the adrenaline spiked; I said, “Fuck it” and let myself be swept away.

As I neared the first corner I already knew this was a mistake.

Ohiopyle Natural Waterslide. The water rushes through the small crevasse as we arrive on our Seven Day Swimming Adventure.

Ohiopyle Natural Waterslide – Photo: Dana Slifer

I came around the corner and prepared for the first step-down. Essentially going into survival mode: I put my hands up, covered my head with my upper arms and shoulders, then braced for impact. I slid over the small step-down, and the water violently forced me under, slamming my left butt cheek and torso into the solid limestone bottom. The water’s force then laid my body out straight on the bottom of the stream and spun me like a spiraling football. I was able to grab a breath of air at the next step-down before I was again slammed into the limestone bottom.

I was lucky enough to come out of this with some bruising and a sore ego. Water is a powerful force of nature and should always be respected. I was really in awe of how fast I lost control of my body. I was completely at the mercy of the water. The experience also reignited my motivation to keep my crew safe. If you are telling yourself that it is too dangerous, it most likely is. 

After my near-death rockslide, the crew wrapped up by cleaning all of the trash at the OhioPyle Natural Waterslide. We gathered two bags of litter from the spot. We always practice #KeepItClean and #LeaveNoTrace.

A view over the massive Summersville Lake from the peek of Long Point.

Looking Off Long Point – Photo: Dana Slifer

Packing the car and heading over the Mason Dixon Line we moved closer to West Virginia and our favorite swimming hole on the East Coast.

Summersville Lake holds so many sweet swimming holes, but we only went for two of them…

Long Point- A beautiful 65’ cliff reaching

out over the absolutely stunning 60,000 acre, dark blue Summersville Lake. The cliff is a huge plateau that comes to a point on a corner of the lake. There are tons of great small and large jumps here. It really helps to have a kayak or two 😉 but if you don’t, the hike is easy and beautiful. 

Bastard’s Cove- A cliff jumpers dream spot.

Looking off the fifty-three foot jump on Bastards Cove. Cliff faces topped with lushes trees stand tall on the other side of the cove.

Bastards Cove – Photo: Dana Slifer

All different size cliffs line this green-blue cove on Summersville Lake. Ranging from 5’ to 53’, this spot really has it all. Scuba divers watch from beneath the surface while onlookers from boats cheer on jumpers leaping from the cliffs. This location has a waterfall jump and offers plenty of room for swimming and relaxing.

Either of these locations will quench those adrenaline cravings. We spent two days enjoying the waters and cliffs of Summersville Lake in West Virginia before heading south to our next adventure destination.

Right outside of Downtown Knoxville lies Fort Dickerson Quarry.

The crew checked in at our first hotel of the trip and headed directly to Fort Dickerson Quarry. We were surprised to find a well maintained parking area and mile long gravel path leading to the quarry. This gorgeous location is open to the public free of charge. People gather and relax in the waters all summer. Swimmers ripple the waters’ still reflection of the cliffs faces with leaps of faith and inflatable rafts. This spot was dope. The locals were nice and the cliffs were clean and safe. This location is a perfect example of the community enjoying and treating the environment correctly.

Fort Dickerson Quarry's cliffs reflect in the water in the late day. Nick D'Amico lands his DJI Inspire after finishing up with another day of shooting the Seven Day Swimming Adventure.

Fort Dickerson Quarry

After exploring this hidden Knoxville gem, we headed back to the hotel, grabbed showers, and went out for a night in Knoxville. We enjoyed some much deserved Rib-Eye and IPAs. We heard a band and then crashed for the night.

The next morning we hit the road just after sun-up, and headed to a mountain waterfall destination in Tennessee called Savage Falls

Savage Falls pours over the twenty-five foot ledge and cascades into the plunge pool below. Making an amazing swimming hole.

Savage Falls – Photo: Dana Slifer

Deep in the South Cumberland State Park we found ourselves parked at the peak of a mountain, hiking our camping gear to a spot a mile into the woods. The sun burned through the pine trees as it chased us out of the camp site and onto the Savage Falls trail. Our group moved quickly down the trail yearning for the relief from the cold mountain waterfall.

We dropped our backpacks and waded into the refreshingly cold waters. We measured Savage at 28′ while doing our safety checks. To our dismay there was an enormous underwater ledge and big boulders everywhere. Savage Falls is straight-up not safe to jump. We did find a deep hole and leapt from the trees into it. I really don’t recommend this.

This location is more of a chill swimming spot rather than a jump location. Nevertheless, the group enjoyed this Tennessee Park’s trails, camping, waterfalls, and views. I won’t forget to mention the wild animals and snakes in this region are no joke. We were greeted at the falls by a 5’ long, fat-bodied Pit Viper which I believed to be a Western Cottonmouth. Extra Bonus- We had about 40 screaming coyotes surround our tents that night for some added entertainment. Let’s just say, none of us weren’t scared. Haha. It’s important to always be aware of your surroundings while in nature, and know there are many hazards that could be life threatening. 

Everyone had been looking forward to the next spot. Greeters Falls

lay in a valley not 30 miles from our location. We packed out the campsite and headed down the steep mountain highway. We were leaving behind a hidden waterfall, many coyotes, and the clearest night sky I have ever laid my eyes on. Knowing what we ventured towards made me nervous.

We had no knowledge of the true height of Greeters Falls until we arrived. Having seen one or two youtube videos of it, we knew she was big. We were excited to get a measurement and depth-check in.

Taking the dirt trail in, we reached a steel, spiral staircase

secured to a cliff face. As we descended the stairwell, Greeter Falls revealed herself in all her glory. The cascade poured over an algae-covered cliff edge 51’ above the plunge pool. The water sparkled and glistened in the sun. The mist coming from the falls held rainbows only visible to explorers brave enough to stand beneath her. 

Greeter Falls pours down fifty-two feet into it's plunge pool. The beautiful scene shows the power of water and time.

Greeter Falls – Photo: Dana Slifer

We spent a large chunk of time doing safety checks before we jumped. It would be the second largest jump of the trip, and it was a new location to us. As I examined the takeoff spot, my brother Jon checked the water for debris and depths. *I must note- You should always check the water yourself before jumping! It is rare to have a friend or family member with you that you trust with your life. My brother and I have been jumping together since I’ve been eight years old. I know he is doing his due diligence as my spotter.

Jon had concerns with a hidden, underwater ledge wrapping around the length of the pool. It jutted out about 15’ into the water in some sections and was an instant killer if landed on. I was met with similar conditions at the take-off spot. There was about 6′ of runway, and it was not a level area. One misstep, and game over.

The team discussed the gap and the takeoff and made a calculated decision to go for it.

I was first up. I stood on top of the waterfall and imagined each step and my takeoff. Standing back before the run-up I couldn’t see the landing area, common in cliff jumping but unnerving nonetheless. Feeling my heart pounding on my chest I took a few deep breaths. Thump, Thump, Thump, THREE! TWO! ONE! I took my steps precisely and push off with all my might. Finding myself 51’ above my brother waiting in the pool below, I took a safe mid-air position and kept my body level using my arms. I knew on takeoff I was going to land mid-pool past the underwater ledge. Well, I knew I’d make it before takeoff, but actually doing it is something entirely different. I ripped the landing and celebrated another conquered waterfall with my closest friend, my brother.

In so many words, we live to see each other not die.

I imagine Jon’s experience with Greeters is one he will never forget as well. This is the jump Jon came on the trip to conquer. He was the one who originally picked it and was insistent on visiting. Planning on topping his previous highest jump of 38’, Jon approached the ledge with sheer confidence. He planned his steps and sent it with authority!

We grubbed out on some lunch at the bottom of the falls and leapt from the 30’ jump under the falls for an hour or so. After filling our adrenaline quota and our bellies, we hiked out of the gorge to continue our East Coast Swimming Adventure.

A panorama of the rocky beach at Foster Falls with the seventy foot waterfall standing  in the background. The Big Swings Crew stands on the beach as we enjoy the  views of enormous cliff faces and the thick forest deep in this valley.

Foster Falls – Photo: Marc Kelly

Foster Falls is in the depths of a giant canyon on

the south end of the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee. This 71’ waterfall is a must visit if you are in the area. The cliffs on the west side of the falls rise up over 160’ making an incredible scene for onlookers. Upon doing our safety checks, we discovered a 100’ long submerged tree in the projected landing area making the falls unjumpable. This was a huge disappointment to me as this was the waterfall I wanted the most. Safety has to come first when it comes to activities involving so much danger though. It’s our team’s number one priority on and off site.

The most direct trail in is very steep and essentially made of boulders- not for beginners. If you do have some experience hiking, and think you’re physically capable, this trail is a real beauty. When you walk all the way around there is an easier trail to the base of the falls with slower inclines.

We camped at a South Cumberland Campground a quarter-mile from the falls. When we awoke, we embarked on our last waterfall destination of the trip.

We arrived at Twisting Falls after hiking down a seriously steep, mile 

A shot of the Big Swings founder enjoying the triple waterfall in Tennessee named Twisting Falls. The waters run strong over the lip as jumpers line up to take the leap from the top.

Twisting Falls – Photo: Marc Kelly

long ditch created by water erosion. Twisting Falls is a triple waterfall and is a sight every adventurer should see. Groups of friends and families basked in the sun while the waterfalls poured down behind them. Explorers careened down the face of the falls hooting and hollering in excitement and exhilaration.

We couldn’t have been more stoked as we approached and were greeted by friendly faces all there for the same reason we were.

A view of Twisting Falls from downstream. The thirty-five foot waterfall lies deep in a valley in Tennessee.

Twisting Falls – Photo: Dana Slifer

We spent a majority of the day in our hammocks and swimming. It was an unbelievable time. Twisting Falls has to be in the top three best waterfalls I have encountered. The absolute best rockslide I have come across, haha.

We had been hiking and exploring the forests and watersheds of the East Coast for days. Running on little sleep and lots of adrenaline the group headed North for the first time the whole trip. The caravan of cars drove as far as we could into the night and ended up somewhere near Roanoke, Virginia. We held up in a cheap hotel for the night and rested up for another day of cliff jumping and exploring.

Our goal for the next day was to gain access to two private Quarries.

Blacksburg Quarry is a privately owned quarry on the back side of 

a small corn farm in Virginia. At first, we attempted to enter the land from the rear. As we approached, the prettiest quarry I have ever seen appeared. The water was clear blue showing white underwater ledges beneath its surface. As we stood above the quarry awestruck by its beauty, a truck began to pull down the path leading directly to the water.

Entering Blacksburg

Entering Blacksburg

Two men unloaded Kayaks and entered the water to fish.

At this point it was clear they were the property owners or at least knew the property owners, so we decided to simply ask permission to film and swim. I walked down solo and was kindly told to “Get the fuck of my property right now!” and we took that man up on his offer and skedaddled.

After our first ejection of the trip we went to an even more elite quarry to test our luck.

Bakerton Quarry is private and owned by the local community.

Possibly the most beautiful stop on the Seven Day Swimming Adventure.

Bakerton Quarry – Photo: Nick D’Amico

I did not think we would come across a spot as breathtaking as Blacksburg after seeing it. I was wrong. In my opinion Bakerton Quarry is the most beautiful Quarry on the East Coast. The old mine shafts leave beautiful stone arches standing above the water’s surface. The water itself was teeming with fish and the sandy bottom and beach made the area look like the tropics. This 10-acre piece of water is well guarded though. Visitors must have a pass from a resident belonging to the community. The community has hired a full-time guard who works from 9am until 5pm every day. We met the guard who kindly explained all of this to us when we got down to waterside. He also asked us to leave. We sadly turned around and hiked back out.

Our last swimming hole of the trip was Martinsburg Quarry.

Martinsburg Quarry

Photo: Nick D’Amico

After defeat at the prior two spots, we entered Martinsburg looking to get some swimming done. We were met with a three-quarter-mile long and quarter mile wide turquoise quarry.

The path the Big Swings App led us down brought us directly to the cliffs. Excitement once again filled the group and we took to the water like a flock of geese. Fourteen of us at this point stripped down and plunged in- an escape from the 101-degree temperature we were hiking through. This was a nice way to end the trip. We jumped and swam for a while reminiscing about the incredible week we just experienced as a team. After a few hours taking in the scenery and water, a polite police officer showed up and escorted us out. All-in-all, the Big Swings crews’ first east coast adventure was an incredible growth experience for everyone involved. We all discovered amazing things about these regions of the county and about ourselves.

Aside from the locations, the people on this trip are what made it so incredible. I couldn’t have asked for a better squad to roll with. We all care about each other and are constantly concentrated on keeping each other safe. These trips have many different elements to them. Adventure and jumping trips allow me to reach new goals, meet amazing friends, grow relationships, explore new locations, and so much more. Simply, I love cliff jumping and the adventures that come along.